Black Cat Luck (VII)
Urashima Ichizo was not as young as he used to be. Not at all strange, considering he was well into his sixties. However, despite his age, he was still a man full of vigor.
As the direct descendant of one of the twenty-six main branches of the clan, he had been expected to excel in many ways and as such he was brought up with the mindset of a samurai.
Every morning he would wake up long before dawn and undergo an intense training regimen, followed by a hour-long sparring session. All of that even before eating breakfast and heading into work. A schedule that had no changed since he was a youth. By the time he became an elder of the clan, and a member of the board of directors of the conglomerate by the same name, everyone knew he was not a man to be trifled with.
All of his life, very few people dared to oppose him to his face, and even fewer were still around to tell the tale. Admittedly, at least some of had passed away from natural causes and not because of his intervention. In any event, he was a man that had nothing to fear beside the ravages of old age.
Or at least, that's what he believed.
When he opened his eyes, that morning, the first thing he noticed was the shaft of an arrow stabbed into the wall, right above his head.
For a moment, he thought he was imagining it, but the more he stared at it the more he realized it wasn't just a figment of his imagination.
To his credit, he didn't get off the bed with any particular hurry once he understood what he was staring at.
He threw his leg off the bed and quietly pushed a button upon the sleek phone on the nightstand.
"Yes, sir?" a female voice answered through the loudspeaker.
"Send the chief of security to my chambers."
"Right away, sir."
He counted how many breaths he took before there was a knock to the door. No more than five, as expected.
"Enter," he said
A man in impeccably ironed uniform slipped through the door with naught a noise, his eyes sweeping the room for the reason of this impromptu summon. The only sign that he found it was an evident tightening of his jaw.
He slipped out just as quietly as he had entered. There was no reason to wait for orders, just as there was no need to provide excuses for what was an outrageous breach in security.
The only course of action was to figure out how it could have happened to ensure it never would again. Also, finding the person responsible and burying him so deep that not even his bones would ever be found
"What have you found?" Ichizo asked as he quietly ate his breakfast, looking out to the perfectly landscaped garden that surrounded his mansion.
"Nothing," came the reply, heavy with the weight of yet another failure. "There is no sign of breaking in. No suspicious movements were caught by the cameras. The footage has not been tampered with in any way our experts can tell. Neither the door nor the windows to your chambers have been opened. I even had the sensors of the ventilation shaft checked, even though not even a squirrel could fit through them. There is nothing."
Ichizo put down his chopsticks. Previously he was disappointed, now he was curious.
"What of the arrow itself?"
"Pending more in-depth analysis, it's clearly handmade, but there are no prints on it. The materials themselves are far too common to be of any use tracking its origins."
"Interesting," he eventually said after a moment of pondering.
"Someone capable of running circles around my security could have easily killed in my sleep and got away with it. Instead, they only left an arrow as a warning. The funny thing is, that I don't even know a warning about what. Clearly, the arrow itself is a calling card meant to make me understand who it's sent by, and what they want."
"Could it be that Western group Kyoko-sama warned us about?"
"Possible, but unlikely. It's been two weeks since then, and all they have done is holding their positions. If they have any part in this, I feel they are only a spectator."
"I will intensify security."
"Don't bother. You know as well as I do that adding more people wouldn't change a thing. Besides, it is clear that if they even remotely wanted me dead I wouldn't have woken up this morning."
"Are you suggesting we do nothing, sir?"
"No. I suggest you watch and learn because there is room and need for improvement."
"... Understood," the man said simply, swallowing the humiliation.
"Good. Then maybe there won't be a repeat, I might not be so lucky next time. Dismissed."
The figure disappeared, and Ichizo resumed eating his breakfast, wondering how much it would take for the message to become apparent.
Who knew that he could still find himself shocked by something at his age?
The black sedan traveled through the busy streets of Tokyo, smoothly waving through the traffic. In the back, Ichizo was leisurely reading the financial news.
Truly exceptional events rarely happened in the market, at least as far as great investors were concerned. Those who played the long game care little about the fluctuations that could easily ruin the lives of small investors, but a man in his position kept himself up to date as a matter of course, especially on the way to a board meeting.
Although a man like him had no need to show up at the office, he still came in most days. Ichizo belonged to a generation that would work into the wee hours of the night, even if there was no need for him to do so. His own son had the reins of the business well in hand.
Most Japanese were that way, but in his case, it was out of a sense of duty rather than social pressure. Ichizo was of a different breed, which was why he was extremely successful.
Obscene wealth was no excuse for complacency, so he punctually came into the office every morning, even though he could very well work from home. A true leader is always found in front of his men.
The sedan pulled into the underground parking of the skyscraper that housed the offices of the Urashima Conglomerate. The building was entirely owned by them, but most floors were rented out to other companies.
Of course, even if they personally used only the last three floors, security was heavy throughout the building. Armed guards watched all possible points of access. Even the roof.
That didn't mean the place was any safer than his own mansion. He didn't worry, though. In fact, he was only intrigued by this ripple in his daily routine. It had been over a decade since something vaguely resembling a credible threat to his life happened.
Not that anyone would have noticed the shift in his mood.
People got out of his way and bowed at his passage, like every other morning. No one dared to meet his eyes long enough to notice the spark of curiosity lingering in them, and even if they did, it would have changed nothing, for they would not inquire about it even in their own mind.
His wealth, status, and position in the company made him an existence that most wanted to put out of their mind as soon as possible. Of course, that did not apply to people of similar station.
"Did something interesting happen?" a female voice asked shortly after he had sat at his desk in his office.
He looked up to see a woman leaning against the doorframe.
She was the widow of a third cousin and technically a cousin of his herself, though even more far removed than her husband. The branches of the Urashima family tree twisted back to itself more than anyone was willing to admit.
Thirty years his junior, their relationship hadn't always been strictly professional or that of distant relatives either. To be more precise, people were strongly discouraged from looking too closely into the paternity of her youngest child.
"Something like that, Hanabi. Is something wrong? You don't look well."
She nodded. "There was a break-in at my mansion last night. We don't know who did it."
Ichizo's shoulders tensed. Could it be…?
"Did they leave an arrow behind?"
"How did you… you too?" she asked.
"Hm," he confirmed, leaning back into his chair with a pondering look.
He didn't like this development. Both he and the Urashima family had plenty of enemies. It wasn't shocking to be at the receiving end of a death threat, but Hanabi was a minor figure in the family. Their affair was old history, known to only a few family members, so that couldn't be an indirect threat. She was a clan elder in name only until her eldest came of age, but even so, neither she nor her son would become part of the board of directors.
Perhaps that was precisely the common thread. The warning wasn't aimed at the company. It was directed at the Urashima family.
"Did you speak about this matter with anyone else in the family? Then keep it to yourself for the time being."
"What is going on? Do you have any idea who is behind this?"
"I believe I do, but I would rather see how things play out first."
"What do you mean? We can send our people to deal with the culprit if you know the culprit."
"I am fairly sure that we would only be sending them to a premature death. Besides, if it is who think it is, then it's all the more important that we don't intervene."
"Why would we…? Do you think it's a family feud? How certain are you?"
"Ninety percent. I did not expect this development… I did not expect it at all."
"Oh, no," she gasped. "I know that look. You are intrigued. That doesn't bode well."
"You would know all about that, wouldn't you?" he asked with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Hanabi's cheeks reddened a little.
"Yes. I know all too well what manner of trouble a rogue like you can cause when he sets his eyes on something."
"Good. Then you should know that I have no interest in losing endeavors. Trust me on this."
"Fine," she sighed. "This better not come back to bite us."
"No. No, I don't think it will."
At that moment, the phone on his desk buzzed.
"Sir. The meeting is about to start."
"Ah, wonderful timing. Let's see how this goes."
"Wait. You mean it's going to happen now? Here?" she asked, wide-eyed.
"If I am not mistaken about it, there is no better occasion to make the point across. Do stay here. There's no need for you to have any part in this."
"It's alright. As you know, I am an old stubborn bastard. The day death comes for me, I'll go down fighting. I would definitely not walk to it myself."
"Damn it! You better be right about this. I'm not coming to your funeral."
Ichizo sighed as he left. If only he had been a few years younger, he would have done right by her. Unfortunately, he was far too old for that. Of course, as he said, he had no intention of kicking the bucket anytime soon, and by the same token he wasn't old enough not to enjoy what he believed was about to take place.
He took the elevator up to the last floor, where the conference room was located. This floor was accessible only to the inner elder circle of the Urashima family, who made up the entirety of the board of directors and their security detail. Although they were largely unseen, there was a veritable army defending this floor, and every wall and window would be able to withstand an explosion. This place was as close to a bunker as it could get without it being underground.
It was the best security money could buy and then some.
That was the general consensus, at least. They said the same thing about Ichizo's own mansion, and that belief had recently been disproved.
When the elevator reached its destination, Ichizo saw that he was the last one of his peers to arrive.
"Oh, Ichizo-dono, I almost thought you wouldn't be joining us."
"I assure you, Daisuke-dono, I had no intention on missing this meeting," he replied with what could pass for enthusiasm for the likes of him
The other man quirked an eyebrow, then frowned.
"Do you know something I don't?" he asked.
Ichizo and Daisuke used to be like brothers when they were kids before the family's internal politics and interests placed them on different sides. Even then, their history was such that they could set aside their interests as the heads of their respective branches of the family and have a cordial relationship.
"That would depend. Did you find a surprise when you woke up this morning?" Ichizo asked.
"How…? Did you…? No, that is not your style. You also received one, then," Daisuke concluded.
"I see your mind is still pretty sharp despite your advanced age."
"Last time I checked, you were no spring chick either," he harrumphed. "So, what is the deal with these arrows?"
"I'm certain we are about to find out."
"You think it's Kyoko?"
"Why in the world would you think that?" Ichizo asked.
"She is the one who called this conference. I assume it's part of her tactics."
"Of course not," Ichizo scoffed. "If she had that kind of ability, she wouldn't have had any need to jump through all these hoops for years. She would have just eliminated the opposition."
"Hm. Good point. But if not her, then whom?" Daisuke asked.
"There are two sides to this conflict. If it's not one, then it must be the other."
"These kinds of threats are not Hinata-hime's style either."
"Ah, but it's not about her, is it? Not anymore, in theory."
"Do you mean… her heir?"
"I would certainly hope so," Ichizo said.
"What do you mean-"
"Gentlemen, the meeting is about start," said another elder. "If you would kindly take your seats."
Ichizo gestured at Daisuke to go ahead, and he followed him inside.
Although the building was state of the art, the meeting room was decidedly old-fashioned, with a long mahogany table in the middle and black leather armchairs. It definitely reflected the average age of its occupants.
Twenty-six elders sat at the table, thirteen per side, with a single empty chair reserved for the CEO.
Ichizo sat upon his own armchair, and so did Daisuke.
Although the elders of the council were all technically equals, everyone had different influences according to their personal wealth, connections and alliances within and without the family. Seating arrangements weren't therefore preordained, but changed according to the ebbs and flow of the internal political landscape.
In recent years, two factions had formed, divided evenly in the middle, facing each other across the width of the table.
Ichizo took a seat on the side that supported the change in management, while Daisuke sat opposite to him.
The seat of the CEO remained conspicuously empty.
"That woman… she calls in this session and then she has the guts to be late?" asked an elder on the side of the current management.
"Be at ease, Himura-dono," said a female elder. "Recent developments have given greater importance to matters of security."
The elder called Himura frowned, and interestingly enough so did everyone else on the other side of the table. A collective reaction that did not escape anyone. Indeed, everyone in that room was more concerned than usual about their own personal safety.
Undoubtedly, everyone had woken to the same thing that morning.
Surely, everyone had been blaming someone from the other faction as the culprit, but seeing the look on each other faces they were starting to question this heretofore reasonable assumption.
Granted, no one spoke up about it. They were understandably wary of one another. Deception and schemes ran deeply wherever money flowed abundantly and the ties of blood didn't really simplify things.
The atmosphere in the room became even more tense than it normally was. It was so thick that i could have been cut with a knife. Instead, it was broken when the double doors opened again, and the woman of the hour came striding in.
"My apologies for the delay," said Kyoko Urashima.
She was dressed in one of usual, loose shoulder kimono, whereas everybody else was using western-style business suits.
It was nothing more than a show of power on her part as well as a nod to tradition. As the first daughter, the role for which she was struggling should have been her by birthright, and by dressing as she pleased she was already asserting her superiority to the established status quo.
Some approved of this behavior while some disapproved. No one called her out on it anyway. That role was expected of the man or woman in charge, but she had gone missing weeks ago. Her chair at the head of the table was very much like an empty throne.
A throne which Kyoko had no hesitation sitting upon.
"As you are all aware, there is a pressing matter that needs to be addressed," she said, leaning forward upon the table. "The recent development with the appointed heir leaves us no more time for indecision and no choice in how to proceed."
"Truly? Is that the problem at hand?" asked an elder of the opposing faction. "I daresay that the attempted murder of the legitimate heir predates the issue you are bringing forth."
"That is an internal matter, whereas the problem I speak of is an external threat. One in light of which my transgression can not only be forgotten but commended. A foreign power is making a move on us. The so-called legitimate heir is nothing more than a puppet in the hands of this group. A traitor by all accounts."
"I wouldn't know about that," he rebuffed. "The relationship between him and the Einzbern group isn't all that clear. In fact, it might have nothing to do with him and everything with the fact that your mercenaries have abducted their head of the family."
"An unfortunate accident, but it doesn't change the fact that there is an evident relationship between them. Are we to hope that he is not under their control after years in their care?"
"She is right, the risk is too high," an elder in her camp said. "If it were anyone else, we could take the chance, but the future head cannot be compromised."
"Unfortunately, I have to agree," said an elder normally on the opposite side. "I do not condone your behavior, Kyoko-dono. I fact, were the situation any different, I would put forward a motion to have you tried for treason. However, if we were to strike you from the family at this junction, there would be no one eligible left to take the mantle."
"And what about Hinata-sama?" asked another. "Are we just to assume she's dead to us?"
"She's disappeared without a trace," replied Kyoko. "For all we know it's a ploy of the Einzbern to put their pawn in charge."
"That is an unfortunate possibility, and one which we can't take a chance with. As unpleasant as this is, I'm afraid we are given no option."
"Indeed. We should move ahead with a vote. Everyone in favor of appointing Kyoko-dono as the head of the family, please raise your hands."
Daisuke looked at Ichizo from across the table. They were in different camps, as they had different ideas of what the head of the family should be like. However, both of them always put the good of the whole ahead of everything else.
A look of mutual understanding went between them.
Around the table, hands went up.
Up until now, Kyoko had barely managed to get half the council on her side. Not enough to have Hinata removed, but with her disappearance and the shadow of the Einzbern group looming upon them, she knew should would find support even among those who opposed her until now.
Alas, one should never count their chicks before they hatch.
The smile on Kyoko's face at the sight of the hands raising on the side of her usual opposers dimmed when she realized that they were offset by the hands that hadn't in her own camp.
"Ichizo-dono…. why?" she asked.
He had been the first elder to support her. It was because of his influence in the family that half of her side had backed her up. As he did not raise his hand, neither did the elders who supported her because of him.
"Why, you ask? The reason is pretty simple, but the explanation might be a little complex to explain. Let me preamble with a question. Did you wake up to anything out of place this morning?"
There was a murmur around the table, and Ichizo had the answer to that question before Kyoko opened her mouth just from the confusion evident on her face.
"Something unusual? No, I can't say that I have. What is going on, Ichizo-dono? What's this about?"
"I think I can speak for everyone in this room when I say that we all found an extraneous object in our rooms this morning. An arrow, to be precise."
Everyone looked at each other in silent confirmation.
"An arrow?" Kyoko asked.
"Indeed. In the span of a single night, somebody managed to sneak into our very secure residences, in the most protected rooms, and left behind an object, departing without letting anyone catch a glimpse of them."
Kyoko looked positively ashen at this explanation.
"Ichizo-dono! This is a move from the Einzbern group. They are threatening us to put their pawn in place."
"Hm. A plausible explanation," he agreed, "but a naive one. If that were their intention, they would have only threatened your supporters. Furthermore, why would they leave an arrow of all things? A bullet would have driven the point across much more."
"I am not privy to the thoughts of foreign barbarians," she scoffed.
"A curious approach. Going with the assumption that they are trying to control us, then knowing their every thought should be the highest priority. However, we both know this is not what is going on here."
"What… what do you mean?" she asked.
"It's been two weeks since your clumsy attempt at assassination and even clumsier attempt at abduction, and the Einzbern have yet to make an open move on us. Let me assure you, that is not for a lack of means on their part. When you first alerted me about this group, I had my people look into them. Do you know what I found?"
"I assume you are going to tell us anyway," she said, increasingly incensed.
"I found nothing," he replied. "More precisely, I found myself blocked at every turn. Those same politicians we believed bought and paid for, whom we used to stonewall others when it suited us, either made themselves unavailable or they made up vague excuses why they couldn't help us. They didn't even try to assuage me. Strictly speaking, it painfully obvious that they fear the Einzbern far more than they do us."
"Then it's all the more reason to set away our differences and mount a strong front," Kyoko insisted.
Ichizo nodded. "Indeed, when threatened by external forces, there is no room for internal squabbles. However, that is not what is going on here. If that were the case, a group so powerful to turn our own assets against us would have made a move by now. Instead, all we've got is a mysterious message in the form of an arrow. You believe that they are threatening not to elect you, correct?"
"Yes. That is obviously their intent."
"Then, have you received an arrow yourself?" he asked.
"No. No, I haven't, but I have been hiding ever since I realized the involvement of a foreign group."
Ichizo sighed. Such arrogant blindness.
"Child, the locations of our residences aren't exactly of common knowledge. Do you truly believe that an organization with the reach and means displayed here would have a hard time tracking you to any of your properties, even those registered under an alias? Don't be silly."
"Then what do you believe it means?" she asked.
"Come now. You are not stupid, or I wouldn't have entertained your ambitions in the slightest. You went after the heir, and having failed to kill him, you went for the people close to him."
"You crossed his bottom line," said Daisuke. "A man can forgo a slight against himself, but he absolutely cannot forgive one against his people."
"Indeed," Ichizo agreed. "These arrows aren't a threat. They are a warning not to follow in your footsteps. As for the reason why you didn't receive one yourself, Kyoko, is because there is no point in issuing warnings to someone you have already sentenced to death."
"PREPOSTEROUS!" Kyoko shouted, slamming her hands on the table and standing up so quickly that her chair toppled backward. "Even if that was the case, are you just going to stand aside and watch it happen? Will you let outsiders determine the future of this family?"
"Had the Einzbern made a single move against us, I would have sooner died rather than allow them such a thing," said Ichizo. "Unfortunately for you, this is merely retaliation on part of the heir for the actions you have taken against him and his own. Even then, I might have been inclined to support you. However, even though you understood the circumstances perfectly well, you would have had us going to war with a group that's at the very least our match and most likely our superior. All for the sake of fulfilling your personal ambition."
"It's my birthright!"
"A birthright?" he asked mockingly. "Child, the position of family head is not a privilege. It's a mission. A burden. If you can't even see that much, then you are not fit for it."
"You knew perfectly well what I thought of it from the very beginning," Kyoko erupted. "If that is your opinion, why did you support me until now?"
"Because I was dissatisfied with Hinata-sama's limp-wristed response to your rampant defiance," he explained. "I fully expect clan head to crush any internal opposition before it can gain momentum. Instead, she let you run amok almost unchecked, allowing you to build a powerbase worth worrying about. And even then, she still did nothing to contain you. I thought she had become weak and, therefore, a liability. An indecisive leader is worse than an incompetent one, but perhaps I was simply shortsighted. There was no reason to deal with you if you were never a real threat. More importantly, Kyoko, you have put your personal interests before those of our company, our clan, and our family. Above all, that is why I decided to withdraw my support."
Kyoko was silent. Her eyes searched the people around the table, and while some looked doubtful, no one was about to speak up on her behalf. With Ichizo withdrawal, her camp had all but collapsed. Even if some would still be willing to prop her up, they knew it would not go anywhere. If that was the case, they would rather jump ship and make a common front against her.
"Good. Good. Very good," she all but snarled. "I can see that you have all made up your mind about it. You would rather see this company and this family become the puppet of a foreign group rather than support me. Father must be turning in his grave."
"Your father didn't want you to have this job either, child, and that's not because of tradition or because he had a male heir from another woman. It's because he saw that you didn't have the right character and would rather keep this burden from it and you from it. You were always too self-absorbed to understand he was trying to protect you from a responsibility you could not bear and do right by it," he explained. "And he was correct. Even now, you are inciting a conflict with an opponent that is clearly a step stronger than us for no other reason than materializing a selfish wish. Indeed, your father is turning in his grave right now, but not for the reason you are inclined to believe."
"Shut up!" she hissed. "Do you think you knew father better than I did?"
"Of course I do, you petulant brat. He was an intelligent and competent man who loved his family above all. He would be quite sad to see that his eldest child has inherited precisely none of his traits and none of his values, to the point that she would put everything he worked for at peril for a personal obsession with power. Above all, he would be mighty disappointed at the ruin you have wrought upon yourself."
"You are all pathetic," she snarled. "A bit of hollow threatening, and you have all jumped from the ship like a bunch of rats. You didn't even consider fighting back. No matter. I have no need for such pathetic excuses for supporters. I will deal with this matter on my own. Once I'm done, I will take what is mine and clean the house from all the parasites that-"
A sound like mulled impact was heard, but none could question about its origin as the whole building seemed to shake.
"An earthquake?" someone asked.
However, a strange phenomenon was already taking place. The huge window overlooking the city behind the CEO chair was cracking with thin spiderwebs extending across the entire surface. Everybody's eyes turned to witness the scene. Like most buildings in Japan, the Urahishama skyscraper was capable of withstanding earthquakes of extreme magnitude without much. Furthermore, this specific glass panel was several inches thick and more than capable of stopping a shot from the highest caliber rounds with naught a scratch. Nothing short of an artillery shell could extensive damage. An earthquake surely couldn't have caused it.
There was a moment of brief confusion as everyone slowly put together what had happened. The building had not shaken because the ground had, but rather because something had impacted the reinforced glass with enough strength to crack it and made the entire structure wobble.
Really, it didn't take more than a couple of seconds, but even if they had reacted immediately, none of them would have made it to the door. Kyoko was the first to get to it, despite being on the opposite end of the room, although not by virtue of her own speed.
The glass imploded, and the woman in question was flung off her feet. She flew over the conference table and slammed against the sturdy oak doors. She remained there, feet dangling as her body was kept from falling by a spear-like projectile that pinned her through the chest. It could loosely be called an arrow, if not for the fact that it was the size of a grown man's arm.
Her eyes rolled, and her mouth moved, but no sound came out of it except that of the blood pouring from her lips. It was incredible that she was still alive. A testament to how resilient, or rather stubborn, she was.
Her trembling hands clutched the shaft going through her torso, but she didn't possess the strength to pull it or herself out. Not that it would have made any difference. She was already dead for all intents and purposes.
Her eyes searched the people sitting in shell-shocked silence at the table beneath her before she raised her head to look at the broken window and through it at the building several hundred meters away.
Even in the throes of death, her face morphed into one of unbidden loathing and hatred. God only knew which curses she could have worded had she still had the ability to do so. But even that power had been taken from her, along with all the things she thought she was owed.
Finally, her eyes turned dull, and her body became limp as the last vestiges of life left her, with the blood that dripped on the floor.
"...what?" someone eventually asked.
A moment later, they most of them dove for cover, using the chairs they had been sitting upon as shields, or throwing themselves under the table as if they could stop a projectile the size of a javelin that could shatter bulletproof glass.
Ichizo and a few coolheaded others remained where they had been sitting. They understood that they were not in danger. They knew that Kyoko alone was being explicitly targeted and that she would not be able to escape forever. However, none of them expected that she would be killed in such a manner, inside of the most secure place they knew of. Assassination was one thing, but this was no different than taking the might of their defense full frontal and spitting on it.
They couldn't see him coming, but even if they did, they would be unable to stop him. That was the message he had sent them with this display
With this gesture, all the thoughts of resistance had been crushed underfoot.
Ichizo looked at the dangling corpse of Kyoko and then shifted his gaze out of the window. The distance was far, but his eyes were as sharp as ever. Although he could not make out any detail, there was undoubtedly someone atop the opposite building. A man with red hair holding a contraption that was too big to be called a bow.
Yet the shape was unmistakable.
He stood up from his chair and approached the window. The wind coming through the gap did not deter him, and neither did the abyss that opened one step further from where he stopped.
He remained there, eyes fixed on the distant figure. He could feel his eyes upon his person. An intense pressure that seemed able to crush a person on its own. He wasn't worried in the least, though. Judgment had been rendered long before the executioner had taken the stage.
Ichizo inclined his head in acknowledgment, and a moment later the pressure moved away. On the opposite building, the man turned around and left.
"Ichizo-dono! Ichizo-dono!" another elder called out. "Get away from there."
"Oh, crawl out from under there already," he sighed. "Have you been listening to a word I said? He's not targeting us. We would already be dead if that was the case. Have some dignity, for heaven's sake."
Seeing as no one had struck him down yet, despite being such a clear target, the rest of the elders saw the truth of his words and came out from behind their flimsy cover, slowly regaining their composure.
"I'm calling the police," said one elder.
"Whatever for?" Ichizo asked. "They would not respond, and besides, he is long gone. Rather, you should call the clean-up crew and have them take out the trash," he said, looking at the impaled body of the woman that wanted to take control of the family.
"Are we just going to let something like this slide? This is a complete affront to our authority."
"Well, if you believe you have what it takes, then by all means, do something about it," Ichizo suggested. "You have already received your warning. See how that goes."
Most of them didn't know how to act. Usually, it was them who thoroughly suppressed others, both through licit and illicit means. That is not to say that their power was uncontested, as there was more than one group like them in Japan.
None, however, had been able to trample upon them on all fronts to the point that they didn't know if they should fight back, much less how.
"What are we going to do now, Ichizo? Do you have any suggestions?" asked Daisuke.
"It would be best to smooth things out with the heir. I'm sure he's perfectly aware that we are in no position to rebel, but it's better that we convey our intentions in clear terms. I'll take care of it myself."
"Is that wise to make direct contact so soon?"
"The more we wait, the more we will give the impression that we are plotting something. No, it's better to bring everything back to normal as soon as possible."
"This isn't really a solution to the problem, you know that, right?"
"Of course, it isn't. Although all things considered, I'm rather optimistic about our future prospects."
"Do you approve of him?"
"It's too early to say, but I have to admit that I did not foresee this development. What I wonder is, is it just a knee-jerk reaction to Kyoko's provocation, or was it all a part of Hinata-sama's planning? Did she let Kyoko grown into power just to give her heir a challenge and a stepping stone? Either way, I did not expect her heir to be capable of this much."
"It's just like you to find merit in this kind of display," Daisuke sighed. "Nevertheless, this matter is far from over. Kyoko's son is still alive, and so is his claim to the inheritance, however tenuous."
"That is hardly a concern. If he has what it takes, he will naturally come into the position. Otherwise, there's no point thinking about it. Besides, if he's foolish enough to want the job, he deserves the fate that comes with it."
"There is that," Daisuke agreed. "If Kyoko knew, I'm not sure she would have struggled so badly for the title."
"Hmph. She was obsessed enough that she would have wanted it even knowing the price." He turned to look at the gruesome display. "Ironic how she had to pay it despite not getting what she wanted. I suppose that was her karma."
"I'm not sure our karma is any better than hers."
"Take the lesson to heart then, Daisuke."
"Hm? What lesson is that?"
"That overstepping one's station comes at a steep price."
Daisuke shook his head. "I'll have her body removed before the blood dries up."
"Thank you. I'll have my staff send someone to replace the window. There's a bit of draft in here. My old bones can't really take this kind of abuse."
Daisuke snorted and left. Ichizo turned to look outside of the window once more.
"Well played Hinata-sama. Well played indeed."
Shirou reached the street level and walked out of the building, hands in his pockets. He was in no hurry to get away from the scene. The Urashima wouldn't be calling the police, knowing full well that it would be futile.
Their clout over the Japanese institutions was great, but for all the efforts they put into bribing and blackmailing, they still fell short of what an old family of Magi could do with the resource at their disposal.
The Clock Tower had protocols in place in all the mundane institutions to control the response of the authorities and suppress the media, and they were used more often than anyone could possibly imagine. The Einzbern had enough reach to use those protocols and ruthlessly shut down the contacts and channels normally employed by anybody else.
Hence, the Urashima had suddenly lost all external support.
He had not been able to track down Kyoko herself. The woman had gone ground pretty damn well. Of course, he could have asked the Einzbern to use more esoteric means, but he didn't like involving Illya more than he already had.
Instead, he had Rider spy upon the elders while in spirit form, and when he knew that Kyoko had called for a conference, he decided to implement this plan. It was Rider who snuck into the various mansions and left his arrows on the scene.
While skilled, Shirou didn't have the ability to get past all those security measures completely undetected. At least not without ample preparation beforehand. Doing it to several places in the span of a single night was entirely beyond what he could do.
As a literal ghost, Rider could go more or less where she pleased, entirely unobstructed and undetected. The flawless intrusion, more than the threat itself, crippled the spirit of the elder council. Kyoko's blatant assassination was the final nail in the coffin of their confidence.
He didn't particularly like this kind of extreme show of force, but he was acting on borrowed strength, and it was paramount that he stomped any thought of retaliation out of the Urashima while he could.
Now, if they weren't prideful to the point of fanaticism, they should have realized that they stood to gain nothing and lose everything by making an enemy out of him. More importantly, they knew what kind of response would elicit trying to harm others in an attempt to get to him.
Of course, he wasn't so naive that he thought this would be the end of it, but the ball was now in their court, so to speak. It was up to them to make their intentions known.
As usual, killing someone left him with a bitter taste in his mouth, no matter how warranted it was. He dearly hoped that the Urashima wouldn't force his hand any further. Mostly, he hoped they didn't provoke Illya any more than they had.
It was easy to forget sometimes, but the snow-haired woman could be quite murderous. In fact, the only reason why she accepted to keep her forces in a defensive role was that Shirou had already made up his mind to kill Kyoko.
Had he hesitated, the result would have been much worse. If the Urashima didn't take this olive branch, they would be wiped off the map, and even the memory of them would disappear from the annals of history.
Ironically, it was them who needed his protection now. Hopefully, with the chief culprit dealt with, there would be no more hostilities and bloodshed.
He had enough of that to last him a long while.
He disappeared into the unsuspecting crowd, leaving not other trace of his passing beyond the havoc he had wrought.
Haruka was sweeping the front of her tea shop, while a white haired woman stood behind a tree, hidden from sight but seeing everything.
There was a brief tensing of her shoulders when she heard footsteps coming up from the stone stairs in their direction.
Haruka met the eyes of the red-haired landlord, and immediately stopped what she was doing.
Shirou kept approaching until he stood right in front of her. For a moment, neither said anything until he finally found the right words to break the silence.
"My condolences for your loss."
For a moment, she didn't understand what he meant. When she did, the cigarette nearly fell from her lips, and she had to steady it with her fingers.
Her mother was dead, and the news had been delivered by none other than the killer. She had known that this outcome was inevitable. That it was either her or them.
What was she supposed to say? What was she supposed to feel? She had not traded a word with her mother in over two decades, and the last time they met she tried to kill her, her own daughter.
No, there was an unpleasant hollow in her chest, but it had always been there. It was the hole left by the things that could have been, the mother she could have had. The news of her death had only brought it to the fore once more.
On the other hand, she did feel sadness, but not because of Kyoko. It was the look in the eyes of the young man standing in front of her. They were usually bright and resolute, but not today. Today they only looked defeated. Even though he had protected them all, there wasn't even a little bit of pride about them, only deep sadness.
Haruka never hated her mother, despite all she had done to her. Even when she turned murderous on her she was only shocked, bitter and disappointed, but still she did not hate her. It wasn't that Haruka didn't know how much of a monster Kyoko had been, simply that she had never witnessed the sorrow she wrought upon other in her mad quest for power.
She hated her now.
That sorrowful look had no business being on the face of this man. She hadn't known him for long. Just a few short months. Yet in that frame of time he had done nothing other than caring for others. Even when they abused him, disparaged him and even blatantly tried to seduce him, all he ever did was trying to make everyone around him as happy as he could.
What right did Kyoko have to ruin that for them?
Haruka realized that some of her anger must have shown on her face when he averted his eyes. She reached out with one hand to cup his face before he could misunderstand any further.
He looked supremely shocked at the affectionate gesture. Haruka wasn't known for touching people, and when she didn't there was little gentle about it. On this day marked by violence, however, a gentle touch was precisely what she thought was needed.
"Thank you. For keeping everyone safe."
He didn't say anything, and if her word were of any relief, his face did not show. Just as condemnations and accusations would not demoralize him, neither did praise and gratefulness lift his spirit.
A man greatest strength was more often than not their greatest weakness as well.
He simply nodded in acknowledgment and stepped away, resuming his climb up the stairs. Haruka took a drag from her cigarette and blew out the resulting smoke as she watched him getting further and further away.
She wondered if that was he he looked on the day he had taken Julia's life. Probably worse. Unlike Kyoko, Julia didn't have it coming.
How could anyone carry a burden that heavy and still want to lift some from upon others? Why was it that the people who suffered the most were the one who least deserved it?
On days like this, Haruka couldn't help but feel that the world was truly a terrible, horrible place.
AN: Sigh. I thought that moving to Discord would have fixed these issues, but nope, I was mistaken. For those who bother reading the reviews, someone has accused me of putting NTR in this story.
There is no such thing.
If you don't mind, here's a minor SPOILER:
For those pure souls who don't know what NTR is, it's a fetish in which a person is stolen from her loved one through mind-melting sex. It is an extreme of the cheating fetish. Rin did not cheat on Shirou, because in the first place they are not in a (sexually) committed relationship.
In chapter 34, Rin wakes up in bed with a person of undisclosed gender, with whom she had sex the previous night. That is because, as stated, Rin and Shirou are in a OPEN RELATIONSHIP. This means that both of them are free to seek out lovers as they please. Thus far, Shirou has had Rin, Rider, Sakura and another woman whose identity is irrelevant to the story.
Everyone is fine with this, but when Rin exercises the same privilege, then it's bad. This only goes to highlight and expose the double standard and deep-rooted sexism of the people that cannot stand a woman to have the same rights as a man.
Although it is never shown, it is the same thing with Rider. She does sometimes pick a toy boy (usually one that reminds her of Shirou) whenever she's feeling frisky and Shirou is not around. This too is too much to bear for people like these. They cannot suffer a woman who doesn't hopelessly hang to the dick of the missing hero. No sire. To these people, the heroines are only notches on the hero's belt, and it's therefore unacceptable that they have lives of their own.
Sakura is the only woman who only has sex with Shirou, but as you should know she has a very controversial relationship with sex and she's not too fond of it.
Well, it's out there now. If it bothers you that Rin, Rider and Sakura are people in their own right and not just sockets for Shirou's cock, go read another story. This one is not for you.
On the other hand if this is not a problem, send me a message to join the public Discord and read advance chapters.