Through the eyes of an assassin - a RWBY fanfiction
A/N: This chapter provides answers and lots of information. As such it is bound to be exposition heavy. I tried my best to make the exposition interesting. Hopefully, I succeeded. Reviewer SeijuroRen also made some insightful comments. I put some clarifications at the end of the chapter to his (implied) questions.
My hand caressed the small card Melanie gave me when I left Junior's bar with the big boss. It contained a number written with lipstick. Invitations couldn't get more blatant than that. In the end, my little gambit paid off. Despite my snub at the end of the seduction game, shaking Senior's perfect calm and revealing myself to be a business partner who took priority seemed to have impressed the hard-nosed White Rose. The Red Rose on the other hand, her expression turned unreadable.
The silent promises of rustling silk and porcelain flesh were not on the forefront of my mind. I felt a certain morbid fascination instead as I followed Senior - or whatever his true name might be - to the backroom and from there to another underground garage. I mentally went through the weapons I carried with me: Two flash dust grenades, my trusty jian disguised as a belt, the thin chain that doubled as a garrote and an array of poisoned needles hidden in my left sleeve. When we reached a sleek car, a two-seater with ergonomic curves, we paused at the same time. The distance between us was a mere two meters. While we were both suppressing our killing intent I had enough experience to perceive the small cues in his body language.
Both of us were ready to come to blows at the merest provocation. Only one of us would walk away alive. I was not sure I would bet on myself to be the one left standing.
"You should relax, kid", Senior drawled. "With that referral you gave me I have no reason to act hostile towards you. Right now, I am not even sure who exactly you are."
"Which is why you have been gathering your killing intent."
"You know about throwing stones in glasshouses?"
"Just answer one question."
The man raised a mocking eyebrow, but tilted his head in an inviting fashion.
"What is your exact relation with Fengchu?"
"We are business partners. You coming in front of my doorstep knocking with that passphrase implies you want the same." He smirked. "Now let's play tit for tat. I answered one question of yours. Now, you answer one of mine: Who exactly are you?"
"The same as Fengchu."
He looked me deep in the eyes. "I am not seeing it. The likes of Fengchu have certain distinct characteristics."
"We do. " I removed one of my contact lenses, while my other hand rested on the clasp of my belt.
"Clever." He paused for a few seconds, before breaking out in laughter. He did not leave himself open in his mirth though. "So that's who you are, the infamous 'Poisoned Hands'."
I focused my qi ready to unleash a heavy fajin strike followed by a combination of sword slashes.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you", and just like that my body locked down. The circulation of qi dried up in an instant. My limbs felt like they were made of lead. Panic rushed me like molten lava. I fought it down with sheer brute force of will, calming my breath which started to become shallow. All my abilities of neijiagong - useless. Unknown mode of disabling made by target. Only option: Running fight to disengage. Primary weapon to use: Flash bangs...
Senior spread his hands. "I am not going to attack you. A token of my goodwill."
As seconds passed without the proverbial hammer falling down, I started to calm myself. I carefully circulated my blood enriching my body with qi again.
Senior whistled. "You are already shaking off the effects. Impressive."
"I am surprised the Organization never included you in one of their kill teams. They could've gotten rid of me long ago."
"I will tell you that much: The ability I used on you doesn't work well in an ambush which seems to be your favourite method when dealing with superior numbers."
I had to grudgingly agree. Risking the knowledge and know-how of a Hermit on a dangerous manhunt was not something the grandmasters would willingly do. Still, this particular individual was even more dangerous than I originally assumed. Even now, I had not the slightest clue how he managed to temporary close off my qi-circulation.
I clamped down on my doubts. "You said tit for tat. Then it's my turn to ask: Why do you defy the organization by letting Fengchu and me do as we please?"
"Who said I am defying the Organization? I am a Hermit. I have only one task to fulfill. As long as you do not endanger it, I have no reason to be hostile. Seriously, the mission I am saddled with is impossible enough as it is. Instead of piling even more complications on my plate like trying to hunt down an elevated child like you, I would rather cooperate to further my task."
"This is a very loose interpretation of your mission parameters."
Senior smirked. "Then you will be surprised to find out the organization does not crack down on the likes of me... much."
I sighed. "I have only heard rumors considering I belonged to another cell, but isn't this too much freedom?"
"It works. And seems to have worked for centuries. My turn: Did you betray the Organization, because you are unwilling to follow our stated creeds?"
I glared at him. "No."
We stared silently at each other as we slowly curbed down our killing intent.
"In that case", Senior said, "I have no problems working with you." He opened both doors to his sports car with a remote. "I am willing to talk business and a garage is really not a suitable place to do so. Are you willing?"
I hesitated, but only for a second. "Yes."
His voice cracked down on me. "Without the two of us trying to murder each other?"
I had to hold myself back from flinching. "Yes."
He smirked that annoying smirk of his. "Then hop in."
The drive was short. Our destination turned out to be a gambling den. At least, that was my first thought when I entered the establishment. But when I took a second look, I felt doubt creeping up inside of me. The tell-tale signs of gambling could be seen everywhere: People staring at their playing cards with anticipation, money changing hands as if it was on fire and an almost palpable tension suffusing the air. Still, none of the dens for betting money – neither the ones I saw in Vacuo nor the ones I had encountered in Haven – quite matched the quality of this particular place.
The location was glamorous. There was a rich carpet of crimson covering the floor. The tables were made of heavy redwood with stylized carvings of leaves and flowers. The surface of the expensive material was impregnated with a gleaming polish. Attendants could be seen darting around the place carrying beverages and deodorant wipes. Dealers were all over the place, handling colorful chips made of plastic, operating contraptions I had never seen before or mesmerizing players with virtuosic displays of card shuffling.
Gambling dens nesting in the bowels of Haven's black market were notorious for sumptuous decor and their overly indulgent customers, but they were places of chaos, spontaneity, unpredictability. This place seemed almost orderly in comparison. There was an industrial, even fabricated feel mixed in with bustling - sometimes explosive - activity.
Perhaps it was the abundance of gambling automatons located on the lower floor of the building - a money betting complex running on its own. Or perhaps it was the fact that all employees, men and women, wore the same clothing - black elegant trousers, white long sleeved business shirt, a wine red waistcoat made of shimmering satin.
As I followed Senior while noting countless people paying their respects I finally realized the peculiarity of the atmosphere: I was looking at directed chaos.
I was bearing witness to a true paradox.
We finally sat down at a table located in the far corner of the place. A group of men in black suits walked up, but Senior stopped them with a single raised hand. A few cues later and the bodyguards were forming a small perimeter around our table.
I watched how some people stopped in their tracks as the black suited men made their blockade around us. It did not take a genius to identify them as typical sycophants.
Senior poured himself some warm sake before offering me the same. I nodded to let him play the polite host. Crystalline liquid flowed out and the characteristic scent of alcohol filled my nostrils. We both raised our cups in silent acknowledgment while still eyeing each other warily before downing the content.
"I am surprised you took the drink", Senior started.
"I consider the risk to be minuscule. You may own this place, but poisoning me in public is more trouble than it's worth. Besides you drank it, too."
"I could have taken an antidote beforehand."
"A poison that is colorless, scentless, tasteless and can be counteracted by a preventive antidote?" I leaned back in my chair. "I am something of a poisoneer myself and substances that convenient are so rare they could as well be non-existent."
Senior chuckled. "Well, it's good to see you maintain your perspective. Dealing with overly paranoid customers can be so tiresome."
"It's not paranoia if they are out to get you."
He inclined his head. "You certainly did not choose an easy life."
I stretched the silence for a few uncomfortable seconds before I took up the conversation again: "You spoke about an impossible mission." I let my eyes wander for emphasis. "But I seriously doubt the grandmasters send you down here to Remnant to introduce gambling culture from the old world."
Senior smirked. "So you noticed. I am impressed your studies about the old world even included something as frivolous as that."
I shrugged. "I don't recognize a single game here, but it is unlike any gambling den I have encountered on Remnant before."
Senior chuckled again. "Gambling den? What a cute expression. This is what's called a casino."
"You are evading my question."
"I do not recall you asking me one."
I sighed. "What kind of technological uplift are you required to perform? You wish for my cooperation meaning you probably have need of my skills." I put a hint of steel into my voice. "I wish to know the direction my skills are going to be used on before I agree to anything."
"Thermonuclear energy plant technology."
My mind went blank for moment. "Are you serious?" I spluttered.
Senior's smirk turned vicious again. "I did call it an impossible mission, didn't I?"
"This can't be right."
"Now you are losing me."
"The elders would never part with this technology. It's too potent, too..." I struggled to find words, "game changing. If Remnant's civilization were to master it, once the Forgotten Kingdom reveals itself, we could hardly negotiate from a position of strength. And that's not even counting the potential devastation of misusing atomic bombs."
Senior laughed. "So that's what you are concerned about? Let me put your worries to rest: The applications I am supposed to introduce are solely on the civilian side. There is no danger of Remnant's scientists figuring out how to build nuclear weapons from just that."
I glared. "Studying the history of science of the old world is required for anyone in my former position. And if that history taught me one thing it's that every major technology can be turned to military use."
Senior sighed. "For god's sake, do I seriously need to give you a freaking lecture?"
"You probably need to. If your mission is indeed as you claim then I am having serious doubts about the sanity of the Grandmasters."
"Aren't you a rebellious one?" He raised a hand. "It's okay. I will indulge you. It's not like I get a lot of opportunities to talk about my true specialty with your average Vale citizen."
He paused for a moment. "Let me preface by saying that on Remnant knowledge about nuclear physics is pretty much shit. Even for their brightest scientists, radioactivity could as well be magical death rays. They don't even have a Geiger-Müller counter. As such, me hypothetically introducing nuclear fusion technology would be an extremely rapid and unnatural leap of innovation, even compared to other technological uplifts the Organization has injected over the centuries."
"The first widely used technology based on the inner workings of the atom had the phenomenon of nuclear fissure as its basis. As you hopefully know, the energy yield in nuclear fissure is greater the bigger the size of the atom while in nuclear fusion the exact opposite is the case. The first scientists to truly venture into experimental nuclear research relied on the existence of naturally occurring radioactive elements which are for the most part heavy materials like uranium, polonium or radium."
I nodded. "Which is the reason nuclear fissure technology came first, and the bombs based around it ."
"Exactly. Therefore it is practically impossible – no matter the time - for scientists on Remnant to ever develop widely functional nuclear technology on their own."
I thought a moment before answering. "You are telling me that the old world already used up all the naturally occurring radioactive elements?"
"More or less. Elements like polonium or radium were extremely rare even back in the days. For purposes of experimental research small samples were sufficient to iron out theories, but implementing them on an industrial scale required bigger reserves."
I sighed. "I know at least that much. Uranium right?"
"There is only one significant Uranium deposit left on Remnant. It's located on the continent of Draconis. I guess you know the rumors?"
I nodded. The continent of Draconis which was conveniently shaped like a dragon was basically a Grimm-infested hellhole. Given the near 100 percent ratio of operatives who went MIA there, even the best combat teams of the Organization stayed clear of the place and so far, elite Huntsman did not fare much better. As long as the Grimm matter stayed unresolved that deposit would remain untouched.
"I can see where you are coming from. I am still not entirely convinced though. Remnant's scientists are far from stupid. What's preventing them to go straight for a fusion bomb? If I remember right, they are even more destructive. Hydrogen as fusion material is much easier to obtain and available in abundance."
Senior poured himself another cup of sake. He then shook his head in mock disappointment before draining the alcohol. "Shows what you know. First of all, using pure hydrogen as fusion material is extremely impractical. On the level of particle kinetics you would need to have four hydrogen atoms collide at the same time to reach the next stable element on the periodic table. They also have to travel with sufficient speed to overcome the natural repelling force between atoms which translates to over 100 million kelvin in temperature. To be honest, the temperature is needed anyway, but in practical terms you use hydrogen isotopes instead. That way, only two particles need to collide for a successful fusion reaction. It's simple statistics leading to higher energy yields."
I glared at him. "Are you having fun being a smart-ass?"
He grinned. "As far as thermonuclear bombs are concerned, to effectively weaponize fusion reactions even higher temperatures are needed. Funnily enough the old world managed to produce the first successful fusion bomb about one century earlier than the first fusion plant with a positive energy yield. Can you guess why?"
I paused for few seconds to let the information swirl in my mind. "In an energy plant, the burn of the fusion fire needs to be steady and controlled. In case of a bomb, the higher temperature is probably merely a trigger, so an uncontrolled flash is sufficient..." I felt my mouth open, for I finally understood Senior's continued smugness. "They used a fissure bomb to initiate the fusion bomb?"
"Yes they did. The approach is almost brutish in its simpleness, but sometimes simple is best."
"I will verify everything you have told me."
Senior yawned. "Of course you will. Any further questions?"
"An academic one. The sun obtains its energy through nuclear fusion, but if I remember correctly the core temperature is only about 15 million kelvin. Shortly before, you mentioned that the required temperature for fusion reactions is actually over 100 million kelvin. Why the difference?"
"The answer to that question is simple: Pressure."
Gigantic forces of gravity due to much higher mass in comparison to our home planet, leading to gargantuan forces of pressure in the star's core. It was the same basic principle as a pressure cooker, only on an entirely different scale. This was an answer I could have figured out myself. "Thank you for indulging my curiosity." I inclined my head.
"No need. I encourage willingness to learn."
I let my eyes wander again, observing the countless gamblers. Some of them were still gawking in our direction, but most of them were trapped in their own little worlds. "We talked about some of the technical details, but I still don't understand all of this." I made a languid gesture across the hall.
"Money makes the world go round, and a casino is basically a money making system."
"The Grandmasters force you to finance the uplift yourself? That sounds unconventional."
"Again, you are not using your head. If I were to introduce fusion energy in a vacuum, the Organization could finance the whole thing without much trouble, or at least the initial cost. The main point making my mission so very troublesome is the fact that there is already an established player on Remnant's energy market."
And just like that I finally realized the sheer scope of Senior's task. Suddenly, him calling it an impossible mission almost sounded like an understatement.
"You are going to pick a fight with the Schnee Dust Company."
"I am still in the preparatory phase which has been running for about four years now. Building up my name as an information broker, constructing and popularizing this casino and getting the Vale council to subsidize further branches..." he raised both his hands in a mocking gesture to put on air quotes "...of these 'gambling dens'."
I frowned. "In my experience, organized gambling is usually claimed by criminal elements."
"The mafia bosses in Vale certainly tried to stake their claim, like carrion eaters going after a juicy cadaver. Luckily, as an information broker I had dirty laundry on almost everyone of note. I still needed some heavy handed blackmail to make them back off, but seriously, the amount of protection money they wanted was simply ridiculous. Instead of throwing part of my hard earned Lien into their insatiable throats I gave it to the city council."
"You bribed the Vale council?", I asked incredulously.
He rolled his eyes. "Nothing as uncouth as that. There is a gambling tax in Vale and Atlas. Of course given Vacuo and especially Haven's situation the governments there do not even bother to implement one. Still, even here in Vale the tax was for the longest time merely a formality being ignored by practically everyone - that is until I paid it in full like the upstanding citizen I am."
Seemed like smugness was this guys default attitude. "The criminal gangs didn't like that."
"Pissed off would be more appropriate. It's like I violated some kind of unspoken rule... which leads us to how you can help me out."
I inclined my head a fraction.
"The gangs are becoming increasingly uppity. Vandalism in front of the casino, robbing my winning customers just as they leave the establishment. Small, petty crimes, but they have been piling up. It's bad for business and the bosses continue to wash their hands off these little affairs. Spouting nonsense like not having full control over all their little grunts or crap like that."
"I want you to intimidate the bosses. Show them that actions have consequences."
"Does your version of intimidation include assassinations?"
"No. Far too disruptive. The power flow coursing through Vale's criminal underworld exists in a stable flux right now. I wish to maintain it. I leave it to you how you go about the intimidation. You could certainly murder some of their valued confidants, but this kind of heavy handed approach usually leads to nasty repercussions. I want the top dogs scared, terrified if you are good, but I don't want them despairing or furious."
I nodded. "I can do that. But my help will cost you."
"State your price."
"I want 100,000 Lien for every task I fulfill. Considering the scope of your operation that should be small change. I also wish for some kind of warning if my own operational movements in Vale become uncomfortably close to agents of the Organization."
"The money is not an issue. I cannot warn you beforehand though, if I don't know where you are operating from."
"Beacon Academy. I am one of the newly minted Huntsman students."
For once, Senior was at a loss for words. It took him two unsuccessful attempts until he found his voice again. "I may have underestimated you. You are one crazy son of a bitch."
He sighed. "Okay, okay, I will give you a heads up. If you start sending agents to nirvana while pretending to be a Beacon student...", he shook his head. "That kind of blow-up is something the Organization will avoid at all cost. Ozpin's stronghold is an absolute taboo zone."
Which was yet another reason I choose to attend Beacon. The organization spied and infiltrated the hell out of all the combat academies except Ozpin's school, mainly because the man rarely left the premises. That, and probably all the surveillance drones. The reason was classified up to the very top. There was actually a standing order dating back twenty years stating that no operative may even remain in proximity to the illusive headmaster. Now that I have met the man in person I had at least an inkling why these orders were in place.
"Furthermore, before I attended Beacon I was living in Vacuo, so I need a little introduction on who my targets exactly are."
Senior sighed. "For the love of... there is not nearly enough booze here for me to give out another freaking lecture."
It took Senior's underlings about five minutes to prepare the table. Now, instead of displaying the playing field of old world gambling games the holographic projector showed a detailed map of Vale Central City. Various photographs were strewn about and a heavy envelope laid at Senior's side as well as a large assortment of lollipops. It was the latter that took up my attention, as I watched with barely suppressed amusement how an Organization agent of almost frightful competence stuffed his mouth with kids sweets. He sensed me staring. "You want some?"
"Sure." I took the candy and looked at the wrapping. Pete's Pumpkin Pop. I turned right back to staring at him again.
"I expected cigarettes or more alcohol."
Hei Lang sighed. "Please don't mention cigs. Half the reason I am eating this stuff is because I am trying to abstain from tobacco. But you know how it is with habits. I still get the craving of having something between my lips, so I use lollipops as a substitute."
"I fear I only understand on an intellectual level."
He leered at me. "Really? You telling me you don't have any vices at all? What the hell have you been doing here on Remnant the whole time. Live in a cloister?"
I unwrapped the lollipop and put it in my mouth. Moments later the pleasantly mild flavor of pumpkin tingled inside my gums. Sweets like that usually had a more artificial flavor, but this candy seemed to be made of real pumpkin extract. Not too sweet either to let the pumpkin aroma come to the fore. "Where can you buy this?"
"A small specialty shop on Bleue-de-Lune Street in the Helmslett District." He flicked his fingers and a red dot appeared on the city map. I memorized the place.
"Their products are not exactly cheap, but you can probably afford it."
"Probably." I gestured to the table. "Back to the topic?"
"Right. The introductory course to organized crime in Vale." He adjusted his monocle. "There are three major groups in Vale who have more or less divided the city between themselves. The first thing to note is that you cannot fit their activity into neat little territories easily mapped and you certainly cannot draw any kind of hard lines or borders which help you delineate between them easily, so don't even bother."
"Let me guess, their business specialties is what sets them apart."
"You guessed right. The situation in Vacuo is similar?"
"Then let's head straight to the meat of the issue." He picked up one of the mugshots. The photograph showed a man in his late fifties with a balding head, a prominent double chin, wearing a smile so smug that Senior seemed humble in comparison.
"Dimitrio Rosso, boss of Rosso Trade and Logistics or RTL for short."
"Sounds like legitimate business."
"It actually is, for the most part. RTL have a heavy presence in the harbor district. Lately they even try to stretch their influence to the border regions of Vale trying to manipulate customs. Of course the Vale government is having none of it. An area they dominate though is delivery service for online CCT shopping."
"That's their game."
"Are they involved in human trafficking?"
"Depends on the kind. Transport service to smuggle illegal immigrants inside the borders? Sure. Human or faunus slave trade? None that I know of. I don't think they dare. Ozpin and the Huntsmen at his disposal would utterly crush them, consequences be damned."
That was good to hear. "What about weapon's smuggling?"
Senior nodded. "Very good point. Well, the only weapons worth smuggling are Atlas made, but Atlesians really hate it when their weapons land on the black market so they enforce extremely strict customs and tariffs. As such, RTL mostly acquires them through legal channels. There are times though when they employ their considerable financial assets to grab some prototype technology, usually when they are raring to go on another turf war with their competitors."
"So I can expect their muscle to have mil-spec weapons?"
"Pretty much. Assault rifles, grenades, bazookas, mini-guns, sniper rifles – the whole program, although it will be one or two generations behind the newest models."
"If I get into a crossfire I am still dead."
"Pretty much. They will also use hunter killer ammunition if the situation requires it."
"So they can fight off Huntsmen?"
"One or perhaps two. But a well coordinated four-member strike force would push them to the limit. Most of their members are thugs, not soldiers. Putting mil-spec weapons into their hands will not change that."
"I see. My task is to intimidate Mr Rosso personally?"
"Just so." Senior pulled out his scroll and tapped in some commands. Moments later, several red dots appeared on the holographic map. "Their headquarters is located in the harbor district. That's also where our good Mr Rosso stays most of the time. It's a pretty utilitarian building, half fortress, half warehouse."
I nodded. "I think I can handle the rest."
"Good." Hei Lang threw the photo on the table and grabbed the next one. It showed a man in his thirties, with well groomed black hair that reached his shoulders. He wore glasses, but instead of conferring a sophisticated air they turned his sharp gaze even more menacing. "This charming fellow here is a Mistralian, one Tsukayama Shiro. Officially he is a senior manager of Tobitsu Pharmaceutics or TP, adjunct to the CEO of TP's Vale branch. Unofficially he is one of the young rising stars of the Black Dragon Brotherhood."
I blanched. "Are you kidding me?" The Black Dragon Brotherhood was the undisputed ruler of Mistral's black market. Additionally, their methodology had lots of parallels to the Organization. Back in the day, me and my companions even speculated in jest whether the BDB was a secret cell of the Organization or a splinter group formed some centuries ago when an agent went rogue. We never found any evidence of such, but with me turning rogue myself the speculation we did back then seemed much less like a joke now.
Tobitsu Pharmaceutics was another big player. The biggest manufacturer of medicine in Remnant, basically the pharmaceutical version of the SDC.
"I pay you money because I expect you to work for it."
"So what? I am to intimidate a leading figure of the BDB?" I sighed. "Can I scare the CEO instead?"
"He is just a figurehead. Your misgiving is justified though. Tsukayama Shiro is a graduate of Haven Academy."
I glared. A bit of the killing intent I was reining in slipped out of my control. "Are you trying to get me murdered?"
Senior appeared completely unfazed. "Oh? Is a mere Huntsman turned manager beyond the skills of the infamous Poisoned Hands?"
I breathed in deeply to calm myself again. "If the infiltration turns into an open fight, I am toast."
Senior shrugged. "Then don't let it turn into an open fight." He smirked. "As I said. How you go about the task is completely up to you. Just don't assassinate him. The BDB is another group that we cannot afford an extensive struggle with."
"And what about their illegal business ventures, besides drugs of course?"
"The BDB partly uses the Tobitsu Pharmaceutics as a cover. As you correctly surmised, they produce outlawed substances on the side, but their main assets are illegal organ trade and real estate speculation."
I squeezed the bridge of my nose. "The organ trade overlaps with the pharmaceutics, but real estate? How is that even possible with the Citizen Tiers in place?
Senior smirked. "I won't go into operational details. If you want to know about that you need to pay me brokerage. I will say this much though: The Brotherhood of the Black Dragon know how to do subtle and they are making a killing."
Hei Lang tapped some commands into his scroll again. Another batch of dots in white appeared on the map though they were much smaller in number compared to Rosso's businesses.
I glared. "Am I the only one here who is concerned about the level of corruption in Vale?"
Senior unwrapped another lollipop. "If you ask me, it is inevitable. Since the end of the Great War, Vale enacted one resolution after another to force all kingdoms into mutual cooperation. The Huntsmen Academies were just the first step. The CCT system, multilateral trade agreements, academic exchange programs, the list goes on." His face became musing. "Now that I think about it, Beacon will be hosting this year's Vytal festival, another one of those measures to make everybody play nice with each other. "
"Easy really. Before the Great War, the kingdoms were more or less isolated entities. The enforced peace treaty opened them to each others influence." He made a pause. "Positive and negative, good and bad, innovation and corruption. The moment the political borders were lifted the die was cast. The introduction of Dust propelled mechanization and automation years later only exacerbated the effect. Now that communications technology is also making leaps and bounds, the world is becoming smaller and smaller. It's nothing new really. The Old World called it globalization."
Our conversation fell into a lull after that. I digested Senior's words while seeing more keenly than ever the big gaps in my knowledge. The political side of history as well as economics were fields of studies I only had a rudimentary grasp on. It was less of an issue when I was working with my companions, for we all had a different focus and supported each other with our respective domains of knowledge. But I was on my own now - a rogue agent just trying to survive.
"I think my history teacher at Beacon would find your argument deeply fascinating."
Senior smirked. "Of course he would. From his perspective all of this is happening for the first time." He took the next photograph. "Crime boss number three. Feast your eyes."
True to his words, the mugshot showed a stunningly beautiful woman. Her age was not discernible from the photo alone, for her features had a timeless quality to them. Her hair was slightly curled and the color of deep auburn. Her pursed lips were directed straight at the camera as if she was going to kiss the one taking the shot.
"Are you sure she is a crime boss?" I was the very last person to discount the general danger of females. Considering my master, such an attitude was pretty much suicidal. But the ruby red lipstick she wore as well as the artfully applied mascara implied another kind of trade.
Senior rolled his eyes. "I am sure I know what you are thinking. You are not wrong. Aleina Evergreen is indeed a member of the oldest profession. She is also much, much more."
"She controls the prostitution business?"
"Not directly. You see, prostitution in Vale has kind of a unique standing. The business is actually in the hand of the sex workers themselves."
I stared at Senior for several seconds. I knew about the concept of workers banding together to assert better employment conditions, but this was just straight up weird.
"A sex workers' union?"
"So you are aware of the principle."
"Vacuo has a few. A miners' union, railroad workers' union, but..." I shook my head. "Now I have heard everything."
"They call themselves the Sisterhood of Pleasure. Cliched name if I've ever heard one." He shrugged. "First of all, their union is Council approved. All the prostitution conducted through the Sisterhood is considered strictly aboveboard."
"And where is the part when Ms Evergreen becomes a nasty crime boss?"
"Officially, she is the lifelong honorary chairwoman of the Sisterhood. She created it after all. In truth she runs her organization like the bastardized version of an intelligence agency."
I truly thought the tale could not become any weirder. How wrong I was. "She is your competition?"
"It would be more apt to say that I am her competition. To be honest, I would be nothing compared to her without the backing and technological assets of the Organization. It took me until two months ago before I even realized that she is a major player in Vale's underworld."
"If she slipped your notice for so long, it means she does not rely on modern communications technology."
Senior grimaced. "Exactly. Well, you know the stereotype. Males become talkative in the bedroom. I have no hard facts when it comes to her methodology. I don't know if every prostitute in Vale is part of her spy network, I have no firm grasp on how she collects all the information, she is still too much of a cipher."
"Did you indulge in the pleasures of the Sisterhood?"
Senior glared. It was the first time this evening that I saw him lose his bearing without immediately recovering his mask. "You certainly know how to ask uncomfortable questions, kid."
"It's a talent", I deadpanned. "Your reaction is answer enough. I hope you were not too talkative."
"More than I am comfortable with. Nothing that would implicate the Organization." His voice sounded final, so I dropped the topic.
"You also want me to intimidate her? To be honest, she does not strike me as someone who would take overt actions against your gambling business."
"You would be surprised. Some of the thugs disturbing my business were hired by her. Probably."
I gestured to the map. "Where is her business located?"
Senior sighed and unwrapped another lollipop. "I have no clue." He tapped another command, followed by green dots. "These are the known brothels in Vale. You can start from there, but so far I haven't found anything suspicious." He pointed at a flashing dot. "That's her mansion in the Residential District. Find out what you can and give her a warning shot so to speak. But absolutely nothing overt."
"Why are you so sure she is truly a player?"
Senior's face froze. "Trade secret. But depending on the way she reacts to your infiltration, I may finally get some certainty in regards to her."
"Right." I went through the information in my head again. "Aren't you forgetting someone?"
Senior raised a single eyebrow. So he could do the trick, too. "Another crime boss who slipped my notice? Please enlighten me."
Senior actually groaned. "Seriously? That attention whore? A crime boss?"
"The media calls him one."
"Proof that the news makers consider their audience to be morons. Seeing how the people lap up the reports about the 'gentleman thief' the news makers may have a point."
"So he is harmless?"
"Of course not." Senior steepled his fingers. "Torchwick is a wild card who does not follow any rules but his own. Ultimately though the amount of crime he commits is sharply limited, because he works alone." He paused. "Well mostly alone. He sometimes hires additional muscle and there is also his female attack dog, but in the grand scale of things the scope of his illegal activities is too small to be truly significant."
"What makes him dangerous?"
"He has a massive audience. He knows how to play to the crowd and the camera. I mean for god's sake the man wears stage make-up and mascara." He separated his hands. "Torchwick's actions have high symbolic value. Despite his shenanigans, he is also useful for the other crime bosses by eating up all the media air time. That way, the newshounds focus on the flash and neglect the systemic problems."
I nodded. Where there was a bright light, there was an equally big shadow to hide in. I used Jaune's idosyncrasies the same way to deflect attention from my fellow students.
"There is also the distinct possibility that he misuses all the attention to wreak untold havoc."
"By manipulating people's emotions."
I thought for a moment. "You mentioned a female attack dog."
Another grimace. "A small girl who fights with a parasol. Torchwick can already keep up with Huntsman though only low grade ones. The small girl is on another level entirely. She also fights to kill. I lost some of my men because of her."
What a surprise. The mysterious deaf-mute became relevant. "Are you sure she is closely associated with Torchwick?"
Senior turned suspicious in an instant. "You met her?"
"Tri-colored hair, relies on extreme levels of agility in her fighting style, wears high-heeled boots?"
He whistled. "You met her and you fought her. Given that you are still alive, I guess she is dead?"
Senior stared at me. Then he broke out in laughter. "Will wonders ever cease? You have to tell me about your fight against her. I am sure it's a tale worth sharing."
I smirked. "Gladly. But it will cost you."
His mirth faded immediately. "Kid, you do not seem to understand the way this business works. I mean, listening to your fight against her is certainly fascinating, but not really information worth any Lien."
"You already admitted you lost some men due to her. You also told me how Torchwick is a wild card. If you or any of the other crime bosses want him out of the picture, eliminating her is key." I spread my arms. "I can give you that key."
He sighed. "How much?"
"Fifty thousand. I will even throw in some bonus intelligence."
"Done. Now talk."
So I told Senior about the air raid, the close fight and even the White Fang. At the end of my tale, Senior had trouble keeping his face straight.
"This story is hard to swallow."
"The White Fang part." He held up a hand. "I believe you. Your description of her fighting style is too accurate to be mere happenstance and now that you told me about her Semblance a lot of things suddenly make sense." He breathed in deeply. "You are absolutely, positively sure she was accompanied by White Fang?"
"Their emblem is quite memorable."
Senior swore. "So Torchwick wants to play in the big leagues now? Just what I needed. And how in hell did a human coax the White Fang into cooperating with him?"
"It could be a temporary arrangement."
"It could, but my gut tells me otherwise."
Never underestimate gut feeling. "So what now?"
Senior threw a heavy envelope to my side of the table. "Your payment. 100,000 Lien. Half is for the intelligence you gave me. The other half is advance payment for whatever task you want to complete first. Another 50,000 on completion of your first mission. After that, it's 100,000 Lien for every completed task."
"Yes. I want Rosso and Shiro cowed in the next two month. The limit is the 21st of May. There is no hard deadline when it comes to the Sisterhood, but the faster the better. I may even feel generous enough to throw in a bonus."
In other words, there will be an important event the day after the 21st. Probably negotiations. "Do you require proof?"
"There is no need. If you do your tasks as required, I will know."
Meaning he had his own people planted in Rosso Trade & Logistics as well as Tobitsu Pharmaceutical. I took the envelope.
Senior raised his hand. "There is one last thing."
"When Fengchu schooled me on the passphrase she gave me a small task of her own. There is a message chip inside the envelope. The one carrying the passphrase should receive it. I think the people in your former cell call these kind of chips 'Red Orders'."
A shiver ran down my spine as I watched Senior put on another of his annoying smirks. "My obligations are hereby done, Poisoned Hands. Yours are just beginning."
I sat on the roof of a small warehouse fiddling with my scroll. Melanie and Militiades' shift was almost over. A brief swap of messages was suffcient to set the night date. The meeting with the twins will take place at the central plaza near the city council. There was still time though. Time I filled by staring at the message chip.
It seemed like Fengchu was finally collecting on all the support she gave me during the last two years. The data chip I held in my hands was heavily encrypted. A special software made sure that only the recipient's scroll could properly access the message the chip contained. Connecting it to any other scroll would result in the data being purged.
It was an appropriate security measure she took to make sure Senior as a third party would not be privy to the message she wanted to give me. I shook my head. I knew Fengchu. Every action she took contained a message by itself. Using this particular method to deliver whatever demand she had for me was very telling indeed.
I was stalling. This was unlike me. I plugged the chip to my handheld and started it.
The screen stayed blank but I heard the speakers activating. Seemed like the message was voice only.
I sincerely hope you receive my message in good health. You listening to my voice means you have taken my suggestion to heart and contacted Senior. You can probably deduce the role I played in his mission, although the man probably did not mention my contributions with a single breath. He so loves his smug and invincible front. I hope you managed to put some cracks in his façade.
You no doubt realize the nature of the task I am about to give you. I want to clarify though that you should absolutely not consider it to be an order. If you cannot condone it then by all means refuse. Accept it only of your own free will.
Before I spell out your target though, I want to share some of my reasons for why I am taking action.
The Grandmasters' decision to introduce thermonuclear technology is a decision I agree with wholeheartedly. Despite me turning rogue, I am still aware of some of the more troubling developments on Remnant. Chief amongst them is Dust consumption. Explaining the why behind the danger of continued global Dust usage would go beyond the scope of this message. I will say this: The people on Remnant need a nudge towards an alternative energy source. The faster it happens, the better the situation will be in the long run - for all of us.
Therefore, the Schnee Dust Company needs to go down.
Senior's mission is not the only one preparing Remnant's civilization to break free of their dependency on Dust. There are seven other missions I know of pursuing the same goal. With this message I want to add another measure that will make this painful transformation as swift as possible. I give the mission to you knowing full well the risk it involves, but I am confident you can perform the task without implicating yourself.
I want you to assassinate Weiss Schnee.
1. About Lien as a global currency: I cannot clearly remember canon making a definite statement about whether Lien is an universal currency. Perhaps the 4th and 5th Volume show how it can be used to pay for stuff in Heaven or Menagerie, but I did not really focus on it. From a world building perspective though, it would make more sense for every kingdom to have their own legal currency. While I made an argument in this chapter about enforced peace and measures to uphold it, I doubt the kingdoms would cooperate this much. The (very) rough reason behind it is that sharing a currency ties the worth of the Lien to the economical situation of all the kingdoms. From watching the World of Remnant episodes I infer that the economical situation is very different between the kingdoms. Vacuo is probably the poorest nation dragging down a shared currency. Atlas is a military and industrial power house and its people are probably the first to complain when 'their' money becomes less worth due to 'lazy' faunus in another kingdom slacking of. Mistral's economy may not be weak, but it is probably volatile due to the powerful black market, further destabilizing the Lien. In other words, a global currency between nations with very different economical profiles holds potential for endless political conflict.
As someone who lives in the European Union, I hear about a lot of political bickering in the news. In case of Greece this bickering turns to fiscal policies ruining a nation. Now imagine for a moment a third party forcing the USA to share their dollar with all nations in Northern Africa. That's basically how I imagine the situation to go down if Atlas and Vacuo are forced to share the same money. I don't think it would be a good idea.
2. About settlements outside the kingdom: It's hardly a spoiler. The Mysterious Narrator in this fic holds the same identity as in canon. Therefore, everything she writes about should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also worth considering how long a settlement has to endure in the wilderness until a person as ancient as her finally deems it 'sucessful' - one year, ten years, half a century?
I admit I forgot about Patch when I wrote the piece. Small islands surrounded by a big body of water are probably the only settlements with any kind of permanent future. But I still think it in character for the Mysterious Narrator to omit these small successes. It would be just like her to ignore these small 'patches'(pun intended) of hope, where simple souls are born.
3. About the failure of Qi: You are right. As long as Ren strongly clings to the concept of Qi he grew up with, unlocking his Semblance is more or less an impossibility for him.
4. About Socialist nations, Communism, Capitalism and other politically loaded words: Starting a discussion using these words turns problematic very fast in my experience, because most people think they know what these words truly encompass. Most people also assume that everybody else uses the same definition of these words like themselves. I will start by saying that my understanding of these words is quite limited. I am also comfortably certain that your understanding of these words do not completely overlap with my understanding.
So let me use other, less illusive words to adress your question instead. Every kingdom in Remnant has a market economy. A planned economy would be far too inefficient with the threat of Grimm incursions hanging over the head of the people. The only hard limit that is enforced through the Citizen Tiers is on real estate and on vehicles. There is certainly no hard limit on how much wealth a single person may accumulate. Companies are legal entities like a real person, but obviously the limitation on real estate and vehicles cannot be enforced as strictly without stifling productivity.
Whether you want to call this incomplete fictious economic system of mine capitalist, socialist or whatever is your choice.