The creature of the night canted its body to the side as the knife thrust within centimeters of its shoulder. There was a rush of air, and a black clothed elbow crashed onto the Black Lotus agent's outstretched wrist. There was the rend of broken bone and ligament as Mendoza yelped in pain, dropping the knife. A second rush of air saw a black gloved hand smashing across the agent's face in a backfist.

Mendoza reeled back from the strike, spat as something covered in blood hit the alley floor near Jamar. Two teeth.

A third and final rush, hinting at a whirl on the Shadow's part, and a booted leg lanced into the Mexican's chest, pitching him across the alley and into the same boxpile he had been hiding in only minutes ago. A loud crash as the whole pile fell. And this time, Mendoza did not rise.

The cloaked form knelt and felt the man's pulse. He was still among the living, but quite badly injured. The sable creature felt around for a second, then tossed the agent's knife into the gutter.

The Shadow stood and turned to the man who had appeared next to him towards the end of his battle with the agent. His stance was in no state of tension, for his mind had already assured him he was no enemy, despite the unusually powerful aura emanating from the man. Yet the man seemed to bear no surprise or curiousity at what had been happening. Ghostly verdant eyes that blazed like beads of fire met the man's briefly, his sixth sense touching his mind. In return, only three words answered him.

Black Lotus. So it was real. Within only the vaguest and darkest of rumors did the global crime group supposedly exist, hidden by layer after layer of public organizations and working through their own men only when required. They were said to be involved in every criminal enterprise around the world, from anonymous gunrunning to unsolved assassinations. Within their employ were several pockets of crime, organized or none, from small amateur gangs to the local Japanese yakuza.

They were very well concealed. Not even the Shadow had been able to acquire good evidence concerning their mere existence. Until today.

The third was the name Jamar. That was all the Shadow had gotten out of his short intrusion into the newcomer's mind. He understood now. Jamar had been one of theirs before, and now his old organization was seeking to eliminate him by using his child as bait. The Shadow regarded the man steadily, cloak flapping in the breeze, before answering at last. "Your boy is..."

"Alright, buddy, get back! I'll make mincemeat out of you if you aren't careful!" The high-pitched yell came from almost a block ahead of them. Both men stared at each other, when from under the sable being's cloak emerged two silver Beretta M92F pistols. The cloak swirled in a circular formation, aiming towards the alley exit. " danger! Come!" Jamar could not help but find the black clad creature's voice compelling. It did not quite seem the voice of a human being, he thought.

Jamar and the Shadow rounded the corner, the latter's pistols coming into play. All they needed to see was the white blanket, crumpled on the street before the trashcans, to know the boy was gone. Piercing emerald eyes quickly scanned the neon lit street. Any vehicle driving off would have been detected by the both of them, and since it had only been seconds since Chad had been taken, they would still have seen the getaway vehicle.

Unless there wasn't one. Which seemed most likely, considering the technology Black Lotus had to have at its disposal.

The pistols disappeared under the cloaked man's coat, as Jamar seemed to rock back on his heels, distressed that his son was still in danger, yet calm about it. "Fear not for your son's is you they are after. That Mendoza. He may know some way to reach Black Lotus, perhaps even on their home ground." When they returned to the alley, they discovered the Mexican had woken up and was on his knees, shivering and chuckling hysterically. His hand rose to his mouth, seeming to swallow something like a piece of candy.

The black form glided swiftly across the alley floor and its hand lashed out, clamping like a vise around Mendoza's unbroken wrist, with a little more force it would go the same way as the left. He saw the ruse as Mendoza's laugh rose higher and higher in pitch, unconsciously imitating his tormentor.

Cyanide pills. To be taken either when a mission had failed or their cover was blown. As far as Mendoza was concerned, it was both. Yet the Shadow could not let him die, he was their only link to reach Black Lotus.

Gloved fingers stabbed quickly, aiming for the agent's chest, neck, and forehead with uncanny precision. Mendoza took no notice of the act and chuckled louder, frothing saliva at the mouth. "You've lost, Jamar, cloaked man. They will cut your boy's heart open and serve it to you before killing you, Jamar. And you, cloaked man, your days have begun their countdown ever since you crossed Black Lotus. I'm your only hope of reaching them...yet like you, I am not long for this world." His laugh broke into wild crescendos, his smile insane, though his eyes bore a world of pain and pure terror. "Sweet dreams."

The Black Lotus agent abruptly cowered against the wall, sweating profusely, as the same hollow burst of sinister merriment that had come from the sable creature's lips rose and drowned out his own crazed mirth. The gloved hand hauled him up by the collar, so he could stare into the burning jade eyes of darkness. "Fool." hissed the abysmal voice. Jamar did not cringe, but something about that menacing tone made him take a small step away.

"You've sealed your own fate. Indeed you will die. But only when I so choose." Mendoza's eyes widened in surprise, then he realized he hadn't died yet, despite the quick life-taking action of the pill. Through study of ancient Chinese acupuncture, a skilled practitioner could use knowledge of vital spots in the human body to obstruct or allow the flow of ki. Allowing extra ki to flow into the man's body affected his bloodlfow and stemmed the poison of the cyanide. This was just what the Shadow had done.

But to Mendoza, the Shadow was the merciless judge of his soul, refusing to give him death. Locked in an eternal nightmare, hovering between the living and the dead, that would end only at his tormentor's whim.

Mendoza quivered in fear as he stared into the eyes of The Shadow. "N..NO! How?! HOW DID YOU DO THAT?! HOW?!"

"It matters not how he did such an act, but what we will do to you before your ultimate demise. You see, Mendoza, there are things far worse than death." Jamar said stepping forward. "I know your every fear, I know your every weakness. I've seen your files, and I could really care less what this man does to you. Now tell us! Where is the boy?"

Mendoza finally broke down after a while. "Alright, dammit! I'll tell you! They've already taken that kid to the ship! One of our men was supposed to come and get him from us, but it seems that Lieutenant Travis already did the job for us! So what can you do to me now?! Huh?!"

Jamar stared deep into Mendoza's eyes. "How do we get there from here?"

Mendoza started laughing. "I will never tell you, Desert Ghost!" His laughing stopped immediately when he glared once again into the Shadow's eyes. "I..w...won't" Moments later, the Mexican was spilling his guts to Jamar and The Shadow on the places they could go to get to the ship. "One is a teleporter in an old Shinto Temple. Another is a ship from the mansion! There! Are you happy?! Are you satisfied?!"

Jamar shook his head. "I won't be satisfied until I get the boy back. You can do away with Mendoza if you so feel. I've seen enough of him." Jamar said to the Shadow, heading out of the alleyway. Outside the alley, the Lieutenant awaited Jamar and The Shadow.

"Greetings, old friend. How have you been?" The Lieutenant said bowing respectfully.

"Travis! Why are you doing this?!" Jamar shouted angrily.

"Why am I doing this? It's orders, that's why! And you left us with NO notification of your departure, and showed us a great deal of disrespect and dishonor!"

Jamar took his fighting stance, standing to the side. "Black Lotus had no honor and no respect. They kill, kidnap, and crush lives for mere profit. I'm not a gun for hire, I was an assassin of the corrupt. It was only when that cursed Admiral took control of Black Lotus did it's organization become so corrupt. You know this, Travis. You are one of the better men!"

Lieutenant Travis shook his head. "I know the past, Jamar. But I do not dwell on it. I made an oath to my organization, and I intend to keep it! Prepare yourself, old friend!" He said drawing his sword.

Jamar pulled his daggers over and prepared for battle with the Lieutenant, when all of a sudden Lieutenant Travis was given orders from the ship.

"Travis! Get back here immediatly! This is the Admiral speaking! You are not to fight Jamar yet!" The voice on the communicator was raspy and even had somewhat of an evil tone to it. The Lieutenant's eyes widened as he heard it.

"But Admiral.."

"Get back here now! I won't ask you again!"

"Yes sir." And with that said, the Lieutenant bowed to Jamar respectfully once more. "I am sorry, but I must go. We will finish our battle another time." And he teleported away. "Damn you, Travis. Why are you following that bastard like a lap dog?" Jamar said turning to the Shadow. "We have to get to the Shinto Temple immediatly. Do you know where we have to go? That is...If you wish to help."


Elsewhere, Kyle sat down and was waiting on Chad to wake up. Finally, Chad opened his eyes and looked over. "Eh? Um....HEY! Where am I?!" He said leaping to his feet.

"You're on the Black Lotus ship. Try to calm down, okay? I don't want the Admiral to come and take you away because you're so loud. Do you want to play?" Kyle asked pulling out some toys. Chad looked around. "I can't! I have to get back to Sensei Jamar! If I'm gone too long, he'll get worried! Besides, where is that jerk that hit me on the back of the neck?! I'll put that guy out of business for sure!" Chad growled searching around more.

"That's my older brother Travis. He didn't want to hurt you, y'know. We have been needing your help for some time." Kyle said playing with a couple of action figures.

"Eh? What for?" Chad said turning to Kyle finally.

"Well....Maybe not "we" but "I". You see, I've been on this ship since I was a baby, and every time I meet a new friend, they always get taken away from me. So...Will you be my new friend?" Kyle said placing a hand out.

Chad chuckled a bit. "Heck, I don't have any friends, either. Sure, why not?" The two boys shook hands smiling. Chad sat down and started playing with Kyle happily, while the Admiral watched them from a monitor.

"So that is the boy you apprehended, Lieutenant? Good work! I can now perform the experiments I was hoping to perform." The Admiral said getting up.

The General rose as well. "Experiments? What experiments?"

The Admiral turned and stared at the questioning General. "It's none of your concern! Now...Fetch Chad and Kyle."

Moments later, Chad and Kyle walked in the office looking at the three commanding officers. Chad looked at the Lieutenant and crossed his arms. "You know, if you wanted help, all you would have had to have done was ask!" He said angrily.

The Lieutenant bowed. "My apologies, young man, but I recall asking you to come with me, remember?" he said with a warm smile. The Admiral looked hatefully at the Lieutenant. "If you let kids get such tones with you, they'll take control and run everything in here! BOY! Apologize to the Lieutenant and speak only when spoken to!"

Chad's eyes widened as he heard the Admiral speak harshly to him and he looked over at the high commander. "Shut up! I get chopped in the back of the neck and you expect me to be nice to you jerks?! Kiss my rear, you high and mighty butthead!" Chad said sticking his tongue out.

A gasp came from the Lieutenant and the General as they awaited the Admiral to tear Chad apart verbally. Next to Chad, Kyle was trying to hold in a giggle, when finally he let it go, and burst into laughter.

The Admiral's face was red. Bright red with anger as he stared heartlessly at Chad and Kyle. Immediately he slapped Kyle across the face as he did Chad. "SILENCE! Onboard MY ship, you'll obey MY rules and....." Before he could finish he was thrown against the wall and a sword was held to his throat! He stared fearfully at his attacker and noticed that it was the Lieutenant Travis! "W..What are you doing?! Unhand me this moment Travis!"

"This might be your ship, but I am Kyle's older brother, and if you so much as lay one more hand on him, I'll make certain that the "Admiral" is just another assignment, got it?!" He shouted angrily.

"General! Tell this impudent pup to unhand me!" The Admiral shouted.

"I cannot control his actions at times like these. It would be of your own good interest to keep your hands to yourself, Admiral." General said walking over to Chad and Kyle, who were still shocked that they had been struck like so. "I apologize for his actions, but you should show more respect, Chad."

Chad blinked a few times and shook it off. "I'm alright. I've been hit harder than that by the creatures in the Dead Desert! What's the deal with this Admiral guy?!"

The Admiral was still shaking hard as he was finally released from Lieutenant Travis's grasp. "How dare you! I'll make sure that you are removed from commanding officer ranking for that deed!" And with that, the Admiral left via teleporter to return to his own ship.

Before the Lieutenant could turn to apologize for his actions, a hand was placed calmly on his shoulder. "No need, Lieutenant. I understand how you feel. If it had been me, I would have probably thrown him out the window, eh?" The General said chuckling a little. The two officers laughed a bit, while Kyle held the side of his face.

"I can't believe that jerk hit us. One of these days, I'm going to place a bomb in his chair." Kyle said looking over at Chad.

"Forget a bomb, then we can't see the look on his face. Just put a nail or a tack, it's funnier that way." Chad replied.

The two boys started giggling to themselves at the thoughts of the Admiral yelping like a wounded dog, and went back to their room to play some more.

The Admiral returned to his ship and started making plans. "Ingrates! Fools! I'll destroy you all for this kind of insubordination! I'll have my deeds taken care of on another ship!" He said angrily. He started contacting other ships to make new plans. Plans that indeed.....Would cause tragedies for all of our heroes....


Verdant eyes from under a black slouch hat glanced towards the alley, Mendoza's hysterical chortles still violating the calm night. Covering the frightened guffaws now was a long mechanical wail, changing pitch and rising in volume as it neared the alley. The sable being canted its head towards Jamar. "Leave him be for the hounds of the law. Life smiles on him no more." Which was true. He no longer had the resolve to fight, that was as good as killing him. And sooner or later, Black Lotus would silence him, with or without police custody.

A squad car of the Tokyo police pulled up at the other end of the alley. "Come." rasped the revenant as a nondescript yellow taxi identical to thousands all over the city stopped before them, rear door opening. Strange how Jamar had scarcely heard its approach. He watched as the living shadow separated from the gloom, seeming to melt and merge with the cab's blackened interior. After a second, he too followed. Then the engine thrummed with a low purr and shot down the road. The engine was almost devoid of any sound. Jamar understood how the cab had come up on them so swiftly.

Up front, the driver raised his cap and smiled at their entry, a sharp contrast to the stern demeanor of his employer. Jamar turned curiously to the side, eyeing the phantom of the night who seemed to have come from nowhere and gotten enmeshed into the workings of Black Lotus, killing one agent and driving another insane for life. In turn, the being's eyes gazed into his with an unsettling force. They were disembodied eyes that were born aloft independently, as if the darkness in the cab itself was alive and the blazing coals of jade were all that showed sentience.

Jamar realized the cloaked stranger had not given his name. He decided to call him one if he didn't give it.

One of the first things that came to mind when he thought of the sable being was his shadow. Long, fear-striking, blacker than any absence of light. A living shadow.

The Shadow then. He realized it seemed fitting. Emerald eyes bobbed up and down slowly, as if the face behind it had nodded in acknowledgement at the imagined name. Had he been reading his mind just now?

Words in the form of a hissing deep-toned whisper came from the Shadow's side of the cab. "I will help." it intoned. "Your son has no place in this, their taking him hostage was a cowardly act to draw you out. Think that I have no right to interfere, but my agenda has long been to protect the innocent from the darkness of a world gone to the jackals." The verdant eyes flamed into a cold pulsating glow. "Even I know little of Black Lotus...but it is enough for me that they are among those jackals. We will crush them and save your boy."

There was the rustle of paper on cloth and leather, then a circle of light shone in front of the two onto the back of the right front seat. Jamar spied two black gloved hands, the left holding a map of the city of Tokyo, the other bearing a small flashlight. Jamar also noted a ring on the Shadow's left hand. It glowed and sparkled in the meager light with changing hues, entrancing him as the Shadow's eyes had. It was a beautiful gem, he had never seen the likes of it in his whole life.

One of the sable stranger's fingers tapped a spot on the map, within Chuo Ward, indicating Ginza district. "We are here." Then it moved a little south, producing a blue inked pen from beneath the sleeve and encircled one spot, bridging it to their location with a dashed line. "The mansion Mendoza referred to must be this one. The Diet government official Sanshita Kaoru resides here. I have known him for some time to have dealings with the yakuza, such as providing refuge to their most wanted criminals. With that agent's revelation, we can confirm he deals with Black Lotus as well. I had been planning to deal with would be the best time."

Then the finger returned to Ginza district and moved northwest to Chiyoda Ward. The pen searched and found another spot, encircling and connecting it as previously done. "On the other hand, this is the most likely to be the Shinto temple Mendoza spoke of. The Yasukuni Jinja." The Yasukuni shrine had been erected in the 1860's to commemorate all Japanese war dead, foreign or domestic. With the end of the Second World War, the shrine had become a minor tourist site and no longer used for worship. Provided it was hidden well enough, Black Lotus could stow any way station there and not be noticed.

"It is best we take different paths. Either way presents opportunity to reach Black Lotus in their lair. One is in the form of instant teleportation, the other via ship. And though we are individually capable for either path, you know more about the ways of Black Lotus than myself...hence I will leave this to your judgment." The emerald eyes did not waver, and Jamar felt the taxi did not seem to be going anywhere in particular. As if his cloaked ally and the driver were awaiting an answer. "Choose whatever path best suits you. The opposite will be my own."

While the ebony bathed being awaited his answer, a bulky car phone came into view and pressed against the side of the slouch hat and scarf. The Shadow spoke in low tones, Jamar hearing the words "Eiji" and "send" and "prepare". Then the phone disappeared and the living black mass returned to Jamar. "And should we both reach the heart of Black Lotus, you must remember this." The left hand revealed itself from under the cloak, as neon lights from Ginza's buildings reflected off the strange ring. It blazed in dozens of changing colors, from a deep crimson to an ultramarine.

"This girasol ring is unparalleled in the whole world. It is my symbol. He who wears this is the Shadow, whoever he may be."

Jamar nodded his head at the Shadow's explanation of the ring. "So I see. I believe I'll take the way of the old temple. I have a feeling that's where I will find more answers. You seem to be a master of elusion as well as I am, yet you are wearing all black. Perhaps it would be best for you to sneak around the mansion and have a "talk" with the government official. By the way, Thank you for all of your help. Do you seek a reward? Or does your heart burn with the fires of justice?"


Mendoza was screaming with the extermination team reached the alleyway. "SOMBRA VIVIENTE!! VIVIENTE!!" The man shrieked. The few members shrugged at each other. One of the members, "Andrew" spoke up at last.

"That idiot is just speaking rambles. He knows nothing of what he's yelling about, stop standing around there looking so perplexed! Look at him! He's already going to die, let's finish him!" He said picking him up over his shoulder. "We do need to take him to HQ first, and have him checked, maybe. Matthew, you get the docs on the ship to see what the hell is up with this guy, k?"

A very large man walked over and took the fearful Mendoza into custody teleporting away with him. The five "extermination" members were not really human at all, but special A class androids, created for the elimination of the Black Lotus traitors and other members. They had recently accomplished another mission killing a young man Jamar had let get away. One of the female assassins took the body of Ritter. "Hey Xao, what should I do with this one?"

The leader's eyes flashed from the shadows. A purple haired young man walked out of the darkness. Youth smiled as he looked at the girl asking him the question. "That is simple, Andraya. He is already deceased, so you exterminate the evidence."

Andraya nodded her head and placed her hand to Ritter's chest. Her hand glowed brightly for a few moments and shortly after this act, his body burst into small blue flames and eventually was nothing more than ash. The girl stood to her feet and smiled. "Mission Accomplished. What now?"

Xao, the cybernetic assassin never ceased smiling. "We return to the ship "Dragonfyre" and receive more orders from the Admiral."

The other girl, who was rather silent walked up and placed her hand on Xao's shoulder.

"Yes, Amanda?" he said looking over at the girl with longer white hair.

"What if the Desert Ghost intervenes too much? What if he foils the Admiral's plans to eradicate the General and Lieutenant?" She asked calmly.

"Then we eradicate them all, including the "good Admiral" Xao said laughing a little to himself. The group of assassins vanished and reappeared back on the ship for further instruction.


The ghostly inhuman laughter Jamar had heard in the alleyway echoed once again in the spare confines of the cab, though much lower in volume. This close and this low, the cloaked being's laugh sounded more like a derisive chuckle, a laugh tinged with malice. Once more, Jamar felt the vaguest of uneasiness at the sardonic mirth. Yet he knew that laugh was far from being meant for him, confirmed by the Shadow's next words. "Indeed. But for the Guilty to suffer is my reward."

With Jamar's decision, Yamazaki Jubei twisted the wheel and swung the taxi through a different street. The bright lights of Ginza were beginning to dim behind them when the taxi finally slowed at a curb. A gloved hand gripped the door handle, but not before its owner had turned to Jamar. "I must go from here. My driver will take you to the Yasukuni Jinja. We will meet again soon."

Emerald eyes shining in the darkness dulled and vanished totally, there was a swish of cloth as the door opened. A rush of night air, a brief pool of light from beyond, and Jamar's eyes touched the side where the Shadow had been seated.

No one was there.

Jamar blinked, briefly wondering if it had all been a dream, some fragment of his mind. All that assured him of the specterly stranger's reality were the memories of the glowing eyes and the eerily entrancing ring.

And the driver's words.

"Hang on. We'll be there in no time." said Jubei as the taxi drove rapidly away from the confines of Ginza, then out of Chuo Ward. The young driver winked at him in the rearview mirror. "And don't worry, I know the feeling...Kage-sama is very real."


Sanshita Kaoru's house was a study in elegance and opulence, a true home of the elite. It was a four story mansion, wider than it was tall, modeled after the British style of dukes' and lords' manors. Being among the higher ranking officials in Nippon's Diet body earned Sanshita the privilege of having his own private guard. Around a dozen strong were scattered now about the grounds, American M-16A2 assault rifles at the ready with attached flashlights.

Every now and then, out of caution and sometimes boredom, one guard would play his light across the miniature forest that made up much of the grounds. Anything could be concealed there. The ray cast a melange of shadows as it moved. Long shadows of the trees, short shadows of the bushes. Out the corner of the guard's eye, an inky distorted blot among those shadows seemed to waver and shimmer as the light touched it. Alarmed, he shifted his rifle back to that same spot, staring in fascination though there was nothing unusual at the moment.

For he could have sworn just then that one of those shadows had...-moved-. The silhouette had not resembled anything like a tree. More like a grotesque human being. The guard stayed riveted where he stood, as if by staring, that shadow would reappear. "Nani...kage desu..." His superior passed by, inquiring what was the matter. The guard replied he thought he'd seen someone, or something. The lead guard reasoned perhaps it was a tree, but decided to put them all on standby.

As the guards scoured the grounds, rifles poking past shrubs and lights playing in the dark, that same grotesque shadow broke away from a treetop, the only one within seconds of being surrounded in light. That shadow, had the guards seen it, appeared to float steadily up the wall of the house, towards a dimly lighted window on the fourth floor.


Folding one of the pages in Musashi Miyamoto's "Book of Five Rings", Sanshita Kaoru yawned and set it aside on his night table. He settled deeper into his pillows, smiling contentedly, if a little slyly. His percentage of earnings from gambling and illegal prostitution around the city had been increasing with the passing weeks. It helped to have the yakuza on his payroll, they were an excellent source of profit and helped him get closer to his political goals. In exchange, they received benefits in the form of anonymous bail and the best lawyers money could buy.

The cabal known as Black Lotus, whose existence was barely known to the public, was engaged in a similar relationship with him and the yakuza. Though theirs was on a larger scale, their dealings with Japan's underworld were more parasitic. The yakuza kept Black Lotus happy with percentages yet got nothing in return. Definitely intimidation. Sanshita however enjoyed their protection and their role in keeping his political rivals in check, and in turn they would benefit in the future from his position in the government, essentially with him being their puppet.

And if Sanshita became Prime Minister, in a sense, Black Lotus would be Japan's true ruler.

Sanshita chuckled to himself and switched off the light. Even now, some floors below, yakuza and Black Lotus members were still in conference. He and they planned to eliminate the entrepreneur Ryuuzaki, and his philanthropic gaijin friend Cranston. If they continued their actions to have the yakuza's dens torn down, their profit would suffer.

"Sanshita Kaoru."

The Diet official's eyes snapped open in surprise at an unexplainable sense of dread in his heart. For what had just whispered his name was an eerie sepulchral voice, hollow like the depths of a tomb, barely above a whisper. His gaze traveled towards the window, and his heart ceased to beat for some seconds. A black form stood there now, blocking all light from outside. It cast an inky shadow that moved across his bed as if alive. Two glowing orbs of green flame glared at Sanshita from above a blood-red scarf. The being seemed to hover forward, its shadow expanding across his bed, till it engulfed his sweat drenched face.

Instantly Sanshita eliminated the idea of digging for the pathetic hold out revolver hidden beneath his pillow. Not that his hands would let him try. They were cold and clammy with sweat. He kept them hidden beneath his blanket, which did little to shield him from the sudden chill in the room. "Who...are you? What are you doing here?" he stammered. His hands were shakily moving towards a tiny device on his wristwatch. It was a silent alarm that would alert his friends downstairs.


An abrubt noise caught the attention of a guard at the temple. The guard walked around not noticing anything. The silence was rather eerie, he thought. Himato Yoki was a trained assassin. Hired by Black Lotus to guard the gates, he was a trained professional. He did what he did best. Kill. And it seemed as if for a moment that he would get that chance again. But apparantly not. He shrugged and started to walk into the shadows again. A snap was heard from the darkness and Himato Yoki's days of death had now come to an end. In his place stood a ghost of the desert. Jamar roamed about searching for clues as to where the boy might have been taken. Was it from here? He searched high and low, taking out any opposition silently and effectively on the way. At long last he had reached what might have been some kind of docking area. Docking a temple. Just as he remembered Black Lotus. Sneaky and unpredictable. He walked around and about in the shadows hidden from the view of the guards. Amongst them stood a very large individual. One guard spoke at last.

"Matthew. What is our next assignment?"

Matthew......So that was his name. A large individual no doubt. Most likely he wasn't human, Jamar thought. What would be his next move? He pondered for moments until at last it came to him. He snuck around as Matthew himself thought for a moment. Matthew let a grin shape onto his face as he responded to the guard at last.

"Why....It's pretty easy, Mondo. Take care of the Desert Ghost. Y'know...The guy standing behind Ramerez."

The guards spun around to see a neck snap and another spanish guard hit the ground. Jamar knew his hiding was over with now. He leaped into the fray of oncoming killers and sprung into action! A foot to one's throat, and a dagger to one's chest, they continued onwards to pile onto the desert ghost. One by one, they dropped. None able to match Jamar's speed,power,or cunning. Matthew grinned at the action and cracked his knuckles awaiting the job to be done. At long last, Jamar stood over a pile of destroyed individuals. His attired ripped greatly. He had taken some damage, there was no doubt about that. Maybe even enough for Matthew to capitalize. Matthew chuckled a little as he made his way towards Jamar.

"Nice work, old man. You took some boys with you, I see. Let me know something. What does it feel like? How does it feel to know that you are about to die?"

Jamar stood silent.

"Nothing to say? Alright, then, let's get to work!" Matthew charged Jamar quickly with a punch, but missed. Jamar had leaped over his fist and was in midair with some daggers he had already picked up from some assassins he had killed himself. He flung the daggers into Matthew's chest with little more effect than a few sparks and them sticking out.

"Not bad.....But not good enough." Matthew said grinning still. He walked towards Jamar and then picked up the pace. He charged, but wasn't quick enough. Jamar somersaulted over him and landed a foot to his back, making him charge forwards a little more and faster. Matthew struck the wall, breaking through it. The large man fell to his demise from the second to top floor of the large temple. All that was left of Matthew was a memory. Jamar sighed and continued forward, wondering what perils may lie ahead now that Black Lotus knows he is coming.


The conference room on the first floor of Sanshita's mansion was still active at this late hour. A crystal chandelier high above covered the room in dim light, rays gleaming down towards a varnished rectangular oak table. On opposite sides of that table sat two factions of men, neither of them the least bit savory.

On one side sat thirty men with hard leering faces, sporting dirty jackets and garishly colored hair that characterized them as members of Nippon's legion of street scum. Closer observation of their leader however, a tight-lipped man with two prominent missing fingers, would have revealed the ruffians to be yakuza gangsters.

The other side was composed of but three men, wearing tight-fitting black and silver jumpsuits. Their faces were cold, impassive, and to the yakuza across the table, downright challenging as if inviting them to attack. The gangsters were noticeably loath to make a move however. The lead man was Japanese, his hand leisurely resting on the hilt of a sheathed katana. Theoretically, he should have been at a disadvantage against the yakuza's bullets...had these same gangsters not witnessed his prowess in iaido, the Japanese art of sword drawing. Days ago, five of the mobsters had made a snide remark directed to the swordsman, rousing his cold anger and his bloodlust. In such blinding speed that not even a camera could capture it, the surviving gang members witnessed him draw his sword, rip cleanly through his offenders, deflect their bullets, and resheathe it. And all seeming as if he had done no more than touch the handle.

The second was a bulky Irishman, wider than he was tall, and more machine than man. His left eye was mechanical, so was his left leg, and his entire right arm was a mammoth chaingun yet he could lift it as easily as an ordinary man would lift a pistol. The last man was an Indian and would have seemed defenseless...had one not noticed the bandoleer of palm size cylinders strapped on his belt. Tiny darts that worked like syringes, they carried a lethal biotoxin that swiftly invaded the body's organs and caused the victim's internal systems to implode on itself, the target never knowing what had happened. And he could flick them with as much ease as children could flick marbles.

These men were the yakuza gang's Black Lotus liasons, and though they were far inferior in number to the yakuza, could very easily slay every one of the crooks while taking minimal injuries.

And the former knew it.

The two factions were engaged in a discussion of murder, when a screeching klaxon reverberated throughout the room. The lead yakuza grunted and quickly stood, as his gang followed suit, yanking out 5-shot Colt 380 revolvers. "The big boy's signal! Someone must've gotten past the guards outside." Thirty of the Japanese street's toughest gunfighters swarmed out of the room, silently as could be.

Kinomoto nodded and hefted his katana, stroking the handle like how one would favor a beloved pet. He gestured to O'Reilly and Chandra. A lone intruder could not be a problem. "Lead the way."


The cloaked blackened figure seemed to hover with his back to the door, speaking in sinister jeering tones that rendered Sanshita's heart motionless. "Sanshita Kaoru, beloved official of the Japanese government...AND patron of criminal scum. Champion of the working class to the public...ironic that it was their daughters he threw into bondage for profit. Advocator of peace and justice on the outside...but a contemptible scheming rat on the inside!" Sanshita's fear seemed to ebb at the being's insult. His men would be here soon and the stranger would regret it.

"Did you really think no one would ever know how truly despicable you are? Did you believe you could conceal your own black heart from my eyes? Did it give you pleasure to doubt no one would fathom your dual nature, not realizing -I- was in your shadow, hearing every word you whispered?" A derisive chuckle that reeked of sarcasm defiled the room, scorching Sanshita's earholes. He gasped and closed his eyes, hoping against hope it was all a nightmare. All he saw when he shut them were the being's flaring green eyes. When next he opened them, a silver semiautomatic had suddenly appeared in a black gloved hand and leveled to his forehead, attesting to the horrible reality he was in.

"Iye...iye...onegai, I'll do anything!" He raised his hands in utter fear, praying to all the gods he knew for his men to hurry up.

"You wish to murder a man and his family. Tell me all about it. Hide nothing from me, Sanshita. I am your guilty conscience: driving you to confess your sins upon pain of suffering what you sought to do!" The government official nodded shakily, knowing his men would be charging through and put an end to the stranger. His next words were a frenzied jabber.

"I...I wanted to murder the businessman Ryuuzaki Kano and his family!!! A...nd his recent gaijin partner, that Lamont Cranston! I wanted them dead because of their motions to have the yakuza's gambling and drug dealing houses torn down!" His eyes widened some more and he quivered, almost on the verge of crying, as a gloved finger began to tighten on the gun's trigger, as if aware he wasn't revealing everything. "...I've also hired hitmen to do the work! I've had yakuza on my payroll for long, they helped me reach my position by killing my rivals, with no one knowing it! A covert terrorist ring named Black Lotus has been helping me as well, in return I've promised to be their puppet when I become Prime Minister! I've been responsible for preventing police from raiding prostitution hideouts! I've hidden wanted criminals in my house! I've used my influence to block evidence in courts! Everything that I've ever done and kept secret, I've kept hidden in that safe behind my portrait! I..."

What was highly suspicious at this point was the official's eyes. They could not cease staring past the being towards the door. That same door was slowly and silently swinging open, beady eyes of the lead yakuza thug staring through. Sanshita's eyes were wild and he nodded. The advance thug hesitated, lower lip quivering at the sight of the black form.

Both motions bought his interrogator a single precious second.

The Shadow whirled, the very gun he had been aiming at Sanshita snapping around. With the sudden response, the thug raised his .38. The cloaked avenger and the hitman fired. Two thunderous bangs sounded forth almost simultaneously.

The former had the advantage.

A 9mm slug ripped and dug into the attacker's throat, while the bullet he sent merely clipped the side of the stranger's slouch hat. The thug's corpse was pitched back and tumbled down the stairway beyond the door. With the sable being distracted, Sanshita leaped free of his bed, screamed at the top of his lungs. "GET THE MAN IN BLACK!!!" He then ran into his bathroom and put himself in the farthest corner, locking and bolting the door behind him.

The Shadow decided not to go after the corrupt official. There was no more need.

A swish of cloth on a polished marble floor, and the Shadow was out of the room. There was another rustle, then lunar light glinted off of and momentarily showed a second Beretta in the other hand.


The yakuza horde ascending the stairs had heard the two gunshots and Sanshita's cry. They needed only to see the corpse of their fallen comrade, rolling down the stairway, to know Life was no longer his mistress. "Kuso!" cursed the new lead thug. "Let's waste him! But keep it quiet."

The corpse finally stopped at the Black Lotus trio's feet. O'Reilly toed it with his boot and grunted. "Dead. Throat shot, boyo." Kinomoto's hand still rested on his sword's pommel as he stared up, attempting to penetrate a darkness that hadn't been there before, not in the nights he'd been here. Chandra flipped one of his toxin darts, itching to fire it. "Why don't we go with them, boss?" he asked of the swordsman.

"It would be unwise to show our hand." he tersely answered.

"But we never leave any witnesses alive!"

"Honto...that's the truth." said Kinomoto, still staring. "Except I get the feeling this isn't your average cat burglar." Chandra grumbled but kept silent. All three continued to watch the yakuza steadily ascend the stairs.

Their plan would have succeeded, had their interceptor not been a veteran of darker nights.

The blanket of gloom and silence surrounding the stairs was broken. The new leader and a partner, both eager on earning a brand new kill, would neither know nor remember what had hit them. Two deafening roars, and twin tongues of red-yellow flame blasted in tandem from the darkness and smashed into the thugs' chests. They screamed and fell, going the way of the first to the horrified eyes of their teammates. At the loss of three comrades in mere seconds, the rest of the gang bellowed one big cry of rage and charged up the stairs, ravaging the top landing with .38 rounds as they ran.

Answering powerful shots roared out of nowhere, tearing into the maddened horde. Once, twice, thrice, then four men were flung backwards head over heels, having received slugs in the forehead. Spilt life in the form of gushing blood trickled in their wake. The gangsters scattered for cover, at least as much as a wide stairway would give them. A slew of more yakuza shots harmlessly buried themselves in the ceiling and door frame. The guns the gangsters fired in return were puny weapons compared to those the lone man at the top of the stairs wielded. The frequency of returned shots from the gang grew less and less as seconds passed.

When six more yakuza had been slain despite their cover, the assailants were now the assailed and knew it. Under the steady hail of fiendishly accurate 9mm bullets, the yakuza gangsters turned tail and made a mad rush to safety down the stairs, cursing and swearing. One man who did not move fast enough groaned when he received a shot high in the back, his body collapsing at a grotesque angle.

Throughout this brief but furious fray, Kinomoto and his men stared up wide eyed as crook after crook after crook plummeted helplessly down the stairs, still clutching smoking revolvers. The same thought was on their minds.

They'd never seen such deadly shooting before. Even among Black Lotus' best.

And when the surviving mob, falling over each other to get away from the silhouetted defender's fire, reached the bottom, they heard a noise that grew to a terrifying crescendo. And though the Black Lotus men were ignorant as to the owner, it made even them shiver.

Wafting down the stairs, piercing the din of gunfire and shouts of the yakuza, was a low yet loud sinister peal of mocking laughter. It echoed off the walls and seemed to shake the portraits and tapestries that lined the way. The gangsters alone quailed at the jibe for they knew to whom it belonged.

The laugh of the Kage.

Jamar continued on his way to the top of the monastary. Breath after breath, step by step, he knew that he was drawing closer. He stopped, realizing that someone was following him. Or was it.....someones? He turned to see two people standing side by side. One of them wasn't hesitant to speak up.

"You got here fast, and you even got pretty far. You killed our brother. Impressive." The male said. The other was female. Her long nails were red. Poison-tipped no questions asked. He took a breath and spoke in return.

"You are?"

"I'm Andrew and this is Andraya." The young man said with a cocky smile. "You didn't think you were actually going to get past us, did you? There's two of us. And one of you. And you seem pretty tired, old man. Maybe it's time for you to take some rest. Or a really big sleep." He said walking towards Jamar. The girl followed closely behind. Black Lotus attacked like rabid wolves. Always in a pack, Jamar thought. He took his stance and prepared for the two. Andrew rushed at him with a dagger slicing at the elder Ryuuzaki. Jamar dodged, sending a foot to the lower stomach region. Andrew backed away slightly, letting Andraya get a sneaky swipe on Jamar's back. Jamar staggered forward, thus leaving himself slightly open for a kick to his own lower stomach from Andrew. The two ganged up on Jamar for a bit, knocking him around for a good while. This lasted a few moments, until Jamar, in an instant, rushed towards Andrew. Andrew prepared to catch him in a clutch, but Jamar, with a tricky maneuver, leaped over the young-looking man and spun, clutching his arms to his neck. Andrew's eyes widened at the speed of the desert ghost.

"Hey man! No need for all of this! We're just trying to protect our place, y'know! ANDRAYA! HELP!"

She was helpless. Jamar's eyes were locked on her. His voice was quick to rise as he spoke. "The boy! Where is he located?!"

Andrew smiled a little. "If I knew that, don't you think they'd have put me in charge of guarding his door? Now come on, let me go. There's no reason in you gettting so upset. We can be friends if you just calm down and rejoin Black Lotus! It's not like we give everyone this chance! Remember that one kid you let trot off? The one that brought you here? You could have been like him! Just another casualty!"

Jamar's eyes narrowed. He remembered the boy. He had another chance in life, and they obviously took that from him. Jamar clenched his teeth with anger and jerked upwards, beheading Andrew's cybernetic head, and throwing it against the wall, destroying the cpu completely. "DAMN YOU! He had another way out! I let him go myself! I will make sure that NONE of you get that chance!" With that, he rushed at Andraya, who had started escaping. He pulled out some daggers and threw them into her back, making her stagger forward a little. She stopped and launched the poison tipped nails into Jamar's chest. He was still coming, and strong. Her eyes widened in awe at his determination to exterminate them. Why was he so upset? What was so special about that boy? He was just another person trying to ruin them, she thought. Her thoughts were cancelled out by darkness. Jamar stood at a distance with his saber unsheathed. Her body was in shambles. Jamar shook his head and sheathed his deset sword. He walked on, staggering a bit. He was poisoned. No matter, he thought. He had to end this now. For everyone's sake. He reached the stairs and was attacked by Amanda, the deputy leader. She said nothing as she rushed towards him with all of her might. She, like him, was infuriated at the losses of life. But to her, it was her family she was losing. He knew how that felt. He felt as if he might lose his adoptive son in this brutal battle. He looked up and placed a hand towards her as she continued running. The stairway lit up with a bright light, destroying the walls that encircled it. The stairs, were starting to collapse. She had been destroyed in the blink of an eye, but that was all of his power. He had to rely on pure skill now. He leaped off of falling debris until he reached the top floor. This took a few minutes and the poison's effects were taking great amounts of energy from him. He landed on his knee upon reaching the top and sighed. He was prepared to die, if necessary. This battle might not end well for him, but....He knew that there was one other. One other that would end it for him. The man of shadows. The man that helped him in the alleyway. His mysterious, frightful eyes held justice in them, and Jamar knew that even if he passed. He passed as a warrior. He stood up, looking at his sword and continued onwards to the final room. The last android, Xao turned and smiled at the man.

"Welcome, Jamar! I've been expecting you for some time now. Shall we begin? Or do you need a little rest first?"

Jamar sat against the wall catching his breath. "I must admit, I have to recupperate my energy before I am of any match."

Xao nodded. "Well so be it, then." He smiled awaiting Jamar's resting time to complete. Jamar chuckled a little himself, knowing that in this very battle it could be the end. After a few moments he rose to his feet taking his stance. "I am ready."

Xao nodded. "Let the battle begin!" The two dashed at each other fighting furiously. Arm to arm, foot to foot, the battle was intense. Jamar leapt into the air throwing daggers towards a dodging Xao. Xao maneuvered cleverly around them, sending an elbow to Jamar's throat. Jamar coughed a little blood and while in midair, send his own foot crashing into Xao's jaw. They both fell to the ground, and leapt back up again fighting once more. Xao pulled his sword and swung at Jamar. A clang was heard as Jamar's saber blocked the onslaught of Xao's sword. More fighting ensued, sword to sword, slash to slash, they seemed almost equal, but the battle was going to Xao. Jamar had been poisoned and his energy was gone. What could an old man do against an android? The two stood at a distance and looked at each other. The suddenly rushed towards one another and passed each other smoothly. After a few moments of rest. Jamar fell to one knee holding his chest. A blademark. He had been cut good. He glanced back to Xao who was smiling a bit. "Well...It seems that the battle...........goes to you...." He said still smiling. He instantly fell in half, exploding. Jamar lay on the floor bleeding. He was next to the teleporter. But what would happen when he went in? Was the Shadow finished? Was it time for their rendevous? He edged towards the teleporter coughing up more blood. Androids. Strong creations. He thought. He reached the porter at last and was transfered to the Black Lotus ship. There, he hid until the Shadow could get there. But where were the guards? Why was no one here? Where had they all gone to? Black Lotus was the type of group to have TONS of guards block off and protect whatever they were holding. He looked around his hiding spot and noticed why. The guards were already knocked out!! In suprise, he rose to his feet and staggered forward a little. "What........happened here? They are all unconcious....And." He looked down to see some burn marks from what appeared to be a laser, and foot and hand marks from a hand to hand fighter. "The hand and foot prints....they're small. I suppose Chad is escaping. The foolish boy is going to get himself killed!" He said edging around slowly. A blood trail was being left behind.

Further down the hall, Chad and Kyle were sneaking around. Kyle had a laser and Chad was bare handed. "Are you sure this is the way out, Kyle?" Chad said glancing at his friend/brother. Kyle nodded. "Yeah. It sure is. But we have to get past my brother and the General first. And I don't exactly see that one happening." Chad shook his head. "Darn. We had better wait here until we can think of a plan." Kyle nodded. "Yeah."


The piercing cacophony of mockery died, leaving stunned and shaken hoodlums in its wake. What yakuza remained were either cowering or groaning the word 'kage', over and over. "Sweet mother of the loch..." murmured O'Reilly, in reference to the ancient Irish legend of the banshee, whose cry marked the death of whom she appeared to. Chandra shared his companion's bewildered expression, wetting his suddenly dry lips, then eyed the gangsters. "What's with them?"

Kinomoto was silent, brushing off the effects of the laughter on his psyche. In some regions of Japan, particularly in its most rural areas where belief in the folklore of old persisted, tales were told of the birdman tengu. Woodcutters had long reported hearing high-pitched avian laughter as they worked, leading them to seek a different area lest the tengu swoop down on them to fulfill its mischievous urges.

Two parts of his mind were in argument. Superstition and Reason. Could the tengu be real? Was one such demon of the night before them now?

At length, the latter side triumphed. The swordsman clapped the Irishman on the shoulder. "This intruder is no phantom. Think for yourself: would a spirit really have need of firearms? I don't think so." O'Reilly and Chandra nodded slowly at Kinomoto's reasoning. "Say he's right. I doubt spirits float about packing 9mm slugthrowers."

"Thas right, boyo. Laughin' bastard's gotta be flesh and blood like any o' us." said O'Reilly with sudden resolve, a new leering grin etched on his half mechanical countenance. "I'm takin' 'im out, screamin' banshee or no." The three agents pushed past the yakuza, as O'Reilly raised his chaingun arm, aiming it up the stairway. Simultaneously, his mechanical eyes gleamed crimson as he switched to infrared. His world was suddenly bathed in the color of blood, the yakuza and his fellow agents represented in man-shaped swirls of multicolor.

The mechanical optics traveled up the stairs, piercing the gloom. The leer grew in triumph as the eyes centered on a living being standing at Sanshita Kaoru's doorway and near the top landing. He aligned the being in his sights, and for the second time that night, the deafening silence of the gloom was broken.

High caliber bullets normally used by aircraft lanced out in a sweeping arc, blasting paintings, tapestries, and parts of the stairway to dust and fragments. At the exact moment he fired, the being had already started to dive for cover as if aware of his attempt. The sable blot was fast as it dropped, but O'Reilly jinked his arc, momentarily passing over the black form. In response, a small line of multicolor sprayed out from the being's side, and the being clutched its shoulder as it fell.

"RIGHTO! GOT' IM" O'Reilly bellowed, raising his other arm in victory. At the news that the sable invader had been wounded, was human after all, the yakuza grunted and took up their revolvers again, their fear at least partially dissipated. Kinomoto had his hand ready to draw, Chandra was already fingering a dart. This time once they stormed the stairs, there would be no escape for the cloaked man.

Had the hand of Fate not intervened this night.

Shouts bearing the command to freeze came forth as the doors behind the yakuza and the Black Lotus agents were kicked open. Swarming through were twenty revolver equipped policemen, backed by Sanshita Kaoru's private guard, who had been alerted by the gunfire from the third floor. A peaceful arrest would have been in order, but one yakuza, in his frenzy for vengeance and fear, pulled his trigger. One policeman yelled as he went down.

And an avalanche of bullets erupted once more in the living room. The police and the guards scattered, seeking cover behind tables and other pieces furniture. The yakuza were wide open where they were by the stairway. Two gangsters screamed as bullets found their mark. With the losses they'd taken from the sable avenger, it was only a matter of time.

Unseen this whole time, the sable stranger slowly stood, as if formed from the darkness itself. It moved unsteadily towards the stairway banisters, then pitched itself over and dropped silently.

Kinomoto's hands gripped the wrists of his fellow agents. "Let's get out of here." he growled. Chandra nodded in understanding. Perhaps they had what it took to destroy all the policemen and the guards, but there would be too much risk of exposure or discovery. O'Reilly frowned however. "Whatta about that laughin' clown, aye? We just gonna leave him alive?"

Kinomoto only frowned coldly right back, but not before he himself had glanced up the stairway. "What -about- him? GET TO THE SHIP!" When Kinomoto spoke in that tone, his subordinates obeyed. The three agents began a dash down the corridors leading towards the back of the house, where their ship was stowed away. There was no more for them to do here. Their business here was over, all in one night.

The swordsman rounded a corridor, passing deeper into an uncanny sable void. Kinomoto was leading the way, followed by O'Reilly, then Chandra. When the Indian rounded that corner, two gloved hands snaked out of the mystic gloom and entangled themselves around Chandra's neck, yanking him backwards. A choked rasp as he was pulled into nothing, then a scuffle, then silence.

It was some steps later that O'Reilly whirled. "Chandra! Where are ya, mate?!" Kinomoto stopped as well, grumbling at the delay. The Irishman ran back into the darkness and prodded the prone form of his fellow agent. "Hurry up, ye dolt! This no time t'be delaying now!" The Indian picked himself up and groaned, shaking his head slowly, smiling. "Sorry friend. Took a bad slip back there." O'Reilly's brows furrowed suspiciously at the sight of Chandra's hands. They seemed paler and narrower than usual. He brushed the thought away.

Kinomto hissed in exasperation. "IKKUZOU! ISOGI!" Once more the three continued to run. There would have been cause for worry had Kinomoto and O'Reilly observed Chandra further. Along with a sardonic smile chiseled on the Indian Black Lotus agent's face was a momentary glint of jade from what were ordinarily brown eyes . Then came a wince from the Indian as a drop of blood trickled from his shoulder and dripped on the floor. A wound caused by a bullet.

Corridors back, Chandra's body, head twisted at an unnatural angle, lay spread eagled in full view. Yet at that same moment, Chandra was up and running behind his fellow agents as if nothing had happened.

Within minutes, the three Black Lotus men had reached their ship hidden in the small woods behind the mansion and fired up the engines. The sleek black craft rocketed off into the sky, towards the deeper ebony silence of outer space whence lay the Black Lotus mother ship. Moonlight shining towards the craft enveloped it, casting a long black shadow over the metropolis as it rose higher and higher into the night.


Several police cruisers were parked at the exterior of Sanshita Kaoru's mansion, the air filled with transmissions from their radios and the conversation of curious bystanders. Adding to the mix were a handful of news vans from Tokyo's top television channels. Yakuza attacking the home of a prominent politician in a daring midnight raid did have the potential for hauling in the ratings. Reporters and passersby however could get no further than the police line. Word from the inside so far was that yakuza hitmen, hoping to eliminate one who so vehemently opposed them, had managed to sneak into the Diet official's home and had attempted to gun him down as he slept.

Inside the mansion, the now light-flooded living room still reeked of gunsmoke and fresh blood. Bullet-mangled bodies of the yakuza lay in various spots, some behind the very places they had taken cover, quite a number by the stairway to Sanshita's bedroom. None of the yakuza had survived the ensuing gunbattle, at least half of them lay piled in groups of two or three. The police and Sanshita's guard had suffered only minor injuries, for they had vastly outnumbered and outgunned the marauding gangsters.

Forensics cameras were flashing and body bags were being prepared as Sanshita Kaoru tightened the blanket around his shoulders, brushed the sweat from his brow. He related his story: that a man in black had awakened and threatened him with his life, and when Sanshita had refused to give in to his demands, he had retreated and ordered his yakuza group to kill him. Sanshita had managed to defend himself with nothing but his revolver and some ammunition till police and his private guard had come to relieve him. The fact that the rescuers had seen yakuza corpses at the foot of the stairs when they burst in revealed that Sanshita was a rather good shot. He also theorized that if anyone had sent the yakuza after him, it could be anyone of his much publicized rivals in the Upper Parliament House of the Diet government.

He managed a weak smile to the police officer standing before him. "I must commend you for responding so quickly and so efficiently, Sergeant Hayabusa. If our citizens had more defenders of the law as vigilant and swift as you and your unit, the yakuza would have been crushed long ago." Sergeant Hayabusa Hayato smiled, tearing off a paper from his notepad. "Arigato, I appreciate the thought, Sanshita-san. But your thanks does not belong to me. Your own private guard gave us some very powerful muscle in saving you."

Sanshita nodded. "Honto. I feel I'll have to speak with them about increased security however." Hayabusa continued. "In addition, you must have a lot of friends out there, because somebody tipped us off to come here minutes before we scrambled. Told us we'd find something very important. Looks like we found it."

The Diet official chuckled, though his mind failed to cease asking itself who on earth could have informed the police of a supposed yakuza attack when it was the yakuza who were under his employ and that Kage creature was the real assailant. The gangsters themselves? Black Lotus? He forgot about it. He was safe now. All he needed to do was wait a few weeks when the furor died down and re-establish connections to his 'friends'. "Hai, that you did. Sergeant Hayabusa, if ever there is anything I can do for you..."

The police officer's shoulder mounted radio suddenly blared to life, a voice squawking through. "Sergeant Hayabusa, come in. We've found something...or rather someone, in the basement. Dead. Some guy in dark clothing..."

"Hai, I'll be there." He turned to Sanshita. "Well Sanshita-san, I guess we've got your man in black, what's left of him anyway. Come along." When Hayabusa turned his back, he failed to notice a sly sneer that had suddenly appeared on Sanshita's face. So the Kage had been killed trying to escape.

They descended into the lower corridors of the mansion, where other policemen lined the way with powerful flashlights. Hayabusa turned a little. "This leads to the back of your house ne?" Sanshita nodded. "Hai. I guess I know now how he and his thugs got in. He must have tried to use this same corridor as an escape route."

The two came across four other officers who were standing over a prone figure. Though lights played over the body, Sanshita could not see it from his vantage point. One of the officers eyed Sanshita for a moment, then waved Hayabusa over. "I think you need to see this, sir."

The now five officers spoke in whispered tones, pointing at the body and casting hooded glances at the Diet official. Hayabusa swallowed a little. What was wrong? What were they so tense about? Sanshita listened hard and thought he could hear a sixth voice...

Just when he was about to confront them about it, Sergeant Hayabusa slowly and solemnly turned, his dark eyes brimming with skepticism and suspicion. "Sanshita Kaoru...what did you say your assailant looked like?" Sanshita used his hands to describe. "He was tall, six feet tall. He had a black cloak and a black hat, and a red scarf where his mouth should have been..."

Wordlessly, Hayabusa stepped aside and shined his light down on the body.

For the face staring towards the ceiling, as if from whence came his murderer, was none other than the face of Black Lotus agent Chandra. Rather than a black and silver uniform, he wore nothing but a gray jumpsuit. His trademark bandoleer of toxin darts was missing.

The government man's face went white. "Wait a minute...I don't know this man...he's an associate of mine, works for Black Lotus..." he stammered and abruptly silenced upon mentioning the organization's name, as well as his own self-contradiction. If he could have sucked his breath to inhale his words out of everyone's ears, he would have done so.

But what was done was done.

One of the officers raised an eyebrow. "'Black Lotus'? That's the second time we've heard you say those words, Sanshita-san." Sanshita clenched his fists. "What are you talking about, you scalawags?! I've never mentioned such a name, I don't even know them...!"

"Really?" Hayabusa drew something forth from the dead Chandra's pocket. The sixth persona Sanshita thought he had been hearing rose in volume. A small black box was in Hayabusa's hand. The whole corridor was suddenly filled with a gasping hysteric voice. Sanshita's own. The man's eyes widened in horror.

"...I've had yakuza on my payroll for long, they helped me reach my position by killing my rivals, with no one knowing it! A covert terrorist ring named Black Lotus has been helping me, in return I've promised to be their puppet when I become Prime Minister... I've been responsible for preventing police from raiding prostitution hideouts! I've hidden wanted criminals in my house! I've used my influence to block evidence in courts! Everything that I've ever done and kept secret, I've kept hidden in that safe behind my portrait! I..."

"I want my lawyers." growled Sanshita despite his fear. The track on the tape recorder ended, and all five officers frowned. Hayabusa moved behind Sanshita and the cold steel of handcuffs suddenly clamped around his wrists. "Sanshita Kaoru, we are taking you in for further questioning."

Sanshita's blood chilled to ice, and he struggled wildly, but Hayabusa and the officers kept a firm grip as they radioed for a police car to be prepared for him. "IYE...IYE!!! MINNA BAKA, have you no eyes?!!! Can't you see I'm innocent?! I've been set-up, it's a conspiracy I tell you!!! Listen to me, damn you all...!!!"

And as Sanshita Kaoru, pretended defender of justice of the Japanese government was led out of his home and into the painful glare of TV cameras and news reporters questions, he paled. Not only was his future now very bleak.

But also somehow, far in the night, his sable visitor's laughter was ringing in his ears.