After he fetched his unwilling sister from his room Ryu led her to the room shared by their parents. Any other time and the four of them would have shared a room, but this was their club field trip. Even though they paid for the stay his parents were not part of it, but for now he and his sister were to attend dinner with their parents.

Noriko still hadn't switched into her yukata, but dad was adamant they signed the contracts before Urufu woke up, so Ryu brought his sister with Urufu still sleeping in the room they left.

He slid the door closed behind him giving Urufu some stray thoughts. Threats, dad did something bad to her. Else he couldn't understand how they made Kuri's guardian sign those documents. She was about to lose a lot of blackmailing money, so it had to be fear. Then again, he really didn't care.

He dragged Noriko through a corridor with wooden floors, up a carpeted stair and halfway through another corridor until they arrived, and he slid the door open. Inside they quickly removed their slippers, slid the next door open and sat down on the tatami mats.

Their parents already sat there waiting together with Kuri and Sato-sensei, and to his surprise, so did Principal Nakagawa and Ashiga James.

What are they doing here? “Dad?”

Son, I guess you wonder about Nakagawa-sensei and Ashiga-san.”

Ryu nodded.

I'll explain while we wait for dinner. Noriko, Ryu, sit down!”

Ryu followed his sister who had already anticipated the invitation and was on her way to one of the four remaining seats. He gave Ashiga-sensei a thankful thought when he saw the young man sitting cross-legged on the floor. No need for a traditional knee-breaking dinner tonight. To make him even more at ease both his father and Nakagawa-sensei switched into a more relaxed pose.

Behind him Ryu heard the doors slide open and when he turned he saw Kyoko and Yukio enter the room. Both were properly clad in their yukatas, something that made his sister stand out even more. So you helped your girlfriend with the belt? I don't think you stripped before Noriko so that means you two went to the girls' room alone. And sis said nothing about it. Before he had a chance to give her a nasty remark Kuri intervened.

Noriko, thank you for watching over Ulf. I apologize for the inconvenience it caused you.”

Damn, you had her back. Oh well, there will be more opportunities. He growled in response to Noriko's out-stuck tongue. And sis, you know you were just saved by Kuri. Girlie conspiracy! Guess she saved you two as well, Ryu thought and looked at Yukio.

From her seat his mother gave Kuri an approving nod.

Yes, definitely girlie conspiracy.

If you're done with your antics, could we please proceed?” his dad said. “I called Nakagawa-sensei here to get a written confirmation that Himekaizen approves of the unusual part time jobs related to these contracts. He'll also confirm that the school approves of the contracts.”

Everyone round the tables nodded understanding. His mother helped Ashiga-sensei pour a round of tea and porcelain cups made their way around the party.

Ashiga-san will handle some of Ageruman-san's financial transactions, and must sign one of the contracts for that reason. He represents Stockholm Haven Café.”

Ryu waved understanding and accepted a cup into his hands. The tea was hot to his lips and of surprisingly high quality, but maybe that was only to be expected in the Mie prefecture.

Kuri broke the silence that followed. “I'll continue the modelling work I just took up. My guardian has to believe that she controls my income.”

That's unfair!” Ryu said and looked down at the tatami mats. No business of his really. He wasn't even her boyfriend.

No Ryu. I appreciate that you care for me, but this is just me being smart,” Kuri objected with a smile. “I'll enter into a formal partnership with your father's company concerning any side-incomes I may have though.”

Side-incomes,” Ryu murmured. Saving only a small share of what she earned still seemed unfair.

Yes, side-incomes.” Suddenly Kuri looked like a much older woman, a dangerous woman. “I plan to become famous enough to brand collections after my name. If I'm successful the old hag can have all my modelling money, and I'll never even notice.”

Ryu stared at her. The billion dollar empress. That's what Urufu called you. I've never seen that face of yours before.

The signing was a quick affair after that, and then the dinner arrived. It was a traditional multi-course thing, partially more eye-candy than truly tasty. But Ryu knew a lot of his friends loved the traditional sashimi accompanied by rice and the endless side dishes.

During the dinner his father poured Kuri a very small cup of sake with the apparent approval of all other adults, and she very pointedly only sipped it when they toasted her new partnership. It was tradition, and it was treating her like an adult. And you would have choked on your sake had you only known how old Kuri really is, Ryu thought and smiled.

Something funny?” his mother asked.

He smiled even wider and shook his head. “Not really, only a memory,” he lied.

From across the table Noriko grinned just as mischievously.

You know I didn't really drink any,” Kuri protested, which changed the grins into laughter.

When dinner reached its end it was finally time for Noriko's mad plan. Ryu didn't know all the particulars, and so he disliked it, but he had been overruled first by his father and then by his mother. That Sato-sensei was present just proved how alone he was.

Nakagawa-sensei started to sign a staggering number of contracts, as did Sato-sensei. In the meantime Ryu's father unfolded what Ryu recognized as a partnership contract. He put his seal to it, signed for the benefit of a potential future western solicitor who might refuse to recognize the seal internationally, and turned it over to Nakagawa-sensei who did the same. Sato-sensei used a markedly cheaper seal than the others.

What are they up to? That huge chunk over there includes employee contracts.

Noriko, sign here,” his father said.

What the bloody hell is going on?

Ryu, Yukio, Kyoko, you sign each of these.”

Ryu grabbed the contract his father gave him. “What's the meaning with this, and what kind of company is Twin Arc Production?”

Kuri roared with laughter. “TAP, you had it named TAP? He'll kill you!”

Ryu's father made an utterly failed attempt at pretending he didn't share Kuri's mirth. “Twin Arc Production is your new employer. Hamarugen Urufu is its CEO as well as only owner. Congrats, you just got a job with your friend.”

Noriko! Sis!”

It's the only way, idiot bro. We have to tag along with him anyway, and this way we get paid.”

No, sis, I refuse. It's his money. I'm not going to steal his money behind his back! Sorry father, but I won't do this.”

Ryu only received a frown and a stern glare in return.

Idiot bro, I didn't say we won't have to work for our salary. You won't get a single yen you didn't earn.”

Ryu stared at Yukio and Kyoko who looked just as stunned as he. “What could we possibly do?” he asked. “Yukio, Urufu does corporate management consulting and there's just no way we can help.”

Noriko growled. “Shut up and think, or at least shut up and pretend to think while you listen to someone with a functioning brain!”

That earned her chuckles of approval from around the table, Kuri included. The last fact made Ryu reassess his position, and he closed his mouth. I'll listen, and then I'll decide, he thought sullenly.

Ryu, Urufu has the last word. He's the CEO after all. He'll assign work to us, and I believe there is work he can assign provided we're formally employed. Can't you wait until he's had his say?”

Ryu shook his head. “Sis, we just forced him into a partnership and weighed him down with four employees without even asking him. Having his say? Are you insane?”

Noriko looked at their parents for support, but none came.

I'll handle it,” Kuri suddenly said. “Noriko's idea is sound, and if Ulf complains I'll just bash his head in until he understands what's good for him.”

But it's still something he didn't agree to,” Ryu protested.

Now you arrogant little kid. Just listen and shut the hell up! Ulf is in no damn condition to have a say in this. When I tell you he'll do as I say you had damned better believe me! Get it kiddo?” The outburst came out in an awful mix of Japanese and English.

Ryu stared at Kuri. She just turned into the cold hearted business woman Urufu once said she had been forced to become. For the first time Ryu began to grasp what the word 'empire' meant. And for the first time in his life a girl scared him more than his sister. He looked across the table to see how Noriko had reacted and only found a meek little girl waiting for the verbal abuse to end.

So that's it. When it really comes down to calling the shots you'll back down. I never thought I'd see this day. “Fine, I'll ask Urufu,” Ryu said. Around the table he saw the adults watch in stunned approval. He didn't have to like it. Just obey for the time being. With a sigh he signed his contract.


Yukio felt like a traitor. He trusted Kyoko, and Kyoko promised that if Kuri said something was good for Urufu then it was really good for Urufu. But he still felt like a traitor. Urufu was his most important friend, the man turned boy who had brought out what Yukio believed was the best parts of himself. Urufu had dared him to become a better Yukio, and Urufu had supported him when he was uncertain of his ability to become one.

A full night's sleep hadn't changed his feelings that he should have protested when the others effectively transferred parts of Urufu's control over his business to the Wakayama parents. The others? You coward! You took part of it yourself when you signed that contract.

With those feelings of conflict he made his way down the stairs to the dining hall where breakfast was served Viking style. As in the sign in the doorway stated that it was served Viking style. The irony wasn't lost on him. Sweden had its own era of fame, but from what Urufu had told him a breakfast buffet probably had very little to do with anything Viking.

Two floors above him Urufu still slept, or did when Yukio left their room. He looked for other familiar faces to share his breakfast with. Between club members grabbing small dishes and walking a few rounds between serving tables and their own seats he saw Ryu and Noriko sitting by a table in a corner. Kyoko headed there with the last of her booty and Yukio quickly got himself some juice and booked a place beside her with his glass.

The adults were seated by the windows at a table pointedly placed a bit apart from the rest. It looked like stratification, but Yukio knew from his conversations with Urufu that it was only a sensible solution to avoid students feeling awkward with a couple of teachers sharing their table. In Urufu's case it had been employees who wanted to avoid being forced into conversation with corporate management.

On his way between getting food and placing it at his place he touched hands and shoulders with Kyoko several times, none of them an accident. Each time he felt his heart jolt, and each time he wondered how many of the club members were watching them.

Fewer than I think, but more than what's comfortable, he admitted to himself when both of them headed for their table one last time unable to separate their hands. I love you. I'm happy I confessed that second time. I'm happy you love me back. I'm happy.

He understood he was luckier than he deserved, but he also guessed he deserved the luck he had. There was no contradiction as long as he was honest.

Guess what I'm thinking,” he said to her when they sat down.

Guess who I love in return,” she replied.

She reads my mind. My fantastic Kyoko!

Where's Kuri?” Yukio asked, and he made an effort to raise his voice just a little bit.

Should come down from our room soon. She overslept so we had to shake her awake just as we went for breakfast.”

Yukio smiled at Kyoko. Good girl. Did I tell you that you're fantastic? No I just thought that. “My fantastic little Kyoko.”

She blushed at that but smiled back at him anyway.

Kuri hadn't overslept, unless she went back to sleep after returning to her room. Most of the night she spent cuddled up with Urufu. Ryu and Yukio moved their futons so Kuri and Urufu could have some space for themselves. After that Kuri cradled her boyfriend like a mother hugs her children when they're afraid to go to sleep.

It's strange, Yukio thought, that it only felt natural having Kuri sleeping beside Urufu in our room. Yukio looked around the dining hall. None of the other club members would understand if it became known that Kuri slept together with the boys, so this was a secret between the six of them.

He threw a glance at the adults' table. They were all there. Both Wakayama parents, Principal Nakagawa, Ashiga James and Sato-sensei. And another two middle aged persons he hadn't seen before. They looked like locals, a local couple.

The bedlam slowly abated when more and more club members finished eating and only sat back nursing tea or coffee. At that time, first Kuri and then Urufu arrived as well.

While those who had finished first filed out to prepare for the afternoon's hike Kuri and Urufu started stacking plates with breakfast in a way that made Yukio grateful most club members had left the dining hall. How many nights have you spent at hotels? You're packing food like robots, and you know exactly in what order you have to stack those plates.

Ryu elbowed his sister lightly and Yukio saw them give the two Swedes approving glances. Forgot you're the rich kids. You should know this drill as well.

Would President Ageruman and Vice President Hamarugen please join our table,” a voice suddenly cut through the hall.

What the hell? Principal Nakagawa? At least you're making a formal invitation.

Yukio watched the pair walk up to the adults' table and take a seat each. Kuri and Urufu were introduced to the two strangers. After a few words Kuri all of a sudden threw her hands to her face. For a moment Urufu woke up from his apathy and rose to protect his girlfriend. She looked at him but shook her head.

What's going on?

Around him the Wakayama twins and Kyoko shared his worried glares. Yukio held Kyoko's hand tightly and felt her squeeze back. When he questioned Ryu with a look he only waved his hand in the negative. Whatever was happening Kuri had to deal with it on her own. Yukio didn't like it, and he definitely didn't like to see a mentally unstable Urufu dragged into it.

Support "Transition and Restart, book two: The Billion Dollar Empress"

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