*My attorney has advised me to include a disclaimer along with this chapter. I am not responsible for injuries that may occur if you aren't already sitting down.

Despite the beautiful scenery outside, Daichi paced like a caged animal. If there was one thing he hated, it was being shut up behind closed doors with nothing to do. He hated the gilded walls of this dwelling, almost as much as he hated the Shitenno.

That would not be possible, he told himself.

He didn't even have the distraction of the annoying voices of the others. Nothing cured his boredom faster than knocking a couple of heads together.

This had better be worth sticking around for. Now that the original plan is dead in the water, I am questioning that more and more. I grow so weary of heeding-

His thought was interrupted by the ringing land-line, and in a flash, he was grateful he'd been left behind after all.

The fools have taken too long.

With a sense of satisfaction he grabbed up the hand-set. "Takashi-sama?"

"My friend," came his smooth response. "I see you arrived at your destination. Did you have any problems traveling?"

"No, Takashi-sama." Daichi took a deep breath, his mind racing. The police were certainly monitoring this call from where Takashi was being held. He needed to be extremely careful in the answers he gave his superior. "All is well, and our luggage arrived intact."

"Very good. Were you the first to arrive?"

"I am the only one here now, but the others are due any time."

"I am pleased to hear it. You know that I have limited telephone access. I wanted to make certain that you will have the conversation with my trustee about handling my affairs."

The overseas accounts, Daichi realized. Of course his "trustee" would have all that information. Takashi always had to be prepared.

"Yes, I will speak with your trustee soon."

"Please communicate the message that a call needs to be placed to my new representation. There was a meeting set long ago, and I wish to extend my apologies for not being able to make it. Please inform my representation that my family may still be interested in retaining their business."

Retaining their business?

Daichi didn't know what Takashi was really talking about, but he had no doubt the trustee would. His role within the Akiudo had never developed beyond the physical realm, into the deeper financial matters of the organization.

What organization? We're finished. What could he possibly hope to resurrect from this massacre? None of it makes sense.

"Are you still there?" Takashi's voice became as hard as flint.

Daichi swallowed. "Yes, Takashi-sama. I will deliver the message."

"Thank you, friend. I am going to have to leave you now. Mind your distance with the tourists, or you will have uninvited guests ruining your stay. I will be in contact with you as the warden allows."

"Yes, Takashi-sama." Daichi hung up the phone with a heavy sigh. We know better than to allow ourselves to be seen. Does he honestly think we can do nothing without him standing over us to watch?

He rose from his chair and ambled toward a window. The sparkling water stretched for miles beyond his sight, and a familiar pang of longing for escape flitted through his mind.

It has been too long. There is nowhere left for me to go, and nothing to do. The Akiudo is all I know, and it does not exist anymore. What Takashi hopes to do next is beyond my comprehension. But then, he has never paid me to think, nor hesitated to remind me of my place. It is little wonder I did not even bother looking for him.

Daichi had awakened that terrible night in the fortress to unearthly silence, and had found himself surrounded by a couple of comrades who didn't look like they would be rising again. His only instinct had been to flee that place. After making his way down a couple of flights of stairs, he had acquired four more men that had the power to stand on their own, and they were only too willing to follow him out of the closest tunnel.

And not a moment too soon, he remembered. We hardly escaped to the hills before the fortress was being overrun.

They had followed the pre-determined evacuation route, which led deeper into the isolated caverns. The hideaway was well-stocked. Daichi didn't have a plan for how long he intended to stay, but the arrival of another group of "refugees" had cast the decision for him.

Daichi slumped down in his chair again, and relaxed back into sulking while he waited on everyone else. He was so bored by this time, he didn't even notice himself nodding off. When he jerked himself fully awake, he found the room to be full of the warriors who hadn't bothered knocking.

"You were too late," Daichi grumbled. "You missed Takashi completely."

A hole was made in the center of the men so that another familiar figure could stride through them.

The woman raised her eyebrows at Daichi disdainfully. "I am glad to see that you are ever aware as always, Daichi."

The man glowered back at her. "What took you so long, Yukiko? I have been waiting for hours!"

She gave him a sharp look, and he resisted the urge to bow his head in deference to her.

The Akiudo is done, and my days of cowering at her feet are too.

The woman held his defiant gaze steadily. "Leave us," she commanded the others, never taking her eyes of Daichi.

Daichi folded his arms across his chest, unafraid. She does not have authority over me. This little woman is not going to tell me what to do anymore.

He smirked as he watched the way Yukiko shifted her right arm with obvious discomfort. Truth be told, she was still regaining function in the limb due to the red-masked demon. The shot the turtle had turned against her had a temporarily paralyzing effect that had nearly been her undoing.

Was she not the one who always warned us against using the experimental formulas? Yet she decided to carry a paralytic agent, and is surprised that the formula backfired on her. She is lucky it did not stop her heart longer. Pity it was not permanent.

"It is apparent that we need to clear the air between us," Yukiko said flatly. "Speak, Daichi, for you have my attention."

"I wish to straighten something out now, woman. The days of me taking orders from you are over. The Akiudo is over. I do not understand what business Takashi could hope to revive, but I see it as no concern of mine. If you want to lead these measly few that are left, be my guest. Do not expect me to go along with you."

Yukiko chuckled, and the sound struck him as odd.

"You do not see the big picture, Daichi, you never have. One phase has ended, but the next has already been prepared for."

"What are you saying about phases?"

"You have but a limited view of Takashi-sama's plans, Daichi. Do you really think that he intended to stay in the trading business forever?"

"Takashi's business was his own, and it is even more so now. I can see no profit left for me."

"Then leave, Daichi. I am not going to stop you."

He looked at the door, and back at the irritating woman in front of him. "I want to know that I am not wasting my time. Tell me of the so-called 'second phase', and I will decide whether I am leaving or not."

"Information has a price, Daichi, and your loyalty is what it costs. I cannot reveal anything to you unless I can trust you."

"So I am supposed to stay and prove my loyalty to you, simply because you say it will be worth it?"

Yukiko shrugged. "Stay or go, Daichi. It matters not to me."

"I am asking for ONE good reason why I should not walk out that door!" he bellowed angrily.

The woman drew in closer to him, and intentionally lowered her voice. "Because the profits and rewards that accompany Takashi-sama's plans are a better opportunity than anything else you could hope to accomplish with your sorry life. You have the chance to stay on the ground level with us, where you will be one of the ones who reap the most. Do you want to walk away from that, when there is nothing else waiting for you out there?"

Daichi looked at the door. There is nothing else for me. Nothing.

"If I stay, I do not want to be treated like a servant," he told her.

"Of course not, Daichi," she said softly. "You will be second only to me, until Takashi-sama returns. But that means that your loyalty must be firm."

Daichi felt defeated in a way, but there seemed little choice except to allow the woman to have some power over him.

"If you will treat me with some respect, then we will get along. Do you expect to be reunited with Takashi-sama any time soon? Getting him out of prison will be no easy feat."

Her smiled almost seemed sincere. "It will take time and planning, Daichi. We must be patient. In the meantime, we must start to rebuild."

"Rebuild the Akiudo?"

She shook her head. "It is an altogether different alliance we must continue forging for Takashi-sama. Do we have an understanding between the two of us?"

"I will follow you," he said stiffly. "To a point."

Swifter than lightning her left hand found his windpipe, and cut off his air supply. Daichi was shocked as his body seized up under the pain, and he felt himself slowly slipping down to her level. She didn't let go of the pressure point even when he landed on his knees.

"Do you know why I killed Hajime, even after he saved me from drowning in the flood? Because he thought he would be able to hold it over my head for the rest of our lives. Cross me, Daichi, and you will wish you had never been born."

He swore at the woman in between heaving breaths.

"I do not wish to fight with you," she continued. "We need to help each other, now more than ever. I do not care if you like me, Daichi. I do not particularly like you either. But you hate the demons, do you not?"

Her mention of the turtles made adrenaline surge through his veins. "If you can reunite me with them, Yukiko-san, I will serve you until the day that I die."

"We will be reunited, Daichi. The demons may have seen the last of the Akiudo, but they have not seen the last of us."

*If anyone's looking for me, no, I did not leave a forwarding address. We'll take a break from Takashi and his minions in my next story, Refuge (or will we? Hmm), but you can expect to see them again soon...and the stakes are going to be quite different. Until then...Thanks for reading.