“So, what do I call these two?” Vivian asked Betty as she looked over Kim and Yori.
Vivian was going to try her best to get the girls to resemble geisha. She doubted that it would work, but she had agreed already and she knew that Betty needed her help. If Betty needed her, she was there, especially for a price. If Betty treated her as if she held more value to the one-eyed woman, she would not even need a price.
Betty had aliases all lined up for the duo. “She’s Akako,” the brunette warrior said while motioning to Kim and then she motioned to Yori. “And she’s Ayame.”
“Akako?” Kim muttered. Oh, yeah, that name was original, she thought sarcastically.
“Ayame?” Yori mumbled. Did she look like an “Ayame”? She supposed that it could have been worse. She could be walking around as “Akako,” but of course, the name would not be as obvious on her as it was with Kim.
“Cute names. With luck, I can whip them into shape and none of us will have to die,” Vivian remarked with a smile. She was joking and being serious at the same time. She also knew that those were not the girls’ real names. She thought that Betty was being overly cautious to not even tell her the real names. She was trustworthy, after all; the one-eyed woman should know that, she thought.
The girls only nodded. They were rather cooperative with everything, knowing it would make things easy, until Vivian tried to take Kim’s swords from her. The redhead was not going to need those while she was with Vivian, the blonde promised that, but Kim was not parting with her weapons, no matter what. It quickly and clearly became evident that they would probably have an easier time getting Kim’s eyes out of her skull than her swords off of her waist.
“Could you just give her the swords?” Betty sighed impatiently. She wanted everything to go smoothly and with Kim putting up a struggle, things were not running smoothly. The actions made her worry about when she was going to have to leave the teens with Vivian. Was it a disaster waiting to happen?
“I can’t just give her my swords,” Kim objected. It went beyond the fact that her swords represented her soul, but into a rather complicated area that she knew better than to go into, especially with Betty.
“Just hand the swords over. She’s not going to do anything to them,” the one-eyed woman stated, her patience wearing thin. If Kim held things up, she had better be a fox like the rumors claimed because she was going to need the all the magic in the world to make it out of that room in tact as far as Betty was concerned.
“I can’t just give her my swords. I’ll secure them some place on my own when I deem it necessary,” the redhead replied.
“Kim,” Betty said in a stern tone. It would seem that the plan was going awry before it even got started and it was not making her very optimistic about how the olive-eyed samurai would perform her assignment.
“The only way anyone aside from me is touching my swords is if I’m dead,” Kim stated, extremely serious. No one outside of her family had ever touched her swords before and she was not about to break that streak.
“Well, since you’re of use to me alive, I suppose no one is touching your swords yet. They’re your problem now, Vivian-san,” Betty remarked.
“Goody,” the blonde commented in deadpan tone. She suspected that she should have demanded a higher price if she was going to have to spend time with a neurotic samurai. Well, it was too late to back out or renegotiate now.
Yori fell on her face yet again and groaned as she hit the ground. She punched the grass in frustration as she hit the ground. Vivian sighed and shook her head; she could understand the younger lady’s aggravation.
“You’re not making this easy, you know?” the blonde asked Yori.
“This isn’t easy. It’s impossible to walk in these things,” Yori declared. To her, Vivian was making it seem like she was falling on face on purpose, which was rather insulting.
“You’re the only one around here that can’t do it,” Vivian commented in a lighthearted tone. She was not trying to be discourteous, even though she did speak the truth.
Yori was having trouble with two things; one would be walking in a formal kimono and the other would be walking in the formal kimono in a pair of okobo (1). She was not accustomed to wearing a full kimono, considering the fact that she had no need for it until recently. Before she had married Ron, she did not even own a full, formal kimono. The one that she was wearing at the moment actually belonged to Kim.
“Why do I need to walk in these anyway? Can’t I just sit in the room and be quiet?” Yori inquired as she pushed herself up from the grass as if she was doing a pushup.
“That is pretty much what you’re going to do, but this is just in case. Everything I show you this week is just in case, but for the most part, I want you to sit there and try to do as little as possible. Now, do either of you have any useable talents?” Vivian asked Yori and Kim, who was standing back and watching Yori try to just walk.
The redhead had no trouble walking in the kimono. She was not very accustomed to wearing the okobo, but they were not so difficult for her to walk in after a few tries. She was standing there trying not to laugh at Yori. It was getting easier and easier not to chuckle considering after about the tenth time Yori fell, it was not as funny.
“Is this where I should volunteer that I play the shamisen?” Kim asked since that had been a talent of hers that Betty had brought up when she pitched the mission.
“Good. Ayame-san?” Vivian inquired, speaking to Yori.
“I can play the flute,” Yori replied.
“Better than you walk in that kimono?” the blonde woman teased.
“I do a lot of things better than this,” the ninja answered in a mumbled. She was ready to throw one of her clogs at Vivian because she seemed to get a kick out of making fun of the shinobi. Kim would get the other one because she could tell that early on the olive-eyed samurai was mentally laughing at her.
“Good. That’s the perfect way to make you two part of the wall. You sit back and play your instruments. Just listen in on the conversations. They’ll volunteer information to the others and everything should go fine,” Vivian assured them.
“How long do you think this’ll take?” the redheaded teen asked.
“Not very long. You have no idea how talkative gentlemen are…well, most of them anyway. They do have on curiously silent member of their group, but he’s not really important. The two that do talk about what you want to know don’t really shut up,” Vivian answered with an amused expression. She seemed like such a jovial woman, they noted, but she was also slightly cruel in their opinions too.
“Sounds promising,” Yori commented, especially since it would mean that she would not have to walk in the clogs for long, if she ever managed to walk in them at all. She was having trouble with remembering to take small steps. She was also having trouble remembering to keep her feet turned inward. She wondered why anyone would want to walk like that anyway. It reminded her of a bird and people should not walk like birds as far as she was concerned.
“Just try not to get in the way or mess anything up,” Vivian pled with them quite seriously. She was only trying to do her civic duty and get something in return from Betty, so she did not need them to ruin anything in her business.
“We want this to go as smoothly as you do,” Kim assured the blonde woman.
Vivian nodded. She was aware that they wanted to be in and out as soon as possible without anything going wrong. But, she also figured that they would be more comfortable if something did go wrong and they had to draw their weapons and get into a fight. They had made it clear when she spoke with them to try to understand who she was working with that they were warriors. It was something that they were proud of and wanted it known.
Thinking about that, Vivian wondered what Kim, or as she knew the girl, Akako had done with her three swords that she refused to part with until death. She had not seen the weapons since the ordeal of trying to take them from “Akako.” She guessed that was good enough, even though she would have preferred to know where the redheaded girl was keeping everything. Knowing would have set her mind at ease, especially with that pair.
“All right, back to the lessons,” Vivian said with a sigh. She silently prayed to any and everything listening that her two “pupils” did not have to be around for too long. It was paining her to watch them try.
Yori and Kim practiced all night, just as they had done the previous few days. They got very little sleep, if any at all, but the routine paid off some. They were showing signs of improvement by the time Vivian let them go. They could tell from the look in the older woman’s eyes that she did not think they were going to pull it off. She did not know that they could do anything, Kim figured.
Well, perhaps they could not do everything. They could not make friends with the other girls for one thing. The other ladies around the place did not seem to like them much for a reason that was beyond the pair. They were not accustomed to dealing with individuals disliking them right from the start.
Yori was beginning to wonder if there were signs on their backs that read “spies” and only they could not see it, which would explain why the other girls disliked them without a reason. Kim was inclined to believe that they were getting “the treatment” because they were new. Either way, they were both in agreement that they hated every female in the building that they were currently staying in and they wanted to go home, where they fit in…more or less.
“Kim-chan,” Yori said. They were lying in their room, away from everyone else. It probably would have been a good idea for them to sleep while they were lying down, but the day was getting closer and closer and they were not feeling any more like entertainers or extremely proper women than the day that Betty had given them over to the blonde woman.
“Yeah?” Kim replied.
“We can do this right?”
“Do you play the flute really well?”
“Yes,” Yori confirmed.
“Then we can do this. You play the flute, I play the shamisen, and we don’t draw attention to ourselves while in the room. It seems like a solid plan,” Kim replied.
“What if I get asked to pour tea?” the onyx-eyed warrior wondered out loud and that question sort of threw her spy partner off.
“Yori-chan, you pour tea all the time and now you’re nervous about it?” Kim countered with a craned eyebrow. She figured if anything Yori should be worried if they make her walk around outside. She was getting the hang of walking in the full kimono, but the okobo were still tripping her up.
“I’m nervous about this. Wait, how did she talk you into this?” the ninja inquired rather curiously. She knew why she was there, but how in the world did Kim get pulled into such a strange task?
“She asked for my help before explaining the mission.”
“And you just agreed before you knew what you were doing,” the ebony-haired girl guessed. It was a statement, not a question.
“Ah, you know me well, my friend,” the samurai commented with small laugh.
Yori chuckled a bit too. She had not known Kim too long considering how young they were, but relatively speaking, she had known Kim long enough to understand how the exceptional teen got roped into things. Kim did missions because she was extremely kindhearted, almost to the point of it being a failing, while Yori did things out of a sense of duty more than anything else. She was not sure which one got them into more trouble considering that they were both now stuck in situation that she was rather skeptical that they were going to make it out of in one piece.
“Yori-chan, you’ve got to think positive. You’ve got to tell yourself you can do this and you can make it and you can, so you will. I mean, you don’t get this nervous when they have you sneak into people’s houses that are crawling with guards and everything, right?” Kim asked.
“Well…no,” the ebony-haired ninja answered. She did that stuff all the time. It was easier to her than walking in a damn kimono that was sure.
“Okay, so approach this like that and you’ll be fine.”
“Is that how you look at it?”
“I’m just telling myself that it’s like any other formal event I’ve been too, but I don’t have to impress anyone,” Kim remarked.
Yori nodded. She wished that she could approach it like that, but she had not been to many formal events and the ones that she had been in made her very anxious, sometimes almost scared. She always swore that the people attending could tell that she did not belong and were calling her a barbarian in their minds. Sometimes, she felt like such an embarrassment to her husband, but he never seemed to care what other people thought, which made her feel better about herself.
“We should get to sleep. Heaven knows when that sun comes up, we’re going to be scolded fairly hard,” Kim remarked.
Vivian did scold them like it was in fashion. She seemed like a very nice and pleasant woman, to everyone except to them anyway. They could understand why she was like that with her ass being on the line and everything, along with their asses, so they did not think too much of it. They were not plotting revenge or anything.
“At least you don’t know what the grass tastes like in three different sections of the yard. I can actually tell where we are in the yard by the taste of the grass,” Yori commented and Kim could not help laughing.
“Your problem is that you’re used to tabi boots or nothing at all on your feet during a missions,” Kim teased. There was also the fact that Yori was used to wearing pants rather than a kimono.
“I still say it’s impossible to walk in those okobo. Why can’t I just wear zori (2) like a normal person?” the ninja groaned.
“You’re not a normal person anymore,” Kim pointed out.
“At least I get to play my flute during this thing.”
“You like your flute?” Kim asked curiously.
“Yes, it makes me feel calm and Ron-kun enjoys when I play for him. You don’t like playing the shamisen?” Yori countered.
“Not really. I play it because my grandmother thought it would be a good way to get me to stop taking missions. Goes to prove what she knows. Director-sama came to me because I play the shamisen,” Kim replied.
Yori laughed again; okay, that was ironic, she thought. The girls decided that they really needed to go to sleep while they had the chance to indulge in the act. They were going to have a tough time of it in the morning, after all. Well, they supposed things could have been worse; they just could not figure out how at the moment.
It was the moment of truth for Kim and Yori. They were dressed like actual maiko (3); it almost amazed them. They were both slightly uncomfortable with the makeup and they were both looking at each, guessing that the other was considering the same strange notion. Yori wondered if she looked as ridiculous as Kim did with her face painted pure white; Kim was wondering the same thing. While Kim was accustomed to dressing up, everything at the moment seemed like a bit much to her. They both enjoyed looking pleasant and everything, but now it all seemed like a bit excessive. It also did not help that they were dressed as they were for a specific reason and not because they were just going to be two women at a gathering, which was how they were trying to think of the night to come.
The duo was understandably nervous about what was going on; it was taking all of their self-control to just stand still and not express their anxiousness in any manner. They were walking into the unknown big time. Vivian’s last words of encouragement were for them to “sit, play, and not talk to anyone no matter what.” Did she think that helped! It only made them more apprehensive than ever.
To make matters worse, they had been thrown into a group where the main female truly seemed to detest them for some reason that was beyond the duo. They believed that her name was Bonnie. And her words of encouragement for them were “stay the hell out of my way” and then she offered them a look that they bet was the same look dogs gave each other before battling to the death.
Bonnie had been instructed that Kim and Yori were only going to play their instruments through the evening. The party that they were entertaining usually did not ask for much anyway. They mostly seemed to desire someone to pour sake, laugh at odd remarks, and play music. Bonnie was all for the new ones just staying out of the way and not screwing up the evening.
“You take that space over there,” Bonnie harshly ordered Kim, pointing to a corner that was rather out of the way.
The redhead did not argue and walked over to that corner with her shamisen in hand. Yori followed her before she was given any commands. Bonnie did not say anything, even though she was going to order Yori go some place else. As long as those two maiko were out of the way, everything would run like it always did, she figured.
“Yori-chan, be calm,” Kim whispered to the nervous kunoichi (4), whose bottom lip was trembling and revealing her state of mind. Yori’s anxiety was only going to make her feel that way, which would not do them any good.
“I can’t help it,” Yori replied in a whisper.
“You have to calm down. If you keep being nervous about everything, you won’t be able to play the flute. Just calm down and think about how you’ll be playing the flute in a minute and then you can block the rest of the world out. You can close your eyes and pretend that you’re playing for Ron-kun under a beautiful starlight night sky,” Kim said.
Yori nodded and that thought did comfort her. As soon as everything did begin, she would be able to play her beloved flute and drown out the world, like she always did when she played the instrument. That was actually why she played the flute; it brought her comfort and always did set her at ease. So, she was all right now that she thought about that. Too bad Kim could not say the same thing.
Kim got about a zero on a pleasure scale when it came to playing the shamisen. She was told that she played well, but she did not like to play no matter how well she did. It was something that she was forced into by her grandmother as a way to make her to behave a bit more ladylike. Being forced to do it for such a ridiculous reason actually made Kim dislike the shamisen and she wished that she played the stupid thing awfully just to show her grandmother a thing or two.
The two spies watched as everything was set up for the party that was about to go on. Kim could not imagine having to attend a banquet everyday like these women had to do. She was not a fan of gatherings because people tended to stare at her or at her mother if she was around. She knew the general reason why people stared, but sometimes, she saw them looking at her shadow or something just as outrageous, as if they really expected her to have the shadow of a fox. Although she had heard that several people claimed that she did cast the shadow of a fox, or that she had a tail, or just some other nonsense. People said the same thing about her mother. People needed hobbies, she thought.
Yori and Kim began to play their instruments when Bonnie instructed them to do so, even though the room was still empty. The pair watched as the party entered the room. They wanted to practically memorize the faces of everyone that might be involved in a plot to overthrow the government.
The first person to enter was an elderly gentleman. He was slightly hunched over and used a walking stick. There were some bags underneath his eyes. He had on a plain black kimono with a red haori (5). Bonnie greeted him, calling him Senior-sama, which caught Kim’s attention.
Kim had heard of Lord Senior. He was supposedly just some very rich old lord who did not seem to know what to do with all of his wealth. Since when did he start plotting against the government? She considered that he might actually just be bored because she had heard he did peculiar things when he found life getting dull.
Behind the elderly lord was his son, a large young man named after his father. He was a huge fellow; practically a giant, and the female entertainers seemed to fall right into him. Although, his facial features probably helped them along in being attracted to the young man and of course, the fact that he was the heir to a vast estate did not hurt at all.
Following behind Junior, there was a strange, creepy looking blue individual. He had beady onyx eyes and a scar under the left one. He was dressed in a plain, blue yukata (6). He did not look very comfortable with being in the room, but Kim did not think anything of that. She glanced at Yori to see if the other spy was wondering the same thing as her, which was “could this get any weirder?”
The answer to their question turned out to be: yes. Things actually got stranger because behind the cerulean fellow was a slender young…man?…with light green skin. He was wearing a mask that covered the bottom half of his face and also a straw hat that he was keeping pulled down, as if he was trying to totally obscure his visage. There was something off about the green-skinned male that struck Kim and Yori as odd and that was that he looked a bit effeminate. The spies now looked at each other as if to ask “is that a man?”
They figured that the green-skinned fellow had to be a man since only men were allowed in the district, aside for the female entertainers anyway. They had to be logical about things, they told themselves. So, they figured that the odd pale green person was a male.
The green-skinned fellow was dressed in a dark green top with black hakama. He sat down next to the blue man and seemed slightly irked with having to be at the banquet. His body language was so tense and he did not even want to take off of his hat, but it was insisted upon by the older Senior. The green-skinned male huffed and removed the hat after making sure his annoyance was known. He then appeared even more annoyed if one of the entertainers came near him.
“Oh, new girls,” Junior commented as he noticed Kim and Yori just hanging out in the corner, doing as they were told, namely playing their instruments.
“They play very well,” Senior commented while glancing at the duo.
“You’re too kind, Senior-sama,” Bonnie replied with a small smile.
“Yeah, it’s just noise anyway,” the blue fellow stated with some disdain in his voice.
“Ah, Drakken-san, you have to learn to appreciate the beautiful things in life,” Senior replied.
“I do, but music isn’t one of them. In fact, when we take over, I’m having music banned on my half the empire,” the cerulean male, Drakken declared soundly.
Senior shook his head in a disapproving manner. Well, it would seem that Kim and Yori were not there for nothing. The group had wasted no time in openly admitting to having something planned against the government. It was a bit shocking for Kim and Yori and they almost were not sure if they had heard right.
“Your half will be for barbarians,” Senior commented in an amused tone.
“My half will be for the smart people and everyone will bow to me,” Drakken proclaimed in a rather loud tone. It was followed by some rather obnoxious laughter. The noise could not have sounded worse if it was a mule making the racket.
The green gentleman scoffed and rolled his dark jade eyes. It would seem that he was not impressed with Drakken’s plans. Kim and Yori silently admitted that if Drakken did succeed, which they were going to make sure he did not do, they were moving if he was going to own the half they lived in.
“Do we have to talk about this? Let’s have some food and drink,” Junior declared with a smile and that was signal for one of the ladies to pour him some wine.
They all knew that Junior was there for the fun and not the talk. He was there to get drunk more often than not. So, when the sake started, he wanted it to keep on coming until he just could not drink anymore.
Drakken and Senior were a bit more controlled about things. They had drinks while talking about their plans. They were rather open with everything since they were fairly certain that what they said would never leave the room. Senior asked the progress that Drakken was making on the weapons to equip his men with. Drakken assured him that everything was going smoothly and that the weapons would be ready, especially the so-called “ultimate weapon.”
Through out the talk, the green-skinned fellow was silent. Occasionally he put out his cup, quietly demanding someone to pour him a drink, but he did not speak at all. He removed his mask to drink his sake, but always put it back in place when he was done with sipping the drink, so his face was not exposed for long. He rolled his eyes many times when Drakken said something to Senior, like declaring he was a genius or something of the like. He also rolled his eyes whenever he glanced at Junior, who seemed to be enjoying the hostesses more than the rest of his party.
“Hey,” Junior said out of the blue. He was already drunk and they had hardly been there an hour, but that was expected. Sometimes, he got tipsy in under a half-hour.
“What is it, my son?” Senior inquired.
“You know, whenever we come here, he never does anything,” Junior replied while pointing at their silent companion.
“Maybe he doesn’t want to do anything,” Senior pointed out.
Senior noted a long time ago that Drakken’s personal bodyguard was antisocial. The skinny chap did not speak most of the time. He also seemed to mock Drakken with his expressions, but Drakken was too oblivious to notice. Senior was thankful that Drakken was more acute about things when it came to building weapons or their careful planning would be for naught.
“No, I think he needs to do something. So many pretty ladies and he just sits there. It doesn’t make any sense. Are you shy?” Junior asked the silent bodyguard, who did not answer. The lack of response did not stop Junior, who turned his attention to Bonnie since she was at his side. “I bet you he’s shy. You should give him a private room and maybe one of the girls could loosen him up,” the blue-eyed male suggested.
“But, Senior-san, who would we send?” Bonnie asked in a very innocent tone.
Junior looked around the room while the green bodyguard’s eyes narrowed. It would seem the slender fellow did not like the fact that Junior was scanning the room for a woman to send him off with. And then Junior spotted the one that he wanted for the bodyguard.
“Take her,” Junior said while pointing to Kim.
“Her?” Bonnie echoed while Kim gulped. Her? Oh, boy.
1: okobo: high wooden clogs.
2: zori: sandals.
3: maiko: apprentice geisha.
4: kunoichi: female ninja.
5: haori: short jacket worn over a kimono.
6: yukata: informal kimono.
Kim’s alias and her reaction to it: Aka means red. Akako means red child or bright child.
Next time: Kim is left alone with the skinny, green-skinned fellow. What happens?