Smoke clouded the room, as the cigar aficionados puffed away, slowly depleting the boxes of Cuban cigars. Large crystal decanters held brandy, port, and 25 year old scotch. Ornamental china bowls held caviar. Hand- painted plates contained a few remaining pieces of smoked salmon and imported cheese.

The session was coming to an end.

Ten men and two women sat around an antique ebony table, the top polished to mirror smoothness. Some sat upright, a model of sophistication. A number lounged indolently, their shoes scuffing the fine furniture. Others milled about, walking, wanting a better view.

Each man there---politician, business stalwart, captain of industry, or wealthy raconteur---had his eyes riveted to the large LCD screen.

"That brings us to the last of our professionals. Jacques Haignere. Thirty- eight years old, and a mercenary for almost half of those years. He has done cleaning work for organized crime, as well as odd jobs for those who chose to meet all of his demands. He has done political assassinations, some of which made the international press without his identity ever being suspected. An expert with pistols, he is also adept at savate and knife fighting. He has no family, and no one tracking his whereabouts." A portly man in his mid fifties, the speaker took a long sip of scotch before continuing. He wore a fancy leather coat, designer slacks, and a food stained silk shirt.

A large stack of folders sat in front of him, as did a wireless keyboard.

"It cost a pretty penny to bring him here, but I think he will prove worth it. You've had time to read his files. For the next few minutes, we will run personal footage he has supplied. After that, I would like a motion to accept him into our next event. We will then vote."

For the next ten minutes, the assembled men watched the film, hearing the mercenary describe his past operations and define his weapons preferences and combat approaches. At the finish, the men in the room made a motion, seconded it, and unanimously voted to add the mercenary to the list of combatants.

"Now that we are finished with that, I propose that we review a number of special opportunities." A tall cadaverous man stood, his ruffled peach colored shirt ill-matched with his pressed green slacks.

"As we know from our earlier extravaganzas with pit bulls and fighting cocks, the wild element can throw an exciting touch of uncertainty and unpredictability into the mix. Some of our best animals started off as strays or amateur projects. I have gathered a number of candidates for your perusal, and will afford you the option of adding one or all to the roster."

The first five men discussed were escaped criminals, members of street gangs, and winners of less sophisticated illegal tournaments. All would come cheap, and each would make for an interesting contrast to the professionally trained soldiers and assassins. Four out of the five were judged to be promising. The fifth was considered to be deficient in martial abilities.

"That brings us to our last item, gentlemen. Every year we look for someone memorable, some person or persons who will liven up the betting and bring a touch of uniqueness. I direct your attention to the screen, if you would be so kind." A photograph of a teenage boy, sporting a high school uniform, filled the screen, a distinctive X-shaped scar adding a look of toughness to his otherwise unremarkable face.

"His name is Sousuke Sagara. He is a year 3 student at Jindai Highschool." The speaker's declaration was met by laughter, chuckling, a few razzes, and noisy expectoration.

"Ha ha ha ha. So much for the joke, Ichabod. Who's he really, your daughter's boyfriend? Want to get rid of him or something?" Most of the men in the room laughed. Many of the men pictured on the long distance monitors looked to be amused as well.

"Not your secret lover, I hope." Snickers and guffaws followed.

"It took a little while to identify him, but he came to our attention after reviewing film of an attempted bank robbery. It will be instructive to see how many of you will continue to scoff after we view that recording. As for daughters, I believe yours is enrolled at the Da Vinci International School in Antwerp, is she not?" That supposedly hidden fact silenced the loud- mouthed jokester.

"Let's go to the video tape" the tall man said with a crooked grin.

The film was not of the highest quality, as it was put together from the tapes of surveillance and security cameras. The picture looked as if it were viewed through a fishbowl, but the footage was sufficient to pique everyone's interest.

The young man, moving with confidence and an air of purpose, easily took out every criminal in the establishment. His weapons skills were impressive, and his decision making ability formidable.

There was no further laughter.

"Any family? Someone who will miss him?" That question came from a stocky balding man with a jeweled eye patch, a cigar stub tightly clenched in his teeth.

"None" the lanky man replied. "His parents are both long deceased in Afghanistan, or so the dossier at his high school says.. There are no living relatives. His money is in a trust fund under the family name, and he lives alone in a single person domicile. Our spy noted a small group of friends, none of them with significant backgrounds, with the one exception being a young lady whose family is in organized crime. She should not prove a risk or impediment in any way."

"How and where did he receive his training and weapons?" A mannish looking woman with a crew cut and a scar along her jaw line stood up to take a look at one of the folders pertaining to the boy in question. "Afghanistan? After his parents died?"

"That's our best guess" the tall man answered, flicking some ashes off of a cigarette.

"No doubt he ran with the mujahadeen, learning to fight or die. There is record of him in Japan for less than two years. From our spy, we have word that he is a military otaku, eating, sleeping, dreaming, and probably shitting military habits and attitudes." That crude description had one man sniffing and looking superior. He swallowed hard when the speaker glared at him.

"His personal account is sizeable, no doubt allowing him to afford black market prices without any difficulty. His ability to obtain weapons is another sign of his resourcefulness. After you finish reading the scant material in his folder, I recommend we vote to include him."

"He should come pretty cheap, should he not?" A long haired and square- jawed man in brushed velvet suit sat with one leg hanging over his chair arm. He spat tobacco at a stained garbage pail.

"Yes," the boy's advocate answered, smiling a toothy smile. "Very cheap indeed. I doubt that he will be easily bought. But, we know just the currency we need." Walking over to the portly man's keyboard, he pushed a single key.

A color school photo of an attractive young lady filled the upper left quarter, almost looking as if she were sneering at the action still taking place on the remainder of the view screen. She too wore a school uniform, starkly accentuating the blue color of her hair. "Young master Sagara spends a lot of time with this young woman, a Miss Kaname Chidori. She too lives alone, with her mother deceased, and her father and sister in the United States."

"She might provide a rather nice diversion during the extravaganza, might she not?" a red faced man in a tuxedo asked, stroking his belly with a jewel-encrusted hand. "Might prove an interesting prize for the winner of the preceding high stakes card games."

Many heads nodded in agreement.

"Let's vote, gentlemen."


Damn that Sousuke!" Kaname had stormed off in a huff and was still seething. "Curse his blasted otaku brain." Fortunately, she was alone. Some of the words she chose would not go over well in polite company.

If any of the other people walking the street had been close by, they would have been troubled by her red face, clenched fist, and stiff-legged walk. A black cat crossed her pat and wisely sped towards the nearest place of safety.

"Just when I thought he might have a single romantic bone in his body! Ohhhhhhhh. No doubt the doctors at Mithril discovered it on his last check-up and had it removed."

She had dressed especially nice today.

She had brought him a delicious lunch.

She had on his favorite perfume.

It was a special day.

They had chosen today to officially announce that they were dating. Not that many people were surprised.

That was not the point.

"Yes. The same damn trick again. Why today?!" She had been foolish. Her expectations were too high. When she saw the bracelet and the pin she was speechless---they were so beautiful, so well crafted.

Then, he opened his mouth.

"I hope you like these, Kaname. I had them made especially for you." That had put her on cloud nine.

"The bracelet has a powerful Black Technology tracer in it. The pin is a microphone. Twist one petal on the flower and it will be active." That had pulled the cloud right out from under her feet.

And, to make matters worse, she blew up in front of the whole class. Kyouko got it all on film.

"I don't know why I ever put my faith in him." She had stormed out of the school alone, as soon as she heard the buzzer. It suited her mood. She certainly was not going to wait for that Moronic Military Misfit. He had earned the right to clean all of the blackboard erasers in school by detonating the suspicious package he discovered outside the school.

Again. Why today?!

One of the year 2 students had seen the vice principal drop the brown paper-wrapped parcel. The school official had been too slow to retrieve it. He was mortified when pieces of his special imported girlie magazines had been scattered over the parking lot and student outdoor lunch area. Enough pages had been intact to let evetybody now what he had been carrying.

The superintendent had been visiting.

Kaname was too distracted to notice a pair of shadowy figures standing in the shadow of a large dumpster. She did not hear the soft footfalls following behind her. There was no chance to cry out or struggle when a chloroform-soaked sock was firmly held across her mouth and nose.


"I still have a lot to learn," Sousuke said to himself on the way home.

He had thought that Kaname would like the jewelry. Yes, she had blown up at him that last time he had given her practical items, but that had been before they started caring for each other. Of course, he also made the mistake of saying that he had asked for Captain Testarossa's advice in the design work.

The other matter was less troublesome. Despite his greater sensitivity and better grasp of common sense, Sousuke still fell back on old habits now and then.

"It could have been a bomb," he groused.

Mithril, and its beleaguered Financial Division, would see to the vice principal's discontent. Perhaps Kurz would offer him some replacement magazines. Or, they could send Melissa by to speak with him again.

If she brought the whip, it might speed things along.

It should not be a serious problem.

Kaname was a different story. The further their relationship went, the more angry she got at his perceived errors and inadequacies. It was confusing. She kept saying "You need to love me for who I am. Don't be expecting me to change to suit your whims."

Nonetheless, every chance she got, she kept trying to change him. For the one hundredth time, he wished that Mithril had a field manual on women.

Then again, if it had been written by either Captain Testarossa or Sgt. Major Mao....

His mind weighed down by a number of issues, Sousuke still managed to catch sight of a two very subtle scrape marks on the side of the road as he walked home. The marks reminded him of those made by a body being dragged.

For a brief moment, his heart felt as if it had stopped. "What if Kaname had been abducted?" was the instantaneous thought. He stood still a moment, calming himself down.

What was the likelihood of that happening on the one day she runs off on her own?

Kaname had his spare key. If she was not waiting for him at his apartment, he would need to give her a call as soon as possible. It was quite likely that she was timing him. She might even have him under surveillance. He must see to damage control before things got out of hand.

"Even more out of hand," he corrected himself.

She was not waiting for him at his room. Somebody else was. A street punk in ragged clothes, a skateboard under his arm, was lounging against his door. He carried a large office style envelope. His spiked hair was tinted by every day-glo color imaginable and he had doodled graffiti on both of the items that he held.

"Hey, boyo, this your crib?" His front teeth were chipped by the metal barbell piercing his tongue. His slurred speech had a different origin, given the smell of alcohol on his breath.

"If it is, bro, then I have sumthin' for ya."

Before answering, Sousuke walked carefully up and down the hallway in both directions. Seeing no one, he cautiously approached the unusual looking young man. "This is my apartment. My name is Sousuke Sagara. Who are you looking for? Why are you looking for someone?"

Souske pulled his Glock 17 out of the side pocket on his carry bag. He held it casually by his side, dropping his bag to the floor.

The young man's eyes widened at the sight of the gun. "Whoooooah, man. Be cool, friend. I'm just running an errand. My boss got a call. We got some money. You get the envelope. Then the deal's all square, right?" His hand shook as he held out his delivery.

Sousuke carefully sniffed the envelope, smelling no evidence of recognizable poison. He took a pair of gloves out of his bag, so as to keep from adding further finger prints.

Opening the envelope, he pulled out a paper and a Polaroid picture. The snap shot caught his attention first and earned the garish young man a hard cuff across the temple with the pistol.

"Where is she? Who has her? If you answer truthfully, and I can confirm your words, there is a good chance that I will let you live." The picture showed Kaname tied to a chair, a frightened look on her face. He bracelet and pin were still in place.

Sitting on the floor, the amateur courier cringed, pressing his back against the wall. His eyes were wide and his breathing rapid.

"Man, I don't know ANYTHING about what's in there. It's none of my business. Don't be telling me something I don't need to hear! I did what I was told to do. Now I just want to scram." He got to his feet, posture screaming that he was about to make a break for it.

Coldly and efficiently, Sousuke kicked the young man's feet out from under him, using a hand on his neck to drive his head into the floor. The impact was extremely painful, leaving a few polka dots of hair paint on the hard surface. "I will read the message. If I have reason to believe you are lying, things will go poorly for you." The look on his face left the frightened courier speechless.

Sousuke read the note.

He stood still momentarily, a prisoner of disbelief. One of his favorite short stories came to mind. 'The Most Dangerous Game,' by Richard Connell. A classic tale of good versus evil. Hunter becoming the hunted. It had been made into a movie with Fay Wray and Joel McCrea. A warm up of sorts for King Kong.

He let the boy run off.

Walking into his apartment, he headed for the communications console.


There was a knock on the door.

"Come in." Tessa checked the tea. Almost ready. Good. Two plates with cut fruit and small biscuits was on her desk courtesy of the kitchen staff.

"Madame Captain." Lt. Cmdr. Kalinin politely inclined his head before taking the available seat.

"You said you had urgent news regarding Sgt. Sagara and Miss Chidori, Mr. Kalinin?" Tessa wrinkled her nose at the mention of the young woman.

"I hope you are not here to inform me that they have eloped." She had meant it as a light-hearted joke, but her throat tightened up just the same. She still had great difficulty with their relationship.

"No, Captain. That would be a much simpler issue to deal with. This is a rather unique situation, something I would have thought exclusive to pulp novels or bad television." He gratefully accepted a cup of tea and a plate of food.

"And you are here to discuss whether or not Mithril has a role to play in cleaning up the mess?" Tessa had seen that look before, and those finger twitches.

"Very astute as always, Captain." The Lt. Cmdr. smiled after taking a sip of the tea. Exquisite.

"The crux of the matter has to deal with some form of illegal betting, I would wager." He blinked, twice, realizing his choice of wording.

"Imagine the ancient Roman gladiatorial games. Substitute in mercenaries, killers, street thugs, and other violent men and women. It would appear that Sgt. Sagara has caught someone's attention. His participation has been requested in no uncertain terms."

"What?" Tessa nearly choked on her tea. She frowned. It was uncouth to show that kind of emotional reaction.

"I take it you refused him permission, if he was foolish enough to ask for it. Mithril does NOT make it a point to encourage barbarism." That was not entirely true in some instances. "I am certain we will remain quite capable of providing the sergeant with all of the violent opponents he will ever require."

"It is more complicated than that, Madame Captain. Sgt. Sagara's voluntary participation was no doubt judged to be a low probability. Unknown persons took it upon themselves to improve the odds considerably. They kidnapped Miss Chidori and are holding her hostage, her safe return linked to the sergeant's participation in their little game." The Lt. Commander's eye lid twitched with a nervous tic.

Tessa furrowed her brow. "That's barbaric! Those bastards!" She blushed at her choice of words. "That certainly puts us squarely on the horns of a dilemma." She stirred her tea, mind awhirl with countless issues that revolved around the news. "I would like to hear your analysis, Mr. Kalinin."

"Sgt. Sagara can be ordered to avoid the confrontation. Miss Chidori is wearing a tracker and microphone that the sergeant provided her with, disguised as jewelry." He noticed a quick frown on his commanding officer's face.

"We could go in ourselves, with a special strike team. There is a good chance that we could extricate the hostage. It might, however, prove useful to have a man on the inside. It would also prove wise to wait until a majority of the armed contestants were eliminated, if possible. That, of course would put Sgt. Sagara at risk."

"Do you think the sergeant would follow your order if you told him to sit on the sidelines?" Tessa already knew the answer, but the point needed to be verbalized.

"No, I do not." Kalinin nodded his head, a slight smile on his lips.

"If it were my choice, I'd rather have at least a modicum of control over his planning and actions. The more important question is whether or not Mithril should become involved. I doubt a well orchestrated attack would shine even the slightest bit of light on our existence." He coughed then cleared his throat. He took a sip of tea.

"More to the point, however, is whether or not we should set precedent. Should we go out of our way to protect the Whispered, when their captors know nothing of their special abilities? Should we put the lives of any number of operatives at stake, in order to further the goals of one young sergeant?"

"Pros and cons, if you please." Tessa's own mind was speeding along like a bullet train on a new stretch of track.

"The dangers I am most concerned with have to do with our sponsors, Captain. As they contribute a considerable sum of money and equipment...... not to mention intelligence information and political clout...... they feel a right to judge our actions and intentions. Our crusade to protect the Whispered is tolerated by some, but is not sufficiently in their interest to risk unwanted discoveries."

"I agree, Mr. Kalinin. We will not be able to paint this as an anti-terrorist action. While any ethical and moral man should cheer at the elimination of a dirty practice such as the one you suggest, the action would benefit only a single nation, and one which has not taken the requisite steps to rectify the situation itself." Tessa's face hardened, as she realized that there was no good justification for the organization to become involved.

Just before she put that thought into words, an idea struck her. Mr. Kalinin did not miss the sudden change in expression. "Would it be possible, Mr. Kalinin, for some of our most sought after terrorists and mercenaries to be invited to such a contest?"

Stroking his beard, Lt. Cmdr. Kalinin nodded. "An impressive line of reasoning, Captain. The Intelligence Division informs me that they had gotten wind of contests of this sort before. Some of the names rumored to have been involved were rather interesting, to say the least. I can see one significant flaw in your line of thought, however."

"The games are arranged so that only one man walks away? We could simply sit back and let them kill one another?" Tessa scowled, realizing the soundness of that argument.

"Yes. That would be my supposition, even though the note delivered to Sgt. Sagara did not explicitly make that point." He took a fax document out of a folder he had brought with him. "Here is a copy of the correspondence sent to Sgt. Sagara."

The document mentioned an armed contest..... men against men..... with a prize for the victor. It told Sousuke where to meet..... when to be there..... and what would happen if he did not comply. He was instructed to bring weapons of his choosing, with no specific details or limitations.

There was a rather blunt warning against involving additional persons.

Tessa wanted to crumple up the paper and throw it against the wall. She maintained her calm and dignity. "The lack of details could work to our advantage, could it not?" Tessa rested her chin on folded hands.

"A group of men brazen enough to come up with such an atrocity...and powerful enough to pull it off undetected...might just happen to have a connection to the drug trade or Black Market arms...right?" Tessa tapped one finger against her cheek.

"You are correct, Madame Captain. We can also offer other considerations. Sgt. Sagara is clearly a target, whether or not he agrees to participate. He remains the only person capable of piloting ARX-7 model Arm Slave. The Lambda Driver is growing in importance, not diminishing. We cannot afford to lose such a valuable resource." Kalinin steepled his hands together.

He began to consider which Divisions and what soldiers would be needed in this type of operation. Things would need to be set rolling as soon as possible. If the scope of the operation was expanded in an attempt to discover as many people as possible involved in the troublesome practice, things would get very complicated very quickly.

"It seems we have arrived at a common conclusion, Mr. Kalainin. Please orchestrate matters as soon as you are able. Send a response to Sgt. Sagara, giving him our blessings." Tessa clearly looked relieved. She flipped her ponytail around in her hand.

"At once, Captain." Before exiting the door, Lt. Cmdr. Kalanin turned and left Tessa with a final thought.

"Those bastards---as you called them---have no idea just what kind of spectacle they have won for themselves. I can't help but wonder if our operatives are being sent in to rescue Sgt. Sagara, or whether they will simply mop up after him.


His brightly colored Hawaiian shirt drawing the attention of the sedate and distinguished businessmen crowding the sidewalk at lunch time, Kurz put on his wildest pair of sunglasses as he continued his brisk walk towards the safe house.

His bowing and flirting stirred up the pretty college girls and conservative secretaries.

His cheerful exclamations of "Oh yeh!" and "Hey, babe!" were exceeded only by his repeated cry of "C'mon Sis, you can move your cute little ass faster than that. I know you want this beer pretty bad."

Melissa growled.

It was getting harder by the moment to maintain her composure.

The joke had been lame to start with. It was way past annoying now. Kurz held a beer in his hand, having said it was like the carrot held in front of a donkey---or ass, of course.

"Kurz, I think I will teach you the difference between a donkey and a mule when we get to the apartment. I will be doing the planet a REALLY big favor."

"Oh, yeh. Kurz Weber never shies away from some horsing around, babe. You can teach me all you want, as long as the ride is swe-e-e-e-e-eeet." He bowed, waved his arms flamboyantly, and headed towards a pharmacy. "I'll get the essential items in there. Do you prefer ribbed or smooth?"

"Doesn't matter, dead man. They can ship your remains home in either type. I think my point went over your empty little head. No surprise there." Melissa, her black halter top stretched to its limit and her cut-off shorts riding a little too high, laughed as she drew her concealed combat knife.

"Mules are born to a female horse and a male jackass. No matter how they end up looking, they are always sterile." She tossed the knife, caught it, and made a slashing motion a little below waist level.

"They're still good at carrying stuff, though. You're doing a real good job of carrying that beer, by the way...."

Kurz gulped. Without looking or slowing down, he tossed the beer over his head, smiling when he heard Melissa catch it. "Don't mention it babe. I owe you one, after getting to watch you in that outfit. Be still my beating heart."

"Keep it up Weber, and your heart will be the only thing you'll have left to beat. They'll probably give me a f-cking medal!" Melissa's laugh startled a group of elderly women holding ice cream bars.

Kurz' rejoinder was cut short by the sound of a cell phone ringing. Melissa took the phone out of her purse, looked at the number displayed, and walked over to a sheltered alcove. Kurz stood in front of her, his eyes carefully scanning the street and buildings as he waited.

"Time to saddle up," Melissa said when she finished receiving their instructions. "Kaname's in the Kabukicho district of Shinjuku. I have the coordinates. We need to meet a couple of copters and grab our M9s. Gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight."

"Oh, baby. The red light district. A pretty lady on every corner. Gambling, drinking, blue movies, and fine food. What more could a man ask for? Neon lights.......... Karaoke.......... and a hot Sgt. Major.......... I must have died and gone to heaven!" Kurz was rubbing his hands together with glee.

"Dream on, sergeant. We have work to do. Flag down a cab. It'll be quicker than calling in our driver."

"OK. Show a little more leg, babe. That'll get us a taxi real fast. Oh yeh!" Kurz laugh was interrupted by a stiff foot to his stomach.

"Enough leg for you, Kurzie boy?" Melissa smiled triumphantly.



Alone in his apartment, Sousuke wrestled with guilt.

Ultimately, he was the reason that Kaname was in grave danger now. That truth sat poorly with him. The kidnapping in Khanka had been prompted by her being a Whispered. Many of their smaller adventures had taken place as a result of serendipity and simple misfortune.

In some manner, Sousuke Sagara had proven himself to be a worthy recruit for the gladiatorial games. He was Rainsford, the big game hunter, an ultimate quarry for the crazed General Zaroff to hunt.

But, there would be no Ship Trap Island and no Caribbean jungle. The organizers, the people with the passion for the hunt and the kill? There is low probability that they would be at physical risk themselves. They lived for danger maybe, but for the danger of others. That very thought angered Sousuke, but it also gave him hope.

Safe in their gilded cages, might such men grow lax and overconfident? It was likely that they did not know of Mithril's existence, or of his connection to the secret mercenary organization. Perhaps they might meet Zaroff's fate when all was said and done.

Kaname's safety weighed heavy on the young soldier's heart.

The note said she would be released if Sousuke participated in their game, but he knew what happened all too often when captives caught a glimpse of their captors faces or surroundings.

She had the bracelet.

And, if she was able to activate it, the microphone may play a role.

Kurz, Melissa, and a contingent of ground forces were assigned to her rescue. He had no choice but to place his faith squarely on their shoulders.

The invitation had instructed him to bring the weapons of his choice. There were no limitations made on the number of weapons or the type of weapons. As such, he had decided on the strategy of overkill. He would bring as much as he could carry. The selection could be weeded out bit by bit, or in one large purge, depending on future restrictions and the nature of the combat itself.

What to bring?

The note had instructed him to meet his contacts at a mahjong parlor in the Kabukicho quarter. The Intel folks at Mithril had gone over satellite photos of the area with a fine-toothed comb. It looked as if that particular shop sat next to a series of old warehouse buildings and an old abandoned fireworks factory. The gamesters may well have turned those buildings into fighting arenas.

If the goal was to provide a good show, and to test the skills of one man against another, there would need to be adequate visibility for the watchers, and sufficient cover and obstacles for the contestants. Cameras could suffice for the one, unless the bettors wanted a more visceral thrill.

Sousuke gave thought to Rainsford and his run from Zaroff.

The big game hunter had been the mouse to the Russian general's cat. Zaroff had given his prey a number of reprieves, so that the game could go on longer. Sousuke would not likely receive such a boon. For certain, he would not treat this as a game.

He well knew the meaning of kill or be killed.

The traps that Rainsford had made..... the Malay man-catcher..... the Burmese spiked tiger pit.....the Ugandan knife whip..... had not stopped Zaroff. Nonetheless, they had hurt him on one occasion; had claimed the life of his most dangerous liegeman; and had reduced the number of hounds trailing him.

Yes. There would be room in his weapons bag for some C4 and a number of anti-personnel mines.

What else?

Grenades of various types. Lightweight but sophisticated night vision and infra-red gear. A collapsible blowgun and darts tipped with cone shell venom.

For what seemed an eternity, the young man held his combat knife, rolling it in his hand, examining its every edge. It was a physical anchor, holding his mind in place as it rode some large swells of emotion and self- examination.

This battle was for Kaname.

It was his fault.

He would likely have to access levels of his less civilized nature again, though without medications. This knife was a symbol of that.

Sousuke had to decide whether or not he would fight dirty.

He would.

Although it would make him sick to his very core, he would carry quick-acting poison to add to the blade. His life and honor meant nothing compared to Kaname.

She was everything to him.

If he could survive as Rainsford did..... In his case, leaping from a cliff into the roaring sea..... he might gain the opportunity that fictional character had. Instead of making a swim for freedom, Rainsfords had snuck back into Zaroff's estate, confronted him, and enjoyed a comfortable rest in the dead man's bed.

Kaname was in danger.

He badly wanted the perpetrators to pay.

For a moment, his features brightened. The incongruity was striking. He would be an animal. A civilized animal. He would personally do whatever was necessary to remove each and every threat. He could not afford to simply place all of his faith in Mithril.

Well, a civilized animal had a need for something more than tooth and claws.

He weighed the benefits of each of his pistols, rifles, and submachine guns, finally arriving at the final mix. When everything was securely packed away, he would head downstairs to a waiting van. He would be driven to the fringes of the red light district. The last part of the journey would be made on foot.

After taking a long look at his most recent photograph of his girl friend, Sousuke turned out the lights and headed on his way.