In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.
Even at the best of times, Gotham City’s hardly a bastion of law and order. It’s not for lack of trying, but there’s just something about the place. Now, it’s even worse than usual. For a crime syndicate during a period like this, it’s a good time to act big. With law enforcement tied up and overwhelmed the door is wide open for bloody reprisals and redistribution of territories, and the Hasigawas have been very, very busy. The presumptive heiress, Eiko, is at the forefront of it all, as a lieutenant or as a soldier, as whatever her father requires of her.
Tatsuo Hasigawa had raised her on a steady diet of Sun Tzu, while her mother had tried to balance it out with Sei Shonagon. When the latter died, the old man’s heart hardened even further, the callus complete. Eiko isn’t a daughter, she’s his legacy and over the years he has tried time and again to break her, to remake her in his image. Anyone that she became close to, he made to disappear so as to keep her focused. This taught her to not to get close to anybody, but it also taught her to hate him. Perhaps this was not the intended lesson.
As an agent of the Yakuza, she’s been consolidating. Taking the lead in the field. Her father had tried to use her to both attack and defend, but feigned, carefully-measured incompetence on her part had forced him to choose. Unsurprisingly, he’d gone with attack. Having bought herself some extra free time with her ploy, she had begun work on a new game of her own. Borrowing a persona, a local ‘celebrity’ of sorts, she undermines her own organization by night, tipping off enemies before a raid, or else leading the police to a stash house before it can be put to the torch.
Sometimes, they won’t even listen to Catwoman, though. And so they hear the song of Eiko Hasigawa’s blade. She had been taught by the finest kenshi to ever pick up a katana, at great expense. The music is as lovely as it needs to be and, perversely, she profits either way. But each time she is forced to do things Tatsuo’s way is a small victory for him. She has been losing her whole life, ever since her first game of Go. Past a certain point, she’d surrendered the thought of an overt victory entirely. She lets him win these battles, because the war will be hers.
Actually, it already is. He just doesn’t realize it yet.
Alone in the backseat of the sedan, she looks out the window at Star Bridge off in the distance. The kitty had to stay in Gotham; it would be too telling if she turned up here, at the precise time as Eiko, on the opposite side of the country. Not to mention the difficulty it would take to shake her entourage, who had accompanied her from the moment the plane had touched down and would likely still be at her side when they go wheels up. Assuming any of them survive the rough bit of business ahead of them. She knows their names, she knows their habits and quirks not because she cares for them as individuals but because, as in chess, it’s important to know how each piece moves. Another reason to enjoy that game is that her father refuses to play it.
Her eyes shift forward as the lead outrider’s tail-light flares, a hand signal over the shoulder to the driver of the car informing of a police presence ahead. The sedan brakes, and the sheathed blade beside Eiko slips toward the footwell opposite her but she catches it out of the air before it falls. Her driver looks back and says something, perhaps an apology, but she can’t hear him over the music coming from her earbuds. Ennio Morricone. But the way she returns her bored gaze out the side window is it’s own reply. I’m coming for you, sensei. She breathes on the glass, using a fingertip to draw a cheshire grin and pointed ears, the corners of her lips quirking upward.
It had taken some effort but Tatsu had finally convinced Eve she could be left alone long enough for her to go gather supplies. The defensives she had prepared should hold she had explained and the stern gaze she used had seemingly convinced the girl. While the terror Eve felt was understandable she had to be made to understand she could not always expect Tatsu to remain at her side. To further ease the girls comfort Tatsu waited for Eve to fall asleep before making her way from the condemned theater they hid within.
Having slept within the single set of clothing Tatsu owned leaving took little preparation beyond grabbing her tattered leather jacket and sliding her arms inside it, and then placing the strap to the small guitar case containing her blade over her neck and finally swinging that to her back. Taking the less observed path at the rear of the theater Tatsu disabled her defensives along the way, taking moments to reset them before moving to the next and finally the last.
Emerging onto the street under the lamppost she herself had shattered to keep prying eyes from seeing more then they should, and taking a quick look about. Seeing no sign of anyone Tatsu then pulls the burner phone she had purchased the day before this out and begins to type in the word grocery store only to see it autocomplete itself into Grotto, cursing something in Japanese she begins to type again.
Succeeding this time she taps the button for directions and makes her way forward down the path indicated, a small corner store sat just three blocks over, it would have to suffice. Tatsu kept her pace slow but deliberate and her eyes keen. While she thought she had yet to be seen in Star she could not be certain and this neighborhood had plenty of fools looking to harass one they deemed an easy target.
How disappointed they would be if they tried.
When running from international crime syndicates, it’s easy to underestimate the scale of the resources that might be utilized to track someone down. Sure, depending on the offense a lone person might escape retribution for a time, disappear into the press of humanity, but something like killing a dozen agents of a particular family might invoke a more concerted effort. It’s the kind of thing that gets organizations to work together, favors to be called in. There are eyes everywhere that are bought and paid for. It’s impossible to not get spotted at all.
To an extent the police state helps in this. Cameras, facial recognition software, even gait protocols, next-level stuff that the police don’t use because of the red tape involved but of course criminals don’t have to worry about any of that. They have their own form of bureaucracy but in this instance it’s hardly relevant. As is the source of the tip, which Eiko does not actually know, nor care to know. Her father had given her orders to move on the information, which meant it was reliable and that was all the assurance she needed.
That she did not intend to fully cooperate with the spirit of those orders is not something he needed to know.
She’d brought four people with her, and they’d combed the area in their usual unsubtle way. Shaking down bit players, shoving photographs in street people’s faces. This kind of brute force tactic works on two levels, the most obvious one being that it’s a pretty quick way to loosen tongues. The other mechanism seems an obvious weakness: as word gets around, inevitably the target will become aware that they are being hunted. Usually, this will cause them to leave their hiding places and bolt, exposing them to danger. Eiko does not suppose that Tatsu will bolt, though. She will take the opposing road instead.
It’s by something of a coincidence that she is the first one to actually lay eyes on Katana, but it’s purposeful that she’s the first one to let herself be seen, leaning against the exterior door of a noodle shop. The young woman’s in a two-piece suit, practically a uniform of the organization, with her dark brown hair unbound. She’d been a child when she’d last seen Tatsu, but the older woman hadn’t changed much over the years. She wonders if Tatsu remembers her. Her left hand clutches a dark green sheath made from lacquered wood, the rayskin-covered hilt of her own sword angled downward. Carried openly, as if in clear disregard of law.
She glances sidelong toward Tatsu, then tilts her head in a minute gesture toward the door, which she turns and enters without a word, a little bell attached to the portal jingling. No, she doesn’t think that Tatsu Yamashiro will run at all. The shop’s lights are mostly off and it looks mostly unoccupied, save for a quartet of similarly-clothed individuals at a table further inside, busily eating ramen. An unlit acquarium houses large, orange and white fish that must look absolutely brilliant when the bulbs are turned on.
Tatsu could rarely be said to be unobservant, but even in those moments where her mind failed her, the Soultaker did not. As she rounds the corner and catches sight of Eiko in the doorway the souls in the sword begin to speak. At first, it is but a whisper, the sounds growing louder until it is practically screaming. ‘Yakuza!’ they shout, ‘enemy!’ they echo over and over until it becomes a maddening chorus of a thousand long departed warriors until in an instant they go quiet. Second passes and a single voice speaks a single word, a name. Maseo her husband says ‘Eiko’. Of all the people Tatsu had expected to see opposite the end of her blade from within the Yakuza, she had not anticipated this one.
It mattered little she told herself if the girl called herself Yakuza he would die like one. Moving to the sidewalk and placing the guitar case on the ground Tatsu flips one clasp then the next to allow her to open the lid. Opening it and reaching inside Tatsu lifts the Soultaker slowly careful not to let the increasingly bright green glow of the sword catch her directly in the eyes
Even still sheathed the eerie aura seemed to reach everywhere, using her other hand she then pulls a small silver mask from within the case and affixes it to her face. Placing the sword into the small loop at her waste for this exact purpose Tatsu turns and walks into the noodle shop. The bell needlessly announces her arrival as the door swings closed behind her.
“Maseo tells me your name is Eiko. I knew an Eiko many years ago…”
The hand she had on her blade as she entered ever so slightly moves its thumb to push the sword just a touch-free of its sheath.
“I do not recall her being so foolish as this.
Looking past Eiko to the men at the tables.
“Only four? Were I prideful I might be insulted.”
The heiress-apparent of the Hasigawa Family strides purposefully toward the seated mooks. They all have names but they are unimportant, interchangable. She reaches them just before Tatsu pushes through the front door. Bowls are dropped, hands reach beneath jackets for a Glock or Beretta or flashy, nickel-plated revolver but Eiko slams her sheath down flat on the table. “Don’t,” she says in a forceful tone. “She’ll kill every one of you.” Eiko leaves her sword there, snatching a paper envelope holding a pair of cheap chopsticks that she extracts and uses to quickly tie her hair up in a bun.
Turning away from them, she slips her blazer over one shoulder and then, more carefully, the other, placing it over the back of a chair at the unoccupied table adjacent. “Eiko doesn’t have a choice.” Her voice is marginally softer than the one she’d used with her own men. A holstered pistol rests at the back of her right hip, a Heckler & Koch USP with two spare magazines. She unclips the holster from her belt and tosses it onto the table in front of her, and then she unbuttons the sleeves of her white shirt. “You’ve been in this situation as well; I hope you understand, sensei.”
Her fingers deftly undo the buttons across her front and she pulls off the overshirt, draping it gently over her jacket. Beneath she wears a tank top, and across her bare shoulders snakes part of a larger tattoo that covers her entire back. It’s just a black outline right now, a dragon’s tail with no color unless one counts her skintone. “Anyway, for what you’ve done you shouldn’t pretend you don’t deserve it.” She reaches back blindly, one of her men reacting to lift her sheath up and press the hilt into her hand. She grips the sword and steps forward, tugging it free in the same motion and holding it underhand.
Tatsu had taught her everything she knows about the weapon, she knows the girl’s moves inside and out and she’s surely kept a few to herself besides. Eiko is under no illusion that she will come out on top here, but there’s an underlying conversation that’s more important than the fight itself. All she has to do is not die, and hopefully keep those accompanying her from that same fate as well. That’s why she’s always putting herself in the front, taking the lead to try and limit casualties on all sides whether through skill or through guile. She knows that Tatsu understands she is here under orders, and she cannot simply disregard those without losing fingers or worse.
The question is, will she care enough to pull her punches?
If anything that Eiko says has any effect on Tatsu the mask she wears keeps this hidden behind its red lenses and silver sheen. Taking a step further into the shop Tatsu follows her former students lead and slips off her own jacket, the jacket Maseo had given her shortly after they first met. It seemed so innocent at the time how he had placed it on her shoulders as they sat and talked waiting for his brother and her husband Takeo to return from business in the city.
She had been lonely in her husband’s absence and Maseo had always been a good friend. Looking back she now knew that had been where the first spark of the love that caused her betrayal had begun.
Pushing these thoughts away, Tatsu knew she had no time for such an indulgence of sentimentality. After all, it was just a jacket. Gently she places the prized jacket on a hook for a coat just inside the door, letting her eyes leave Eiko for only a moment. It was a small thing but if the girl attacked her while she looked away it would reveal much of her student’s character, not doing so spoke volumes in an entirely different way.
Eiko had been a girl of strong character as a child, but fathers among the Yakuza had a way of killing such spirit in favor of more lethal past times. Moving her red eyes back to Eiko now her head nods in a few short movements as the girl speaks.
“You speak as if you understand why I have done the things I have done.”
Her dominant hand now moves to the handle of her blade and slowly pulls the sword free careful as it does not touch the scabbard as it dulls the edge. Setting one foot back a step as she adjusts her stance, her hands move the sword up to right shoulder the tip aimed straight up.
“I will kill a thousand Yakuza if it sees Takeo in his grave….”
Eiko had been polite, well-spoken and detached in a way that some might’ve mistaken for sociopathy, reserved in the manner of a child who isn’t allowed to have friends. She had also been very intelligent, a fast learner with a self-awareness that saved her from the pitfalls of arrogance. It’s not so much that she’s changed from all of that so much as she sees this confrontation as the only way to satisfy all conditions required of her, from her father and those set by herself, with minimal (possibly zero) loss of life.
She does not attack during the conversation, but she does reposition, circling around the table so as to get a clear path toward Tatsu. “There is no understanding; you’re behaving like a rabid beast,” she says, stepping closer. Further from her own people, who remain in their seats paying close attention. They aren’t here to actually help her, whether they understand that or not on some subconscious level. Tatsuo Hasigawa had sent them to make sure that his only child actually completed the mission he’d given her; while they are around, she cannot back down, and in that sense they are as much a hindrance as a help.
If not moreso.
“I can help you,” she asserts in a whisper, abruptly switching to Japanese once she’s close enough (and far enough from her people). “But we need to give them a show.” She takes a half-step back and twists her wrist, rolling the hilt around the back of her knuckles so that it winds up in a traditional grip and then wrapping her left hand around it as well, just below the first. She kicks her hard Oxfords off, then bends her knees to drop her center of gravity and tense her muscles in preparation for explosive movement.
If it hadn’t already looked like there was about to be a fight, it’s all but a sure thing now. Past a certain point, placed in this difficult situation, she has to trust that Tatsu will see the reason behind her request. That she won’t just kill her, and her retinue. Either way, though, first there is the struggle, her skills matched against the one she had acquired them from. And it’s going to hurt. Obligingly, she waits for Katana to initiate.
It had been a long time since Tatsu had felt anything but rage. In the few moments she could find that her mind would allow her to sleep her dreams would see to it her thoughts remained enflamed. It had been only a few nights ago that she had most recently awoke screaming as her skin tingled with the sensation of fire as it had that night her home erupted in flame. Much had happened since that day, many had died at her hand all of them her former brethren.
When she had come to Star City she had done so to continue her bloody path of revenge. She had thought nothing could see that path diverted. But then from within the darkness itself a girl emerged, a girl in desperate need of protection. A girl she already knew she would feel obligated to train, Eve abandoned would soon be claimed by her enemies. The loss the girl had suffered mirrored her own in a way and Tatsu found seeing her suffering had broken through the screaming of her mind.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that a new student had appeared and shortly thereafter a former. A former student that seemed reluctant to heed her masters orders. Whatever game Eiko played she would allow her a move or two more.
Her mind set Tatsu moved forward with speed she had found rarely matched her sword moving with a fluid grace it edge aimed with apparent determination to end Eiko’s life. Only at the last moment would she alter its course it’s sharpened tip cutting close enough to confuse their observers.
Of the Yakuza present, Eiko is the strongest fighter. All five of them are aware of this fact, and probably Katana is as well. That doesn’t mean she’s a match for her former sensei, but it does mean she can’t phone it in. Making it look good means actually fighting, it means there needs to be blood because otherwise the play wouldn’t make sense. She punishes Tatsu’s apparent mercy by deflecting with the hilt guard, swatting aside the Soultaker contemptuously.
And following it up with an overhead strike, fast and lethal but subtly telegraphed through the placement of her feet, the tensing of the muscles in her exposed arms. It wouldn’t be enough for someone that hadn’t trained her to predict her attacks, but for Tatsu she is practically calling out her moves a second before she makes them. Her intent is to get the older woman to lock blades, and let her get close enough to growl, “Phone in my jacket. Cut me.” The blazer, hanging from the chair. Perhaps she intends to leave without retrieving it, most likely because she will be too injured.
She gives one last shove, but ultimately loses the test of raw strength, unable to press her attack. Katana is simply more powerful, physically, than the athletic gangster. It leaves her wide open for a follow up, her sword raised in both hands still, not yet recovered from her failed assault. A split second opening that provides a host of options for targets, including lethal ones. Obviously, Hasigawa is hoping that she does not get stabbed through the heart, nor gutted like a trout but either of these are very real possibilities when battling with someone so driven by vengeance as Tatsu.
Given the mask she wore following the path of Tatsu’s eyes was all but impossible. Perhaps this was my she wore it at all. So when she glances to the jacket Eiko mentions no one see’s it happen. Nor would it be apparent as her eyes take note of Eiko foot work or the tensing of her muscles but she most certainly did. As the woman who taught her most of these moves Tatsu could easily see where she was being guided. It was as easily seen as if it had been written across the sky in red smoke.
The question is just what would Tatsu do with the gift she had been given. The urge to disembowel another Yakuza loomed large in her mind but something different was going on here.
Seeing the opening Tatsu adjusts her feet to slide herself back away from Eiko, and checking her options she makes a decision. It takes only a fraction of a second for the edge of the Soultaker to find its ways to her opponents throat.
From the outside viewpoint, it all happens in a flash. The best of them up against a demoness who had slain twenty others, all eyes as the girl launches what looks to be a decisive assault, only to be stopped cold and then undone by a single flash of Katana‘s magical blade. There’s a spray of blood as Eiko’s throat is slit, but it’s not arterial, just a minor puncture of the trachea. Eiko’s eyes go wide in genuine terror, her own sword clattering to the ground as she grasps at her neck, suddenly unable to breathe.
There’s yelling in Japanese as the four men accompanying her rise from the table, chairs clattering as they’re thrown aside. Guns are drawn, but not fired. The Yakuza princess falls to her knees but throws up one slick red hand to wave them off. Her earlier warning is still fresh in their memories: She’ll kill every one of you. If they hadn’t believed it before, they certainly do now. So the choice becomes whether to throw their lives away, and let their boss’s only daughter die in the process or try and make a break for it. Get her to a hospital and save her life.
One of them holsters his gun and slowly walks toward the heiress, his eyes fixed on Tatsu as if nervously anticipating a violent response. It’s up to her, though. She’d never agreed to anything here, regardless what Hasigawa’s apparent plan is.
Katana stands still holding her arm outstretched as a drop of blood falls from the tip of the Soultaker. Her head lowers as if in a bow as she brings her sword about to return it to its sheath. Her eyes remain affixed on Eiko as her men move to remove her from the scene, but she does. It move against them.
As far as Tatsu is concerned this fight is over.
Eiko remains upright, shivering and her eyes still wide. Her lips quirk into something approximating a grin, the closest she can manage, but then a trickle of blood escapes and she seems to lose all strength just in time to be caught by the man slipping up behind her. The rest of them, seeing no further violence from Tatsu, keep their distance as best they can as they retrieve the ditched pistol and the dropped sword on their way out of the noodle shop.
The boss’s daughter is carried out to the sedan, and one of the outriders hops into the back with her, keeping pressure on the wound to her neck as they pull out. They leave behind a single motorcycle, a rented lower-end Harley, and inside Eiko’s blazer remains draped over a chair. In the interior pocket sits a cheap, prepaid cellphone with physical buttons rather than a touchscreen. It’s unlocked, and upon being activated a text message in kanji is already up on the screen, pretyped and waiting to be read:
It was nice to see you again. Talk to you soon.