A/N ~ Yeah...this one needed just a little bit of tampering.
Emiko, the Second Tigress
Mika Coretti waited with baited breath as the fishing boat carried the Murasaki party away from the cruise ship Shikibu. Raizo was the winner. He would want to claim his prize, denied him seven days. He wouldn’t be in the mood to hear “No” or “Let’s wait” or “Can we talk about your childhood?”
The boat docked at the seaside town of Siracusa where Lady Kameyo had already booked an entire inn. At first, Mika thought she’d done these to ensure the discretion for all the ninja in attendance, but then she quickly realized the old woman had simply done because she could; when a clan charged 100 pounds of gold per target and killed hundreds of targets a year, they could pretty much afford anything.
For example, Mika was given an opulent candlelit suite with a king-sized bed.
No, she quickly corrected herself. We have been given an opulent suite.
We have been given a king-sized bed.
Before she could wrap her thoughts about what she was going to do, Raizo entered after her, bleeding, his tunic slashed, and his face weary.
“Mika,” he yawned blissfully, peeling away the bloodied, sweat-drenched tunic and tossing it aside. “Oh, Mika, Mika.”
“He cut me, Mika,” Raizo murmured miserably. “That jerk cut me.” He winced as he pulled off the rest of his clothes, revealing slashes which hadn’t healed yet. He paused, looking at her wistfully before asking, “Bathe with me?”
The sight of him cut and bloody still made her insides twist. How many times had he sustained injury to keep her from harm?
She suddenly felt guilty for keeping herself from him, distrusting him when he’d saved her life and consistently put her safety first. How many times did he have to apologize for endangering her?
The last time he’d been gravely wounded – saving her life, mind you - Raizo’d lain on a motel bed bloodied and unconscious. She’d set up him to be taken by the Ozunu, implanted with a tracking device. And though her risky plan had brought about the “burning halls of Ozunu”, it could have just as easily gone the other way.
And then there would have been no one…no one to keep her safe, to love her and need her and look at her the way he did right now.
“Of course, I’ll bathe with you,” Mika sighed, telling her paranoia to silence itself. She slowly began to disrobe, moving with a wifely air.
He cut me, Mika. His words tugged at her heart, almost making her almost teary. That jerk cut me.
But “that jerk” was dead now, and for another seven days, Raizo had won their comfort and safety. He was fighting for their lives, and now was that not the time to break his heart and reject his affections.
The Ozunu may have been a rotten clan of dishonorable bastards, but Raizo was must assuredly not. As she slipped into the large marble bathtub of hot, steamy water, Mika settled behind him, rubbing his shoulders and winning soft, almost child-like sighs from him.
He takes care of me, Mika reasoned, her thoughts filled with finality. I should take care of him too.
We’re in this – together – from hereon out.
Alesund, Norway; Seven Days Later
Though the Orochi Clan was predominantly male, its proudest and most skillful warrior was the pretty and surprisingly petite Emiko, often nicknamed the “Jade Slayer” for the pure jade stones decorating the handles of her shimmering katana and wakizashi, her favorite weapons with which she excelled. Naturally, her skills and accomplishments afforded her many privileges.
Like Øyvind, for example. Just two weeks ago, Kameyo-sama of the Murasaki Clan had introduced Emiko to the tall, pale, blue-eyed, blond-haired Øyvind, seemingly by chance. At first, Emiko had not been entranced by the giant Viking; men of the West often favored women of the East and she usually figured they were sick in some way, unable to see Eastern women as anything more than submissive diversions.
But Øyvind was different from other men; he…sought to please her.
It was most unusual, but appreciated nonetheless. Even now, in her lavish suite at Hjördis Hotel in Alesund, as she lay on a silken bed of the deepest, serpentine green, Øyvind fed her strawberries dipped in chocolate. He also tried to offer her a third glass of champagne but she refused.
“I have to kill that Ozunu rat this evening, remember, Øyvind?” Emiko laughed gaily, waving him away with a slim leg.
“How about a massage then?” he asked in his low, thick, and leisurely accent. “You complained of sore feet yesterday.”
Emiko’s feet were always sore, but it was more psychological than it was physical; like many raised from childhood to be ninja, she’d undergone brutal lessons to learn soundless movement. Though as she smiled sweetly, her eyes darkened at the memories of childhood.
“By all means, Øyvind,” she smirked. “If it pleases you.”
“No, no,” he shook his head of spiked blond hair. “If it pleases you.”
Moments later, he was using those big, strong hands of his to massage warmed Moroccan oil into the soles her feet – yet another sweet gift from Kameyo-sama. Granted, it wasn’t so wise to be accepting gifts from ninja outside her clan, especially during clan war (ceasefire notwithstanding), but the Followers of Takako were not the enemy. They were no one’s enemy; that was, after all, the point of all their philosophies on “wisdom over warfare.”
“Mmmm, Øyvind,” Emiko moaned, lying back against the silken pillows of her king-sized bed. “When Lord Orochi asks me what I want after I kill Raizo, I will ask to be stationed in Norway permanently.”
Øyvind flashed an enigmatic smile, working his fingers and rubbing the oil deep into her scars. “I will serve you until you are wizened and gray, Emiko. It will be my deepest pleasure.”
Emiko sighed blissfully, as she always did during his foot massages. At first she thought he was some sort of foot fetishist, but it turned out he was an actual masseuse. And he was very good at his job.
“Øyvind…are there anymore of those strawberries?”
God…this country’s freezing.
Mika didn’t dare voice her discomfort aloud; she’d taken to simply not saying anything negative in Lady Kameyo’s presence, and she didn’t dare complain about anything to Raizo. He was already under enough stress, practicing every day and still eating austere meals. Granted, she didn’t deny him her body at night, but she still wished she could do more to support him.
Lady Kameyo had rented all the rooms at the Vendela Inn (Mika quickly noticed Kameyo favored inns over hotels). The Vendela was very proud of its Norse heritage; the rooms were decorate with curving ram’s horns and bear heads, not to mention the many statues of the feral-looking Norse gods. The walls and floors were grim gray stone, carved into ornately engraved tiles. The beds were covered in real fur, with heavy cotton sheets, and the guests all had to bathe the “old-fashioned” way.
In a weird way, the Murasaki were quite at home in the land of the Vikings; warriors of a feather and all that. None of them flinched at the bloody murals splayed across the walls, depicting epic battles and bloodshed from centuries past. After all, they were echoes of their own walls at Hotel Red Sand.
Upon arrival in Norway, Lady Kameyo continued to heap her creepy affection on Mika. She’d ordered winter clothes for all her warriors, but Mika got the finest fur wrap, the best quality boots, and clothes of the softest, darkest wool. Mika’s cornrows were out now, her hair dark, free and blossoming wildly from her scalp. When she refused to straighten it, Lady Kameyo then sent for a headdress from India, crafted from solid gold, with pearls that dangled down her forehead.
Tonight, Mika stood shivering outside, despite wearing fur and dark violet wool, with boots laced up the knees. The Vendela was located roughly a mile from the fjords, lined with fir trees and overlooking the frosty waves of the Atlantic Ocean. With the waning moon still brightly full, Shiori had thought it a “marvelous” idea to practice swordplay by the ocean, and Lady Kameyo – ever the demented romantic – had agreed.
In two weeks alone, Raizo’s swordsmanship had vastly improved under Murasaki tutelage. Try as she might, the fluid and flexible Shiori failed to draw blood (not that he managed to cut her either). They each both wielded a katana and wakizashi, and they moved with lightning speed. The clashing of blades rang out into the night.
Kameyo sighed blissfully, wrapped up in her extravagant fur coat, her jewels glittering obscenely in her hair. Mika repressed a snort. The old bat no doubt found the moon, ocean, snow, and swords all very quixotic.
“Mika,” the old woman said suddenly.
Mika forced herself to reply without twitching. “Yes, my Lady?”
“When all is said and done, and Raizo crowned champion, do you…do you think he would be willing to remain with the Sisters of Ozunu?”
Mika’s jaw hit the snowy ground. Had the old woman finally gone mad? Or was it too late for that?
“I’d spoil you both,” Lady Kameyo assured her coolly. “You would never want for anything. It’s just…he truly is a wonder to behold.”
Mika followed Kameyo’s gaze to Raizo, clad in black with high boots and his long hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail. Against the Norwegian night, he was breathtaking to watch – so strong, so solid, so swift. Mika bit her bottom lip, remembering their morning shower, recalling how he’d effortlessly picked up her in mid-kiss, slowly and torturously slid into her, and worked them both to completion while she’d clawed his back and growled his name.
Mika caught her breath, remembering the tight, steady feel of his hands on her hips, murmuring over and over again between kisses,
“The decision would be his, of course,” Mika replied quickly, trying not to moan when she spoke. Beside Kameyo, she caught Noriko giving her a very forbidding look. The warrior princess smoothly looked away, back to the sparring session, where her eyes narrowed on Raizo.
For some reason, Mika didn’t feel afraid. If anything, she felt the opposite. Kameyo had shown Raizo and Mika much favor, more than she had any of her own warriors, and now it was to the point she’d angered one of her commanders.
It didn’t take Sun Tzu to spell the obvious out to her: she and Raizo could use this to their advantage.
Mika blinked, catching herself at once.
Dear God…I’m starting to think like a ninja.
When the time for the fight arrived, Mika Coretti’s stomach was in knots.
A client of the Formerly Nine Clans provided the ninjas with two torch-lit Viking longboats and several planks of wood connecting them in a rather tenuous bridge. Beneath the bridge, of course, was the frigid Atlantic, its waters ominously dark.
On one boat stood the Orochi, the proud Serpent Clan with their emerald-colored banners and crests. Their lord was a sensei in his early sixties; though his golden face was unlined, his short hair fully was grayed, and he wore plain clothes of dark green cotton, with heavy furs around his shoulder.
On the other boat were the fearless and female Murasaki, their scarlet banners fluttering iniquitously in the night wind as the two chosen warriors stepped upon the bridge.
They stood across from each, unmasked, giving Mika a full view of Emiko’s outstandingly beautiful face. The young woman bore a confident, red-lipped smirk as she brandished her bejeweled blades in the moonlight.
Mika was quickly developing a dislike of boats.
Fighting in a burning building was one thing. Fighting in a forest was another, but still…both involved solid ground. She leaned over the edge of the Murasaki’s longboat to unwisely glimpse the frosty black waters. She looked back at the plank bridge between the two boats and wondered how long before someone plummeted unceremoniously to a bitterly icy death.
It was Lord Orochi who commanded them to begin, before Mika could even think about the futility of uttering a protest.
Emiko was faster than Kichiro, the first “tiger”; she was shorter and skinnier and so moved more much easily. She lacked Raizo’s strength, but she made up for it with enviable speed and agility. In under three minutes, she drew blood four times.
Mika’s heart leapt into her chest.
It’s going to be this one, isn’t it? She couldn’t quell the panicked thoughts. He may have spent the past weeks training with the Murasaki, but he spent years training on his own.
He may have caught the Ozunu and Kichiro off guard, but Emiko’s come ready.
Mika was suddenly filled with waves of self-loathing and despair. It hadn’t occurred to her until now just how much she hated what their lives had become, and how they couldn’t escape through any other way but death.
But then…just as the warriors warmed up and adapted to each other, Emiko quickly seemed to tire. Her speed suddenly dropped, her reflexes dulled, and in the blink of an eye, her head was sent sinking into the Atlantic. Her headless body sank gracefully to its knees, no doubt due to muscle memory. Cruelly, Raizo kicked Emiko’s body in the chest, knocking her overboard.
Lady Kameyo smiled broadly, openly, even as Lord Orochi visibly smoldered. He wisely didn’t break clan law and retaliate, however, and victory was declared for the Murasaki.
Or so Mika thought.
After a passionate bout of lovemaking, Mika left a sleeping Raizo in the early morning to retrieve a pitcher of water from the Vendela Inn kitchen. Even in this, the Inn was “old-fashioned”; meat was hunted and cooked over a hearth, and the guests were bluntly told to fetch their own damn mead from the cellar.
En route to the kitchen, Mika was met by a fuming Noriko in the hall. The tall, slender ninja’s sudden presence alarmed and frightened Mika. She’d never seen Noriko’s wrath before, but she did vividly remember the vicious, oozing whip marks down Raizo’s back.
“Your boyfriend is no champion, Mika,” the ninja spat, keeping her voice hushed. “Kameyo-sama has fixed this tournament to ensure his victory.”
Mika was too stiffened by terror to speak. This didn’t stop her mind from whirling, though.
Um…if you say so.
When Mika didn’t reply aloud, Noriko irritably bit out, “When the other clans announced their champions, Kameyo-sama sent each warrior two gifts: a lover, and a special bottle of oil. She is poisoning the competition, Mika; as this tournament wears on, Raizo will find each opponent easier to defeat than the last – not harder. Murasaki victory was decided before he and Kichiro ever came to blows.”
Still, Mika was a deer in headlights, too concerned with her immediate fate to let Noriko’s words sink.
And uh…this has what to do with me, exactly?
“You and your boyfriend,” Noriko hissed, “are not needed here. When this tournament is done, and we are declared the Elder Clan, I want you and that Ozunu bastard gone from our lives. Kameyo-sama shows you too much favor; in her feeble age she forgets our clan accepts no man.”
Mika blinked. Uh-huh…?
“Well?” the ninja finally snapped. “Aren’t you going to say something?”
Mika haplessly shrugged. “Like what?”
“Like you will take that traitor and go when this tournament is done!”
“And Kameyo-sama?” Mika asked. “Do you really think she’ll just let us walk out of Hotel Red Sand? As far as she is concerned, she owns us. Raizo’s her toy soldier, and I’m her black Barbie, remember? What do you want me to do, Noriko?”
“You may not believe this, Mika, but Raizo will want to stay when he is declared champion,” Noriko told her impatiently. “She will offer money, security, pleasures and adventures – status he’s never had before in the Clans. We are a sisterhood of seducers, Mika – have you learned nothing from studying our history? Raizo will want to stay, and the only person who will keep him from doing so is you.”
You ain’t got to tell me twice!
But Mika remained slightly unconvinced. “You still haven’t answered my question about Kameyo,” she insisted. “What’s to keep her from ordering our deaths, should we refuse her offer?”
Noriko gritted her teeth, and Mika knew the ninja’s patience was at an end. It was obvious by how clipped her voice came out. “You just stick to looking pretty, talking sweetly, and keep your boyfriend satisfied in the sack.” She tightly gripped the handle of her katana.
“When the time comes, I will deal with Kameyo-sama.”