Dai silently returned her intense stare, his eyes not wavering in the slightest. Then, he moved.
He cautiously stepped forward like a wolf closing in on its cornered prey. His arms shot forward to bind her, his artificial hand cupping the back of her head while his natural arm coiled around her midriff. Both limbs pulled her in, pressing her body tightly against his.
For the first seconds, his senses ignited into an incomprehensible blaze.
It was his choice to constantly feel the burning presence of Rika and her blood that flowed through his own veins as well, and he did not hinder the sensation. He refused to let go of this indescribable link so easily.
“No way. You’re not taking a single step away from me until I thoroughly finish proving you wrong about what you just claimed to be.
The heartbeat was almost unbearable. She had never felt such connection or warmth with another person before, and it terrified her. But she couldn't bear to bury it under her Nanaya focus. Rika wanted to swim in it, to let it roll over her and consume her and erase every other thought from her being. She wanted to know how much deeper the pleasures of Dai could reach.
"You're...too kind to me."
It took every thought in her body to stop herself from kissing him. She slithered away from his grasp, gently but efficiently, even though it felt like leaving the warm sun and dipping into a pit filled with ice. She took several deep breaths before speaking.
"I'll stay. Proving that my instincts were right would set me at ease, and if there is something larger at stake then we should find out what it is. Then, and only then, might I be able to start believing that we Nanaya can do something good with our abilities."
She breathed out all of the tingle and shut her eyes, finding her focus. The sooner that Rika could put this issue to an end, the sooner she could allow herself to explore what this bond between she and Dai meant.
"But not tomorrow. We move tonight."
- - -
Rika tipped her head forward, letting her body lean into a freefall. Her left hand squeezed on itself, looking for the reassuring tug of the safety line that usually rest in it, but it only felt the skin of her palm. There was no line, and though Rika knew she would be safe, her body rushed out adrenaline in response.
That annoyed her. Her body should learn to remain as calm and rational as her mind.
A foot before impact, Rika weighed nothing. Floating in mid-air, she spun herself around to set her feet under her, then landed with a whisper when gravity returned to normal. Dai did the same at her side.
The Kajima family's compound was vast and opulent, moreso than the rest of Thickpick City and that was saying something. They were now over the outerwall, landing them in a tropical garden brimming with streams, waterfalls, and ponds. It was well into night now, and the moon was cooperating by hiding itself, leaving only the sprinkles of stars to light the sky.
The two glided over to a wall of thin reeds and Rika motioned with her hands.
She smiled wryly at her little joke, motioning to the water features.
Dai had learned the Nanaya hand signals very quickly. They were an exhaustive set with so many nuances and commands that a Nanaya could have an entire conversation with gestures alone - which was the point. No risk of giving away their position with voice. Dai wasn't quite at that level yet, but she would be able to issue basic commands.
Stone paths weaved through the garden and would take them into the back of the manor, but Rika also knew that these paths were highlighted with torches. Instead she used the paths as a guide marker, cutting a more direct line through the garden, using the foliage as cover.
There was no patrol in the garden. Apparently the Kajima family didn't think it needed. This unnerved Rika. People with something to hide always had extra guards. It wasn't enough to set off her instincts and tell her she was wrong, but it bloomed her caution.
The rear of the manor had an expansive patio overlooking a reflecting pool. The patio was at least a hundred feet wide made of marbled tile. An exquistely carved firepit was laid in the center, with dazzling brass fixtures around it, flicking in the firelight. There were several white couches were laid around the fire and several chairs down by the pool. A wooden structure overhung the entire patio, supporting twisting vines with brilliant blossoms of white, pink, and purple. There were several figures by the firepit, laughing.
On the left side of the patio was a tall marble statue - perfect for climbing atop the overhang. The pair weaved their way slowly through the garden, around the fountain and the reflecting pool and close to the statue. A guard was stationed on either end of the patio, and to Rika's dismay they were neither tired or moving, the two things that could make a guard very easy to deal with. The guard was staring into the middle distance, oblivious to their presence.
Rika's hand glided over her belt and pockets. She was still vastly underequipped for this mission, and she was going to risk throwing her hunting knife. However, she also wasn't confident enough in her climbing speed to scale the statue and strike the guard before he made his own move.
She turned to Dai.
He understood. With a twist of his left arm, Rika was again weightless and sailing effortlessly from the ground up at the guard. Gravity restored to normal just as she was in reach. Her right hand clamped down hard on his throat to constrict air to his voice while the injector blade hidden on her left wrist clicked out and pierced his chest. The poison flowed quickly through him and he was already stiffening while they tumbled back through the air. Dai caught them before they hit the ground, and Rika took hold of the guard before the gravity shifted back to normal. The guard was completely paralyzed - but not dead.
They deposited the guard in a bed of flowers, then scrambled up the back of the statue and, with more of Dai's assistance, landed softly on the overhang. The sweet smell of the blossoms was like perfume.
She realized at once what a horrible pun that was, but couldn't apologize with Dai's limited use of the signs, so she simply signed sorry and motioned for them to move closer to the fire pit and take a good look.
Rika flushed with embarrassment.
The people near the fire, three of them, were no longer laughing. Instead, the man and two women were now mostly naked, entwined on one of the couches, writhing. Rika was caught between wanting to turn away and needing to stay and watch and look for her next move. Her heart was racing and she realized that Dai was probably feeling her heart race. She wanted to turn and tell him to stop spying, but then she would be admitting that the sight was...having an effect on her, and that could be more embarrassing-
A servant approached the three, compltely immune to it, and said a few simple words. There was an audible groan of irritation from beneath the pile, and the three separated. It was then that Rika realized that two of them - the man and one of the women, were much younger than the third. The third was a regal, hawk-like woman whose body drooped and wrinkled slightly with age, though still held a stunning beauty. The third woman motioned for the other two to leave, and they picked up thin silk robes and wrapped them hurriedly before rushing back inside the manor. The last woman wrapped herself in a royal purple garment and sat regally on the couch.
Two men walked in - two of Senji's guards from earlier that day. Rika pressed herself tight against the overhang and positioned her ear as close as possible.
"What is it you want? I told Senji not to come here at night and I told him never to send his lackeys to do his bidding. There had better be a good excuse or you are both going to be executed."
Somehow Rika, and the two thugs, believed her. One shoved the other forward, who stammered.
"I-it's about Senji, Bakame-sama. He's dead."
The woman, Bakame, listened wordlessly as the guard related the events of the day, almost disinterested in the death of Senji. However, her cold disinterest sharpened into marked irritation the moment the thugs stopped speaking.
"So this Dainichi Kaizoku is going to take over for Senji he says? I've heard that name...do you think he would be willing to do Senji's job?"
The thugs looked at each other.
"No way. He'd kill us all if he knew what you were planning."
Bakame sighed and brushed a long lock of graying black hair from her forehead.
"Very well. We'll have to move ahead of schedule. Head to the Maeruka Mines and begin the final preparations. I hate to put dullards like you in charge but it seems I have no choice. Don't do anything until another of my men or I show up. Screw this up and I'll find a way to murder you, I promise that."
The thugs bowed low several times and scattered away as soon as possible. As soon as they were from view, Bakame summoned her servant.
"Get in contact with Cobra's Kiss. I'll be needing one of their agents."
The servant rushed away, leaving Bakame with her thoughts.
Rika cursed that this wasn't a fully-fledged Nanaya mission, because now they were going to have to make a choice.
Follow the thugs, though they could catch up to them at the Maeruka Mines...but in time to stop whatever it was they were planning?
Follow the servant on his way to Cobra's Kiss. Rika knew very intimately what Cobra's Kiss was but stopping them from being contacted could save them some trouble.
Or stay here and see if Bakame could give them more information.
Ideally all three would be taken care of, but they might only be able to do one.
She turned to Dai.
Follow thugs, follow servant, or question lady?
It would be up to him.
She did take the smallest moment to savor that her hunter's senses had been right about Senji, and she felt lighter knowing that Dai could completely put that image of a heartless murderer behind him.