The first time Asami met Amon and his lieutenant, she was almost nine. Her mother had been dead for nine months, Daddy had fired most of the servants, and the house was altogether too large with just the two of them in it. She’d walk into a room and it’d smell like Mommy, or one of her books would be sitting overturned on a chair and Asami would take the book and hug it, or she’d wake up from a nightmare and run to her parents’ room only to find it empty.
She missed Mommy. Daddy missed Mommy even more; he had been really scary for a while, after Mommy died, alternating between screaming at the walls and sobbing. Asami could feed herself and she had the best tutors in town, but Daddy switched between distant and affectionate at the drop of a hat. Asami loved Daddy. She loved him a lot. But even though he was mostly back to normal, sometimes he’d look really weird when they went out to dinner, like he was mad at the city. They never went to Mom’s favorite Earth Kingdom place anymore.
The house was too quiet.
At least, it was. Daddy had been gone for a day and a night and Asami was almost through attempting to decipher Daddy’s notes on combustion in the new kinds of engines when she heard the door squeak open and laughter. Daddy laughing, and a couple other people laughing. Asami quickly slammed Daddy’s notebook shut and shuffled out of his study and to the staircase.
And there was Daddy, looking happier than he had in months. There was a tall, thin man who looked like a dragon, from the beady eyes and long whiskers to his lizardlike litheness, who was the one making Daddy laugh. And there was a man dressed all in black like a ninja in one of Mommy’s paintings of a ninja, complete with the hood that hid everything but his eyes; Asami had read that ninjas looked like they were always moving, even when they were standing still, but this man was different. He looked still even when he was moving.
She liked them already.
Asami hopped the railing on the stairs and slid down it. Ninja was first to notice and waved to her, which Dragon noticed, then he nudged Daddy and pointed, and Daddy saw her sliding down and all the color went out of his face. “Asami, I told you not to-!”
At which point Asami flew off the stairs and landed on her hands and knees, relishing a perfect landing before springing to her feet and hugging Daddy. “Welcome home!”
“Who is everyone? I haven’t met you yet, honorable guests,” Asami said, putting on as innocent a face as she could manage.
The dragon-man looked confused. The ninja bowed back to her, then said, “Listen to your father.”
Asami smiled insincerely as the dragon elbowed the ninja in the ribs. The ninja just shrugged. “I’m Mr. Fox.”
The dragon raised his hand. “Liu.”
“These are some business associates of mine, Asami,” Daddy said, gesturing at the two of them. “We’ve been discussing me helping their, ah, business grow.”
(Meanwhile, while Asami was distracted: “Mr. Fox? Really?”
“What, should I have used my real – “
“At least use a name that’s not so obviously fake.”
“I’m drunk, not five, and she’s eight. Stop worrying. We’ll just continue the part where you talk to him about your robots now, and then we talk more on the organization in the morning when my head is not stuffed with cotton.”)
“Are they staying here for the night?”
“We may as well be,” said the dragon Liu, giving the ninja a meaningful look. “Mr. Fox here seems to have had a little too much champagne while we were celebrating the merger, and I think we need to get him something to eat.”
“Would you prefer I told her that my first name was Aboat?” muttered Mr. Fox, and Liu rolled his eyes. Asami got the impression that, like a lot of Daddy’s other business friends, there was more going on between them than she could catch. Mr. Fox added, louder: “Besides, my real name is too boring for anyone to anyone to remember, and Mr. Fox sounds more interesting.”
“What’s your real name?” said Asami, playing along like a good guest.
That satisfied Asami. “You go talk. I’ll go to bed.”
Her father smiled. “Sleep well, Asami.” And Asami ran up the stairs and went to bed.
She never said she’d sleep. After an hour, she crept to Papa’s study and cracked the door to check on him, just in case (of robbers, of a fight, of anything) and she saw:
Mr. Fox, or Mr. Huli, or the ninja asleep on a couch, his arms tucked around his face. Her father talking excitedly, and Liu with a drawing board on his lap and his hand darting over it. Asami nodded in satisfaction that everything was well and, finally, went back to bed to sleep.