DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN ANY DEAD OR ALIVE CHARACTER. THOSE CHARACTERS BELONG TO TECMO, LTD. AND TEAM NINJA. I AM IN NO WAY INTENDING ANY COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT AND I'M NOT MAKING A PROFIT FROM THE USE OF THESE CHARACTERS. ANY CHARACTER NOT A PART OF DEAD OR ALIVE IS MINE AND MINE ALONE.

Chapter Thirty-six

Sunday, January 7

7:59 A.M.

Organization Compound 23

For what seemed like hours the two stood there; a lone man versus almost five tons of pure next generation weaponry. But there was no fear in Jack's eyes, only confidence and determination to win. An iron will to see this through to the end and get some answers for Kasumi ran through him, and nothing; not even a death machine, was going to stop him from succeeding. This time, he wasn't going to let her down.

Target acquired. Processing. Threat Assessment: Minimal.>

Jack grinned, his brown eyes clearly showing a sharpness unique to him. "Minimal? You're not trying to hurt my feelings are you?"

The machine rushed him blindingly fast and swept him into the air with its "arm." As he was flying backwards, Jack rotated his body and put his feet on the wall to absorb the impact, trying to imitate something he remembered Kaz doing. But instead of jumping away harmlessly, he fell towards the ground and landed face down in a pile of trash.

"Ugh… harder than it looks…"

He grunted and did a forwards summersault, coming up quickly and already running. He immediately whipped out his jet black 9mm with only the flair of shooting ace could have, twirling it twice around the base of his index finger then stopping it short by extending the rest of his fingers at just the right time. When he stopped, the barrel was in perfect alignment with the monster and he performed the maneuver all in one liquid motion. But when he squeezed the trigger, the two rounds did almost nothing. One bounced of the thick titanium armor and the other managed to take out a small red light next to the left ion beam, showering sparks onto the concrete floor beneath it. It was obvious that small arms fire wasn't going to cut it and he was going to have to be creative. Fortunately, he was usually resourceful enough to find a weakness…. eventually.

The green eye locked in on him closely and increased in brightness as its little counterpart had done before. Resistance is futile. Situation must be neutralized per code M6-41A. Organization protocol will not be neglected.>

"Define 'neutralized.'"

As if to respond, the mech whipped its crackling energy sword forward almost invisibly and pierced the wall where he had just been as if it were nothing but soft butter. "Oh, that kind of neutralized. I suppose this means we can't be friends, huh?"

Jack dived to the left as the machine responded by shooting its stinger at him once again. He barely managed to duck underneath it as he continued darting along the eastern wall of the room, closely watching the ground and walls for anything he could use. But is was kind of hard to concentrate when you're constantly dodging certain death. However, after a while he noticed that the energy blade would stick in the wall for short period of time before dislodging itself. A delayed reaction.

Jack filed this away and again aimed the Beretta at the Mech, firing only a single shot at the area just above the electronic eye. And the shot, as he intended, missed the green orb by millimeters, but did shower it's display with sparks from the erupting circuits above it.

The sword, as he had hoped, missed him by about a foot and lodged itself into the wall once more. And as he anticipated it remained there for a few seconds, just enough time for him to seize the appendage it was attached to firmly in his left hand and fill it with bullets at point blank range, nearly cutting it in half.

There was a howl in his head as the machine shook a moment and the cord sparked wildly. He withdrew the gun and in less than a second replaced it within its holster. In one fluid movement raised his leg into the air and axe kicked the damaged cord, breaking it with little trouble. Even as the cord trembled on the ground, the man took both hands and put them around the small amount of cord still attached to the shimmering blade. Then he put his right foot on the wall next to it to brace himself as he ripped it loose from the wall.

"Ha! This is more like it!"

To test out his new toy, Jack rotated his torso and brought the glowing green blade down hard on a segment of the rope-like arm a few feet away from where he had managed to sever it and easily cut it in two like it was nothing but paper.

The blade though, was very unfamiliar to him and his usual style of fighting. It's feel was far from the warm familiarity of a gun in his hands, but this was the only thing he could use that would make an impact. And, if it weren't difficult enough to utilize, the thing was so huge that it took both hands to swing it properly, making it slow, but devastating. He would need to be smart if this were to work.

Jack rushed the machine, his actions charged with adrenaline and his mind racing. The eye seemed to be the sweet spot of the device, but--

You will not escape.>

Jack slowed down as it began to change. The green eye sunk deep into the machine's "head" and was covered by a thick protective steel plate. Then the three legs retracted as well and were replaced with a set of inset wheels, only leaving the two cannons exposed. Suddenly, the machine looked more like a giant tank than anything else and it brought it's guns to bear on his location.

"You've got to be kidding me…"

But this was no joke. The Mech charged it's weapons and let loose with a pulse so powerful that the waves of energy sent him flying into the wall, which actually spared him from the actual beam.

He shook it off and held the blade tightly with one arm, letting its tip rest on the ground behind him. Then he retrieved his gun from its holster once more with his free right hand and fired the remaining two shots in his magazine at the red light on the right cannon, easily taking it out in another shower of sparks. He had a feeling that it was significant to it's stabilizers, since the first time the guns fired there was no energy wave.

There was a crackle, but in the end nothing happened. But suddenly the weapons prepared for another shot and without warning, electrical arcs could be seen washing over the weapons' surface. Then there was a small eruption of flame from the tip of the cannon as glowing purple fluid began to leak from the barrels. They didn't fire. Instead a small bomb like explosion shattered each of the barrels like they were only plastic toys. Glowing violet flames licked the metal where the barrel once was, and on the ground, chunks of black armor lay in pools of superheated energy.

Y-Y-You must-t-t be d-d-destroyed!>

Jack put away the empty pistol and yanked the sizzling blade from the melted concrete it had been resting in. The severed rope-like appendage still flailed about as if the hinder him, but really there was nothing the Mech could do as Jack charged it. When he got to the machine he sliced open the thick steel plate covering the eye, and stared it straight on.

"Thanks for the workout. I needed to relive some stress."

Then jabbed the entire sword into the green orb and rolled back, coming up running for the door that led back down into the heart of the compound.

Error! Processing unit overheating… central core systems… destroy… destroy…

Just as Jack managed to roll inside the dark base, the black machine erupted into purple flames with a shattering explosion soon following. Pieces of debris and internal circuitry rained down on the walls of the compound along with the mysterious glowing liquid that had leaked out of the guns.

P-P-Protocol termin-in-inated.>

The dark clouds slowly dissolved and the roar began to fade as a blinding light flashed throughout the area. And then it was over.

Jack stood up when he knew it was safe, dusted off his jacket, and wiped the blood from the cut on his forehead once again. "Better go and see if I can find Myamoto…"


Sunday, January 7

8:12 A.M.

Jack's Apartment

"Are you sure you're all right?"

Hayate brushed away Kasumi's hand. "The burn is only a symbol that greater effort was required. I'm fine."

"But where did he get such machines?" she asked softly, "I've never heard of anything so powerful."

Hayabusa leaned against a wall opposite the couch where Hayate and Kasumi were now sitting. "I have seen similar technologies before, but nowhere near here. It is interesting that such machines would exist in Okashima. I'm beginning to wonder just how much this Organization does…"

Kasumi sighed. "It doesn't make a difference to me as long as he's stopped. I won't allow Smith to reach the village… I won't allow him to get away with hurting my sister."

"It is no longer your concern. The village is my responsibility and Ayane can look after herself."

"Oni-san, I--"

Suddenly the door to the apartment opened and in walked a very unwelcome figure holding a file in one hand and a camera in the other.

Kasumi gasped instantly and recoiled. "You! What are you doing here?"

Both the men remained silent, but wary.

Shark however, remained calm. "You mean you didn't know? Of course, why would you… he probably hasn't even talked to you yet."

Kasumi calmed down a bit, but still looked slightly on edge. "Who?"

Shark rolled his eyes. "Jack, obviously. Who else?"

For the first time since Hayate had arrived, Kasumi smiled, even with her eyes giving her a stunning glow that he hadn't seen since they were kids. It was even more surprising considering their current company. "You mean… he's not dead?"

Shark shrugged. "I don't know if he is or not. It's not my job to keep up with him." These words seemed to dull her brilliance, but still, she looked better than before.

Hayate got off of the couch and approached the ex-interrogator, snatching the folder out of his hands and making a reach for the camera. "And--"

"Give those back! They aren't meant for you."

Shark held onto the camera, but Hayate managed to wrestle the folder from his grip only to see the same files that he had seen before. The ones on the Shinobi. "Where did you get these!"

Shark ignored the hiss in the man's voice. "It doesn't matter. Judging by your tone, you already have a pretty good idea anyway."

Hayate furrowed his brow and tore the folder in half, then tossed the remains onto the couch where he had been sitting. Facing Shark, the Shinobi leader formed a stern expression that couldn't' be ignored. "You shouldn't meddle in others' business. Especially mine."

Shark shrugged, unaffected by the implied threat. "I shouldn't do a lot of things."

Kasumi edged towards the far end of the couch when Shark sat down in Hayate's place, showing her discomfort clearly.


Sunday, January 7

8:23 A.M.

Organization Compound 32

Smith paced his small control room, not quite sure if he had lost or won the battle that just took place. Million of dollars were just incinerated at his doorstep, but millions more were saved when the ninjas left.

And where was Thomas? He'd been missing for almost two days now and this sort of absence was nearly inexcusable. There was work to be done if their contract was to be filled. DOATEC was interested in some newer technologies and his employer was pushing him to finish up his work with the Shinobi and concentrate on the newest line of nucleonic weaponry. He had deadlines to meet.

He slammed his fist down onto an button nearby, activating a P.A. system throughout the compound. "I need Mr. Walters up here, ASAP! This isn't a drill."

"Walters is on break, sir."

Smith laughed, but it wasn't an amused one. "Break? Then remove him from his break and get his ass in here!"

"R-right away, sir."

Not even five minutes later, a lanky man walked into the room, his face slightly pale and his hands covered in engine oil. "Yeah?"

Smith glared at the mechanic and grunted. "Your so called death machines failed me today. Both of them. It makes me wonder just how secure Compound 23 is right now."

Walter's mouth went agape and the cigar he had been smoking fell to the tile floor. "Both of them? Th-that's impossible! The simulations proved that it would take nothing short--"

"Silence! Failure will not be tolerated!" Smith turned his back to the man and crossed his arms. "But I will give you one chance to redeem yourself… if you're interested."

Walters took a step forward, some color returning to his face. "Anything, sir."

Smith smiled. "I want you to make a machine for the sole purpose of killing one person at a time without being detected. An assassin, if you will. I'll leave the details up to you, but I want it done as soon--"

Walters sighed with relief. "I think I already have something that might work, although it's still in the prototype phase. It may take a few more hours to perfect the invisibility cloak, but other than that I think it's good to go."

Smith nodded. "Good."

Walters waited patiently as Smith walked over to a desk and retrieved a few photographs from his desk. Then he handed them to him and watched as he scanned each one.

"Who are these people?"

"It doesn't matter who they are, they just need to be killed. Make sure you make the girls' deaths as painful as you can. Make it creative."

"Mr. Smith, this machine isn't made to kill like that and honestly I find it--"

"Then make it kill like that! Those women have cost me more money and caused more trouble that any other enemy I have. I want to hear their screams from here, understand!"

Walters nodded quickly and began to back out of the room. "It should be done in by tomorrow. I'll call you down around six to look at it before sending it off."

"Before you go, here's the files on the two girls that were kept at the medical complex. You can probably find the American using this information as well. As for the other two, good luck."

After taking the files, Walters left the control room and headed down to the engineering level to work on his machine, leaving Smith to fume in his office at the constant failure surrounding the girl known as Kasumi.


Sunday, January 7

9:00 A.M.

Organization Compound 23

Ayane had felt the explosion rather than heard it, and at first it had unnerved her. Who would be fighting way out here? And what would make the ground shake without making a noise? To figure out this mess and possibly prevent another headache for her half brother, she decided to go investigate this tremor before heading back to the village. After all, a little trouble might help her take out some of her rage on the local thugs.

Almost an hour after that explosion, she came upon a small building. It looked like it wasn't anything but a public restroom along the trail, but it only had one door and that door was wide open. Ayane sighed and shook the rainwater from her hair, annoyed at the cold water that was falling from the sky.

As she entered the building, she found out that it was much bigger than she had realized and after navigating the darkened halls for what seemed like forever, she came upon a large room. It was massive and right in the center of the room was a heap of burning wreckage lying in a pool of glowing purple liquid. It was obvious that this was the cause of the tremor she had felt, but what was it exactly? And where was this place? She had been all over these woods and had never seen anything like what she was gazing upon now. It seemed that the only answers she would find would lie further in the building's catacomb-like tunnels.

Jack examined the floor closely, trying to figure out a way to get inside the room where Myamoto had fallen. But the door was just too big to lift on his own and there was no one else in the building to help lift the hatch.

He cursed and stood up, reloading his Beretta and deciding that looking down in the lower hallway was the only place he would find another entrance to--

"You did that?"

Jack instinctively rolled behind a computer console for cover and whirled around to pointed gun at--

"Ayane? What are you doing here? And where's Kaz?

"I came here trying to find out what the giant explosion was, not that it's any of your business."

Jack got up and put away the Beretta. "And Kasumi? Have you seen her?"

Ayane stared at him with a bloodlust he hadn't seen before. "If I had, she would definitely be dead right now."

Jack glared at her. "Myamoto told me what happened in the apartment. From what I remember, Kaz may have said some things to piss you off, but--"

"But what, Jack? 'Forgive her. She didn't mean it and she loves you.' Is that what you were going to say?" Ayane narrowed her eyes as she said this and placed her hands on her hips, her voice thick and poisonous.

"Not quite."

This surprised her. "What?"

Jack sighed. "I know you only told her I was gone because that's what you believed to be true. It wasn't as if you were tying to actually hurt her like you usually do. Or at least that's the impression I got from Myamoto. But I want you to think of her side of it as well. She wasn't exactly thinking clearly when she said those things because she believed you were just doing what you always do. This coin has two sides, Ayane."

"You're just trying to defend her! You don't understand."

"I understand more think you think I do." Jack's voice was sharp and in it there was a slight shadow of pain.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He paused a moment before deciding to continue in a different direction. He didn't feel like going into his past right now with anyone, especially not Ayane. "Myamoto told me about something you said and it's been bothering me. What did-- Never mind. Help me with this hatch."

Ayane was curious. "What were you going to say?"

"I made a promise to Kaz not to mention it to anyone else but her, so when I find her--"

"Find her? You mean you don't know where she is?"

Now it was Jack's turn to be curious. "Yeah, she ran off to go find you and try to apologize. She's been gone since last night. Why do you care?"

Ayane made a dark smile. "I don't."

Jack looked away from her and crossed his arms. "Yeah?"

"You don't believe me?" Ayane scoffed.

The ex-detective made a casual, yet smug expression. "I see you can walk without limping. If you hated her so much, then why'd you bother to stay with her at Myamoto's?"

Ayane balled her hands into fists. 'It doesn't matter now,' she thought to herself.

"Well? Why not go home and avoid this mess altogether?"

"Screw you, Wallace! I don't have to explain myself to you, asshole!"

Jack pretended he hadn't heard the malicious tone in her voice as he waved her to the hatch beside him, but it was clear that he had made a point, and it pissed her off. However, he also realized that she had made that decision before Kasumi had made her mistake. "Give me a hand here."

But Ayane didn't budge. "I'm not helping you."

"Look, I realize that there's some things that I have no room to butt into, and your relationship with Kasumi is one of them. But I also know that hating her for the first slip she makes is pointless. She is trying to fix this, but when you keep tearing her efforts apart, it's kind of hard for her to realize when you aren't trying the make her feel like shit." He hesitated as Ayane rolled her eyes. Then he stared down at the hatch and sighed. "There's a difference between being pissed and looking for an excuse. We're on the opposite sides of the wall here, but it doesn't mean that we can't tear that wall down someday."

Ayane raised her eyebrows at Jack's words, not quite sure what he meant by them. "What do you mean?"

He shrugged. "Hopefully you'll figure it out by the time this is all over. Now can you at least help me lift this before you storm off into the woods?"

She paused. "What's down there?"

Jack was getting irritated at her constant questions. "It's a friend of mine, okay? Myamoto managed to get trapped down there just before that piece of junk you saw burning outside attacked us. Now help me get this open or I'll just have to go on without--"

"Whatever," Ayane muttered. "Move over, Jack."

They tried their hardest, and soon the mirror hatch was open enough for one of them to slip inside. Jack hesitated a moment and looked the Ayane's straining face. If he went down first there was no way she would be able to follow and he had no clue if she would even want to. It wasn't her problem and now that she knew Kaz was looking for her--
"Hurry up! This thing isn't light, Jack!"

"Why don't you go first? I can hold it long enough to follow."

Ayane glared at him. "What? I'm not going with you, Jack! I have other things to do than help you cause trouble!" The door slid down a little as she strained to keep it from slipping from her palms. "Go now, you moron!"

Jack looked at her seriously, his voice even and unflinching. "Don't do anything you might regret later. It might come back to haunt you in a way you can't imagine."

Before she could ask what he meant with the cryptic words, he slid down the ramp and Ayane was overpowered by it's weight, sealing this entrance for good. The two men would have to find another way out.

Ayane blew her bangs from her eyes and placed her right hand on her hip. What was so important here anyways? What was this place? And why, after what she had said earlier, would Kasumi even bother wasting her time on a search? Especially knowing how things have changed. Apparently, her older sister didn't value her life at all and only sought to end it as soon as she could. Ayane laughed privately as she began her return to the woods. 'If that's the case, I have no problem in granting your wish, Kasumi.'

After Jack finished his tumble down the stairs he slid across a glass like floor and right into a nearby computer console, hitting his head hard on the corner of the dark gray device.
He grabbed his head as he stood up and clenched his left hand into a fist. "Damn machines! Why are there so many of these stupid things around here anyways!"

"Jack? Dude! I thought you were dead!"

Jack faced his friend, or where he thought his friend was standing and shook his head. "Dead? Why does everyone always want to think I'm dead? I didn't know how underestimated I was."

Myamoto laughed. "Well, you are fighting a man who had not only the nerve, but the capability to torture two Shinobi women in their own territory. It's not like you are a one man army, Jack."

"I could be."

Myamoto chucked again and walked over to Jack, but the place was so dark that he couldn't even see what was in front of his own face. "I heard the explosion. What was it?"

Jack grinned. "Nothing but some expensive fireworks. Good thing I wasn't the one buying. The finale was just plain disappointing. But whenever we're done down here, I can guarantee that we don't have to worry about any more trouble from that thing. It's toast."

"Good," Myamoto sighed then paused a second. "Hey, how did you get down here anyways? That hatch was way too--"

"I had some help. Speaking of which, let me give you a hand with this place. How do you ever expect to find anything in this darkness?"

"Well, I was using your penlight when the batteries went dead on me. Who helped you open--"

"I'll tell you later. All that's important is finding Smith's weakness and getting back to my apartment. Help me look for a light."

Both men scoured the room for almost ten minutes before Jack realized that he still had that British guy's lighter in his pocket. He pulled it out and ignited it, smiling victoriously as the flame produced a dancing yellow light. He quickly found what he was looking for with the aid of the lighter's flame and hit the red button on the wall labeled emergency power. It took a few seconds and Jack feared that because of the broken generator, the lights wouldn't' work. But then the rows of fluorescent lights began to flicker to life and the room was revealed.

The room, though, was far bigger than either man had anticipated. And it had to be because stored wall to wall were many half built super weapons. Most were huge mega machines that made the one Jack just defeated seem like a trinket. But mostly it was just stacks of crates of experimental small arms and melee weaponry.

"Holy-- Jack do you know what we've just found!"

Jack shrugged. "I guess this Smith guy does more than just interrogate innocent women. What do you think he does with all this stuff?"

"Sells it to the highest bidder." Myamoto paused and picked up a small cylinder that looked like an extra long flashlight. Then he pressed a button on the side of the device, but nothing happened. Still, it was obvious to the hacker what the device was. "This looks familiar. Do you recognize it, Jack?"

"No, should I?"

Myamoto laughed. "Well considering who your little girlfriend is, yeah. Actually, I don't know if even she's seen this or not. I've only seen it once and that was when I hacked some cameras in China at the end of DOA3."

"What are you talking about?"

Myamoto laughed. "DOATEC! That thing they released last year fought with one of these at the end of the tournament. I watched the whole thing live by hacking the Chinese media."

"Then that must mean Smith is working with DOATEC? Why does that even matter?"

Myamoto shrugged. "I don't know, but it would be best if we kept that in mind. You never know when it could come in handy."

Jack nodded as Myamoto put down the malfunctioning energy weapon. He thought long and hard about everything he could recall Kasumi and her sister telling him about the time she spent with Smith, and remembered how Ayane had mentioned that as time passed, he seemed to get more agitated. The man was impatient and easy to anger. Maybe they could use something here to flush him out or rile him into a confrontation.

"Jack, check this out!"

Jack turned around and walked over to the dusty desk Myamoto was searching. Then he took a close look at the papers the hacker was pointing at. "Bingo."


Sunday, January 7

9:37 A.M.

Jack's Apartment

Shark stared at he television and drank one of Jack's sodas like he owned the place, ready to take another bite of Kasumi's strawberry cake.

Kasumi also watched the talking box intently, and uneasily nibbled at the delicious dessert in her lap, careful to make sure her long flowing hair didn't get in the way. She was uneasy around Shark and just wanted him to leave so Oni-san and Hayabusa could talk with her alone. But even after almost an hour and a half, Shark wouldn't leave.

"Um… I really don't mean to be rude but I was hoping that maybe you could go now."

Shark laughed after swallowing a bite of the strawberry millefeuille. "Did you just try to politely kick me out? As I said before I'm not leaving until Jack comes back or one of you tells me where to find him. Get over it."

Kasumi swallowed another small bite of her cake. "Why? You could always just come again later and--"

"Why come back when I'm already here?"

Hayate, clearly disapproving of the parasitic man and wanting to discuss a course of action in privacy, glared at Shark with his penetrating brown eyes. "If you aren't going to be useful, get lost. We have important business to take care of and it doesn't involve you."

Shark shrugged arrogantly and took another bite of the scrumptious cake that was never meant for him. "So then pretend I can't hear you."

Kasumi shook her head and put down what was left of her piece of cake. "If you won't go then I will."

"Whatever."

Hayate got up from the recliner and grabbed her shoulder as she began to walk away. "I need you to--"

Kasumi looked at her brother stubbornly. "I can't stay here. Not with him. Please, let me go, Hayate. I just want some fresh air and I promise I won't go far."

"This isn't a choi--"

"I'll go with her," Hayabusa stated as he walked in from the kitchen. "Some space might be good for her."

Kasumi nodded, not surprised at Ryu's action considering their friendship. "Thank you, Hayabusa."

Ryu grunted and followed Kasumi out of the apartment, leaving Hayate alone with the annoying leech. As they made their ways down the stairs of Jack's building, he noticed that Kasumi's limp had grown significantly better and was getting to the point where it wasn't that noticeable. In fact if he hadn't known any better, he could've swore that she had never been hurt that seriously at all.

Once they got down to the building's lobby, Hayabusa noticed for the first time what the place actually looked like. The cracked teal and white tile floor gave the building an old a fragile appearance and the fact that there was old furniture piled up along the wall opposite the mailboxes made the place look cheap. He glanced at Kasumi, who was now walking beside him instead of in front of him. 'I suppose this place is better than the forest…'

"Awww, I forgot it was still raining…" Kasumi groaned.

Hayabusa peered outside as a thunderclap split the air. "I suppose we are stuck here."
Suddenly, the lights flickered off and out of nowhere a familiar voice laughed. "So you made it all the way out here, despite your injuries? Most impressive, Miss Kasumi. Most impressive. However, I couldn't really expect anything less from the one who killed Master Raidou, could I? Quite a show that fight was."

Kasumi gasped sharply and Hayabusa narrowed his eyes to see where the voice was coming from. "Be prepared, Kasumi."

The voice began to laugh. "Really, you want to fight so soon? Actually it's most convenient that I found the both of you at once. Saves me the trouble of hunting down the infamous Ryu Hayabusa later. Tell me, Mr. Hayabusa, does it ever get boring?"

Kasumi, being stubborn as always, refused to get behind Hayabusa, but decided to fight alongside him. She wasn't weak, and though she loathed unnecessary violence, she could defend herself in a fair match. But this voice… she couldn't really tell if he was just playing with her mind or if the man truly intended to do her harm. "What is this man talking about, Hayabusa?"

Hayabusa shook his head and grunted as lightning flashed through the two large windows on either side of the glass front doors. "It's none of your concern."

The voice laughed again. "He's right, Miss Kasumi. It's not really your place to ask such questions from what I gather. Not anymore."

The words sunk in deep and Kasumi winced from their impact on her heart. Even this stranger would taunt her over--

"Ryu!" She gasped. "He… he knows!"

"Do I ever. But it wasn't easy you know, finding out your little secret. I have to admit though, Smith's research made most of it rather simple. Shinobi… now I think I understand a little bit more about your participation in DOATEC's little 'tournaments.'" The man paused to chuckle to himself. "But this was never supposed to get so complicated. Ha! Imagine my surprise when I discovered the mess you were in! There seems to be no rest for the hunted, am I right?"

Kasumi was beginning to feel irritated at this man's jovial approach to her misery. "I don't understand what you want with me…"

"You? My dear girl, the world does not revolve around you. I admit you are an important part of my… assignment. But I'm here to study more than just you."

"Reveal yourself stranger," Ryu said in a low tone. "or feel the wrath of my spirit!"

The man laughed. "Again with the fighting? And I thought you were the kind of fighter who always liked to know what he was getting himself into, unlike Miss Kasumi here. But I suppose you have always been a man of rash actions, huh?"

Hayabusa had taken just about enough of this. He muttered a quick enchantment and waved his arms in a circle in front of him. Then as he could feel the heat channeling itself through him, he cut the spell short, just finishing enough of it to create a small circle of flame without the destructive blast. He maintained it above his head and looked forward a the man who approached them, clapping his hands as he walked.

"Not bad. It makes me wonder what other tricks you can do…"

Kasumi took a step back and relaxed a moment, instantly recognizing the strange hat from earlier this morning. "You! You were the one that hit Bayman with that rock!"

The man performed a slight nod and tipped his black fedora hat to her, the orange light from Hayabusa's flame dancing across his overconfident smile. It was as if the man believed nothing could touch him. "Yes, that was me."

Kasumi then broke her stance, and performed a polite bow, as it was a common Japanese greeting. "Thank you for that."

Hayabusa, had no clue what was happening, but also relaxed, thinking that Kasumi probably knew what she was doing.

The man laughed at her bow, not bothering to return the favor. "You need not thank me, Miss Kasumi. I didn't do it for you. In fact I could've easily stood there as Bayman beat you to a bleeding pulp. I warned you once, and your hesitation was the cause of that fight. If you had lost, it would have been your own fault."

Hayabusa understood the man's logic easily, but Kasumi viewed it as a heartless response from a man without compassion. "You would just let someone die?"
"If they are too weak to protect themselves, then they don't have any business in our world. After all, how is anyone supposed to get stronger if they are always wrapped in a protective cloak?"

Kasumi placed her left hand over her chest, a look of dismay crossing her features. "That's so cold! How could you say that…"

The man chuckled. "It wouldn't have been that hard; all I would have to do is watch. After all, any injuries you suffered were borne of your own reaction to my warning. I had nothing to do with it."

"So why did you help me at all?"

The man shrugged. "You needed to stay alive if I am to complete my assignment. After all, I didn't fly half way across the world so I could only go back with almost all the information. I need to know everything upon my return, which means that you need to stay alive. It was pure business, Miss Kasumi. Nothing more."

Kasumi shook her head. "A person's life is a priceless gift. It doesn't matter if it's important to you or not, you should always try to help."
The man shook his head. "Miss Kasumi, you may be the last person on the planet who truly believes those words. Yet, it's those words that always bring you to your knees."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

The man said nothing, but adjusted his hat as if he hadn't heard her. Then he replied, "It means whatever you make it out to mean."

Hayabusa stole a glance away from the man and at Kasumi's face. It was strange to see her expression because it was nearly unreadable. Her eyes reflected confusion, sadness, irritation and compassion all at once. He looked back to the man and sent him a cold stare, as if he could peer inside this stranger's very soul and read his motives. "Who are you? What is your business with us?

"Nothing too important." He took a step closer and held out his hand. "My name is Corso, and I need to know everything you know about DOATEC."