“What’s this Jade Court nonsense?” Tanaka Yashida asked, lighting a cigarette. “Does this ‘Lady Shirasiau’ really expect us to come to her like supplicants?”
“There are different thoughts on that subject.” Asahina said, “According to the Council there was once an Eastern vampire court. They were said to have been exterminated centuries ago, but there have always been rumors that they simply retreated into another realm to wait for a time when they could return.
“Others think that she’s just an imposter, albeit a clever one. She has supposedly modeled herself after a character from the pages of fifteenth-century legend, complete with the pet tiger.” She poured herself a glass of whisky, “My opinion is that she’s an opportunist. I’m sure she has some power, but it’s likely mind magic or illusion, nothing more.”
“Well, if that’s true what do you suggest we do?” He asked, annoyed. “I didn’t hire you for cryptic history lessons. What’s the wizard angle on all this?”
“As of now, neither the American or British Council bodies are concerning themselves with a single woman, no matter what her supposed influence is.” Asahina said, “So you’re free to operate without stepping into Council politics.”
“Good. She’s taken over the top floor of the Miharayama Onsen hotel. I even heard a rumor that she bought the entire building.” Tanaka said. “I think it’s time to send someone to pay her a visit.”
“I suggest Ichi and Shinobu.” She said, “A good combination of strength and intuition.”
“My first lieutenant and your former apprentice.” Tanaka stubbed out his cigarette, “I agree, that is a strong combination.”
“Ichinose, we must approach with caution,” Shinobu said, looking at the building with a squint that told him she was using her mage’s sight. “There has been magic used in and around this place, although I do not see any wards.”
“Mages.” He grunted and adjusted his shoulder holster.
“You should have brought your sword.” She said, “It would be more fitting here.”
The door opened and a young man in a perfectly tailored suit looked them over. “May I be of some assistance?” He asked.
“We are representatives from Master Yamazaki, here to pay our respects,” Shinobu said.
“You may call me San Shu.” The man said, bowing at the waist, “I am Lady Shirasiu’s assistant.” He held the door and followed them into the elevator. When the door opened on the thirteenth floor, Shinobu caught her breath.
The room was huge, the entire top floor was one enormous room. All four walls were windows, showing spectacular views of mountains and ocean; the steam from hot springs and thick jungle. A garden of bamboo grew on one side, a steaming pool of water sat on the other and in the center was a raised dais upon which sat a large throne that seemed to be carved of a single piece of green stone. The most striking woman Shinobu had ever seen sat on comfortably on the Jade Throne, wearing a red kimono embroidered with golden thread smoking a kiseru and looking down on them with an indulgent smile.
“Ichinose Irigani and Shinobu Kiri of the Yamazaki clan. Tell me, how is your Tanaka?”
“Miss Shirasiau,” Shinobu said, bowing. A sound shook the floor beneath her with a subsonic rumble. Although she couldn’t see the animal making the noise, Shinobu could tell it was big and feline.
“Please address her as Jade Lady if you wish to refer to her directly.” Tan said, “Lord Ignis is a might protective.”
Shinobu’s eyes flicked around nervously, but couldn’t see anything.
Sai’Li exhaled a cloud of aromatic smoke and tapped the ashes out of her kiseru into a bronze brazier. A servant took the pipe from her and refilled it with tobacco before handing it back. She put it delicately between her lips, drawing on the pipe while the servant held a match over the bowl.
“Jade Lady.” Shinobu began.
“Why did your master send you here?” Sai’Li interrupted, “Are you gifts?”
“Gifts?” Shinobu was off guard, this was not what she had anticipated.
“What do you mean?” Ichi asked, reaching under his jacket.
“I told them all to come pay their respects to me.” Sai’Li said, exhaling smoke from her nostrils, “I did not tell them to send their servants, so I am left wondering why they would do such a thing.”
Shinobu put a hand on Ichi’s arm, interrupting his move to draw his pistol.
“Child.” Sai’Li said, “I have heard of these ‘guns’ that you favor in this age. I am excited to see what you think they can do.” She handed her kiseru to the servant and waved him away.
Ichi held very still, not removing his hand from his gun. “My master did not send me here as a gift. I will not be your creature.”
“No?” Sai’Li asked, “Why did you come here if not to submit to my will?”
“We came here to offer our respects.” He said, “Our family wishes to –“
“Do not lie to me, child.” Sai’Li said, “Only curiosity has kept me from feeding you to my tiger.”
“Just what is that supposed to mean?” He asked, “I have been sent here with my counterpart to give you the honor of the Yashida Clan.”
“What do you know of honor?” Sai’Li asked, a gentle smile on her lips. “What would your master know of honor and duty when he sends you here instead of coming on his own?”
“I am willing to die for the honor of my master.” He said.
“Any fool can die.” Sai’Li said, “What use are you to him dead? I desire followers who are willing to live for me.”
“I will keep my oath to serve the Yashida Clan.” Shinobu said, “They have not released me from that oath and I will not forsake my sworn word.”
“This is precisely why I told Tanaka to come himself.” Sai’Li said, “As you took the trouble to come this far and are ignorant of the insult your master has given me, I am willing to allow you to leave.”
“I’ve heard enough.” Ichi said, “We answered your request to come even though you treated it as a command. We have sat through insults and arrogance that go beyond what my honor will tolerate. If you apologize I-”
He cut abruptly as Sai’Li snapped her fan open with a sound akin to a whip crack. “Let me clarify. I did command your master to come here. It was not a request, nor should it have been treated like one. One way or another he will come before me and he will have the same choice I give to everyone else who dares dream of opposing me.”
Her eyes locked on Ichi’s and he felt an involuntary shiver run down his spine. “Serve me or die.”
Ichi drew his pistol with nearly inhuman speed and began firing in less than a half-second. An orange blur moved between them and the bullets struck Ignis’s thick hide. The tiger roared and slashed claws tipped with jade and diamonds across his stomach. Ichi dropped to his knees, trying to hold the wound closed and gasping in pain.
Shinobu threw her hands out and a lance of black energy flew from between them to strike Sai’Li in the chest. A look of disbelief crossed her face and she stammered, “How can you? That should have killed you!”
“You are several centuries too late.” Sai’Li said, “You cannot kill what is already dead.”