Prologue: Eastwood

The streets of Shang Mu were busy during this time of night. The election of the new Mayor, Zao, had increased the economic output of what was once a respectable kingdom reliant on its ports and slowly transforming it into a new economic superpower, one which had not been seen in the history of Avalice before then. Construction projects such as the Battlesphere promised to drive economic growth, and bring in a new era of fighters for that one in particular.

Equally as bustling for Shang Mu was the criminal underground. After the dissolution of the Kakuchu, citizens whom previously thought that the era of criminal organizations outside of the Red Scarves within Shang Mu would come to an end now live in fear of new organizations, most notably the Saisei Mafia, an organization rumored to be a reborn Kakuchu.

In spite of the progress under Zao, an air of dread loomed over the people. Workers began to demand more favorable working conditions, protests rang in the street accusing Zao of being a corrupt government official (which he was), and worst of all, the citizens lost the person whom they believed to be a national hero, a bright light of the future for Shang Mu.

Kyushei Ryuu.

His assassination by the figure now widely known as the "Ice Assassin" had led to a large amount of finger-pointing between political officials. The Red Scarves refused responsibility for the act, thus leading to a deep rift within Shang Mu politics: Some people accused Zao of having hired the Ice Assassin, and others accused people within Kyushei's own party.

This led to an immense distraction within Shang Mu politics, and allowed corruption to seep into both private and public life, the Saisei Mafia controlling exponentially more territory within the kingdom. Eventually… It would only be a matter of time before the Mafia attacked Shang Mu directly.

A light beige monkey with short hair looked on at a military installation on coastal Shang Mu from a nearby building, chewing some bubblegum as her hand rested on the long bamboo handle of a hefty hammer. "Alright, so tell me when the hell I'm gonna get to attack this guy." She spoke, blowing a bubble and popping it.

"Quiet!" An aged voice on the other end snapped. "This mission is highly important! To have such impatience will compromise the entire effort! Tonight, we aim to defeat Shang Mu's military leader, and eliminate a major obstacle in our path towards eventual control of the country!"

"Doc, I know. It's just that waiting around is so boring." The monkey responded. "Why can't he just, like, show up behind me or somethin'?"

"Rubber Maiden, you bear the only Affinity amongst us capable of not only infiltrating the base in question, but also defeating this… This monster in a one-on-one confrontation! The King never had to go after him due to their closeness together, but now we do not have such a luxury! It's now or never!" The voice spoke. "The defenses should be open now. Here's your chance!"

"On it." Rubber Maiden nodded before taking her hammer and hopping down the side of the building and scaling down. A large chain-link fence blocked her way, but it wasn't much to her. Rubber Maiden grabbed the sides of the fence and pulled the links apart, the chain link fence making a soft rubbery stretching noise as it did so.

Upon entering, Rubber Maiden found herself in a flat concrete area for training exercises. The military outpost had searchlights beam around the area, as it was far past curfew for the soldiers and their families taking residence within the area, and any intruders would be met with lethal force. Yet Rubber Maiden managed to evade the searchlights and soon made it to a central installation, and later… Her target. An absolute giant of a dragon, gray scales with a darker gray flat-top haircut and a suit of maroon, typical of many generals in Shang Mu. The man's name was Emmerich Orrega, the General of the Shang Mu Army.

She entered the room slowly, pictures of several past wars lined the walls. The Great Avalician War and Parusan Civil War, in particular, were highlighted, as well as an insignia for something called the CKDA, or Cross-Kingdom Defensive Alliance near the pictures of the Parusan Civil War. But now was-

"What are you doing here?" Emmerich asked, glaring at Rubber Maiden from his desk as he stood up. "If you wish to attack me, then you could do far better than attempt a sneak attack."

"Well whaddya know? Looks like the old man is a bit more attentive than he seems." Rubber Maiden smirked, approaching him and extending her hand. "I'm not here to hurt you, okay?"

Emmerich approached Rubber Maiden… As he then grabbed her wrist and threw her over his head like a ragdoll.

"Right. I know I was born at night, but it most certainly wasn't last night." Emmerich spoke to the Maiden as she slumped back onto the ground, a crater in the wall she landed in.

"Ooooowwwww…" She groaned, rubbing her back. "What the hell was that fo-"

"Kireina Saru, disgraced pop star from the Sugar Ladies pop group." Emmerich began. "You were last heard of killing a new manager of yours after an internal disagreement with the band's direction due to corporate desiring an image directed more towards sex appeal. While I do not blame you for your actions, I can certainly say that you were someone I'd have to watch out for one way or another, given you were never caught."

"And how the hell did you find out about that shit, huh? Fan of my work?" Rubber Maiden quipped. "Aren't you a bit too old for that stuff?"

"I'd be too old to lead a modern military army if that's your logic, but here we are." Emmerich countered. "Besides, your story was plastered all over the radio. I couldn't have avoided hearing about it no matter what."

"MAIDEN, GET OUT OF THERE!" The voice in Rubber Maiden's ear screeched. "HE'LL DESTROY YOU!"

"Hm?" Emmerich spoke, looking at Rubber Maiden closer. "So you have a master? I suggest you take that order, lest you desire to fight me."

"And why the hell are you letting me go, then? Is that your shitty idea of mercy?" Rubber Maiden spat.

"It is merely honor." Emmerich responded. "Now leave. Do not attempt to go after me."

Rubber Maiden simply stood still for a while… Before leaving the way she came, leaving Emmerich at his lonesome before he sat back down at his desk.

In the back streets of Shang Mu, news of this attempted attack spread like wildfire amongst the criminal underground, notably amongst other members of the Saisei Mafia, most claiming they could perform better than the Rubber Maiden could have and others wondering why she left the scene of the crime relatively unharmed despite the scale of the target.

But some unrelated people caught wind of this. One of these people being a young, white female bird with purple eyes, a black vest, shorts and shoes with a white t-shirt underneath the vest. Most knew her as the Ice Assassin, less knew her as her preferred name, Kori Kaze.

And only she knew herself as Yuki Bo, an intensely held secret to herself after the Crimson King incident.

What a fucking joke. Yuki thought to herself regarding the incident. You shouldn't go after a target like that no matter what, not without substantial compensation to make up for the fact you're going after a high ranking military official, especially one with over a century's worth of experience. Hell, I don't think even I would go after it. She continued mentally. She checked her phone, the very device she uses to accept assignments, and noted a few targets she had would be in the area soon. Smiling to herself, she put her phone away and continued on her walk.

This whole incident with the Saisei Mafia was absolutely none of her business. But soon, it would become very much her business…

…Whether she liked it or not.

Yuki soon continued to a soup kitchen, picking a table and awaiting to be served as an orange female bobcat with a graphic tee, torn jeans and boots sat across from her, also with a menu.

"The fuck do you want, kid?" Yuki asked, raising an eyebrow. "You gotta have a good reason as to why you'd sit across from me despite the fact there's a fuckton of other empty tables."

"You know, you don't exactly have to be so hostile to me." The bobcat spoke. "Besides, we need your help, Yuki." The bobcat spoke. "Besides, you're the only person who coul-"

"Who the hell are you, and who are you with?" Yuki snarled, glaring at the bobcat. "Which are you? Shoheki or Kakuchu?"

"Former. I know those wounds didn't heal from a year ago, but there has to be something done about the Saisei Mafia." The bobcat spoke. "They aren't a threat to us, but the public safety. We got word that they plan on starting a war between Shang Mu and Jinzhen."

"…Right. You still didn't answer my question." Yuki dismissed. "Fuck off."

"Fine, my name is Hinata Satou. And what do you expect to happen, then? Some young, random Red Scarves to ditch the organization and save the world in as little as a few days?" Hinata asked, growing somewhat annoyed. "Seriously, this involves you just as much as it does everyone else!"

"First off, that example is awfully specific." Yuki replied. "And second off, how the hell does this involve me?"

"Well, it's going to be the case in a while, but that's not the point." The bobcat responded. "As for the Saisei Mafia… We've gotten word they're involved with the Kakuchu. Not enough evidence to support the theory, but enough to rule out being a coincidence. If you accept, we'll pay heartily. You in?"

"…Go fuck yourself, and go look for a Red Scarf if they're apparently so fucking great. I already told you that I don't want anything to do with you bastards, and I'm not in the fucking mood!" Yuki spat, getting up and out of the restaurant, clearly in a fowl mood. Fucking hell, I already told them that I don't want to be involved in their fucking drama last year! Why the hell are they defaulting to me of all people?!

Hinata groaned, sitting back. "Great. Juuuuuust great." Hinata groaned, putting a finger to her ear. "Yo, Boss. I think we got a problem. Yuki's refusing to take care of it."

"Well, then we must go for the Red Scarves on this. We can take care of them without her." Boss spoke. "Think the fox and the hare are able to do it? Hanna and Rob, I think they were… Or how about Coral Tea? Spade?"

"Nah, as far as I know, they aren't relevant to the plot right now." Hinata shrugged. "Besides, there isn't a guarantee they'd even be available for the mission anyways."

"Hm, then I'll send a request for contact as soon as I can. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the Mafia. They're a bit too much of a wild card for us to keep track of, so we'll need to know exactly what their capabilities are. You are dismissed." Boss concluded.

"Roger roger." Hinata spoke, leaning back in her chair and pulling out her phone as she waited for the waitress to ask her for what to drink.

"Hello, ma'am, how are you today?" A waitress asked Hinata. "What would you like to drink?"

"I'm fine. Say, can you guys serve a segue into the next scene?" Hinata asked.

"…I'm sorry, a wha-"

A stout, hunched purple rat in similarly-colored robes paced back and forth in a meeting room with three other figures. One was Rubber Maiden, but the others were a large black gorilla with a purple eye and gold eyepatch with a pinstripe suit, a black muscular cat with shining yellow eyes and a similar outfit to the gorilla.

"So tell me… How in the hell are we going to ensure a conflict now?!" The rat mumbled, clearly somewhat distressed. "The mission to kill Emmerich was an abject failure and we won't easily get the respect we need for ages!"

"Maybe for you it won't be easy." The feline snarked. "After all, we still got some credit where it is due, the Dragonroot supply is still selling like hotcakes, you know?"

"Yes, but we'd need to maintain the supply in order to keep customers attached, Jocho." Daichi noted. "Speaking of, how is production? It's one of our only constant revenue streams."

"Production doubled in the last few months, but it is definitely slowing down. Thankfully, the Iron Engineer's machinery has also provided a useful revenue stream for mercenaries." The rat spoke. "But we need to focus! How will we get the conflict we need to throw the kingdom into disarray?!"

"I got a good idea here, doc." Jocho smirked. "Why don't we, you know, hire a mercenary to do the deed? If they fail, then we can shift the blame over to them!"

"And who the hell are we going to ask for that, hm?" Rubber Maiden asked. "The Ice Assassin?"

The rat blinked… Then snapped his fingers. "THAT'S IT! WE WILL HIRE HER FOR THE JOB! KIREINA, YOU GENIUS!" He grinned. "We can kill two birds with one stone in that plan! Both figuratively and half literally!"

"…I do believe she was merely jesting, Lavender Doctor, although the possibility is not beyond me." Daichi noted. "Although I am somewhat concerned that Emmerich would have his guard up for future attacks."

"That, and he effortlessly beat me." Rubber Maiden spoke. "I would've been a red stain on the wall if he didn't spare my life for whatever reason."

"Then we go for someone else. Keep an eye out for other possibilities." Lavender Doctor spoke. "For now, all of you are dismissed."

"Yes sir." The group spoke as they left, leaving Lavender Doctor by himself. He pulled out a strange revolver and looked at it for a bit before putting it away. "I promise you, my King… I will not fail you." Lavender Doctor spoke as he eventually turned around and left the room, going about his own business.

The Next Day

Light snoring can be heard in a small Shang Mu apartment. It was rather early in the morning, a few hours before the first rays of sunshine could peek above the horizon. In the bedroom where the snoring emanated from, a panda with messy, vivid blue hair wasn't in a position most would deem comfortable for sleeping. But then again, with how her days typically go, it was understandable that the woman was sleeping like that.

A voice could be heard from an alarm clock nearby.

"Good Morning, Central Shang Mu!" The voice jovially greeted the brand new day. "Today is November 15th, 2010, and it is a beautiful day outside! A high of 68 Degrees, low of 40, with a chance of showers later in the day. Be sure to bring your raincoats!"

The panda stirred awake as she drowsily got up, sitting upright on her bed as she stared at the floorboards beneath her feet, sliding into a pair of pink slippers as she got up and turned on a coffee maker. The coffee maker would make a wet, draining noise as the hot brown liquid poured into a cup.

"Today, Mayor Zao reveals his plans for a "Battlesphere", an absolutely massive public works project which would broadcast sporting events and arena matches to a wide audience in Shang Mu." The voice continues from the alarm clock. "People from all walks of life can watch the Battlesphere's construction take place in the Entertainment District of Central Shang Mu, as it is scheduled to be completed in 4 years…"

Shame this is where all of my tax dollars go. The panda sighs as she takes the coffee cup and takes a sip, spitting it out soon after. Wait… Did I accidentally buy Decaf?! The panda thought, wide-eyed as she looked at the coffee. Sure enough, it was.

"In other related news, the approval ratings for our Mayor have gone up! From 30% to… 31% since last month." The voice chuckled. "It seems that even with the planned revamping of the Commercial District, the poor Mayor just can't seem to catch a break!"

Minato looked at the alarm clock and sighed, turning it off. I'd rather not have politics ruin my morning, thank you very much. She thought as she made her way to her closet, pulling out a pair of long, dark gray pants, a blue shirt, brown coat, and gray knee-high boots, putting on the clothes exactly in that order.

She would then move to her bathroom across the hall, brushing her teeth with a green toothbrush and some blue toothpaste. When she was done, she spat out the frothy liquid from within her mouth and moved on to eat her breakfast at her kitchen.

Breakfast for Minato was a bowl of artificially flavored and colored Zao Flakes, combined with whole milk next to a small orange. Minato had a folder detailing a certain case she had to deal with later in the day.

The General of Shang Mu's army was attacked by a member of the Saisei Mafia, and the Ice Assassin is still on the loose. Minato thought. I wish I had more help with these cases. Everyone else is too busy with that Kyushei case and they won't help me a single bit. It's like some sort of race to see who can get their name in the history books first...

Minato then put her dishes in the sink and threw away the scraps of the orange she just ate as she left her apartment, going to an elevator as it slowly descended.

Next to Minato in the elevator was a businessman and a construction worker, looking just as tired as she was. Perhaps even more tired, given their badges that signified them as government workers.

After the elevator descended completely and opened its doors, everyone in the elevator left immediately, leaving Minato as the last person out of the elevator. The panda would proceed to the garage next door and enter a small gray car. It wasn't much, only being able to hold two people, but then again, she didn't live with anyone else anyways.

The car revved to life as Minato turned the keys, the vehicle leaving the garage as the radio continued with the news broadcast.

"In other news, Senator Long has died of a heart attack in the middle of the street after giving a speech for a local charity." The newscaster spoke. "This is the fifth time an event like this has happened recently, and despite lack of evidence for any singular suspect, police believe that these heart attacks are all somehow connected."

Minato had heard of the heart attacks before. In fact, a few of her cases were regarding these heart attacks. However, try as she might, she couldn't get a single person as the culprit. Either this was just some deadly coincidence, or the actual culprit performing these heart attacks was somehow doing it from afar. But she couldn't be so certain regarding that.

Eventually, Minato reached the Shang Mu Investigative Offices, a smaller office building where most of Shang Mu's private investigation work took place. It wasn't anything special, but it was exactly here where Minato was in her element.

Entering the building into the waiting room, Minato already saw a few people waiting for the services of a PI. But then again, Minato didn't recognize anyone, and she never received any calls regarding a scheduled appointment. They were more than likely waiting for someone else anyways. All except for one.

"Greetings, Ms. Hashimoto." Emmerich spoke, standing up and extending his hand. "I am Emmerich Orrega, I suppose you'll be in charge of the investigation?"

"At least the preliminary stages, yes." Minato nodded. "Mind taking me to the scene of the crime?"

"Fair enough. Follow me." Emmerich spoke, bringing the panda out and into his car, driving off towards the army camp.