Kunoichi

Some Rescue....

The life she chose was never an easy one, but Kimiko had grown so used to it that she'd forgotten how to live any other way. Her daily routine consisted of finding suitable lodging accommodations; cheap obviously, providing the barest of essentials. She needed the freedom to move about quickly so she only bought what she needed. Small items were easy to carry and that meant all her food was of the canned variety. Her tongue tasted of ramen noodles every day, which was one of the reasons she smoked so much. Nicotine was infinitely preferable to watered-down noodles. Thus Kimiko made sure she knew the fastest way to a convenience store where her choice of poison was as diverse as the many ways she could die.

She'd become close friends with Death—they were drinking buddies. Being on a first name basis, Kimiko would set aside a second cup for when she felt his lingering presence about. At times she'd leave a third or fourth glass about, just in case Death brought friends.

Friends.

Now there was something in short supply. The few friendly faces Kimiko saw nowadays expected to be fully compensated for their services. Of course, that did not make them real friends, did it? Some of them had a strange and often insulting definition of the term "compensation." Kimiko lost a lot of connections in this way but she chose to preserve what dignity she had left. Sides, it's not like they were all like that. Like Kimiko, people were just trying to make a living and too many freebees meant no money which meant no food on the table. She can sympathize. She always did. If sympathy were a currency then she'd be set for life.

But for the most part she was completely alone. Her only full-time companion was a pack of smokes inside her pocket and the burgeoning cancer in her lungs. She smiled at that. Kimiko had always known that she'd be the end of her existence. Not life. Existence. After Kimiko was gone there would be no one around to remember who she was. Just a lovely rotting corpse with a good old fag between her lips. Now that's the way to go.

It was getting late and she decided it best she return to the rat's nest she transferred to since that shady hotel in Nagasaki. She strolled through the late-night streets a confident woman. Her shoe kicked up a puddle as she turned a corner. Numerous cities around the world transformed when the sun went down. In certain places, the change was so evident than one wondered if she'd stepped over into a different time zone. This was where Kimiko belonged. She thrived in the hostile environment of Japan's seedier side. It was a dog-eat-dog world and Kimiko was one tough bitch.

Locals avoided these streets like the plague. Most of those who lived around here were not necessarily violent, but people feared their negative influence rubbing off on their properly-manicured society, their youth in particular, so they tried to keep away. Kimiko received a few stares. They knew she was not a local. That, however, did nothing to remove the stained vibe that emanated from her. She had bad news written all over her figure—and what a fine figure it was.

Kimiko had learned to use her feminine charms as a weapon; one which proved efficient to save her life on more than one account. It's funny, but that was one skill that even Kenji was unable to teach her. Like all women, it was something Kimiko had to learn on her own. Years of practice and she could wield her curves as well as any knife. She wore a form-fitting yellow leotard that highlighted every turn of her firm body. Her strong arms were displayed without any sleeves. Her hair was knotted into a tail, where she added some color to the edges. This addition was meant to make her less identifiable rather than as a fashion statement. She planned to cut her hair short when she left this prefecture. Perhaps she'd impersonate a homosexual. The gods know they are even more underestimated than women.

Her hair was down, giving her a wild 80's vibe. Half a block from her place, Kimiko stopped to have a look around. She was being followed, she knew, but managed to hide her surveillance with the lighting of a cigarette. Now she did not hear, smell, or see anything out of the ordinary. Those like her developed a sixth sense which proved invaluable.

The hostel was a squat three-story apartment that looked like something out of a horror movie. Maybe that was why it was rarely frequented, or in some cases was frequented by people of such questionable character than any sane person would have to be insane to spend the night there. Kimiko fit that bill. She was one of those questionable people and the hostel served her needs just fine.

Once inside, she made for her room and opened the door. Closing the door, the room fell into pitch black. Taking another puff of her cigarette, Kimiko let it out very slowly. It was always calmest before the storm.

"I know you are here," she spoke in a relaxed voice. "Why don't you step out where I can see you?"

A sound barely above a whisper reached Kimiko's ears. "You here to collect or does somebody just want me dead?" When no answer came, the assassin flicked her cigarette over to her right. The butt fell to the floor and stayed there. In its dim lighting, a shadow began to move. It snuffed out the cigarette and remained where it was.

"You just made me waste a cigarette. That's going to cost you." Kimiko turned to where she knew the intruder to be. Her eyes adapted to the darkness. "Who are you?"

"You must come with me," the figure spoke in a cautionary tone as if raising his voice could prove consequential.

"Oh?"

"We do not have much time. They will be here soon."

"Who are they?"

"Saito's men."

"Saito?" Her hand crept down to her waist, the assassin's fingers wrapped around a weapon. "You work for him?"

"Never," the voice sounded insulted at the prospect. "But we must hurry. I know a safe place…"

"Where Saito's concerned there is no such thing."

"But,"

"Sorry."

Kimiko's hand flicked like a bullet. Two sharp daggers raced through the air heading straight to where the assassin concluded her target's head to be. She heard the intruder scramble to get out of their way, their deadly tips embedding themselves against the back wall. Of course Kimiko never settled for one strategy. Even as her first attack failed, she was already going to Plan B. Her bag was propped nearby and she reached inside the first pocket. Pulling out a metal cylinder, Kimiko pulled a cord which immediately encased the room in a foul-smelling gas.

The intruder was almost on Kimiko when the gas hit. He coughed and was thrown off balance but managed to put some distance between the two of them. Not wanting to fight through such a putrid odor, Kimiko hoisted her bag over her shoulder and made for the window. Pulling it up, the assassin leaped through and onto the street. A few steps down and she cursed herself for forgetting the suitcase which she had stored all her money in. She seriously considered going back when a head popped out of the window.

Biting her teeth, Kimiko turned and made for the building across the hostel. There was a fire escape that she used to climb to the top of the building. From there the assassin sought to make a quick escape. She was in the middle of the roof when a black figure jumped up over the edge and into her path. Kimiko screeched to a halt. How did this guy catch up to her so fast? Who the hell was he? It was then, in the brighter light, that she could make out certain features that distinguished her pursuer as one not of the Y chromosome. It was a woman. She was smaller than Kimiko but very agile if her speedy pursuit was any indication.

The assassin took a step back. It wasn't just any woman she was facing but a ninja. Clad entirely in black, the female ninja—the kunoichi—approached Kimiko with a certainty that demanded respect. "Do not run, Kimiko. I am here to talk."

"Ever hear of knocking?"

"I understand if my method of announcing myself was a bit…unorthodox. But these are peculiar situations. If you will allow, I will take the time to explain them."

"As far as ninja go, you seem very peculiar yourself. But how does this situation involve me?"

"I will show you." The kunoichi reached up to remove her mask. She pulled back her head to allow her dark hair to embrace the wind. "It is good to see you again, Kim-san."

Kimiko did not share the sentiment. "Yori?"

"You do not seem pleased to see me."

"Have you found Kenji?"

"No."

Kimiko's eyes hardened.

"I take that is not what you wanted to hear."

"What happened?"

"I should think it obvious." Her voice took on a knowing undertone. "Saito knew we were coming and he set a trap. He believes you know where my father is though it turns out you are both clueless concerning his whereabouts. It is one thing you have in common. The only difference is I know what Saito is after. What I don't understand is what you have to gain by finding my father."

"My intentions were honorable. You act as if I wanted you to be captured."

"Didn't you?"

"Of course not." She became defensive at her accusations. "Who do you think you are questioning me? I helped bring you into this world. I cared about your family like they were my own. I gave up my youth so I could help Kenji protect you and your brothers and this is how you repay my sacrifice? Just what lies has Saito told you to think me one of your enemies?"

"He's told me very little. While I was searching for you I had time to think."

"He just let you go?"

"While someone I care about is being held in his underground prison. Suffice it to say that I hold my friend's life at a much greater value than I do your feelings." Yori had never told Kimiko about Hoshi. Hers was a recent addition to the group so as far as Kimiko knew it was just Yori and Hirotaka. It was time for her to uncover secrets, not reveal her own. "But I am no fool. Saito has agents following me. No doubt they are closing in on us as we speak which is why I need to uncover the truth from you as quickly as possible before they arrive."

Kimiko shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

"Don't." Yori raised her hand. "Please do not try to run. I simply want to know the truth."

"The truth, Yori-chan, is that Saito is not the only one with aspirations. I have sacrificed so much and look where it has gotten me. This existence has made me weary. It has nearly drained me of my sanity and I want it to end. If finding Kenji is the only way that will happen then so be it."

"What makes you think my father can help you?"

"He is the only one."

"But why?" Yori asked more forcefully. "What do you have to gain from all this?"

"My life."

"But…"

Kimiko threw her bag at Yori who easily dodged the clunky projectile. The distraction was followed shortly by Kimiko herself as she began to pepper Yori with a series of powerful kicks. The kunoichi had never seen anything move so fast. One moment she parried a kick only to receive a swift blow to the side of her knee which she then buckled. Less than a second later a second strike hit Yori squarely in the chest, sending her flat on her back. Yori grimaced at the pain, but recovered just fast enough to roll away from devastating step that would have rendered her unconscious. She put some distance between her and the dangerous woman, coming to the realization that Kimiko did not mean to go easy on Yori in any fashion.

Yori had barely come to her feet when Kimiko attempted a powerful kick that had her twisting and jumping at the last second. The amount of force built up into that attack was enough that Yori heard a WHOOSH over her head when she ducked. Yori stood up and tried to grab Kimiko's out-flung arm but she twisted at the last second, her back leg coming at a sideways angle and connecting with Yori's stomach. She cried out. Her body collapsed and she fell to her knees. Not one to allow her opponent rest, Kimiko kicked at Yori again. Her ankle came less than an inch from striking her head, but Yori ducked and tried to roll away. She came up with one hand which was swiftly kicked out from under her, sending her face colliding with the cement roof.

Frustrated, angry, and a little afraid, Yori knew she must recover before Kimiko's deadly assault could finish her off. With determination, she looked up to see Kimiko bring her leg up over her head and bring it down. Yori caught her caught her leg by the ankle just as it came down, though the power behind it slammed her to the floor. Kimiko used her for leverage, bringing her other leg shooting forward. Yori made a futile attempt to block but knew such an attempt would only injure her hand, so she merely covered her face and grit her teeth.

Her body wracked with pain, Yori hobbled over and cringed. Kimiko jumped back to her feet; standing triumphantly over her less-experienced adversary. "My fight was never with you, Yori. Know that I could have killed you at any time. Only our shared history kept me from doing just that."

Yori slowly turned her head so that she could look up at Kimiko.

"You were right in concluding that I used you. I need to find Kenji but I can't risk being caught. Saito's been hunting me for years thinking I would know where to find him. Had I known that, I wouldn't have sent for you."

"S-Sent?" Yori asked through pained teeth.

"If Saito really had captured Kenji then he would have no need of me. Your being here proves that it was all a lie and that Kenji is still out there somewhere. I couldn't very well go ask Saito myself so I needed somebody to find out the truth for me. I would have preferred sending one of your brothers but I lost track of them years ago. Being under Sensei's care, I sent a message via Yamanouchi's connections asking for you specifically. I figured only a ninja trained by the finest master in all of Japan could penetrate Saito's lair, find out whether he was holding Kenji or not, and either a) break him out of there in which case I would have found out and track you down, or b) prove the rumor was just that."

"But you are more than just a skilled ninja. Saito would never have harmed the daughter of the man he's been hunting for eighteen years. If anything, he'd use you as a means of tracking me down. Fortunately for me I got to you first and now here you are stating that my suspicions were correct and it was in fact a lie. Saito has no idea where Kenji is and that means I still have a chance."

"I'm sorry you had to find out like this, Yori. You must feel betrayed. Angry. I don't blame you. There was a time when I would have felt the same way as you. But over the years I learned that people use people as a means of getting ahead in the world. I joined Kenji because I wanted revenge for the death of Yuriko. He was lonely so he used me as means of comfort. We grew to rely on each other, but on that day five years ago, Kenji disappeared and I never saw him again. If he is alive then he has either faked his death so that he could start a new life or he is still planning on taking down Saito. Either way, he has left me to wither on the vine."

"I don't know whether he expects me to fight alone but I have grown weary of this life." She looked at her hand. "This body has suffered so much. I don't know how much longer I can push it before it breaks." She turned back to Yori. "I look at you and I see Yuriko. My vengeance has devoured my every waking moment for nearly two decades. Now I understand what they mean when they say how dangerous a path this truly is. I want to reclaim the life I'd given up when I joined your father."

She kneeled down, her face on level with Yori. "Your father was protecting a secret, Yori. He never told me what it was but the more I think on it, and believe me I've had nothing but time to think these last few years, the more I come to the conclusion that as the herald of your father's work it falls to me to be its guardian…and that perhaps it can be put to use."

Yori's eyes widened.

"Better me than Saito. Can you imagine that kind of power in that monster's hands?" Kimiko stood up and went to pick up her bag. Slinging it over her shoulder, the assassin turned back to Yori. "I'm sorry for the trouble I've caused, Yori. My condolences for your friend but I was sure you'd come alone. It is the only way to ensure one's survival. Stand for yourself or fall for another—that is the harsh lesson life has taught me. When you meet Saito again, tell me exactly what I told you…and know that his days of hunting me will soon be over."

"Kimiko."

"Goodbye, Yori." Kimiko went and leaped over the edge—on the run once again.


Hirotaka was sitting in a meditative pose. Seeing as how he was stuck inside a cell with no means of escape, he must do something to take his mind off his predicament. He may appear the prisoner, but secretly he'd been studying the layout of the prison, the attention span of the guards, and the number of Yakuza patrolling the halls.

All in all, he had a pretty good idea of what he was up against. Yakuza Hiro could handle. It was Saito he could not measure up. The man was too much of a mystery to take in. He was dangerous, that much was certain, but what sort of abilities did he employ that would instill such loyalty—and fear—within his own ranks? He did not control any one clan, but the entirety of Japan's criminal underworld. That history lesson he'd provided concerning the organization's manipulation of the government scared Hirotaka. The concept of men like Saito, of Saito himself, controlling the destiny of his country was too frightening to consider. With the resources at his command, he could wipe Yamanouchi off the face of Japan in a heartbeat.

The thing that bothered Hirotaka most about that revelation was that Saito had a spy within the school. Yamanouchi was perhaps Japan's best kept secret, as far as he knew. That they were infiltrated was a serious breach in security not only for them, but for the nation, and possibly the world. Some of the most powerful people on Earth had undergone training at Yamanouchi. Gaining access to the school's records meant Saito would be able to exact his influence over them, effectively gaining an army with unimaginable reserves at his command.

How he wished Yori were here. She was the key in all this. Hirotaka placed more faith in her than he did anyone. He saw the makings of greatness in that girl. Jealousy aside, he understood what Sensei saw in her. The rivalry between Yamanouchi's top students had become a shared respect between them. He knew Yori would see it the same way. Hiro did not mind being second best so long as they were fighting side by side as warriors, and as friends.

But now there was a third constituent to this equation: Hoshi.

What would Master Sensei think having her on this mission? A remarkably skilled student, it was her attitude that expunged her from Yamanouchi. Such a stain on the school's flawless record is not easily forgotten. She was never talked about after she left. Students thought it bad luck to think back on failure, for her inability to cope with the group reflected on them all. All the talent in the world and in Yamanouchi Hoshi's name had become taboo.

Some superstitions were just foolish, he thought.

Not that he overlooked her flaws. She was too unpredictable to completely rely upon and while she proved herself trustworthy in Yori's eyes, Hiro was still skeptical. There is no plausible way she just stumbled onto them in Nagasaki. Their connection? Laughable! She found out about their little mission and Hirotaka wanted know how. Perhaps her computer friend could shed some light on the subject. Hiro looked forward to meeting him should the situation present itself.

Something thumped against the door. Hiro knew that a guard had been placed by his cell. So far there had been no sounds coming from the outside but when a second thump—even louder this time—followed the first, the seasoned ninja took notice. He stood up, making for the door with gentle steps. Hiro pressed his ear against the metal surface to listen in. A loud clank sounded out followed by a grating sound as the door was opened.

Hiro took two steps back. It was the blonde-haired Yakuza who stood before him. Hiro got into fighting stance but one look at the man's vacant expression and he knew something wasn't right. The man wobbled at first before falling straight down. His massive frame bounced once before coming to a complete halt on the floor—out cold.

"Nani?"

"He look tired," started a female voice. "So I convinced him to take a nap. You don't mind him using this cell do you?"

Hiro knew he recognized that voice. "Kim Possible?"

"Konnichiwa." She flashed him a salute.

His smile was genuine; particularly because she was a fine specimen of the Caucasian woman. "Might I ask what you are doing here?" His English was heavily accented when compared to Kim's but she understood him well enough.

"Just helping an old friend out of a jam." She motioned to the unconscious guard. "You mind helping me with this?" Hirotaka understood and at once he grabbed the guard by one arm and helped her in carrying him towards the back of the cell. They dumped him unceremoniously and returned to the exit. Kim shut the door with a kick. "Guy was heavy. I didn't know they grew them big and blonde in Japan."

"So you and I are friends, yes?" Hiro referred to her previous statement. "I hardly think we know each other well enough to be considered such."

"Anyone who can take Brick Flagg down a peg is a friend in my book. That day at Bueno Nacho is still talked about in Middleton High."

"You still talk about me?" He asked her.

"Mostly the girls on the squad. You have a way of leaving an impression on people, Hirotaka."

"Hiro, please," he offered.

"Hiro," she repeated. "I like it."

"I am glad to hear it."

She headed down the hall. "Come on. Your friend is this way."

As they came to a turn they overheard a ruckus. The two appeared to find Ron Stoppable going one on one with the blonde's counterpart. The Japanese man towered over Ron and bared his teeth. Ron mimicked the gesture. Flailing his arms about while letting out a war cry, Ron prepared for battle. "Bring it on, Godzilla!" He motioned for him to approach with his fingers.

Moments later, the hallway was filled with cries of "Ow! Hey! Ooooh! Help! KP!"

Kim and Hiro winced after each blow. "Does he know how to fight?" He asked her after watching Ron's questionable means of self defense.

"Sometimes." He gave her a befuddled look. "Mystical Monkey Power. It comes and goes. Wait here." Kim sprang into action. In a split second the fight was turned around. Two good punches followed by a kick and the Yakuza was spinning on his toes. He collided with the cell door and fell onto his back.

Reaching down to help Ron up, Kim gingerly held his arm. "You okay?"

Barely able to stand, Ron nursed a burgeoning swell on his check. "KP," he whined. "That guy hit hard."

"He's twice your size."

"I know…but still…." He rubbed it profusely.

"You were very brave to stand against that Yakuza on your own." Hirotaka approached Ron with folded hands. "I admire your courage." He bowed.

Kim beamed. "This is Hirotaka. He was part of the exchange program when you went to Yamanouchi."

"You know him?" Ron asked.

"Yeah." One look at Hirotaka's dark, oval eyes and she felt a little weak in the knees. "We've…met."

"Oh really?" Jealousy gripped Ron's voice as he stared down the ninja. "And just what is your—association with my GF?"

"Ron!" Kim clasped his arm. "Stop it!"

"Ron?" Hiro stood up, his eyes flashing with recognition. "As in Ron Stoppable? Ah." He bowed lower. "Forgive me for not showing the proper respect. I have heard much."

"Really?" He glanced at Kim. "I haven't."

"Okay." Kim warped between the two, a "busted" expression on her face. "Obviously we have a lot of catching up to do. What say we save that part of the reunion for later? In the meantime, Ron, Hiro; Hiro, Ron."

"Hiro?" Ron echoed. "You're on a nickname basis now?"

"Ron." She made a throat-slitting gesture. "Not now," she mouthed.

He obviously did not want to let it go, but Kim was resolute in postponing this very uncomfortable conversation. He spared a glance at Hirotaka. The guy was smiling at Ron. What did that mean? What could it mean?

He didn't like him.

Bringing up the keys she picked from the first guard, Kim went over to the door.

"A question, Kim Possible." Hirotaka started toward her, but Ron shadowed him; walking parallel. Hiro stopped to look at him as if to ask what he was doing. Ron casually turned away as if it was nothing at all. "Um…just how did you know we were here?"

"I've got a friend who's got a friend in Japan," she explained as the lock turned. "We were contacted so we could come save you."

"So you've been in contact with IT?"

"I guess so. Is that his name?"

Hiro nodded.

"Dude. What kind of a name is IT?" Ron asked.

Hiro gave him a shrug. "You will have to ask Hoshi about that."

Kim opened the door.

"Who's Hoshi?" Ron asked.

"I thought I heard Yankees."

Ron's face turned toward the cell. His eyes widened and his chin suddenly grew slack.

"This is Hoshi," Hirotaka pointed out even though Ron was too far infatuated to hear.

Hoshi looked first to Hirotaka before Ron. Seeing his expression made her smile. She placed a slender hand on her hip, the latter of which she stuck out just a little. "Hajimemashte? Oname wa nan des ka?"

Ron could not form words.

"Ron?" Kim was unsure of what was happening but once she spotted the attractive Japanese girl posing for her boyfriend, and her BF's apparent disability to form words, it all became clear. "Ron!"

"Uh?"

"Stop staring."

"Okay."

She waited.

"Well?"

"Huh?"

Kim growled.

"He's not staring," Hoshi said and with a flick of her long hair added, "He's making eye contact."

"With your breasts!" Stomping over, Kim grabbed Ron and pulled him away from the ninja. She began to exchange heated words with him while Hirotaka approached Hoshi. "Please do not cause any friction between us. Kim Possible is an honorable warrior who has aided Yamanouchi several times in the past. Ron Stoppable is also a warrior of renown. It would be dishonorable to treat them as anything but equals."

"He was the one drooling at me; in case you were too blind to notice"

"Just promise me you will not do anything to jeopardize our chances of escape."

One look at Kim and Ron and Hoshi could only bite back a chuckle. "Take away all the fun why don't you?"


Was she wrong in using Yori like that? Would Kenji disapprove? Her grudge was with him, not his daughter. No doubt Yuriko's spirit was frowning upon her right now. She had affectively betrayed the one family that had cared for her like their own daughter. As of this moment, her downfall had been complete.

Well…almost. There was still the matter of finding Kenji.

Kimiko knew he was alive. She could feel it in her bones. Once she found him she could finally put right all that had been wrong in her life. The secrets in his mind would set her free from this perpetual struggle. Yori, sweet thing that she is, was just a stepping stone in the right direction.

Kimiko would be lying to herself if she said she did not feel a pang of guilt for what she had done. Yori was just born when all this happened. She was the greatest victim of all being pulled into a world she had no idea she was a part of. Perhaps Kimiko should never have sent that message to Sensei and left Yori to live her days in peace.

But then Saito would have come for her eventually. Inadvertently or not, Yori was a part of this and better she heard it from Kimiko than that bastard Saito. A thousand Yakuza storming Yamanouchi was a terrifying prospect. Saito was just too strong. The ninja would not have stood a chance. She might have prevented that tragedy by getting Yori involved. Course Sensei would not see it that way. She may have just made a second powerful enemy in the ninja master should he find out it was Kimiko who put his favorite student in this predicament.

Things could be worse, she guessed. For her they always did, which is why she high-tailed it out of there the moment she had Yori down for the count. Kimiko made her way to the streets. She sidestepped into an alley just for fear of being out in the open. Yori mentioned that Saito's men were not far behind and she was in no mood for gangsters. She imagined a hundred eyes staring at her from unseen places, and they were watching every move she made. Or it could just be her conscience reminding her of her shame. Like there wasn't enough of that to go around.

She could not let her fears get the better of her now. Kimiko had to get out of here. Yori was as strong-willed as her mother. She would not remain down for long. The assassin did not look forward to fighting her again. Should it come to blows, Kimiko would no longer be able to hold back. In a test of skill, Kimiko was the superior fighter, and her experienced knowledge of taking lives would come into devastating effect. Yori had so much to live for. She almost regretted intruding upon it.

Now more than anything she wished she had her briefcase. Most of her cash was there and Kimiko would have greater difficulty getting around without it. That hostel had been compromised due to Yori's arrival, which meant she could find a score of Yakuza storming the place by the time she got back. Dammit! As if things weren't bad enough. How ironic is it that the one ninja she hired to do her dirty work would become her biggest liability? What's more, Yori proved she could track Kimiko.

Faced with a tough choice, Kimiko felt like pulling at her hair. That was childish of course, and she was a woman, but sometimes life made you want to cry.

She would have to risk it. Yakuza or no, Kimiko could not progress without that briefcase. Cursing her rotten luck, she turned to head back for the hostel.

Not halfway down the alley a flying shuriken embedded itself on the wall just inches in front of her face. Her narrowed eyes followed its path towards the side of a dumpster where a young ninja stood.

"Just let me go," Kimiko told her. "I'm sorry for what's happened but it needed to be done. Let me go and I will take down Saito for the both of us."

"I fight my own battles." Yori strode out of the darkness. A tiny lamp hung over a green door at the end of the alley. It cast Yori's shadow at an awkward angle; lighting up half of her face while the other was cast in total darkness.

"A pity you don't choose them better." Putting down her bag, Kimiko chose to face Yori. The lighting had the opposite affect on her; with Kimiko's left side being alit while the right was shadowed. "I gave you a chance…"

"To run away? Cleary you have no respect for me."

"I never wanted to be your enemy, Yori." The older woman took to a sideways position; her arms raised into a boxer's fighting stance. "But I've been through too much to turn back now. If you fight me this time, I can't promise it will turn out well."

"I am not afraid." Yori reverted to the Tiger Stance; her fingers curled, her body crouched, her legs pumped. Even as she did so she studied Kimiko carefully. She was knowledgeable in many martial arts and while she had not seen this style in action before now, Yori instantly recognized it.

Tae Kwon Do. Apparently Kimiko had done more in Korea than sleep with Kenji. Practioners of the art were known for their incredible dexterity and reliance on footwork. The punches were lighting-fast, but the true threat rested in their legs. Being such an acrobatic technique, students of Tae Kwon Do developed powerful legs which they could use to devastate their opponents—as Yori learned firsthand. If Kimiko had indeed mastered that fighting style, then Yori was in for a difficult fight.

Kimiko began hopping on the balls of her feet. She was so light, Yori realized. The kunoichi was accustomed to being the faster one in battle. Kimiko's advantage in speed, strength, and experience seemed daunting—but she reminded herself that battles were won in the mind first. Pushing her doubts aside, Yori prepared for the fight of her life.

Her opponent smiled.

Yori moved first. Hirotaka had tutored her in the ways of the Tiger. Yori's attack was fast and furious; a series of ferocious hand strikes swiped at Kimiko from every angle. Her strategy was to stay in close-quarter combat so as to deny Kimiko the use of her long legs. It seemed to be working so far, as the assassin was on the defensive.

"A sensible strategy," Kimiko said while keeping her arms between her and Yori's feral claws. She swung her arm to the side, knocking Yori's hand in the other direction. Yori followed through with a spinning back hand that just managed to cut into Kimiko's hair as she ducked. The assassin turned, fired off a weak back-kick that was meant to throw the ninja off guard when she really meant to use the wall as a spring board to jump, spin, and lash out with a strong aerial kick. Yori rolled under the blow and came up on the other side just as Kimiko landed.

Yori closed the distance between them as fast as possible. Kimiko allowed this. On her toes, Yori zigzagged, faking to go left when she moved right. Kimiko feigned surprise. She fired off a punch which Yori then grabbed. She used a traditional Judo maneuver, pivoting her body as a lever and, centering her gravity, she then threw with all her might. Kimiko flew over, but she didn't come down the way Yori expected. Instead of falling flat, Yori watched as she rolled just once so that she may come up on her hands, legs in the air. Kimiko was facing Yori; she winked before spreading her legs to either side and turning her whole frame in a propeller motion. The woman turned her body into a weapon, shredding the air with those deadly, twisting legs.

Kimiko spun and spun. Yori, backed against a wall, was forced to make a desperate move. She leaped against the wall, pushing against it so that she may jump over the spinning assassin.

This is what Kimiko wanted.

No sooner had Yori's feet touched the wall, when she twisted her body in such a way that she came right up. Kimiko did not stand up right away, but propelled her body into a jump which brought her legs up, out, and over Yori in mid-flight. Using one leg to coil around the startled girl's body, Kimiko then used their combined momentum to turn, sticking out her second leg in the air as leverage. Halfway through the insane maneuver, Kimiko pulled in her outward leg and kicked Yori as she released her other leg. The inertia combined with the power of the kick was enough to send her flying back. Yori hit the brick wall so hard she almost blacked out. Crumbling, she winced.

Her back screamed in agony and her eyes were all blurry. She felt paralyzed and indeed a part of her mind worried if the impact had broken something vital. Her limbs did not respond, but her nerves were very much active. Every fiber was on fire and Yori could hardly breathe let alone scream.

Strutting up to Yori, Kimiko gave her a condescending look. "Those amateur tactics won't work on me. I have been fighting since you were still shitting diapers. That you would even attempt something like that is insulting to both you and me."

Struggling to raise her head, Yori blinked away the tears.

"Go ahead and cry. I've wasted enough time on you as it is." Kimiko went for her bag and made to leave.

"Kimiko!" Yori strained. She forced her limbs to cooperate and used the wall for support as she stood up. "We are not finished."

"I say we are. That is, you are."

"Face me."

"You're too weak."

"Face me!"

Kimiko walked away.

Unable to catch up to her in this state, Yori reached around her back to remove her grapple. Her eyes caught wind of something sturdy and she flung the hook up and over to catch the edge of a fire escape. Grunting pass the pain, Yori pulled on the grapple, swinging over Kimiko, coming up on the other side. This put her right between Kimiko and her exit from the alley.

The assassin had an un-amused look on her face as she scrutinized the ninja.

"I am not letting you go," Yori could hardly stand straight; her knees were bent. "I need you to set things right. You are coming with me…Umph…whether you want to or not."

"I choose not." Kimiko ran at Yori. She jumped, her leg aiming straight for Yori's head. With her body still numb, Yori was only able to bring up her arms in protection. They met the full force. Yori's body came flying onto the street, where it skidded harshly on the pavement. There was no sign of her getting up.

Kimiko walked out triumphant that she had made her point. "Do yourself a favor and stay down, Yori." The girl was still alive but in a great deal of pain. No doubt she had never been struck so hard in her life. Kimiko was used to such blows. Her body had learned to heal fast. Considering her pained expression, Yori was more reliant on her agility to see her safely dodge attacks rather than take them head on. Smaller fighters tend to do that. Getting hit hurts. Especially when you don't know how to take a punch.

Or a kick.

Hoisting her bag, Kimiko turned to leave.

"You…" the voice was weak but it was hers. "Are…coming…with me." Yori tried to get up. Her left arm had taken the brunt of the blow and was completely useless. Her right propped her up to a sitting position. Glaring at Kimiko's back, Yori was infuriated with her inability to stop this woman. Did her father have a habit of surrounding himself with strong females, or did it just run in the family?

"Yori I really, really do not want to kill you." Kimiko glanced back. "So stay down!" she barked.

She slowly got up.

Kimiko sighed. "I've broken your arm. If you have so little sympathy for your body then I suggest you take up smoking. It's a more humane form of self-mutilation."

"Do not patronize me."

"You rather I cripple you? Fine." The bag hit the floor.

Suddenly Yori was not so confidant.

Kimiko cracked her knuckles. "I'll spare you my legs and let my fists do the talking. Though I warn you; they can be quite the conversationalists." She approached the ninja.

Lights appeared all around the combatants. Several armed men, all in black suits, raised their weapons. A dozen unmarked cars had snuck up on them during their fight. Now they had the two completely surrounded.

"Kimiko-san," a man began. "It is good to see you again."

Yori followed the voice to find it had come from the same Yakuza who had escorted her to the meeting with Saito: the middle-aged man with the receding hairline.

"Minobu-san. I'm afraid I cannot say the same," Kimiko shot back.

This man, Minobu, approached Kimiko with empty hands. "I wish to extend to you a cordial invite to Saito's palace. He wishes to host you and Yori-san to,"

"Save it."

"But,"

"No."

Minobu sighed. "Saito-sama is expecting you. He has spared no effort in making the arranged reunion one to remember."

"You can tell your master he can kiss my ass. And remind him that the next we meet I will make him pay for everything he has done to me."

"Kimiko," Yori began.

"Shut up! You've bothered me enough as it is."

Minobu interjected. "I am afraid I must insist, Kimiko-san."

Numerous guns cocked her way.

"If I die here, your boss will be very displeased."

"That's why he sent me," came a childish voice.

Kimiko's eyes widened. "No…" her voice rasped.

"Long time no see, Kim-Kim."

"Shi…" Before the obscenity found its way to her lips, Kimiko collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

Something felt wrong. Yori's warning senses kicked into gear and she suddenly felt so unnerved that she could hardly move. It didn't take her long to realize that she could not move at all. What is this?

"You scared?" the child-like voice asked. "Don't be scared. I only want to be your friend." It was coming from behind Yori and she could feel someone place a hand on her back. "I don't like broken toys, though. So I'll just have to fix you. Night-night."

Yori felt like her whole body just shut off. The whole world winked out…and was gone.



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