Kunoichi

Deal With the Devil

Yori's eyes beamed when she saw Hirotaka and Hoshi walk through the door. She nearly leaped into her best friend's arms and hugged him so tight that Hirotaka coughed out a breath. "It's good to see you too, Yori-chan."

"I was so worried." She pulled back to size him up. "Are you okay?"

"We are fine." He stepped aside so that she could see Hoshi. Like Hirotaka, she was clad in dull, gray clothes with raised sleeves on the pants and shirt, providing ample circulation. In addition, they each wore old-fashioned slippers which they discarded upon entry into the room. Hoshi seemed to make whatever she put on look good and wasn't the slightest bit embarrassed by her humble appearance.

"Hey." Hoshi extended her arms so that Yori could embrace her. While it wasn't as dramatic as with Hirotaka, Yori did hug the female ninja quite generously.

"It is good you are unharmed." Once she parted, "What happened to you?"

"Not here." Hoshi motioned to the guards on either side. Understanding, Yori backed away so that they could enter the room. A middle-aged man with a receding hairline and a tiny mustache stepped up to the doorway and briskly bowed to Yori. "Saito-sama will be joining you momentarily. Please wait here." With that, he rose and glanced at the two guards. The men were as big as Yori was lithe. One of them was not Japanese but a busty, blonde-haired goliath with one side of his face cleanly shaven, and the other sporting a goatee with hair that went down to his shoulder. The other was a man of equal size but with a single line of hair snaking down the center of his head. He had a tuft of hair on the end of his chin and a gold earring on his left lobe.

Once Saito's errand boy had left, Yori slid the door shut and turned toward her friends. "It won't be long before Saito comes to give me the details of my mission?"

"Mission?" The two asked.

"I'm afraid he has kept me…in the dark, so to speak. Suffice it to say he wants me to find information."

Regarding Yori with a disbelieving smile, Hoshi placed her hands on her hips and said, "You're kidding."

"No I am not."

"In that case, why did he not simply hire a ninja?" Hiro asked. "A single message to Yamanouchi would have saved us a great deal of trouble."

But Yori shook her head. "This is not the type of man we would have dealings with, Hiro-chan. Saito is evil and manipulative. The brief time I spent with him has shown me just how far a human being is willing to fall for power." She turned away as if ashamed for even being associated with him. "We must never let down our guard. He will use you to get to me and no means are beyond his consideration. I cannot bear to stand the thought of others suffering for my family's mistake."

At that, Hoshi and Hirotaka exchanged worried glances.

"Still…I'm glad he allowed me to see you again. I needed to know you were alright."

"We are happy to see you well," Hirotaka said. "But I must admit I believe this Saito has taken a far more personal stake in your comfort than our own."

"I'll say." Hoshi did.

They made references to two things: first, the room. Despite being underground, it was stylized like a traditional Japanese home complete with decorative water paintings and flowers painstakingly arranged to suit the atmosphere. The smooth wooden floors were very well polished. A table was set in the middle of the room complete with a teapot and four cups. Arranged around the table were four futons, one for each side. Saito seemed to have every intent on having Yori's friends present during their meeting. Around them were splendid ornaments from all over the Orient. The teal vase beside the partition alone looked to have cost about a small fortune.

The second part of their reference was Yori herself. She was wearing a beautiful green kimono with images of a mountainous countryside in the pattern. On the front and bottom was a swan in mid-flight, taking gracefully to the air from a clear, blue pond. The sash around her kimono was red just like her hairband which had been returned to her—to Yori's welcomed relief. The hairband was the last thing she had of her late mother and wearing it provided her a sense of peace. It was as if the spirit of Yuriko was with her.

"A pathetic attempt to win me over. I assure you I am not falling for it."

"I might." Hoshi studied her while scratching her chin. "You're looking good, kunoichi."

"I'd much rather have my gi, Hoshi-san."

"We can trade." Hoshi began to pull of her shirt. Hiro's eyes widened.

Yori stopped her as fast as she could. "All the same, I think it would be best if we remain in our current attire."

"You sure?"

Yori glanced at Hirotaka. "I'm sure."

The trio sat down by the table, Yori to the right with Hoshi and Hirotaka to the top and left respectively. They did not leave their backs toward the door where Saito would be arriving any moment. Hiro and Yori sat with their legs tucked beneath them while Hoshi reclined on her hands, her feet stretched underneath the table.

"Tell us what happened, Yori-chan," Hirotaka suggested.

Yori recounted her meeting with Saito in detail. When she had finished, Hoshi and Hirotaka had some difficulty digesting the whole thing. They exchanged questioning looks with one another before turning back to Yori and saying, "Youma?"

She nodded.

"But they are a myth," Hiro said.

"Not according to Saito."

"All myths have some truth to them. I mean all stories come from somewhere right? Who's to say this one ain't true?"

"You seem to have an open mind about all this," Hiro told Hoshi. "You do not think he might be making it up?"

"Call me a fool…"

"You're a fool."

"But…" She glared at him. "Saito doesn't seem the type to make up stories." Now she turned to Yori. "So he wants you to find out whatever Fujimori knew and that's it?"

"That is as much as he told me."

"You do know what this means right?"

Yori's eyes hardened but she nodded.

"Your father isn't here," Hirotaka said.

"He never was," Yori sadly uttered.

Yori figured it out when Saito last spoke to her. Why would he need her if she had Kenji, the only other person besides her mother, who knew Fujimori's secret? It's because he never had him to begin with. Kenji Ishimura was either dead or still missing and that notion pained Yori more than if he had been locked up in Nakasumi Tower. Then she had a hope of at least seeing her father. Now that hope was dashed and she was back to square one.

"What I don't get is why he would just tell you like that." Hoshi surmised. "That is…unless he wanted you to know. Rub it in your face. Add insult to injury. Prove to you that he holds all the cards and you have nothing."

Yori's eyes narrowed. "Thank you, Hoshi-san. I am well aware of Saito's advantageous position over my own."

"Hey don't get me wrong. You've still got a card to play?"

"I do?"

"Yup! Us!"

"You need to explain this to me," Hirotaka began. "Because last I checked we are prisoners."

"Saito meant for Yori to come alone. Now we're here. Don't you think that complicates matters?"

"Yes. It means they now have three mouths to feed instead of just one."

"If you have nothing constructive to contribute then just shut up. The fact of the matter is that so long as we're here, Saito can use us as hostages to force Yori into doing whatever he says. Otherwise he would have never let it slip that he needed you to get the information he wants."

"How exactly does that help us?" Hiro asked. "If anything we've become a liability."

"Exactly. But a liability to him. Don't you understand? We're a bargaining chip. Without us, Saito has nothing on Yori—which means he couldn't use us to have her do what he wants."

"I do not see where you are getting at, Hoshi-san," Yori declared. By all accounts, the presence of her friends only complicated matters. Had she come alone, Saito would have had no leverage on her because he could not torture Yori for information she did not have. Nor could he reveal to her that her father was not here for that would defeat the whole purpose of his trap. He could not release Yori for what's to stop her from not coming back? Now if he had Hoshi and Hiro captive then she'd have plenty of incentive to do what he says. How could they possibly turn this situation around to their advantage?

Hoshi was shaking her head in frustration. "Have you two ever heard of ulterior motives? Don't you get it?" Their grim stares indicated that they didn't. "Let it tell it to you this way. Suppose if Yori had come by herself and was captured—what does Saito do? She doesn't have what he wants and he doesn't plan on letting her go. So what purpose could she serve?"

Hirotaka gawked. "You don't mean…"

"I was never the target," Yori realized. "I'm not the one he wants."

"Bingo! He was never after you, Yori. Getting you was the first step in his plan. Your father was the bait to lure you in and you are the bait for someone else. The question is who?"

"Kenji," Yori muttered. "My father?"

"It's a safe bet that you and daddy are going to be reunited real soon."

"Saito…" Yori's faced hardened so much it began to hurt after a while.

"That is a good theory. But it has one flaw." The girls looked to Hirotaka. "It all depends on Yori's father who, I might add, has been missing for some time now. If he is alive, which I'm sure he is," He added quickly for Yori's sake. "He would not jeopardize himself on some rumor that Saito is holding his only daughter captive – especially knowing that she's being watched over by Master Sensei."

Hirotaka closed his eyes in thought. "Saito's original plan was to lure someone else—someone who perhaps could lead him to Kenji. But things have changed. With three ninjas about, he can't be sure others won't come looking for us so he's been forced to step up his plans."

"I've got people on the outside." Hoshi winked at Yori and tapped her earring. Yori knowingly smiled and she didn't need Hoshi to tell her that help was already on the way.

"I finally understand what you meant earlier, Hoshi-san. We have indeed complicated things for Saito."

"Not to mention giving him two extra bellies to fill." At that, they shared a friendly smile.

Yori smiled too. It was good to see them starting to get along.

"But now I wonder why did he release us from our prison?" Hiro asked. "I see no reason for having us attend your meeting."

"I've been giving that some thought, Hiro-chan. Perhaps he hopes that having you here will lower my guard and make me more susceptible to his charms."

Hoshi smirked. "So he's charming?"

"Like a snake."

"I like reptiles."

Hirotaka appeared uncomfortable as he proposed his next thought. "What I want to know is what does he plan to do with us now that we are here?"

No one had an answer to that.

"We'll just have to wait and see."

No sooner did she finish that sentence when the door slid open and Saito stepped through. "Ah! Good to see we are all here."

Not all, Yori thought.


"Ron!" Kim shoved her boyfriend over. His slacked jaw was drooling all over her shirt and Kim had had enough of his snoring. "A plane this big and you have to lean on me? Ever heard of personal space?"

Ron groggily shifted his body until his head smacked against the window and remained there. His snoring filled the cabin, forcing Kim to get out of her seat and move toward the front of the aisle where she could hear herself think. Wiping the drool from her shirt, which she'd spent hours cleaning after that mud pie incident with Frugal Lucre last weekend, Kim switched on her wristband.

Figures.

"Wade."

The small boy had dozed off on his keyboard. Kim's voice stirred him back to life, revealing a series of puncture marks along the left side of his face.

"Wakey-wakey."

"Sorry, Kim. It's still yesterday where I am so my timing's a little off. Did you get any sleep?"

"Hardly. Stoppable-san hasn't shut up the whole trip."

"Been boring you to death with his latest football record, huh?"

"More like boring into my eardrums. Have you heard this guy snore?"

"Can't say I have."

"I needed some space." Kim sat in one of the front seats. "BTW, thanks for snagging our ride last minute."

"No prob. Alerter Brothers Pictures owed us after you saved their last movie from becoming this summer's blockbuster bust."

"It's good to know people in high places."

"Isn't it though?"

Kim exchanged a smile. "Have you heard anything else from Japan?"

"My friend's given us Yori's location as well as the best points from where you can infiltrate the underground facility."

"What kind of security systems we talking about here?"

"Mafia thugs. Hunter-killer robots. Motion-activated lasers. Pitfalls."

"The usual?"

"Pretty much."

"What about Yori?"

"Sources say she's okay…for now."

"What can you tell me about this Saito guy?"

"He's bad news, Kim. Word is he controls the entire Japanese criminal underworld and is looking to expand his operations in Asia."

"Have the authorities tried to stop him?"

"Saito has people everywhere. Some of the highest ranking officials in the country are in his pocket."

"Funny. I always thought the Yakuza were about loyalty."

"Times have changed, Kim. Money is the new loyalty now. Whoever controls the money controls Japan and right now Saito is about as high you can get without claiming to be the emperor."

"That bad?"

"Worse. He's got an entire army at his disposal. In addition to the Yakuza, Saito's hired mercenaries from around the world and has some of the most elite martial artists as his personal bodyguards. Kim, some of these guys aren't even human. Think Shego but much less prettier."

"I never thought Shego was pretty."

"Pretty enough to give you a challenge whenever you fought."

"Meh. She wasn't that much of a big."

"I'll make sure she knows you said that."

"Right. So about these bodyguards – just how 'pretty' we talking here?"

Wade punched up a series of images on his computer and they popped up on Kim's screen momentarily. "This is Kikyu. She's regarded by some to be the world's greatest assassin. She's a living weapon – trained by some of the best masters in and out of Asia. Kikyu has taken out some high-profile people in the past. She's wanted in over forty countries and has the death penalty in more than half of them. Her martial arts skills are second to none. Be very careful when going up against her."

"I'm always careful, Wade."

"Yeah right. Next is Miss Tique. Not much is known about her past but she was once a member of Interpol. Her interrogation methods were so cruel that it eventually forced her superiors to kick her out, but not before she stole some highly-classified information from right out of their headquarters in London. She likes to play with her victims, forcing them to beg for her to kill them before she actually does it."

"Guess not all British people are charming. Next."

"Gillian Hunt. Known to be an extreme sportsman."

"Friend of Adrena Lynn?"

"Hardly. The two are worlds apart. Lynn was a poser, but Hunt is the read deal. This guy does the craziest things imaginable just for the thrill of it."

"I've handled jocks before."

"Not like this, Kim. He was banned from every extreme sport imaginable for his insane methods and disregard for the rules of sportsmanship. I've seen some of his work. He's done stunts that would give you a run for you money, and that's saying something."

"I like a challenge."

"Don't get cocky. Speaking of which, your next bad guy is Red Cochrane; known in some circles as the Flaming…"

"Wade!"

"What? I was going to say the Flaming Gun."

"That still sounds suggestive."

"Don't let the name fool you. He's the world's finest marksman. Once he sets his sight on you it's all over. Red's proficient in every kind of firearm and can sling a six-shooter like nobody's business."

"I am so over Spaghetti Westerns."

"Last but not least is Yo-Yo."

"Who-Who?"

"She's your stereotypical Japanese schoolgirl who wears a sailor suit and loves manga."

Kim rolled her eyes at that. "And here I was hoping I'd be up against Sailor Moon."

"If only."

"Huh?"

"All I know about her is that she's scary, Kim. VERY scary."

"Scary as in…"

"The Grudge scary."

Kim shivered.

"Yeah. That's what I thought."

"So getting Yori out of there won't be that easy?"

"Understatement much? But yeah."

Kim Possible shrugged her shoulders. She was used to facing impossible odds.

"But Kim, the one you have to be most careful around is Saito. Anyone that can command these psychos isn't one to take lightly."

"We'll keep our heads down." Kim reclined in her seat and crossed her legs. "So what's Yori doing that got her mixed up with the Japanese Don Corleone?"

"My friend wouldn't say. All I know is that she, Hirotaka, and some girl named Hoshi are in big trouble."

"Wait." She sat up. "Did you say Hirotaka?"

"Um…yeah."

"Why didn't you mention him before?"

"I was afraid of…you know…old feelings."

"What old feelings?"

"Need I remind you, Miss Crushing Sheep?"

"Wade! I am so over that. I mean there was a time when I thought that maybe Hirotaka and I would...but that was a long time ago. I'm with Ron now and knowing about him isn't going to make me feel any different."

"Are you sure, Kim? You weren't exactly thrilled at the idea of Ron and Yori being in the same room together last time. And you never told Ron about you and Hirotaka that time he went to Japan."

"Like he never told me about him and Yori."

"See? You are still carrying a grudge."

"So not."

"You may kill me but you may never insult me. Face it, Kim. Ron's dirty laundry is already out in the open while yours is still in the hamper. Ron has washed his. Can you say the same?"

"How did we get from Hirotaka to talking about my dirty socks all of a sudden?"

"A pair of socks named Hi-ro-ta-ka."

"Wade." Her voice darkened.

"Okay. Just giving you a heads-up."

"The only heads-up I want from you is when you get anything new on Yori. You got it?"

"Got it." Wade signed off.

Kim could not believe he brought that up. Sure she liked Hirotaka, but as having feelings for him? Nuh-uh! They barely knew each other and back then Kim was only crushin'. Okay she was seriously crushin' but it wasn't love. Nothing remotely like that.

"Wade's just being too nosy," she said. "Besides, he's probably forgotten all about me already. Wonder if the same could be said about Bonnie?"

Kim thought of the last time she saw the handsome Japanese youth taking off from Middleton airport. He kissed Bonnie prior to leaving, making Kim and Monique feel like the stupid sheep they'd been acting all week. Kim wondered if there had been more between them or if Hirotaka was Bonnie's latest conquest. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Despite his good looks—and cool hair, Kim liked his hair—Hirotaka looked like a womanizer. That being the case, Kim was glad nothing happened between him and her. She hated good-looking guys who thought too highly of themselves.

Bonnie can keep the Fabios. Kim just needed her Ron. She looked back to where he was sleeping. Ron had since fallen into a position where he was laying flat on the seats, one leg kicking into the air like some old dog's and his tongue lolling out of the corner of his mouth.

Yup. That's my Ron.

She decided to check up on the pilot. Inside the cockpit, Kim found the ship's lone pilot, an African-American man with no hair and a thick head, humming to himself in the pilot's seat. "Hey," Kim said to announce her presence. "I want to say thanks for the lift, Mister Emmanuel L. Jockson."

"It's the least I can do Miss Possible after you saved my acting credibility from going down the drain."

"No big. I didn't mind wrestling that wild anaconda. Who'd of thought she'd take her role as a plane-hijacking snake a little too seriously?"

"Saved me the trouble of having to do it myself."

"Glad I could help. You know you didn't have to take us to Japan yourself."

"It is my pleasure, Miss Possible."

"Call me Kim."

"Say, Kim. I've got a new movie coming out called 'Hopper'. It's about this kid who has the power to hop around the world via teleportation. The star is that guy who played the hero in the Space Wars prequels. If you like I think I can get you a bit role."

"Er…thanks, Mister Jockson. But I think I'll pass."

"Just thought I'd throw that out."

"So how much longer till we reach Japan?"

"Bout another five hours. Go get some rest. I'll let you know when we're there."

"Thanks." Kim said and returned to the cabin.


Saito was accompanied by two geisha girls dressed in kimonos more vibrantly designed than Yori's. Their faces were bone-white, with deep-red paint across their eyes and lips. Their hair was raised to thick buns above their heads with two chopsticks each inserted diagonally through the strands. The geisha entered with their heads bowed submissively; their hands folded above their waists, their feet sliding delicately along the floor.

Yori had never seen a geisha up close. Neither had Hirotaka and he couldn't take his eyes off the delicate beauties. One of Hoshi's eyebrows curled at the sight of such a powerful man entering a room with three trained-ninja with two geisha at his heels. The door slid shut and it was just the six of them. Sure Saito's men were waiting outside but Hoshi figured they could take those goons. Whether Saito had any martial ability had yet to be seen—he did carry himself with extreme confidence, though Hoshi saw no signs that he could handle himself in fisticuffs.

Her eyes wandered to the geisha and she thought, Could it?

Saito sat himself down at the table, facing Hoshi with Yori and Hirotaka to his right and left. The geisha seated themselves as well. They kept their heads bowed though the ninja could sense they were highly attentive to the proceedings. Hirotaka shared a watchful glance with Yori who couldn't help feeling they were in great danger.

Saito regarded each of them—smiling.

Hoshi smirked.

Yori did not. "Saito…"

He raised his hand to stop her. "Not yet." He snapped his fingers and one of the geisha approached the table. She began pouring tea into each of the four cups and when she finished she quietly went back to her spot on the floor. Saito lifted his cup, inhaled the aroma, and smiled. "Divine."

The ninja made no move to join him.

"I do not take kindly to those who reject my hospitality." He left it at that and began to drink. The ninja looked at each other, realizing the implicated threat behind those words and for the sake of humoring the Yakuza, lifted their cups. Yori took one whiff and how her senses swooned! Jasmine. Her favorite. Coincidence?

Once they had all had a drink, they placed their cups on the table and waited. Saito regarded each of them before stopping on Yori. "Do you like it?"

"You will not buy my loyalty with gifts, Saito-san," she answered without missing a beat.

Such a response would be considered insult but Saito took it with a smile. "It looks beautiful on you."

"Why are we here?"

"I thought your friends should be present. Afterall, you have been asking for them."

"How come I didn't get a kimono?" Hoshi pouted, and Hirotaka looked at her in disbelief.

Saito chuckled. "You have most interesting friends, Yori-chan."

"Yori."

"Indeed." He glanced at Hirotaka. "And have you nothing to say, Mister Sakaguchi?"

Hiro said nothing.

"The art of conversation is truly lost on some people."

"And some would prefer to skip the formalities and get to the business at hand," Yori said.

"That is something your father would say." Saito turned to her. "Funny as he is the whole reason we are here."

"There is nothing humorous about this, Saito."

"No," He conceded. "I suppose not." He regarded Hoshi and Hirotaka once before coming back to her. "Am I to assume you have spoken to your friends about our conversation?" It was such an obvious question and one Saito already knew the answer too so he was not surprised when she nodded. "Then I take it you've discerned the real reason for your being here?"

"You already know that, Saito."

"Indeed I do."

"Why?" Yori asked.

"The fact of the matter is," Saito leaned back. "I need Kenji's help."

"What do you mean?"

"Don't you find it curious that I let it slip that you father was not here?"

"It was no slip."

"That much is obvious."

"The reason being?"

"Because I need your help, Yori."

Hoshi spoke up. "But you just said,"

"I need Yori's help to find Kenji so that he in turn may help me."

The interracial girl shook her head. "Okay…need exposition."

Saito allowed himself a little smirk. "The sad truth is that I do not control the Yakuza. The real power lies within the hands of the Youma. My," He searched for the right word. "Employers."

"You mean your masters," Hoshi clarified.

"I prefer to think of it as a working relationship. They have held the reigns of power since Fujimori's time and have essentially ruled the entire country from behind the scenes."

"The entire country?" Hirotaka spoke at last.

"You are making this up," Yori scolded.

"Think on it. Our nation was in ruins after the War of American Aggression, yet within five years we became the fastest growing economy on Earth and the most powerful nation in all of Asia. Five years. How can any nation recuperate so quickly? The simple answer is we had help. Japan was weak and desperate after the devastation the war brought upon us. We felt vulnerable. Our enemies were growing stronger while we remained under the boot heel of a foreign power. Our pride would not allow us to remain there for long. So those in power turned to, as they so often do when they find themselves at an impasse, those with a less reputable yet ever influential position."

"The Yakuza," Yori uttered.

"Since the Meiji Era, the Yakuza had been losing strength. The government closed down our operations and we were fast becoming a distant memory. So we did as the government would do years later, we turned to an outside source for aid. Or should I say, your grandfather did. He forged an alliance with the Youma that ensured our continued survival and prosperity and when the government turned to us for aid in expelling the foreigners and rebuilding our nation, it was the Youma who gave birth to the Japanese Miracle."

"You lie!" Yori growled. "Our people struggled to rebuild their lives. We made our country into what it is today."

"Do not take it so personally. We are not the first who have acquired the aid of demons to ensure our nation's sovereignty. Throughout history, kings and tyrants have turned to black magic, sorcery, and all manner of demonic influences that they may fight, conquer, or free entire countries. The Youma are among these advocates. They feed on the fear and desperation of mortals and there was plenty to go around during the mid-twentieth century. Through their subtle influence, Japan was able to modernize and become the power that it is today. We Yakuza are their middle men. Some of the most high-ranking officials in the country answer to us and many of our nation's most advanced technologies have all derived from secrets we've obtained in our partnership with the Youma."

He could tell from their stern expressions, even Hoshi who had for years been treated as an outsider had her eyes filled with defensive pride at her people's accomplishments, so Saito digressed. "I did not plan on giving you a history lesson. Forgive me," He apologized. "Let's get back to the matter at hand. I want to break the Youma's hold on my organization. For that I need Kenji. He's the only one who may know how for Fujimori shared with him all his secrets. Kenji disappeared many years ago but I know he is still alive. Your father was a survivor, Yori. He's out there somewhere. Whether in hiding or assuming another identity I don't know, but I must see him. I must know what he knows."

"And you planned to use me as a hostage to have him come here so you can torture it out of him? If my father is the man you say he is, then he wouldn't come at all. Not even holding his daughter captive will have him reveal himself."

"That's true. But someone else might."

"Who do you mean?"

"I brought you here Yori because I need you to find someone for me."

"You do not expect me to find my father, do you?"

"No. Kenji won't be found unless he wants to be found. But there is somebody out there who may know where to find him." Reaching into his trenchcoat, Saito pulled out a large yellow envelope and unzipped the flap." He pulled out a photograph. "This was taken five years ago during a raid on one of my estates. Do not be fooled. She is quite deadly and could probably kill even you." Saito placed the photograph on the table and slid it towards Yori.

Yori waited until Saito retracted his hand before daring to look. In her mind, she pretty much figured who it was he wanted her to find but that did little to distill the shock as her eyes came upon a very familiar face.

"Her name is Kimiko," Saito said. "And she's the only hope you have of ever seeing your father."



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