The tall, well-dressed Japanese man put away the phone and permitted himself a fleeting smile of self-satisfaction.

It was done. They had her.

Now the waiting game began. The Himemiya family would need to step forward, offering money. They would do it, sooner or later. There would be hesitation, pride, unwillingness to show weakness in the face of criminals, but this was their sole child. They would pay.

The money would disappear.

The kidnappers would disappear as well. Tamura and his yakuza friends would see to that. The man in the sharkskin suit had a close working relationship with the Ayanokouji-gumi in the Islands, a relationship made all the more valuable because the Himemiya Financial Group's contacts in Japan were largely with the Takamura-gumi, a rival clan. There was, therefore, considerably less chance of loose lips somewhere down the line, simply because there were fewer people in a position to listen.

Tamura and his oyabun would get their sizable cut.

And the man in the sharkskin suit would be set for life. One billion yen was, he thought, a nice round number for his share.

All he had to do was wait.

~X X X~

"It doesn't m-make any sense!" Himeko stammered. "What would anyone want with Chikane-chan?" She clutched at her twin's dropped purse like it was some kind of talisman, while she fought to get her reeling emotions under control.

"Yeah, it's not like your family has any money," Marika said. "I mean, if it were Himemiya-san, it would..."

Her voice trailed off.


Himeko turned to see what had caused her friend to fall silent. Marika was looking off to her left, back into the International Market. Himeko followed her gaze and saw the fallen Gin getting woozily back to his feet.

"They knocked out Gin-san before kidnapping Miya-sama," Reiko put it into words. "They t-thought that Miya-sama was me. I...I mean, why shouldn't they? She's beautiful and stylish and confident, poised and talented...anyone would think she was the heiress, not me."

Himeko could hear the bitterness in her voice, and the guilt that underlay it. If only I was more like her. If only I was worthy of the Himemiya name, they'd never have taken Miya-sama. She recognized it in Reiko because that guilt was an old friend of hers, the gnawing fear that she wasn't good enough for Chikane or to be the Solar Priestess. She'd all but been crippled by the fear in her past life, until the depth of her love for Chikane had led her to find the inner core of strength she hadn't realized she possessed.

Now Chikane was in danger. She needed to find that strength again. Scared as she was, helpless as she felt in the face of the sudden violence, Himeko knew she had to get control of herself. She didn't know what she could do, she felt so powerless, but she had to be ready for something, for any opportunity. She wasn't any good to Chikane if she stood around crying, making people waste time on her.

"Please, get a hold of yourself, Himemiya-san," Himeko said, lightly touching the girl on the shoulder. "We should see if Gin-san is all right."

"O-okay." She looked grateful just to have some kind of direction.

"We should call the police," Marika suggested.

"Yeah, English is really bad," Himeko said. "I don't think they could understand me."

"Me, either. Himemiya-san?"

Reiko shook her head.

"Not very well. My family's tutors taught me German, and a smattering of Mandarin Chinese, but I don't know much English." She sighed. "Oh, but Gin-san knows. That's why Otousama picked him for this trip. So does Haseo-san, the other bodyguard; he's from the branch here in Honolulu."

"Okay," Himeko decided. "If Gin-san is able, he can call the police; if not, then you can call the hotel and get Haseo-san to do it." She started walking toward the fallen bodyguard.

"Miya-chan, I'm so sorry; if I hadn't been here...this is all my fault!"

Himeko shook her head.

"There's no time to feel bad for ourselves," she said resolutely. "We have to do whatever we can to help Chikane-chan."

Despite her brave words, though, she could not suppress a shiver of fear at the thought of what Chikane was going through.

~X X X~

"Come on, come on, rise and shine, Miss Himemiya."

Consciousness returned dully to Chikane, like she was waking out of a deep sleep. Her head pounded like a triphammer, clouding her thoughts even more. Something seemed wrong, out of place., it's Asamiya now, isn't it?

She struggled to open her eyes, but couldn't quite make it.

"Up and at 'em, girl; we haven't got all day."

English? Why are they speaking English? Something wasn't right. She fought for memory, to try and recall why there was this mounting sensation of wrongness but couldn't quite grasp it, like trying to catch a raindrop only to have it run through her fingers.

"You think she's still out?"

"Nah. Her breathing's changed. She's coming around."

Chikane felt the whisper of cloth against her face and light stabbed painfully into her eyelids. She tried to groan but her lips didn't move—no, couldn't move, were held shut by something. Tape! Memory crashed in on her—the sudden attack, the men, the spasms of the Taser, the van pulling alongside, the prick of a needle.


She tried opening her eyes again, to focus and learn what she could about her surroundings. The light was a bright beam of sunlight shining through and concentrated by a skylight in the roof thirty feet above her. The building was some kind of warehouse or farm storage shed, with a packed dirt floor and corrugated metal walls. She herself was tied to a straight-backed chair, arms behind her and ankles tied to the chair legs. The cord prickled at her wrists; she thought it was probably plain hemp rope.

The skylight, the few high windows, and several hooded bulbs descending on wires from the ceiling gave decent illumination, and Chikane could see four men facing her: a slim Japanese in a black T-shirt and cargo pants, silver rings in his left ear and nostril; a burly man of mixed Pacific Islands ethnicities in which no one origin seemed dominant, showing off tattooed arms in a tank top and Bermuda shorts; a stubble-cheeked blond with surfer-boy looks in a red Hawaiian shirt and white pants; and a tall, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped man with the features of a native Hawaiian whose tight-fitting T-shirt and jeans showed off lean, hard muscles, the kind a man got through swimming, running, or martial arts instead of pumping iron. She remembered the tattooed man and the surfer from when she'd been grabbed; the surfer had had the Taser.

Surfer Boy chuckled.

"Hell, if looks could kill, we'd be bleeding out now. Must not have liked our invitation."

Chikane's gaze lingered on the tattooed man for a moment. His color deepened, and he stepped forward and ripped the duct tape off her mouth. It stung like blazes, but she choked down the reflexive yelp. She wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of a response.

The Hawaiian grinned. "Looks like you pissed off Rex with your little stunt, Miss Himemiya. Then again, I suppose it's only sensible that one of Japan's richest heiresses knows a little self-defense."

"I'm not—" Chikane began, then snapped her mouth shut. What am I thinking? I almost told them that I'm not Reiko! That would be a fatal mistake. Himemiya Reiko was a valuable asset who could bring these men wealth. Asamiya Tsukuyo was worthless dead weight—worse, she was a substantial liability, a witness. If they learned whom she was, or more accurately wasn't, they'd kill her at once.

"You can go ahead and scream, you know," the surfer told her. "There's nobody out here that can hear you, anyway. And it'd make Rex happy. You owe him one for the fall you gave him."

He owes me one, she thought. If I'd known he was a kidnapper instead of a purse-snatcher I'd have crippled him instead of just knocking him down. Not that it would have saved her from the Taser, but it would have meant one less captor and possibly a valuable witness left behind in police custody.

She cut off that chain of thought. "What ifs" were useless, and chewing over past mistakes wasn't going to help. She had to get away somehow, to get back to Himeko. She must be frantic.

"I'm not telling you anything."

The men laughed. The Hawaiian's, though, was the shortest, and he stepped forward, grabbing a fistful of Chikane's hair and jerking her head back.

"Now, listen up, bitch. You may think you're hot shit, with all your daddy's money and your school-team martial arts tricks, but none of that means jack to me. I could cut your throat right here and now and only care about getting the bloodstains off my boots. You get that?"

Chikane didn't say anything. He yanked her head back farther, sending a shock of pain through her scalp. His free hand dipped into his hip pocket and brought out a butterfly knife, which he spun open with a practiced movement. The Islander pressed the point of the knife to the soft skin just behind Chikane's chin, and she felt the sting as he dug the tip in, just a little.

"I said, you get that?"

"She gets it," the Japanese man said. "Her English is perfect. She did all the translating for the girls when they were shopping. Very good English and very fancy, high-class Japanese."

He was spying on me? But of course, someone had had to be watching; how else would they have been tricked into thinking "Miya-sama" was Himemiya Reiko. Indeed, it was Reiko herself who called her "Miya-sama" in their group of four, so ironically it was their intended victim who'd inadvertently redirected their attention to Chikane, over and above language and mannerisms. I can't believe I didn't notice I was being followed, though. Ordinary school life with Himeko had dulled the Lunar Priestess's warrior instincts.

Not that she'd trade that in. Her time with Himeko was too precious a treasure to miss any part of. But she needed to be more than that, now. It was the sword priestess, not the schoolgirl or the lover, whom she needed to be if she wanted to get out of this.

"You going to cooperate, girl? Or do I carve you up a bit? Rich family like yours, I'm sure they can give you enough surgery to make the scars mostly go away..." He took the knife away from her jaw and laid it just below her eye. "I'll start here, maybe," he said stroking the flat of the blade over her cheek down to the corner of her mouth. "Of course, I'll have to be careful. The muscles in that area are tricky and a careless slip could do permanent damage. Wouldn't want to wreck that gorgeous smile, hey?"

"What do you want?" Chikane asked, believing the man's threats. They weren't just for intimidation's sake, but had genuine menace behind them. He wouldn't want to kill her, not while she represented Himemiya family money to him, but he'd certainly hurt her. Probably, he'd enjoy it.

That was fair. She'd enjoy hurting him, too.


He put away the butterfly knife and extended a hand towards the Japanese man, who passed him a microcassette recorder, the kind businesspeople used in the '80s and '90s to dictate notes and memos into.

"We want you to sing for your daddy, little bird."

~X X X~

"I'm alive and well, for now, and they say I'll remain that way if by their rules. They assume the police have already been called by my friends or teachers and will accept that, but warn that any sign of surveillance or result in my painful death. They'll contact you later with details of the payment and transfer, but suggest that the Himemiyas get several million dollars in old, non-sequential twenties and fifties prepared in the meantime.

"Tell Himeko that I'm all right and that I love her."

Detective-Lieutenant Lord clicked off the tape player.

"I'm not going to lie to you," he said to the assembled faces. "This is a grade-A fuck-up."

Next to him, Sergeant Morishita translated his words into Japanese, as the liaison officer had previously done for the kidnapped girl's. Under the circumstances, an interpreter was mandated; among the seven people facing the police in the hotel's conference room, only the Himemiya Financial Group representative, a lawyer named Machita, was truly bilingual. The two bodyguards and the teacher had the halting semi-fluency of someone who'd learned the language from books but rarely, if ever, practiced it among native speakers, while the three girls were even worse. It was doubly irritating to realize that judging by the voice on the tape and the waitresses' statements, the girl who'd been kidnapped was likely the one who'd have been most genuinely useful to have around.

He'd given some initial thought to the idea that this wasn't a mistake at all—that the girl might have been in on a staged kidnapping, all of the profit but none of the problems with controlling the hostage. He'd never have gotten to his rank if he'd accepted everything at face value. But the evidence and witness testimony had convinced Lord that this case was what it seemed like: a kidnapping where the criminals had grabbed the wrong target.

"I appreciate your sentiments, Lieutenant," the lawyer responded in English. "Nonetheless, I do not understand the reason for my presence. Miss Reiko is safe, and certainly neither I nor my clients have any information about these criminals."

"You're here because HPD is asking that the Himemiyas play along with the kidnappers. And given that this ransom tape wasn't even provided to us until we contacted you, I don't think you have much of a leg to stand on."

Machita did not flinch.

"For which I thank you. When this tape was delivered, I believed that Miss Himemiya had been, in fact, kidnapped. Now we know that this was not the case. We have no stake in this matter."

Smug bastard. He doesn't need me to tell him any of this, Lord thought. But that was a lawyer, right enough, serving his clients' bottom line instead of doing the right thing.

"Because Miss Asamiya's safety may depend on it. The kidnappers believe they have Reiko Himemiya. If they find out the truth, they're likely to cut their losses, kill the girl and try to vanish."

The teacher flinched at this and after Morishita translated—no way was Lord letting the attorney keep this to himself—the strawberry blonde yelped. The girl who'd been identified as the real Reiko Himemiya spun to the lawyer and began spitting out rapid-fire Japanese.

"Please, Mr. Machita, you have to do what they say! Miya-sama was kidnapped because of me! I couldn't live with myself if we allowed anything to happen to her! You have to do everything in your power to see that she is brought home safely."

Machita showed nothing but a stoic face, but Lord knew that he was squirming inside. It hadn't been an accident, after all, that Lord made his request in front of the other involved parties. He couldn't expect the Himemiyas to actually pony up the ransom, but he wasn't going to let some shark in a suit say "Too bad; so sad" and let the girl get killed because she wasn't important to him.

Now, though, it was a matter of public face—and more, the heiress herself had made a request.

Machita inclined his head slightly.

"Very well, Lieutenant; please let me know how I may be of assistance to you."

~X X X~

Surfer Boy dug the end of a bottle opener under the cap of a longneck and popped it open. He lifted the beer to his lips and took a deep drink, then sighed. Chikane appreciated the point; the bright sun and metal walls made the building hot, and the lack of ventilation made it stifling. Chikane's throat and tongue felt swollen, and perspiration dotted her face and limbs.

She'd have loved something cold and wet to drink, but she was actually glad of the heat. The heat was her friend, the perspiration making her skin slippery. She had been slowly, so it didn't show any more than it had to in her shoulders, working on the bonds, and believed she could get her wrists free in an instant at any time she liked. The ropes around her ankles, though, were a different problem; it would take time to untie them, time that she wouldn't have under the eyes of a guard.

The Hawaiian had left temporarily, no doubt to arrange delivery of the tape he'd had Chikane make. Hopefully he wouldn't discover that he had the wrong girl. He'd left the other three men on guard, but they hadn't wanted to sit around in the heat watching so they'd played rock-paper-scissors to determine who'd stay in and the surfer—Cedric, they'd called him—had been the loser.

The fact that they'd been so free with names and faces told Chikane something else, that even if the Himemiyas paid the ransom, they'd only be buying back a corpse. That meant she'd have to get away, not just before they learned the truth, but before their plan got to the point where they didn't need her alive.

The good news was, Cedric didn't have a gun. That wasn't so much out of concern for her life, though it was relevant, as for their own. There were three of them, bigger, stronger, and no doubt competent fighters. From where they stood, introducing guns into the equation would just make things worse. If she somehow got hold of one, it would maker her as big and strong as any of them.

In truth, Chikane would not want a gun except as a last resort. She'd never fired one, never even held one. Could she even find the safety and fire? If so, she had no idea what kind of force to use pulling the trigger, or how strong the recoil would be. She'd probably miss; certainly any precision aiming would be impossible.

If she had a sword or bow, she would be confident she could beat these men, even though she lacked the powers of the awakened Lunar Priestess. She did not have such weapons, though. It was pointless to even waste time wishing for them.

Surfer Boy didn't have the Taser, either. Maybe it needed to be recharged before using again? If Chikane did free her hands, he'd have to come close to prevent her from freeing her legs. Would he just call his friends, have one cover her while he retied her? She doubted it; for one thing they might have wandered off, and for another she didn't think a macho type like the surfer would want to admit he needed help to control a teenage girl who was tied to a chair.

So he would probably approach her. She'd only get one chance, though. If she tried to get away and failed, they'd likely tie her up more securely, and probably "teach her a lesson" about trying it again, besides.

Chikane cast her eyes around the room, taking in everything she could see. Mostly the place had been left empty, but for a couple of long worktables near one wall with bits of junk strewn on them. She wondered if there was anything useful to be found there. Somehow, though, she doubted that Surfer Boy would be nice enough to go inventory it for her.

No, there was no more time for thought or planning.

She yanked her hands free, the rough help scraping her skin, probably drawing blood. He had the beer bottle tipped back again, so he didn't notice at once, but when she bent over to reach for her ankles he caught the bigger movement and came up sputtering.

"Hey, what the?"

He jumped up and ran towards her. There was no chance to get her legs free, but she hadn't really expected to get loose anyway. She reached back, gripping the sides of the chair back while she bent forward so she was standing on her feet. As the kidnapper neared, Chikane spun. Her movement was ridiculously clumsy, but her timing was good; she whipped the chair frame hard against the side of Cedric's legs at knee level. He stumbled, windmilling, and she slammed back hard against him, knocking him onto his back before he could regain his balance.

Chikane didn't trick herself into believing she had time to get her legs free or accomplish anything else before Surfer Boy could get back up. He'd been surprised by her escape attempt and surprised again when she used the chair against him, but that wouldn't keep him down long. Without hesitation, Chikane drew herself up, then drove her body down, slamming the chair legs into Surfer Boy's torso and abdomen with her full body weight and all the force she could muster. One leg, well placed, rammed into his solar plexus, driving the breath out of him in a choked gasp. Before he could catch his breath or try to grab the chair to topple her off him she drew herself up and struck again.

And again.

And again.

The third try speared a chair leg down on his throat, crushing his windpipe and leaving him strangling. She didn't realize that until the eighth strike.

No one had come rushing in by the time Chikane untied the ropes from her legs. She stretched, then rubbed her wrists and ankles, trying to restore circulation. Then she turned to the body.

I'm sorry, Himeko momentarily flitted through her mind. She had killed a man. A criminal, a kidnapper, one who'd surely have tried to kill her in the future, but even so he was still dead, and in some vague way she felt like she had let her lover down.

Chikane patted down the body, hoping to find a weapon, but only came up with a cell phone and wallet. She took the phone; if it got a signal she could use it to call for help. Unfortunately, he had nothing else useful. She went to the junk tables and had better luck there. It wasn't much, but there was a coil of sturdy wire on a wooden spool. She secured the loose end to a small L-shaped piece of wood that had broken off something some time in the past and had herself a serviceable garrotte. It wasn't a weapon she was particularly experienced with; holding the strangling cord she felt neither actual training nor the subconscious nudge that she felt when she was familiar with something from unremembered past lives.

She had to get them separately. The tattooed man and the Japanese were of an unknown skill level and she didn't think she could necessarily take them both while weaponless. The best move was to wait, patiently, for the next man to take over guard duty from Cedric. They'd said that they'd switch off every hour, so how much time did she have?

None! she realized as she heard the scrape of the door latch turning, as loud as a gunshot in the empty room. She rushed towards the door, playing out the wire between her hands as she did.

"Hey, Cedric! You're a free man!" the tattooed gym rat said as he pushed open the door. An instant later he saw Surfer Boy's body sprawled in the dirt and Chikane missing. "Hey, what the f—?"

His words were cut off as the garrotte whipped around his throat.

~X X X~

Machita Ken was furious. That damned American detective had pinned him into a corner, all but blackmailed him into continuing the farce when no sane businessman would do so. The Himemiya Financial Group was not a charity! It had no special interest in Asamiya Tsukuyo. It wasn't even a trip sponsor or otherwise a host who might, therefore, have some perceived obligation for the girl's safety.

But no, the detective had not only refused to acknowledge this, he had all but demanded that the company play along, with the tacit threat that if it didn't, they'd be smeared throughout the press with a PR nightmare if anything happened. And Himemiya Reiko had immediately spoken up, pleading tearfully for the sake of her school friend. It was pathetic, not even an act of gracious charity extended for kindness' sake but a panicked breakdown.

No wonder she's a nothing, a shrinking violet, while some nobody becomes her "Miya-sama" and the princess of the school in her place!

It was Reiko's lack of poise, grace, self-esteem, awareness of her position, whatever the hell one wanted to call it that had landed them in this mess. His initial rage had been directed at Vincent Pukui and his crew of idiots—what did they need, a fucking dossier on the target?—but now he was beginning to understand just how the mistake had been made.

Another thing to blame Lieutenant Lord for, he thought. He'd kept them in that stupid conference for so long that Machita hadn't been able to get out and make a vitally important phone call. It'd been nearly an hour and a half before he was able to take out a cell, not the sleek black business-model smartphone that he'd used to set up the gathering of the ransom money under the eyes of everyone in the conference, but a second phone. This one was a cheap model with prepaid minutes, a nearly-untraceable "burn phone." The number he dialed was associated with another such phone. There was one ring, then a second.

"Yah?" Pukui's voice snapped out. Machita could hear a car engine in the background; the Hawaiian was no doubt returning to the place he'd stashed the girl.

"You grabbed the wrong one," Machita snapped, not bothering with any formalities.


"You took the wrong one! How much plainer can I make it?"

"Hey, don't be pulling this, man. We got the one you told us to go after. Carries herself like a fucking queen, even after we snatched her."

"The problem is that Reiko is a little mouse with glasses and braids!" It was an effort to keep from screaming, but he knew that he couldn't afford to indulge his temper. "The girl you grabbed has nothing, nothing to offer. No connection to the Himemiyas! Just an ordinary, middle-class family! With a twin sister who called the police!"

"That bitch! She went and played along when she found we didn't know who she was. Probably figured it would keep her alive."

"Lucky you didn't get her purse and ID and smart to realize what it meant—but she's out of both now. Dispose of her and clean up before the police get a chance to catch a sniff of what's happening."

Without waiting for a response, Machita signed off the call, then glanced around. No one was in sight, so he took out a handkerchief, wiped the cell of any prints, and tossed the burn phone into a refuse bin amid newspaper and fast-food wrappers.

The Hawaiian was lucky, he thought. Letting them fade into the underworld, when they hadn't collected a ransom, was easier than having his yakuza contacts finish them off. Pukui's mistake had, inadvertently, ended up saving his life.

Too bad it wouldn't help Asamiya Tsukuyo.

~X X X~

The tattooed man clawed at the wire encircling his throat, but soon realized that it was too late; it was biting into his flesh and he couldn't get any purchase. It was virtually impossible, despite his strength advantage, for him to reach behind him and use that strength against his garrotter. It was one of the things that made a garrotte such a lethal weapon; the human animal's instinctive responses to it were almost useless.

And, of course, he could not call for help.

In desperation and terror, Rex did the only thing he could do: he braced his feet instead of staggering, pivoted, and used his greater size and muscle mass to drive himself backward, hammering his strangler's body against the corrugated-metal wall with all the force he could muster. The loud clanging of the impact rang out like an alarm bell once, twice, then three times, four. His vision was starting to blur when he felt the constant pressure at his throat slacken. With the garrotte no longer in place he was able to reach back, get a grip on the girl, and then lean forward with all the strength he had, throwing her over his back to slam onto the floor in front of him, nearly hitting Cedric's empty chair.

Rex ripped the wire from around his throat and gasped for breath, sucking in the oxygen his body so desperately needed. The throw had been a hard one; the girl lay in the dirt, momentarily stunned, giving him the time to get his breath back. He was going to enjoy breaking her with his bare hands. They might need the Himemiya bitch alive for now, but hey, they were going to kill her sooner or later, weren't they, so a little rough work didn't matter, right?

He was so focused on reaching out and seizing her that he didn't see her hand close around the neck of Cedric's dropped beer bottle, and he only heard the sound of her shattering the glass by swinging it, hard, against one of the chair legs. She took him completely by surprise when, as he bent down to grab her, she whipped her arm around and drove the jagged ends of the broken bottle into the soft flesh of his throat, tearing it open.

~X X X~

The tattooed man wasn't dead by the time Chikane began patting him down, judging by the bubbles of escaping air welling up through the blood in the ruin of his throat. The crash of her body against the wall had been loud and unnatural; the third man would be on his way. She needed a weapon, a real weapon, if she was going to deal with the Japanese in a straight-up fight without the advantage of surprise. Did she have any time? Seconds, at most.

There! Under the loose-fitting shorts, strapped to the outside of his right leg, hilt-down in a sheath, was a knife. Chikane unsnapped the strap around the handle that kept the knife from falling out and drew the weapon. It was a Marine KA-BAR, a combat knife with a seven-inch blade, meant for both stabbing and slashing. Chikane was expert with a tanto, the Japanese dagger, and this was more than adequate as a substitute.

The Japanese kidnapper burst through the door just as Chikane pulled the knife free; he had the Taser in hand and whipped it towards her to fire. She dove left without trying to rise, rolling away, careful to keep the knife from accidentally cutting or stabbing herself, and the barbs whipped harmlessly past her, trailing their coils of electric wire. He flung aside the now-useless weapon as Chikane sprang to her feet and charged him. If he had a gun it would be touch-and-go if she could get to him before he could draw and fire.

He didn't have a gun, though. Apparently he'd still followed the Hawaiian's admonition not to risk carrying one around the prisoner, or else he just didn't like them. What he did produce was a tanto, the weapon she'd just been thinking about. Steel rang off steel as he parried her first cut, then sprang aside from her second. They faced each other, circling, expressions grim. Chikane could tell he knew what he was doing from that first exchange, his stance, a dozen cues, and that he ought to be picking up the same thing about her.

There was a difference, though. He had proof of what she was capable of. There had been three men, and one teenaged girl tied to a chair. Now there was just one man, and the girl wasn't tied any more. How would that change his perceptions? Could he react quickly, psychologically deal with what had happened, or would he be off-balance, defending himself on instinct rather than by thought?

She felt the ache in her back from where she'd been hammered against the wall, the throb in wrists and ankles from the ropes, the soreness in her shoulders from having her arms tied behind her. Chikane had her own disadvantages, physical ones, which might slow and distract her.

She knew how to focus past pain and injury, though.

Nobody could focus past their own mind.

"Come on, Jojo," she invited, remembering his name. "Why don't you try something?" She beckoned with her off hand, though not actually moving it out of position. "Or do you need me to be tied up first, before you make your move? Of course, that's what Cedric did, and it didn't work out so well for him, didn't it?"

A quiver ran through him, a flicker of hate slashing across his features.

"Try it, Jojo," she taunted. "Surely you don't need me to have one hand tied behind my back, do you?"

She took a risk, then, pulling her empty hand back around to hold it behind her. Even as a feint, it was taking a chance, because it would only work to her advantage if he did what she wanted him to do. If he didn't take the bait—

But he did. His anger at her mockery, his confusion at how she'd so utterly reversed the situation on her kidnappers betrayed him, clouding his judgment. He attacked to take advantage of her exposed side, to use her arrogance against her as he thought. Only, he hadn't thought the next step ahead, didn't see she was ready to pivot away from the attack, catch the wrist of his knife-hand between the V of thumb and forefinger to knock it up and away, and rip the KA-BAR in a slashing cut along his exposed ribs.

Pain fueled the Japanese man's fear, weakening him, clouding his judgment even more. He tried to close and grapple and got a slash across the knuckles of his empty hand for his trouble. Each injury just made it worse for him as Chikane steadily, methodically, cut him to ribbons.

She left the warehouse, the sweltering heat and the stink of blood and death, into the late-afternoon fresh air. As she'd suspected, they were out in the middle of nowhere; greenery had crept in on all sides except for a small clearing in front of the building and the only road away was a dirt track. There was no sign of a vehicle, so she assumed that the Hawaiian had taken the only one on his errand. Chikane did find some of the men's gear outside: firearms, the Taser's charger, a cooler containing beer and sandwiches. She hadn't eaten since breakfast so she helped herself to a turkey sandwich on wheat. While she ate, she took out the cell phone she'd retrieved from Surfer Boy's body and found, pleasantly, that she had a signal. She quickly dialed a familiar number.

"H-hello?" a voice answered in Japanese, tight with worry.

"Himeko, it's Chikane."

"Chikane-chan!" Himeko squealed. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine for now. I got away from the kidnappers, but there's one of them left. He went to deliver a ransom tape a while ago."

"It was delivered. Thank you for the message; it made me feel a lot better."

"I'm glad."

There was a slight pause.

"Um, Chikane-chan, what did you mean by 'one of them left'?"

She took a long pause before admitting the truth. "What you're thinking. Alive."

"Are you all right?"

Chikane chuckled.

"You already asked that, love. Yes, I'm fine. I got bumped around a bit, but that's all." The laughter vanished at once as she asked, "Are you all right?"

They both knew what she was asking.

"They kidnapped you, Chikane-chan! The detective said that they'd probably kill you if they found out you weren't Himemiya-san!"

Chikane sighed with relief, unable to keep the smile off her face. Killing those men hadn't bothered her in the slightest, but the though of disappointing Himeko...And how broken am I, that I can think that way?

Less broken than she'd been as the Eighth Neck, in her previous life. Perhaps that was all that mattered.

"Thank you. You said that there was a detective there? So you called the police?"

"That's right."

"Is he or she still wherever you're at?"

"Oh, yes; he's still here."

"Good. Can you please put him on?"

There was a long pause, and then another voice came on the line.

"Miss Asamiya? This is Lieutenant Lord, Honolulu Police Department."

"You're in charge of the case?"

"For now, until the feds show up. Your sister said that you got away?"

"Yes. I killed the three men left with me, but I suspect the fourth will be coming back. I don't know where I am and I'm off in the country somewhere, so there's nowhere for me to go but into the wilderness. Can you track this phone by GPS and get a helicopter up here? You might be able to get here before the last one does and take him when he comes back."

"Is this some kind of joke? You say you killed three kidnappers?"

"They were careless, and after this experience I'm not inclined to make jokes. I just want to get back safely to my sister and the rest of the school group."

"All right, just keep this call open and we'll see what we can do." Chikane heard him snapping off orders to, she assumed, his subordinates, putting the machinery of law enforcement into work, before returning to the phone. "You're okay, though? Do you need a doctor?"

"I've been a bit shaken up, and I'm sure I'll have a few nasty bruises, but that's all. I just want to get out of here. There's still most of the school trip left, and I really don't want to ruin it for everyone else."

~X X X~

"All right, Miss Asamiya, that's all," Lord said, turning off the recorder. He walked over to the interrogation room door. "We'll have a car take you back to the hotel." Perhaps surprisingly, everything had gone perfectly; they had traced her location to an abandoned agricultural operation, flown in to retrieve her, and been in time for two-time loser Vincent Pukui to drive right into their laps.

"Thank you, Lieutenant."

An officer was waiting when she came out, escorting her down the hall. Morishita passed her, joining Lord.

"Do you believe her, Lieutenant?"

"No reason not to. We'll hold her passport, just in case the forensics pull up something wonky, but it looks plain enough. Pukui's singing like a lark, seeing as how he's facing three counts of felony murder over and above the kidnapping and assault charges, and Machita's lawyer was asking for a plea deal before it even got out of the DA's mouth. The press'll make the girl a hero, who fought her way free from vicious killers, so there's no chance anyone'll push it, particularly with the international angle. Justifiable homicide, plain and simple." His gaze narrowed. "Why, you think something's wrong?"

Morishita sighed, then shook his head.

"With the facts of the case? No. It's just..." He turned, looking back the way Asamiya Tsukuyo had gone. "Watching your interview, that girl...she bothers me."

"She's a pretty exceptional kid, according to her teachers. Valedictorian, class president, tennis player, kyudo club captain—what is that, anyway?"

"Japanese-style archery," Morishita provided.

Lord nodded.


"And the three men she killed?"

"Rap sheets as long as your arm, all of 'em."

Morishita nodded.

"Yet this paragon, this honor student, killed them all. She crushed a man to death with a chair. She garrotted a man, then slashed his throat with a broken bottle. She took a third man to pieces in a knife fight. I'm not saying it wasn't justified. I'm not saying it wasn't self-defense. I'm just saying that it isn't normal. And...damn it, Jack, we've both been cops a long time. We've seen posers trying to be badass and we've seen people in shock. She's neither one. She snuffed three hardcases and she just doesn't care. The only time she showed any emotion was when she talked about that kid sister of hers."

Lord nodded.

"I agree. Except, if you ask my opinion, that emotion isn't exactly sisterly."

Morishita's face twisted.

"God, you don't mean—"

Lord laughed, a hearty chuckle at the liaison officer's discomfiture.

"Jack, what's so funny about that? We're talking about a sociopath with an incestuous fixation—"

"—secretly trained in martial arts and knife fighting? I don't think so."

"Then what?"

"She's a pro, Ted. Probably the sister, or girlfriend, or whatever too. You think this Machita joker is the first to get the bright idea to kidnap the heiress? I'm betting, when Miss Reiko went off to high school, the Himemiyas ran in a ringer, a baby-faced bodyguard who could keep an eye on her at school, on trips, all that, without having to let the girl know she's under watch."

"Then why didn't she just say so?"

"Traveling under a false passport? In this day and age, that'll get her in more trouble than the three dead guys. Plus, after, what, three or four years of deep cover, you think she wants to blow it just for our curiosity's sake?"

"Are you going to write any of this up?"

"Why bother? It's just guesswork. I'm not going to make trouble where there doesn't need to be." Lord pushed himself out of the uncomfortable plastic chair. "And maybe I'm just talking through my hat and you're right about her. Either way, it's not our problem."

~X X X~


The dark-haired girl had gotten barely two steps away from the police car that had dropped her off in front of the hotel before Himeko engulfed her in a massive hug, squeezing for all she was worth.

"Did you miss me?" Chikane said playfully.

"Mm-hm!" Himeko agreed without a trace of teasing or self-consciousness. "I was really scared, even more then when the Orochi were after me."

Chikane blinked in surprise.

"But why—"

"You know why, Chikane-chan."

The taller girl let out her breath in a long sigh, then raised a hand to stroke Himeko's hair.

"Yes, I do. Because I was in danger and you couldn't do anything about it."

"Yeah. It was awful; I'd have been less scared if I'd been right there with you. But I'm okay now that you're safe, honestly." She wasn't lying; getting over shocks and emotional upsets was one of the things Himeko was really good at, much better than Chikane.

And she had Chikane back. That was what mattered.

"Well, at least we can enjoy a nice dinner and get a decent night's sleep. I think we'll both need it if we're not going to yawn all the way through the museums tomorrow and give the people there the entirely wrong idea."

"The museums?"

"The school trip? Tomorrow was supposed the be various cultural sights?"

"Chikane-chan, the teachers...they were going to cancel the trip, after all that's happened. Now that you're safe, they'll make arrangements to take us all home."

Her twin looked at her, startled.

"But that isn't fair! Something bad happens to me, and our class loses something they've been looking forward to all year? Unless...did you want to go home, Himeko?"

She shook her head.

"No, I don't. I was having lots of fun, and I was really looking forward to some of the other activities! And," she pitched her voice low so it couldn't be overheard by anyone else passing by, "I don't want to miss the rest of our 'honeymoon,' Chikane-chan."

"That settles it, then," Chikane declared firmly. "I'll have to have a talk with the teachers right away and let them know that they don't have to do anything for my sake. No, better yet, I'll talk to Himemiya-san first and we can approach them together. A touch of 'the Himemiya family would be deeply shamed if its private affairs caused my classmates inconvenience' could go a long way towards helping convince the administration that we don't need to make any changes."

She chuckled softly.

"Perhaps my best argument will be that the police have requested that I remain here for a few more days until they can determine they won't need my testimony in court. Why not have fun while we're here anyway?"

There it was, Himeko thought. A problem arose, and already her twin had come up with the rudiments of a plan to overcome it, at the end of a day where she had been Tased, drugged, abducted, escaped her captors, killed three people (even if they'd richly deserved it), and been interrogated by the police over the matter. She had to fight to keep tears from welling up.

"I'm so sorry, Chikane," she said, squeezing her lover's hand between her own.

"But why?" Worry was plain on Chikane's face. "None of this was your fault, and you were the one who suffered. You're the one who was worried and afraid and upset by it all."

"Mmn," Himeko agreed, nodding. She knew that Chikane wasn't telling a comforting lie, that she really did view—and accurately—her experiences as being more of a strain on Himeko than herself. "That's why I'm sorry."


It took a long time to heal a broken soul.

Luckily, they had as many lifetimes as they needed.

~X X X~

A/N: It's funny. Whenever I try to look into the psyche of Himeko, I get introspective vignettes like "Sunrise" or "Madness of the Sun." Whenever I look into the psyche of Chikane, I get explicit sex and violence like "Moving Day" or the fights with the Sixth and First Necks in Kannazuki no Shimai or this story.

For anybody who's wondering, the doctrine of felony murder simply indicates that any death that takes place during the commission of a felony constitutes murder, punishable on the same level as premeditated, first-degree homicide. The interesting thing about felony murder is that the "murderer" does not actually have to commit the killing to be guilty of felony murder. So if bank robbers shoot a teller, even the getaway driver who never went into the bank at all is still guilty of felony murder. Indeed, the person who gets killed isn't even required to be an innocent victim—even the death of a co-felon counts. So in this case, Chikane kills three criminals, and the fourth criminal is guilty of murder (Chikane isn't guilty of felony murder because she isn't a felon). However, the law of felony murder varies from state to state (what doesn't?) and I don't know how...or applies in Hawaii.