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This deep in the trees, the thick foliage dimmed the light, filtering it a faint green. Small lances of sunlight stabbed through here and there, where there were breaks between the leaves.

Ginji stopped in one of the clearing, taking a deep breathe of the damp air rich with the smell of mulch and sap, the fresh tang of grass crushed underneath his sneakers. A faint rustling made him looked up just in time to see a flicker of bushy brown tail disappeared around the bend of the tree trunk above him. A tiny white-striped head peeked back at him with black button eyes. He smiled at the little squirrel and wondered whether it was tame enough to eat from people's hands.

A theatrical throat clearing behind him reminded him that he was not alone, and while he may enjoy this side-trip into the forest, Hevn most certainly did not appreciate it.

"You know, Hevn-san," he threw back over his shoulders, "you might want to take my advice and stay in the car. You're not really dressed for hiking."

Hevn strode past him without looking, the proud lift of her head somewhat marred by the fact that she was partially wobbling on the leaf-covered dirt track. "Don't worry about me. I know how to take of myself. Besides, you want me to stay there all by my lonesome? What if whoever did that thing comes back?"

Ah. That was probably the reason she tagged along. Ginji was wise enough not to mention that to Hevn's face. Call it work experience or on-the-job training, he knew which of Hevn's buttons could be pushed and which ones were off limits. Unlike Ban, who averaged about one ass-whopping from Hevn every other day. On the other hand, Ban certainly seemed to take an unholy amount of delight in pressing Hevn's buttons, sometimes literally. If Ban liked it so much, maybe there was something he was missing.

Ginji shook away the somewhat disturbing thought and trotted up to catch up with Hevn. His sneakers squelched on the wet ground, but it was well-designed for running and hiking. Unlike Hevn's high-heeled slippers.

"How could you even walk on those shoes, Hevn-san? I'd have fallen on the first step."

Hevn smirked at him. "Practice, my dear boy. And believe me, with enough practice and the right kind of motivation, you can even run on them."

"Ah." Ginji scanned their surroundings. The trail they were following were narrow and had obviously fallen into disuse. They had only been on it for ten minutes and already he had had to clear fallen tree branches twice. It had rained last night and the trail was muddy with stagnant puddles every few feet. Half-rotten leaves piled the top and made the going slippery. Ginji made sure to keep an eye on Hevn as he walked, just in case she turned an ankle.

"How far do we have to look?" Hevn grumbled, peering through the undergrowth. "This isn't getting any more pleasant."

Ginji had an idea, but he did not think Hevn would like it. "Well, I guess if someone was trying to hide something, they'd choose somewhere out of the way. Off the trail, where people will have less chance to discover it."

Hevn glowered at him and Ginji shrugged helplessly. He was right, she really did not like the idea. That would not stop him though. If there was something here to find, he would find it. A little trip through wet undergrowth was nothing.

"Yosh. I'm going to go in there." Ginji pointed randomly at the trees to his left.

"What's in there?" Hevn demanded, eyeing the thick bushes with trepidation.

"I don't' know. But I have to start somewhere, don't I?"

"We. I'm going with you."

Ginji eyed her slippers doubtfully. "Ah, are you sure? It's going to get a lot harder."

"Just go, Ginji," Hevn growled at him.

He put his hands up. "I'm going, I'm going." He stepped through the knee-length bushes and winced at the feel of spiny branches scratching his calves. "You might want to pull your dress up, Hevn-san, or it'll tear."

As Ginji moved through the undergrowth, he tried to choose a path free of prickly undergrowth. Grass grew in spots and those are good places to walk. Big trees also tend to have a clearing around them, their thick cover of leaves blocking out sunlight and killing any plants trying to grow beneath them. He reasoned that whoever tried to move through the forest would also choose an easier way. Especially if they had to drag dead bodies with them.

The thought sobered him up. He had not thought much of it when Ban had first told them to go look for bodies, but as the search extended, all kinds of unpleasant things were beginning to come to mind.

Who were these people who could sacrifice human lives so easily? Who were the victims, and were there families which even now were looking for them? Had they given up hope and start mourning? Was Takeru Fuyutsuki a victim, or a perpetrator? Mrs Fuyutsuki's grieving face came to him. No matter what her husband's involvement in this, she was definitely a victim.



The thought made him angry. Not the overpowering, larger-than-life rage of Raitei that sought to destroy everything that hurt or angered him, but a dull burning deep inside him. It was a human anger, but it did not hurt any less. He had seen a lot of dead people, some of them killed in front of him, and sometimes by his own hands. But it still hurt every time he saw it. He told Ban about it once, and Ban had gazed him through the blue lens of his glasses. He knew that Ban often used the glasses to avoid meeting people's eyes directly when he did not want them to see what he was thinking.

Ban told him that it was a good sign. A sign that he was Amano Ginji and not Raitei. Raitei would never hurt for another person.

He did not kill anymore, but he still saw dead and dying people a lot more often than he would have liked. And out of all those who killed, the one he hated the most were those who valued the lives they killed so cheaply, those who used those lives to further their own egoistic desires.

It was no wonder he and Dr. Jackal clashed so violently so many times.

He heard the crashing behind him ceased and stopped himself. "Hevn-san?"

"Just… just give me a minute." The young woman sounded a tad breathless. She was leaning one hand against a tree trunk, the other hand pressed against her heaving chest. Ginji found his gaze drifting down to it like iron fillings to a magnet, and had to forcibly pulled himself away, cheeks reddening. He did not think that he was a hentai, but still… some things just happen whether you are aware of it or not, especially at his age.

He risked a glance at Hevn's face and found her watching him with amusement. "Wh- what?"

"Hum. If it were anyone else, I'd have tease you to death. Or punched you, if you were Ban or some ero-jiji. But you're just too sweet for your own good, Ginji."

"Uh… thanks… I think."

"Don't mention it. Consider it thanks for breaking the trail for me."

"Oh," Ginji said awkwardly, nervously scratching his head. "You noticed, huh? Not that I think you can't take care of yourself, but…"

"It's all right, Ginji," Hevn interrupted his stammering, a real smile gracing her face instead of her usual teasing of cynical smile. "You're being considerate and that's never a bad thing. Unlike certain people I could name."

She straightened up with a stretch, "All right, let's keep on moving." She tried to cross over to where Ginji was standing, but a narrow crack in the land stopped her. Ginji had simply hopped over the rift, but it was one meter across, too wide for Hevn in her heels.

Ginji stretched out a hand. "Hevn-san, you might want to take my hand."

"Don't worry, I can cross this." Ginji dropped his hand uncertainly, not wanting the push the issue. The tree Hevn had been leaning on had a low branch extending in front of her. Hevn took hold on the branch and used it to stabilize herself as she stretched one leg across.

What none of them expected was that the tree had been ruined from the inside by rot, and while the fist-thick branch Hevn was putting her weight on looked sound enough, it was a mere shell of bark with hollow core. The moment Hevn put pressure on it, it snapped with a brittle crunch.

Ginji just had a moment to yell a warning before Hevn fell to the side with a shriek. Fast as he was, jumping the rift slowed him down and his outstretched hand only managed to snag one of Hevn's sleeve, which tore with a ripping sound. Hevn tumbled to her side.

The side where the land sloped steeply down into a gully.

"Hevn-san!" Ginji cried out as Hevn rolled down the slope with a cut-off scream. Thankfully the gully was only three meters deep or so and the ground was soft with mud and decaying vegetation. Hevn hit the bottom with an oomph of expelled breath.

Ginji crawled over the lip and half-slid half-run down the slope to where Hevn was lying on her back, dazedly staring up. "Hevn-san, you ok? Are you injured? Hevn-san!"

"Gin-ji." Hevn blinked at him, then her face scrunched up. "My dress!" She wailed. "It's ruined! And… and," she flapped her hand, flinging out gobbets of wet mud, "and gods, I'm filthy!"

Ginji heaved a sigh of relief as she seemed to be none the worse for the fall. Well, except for the mud and filth. "Let me help you up." He took Hevn's outstretched hand and pulled. Hevn tried to stand but the spongy ground sank under her and she fell back on her butt, pulling Ginji along. His knees landed on the squishy mess and brown gobs splattered on his shorts.

"Oops, sorry," Hevn muttered, then exploded. "Gods, I'm wet down to my underwear. This is just so disgusting."

Ginji reddened and reined in his mind before it could plunge into the gutter. "Uh, maybe we should try again… Hevn-san?"

She was staring down with a distant, thoughtful look. A tiny frown lined her forehead. "Ginji… when I fell… I think I felt something…" She scooted over to the side and tentatively began pulling apart the leaf covering where she had been seated a moment ago. The layer of mulch was new, no doubt washed in by the rain from the other day. It had not had time to completely decompose yet, so Hevn was able to easily peel away the cover to reveal whatever was beneath.

At first neither of them could figure out what the object sticking out of the mud was. Whatever color and texture it had was covered by the thick layer of muck. It was slightly bigger than Ginji's palm, solid with uneven stubs on one side, but it certainly did not look like a tree branch.

Ginji tried to pick it up, but it was stuck fast. He frowned and tugged harder. The ground moved slightly, but that was all. "I think it's stuck, or deep underground. I don't think…" He trailed off, staring down. His tugging had dislodged some of the mud from the object, and something glinted from one of the longer stubs. Ginji wiped a finger to clear away the mud and a metal ring glinted coldly at him. A wedding band.

Hevn saw it at the same time she did and he heard her scrambling back with a scream. Ginji did not move, the awful realization of what he was seeing freezing him to the spot.

Now that he knew what he was holding, he could see the stubs for the fingers they were. Except that with the exception of the ring finger, the rest of them were gone, distorting the familiar shape of a human hand. Strips of flesh hang from the severed ends of the fingers. They were not clean cuts, looking more like the fingers had been gnawn off. Small scavengers no doubt, reaching whatever flesh they could find above ground.

Ginji fell on the surrounding ground and started digging compulsively. Soon the forearm attached to the hand was revealed. It was relatively undamaged, protected from scavengers by the wet mud, but signs of decay were starting to emerge. Blue-black discolorations marked the bottom part of the hand and open sores could be seen. Things moved underneath the exposed flesh and Ginji moved his sight away. Another minute of digging and the wet grave started to yield tufts of black hair.

A touch on his shoulder brought him back with a start. Hevn was standing behind him, looking worried. He realized she was talking to him, had probably been talking for a while. "Enough, Ginji. We don't need to see anymore." Her gaze flickered to the half exposed body slid away. "At least now we know where the bodies are buried."

Ginji sat back on his heels, eyes scanning the gully. Now that he knew what lay beneath the mud, every little bumps and irregularity seemed to scream out at him. He had to resist the urge to resume digging until he uncovered everything, and he had to try twice before he could squeeze the words out of his tight throat. "Hevn-san… Ban-chan said there may be more than one. How many do you think is under here?"

Hevn looked away uncomfortably. "I don't know, Ginji." The gully was narrow, but it was long, stretching away for tens of meters until a curve hid it from view. An image-memory suddenly struck her, of a World War II documentary on Jews forced to line up on trenches just like this one before they were shot and buried on the spot. The soldiers had simply pushed dirt down on the bodies to create shallow graves. "We can't search the entire area by ourselves."

"I can find out," Ginji declared firmly. Before Hevn could ask, he pushed his hands down into the mud until they were covered to the wrists. Then he called forth his power.

No one was quite sure if Ginji's ability to manipulate electrical energy was innate or artificially induced. Ginji himself had no remembrance of his childhood past his first memory of being lost and alone in the lower levels of the Infinite Fortress. He had been a mere child when Takeru Teshimine had found him and taken him under his wings. He had seemed a normal child then.

Ginji's unique ability to absorb and project electricity had been triggered for the first time in his early teens, when a friend of his had been killed by a rival gang, attempting to save his life. That first awakening had been an unmitigated disaster, the raw power that burst forth completely uncontrolled decimating the entire gang and blasting a smoking crater in the middle of the city block. That had been the beginning of the legend of Raitei, the Thunder Emperor of Infinite Fortress. And the beginning of his personal nightmare.

Since then, Ginji had learnt painful lessons on the importance of control. When one had the power to level entire city blocks in a fit of anger, control had quickly become an absolute imperative. He had learnt to use a lot less force to accomplish his objectives, and to manipulate it in much more subtle and ingenious ways.

As he concentrated, the power uncoiled from within him in a languid wave, corresponding to the non-urgent call for its use. Warmth spread out from within the core of his body, spilling down his arms like a heat wave, to pour into the ground and spread out. In an instant, he could feel tiny reactions all around him, responding to him. He had tried to explain this to Ban once, but a lot of the things involving his ability was pure instinct to Ginji, and he had been hopelessly unable to explain just how exactly he could do what he did.

All he knew was that if he poured his power out like this, then anything within its range that was even remotely metallic would be known to him. He could sense all of them as if they glowed in the dark, and he could have pointed most of them out with pinpoint accuracy.

"Four," he told Hevn softly, "wait, maybe five. The last one was very faint, could just be a rock with dense metal traces."

Hevn was staring at him. "How do you know that?"

Ginji pulled his hands out of the mud. "Most of them wear watches, or belts with metal buckles. Car keys, coins. Several readings in the same space would mean one person." He looked up at Hevn who was still staring at him, and smiled a sad-sweet smile. "Was it so freaky, Hevn-san?"

Hevn blinked. "What? Oh… no. That's not it." She smiled softly. "Sometimes you just surprise me, that's all."

"Ban-chan said I'm a living metal detector," Ginji piped up, smiling at her. Ban had grinned at him when he said that, after he had used his power to find the Beetle's key when it had fallen into the drain. It was a good memory.

"So you are," Hevn smiled wider. But her smile soon wilted as she looked around here. "Four or five, huh? The police is going to freak out. This is multiple homicide, the whole place is going to be crawling with uniforms."

A faint tingle from the farthest reach of his range warned Ginji at the last moment. Later, looking back on this moment, he knew that if Hevn had not been standing so close their clothes were practically touching, he would have been an instant too late.

As it was, he tackled her legs and swept her under, just a split second before the bullet would have drilled through her heart.

He hissed urgently over her surprised cry, "Stay down!" Ginji knew he had only a second or two before the next shot. He dug his heels in and threw himself on the slope, in the direction where the shot had came from. His sneakers slid and scraped on the muddy slope, and he cursed his slowness.

As he climbed over the lip of the fully, the hidden gunman shot again. Two, three times. He had gambled that the gunman would focus on him as the more immediate threat and shifted target to him. Just to be on the safe side, he also made sure he was on the person's line of sight, blocking Hevn's body with his own.

Ginji's power flared at the threat of his life, kick-started by a boost of adrenaline. He did not even need to think. His body reacted instinctively, throwing a blanket of powerful magnetic field around him. The bullets struck the field and veered sideways, slashing through a flared sleeve but missing his flesh entirely. He heard a muffled curse and unerringly swerved towards the source.

Ginji jumped up above a large boulder and found the gunman staring up at him in shocked surprise. The man was thirtyish, with slicked back hair and sunglasses hiding his eyes. His black on black suit was stretched tight on his muscled frame.

The man swung the gun up at him but a swift kick hit him in the wrist and the gun flew off into the brush. The man grunted but did not stop, instead driving one extra large fist towards Ginji's stomach. Ginji twisted slightly to the side, left hand swinging down to trap the hand close to his side.

The man just smiled toothily at him. He outsized Ginji by a full head and had at least double the weight. No doubt he thought that he could easily pull his fist out of the youth's arms and made short work of him even without the gun.

The surprise was on him instead.

The instant Ginji had the arm locked firmly in hand, he turned up the amps. Ban christened this the 'electric eel maneuver'. In truth, the charge Ginji used to incapacitate human enemies were several orders stronger than that. Through painful trial and error, he finally figured out that 50 to 100 mA would do the job short of killing. At 50 mA, a person would receive a severe shock, muscular paralysis, and difficulties in breathing. At 100 mA, second-degree burns would be added to extreme breathing difficulties.

In this case, Ginji was fairly pissed off. It was all right for people to shoot at him. He was used to it, and besides, it was unlikely that the bullet would have hit him anyway. But Hevn was a different matter. And one of the fastest ways to get the usually mild-mannered Amano Ginji riled up was to attempt to hurt those he considered friends. So he was fairly 'generous' with the use of his power.

The gunman only had time to wonder why the youth's hair seemed to be rising up when there was no breeze, and for a moment he wondered if his eyes were tricking him because it sure seemed that the boy was faintly glowing.

Then the current hit him and his lungs seized up, his muscles locked down and his brain stopped registering anything except darkness.

Ginji let go of the unconscious man and glared at the slightly smoking body. "That should teach you for shooting at people."

"Ginji!" Hevn's shriek came just a little before his senses caught more of the gun metal signature around him. He yelped and dove behind the rock as shots peppered the area around him. Slivers of rock rained down on him and he pressed himself further against the rock, flinging his hands up to shield his head.

After a while, the shots died down. Listening carefully, Ginji could hear faint rustlings from behind and both flanks. Concentrating deeper, he discerned four men carrying multiple guns coming steadily closer.

An unfamiliar male voice from behind him made him jump. "Give it up. You're outnumbered." The voice was deep with just a touch of accent. "Make it easy of yourself. If you don't give up any trouble, we won't rough you up. Too much."

Ginji yelled back, still propped against the rock, "Who are you people? Why'd you shoot at us?"

A short silence, then a disdainful snort. "Stop pretending. Come along now, the Boss wants to talk with you and the Boss always gets what he wants."

Before Ginji could reply to that, he heard Hevn shout back. "YOU thugs go away. I've called my detective friend, assholes, and he's going to bring the rest of the force here any minute now."

The goon laughed, a nasty, cynical laugh. "Do you think we're stupid, woman? It's in the middle of nowhere, by the time they get here they won't even find your bodies."

"Oh yeah?" Hevn yelled back, "keep on talking, big guy, I have the phone open right here. Maybe my friend will even recognize your voice, I bet you have a long rap sheet. Tell me, are you one of Red Fangs?"

For the first time, the leader sounded flustered. "What are you talking about, woman?"

"I knew it," Hevn crowed. "Hey Kenji, do you hear that? The assholes are from Red Fangs, bust them for this."

"Kuso-onna," the leader roared, then, "You men, get her out of there. And get her cell phone!"

Ginji knew that this was as good as it was going to get, if he wanted to act he had to do it now. He threw himself out from behind the boulder and rolled all the way into the thick bushes. There were yelling and a few shots rang out, but they were wild shots. He ran as quickly as he could through the uneven ground, jumping past the tangling undergrowth whenever he could.

He ran in a wide semi-circle, intending to circle behind and flank them. As he ran, he pulled on the deep reserves of power within himself. It was nothing compared to what Raitei could pull, but it was more than enough. Soon strands of electricity arched from his fists, flaring wildly with nothing to latch on.

Ginji intended to correct that soon.

The first of the goon appeared before him, another one turned away from him. The first one raised his gun with a cry, alerting the other. Ginji did not give them a chance to use their guns.

He pulled a fist back, tightening it and focused. The power crackled to life in his fist, a nimbus of blue white light surrounding it. With a battle cry, Ginji flung his hand out like a baseball punter. The crackling ball of blue white leapt from his fist and hit the first man. The goon screamed, spine curved back until it looked like it would break, then collapsed boneless on the ground, wisps of smoke rising from his suit.

The other man wasted precious seconds gaping at his friend, and by the time he turned back, Ginji was close enough to touch. He was spooked enough to try to run instead of shoot, but Ginji's right hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. The power, finally finding something to ground itself to, surged down Ginji's arm and into the unfortunate goon's body. Unlike Ginji, he had no special protection against electric current and he jerked spasmodically before falling limp.

Ginji ignored them and ran on, praying that he was not too late. He burst out of covering just in time to see two men pulling Hevn kicking and screaming from the gully. He saw red and put forth a burst of speed. The one standing in front of the gully, one hand fisted on Hevn's hair, turned around in surprise. He got a fistful in the face for his trouble and fell head first into the gully. The other thug, holding Hevn's hands behind her was just fumbling with his gun, when Hevn raised her leg and drove her spiked heel down on his instep with an enraged shriek.

The goon almost matched her scream in volume and he let go of her instinctively. Hevn whirled around and bashed him over the head with a fist-sized rock she had picked up somewhere. The man dropped like a sack of grain.

"Don't you EVER pull my hair," Hevn spat out, adding one more vicious kick in the groin. It was a good thing the man was out cold.

"Hevn-san…" Ginji watched her wide-eyed. "Wow. You're kinda… scary."

Hevn flung her hair out of her face with one hand and glared at Ginji. "Well, it took you long enough."

"Sorry, " Ginji said meekly. "Did you really call your police friend? Kenji was it?"

"Hmm?" Hevn looked up from trying to fit her shoe back on, the one she had used to nail the goon's feet. It wobbled and she pulled it up to inspect it. The heel was broken and she threw it away in disgust. "Great. Another loss." She fished around in the mud and finally came up with a filth-encrusted red Panasonic. Hevn waved it at Ginji's face. "My phone dropped when you tackled me. What do you think?"

Ginji mouthed an oh. "So you were bluffing them? That's so… dangerous, Hevn-san!"



"Of course I know it's dangerous," Hevn glared at him, arms akimbo. "But I figured you can at least make use of the distraction to take them. You didn't do so bad," she admitted with a small smile.

Ginji grinned back. "I had a lot of practice. But… what do we do with them now?"

Hevn sighed. "I think I saw ropes back at the factory. Why don't we tie them up and let Ban at them?"

Ginji could not suppress a laugh. "Hidoi, Hevn-san. They'll have nightmares for years."

Hevn smirked back. "Well, they did shoot at us. They deserve it." Her smiled dropped as she surveyed the unconscious men. "Did you notice their accent, Ginji?"

"Yeah," Ginji glanced at Hevn. "It kind of sounded like… the yakuza. And, hey! Isn't the Red Fangs one of Shinjuku's yakuza?"

Hevn crouched down and unceremoniously pulled up the jacket and shirt from one of the men. A red tattoo covered the entire back, shaped in the elaborate design of a snarling wolf.

Ginji stared at the snarling picture, a sinking feeling in his stomach. "Oh. I guess that's the meaning of the red fang."

Hevn looked up at him, her expression grim. "The Red Fang is one of the most successful and vicious yakuza in the entire city of Tokyo. If they're involved in this, it's very bad news for us."

Ginji glanced up at the sky. Dark clouds were starting to scud across the previously clear blue sky. One of the flash rains were coming soon.

"Why don't we go and get Ban-chan. I think he'd want to see this." Ginji frowned as a thought struck him. "I hope he ran into less trouble than we did."

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Heh, Ginji's POV finally, and I managed to spoil his day within the first scene smirk. Now, on to Ban's scene. whistle innocently. And X-Parrot, thanks for the ML info :). Thank you also to Noodles3, Earth Star, and Magical Mage who read and reviewed this :D