Monday, December 12

9:15 P.M.

Forest Park

The crisp winter air drifted into her lungs as she gazed up into the starry night sky, wishing things hadn't gotten so far out of control. The full moon cast an eerie glow over the gloomy forest path, seemingly causing to forest around her to shimmer in its mellow blue light, and the usual comforting sounds of wildlife were now dormant, leaving a menacing silence in its wake. Kasumi walked briskly along the peaceful path towards the mountains, leaving the lively town of Okashima further behind her. Her heart was growing restless and her palms slick with sweat as the forest's deadening silence engulfed her, blanketing her sharp senses with a dull, yet disturbing tranquility.

Suddenly, the distinct sound of snapping twigs was made behind her. She spun around with blinding speed and prepared to fight, but relaxed when she spotted a retreating forest animal startled by her presence. As it vanished into the darkness around her, Kasumi sighed and trudged on, knowing that she had a long night ahead of her.

She had grown tiresome of the constant attacks by the assassins trailing her, and she desperately longed for peace and forgiveness. But she could never get the chance to get any rest because she was too scared that one day she would be too slow to dodge their deadly shuriken spikes, or too exhausted to hear their stealthy approach.

How was it that she had made everyone angry at her for simply doing the right thing? Raidou needed to be stopped and since the village elders wouldn't allow her to take action, she had to do it the hard way. But she had no idea that it would be so hard and she felt like things were continuously spiraling downward and out of her control.

There was another crisp snap, and this time a much larger stick was broken. She whirled around once more, half expecting to see another animal, but instead she saw the dark outline of a large man in the middle of the rocky trail, his hands in his pockets and an easy grin upon his face. Again, she became unnerved by the forest's silence, but chose to ignore it, giving this strange intruder the benefit of the doubt.

"Hello, young lady."

Kasumi relaxed her muscles and stood up straight, her soft lips parting in a friendly smile. "Hi, are you lost?"

"Not quite," the man chuckled. "I'm going to need you to come with me." His tone had instantly changed from jolly to threatening.

"Why?" she asked calmly, her smile slowly fading.

"My employer wants to ask you a few questions. Now you can come willingly," the man paused to pop his knuckles," or there's always the hard way."

"I don't wish to fight. Just let me go."

As she said this, Kasumi quickly scanned her surroundings with her dazzling copper eyes. The man appeared to be by himself, but the woods were flooded with a thick darkness and could easily have hidden many reinforcements within its shadowy depths.

"I'm afraid I can't do that. You see, if I bring you back alive I will get a very large reward. If I don't, well, my boss is a very fearsome man."

She heard some leaves rustle to her left and the crunch of gravel beneath a man's heavy boot off to her right. Whoever these guys were, they weren't the same assassins that have been chasing her for so long and obviously lacked the finess of Hayate's warriors. No, these men were probably ex-military by the way they had spread themselves out and unfortunately for her, she had little experience with mercenaries and their dishonorable tactics. Furthermore, these men seemed to want her alive for reasons she couldn't seem to grasp, so she did the only thing she could do. She primed herself for a fight, hoping she could get away and possibly vanish into the darkness surrounding her like she had countless times before.

The man laughed coldly as he noticed her defensive stance. "You honestly don't think I'm here alone, do you? I thought you were better than that."

At that moment, two other men dressed in black tactical military clothing stepped out of the woods behind her, with their firearms ready and pointed directly towards the center of her back.

"Let me go! I don't want to have to hurt you," she pleaded, hoping to peacefully resolve this mess. Fighting had grown old and all she wanted was to be left alone. She hoped that maybe they would see that.

He chuckled and started towards her with a confident stride. The two men behind her stepped closer as well giving her a feeling of being boxed in like a zoo animal.

"Please stop!"

The men took another invasive step into her personal space and she decided she was left with no choice other than to try and fight. After all, there were only three of them, right?

Kasumi bolted towards the large man and tried to trip him with a low sweeping kick to the shins, but to her amazement he easily blocked with his rock hard forearm and clamped his large hands around her petite ankle, squeezing so hard it made her eyes water. Then he pulled up on her leg making her lose her footing and fall onto her back, which left her in the perfect position to be kicked by the other men.

But Kasumi had been well trained in martial arts and knew that the small amount of pain in her lower leg was nothing compared to what this man was about to feel. She slammed her free foot squarely into the large man's chest so hard he instantly released her ankle from his vice-like grip and stumbled backwards, wheezing. Then she performed an outstanding 360 degree low kick as she popped off of the damp earth beneath her, making the other two thugs jump backwards in surprise and forcing the large man to jump over her leg. Then he smiled and threw a forceful punch towards her collarbone, which she barely managed to block with her unshielded forearm. But as soon as she did block it, the man aimed a brutal blow towards her stomach, which connected with such sickening force that it weakened her knees with pain.

But her mind remained sharp and clear, even through the misery. So when the man again tried to strike her down, she used her training as a Shinobi to seemingly vanish into a swirling cloud of milky pink sakura blossoms. Then she reappeared behind him before he could even have time to search for her. Using this element of surprise without hesitation, Kasumi kicked him hard in the middle of the back with a 180 degree spin.

The man stumbled forward, but quickly regained his balance and turned around to see that now the young woman had exposed her back to him. But just as he was about to attack from behind, Kasumi bent her knees and coiled up the muscles in her upper thighs, using all her strength to jump up from her crouching position and delivering a sharp, lightning fast blow to his jaw she flew upwards.

She paused a moment and actually became startled when the man clutched his face and yelled many obscene curses at her. He remained in that enraged state for all of ten seconds before straightening up and spitting out one of his bloody teeth. She observed that the other men had lowered their weapons during the heated engagement, but now raised them once again and pointed them at her beautiful face, ignoring the clear look desperation in her innocent eyes.

But the man she had fought with gestured for both of them to relax. He then turned around, sending a piercing glare at Kasumi, who quietly waited to see if he would give up. He smiled darkly at her wasted optimism and then gave a slight nod towards the woods.

Then, to her complete shock, two more men jumped out of the woods from behind her and latched both of their muscular arms around each of her own arms with almost painful force. Then they each used one of their legs to mercilessly stomp on her own two feet and pin them to the ground, leaving her utterly vulnerable to the large man and incapable of defending herself. A cheap trick that was even lower than low in her eyes, but now it seemed there was nothing she could do about it.

The large man smiled at her, revealing his now bloody teeth and split lip. He made his hands into tight fists and laughed as Kasumi let out a frustrated yell of anger, watching with amusement as she tried in vain to wrestle herself from his mens' solid grasp. Then he took a step closer and punched her in the gut with such violent power that she gagged, almost vomiting onto the man that had delivered the merciless blow. As she doubled over, panting for breath and suppressing her agonized sobs, the two men holding her in place forced her to stand up straight again and the large man shook his head.

"And she chooses the hard way. Tsk. Tsk."

"Release me!" Kasumi screamed, her eyes watering and her stomach churning.

"Well, I did offer you the easy way, but now I'm forced to do this. Sorry, Missy, but you aren't going anywhere."

Kasumi blinked away her tears of pain and glared at the man with such fire it made him crack a smile of respect. But it was more like the kind of respect that a hunter shows for his prey just as he's about to shoot it. 'She's something else..."

He directed his attention into the darkness of the woods for a split secondbefore hearing her soft voice sluggishly mutter something in Japanese. It sounded like a Zen meditation technique and he assumed it was her way of dealing with the fear she must be feeling. But as he turned to rub it in her face, she looked him in the eye with stern confidence.

"You are wrong..."

"Huh? Wha--?"

Kasumi then pulled off a stunt so amazing it caused her attackers to become dumbfounded from the sheer beauty of the moves she performed. In the palm of each of her hands lay small white balls of lightning and the man only got to see them for a split second before she used her wrists to launch them towards the earth beside her feet, making both men move their feet out of the path of destruction. With her legs now free of any restriction, she jumped and planted her feet on the large tree behind her putting her in a position parallel with the ground beneath her. Then she launched herself towards the ground with all the speed she could muster, also forcing both the men holding her arms down as well. When the three of them crashed into the earth below them, the two soldiers released Kasumi in order to brace their fall.

The Torn Sky Blast had served her well, but the maneuver she had just performed had also hurt her as much as it had the mercenaries. Both her ankles were extremely tender from the blast and she found it hard to stand on her own two legs and maintain balance. But now that she was again free from the mens' death grip, Kasumi found her odds against the large man before her much better.

"Impressive, young lady." the man said as he began to clap. "He didn't lie when he said you were one of the best. But enough fooling around." He turned to the woods and whistled. "Come out, guys."

Kasumi instantly found herself surrounded by at least twenty men with all their guns pointed at her chest. She leaned against the tree for support and closed her eyes against the nausea she was feeling.

"Care to change your mind?"

"It's not fair…." She choked as she clamped both her arms over her sore body. "Why are you doing this?"

"It doesn't matter because the only way you're leaving here is with us, whether you like it or not. Now, are you going to stop being a stupid little girl and just come without a fight?"

There was no way she could fight twenty skilled mercenaries. Three, maybe. But twenty? There was no possible way she could win that fight and escape the woods alive. Only a final possibility remained in her thoughts, but she would have to be clever in order to succeed. There was a cave not too far from where she was standing, and if she was fast enough, maybe she could escape. Kasumi relaxed her muscles and let out a deep sigh, trying to calm her shaken nerves and churning stomach.

"….okay, I'll go…." she muttered dejectedly, blinking away the last of her tears.

"That's more like it."

He ordered the men to lower their weapons and stand down. Now was her chance. As the large man quickly advanced on her, she dived into the woods, rolled, and came up running as fast as her slender legs could carry her. The soreness in her ankles was overridden by her sheer determination to escape and the pain in her gut vanished with the adrenaline rush pumping through her veins.

"You know, this is getting a little old," he yelled after her. "Why don't you just give up?"

She was almost there. She could make out the familiar silhouette of the cave entrance against the pale moonlight flooding forest around her and she knew that she had succeeded in her plan to--


Suddenly, there was a sharp sting in her left thigh and she let out a surprised yelp as she tripped and fell to the ground. Before getting up, Kasumi felt to see what it was that had stabbed her leg only to find an empty dart stuck deep in her skin. After she yanked it out, she tossed the projectile aside and continued her desperate dash towards the small cave, but something felt different now. 'Just a little further,' she thought. 'Ignore the pain and keep moving!'

However, in just a few short seconds, Kasumi became very dizzy and her left side had gone completely numb. She limped on until she stumbled over a large tree root, lost her balance once again, and fell to her hands and knees, scraping her soft skin on small rocks and sharp thistles. Refusing to give in, she slowly climbed to her feet and kept going, ignoring the stinging in her bleeding knees and palms.

"What's the matter, princess?" the man laughed. "Not feeling well?"

She stared at the cave and staggered on until, finally, her legs gave way and she collapsed onto the damp forest floor, and Kasumi knew there was no hope of escape. She had exhausted both her mind and her body and knew in her heart that this truly was the end of her drawn out fight. But for some reason, she still refused to resign to these thugs. With tears in her eyes, she commanded herself to get up once more, but she was completely paralyzed. She couldn't even get her finger to twitch, much less her legs to run. The large man came up to her and shook his head, a big smile on his face as he stared down at his helpless prize.

"Works fast doesn't it? It's a very special mix," He gloated. Then he turned and addressed one of the other men she couldn't see. "Put her in the van. Make sure she can't escape. Do whatever you have to, but I don't want any trouble when this stuff wears off, got it?"

"Yes, sir," One of the men replied with a note of glee Kasumi didn't appreciate. "It'll be my pleasure."

The area was immediately bathed in the bright headlights of a hidden van stashed just behind a small cluster of trees in front of where she was lying. She struggled desperately to get up as two of the mercenaries walked towards her, even though she knew it was only a waste of her valuable energy to keep resisting the drugs in her system. Her eyelids became very heavy and she strained hard just to keep them open.

The two men that held her earlier roughly hauled her up of the dirt like a sack of flour and shoved her against a large tree, 'accidentally' causing the back of her head to slam against the trunk of the tree. Now, her entire body was without feeling and she barely felt them tie her wrists and ankles tightly with a rough white rope.

"Please..." she whispered, barely audible. "You... can't..."

She closed her eyes as a stray tear glided down her cheek, barely able to stay awake. The last thing she remembered was being thrown harshly into the back of a dark blue van before she gave in to the infinite darkness.

When Kasumi awakened she felt a deep panic spread throughout her thoughts. Where was she? What had happened? How long had she been here? Then it all rushed back to her, piece by piece. The amiable aggressor in the forest and the sudden ambush weren't a nightmare after all, no matter how much she had wished it was just that.

She shook her head, immediately regretting the action as she was rewarded with an intense pounding pain at the base of her skull that slowly reverberated though her entire brain, causing her to shut her eyes as more tears formed behind them. She tried to move but it was no use. She seemed to be cuffed down to a large cold metal examination table of some sort. After a few minutes of weakly fighting against her solid restraints, Kasumi became worn out and gave up. She took a few precious seconds to recover some of her expended breath, and carefully looked around the dim room, hoping to find some way to escape.

There was nothing remarkable about the place. All the walls were made of dull gray cinder blocks and the floor was poured concrete covered in thick layer clear plastic sheets. It looked like a basement of some sort. The table she was on was located in the center of the room, from what she could tell, and the only source of light was a small barred window near the ceiling with a view of some dirty old equipment outside in what looked to be an even bigger building. She could make out two collapsible chairs by the large wooden door and that was it. She tried once more to free herself from the cuffs that held her to the table, but it was to no avail. Her exertion again caused her head to pound with a ferocious intensity and the side stung by the dart began throbbing with a dull ache.

So, with nothing better to do, Kasumi sat there on the frigid steel table over the course of about two hours, drifting in and out of sleep like a lost traveler until finally the wooden door made a reluctant creaking sound as it slowly opened. She squinted to see who was there, but the darkness and her own fatigue prevented her from observing anything beyond a vague silhouette. She could tell that one of the men entering the room was rather short in stature, but the one beside him she recognized almost immediately by the way he walked and began to feel a passionate anger at what he had done to her. But Kasumi knew that getting emotional was useless now and her training demanded a clear mind like that of a polished mirror at all times. But when she finally got the anger to vanish all she had left was fear, and for some reason the fear was extremely hard for her to suppress.

"Ah, wonderful work, Duncan! You may collect your reward upstairs. While you're up there, get Shark on the phone." The short man said, clearly satisfied with the prize strapped to the table before him. He made her feel nervous, but she hid her anxiety well.

"Yeah, okay. You need anything else?" He wasn't nearly as cocky as he had been the night before and Kasumi noticed this immediately. But this observation also caused the bulk of her fear to shift from the large man towards the smaller man.

"Did I ask for anything else! Now go call Shark you bumbling fool!" the man she assumed to be in charge yelled, compounding her already fierce headache with his booming voice. Her eyes teared up and she let out a hurt gasp, which caught the attention of both men in the room, who had assumed she was still sleeping.

Duncan chuckled as he saw a single tear slide down her face and then faced the small man. "You should be careful. She looks like a flower but I think she gave me one of the hardest workouts I've had in months."

The small man smiled down at her as she opened her watering eyes. "Well, I don't think she'll be much trouble here. And if she is, I'll put her in her place rather quickly. You can be sure of that. Now, scram!"

The large man nodded and quickly turned and walked out of the room leaving Kasumi alone with the vicious smaller man. He flipped a switch next to the door, turning on a few fluorescent lights attached to the roof. Kasumi's headache flared and she squinted her glistening eyes as they adjusted to the change. Now that she could see the man, she noticed that he was dressed in black suit pants and a dark blue dress shirt much like a businessman from the city would wear. He menacingly toyed with a six inch hunting knife as he stepped closer to her, dragging one of the chairs behind him. He took a seat when he reached the table, never letting the shining metal blade out of her sight, preying on her growing dread like a savage predator.


"You must let me go! I haven't done anything wrong!" Kasumi yelled, fighting with the thick steel cuffs binding her wrists and ankles down and ignoring the immense pain shooting through her entire body. It was now more than ever that she realized the effects of last night's fight were still quite strong.

"I know. However, you know some things that are very hard to learn about," the man replied in a business-like tone. "I am very interested in what you know about this mountain."

"I don't understand what you're talking about. What do you want from me!"

"We should really wait for Shark before discussing that," he replied calmly.

Kasumi felt a cold shiver run down her spine and as a terrible realization of what Shark's occupation might be appeared in her mind. She stopped her fruitless struggle against the cuffs and suppressed the wave of pain that echoed through her head.

"Who are you?" she asked softly, fear creeping into her voice.

"You can call me Smith."

She suspected it wasn't his real name. "I just want--"

"I know exactly what you want and you should know that I don't care. So quit your crying and look at me, girl!"

Kasumi again felt another tear upon her cheek as Smith shouted at her, but she defiantly refused to look at the man in the eye. "Please, just let me go! I swear I don't know anything about this mountain or--"

He forcefully pounded the table next to her head and smiled as she flinched. "Don't lie to me, girl! I know more about you than even your own brother at this point."

Kasumi swallowed hard and opened her mouth to again request for her freedom, but something told her that it would only make things worse so she held her tongue.

"You had better get some rest. You're going to need it. I'll be back once Shark arrives. Until then..."

Then Smith lightly dragged the sharp steel tip of his knife along her forearm, got up and left the room.

Kasumi once again searched the room for anything she could use to escape, desperate and afraid for her life. Her sharp copper eyes darted about the room and her breathing became accelerated at the thought of what she may be facing. The only thing in the room besides the chairs and the table, was a large shop broom by the door. Other then that, there was no fathomable means of escape. These men had apparently thought this through.

And the more she thought about this whole mess, the more she realized that this 'Smith' had been well prepared for anything she might pull. Even Duncan had known what she was most likely to do during a fight and it bothered her. She contemplated her fate for about an hour and a half before falling into a restless sleep filled with awful dreams of violence, pain, and terror.