Chapter 2: The Game is Afoot

                There were two computers in the library that didn't hook up to the internet, and as such they were shunned by most students.  Xiao Lang thus found them doubly convenient – no one was hovering behind him wondering when his turn with the computer would start, and there was no need to carefully cut off the internet connection to prevent Big Brother spying.  If it wouldn't get him banned from the computers entirely, Xiao Lang would probably have wiped the memory of the computers totally clean every time he used them, but as it was, he settled for un- and reinstalling the programs he used to sort through illegal data.

                The night before had been messy – frighteningly so.  It hadn't been until some half an hour after he had escaped by the skin of his teeth that he had been struck by just how close to being caught – being killed! – he'd been.  He had never been up against a security system and team quite so efficient; it rankled Xiao Lang that his inexperience had led to two deaths (he grimaced) and a near failure.  His mother would have been disgusted.

                And he was far from being in the clear.  In fact … it was really only a matter of time before he was caught, realistically.  He'd left behind three shuriken – and while those in themselves wouldn't give him away, the bullet that had grazed him would put them that much closer to finding him.  He didn't know what sort of safeguards Xin had in place on his computer; it was possible that he would even be able to recall the files that had been copied.  Again Xiao Lang cursed himself for not destroying the computer after obtaining the desired records.  Who knew what sort of 'electronic fingerprint' he had left—?  Never mind the two dead bodies.  Xiao Lang was not proud of the five deaths at his hands, but he did pride himself on his hand-to-hand combat skills.  Too bad they left just as much evidence as the bloodied bullet. 

                Well, until he knew more, there wasn't much he could do but hope that Mingha came through for him.  And if he was correct and had played his cards right, the shuriken would shake things up a bit and delay them further, rather than aid them.

                Xiao Lang settled himself at one of his favored computers and slid his minidisk into the proper slot.

*   *   *

                "Sir … these three shuriken … they were owned by three different people."

                Xin raised his eyebrows.  "Oh?"

                "Well … so it appears."

                The shuriken had been scoured for fingerprints, and in their absence it had been decided that an Artisan could go ahead and scan the items for signature empathic marks – patterns of 'thought' or 'feeling' that owners knowingly or unknowingly put into their belongings.  But what the Artisan was suggesting simply couldn't be the case.  There had almost certainly been only one intruder – at least, it was certain that only one person had killed both security guards.

                Supposedly, upon touching the item, an Artisan trained to sense empathy could tell who the owner of an item was, or had been.  "So it appears?" Xin repeated, prompting further explanation.

                "Mm."  The Artisan put down the shuriken he held.  "I've studied many of these.  Ninja clans not only style their weapons differently from one another, they also leave different empathic marks.  There are two kinds of clan marks that often appear on shuriken, and two of the shuriken have the mark of one clan, and the other has the mark of another clan." He shook his head slightly.  "And all three were owned for a long period of time by different people.  Or so it appears."

                "You keep saying that."

                "I doubt it's actually the case."

                "Oh?"

                The Artisan sighed – a care-laden sound.  "Artisans can be fooled, you know.  You say there was only one intruder?"

                "As far as we know," Xin agreed neutrally.

                "Strange …" he touched another shuriken.  "These were definitely made by two different clans, but those clans would never work with one another.  You know just as well as I do that two clans operate openly in China, and not only would neither one be foolish enough to attempt a raid on this level, but they also are not on friendly terms.  Half the skirmishes in the south are stimulated by those clans."  He shook his head.  "It could be a rouge member, but why would he use the shuriken of another clan?  Look; the balance is totally different."  He illustrated by picking up two of the shuriken and balancing them on his finger; indeed, the center of gravity was different for both, and significantly so.

                "Hm."  Xin put his chin in his hands.  It was an interesting problem, which made it just that much more fun to solve.  "Perhaps someone stole the shuriken and used them?"

                "Well, that's the other problem," the Artisan complained.  "There's no trace of empathic marks from anyone except the original owners.  Even someone who stole them would leave a mark.  Theoretically, anyone who ever touches them should leave a mark."

                "Could you shield against that?" Xin suggested.

                "If you're very stilled with 'magic'," the Artisan answered, raising his eyebrows.  "It wouldn't take much power, but such finesse … after all, 'magic' leaves its own mark."

                "Yes …" Xin nodded slightly. "Indeed …"

*   *   *

                Most of the information was data and numbers – millions in untaxed yuan, cash transactions carefully recorded on Xin's personal corporate computer, which had no internet hookup.  It was a gold mine for blackmail purposes, theoretically, but Xiao Lang knew better.  A man that important to the economy of China couldn't possibly be charged with such crimes.  After all, he brought in billions of yuan in taxable form as well.  And besides, blackmail required one to reveal oneself to one's opponent, and damned if Xiao Lang was going to make it that easy.  No; he was looking for something else.

                Calling up the 'Find File' program, he typed in a single English word: "CLOW".  Two matches came up.  Grimacing slightly at how close he had come to failure, he called up the matches.

                Hotels, travel expenses, and munitions data flooded the screen.  Well, wasn't this interesting … Xin had men in Japan on the Clow Project …

                And what was this?

                The journal of Clow Reed?

                Xiao Lang caught his breath on his teeth, reviewing the auction prices that the journal had gone for.  He had had no idea that Xin possessed the journal; hell, he'd had no idea the journal still existed.  It was supposed to have burned along with the Li Estate—

                The boy closed his eyes, debating the values of taking the time to search for the long-lost journal.  It could, and probably would, contain valuable information regarding the Cards, but …

                "Boy!"

                Xiao Lang actually jumped.  He twisted around in his chair, half-jumping to his feet.  "Sir?"

                The teacher gave him a glare meant to freeze students in their tracks.  Past his initial surprise, Xiao Lang was largely unaffected.  "Ah, it's you, Mr. Li.  I should have known.  Don't you have classes to attend?"

                Xiao Lang twitched, but bowed.  "Yes, sir.  I was just cleaning up here."  And with that, he did so.

                Enough of that for today …

*   *   *

                "The culprit's blood type is O," the forensics specialist stated.  "We're analyzing the white cell DNA even now.  So far we know he's a male, and Chinese."

                It was amazing what kind of leaps forward science had taken, even in the presence of 'magic' – an advancement made largely by accident that allowed feats modern science still could not explain.  The ability to fully break down human DNA and match it against international records in less than 48 hours was one such leap forward; according to geneticists, it was only a matter of time before the unexplained DNA patterns that allowed 'magic' were explained.

                Xin snorted faintly, taking in the news.  "This doesn't narrow down the pool of suspects very much," he pointed out.  About 63% of the population of China was male, due to the favoring of male children over female children and the long-standing limit of one child per family.

                "True.  But it's a step in the right direction."

                That was also true.

                Xin absorbed the information and considered.  The shuriken had been more frustrating than illuminating, in the end; they pointed to at least two ninjas from opposing clans, which was, to be frank, as close to impossible as one could get.  The other possibility was someone very skilled in empathic magic.

                The police already had men scouring the school records of every student specializing in empathy, but the likelihood they would turn up the culprit was low, in Xin's opinion.  First of all, the man could have been schooled anywhere in the world, or perhaps privately; secondly, the age of the culprit was unknown.  There was no telling if the mystery ninja was 15 or 50, and even if he was in some school record, the list would not be easily narrowed down.

                The next question, then, was what was the motive?  Why would a ninja break into his office specifically and not steal anything …?

                As if the answer wasn't obvious.

                He made a phone call.

*   *   *

                Far away, in England, a phone rang, and a maid picked it up.  "Hiiragizawa residence.  Ah, yes sir … yes, I'll notify him at once."  She placed the caller on hold.  "Master Hiiragizawa!  Mr. Xin is on the phone for you!"

                "Thank you, Elizabeth; I'll be taking that directly," said Master Hiiragizawa in a voice too deep for his diminutive form as he entered the room; he took the phone from the maid smoothly with small hands.  "Yes, Mr. Xin?  Yes … hm.  Most interesting … of course, it would be my pleasure.  Give me a few days to gather some resources.  Ah, there's no need for concern, Mr. Xin … I already have some suspicions.  Absolutely.  Goodbye."

                He pressed the phone back into the hook, and the smile that laced his features was old and amused.  "Hm, so it's those things … and here I thought the Clan had been wiped out," he chuckled softly.  "So good to see I was mistaken …"  He paused.  "Elizabeth, would you please see to packing my things?  I'll be needing a supply that will last me about two weeks."

                "Sir?"

                The boy's smile softened slightly.  "I'm going back to Japan for a while.  I think that the trip will be enjoyable … don't you?"

*   *   *

No CCS story is complete without Eriol Hiiragizawa.

Next: The noose tightens around Xiao Lang's neck unexpectedly quick …