Author's Notes: This story is grouped like Japanese four-panel comics, which mean there are four chapters, each of which has a specific function. The first, ki, sets up the story. Also, although this is set in Japan, and I do speak Japanese, I didn't want to use Japanese in my story, but some of the set phrases used in everyday life in Japan sound a little strange in translation. If anything sticks out just too weird, shoot me a line, and I'll put them back in Japanese (I'm hoping they blend in well enough, though). /tl;dr


"Chairman, you're wanted in the President's office."

"Understood," Jade Curtiss said, straightening his tie. He walked up the two flights of stairs, took the corridor on the left to the third door down; it was a route he knew by heart. He braced himself before entering; President Peony was notoriously messy.

"Please excuse me," he said while opening the door. As expected, Peony's tie was loosened, his hair wasn't tied up, and his feet were up on his desk, on top of the paperwork that was presumably due last week.

"Oh, hey, Jade!" the President greeted him casually. "I was wondering when you'd get here." He dropped his feet and swung himself up in his chair; Jade uneasily watched as the paperwork fell to the floor with other long-lost papers. "We've got a problem."

Jade remained unfazed, still distracted by the mess. "What sort of problem could possibly require my help?"

Peony bent over his desk. "Well," he said in a low conspiratorial tone, "there's been an outside threat on the company."

"Well, that's hardly unusual, President," Jade said, still unsurprised. "We've been in competition with the Kimlascan company for years; it's practically tradition for them to threaten us once or twice a year."

"I know," Peony said, his voice still low, "but one of our Kimlascan workers says it's not them. This attack came from Daath."

"Daath?" Jade blinked. "But they're a very important graphic designing company; they employ the Kimlasca and Malkuth companies equally..." Jade neglected to mention that either company would refuse Daath business if they didn't split their employment, but as Daath was struggling with its ratings, it couldn't afford to anger the most important software companies in the district.

"Why would Daath threaten our company?" Jade asked.

"I'm not sure," Peony said, producing a letter from the stack of papers on the floor, "but that's what I want you to find out."

Alone in his office, Jade read through the letter. It was typed in standard font, with more kanji than was usual for standard businessmen.

Peony probably put me on the case because he couldn't read the letter, Jade thought with a dry laugh. The letter's contents were not particularly alarming, but there was a definite threat to "destroy the company and tarnish the Malkuth family name" if the demands were not met. The demands were strange as well: either three million yen (entirely in 500-yen coins) or some codes for the newest software program, still in development. Jade knew there was no way the company would fulfill either demand, but he was curious about the person who wrote the letter.

There were several high-profile figures at Daath Publishing, but most of them worked under the main department manager, Van Grants. Van was a ruthless man who could persuade anyone to see his point of view; he disliked Jade because Jade was never swayed by him. Jade, however, admired the young man's devotion and leadership skills; Mohs, the owner of the company, wasn't doing anything for Daath.

As Jade walked into the Daath building, he fought to surpress the urge to shiver; for some reason, it was always cold in the building. It reminded Jade of the old Shinto shrines he'd visited with his parents, chilled by their age and importance.

He approached the desk of Van's secretary, Giselle Oslo, who glared up at him from her computer as if annoyed by the interruption.

"I'm guessing you don't have an appointment," she said in a rough, rude voice. "Not that it would matter; Mr. Grants isn't in."

"That's fine," Jade said evenly. "May I speak to the next highest supervisor?"

Ms. Oslo rolled her eyes as she reached for her telephone.

"Badaq? Oh, he's out? I'll just send him upstairs..." With a sigh, she clacked down the phone and pointed to the elevator. "Seventh floor, to your right; talk to a guy named Reiner."

When Jade reached the seventh floor, he found himself in a lavishly decorated office. Its pink, purple, and black color scheme was much too loud for his tastes, and the smell of roses, wafting from the large vase on the secretary's desk, was much too strong.

From behind the roses, a head popped up.

"Ah, Mr. Curtiss, sir," the head said, rising up to reveal a person who bowed low in respect. "Shall I tell the boss you're here?"

"The boss?" Jade frowned. "Just a moment, how do you know my name? Ms. Oslo didn't say..."

"I'll go fetch him," the man said, paying no attention to Jade's question. He disappeared behind a pair of double doors, bowing before he left.

Jade was mildly irritated, but he just shrugged. Perhaps Ms. Oslo had called him again to let him know exactly who was coming, but he hadn't given her his name either.

The double doors flew open. Reiner came out, stood to the side, and bowed as the man behind him stepped into the office.

Jade's eyes widened. 'No,' he thought. 'This can't be...'

The man, clad in a sharp black suit, red shirt, and yellow tie, tucked back a strand of pale hair and pushed up his glasses to stare at Jade.

"Well, well, well," he said. "Jade has been a while."

"Saphir," Jade did his best to cover his shock immediately. "I wondered if you had found work after leaving Malkuth."

"Shut up!" Saphir spat. "I would have never left if you hadn't-" He stopped to pull out a hankerchief and furiously wipe his nose. "It's all your fault! If you hadn't had made me leave-"

"Now, now, Saphir; it's rude to blow your nose in public. Now, I came for a specific reason," Jade said, moving forward. Saphir realized his intent and grudgingly led him past the double doors, which shut behind them.