For the second time that day, the grinning oni emerged from the dark side of the brick tenement building into the silvery blue light of the gibbous moon. Nights with a full moon had been anathema to the ninja for hundreds of years before she was born, but for all of Miyuki's lifetime the electric glow of the city's lights outshone the moon, turning some streets into daylight, and throwing the rest into a golden penumbra. Miyuki glanced up at the moon, hovering over the Bank of America building, and then stole silently across the rooftops, moving from shadow to shadow behind the mysterious metal boxes, cylinders, vents and chimneys that studded the roofs of commercial property everywhere.
She was approaching from the opposite side of the alley tonight; the curved Chinese roof stood out black against the sky in front of her. There were no flood lights in the alley, which meant the medical examiners were done, but a furtive glance down at the street showed a police cruiser parked where the Mercedes had been, and she suspected the doors would still be crossed with yellow crime scene tape. It was getting later, but businesses were still open and there were plenty of people around, which ruled out an entry at street level. Fortunately, like many old buildings with external fire escapes, Elliot Chow's building had a stairway with roof access, and perhaps even more fortunately the police had apparently seen fit to force the heavy metal door, so that it hung half off its hinges. It was worth noting, Miyuki decided, if the police were to become aware of her presence, that there would probably be some guys on the roof.
The stairs led down to a narrow corridor; there were no windows so the lights were always on, but they were barely adequate. A scroll bearing a Chinese invocation of prosperity hung from the wall, but otherwise the hall was empty. The advantage to starting at the top of the building was that important rooms tended to cluster high up in businesses, and this one was no different. Other than the stairs, the corridor opened onto Chow's office and a room full of security equipment. The monitors in the security room were all still on, and showed a rather extensive coverage of the building inside and out, although the monitor that should show the alley was dark except for the words REMOTE FEED ERROR in the top right corner. There was no provision to record any of the video feeds, which, given Chow's impulsiveness, was probably for the best.
Chow's office faced onto the street, so Miyuki had to make due with he limited light that filtered in the window, and the occasional use of her mini Maglite. The FBI had taken Chow's computer, and his wall safe stood open. A quick look around the office revealed a cherry wood desk and a leather executive chair, and absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. She wasn't sure what she was even supposed to be looking for, but she wasn't finding it; even the wastebasket was empty. She turned and headed to the stairwell, passing out of sight of the security monitors just seconds before a second police cruiser pulled into view of the camera watching Grant Avenue.
The next floor down was given over to storage of the essentials of a busy night club; chairs, tables, linens, and case after case of alcohol, neatly arranged by type. One of the tables had been set up with a few chairs, and still bore a few open beer bottles and a pile of mah jong tiles; the remains of a pleasant evening interrupted. Miyuki envisioned Elliot Chow descending from his office, barking a few orders to his boo how doys and then the lot of them marching downstairs to pick some poor girl off the club floor to make an example of. It wasn't that hard to imagine, she had seen the very end of it happen herself. The relatively simple matter of how he ended up in the alley didn't answer the Abbot General's question of why.
At the periphery of her hearing, Miyuki caught the click of a lock and squeal of a hinge. Someone was entering the front door. She froze in place and concentrated on the sounds around her, the rushing water noise of traffic, the disjointed shouts, the abrupt intrusion of car horns and dogs barking. A pair of voices was having a conversation downstairs, without any sense of urgency. She pressed herself against the wall of the stairwell and crept down to the ground floor.
"What exactly are we looking for here?" Officer Avila swept the beam of his Maglite across an upended chair. "Keeping in mind this is all federal evidence now, and the crime was committed outside."
"Dunno." Wu shined her light through the bottles behind the bar, the mirror behind casting distorted, prismatic shapes back throughout the room. "It just didn't seem right."
The lights were off, and they had made a point not to turn them on. Both of them knew they weren't supposed to be there, the case belonged to the FBI first and the city detectives second. It was best not to draw attention to the building, or touch anything that would hold a fingerprint. The room was one big shadow where it wasn't divided into uncanny little shadows by their lights.
"Of course it didn't seem right, that's why it's against the law."
"No, I mean… you know what I mean." Wu turned back to face the room, and consequently missed the ninja glide silently into the shadows under the bar. "I mean street violence in this city has a pattern and this isn't it. Who brings a knife to a gunfight, wins, and then leaves four witnesses behind? Who even decides they wanna take on a Triad in his own territory with his bodyguards around? There was ten grand in the safe upstairs and he had five hundred in cash on him, untouched."
"So our guy scores big in human trafficking, pisses someone off somewhere, probably by cutting in to their business, and so they go down to J-town, find a ninja, and have him killed."
"I'da just shot him." Wu paused as the beam of her light caught something sparkling on the floor, but it proved to be the shards of a broken cocktail glass.
"Simplest plan's the best one" Avila ran his hand over the shaved crown of his head. It wasn't his idea to come back to the crime scene, but curiosity was getting the better of him. "Maybe we should start at the other end and work backwards. What's missing is as important as what's here."
"You're goin' hardcore Confucian on me now. Think that one up yourself?"
"Nah, saw it in a movie. But it's already working for me." Avila pointed his Maglite up at the wall, near to where it met the ceiling. "Like whatever used to be there."
Miyuki fought the impulse to peek over the bar to see what they were looking at.
"Probably a shrine." Officer Wu swept her light around the ceiling. "You know the ones, a statue of Guan Yu or Tin Hau, to keep an eye on your employees and keep the bad luck outside."
Miyuki knew them well enough; small lacquered wood boxes with a statue of a god or saint, flanked by candles and an offering bowl were ubiquitous in Asian American businesses. The image here had almost certainly been Guan Yu, god of war, loyalty, and brotherhood, the things the Triads valued most, and the man in the white Mercedes, whatever else he was willing to sacrifice here, would never leave it behind.
Except that she had watched him do precisely that. She had watched as they had abandoned Elliot Chow to his fate that morning, and none of the men had been carrying the box, and it would be far too large to conceal about one's person.
"Looks like it came out in a hurry." Avila's voice brought Miyuki back out of her contemplation. "Wood's splintered here, and it looks like the sheetrock cracked. Any reason he'd wanna do that?"
"Not that I can think of." Wu leaned back on the bar and stared up at the acoustical tiles of the ceiling. "Ya know, when we saw Chow's body he didn't have his copper on him."
"His copper. It's jade, really, a jade pendant in the shape of an old fashioned Chinese copper coin. It would have the name of his brotherhood carved into it, it's a symbol of which gang he belongs to, basically."
"You think the ninja took it as a trophy?"
"Or his own people, to show he wasn't one of them any more. That explains how someone got the drop on him with all his bodyguards around. The ninja thing is a pretty handy urban legend to hang it all on." As she leaned forward again Wu brushed a coaster off the bar with her elbow; it landed on the rubber bar mat inches from where Miyuki was crouching.
"Why the complicated set up, though? They've never been shy about poppin' guys who don't toe the line."
Avila's question went unanswered, as the squawk of a police radio filled the room. From Miyuki's spot under the bar it sounded mostly like static.
"Three-adam-twelve, responding, code three" Avila replied, and then privately to Wu: "C'mon, let's go."
The briefing room they had led her to at Osan Air Base looked suspiciously familiar to Lyta. She had sat in briefing rooms like this on American military bases on every continent on the planet, windowless grey walls, grey carpet, institutional furniture, fluorescent lights. Only the flags that flanked the podium were different, the Stars and Stripes were always present, but replace the Korean Taegeukgi with a different ally's flag and she could be on the far side of the world.
The fluorescent lights were off now. At the front of the room, a series of images played across a projection screen; the three-view of a vehicle that looked like a space shuttle, but sleeker and more predatory looking. It was followed by a photo of the same vehicle, painted military low visibility grey, atop an Atlas booster, then rolling down a runway in a desert somewhere, with a drag chute streaming out behind it, and, finally, being worked on by its ground crew. The last photo showed the diminutive size of the craft, no bigger than a medium sized car, but having formed an idea based on shots of it in isolation, it looked to Lyta like it was being serviced by giants.
The next group of images was a series of graphics of the drone shuttle's mission; a giant sine wave across the world map, the shuttle with its cargo of sensors deployed from the dorsal cargo doors, and the various objectives: casually relaying electro-optical real-time images of sensitive sites on the ground and listening in on the traffic passing through communications satellites.
Colonel Davis came to the end of his lecture on the capabilities and virtues of the ORV-37A. The world map was back, but this time the sine wave ended over the Himalayas.
"At 2100 the orbiter lost power, both main and the auxiliaries. Vandenburg reported a loss of flight control, and telemetry failed soon afterwards. The spacecraft broke up upon reentry, and most of the classified components burned up in the stratosphere."
"It's the surviving components we're after." Murphy had been reclining ever further in his chair, but now he leaned forward again. "So what survived?"
"The flight data recorder is built into a reinforced pod coated in phenolic impregnated carbon ablator. It's designed to exhibit the aerodynamic qualities of a lifting body, in the theory was that it could slow its own descent when jettisoned by the orbiter. Jettison is supposed to occur automatically when critical systems fail."
"And we know for certain that it did?"
Col. Davis flipped through the next series of images. A rescue orange lozenge stenciled with the words "USAF FLIGHT DATA RECORDER" sat in a bright white room, attended by Boeing engineers in white coveralls. Then, the same lozenge, now so badly scorched as to be mostly black, was being hoisted out of the Sea of Japan by the Korean People's Navy.
"Once reentry was complete the emergency transponder activated automatically. The nearest Naval base is at Wonsan, and it looks like that's where they took it. It's still there now. The transponder broadcasts a coded burst every hour for just under a second. It's meant to save the battery, but it has the added advantage that the KPN hasn't detected it yet."
"Unless they've found it and kept it broadcasting for deception purposes." Miranda had been standing silently in the back of the room, until now. "Either to draw us away from the recorder's actual position, or as bait."
"The possibility exists." Davis shrugged. "The conclusion of Joint Forces Command is that recovery through military means is inadvisable, short of a full scale assault."
They sat silently for a moment. An F-16 boomed its way into the sky outside, audible despite the room's soundproofing.
"Do you have a recent photo of Wonsan?" Danny asked, finally. A satellite photo flashed onto the screen, of a city built into a large, crescent shaped bay on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. Lyta could make out clusters of grey oblongs – naval patrol boats – docked together at the northern end, along with the occasional larger grey shape docked singly; a corvette or frigate, perhaps. A web of straight lines, by themselves away from any buildings, crisscrossed a peninsula at the southern end of the bay. The long, broad one was the runway, while the short perpendiculars were the flightline, and the taxiway formed an awkward diagonal that twisted away and disappeared into a suspicious clump of trees. On both perpendiculars Lyta noted neat rows of blunt-nosed swept wing aircraft, most likely Mig-19s.
"Initially they were keeping the recorder in this warehouse, here." Davis indicated a large square in the naval complex at the north end of the bay. "Two hours ago a convoy of trucks left by the coastal road, and ever since the signal's been much weaker, coming from here. Those trees mask the entrance to a hardened underground complex that serves as the hangar and command center for the airbase."
"At its deepest we estimate it extends 25 meters underground," Agents Smith spoke up, for the first time. "shallow for a DPRK bunker complex; they're limited by water table. These big clumps of trees hide the doors, the smaller ones cover vents."
"We have several penetrators capable of reaching that deep." Davis added. "A strike with GBU-57s would destroy the recorder, you can be absolutely certain of that."
"Thank you Colonel, but I aim to bring it back in one piece." Murphy twirled his pen once, and then drummed it lightly on the edge of the table. "Without an accurate picture of the internal layout, there's no point going inside. The recorder will take far too long to find if we don't know where to look. The more time we spend on the ground the more hazardous this all becomes, and the more KPAs we're obliged to neutralize the bigger the political mess. No, they'll have to bring it out again when the time comes to fly it out, and we'll get it then."
"You're certain that will happen, Agent Murphy?"
"Yessir, they could have put it on a helo, a train, or a truck to Pyongyang from the naval base. The airbase is less convenient to everything but a runway. Since the taxiway is only wide enough for fighters, a cargo plane would have to load at the end of the runway, out in the open."
"So when will that happen?" Smith asked from his corner.
"No idea." Murphy stopped drumming and scribbled something on his legal pad. "I'm gonna need some SIGINT guys to sit on their diplomatic traffic until we know who they want to sell it to, and then we can figure out when they're coming to collect it. It'll be a short list; North Korea doesn't have a lot of friends who can do anything with the recorder, so Moscow and Beijing. There's an outside chance they'll try to sell it back to Washington, in which case State can handle it and I go home early."
Miyuki contemplated a particularly fascinating bottle of 15-year-old single malt scotch while she waited for the sound of the patrol car's siren to fade into the distance. She was increasingly convinced she wouldn't find anything, but maybe there was something to the other approach. Maybe she should look for what wasn't there, but should have been. That was what the Abbot General had done after all; she was here because Elliot Chow had been betrayed with no clear motive.
She slipped out from under the bar and through a velour curtain into a lounge area, a plush, crimson room decorated with paintings of nude women, modern, but aping the classic Chinese style. A semicircle of lounge chairs and divans ringed a small, lit stage built around a floor-to-ceiling brass pole. The sickly sweet smell of spilled alcohol mingled with stale tobacco and the pungent incense of some kind of opiate, as well as a chemical smell Miyuki couldn't quite place, until she spotted a spent tear gas grenade lying under one of the chairs. Taped Xs marked the carpet, similar to those used by the crime scene men to mark where the spent shell casings had fallen in the alley outside. Someone had made a stand here, but not a last stand; there was no human shape taped on the carpet. Someone had resisted just long and loud enough to attract the attention of the police, or rather to divert it. The police had entered by both street level doors, and forced the door on the roof, which meant that someone escaping with a large lacquer box would only have one way to go. Miyuki headed back to the staircase, and down into the inky blackness of the club's basement.
The basement was a pharaoh's tomb; a musty pit packed with abandoned treasures. Dusty porcelain vases and the moldering remains of what had once been some pretty nice wood furniture crowded old wooden crates covered in faded ideograms. A string of rotting paper lanterns hung limply from the low ceiling, near a massive old-fashioned iron safe, and a shelf full of little round jars, which, according to the characters inked on them, once held plum wine. A quick examination with her maglite showed Miyuki that the entirety was covered in cobwebs, and a thick coating of grey dust.
Or almost the entirety. Someone had swept the floor; it barely showed, but the telltale pattern of broom bristles was visible on close inspection of the dusty flagstones. The swept area ran from the bottom of the stairs to the old safe, the door of which appeared to be the only thing in the room not anchoring a cobweb. Had someone brought the altar down here and stashed it in the safe? To Miyuki it made no sense. The safe was certainly big enough, but it looked to be a century old, and the rudimentary combination lock would only take her a few minutes to crack. If the plan was to hide the altar and then collect it quietly in a few days, then it was just as safe where it had been, mounted on the wall; more so, in fact, because now they had drawn her attention to it.
Miyuki knelt next to the safe door, and, placing her ear to the embossed gold letters that proclaimed this to be a proud product of the Pacific Safe Co. of San Francisco, gave the combination dial a turn. There was no noise whatsoever. She tried again to be certain, but the dial turned easily, as if the lock didn't have any tumblers, or any mechanism at all. She gave the handle a twist, and the door opened, easily and silently. The safe was completely empty.
Had they come down here to retrieve something, rather than deposit it? No, the sweeper had been moving toward the safe, the dust gathered against the ridges of the flagstones in that direction. So then how did he leave? The cobwebs danced lazily in a barely perceptible breeze, and she had her answer. Miyuki climbed into the safe, and pulled the door shut behind her.
For the third time Lyta held the Blackhawk stationary over the tarmac, and for the third time Danny and Miranda rappelled down their respective nylon ropes, dropping into the swirling brownout caused by the rotors' downdraft. For the third time they vanished up the back ramp of a USAF C-130 Hercules, playing the part of an Ilyushin or Antonov, and reappeared with a cargo crate, playing the part of the missing flight data recorder. Lyta brought the Blackhawk down so its wheels just kissed the ground, and then they were back aboard, tying down the crate while she climbed up and away, out of simulated North Korean airspace, and then back again. She brought the Blackhawk in less than a hundred yards from the plane and a pair of airmen heaved the crate into a Humvee, marking the successful end of the simulated mission, and also it's beginning, as the Humvee sped off toward the parked Hercules to reload the crate, like a snake eating its own tail.
"Four minutes forty." Murphy said as they headed into the shade of the hangar. "Not bad, I guess, but not useful to us at all."
"How do you mean?" Agent Smith asked. He seemed to naturally gravitate toward shadows, Lyta had noticed.
"I mean the Stealthhawk is much heavier than the UH-60L we've been using here, especially with the fuel full up. And the C-130's smaller than an Il-76. And we're assuming a certain number of guards and that the recorder can be gotten out without tearing a cargo pallet apart, none of which we know for sure. All we've done is prove we can storm a plane, in principle, and I already knew that. Let's give it a rest for now, until SIGINT comes back with something and we know what's waiting for us. Is that the 240 I asked for?"
Murphy lifted the M240L out of its case and handed it to Miranda. It was a cut down man-portable version of the medium machinegun commonly mounted on many NATO military vehicles; she collapsed the bipod and held the weapon to her shoulder, looking through the reflex sight at a point on the hangar's far wall.
"Hey, Rodriguez, c'mere a minute," Danny called her over to the pile of crates and bags that had accompanied them on the flight across the Pacific, which now formed a makeshift table next to the angular nose of the Stealth Blackhawk. "While we're here, I wanna go over the ammo real quick. Here's for your M9, if it comes to that."
He handed her four pistol magazines, made for her Beretta, but stamped with KPA arsenal markings from the First Machine Industry Bureau. Then he picked up a boxed machinegun belt.
"These are seven-six-two NATO, but they've all been stamped as Izmash seven-six-two fifty-four." He tossed the box to Miranda and she caught it with one hand, Lyta noted, holding her twenty pound machinegun barrel up by its pistol grip with the other. "I only have three of those, so use them sparingly, but we have enough Type 59 mags to fully load two fire teams, and six Mk 17 carbines to feed 'em through. Anyway, if we have to do any shooting our brass will mix in with theirs, and we can pretend we were never there. Whaddya got for me, Airman?"
The Airman had approached them quietly and, once acknowledged, held up a small metal briefcase chained to his left wrist. "Urgent for you, sir, from Vandenberg, and Fort Meade."
The case contained a pair of folders. Danny opened the first one, labeled "SECRET/SPECIAL ACCESS REQUIRED/ECHELON" read briefly, then closed it and returned it to the case without comment. The second folder bore a long string of words, letters, and numbers ending with "MISTY/EIS", and contained detailed photos of the Wonsan airbase, taken minutes before by one of the National Reconnaissance Office's eyes in the thermosphere. Danny looked at a photo silently, and then handed it to Lyta. The tall grass of the field to the southeast of the airfield was crisscrossed with the tracks of several vehicles, and was now home to an armored AAA platform and a pair of truck mounted surface to air missile batteries.
"So that's what's waiting for us." She tossed the photo back onto the stack "Looks like a ZSU-23 and S-300 launchers on flatbeds."
"Those'll be the new KN-06s, yeah." Danny shuffled through the rest of the photos, scanning each one briefly. "Looks much the same all around, they know we'll try to make a grab for it. Except up at the tip of the peninsula. Agent Smith, what's this big building here, with the blue roof?"
"A luxury vacation compound, for high ranking military and party bosses, why?"
"Sound's pleasant." Murphy held up a photo of the edge of the blue tiled roof, and the perfectly straight row of official black sedans parked next to it. "I'm gonna need to round up a few extra guys, then maybe we'll drop in and say hi."
As she closed the heavy safe door Miyuki plunged herself into darkness, but if her suspicions were correct it would be short lived. She put her shoulder against the back of the safe and heaved with her full weight. It gave surprisingly easily, opening quietly on a well-oiled hinge. The mechanism was simple, but, she had to admit, pretty ingenious. A thin chain wound around a windlass arrangement hidden under the floor of the safe; when the front door was open the chain was pulled taut and held the secret door firmly in place. When the door closed, the hinge turned the windlass, slackening the chain, and allowing the back of the safe to open into the musty dampness beyond.
The secret door opened into a low, arched tunnel, its bricks worn and blackened by age, lit sparingly by bare bulbs hung from an exposed wire. The structure was supported by rough balks of wood, also dark with years of grime. It smelled of dust and machine oil, and on the whole it reminded Miyuki of grade school field trips to old gold mines in the Sierra foothills. The tunnel led only one way, spiraling down and to the right, where it formed an intersection with a similar tunnel, and there were others, branching off at regular intervals, their electric bulbs hanging in the darkness like so many paralyzed fireflies.
Miyuki pressed herself against the wall in the darkness between two bulbs, and listened, concentrating again, forming the mandala around herself, and reaching out to subsume her surroundings into her awareness. Water dripped from the ceiling and rushed though nearby pipes. Small creatures skittered back and forth in the shadows. There was no one else here. She knelt to the floor. It was covered with damp sand, gravel, a century of miscellaneous debris, and clear, recent footprints.
When she was a child, Miyuki had often gone camping with her father, and he had taught her where to look for tracks, and how to follow them, and what they could tell her about the animals that left them. She came to know the hand shaped tracks of raccoons and opossums, the split hooves of deer, the escalating feline prints of feral cats, bobcats, and mountain lions. She had learned to differentiate between domestic dogs and coyotes, and spot the faint repeating S shape left by the Pacific rattlesnake. And she had learned to track men, too, hikers, mountain bikers, park rangers, and the men who tried their best to hide their tracks because they felt the hand of the blue Tara poised above them. Her father always brought his hunting rifle, the Remington 700 with the 12x scope, even though he never actually hunted animals.
The prints led her on a winding trek under the streets until they stopped at a set of cast iron rungs set into the wall. After a short ascent she found herself lifting a small wooden trapdoor, very slowly, just in case someone was waiting on the other side. She was alone, in a small dark room hung with many, empty coat hangers. The floor was thickly carpeted, and when the trapdoor had closed it blended in completely. Voices drifted through the heavy curtain that served as a door, and, belly to the floor, Miyuki crept toward them.
Outside the curtain Miyuki found herself in the banquet room of one of Chinatown's larger restaurants, and, as far as she could tell, one of the better appointed ones. The lights were mostly out, and the further limits of the room receded completely into the darkness, but one of the near tables was fully illuminated, and the light played off various reflective shapes around the room; marble, mirrors, modernist cut-glass chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling fish tanks, and a massive gold double happiness character, flanked by dragons. On the table in the center of the island of light, standing nobly in his cedar box, was a statue with a red face and giant beard, brandishing the Green Dragon Crescent Blade over his head: the god of war, Guan Yu.
"I don't know what could have happened to it, mistress, I saw him put it there myself!" a girl in a sparkly cocktail dress stepped into the light. She didn't match her surroundings, but she would have been right at home in Elliot Chow's club. Miyuki's view was partially obscured by a planter box and the legs of an intervening chair, and the response came as a torrent Cantonese abuse in a disembodied woman's voice.
"You were sent to observe! And this is how you observe?!" one of the shrine's red candles was tossed onto the table, snapped into two. The girl flinched, and shrank away from the table.
"Let's try to stay calm, elder sister." The man Miyuki had seen that morning, the one with the handsome Manchu face, stepped into the light. Once again, he was wearing an immaculate white suit. "She probably saw him put it in the other one, then someone else took it later. As you can see, it's not a real candle."
From her place in the shadows, it had looked enough like a candle to Miyuki, but looking more closely as she could she saw it lacked a wick, and had some sort of warning printed on it, in black. Bizarrely, someone had cut down a road flare, and swapped it for the other candle. As she leaned further forward against the planter box, the curtain stirred behind her.
Miyuki didn't give the man a chance to cry out; she hooked her left ankle around his, and drove her right foot into the side of his knee. He lost his balance and fell on top of her, but she rolled him on to the floor in an instant, and straddling his chest, delivered a quick, short strike to his face, rendering him insensible. It was a perfect silent takedown, or it would have been, had it been silent; grappling in the dark they collided with a table, and suddenly flatware, china, and a glass lazy susan were colliding loudly with one another as they cascaded across the floor. Confused shouts issued from the far side of the room, and the house lights came on, dazzlingly bright. Miyuki heard the distinctive firecracker popping of handguns; one of the bullets whizzed past her ear as she dove for the trapdoor.
As she sprinted back down the tunnel, Miyuki decided her mission was over for the evening. The Triads would keep looking for her until they found her, or were certain she was gone; regardless, she was fairly certain she had learned all she was going to. She heard a yelp of pain echo off the brick walls as one of her pursuers encountered the sharp steel caltrops she had scattered behind herself. She paused briefly upon exiting the safe to jam the outer door open with the remnants of a chair, in the theory that the connecting chain would hold the inner door shut, and then paused briefly again to swipe the bottle of scotch from the bar on her way back up to the roof.
She would never get a chance to drink it. Miyuki was already through the damaged roof access door when she realized something wasn't right. At the edge of her awareness things moved in the darkness that shouldn't have, the sounds weren't what they had been, the air behind her was displacing rapidly. She whipped the bottle over her shoulder at the instant the blow fell toward the back of her head; the force of the attack was spent in a shower of broken glass and splattering alcohol. Miyuki rolled sideways away from her assailant, coming back to her feet with both blades drawn and at the ready.
Miyuki's assailant was not what she had expected at all. A tall, gracefully built woman dropped lightly from the roof of the stairwell, moving easily despite her formal, long white cheongsam, and impractical stiletto heals, her long dark hair streaming out behind her. She brought up her weapon, a long, double-edged jian, and pointed the straight blade at the grinning oni mask, right between the bulging eyes.
"I want that candle," she said, and Miyuki recognized the authoritarian voice of the third, hidden person at the meeting in the restaurant below. "Give it to me now, and I may let you leave here alive!"