The contents of this chapter are completely new material even to Andrew Glasco, but nevertheless, I want to give him credit for all the support that he has continuously provided; I would also like to dedicate this chapter to ariescelestial for venturing into the Bloody Roar fandom.

Chapter 42

A Temporary Diversion

A few nights after the intimate consummation between the dark-haired ninja and his captive, the aforementioned young man was standing outside a building and waiting for the arrival of one of his fellow group members, steadily growing impatient as he silently cursed the tardiness that could possibly affect his current short-term mission. His master had recently assigned him to it, along with another compatriot from the Zoanthrope Liberation Front, and their objective was to obtain the schedule of one of the eight Director-Generals of Japan's Ministry of Defense cabinet, specifically to find out when he would be visiting Osaka, so that the information could be passed along. The diplomat in question, Katsui Tanikawa, was rumored to be traveling to that city sometime soon to attend a conference and give a speech to address the complicated conflict that presently worried the public, and surely he would attempt to introduce legislature to place restrictions on zoanthropes in the guise of protecting humans from the so-called 'abominable monsters.' After acquiring the necessary details of his agenda, the ZLF intended to collaborate with another organization in Osaka, planning to send an ally into the meeting to monitor the topics of discussion, and if necessary, to disrupt and dispatch the gathering; rumors of their interference would intentionally reach the Resistance beforehand to draw some of them over to the distant location.

While Kenji remained idly propped against a sturdy brick wall behind him, his mind wandered over to the feline zoanthrope, presumably asleep back in the cottage at the current hour, and the events that passed during the last couple of days; when he was actually around, he noticed she had been very docile in his presence. He mentally noted her changed behavior, as well as the sickly paleness of her features, the haunted shadows in her dark eyes, and he deduced that she was sick, not realizing the real reason behind her quiescence, and so the young man recently brought fresh fruit to the secluded location in the woods with the intention of wanting to somehow help aid her body back to health. A couple of weeks prior to that, Uriko had complained about the bland repetitiveness of the canned soup that lined a long row within the kitchen cabinets, and the dark-haired ninja wondered if perhaps that attributed to a lack of nutrition for her body, despite the fact that he very rarely fell sick himself, which meant she was more susceptible. His captive continued to sleep during the day, seemingly no longer having the desire to venture outside, and her eating habits changed as well, becoming an erratic routine that he could not keep avid track of, and she possibly lost her voice from a sore throat, since the girl scarcely spoke even when prompted; she was certainly different from before.

Inwardly, he wondered if a more impacting issue had heavily impacted and affected his young captive, changing her into a shadow of her former self, wispy and unusually quiet, languidly lingering in the background while barely uttering a single word, but then again… since when did he care whether or not she was moping around? He had warned her to leave that dark and stormy night when their relationship took a drastic turn, sensing that the pressure steadily mounting from deep within was rising and threatening to overwhelm him, but Uriko did not heed his words, instead staying behind to provoke the ninja further, and in doing so, she received her punishment for it. Such a foolishly impulsive girl, whom on several occasions he had witnessed solely allowing her emotions to dictate the majority of her actions instead of using reason and logic; she would get further in the chaotic and dangerous realm of reality if only she exercised just a bit of precaution before she charged into a situation without a second thought. All too easily she could delve into a situation over her capability to handle, but she truly needed to learn how to accept the consequences of her actions, as Kenji sensed that their recent intimate encounter was a sensitive topic for her, since she had not made a single reference to the subject from the point of inception and afterward.

Realizing how long his thoughts were lingering on her, the esteemed assassin jerked his chin toward the direction of the main road, darkened by the absence of light in the dim area, and he redirected his attention to waiting for his erstwhile companion to show, knowing that he had to concentrate on the situation to better achieve success.

Quickly glancing down at the pager latched to one of his belt straps, Kenji checked the time and noised his impatience, keeping his arms stiffly crossed over his chest as he felt tempted to carry out the mission on his own, but resisted the urge, since his compatriot had the code to disable the security system in the ambassador's well-protected home. Truthfully, the young ninja preferred to complete assignments solo rather than be shackled by the liability of another person, even if it happened to be another ZLF member, but his master had strongly advised against the suggestion, commanding a minimum of at least two people assigned to each mission while stressing the importance of back-up. Although the top assassin was renowned for his fighting skills and battle prowess, he himself had to grudgingly agree with the shrewd scientist on his reasoning, and yet he did consider asking his master for another partner in the present scenario, especially considering the unreliability of this particular associate. The diminutive team for the present assignment consisted of the astute mole zoanthrope and the second highest-ranked associate in their organization; due to their respective areas of expertise, they made a powerful duo when allied together, but they disliked working with each other and barely tolerated having to cooperate on occasion, being rivals that vied for the approval of their superior officers.

Finally, the sound of a loud rumbling sequence jarred him out of his thoughts and he swiftly jerked his head toward the direction of the noise, catching sight of a motorcycle approaching him from some distance away, and upon recognizing the rider, his expression twisted in distaste as he straightened into a stiff, rigid stance. The impending bystander had joined the Zoanthrope Liberation Front approximately a year ago, and he rose rather quickly in position, being a talented practitioner of the Judo martial arts, and despite his young age at nineteen, he seemed well-versed in battle tactics, but Kenji found his disrespectful and elusive attitude to be very questionable. He was two years older than the ninja but one rank lower, a fact that seemed to irk the elder fighter more than anything else, and apparently he could not stay serious for a very long period of time, since he frequently liked to crack jokes at his fellow team members, but they often laughed along with him, and they even socialized together during their free time. His laid-back rival stood a couple of inches taller at full height, but he was usually slouched over in a lazy, careless posture, and the mole zoanthrope thought his appearance looked quite odd with his spiky red hair – obviously dyed – and loose-fitting, raggedy casual clothing that belied his inner strength, while a smug grin always hid his silent intentions.

"Hey, what's up? No need to fear, Sahichi is here," came the calm, cocky announcement without an apology or even an explanation for the tardiness, and he seemed unfazed by the resentful glare that was shot at him, indicated by the wide, confident smirk on his face as he casually slowed down to a stop.

"…You are late," the cobalt-haired young man remarked coolly as Sahichi Risouka propped the motorcycle against the wall before beginning to make his way over, and then he averted his gaze over to the residence of interest, large and looming overhead in the bleak darkness while the sky above signaled the passing time; a few minutes later, Kenji advised with some forced civility, "Perhaps you should get a watch, as it may help you keep better track of time, and then you can actually be punctual arriving to an assignment… for once."

"Yeah, I'm doing great, 'Ryu, thanks for asking. Anyway, you know the saying: slow and steady wins the race," his companion responded in a calm tone, dismissing the underlying lecture with a careless flick of his wrist, and then he shoved his hands into his pockets, casting a nonchalant glance at the house that they were to infiltrate to locate and obtain the requested information from their master, his expression seeming almost bored at the concept of carrying out the current mission. "So, you ready to go or what?"

Annoyed at the blatant brush-off but knowing full well that he had to work with the impertinent clod for the sake of his assignment, Kenji inhaled a long breath and after slowly releasing it, he muttered evenly, "I have been ready for quite some time. Now, if you are finished fussing with yourself, then I suggest we begin our mission. I presume that you have the code to disable the security system, as Master Busuzima had instructed you to memorize?"

"'Course, man," Sahichi remarked with a mild shrug, rolling his eyes at the thinly-veiled implication, and he trailed after the younger assassin as the duo proceeded toward the diplomat's large ostentatious house through the unlit pathways, lifting his head to view a window on the side of the second level, the room that presumably held the necessary information. "C'mon, let's just get this gig done already. I've got, uh, other plans tonight after this…"

The focused ninja paid little attention to the crudely suggestive words, having already heard far too many fruitless tales of his notorious womanizing along the grapevine from his fellow ZLF members, but he really could care less, since he had absolutely no interest in the games that the dating crowd seemed to enjoy playing with each other. He had seen Sahichi outside of the headquarters on several occasions, during his idle resting period, always accompanied by a different girl at his side while his face was smug with triumph, as if he knew full well how the night would end; there were quite a few stories about his habits of hard partying, and how he usually stumbled back into his room sometime during the wee hours of the morning. Kenji was aware of the older fighter's somewhat commendable skills in combat after the amount of battles they both participated in, but considered him to be nothing more than mediocre overall, since his conceited behavior negated what few decent traits he had, and yet, their Master Busuzima seemed to hold the Judo practitioner with rather high regard. Despite the occasional pang of mild agitation, the mole zoanthrope felt rather confident that he would remain in his position for quite a long time, as he had been at the very top unconditionally since the beginning of the Zoanthrope Liberation Front, and so any dissent Sahichi expressed toward him was insignificant and quickly discarded.

His light amber eyes keenly scouring the surroundings, the cobalt-haired assassin gradually approached the house with intense vigilance and he kept watch for any bystanders that might wander too close to the vicinity, while his compatriot snuck around the site, heading toward where the alarm box was located to input the code. A few minutes later, the front door creaked open and he swiftly slipped inside to begin the search at once, unimpressed with the enormous size of the place as he briefly expressed disapproval toward the vast number of rooms to be investigated, which was a bit odd, considering the zoanthrope-detesting human diplomat did not have any immediate family and lived alone. Using briskly whispered commands, Kenji directed the other man to scour the second floor of the residence, and he himself remained on the first level, but a short while later, Sahichi bound back down the stairs and made a shadowy gesture that indicated he had located an area of interest, in which the ninja promptly moved to follow after. The two entered a study where many files were being kept in a short row of cabinets, and they opened each drawer to read the labels under the dim glow of a held flashlight, carefully checking each title before moving onto the next one, and finally, they retrieved a folder that held his personal agenda, with his schedule for several weeks in advance.

The upper-class diplomat possessed quite a few devices of conveniences in his home, and the infiltrators were quick to find a photocopy machine in an adjacent room, to which Sahichi made a quiet remark, wondering what other trinkets could be lying around, but the ninja denied the request, ordering him to do only the necessary tasks instead of wasting efforts on other inane activities. He ignored the blatant look of disappointment on the elder ZLF member's expression while the folders were returned to their original place, and then he carefully scanned his surroundings as the pair swiftly proceeded down to the first level and left the residence through the rear exit – the security alarm had been re-activated to avoid later suspicion. Some time afterward, the temporary partners entered the shadowy areas of the surrounding vicinity to make their way back to the meeting point, each holding a few pages of information in hand, but upon reaching the site of the initial location, Kenji halted his step and lifted his head to acknowledge the dimness of the late night sky. He glanced down to confirm the current hour and decided to return to the cottage in the forest before his captive had the chance to awaken in his absence; with her behavior as of late, there was no certain way to tell if her sleeping patterns might have changed, or she could possibly wander around outside in a delirious state from her presumed illness.

Cementing his choice in mind, he turned toward Sahichi without wasting another second and handed him the papers while he instructed briskly, his calm tone leaving no room for disagreement, "Return to the headquarters immediately and report to Master Busuzima. Inform him of Representative Tanikawa's schedule, and be sure to turn over the early drafts of the speech notes that we obtained as well."

"…O-kay, I guess I'll be going right now to give ol' Busu the agenda and all the info we found," the Judo learner shrugged casually, and after tucking the folded pages into his pocket, he strolled toward his motorcycle that was previously propped against the side of the building, but then he paused momentarily to call back over his shoulder, "Hey, you need a ride back to headquarters?"

A ghost of a cool smirk played about his lips as Kenji held back a biting remark, suspecting that his rival intended to head into town first and get mixed up with the usual shady crowd before actually making his way back to the ZLF headquarters, but he indicated none of his thoughts and merely responded in an offhand manner, "No, you will head there alone. My presence is required elsewhere."

Sahichi nodded slightly, and after settling down upon the seat of his bike, he suddenly sent the ninja a curious look, and then boldly commented, "You know, I haven't seen you around for a while. Where you been hiding these days? Did you dig a hole underground somewhere to sleep outside instead of using your own room at HQ?"

"That would be none of your business," he muttered lowly with a slight hiss of aggravation as his eyes narrowed to express his growing anger at the idiotic halfwit who actually seemed to enjoy testing his superior officer's patience whenever the opportunity was present. "And I would strongly advise you to watch your tongue, subordinate, for you know that if you should overstep your boundaries, I will have no qualms with issuing you the proper punishment for showing such blatant disrespect. I am in no mood for your pointless prattle."

Apparently unafraid of the malicious threat, the older teenager snickered a bit and slipped on his helmet before inserting the key into the ignition and starting up the engine of his vehicle, casually replying over the loud volume of the rumbling noise, "Yeah, I know you're not exactly the funning type. It's hard to believe you're actually younger than me when you never go out and do anything for just the hell of it, or even take some time off to enjoy yourself. You know, your bad mood reminds me of the time I had an issue with that annoying clingy girl who damn near drove me crazy… but then, that would mean you've got a lady under your wing, and you said many times before that you wouldn't even think of wasting any time on things like dating, isn't that right?"

How quickly I tire of this rambling fool… "Get away from here this instant before I shut your mouth for you." Kenji deadpanned with an utmost serious expression on his face, no longer feeling even a sliver of tolerance for the rambling nitwit that had unwisely wasted his chance and was dangerously close to receiving a fist flying rapidly toward his face; he apparently just did not know when to stop even after being warned.

His smile fading away, Sahichi quickly put up both of his hands in a wordless signal of surrender and he appeared somber as he persuaded a bit shrilly, "Sheez, take it easy, will you? Relax before you get a heart attack or something; I'm taking off right now, so there's no need for you to blow a gasket. Man, I didn't think you were that damn sensitive…"

"Leave. Now." He demanded sharply one last time, and then disdainfully watched his rival take off down the street, driving toward the opposite direction of the route that would have led back to the ZLF headquarters; a low growl grumbled deep in the throat of the remaining young man, but he merely turned around and made a few gestures with his fingers, disappearing into a puff of smoke.

As Kenji reemerged at the entrance of the forest, he started on the path that would return him to the well-concealed cottage, his mood still foul from the recent encounter with his aggravating competitor, and once again, he silently wondered why his master had partnered them together on the mission when there were plenty of other cooperative members. Although the young ninja had not formed any friendships with his fellow comrades, he knew which ones were hard-working, more seriously dedicated to their group's cause, while he disapproved of the worthless pawns who served mindlessly without a true idea of what the Zoanthrope Liberation Front even stood for. Unbidden, his rival returned to mind as he thought about the hierarchy of the organization, and he could almost laugh out loud when he remembered hearing that the Judo practitioner was disgruntled with his current position and wanted to obtain the top rank; he would probably only use it for his own selfish purposes, such as wooing women to his bed. In some ways, Sahichi actually reminded him of the feline zoanthrope, and that comparison was not a pleasant topic to dwell upon at all, but both were disrespectful to superior persons, and they similarly shared a too-casual attitude toward issues of utmost importance, although at least Uriko could be somewhat more easily forgiven due to her naïve and gullible nature.

He frowned slightly at the thought of the bubbly, trusting girl, and then he suddenly wondered about her ambiguous current condition as he was confidently weaving through the bleak, shadowy environment; if only his captive had obeyed him when he told her to leave… then perhaps he would stop feeling uneasy about her recent change in behavior.

-----

Whenever her tremulous rest was not being visited by a horrible nightmare that instilled distress into her mentality throughout the night, Uriko would instead dream of home, her mind reacting from anxiety and stretching out to embrace a much more pleasant scenario that, for a short time, granted her just enough hope to stay optimistic.

Three nights after the dreadfully impacting incident in which she suffered the loss of her innocence, the cat zoanthrope strained herself with the effort of trying to avoid yet another reminder of the horrid event, and finally, to her great relief, she found her subconscious self lying in bed at one instance, back within the safety of her room and her home. She lowered the covers and immediately met the dark environment with some anxiety, feeling suddenly afraid of the bleak shadows that curled into wicked claws, lingering closely by her vicinity as if they were waiting for the perfect opportunity to snatch her lithe form right up and render her helpless in a menacing, harmful situation. Without hesitation, her mouth opened and the frightened brunette shrilly called out for her sister, inwardly praying that her words would pierce through the black murkiness, her voice slightly tingling in desperation of desiring comfort and assurance, much like a small child that had just awaken from a scary nightmare and needed to be soothed before being able to return to sleep. Mere minutes passed before the door to her room was pushed open, and her older sibling soon entered, her gentle expression full of sympathy and concern as she quickly stepped over to Uriko, and with a kind, understanding smile on her face, the nurse bent down and enveloped the younger Nonomura in a firm, warm hug.

"Sis… Alice… you're here…" the youth breathed out aloud in quiet delight and relieved wonder, initially alarmed with the discovery that she was back in the safe sanctuary of her own home, but then she blanched and gulped nervously at the realization that she might actually have to reveal what happened to her and turn the ruthless nightmare into an incident of true reality.

Alice pulled back and gingerly sat upon the mattress with a familiar sight of compassion in her ruby red eyes; although the embrace was released, she kept her arm around the distraught half-beast and squeezed her shoulder tenderly in an effort to ease her affliction before even inquiring about the situation or the cause. "Oh, of course I'm here, little sister. I heard you crying out, and I was worried… Tell me, is something wrong? You look scared."

The violation still shamed her to the core, and her mouth seemed unwilling to elicit the words that would bring her apprehension back to life, but suddenly, she was unable to hold all the tension and stress inside, nor keep her tight and wound-up feelings bottled down any longer, and so the girl finally confessed in a soft and wispy tone, "S-someone did a really bad thing to me, Sis… H-he hurt me, and I don't know what to do… I feel so… so sad and tired all the time… And, I-I think if… if Mom knew what happened… sh-she'd be really angry with me! I remember… when she used to tell me… to be careful… and I promised th-that I wouldn't get in big trouble w-with anyone, but Sis, I… I dunno what to do… I-I was trying to help him, but he told me to go and I didn't listen, so maybe… maybe I was asking for it…"

"No, don't say that… I'm sure it wasn't your fault at all," the azure-haired woman was quick to assure her with a sympathetic gesture of comfort, swiftly wrapping her arms around her younger sibling to offer another tight hug, and the two remained in the position as she continued speaking, "Be strong, Uriko… it feels hard because you're hurting so much right now, but you'll overcome this. I know you can."

"I-I hate him!" Uriko cried aloud without inhibition, her dark brown eyes flashing in a visible display of animosity and anger, and even though her mind just barely recalled the terrible incident, her body still ached at the mere memory of how roughly he had handled her sensitive and delicate areas, and her voice shook slightly when she barely elaborated, "What… what he did to me was so horrible… I really wanna make him pay! I… I want him to feel the same pain that I did…"

The nurse looked troubled by the passionate exclamation of resentment and she spoke gently, trying to convey in a most understanding tone, "It's really terrible that something like this happened to you, but… unfortunately, what's done is done… and we can't change the past, no matter how much we want to. Now, you have to decide how you want to handle it. I'm sure you don't want to feel sad and be down forever, after all. Just remember one thing… don't give into hatred, or you'll let him have more power and control over you. Someday, you'll have to learn to forgive him."

She openly gaped at her sister, seeming rightfully aghast with the revelation, while in the back of her mind, she wondered if she should explain to Alice what had happened to her in a less vague manner, but the mere thought of doing so made the tense youth feel more distressed, and she pushed that idea aside for the time being, remarking shrilly instead, "Wh-what…? It's impossible… Holy Mackerel… How in the world can I do that? Th-that scoundrel, he doesn't deserve it…!"

The older sibling sighed a bit sadly, and then persisted with utmost patience, "You might not be able to do it for a while, but please, you need to try when you're ready, little sister… just give yourself some time, and you'll get better bit by bit. You can trust me on this. And don't worry, Aunt Mitsuko wouldn't be mad at you… she would feel upset with the person that hurt you."

I hope so… I don't know if I can really forgive Kenji for what he did, though. But then, she recalled that Alice herself had lost two very important people to her in a tragically short period of time, and if she was still able to have the strength to smile and be optimistic after that, then the young cat zoanthrope felt determined to be just as strong by overcoming her own traumatic event. When she was a child, she had been kidnapped and held captive in the clutches of the malevolent Tylon Corporation, and the girl felt hopeless during those dark days, but eventually, she escaped and returned home to her mother, and with a lot of effort, she even managed to resume a relatively normal life, despite all that happened to her. Deep down inside, Uriko wondered if perhaps her personal weakness and lack of sufficient fighting abilities had caused her to be a victim in her past problems; she hated being a liability and really wanted to help her friends and fellow allies, all the Resistance group members, but she knew that she had to get stronger first. No matter how much effort and time it would take her to muster up enough courage to confront the arrogant ninja, she fully intended to accomplish that difficult task, for herself, and also due to her desire to make her sister proud, and one day, if she was ever ready, she might be able to forgive Kenji…

After thinking about what she could do to work toward healing herself, the timid youth finally responded in a cautious, tentative tone, "O-okay… I really do want to get better, Sis. I don't like being sad; I wanna be happy again… A-and, I'll try to forgive him… or at least, maybe not hate him so much anymore. But only because you told me to…"

"Well… I am glad to hear that you'll try, but don't do it for me. You should be doing this for yourself, Uriko," the dark-haired nurse assured her with a soft smile, her kind facial features lighting up in a positive and hopeful manner. "You know, you can get better a little more easily without having something so heavy like hatred eating away at you inside. After all, it's such a powerful negative feeling, and you don't want it to keep weighing down on your happiness, right?"

Uriko shook her head slowly, although she did not yet fully understand the concept of issuing forgiveness to such cruel enemies, and she honestly still detested the leader of the Zoanthrope Liberation Front for murdering her mother, as well as her sister's beloved boyfriend, but nevertheless, she wanted to try to be merciful like Alice, and so she agreed with a mere sliver of reluctance, "N-no, I guess not… that makes sense… I'll try really hard, I promise. Oh, um, Sis? Th-thanks for coming in here and talking to me…"

"Anytime, little sister," Alice replied gently, maintaining her calm expression of unyielding support, and then she advised her younger sibling in a slightly chiding tone, "All right then, you should go back to sleep now and get some rest, okay? You'll feel better in the morning. You can go outside and enjoy the nice sunshine on a fresh new day."

Maybe… I'm not so sure about that. The taut brunette was quite reluctant to leave the comforting presence of her sister, but she knew that she had to be strong if she wanted to handle the delicate situation at hand in the best manner possible, so she nodded and closed her eyes as she lied down upon the mattress and gingerly drew the blanket over her body. She did not hear the footsteps of the azure-haired woman walking away, but Uriko knew that when she peeked out at her surroundings once again, her room and Alice would no longer be there, and only the light tan walls of the cottage could remain, accompanied by the presence of a still and quiet form resting near that shared the same bed with her. The girl fervently hoped that soon, she would be able to muster up enough happiness to go outside and enjoy the beautiful flowers and other appealing aspects of nature as she had before, and maybe then, she could find courage from somewhere within herself to stand solidly and look Kenji in the eyes without cowering or feeling afraid. Even if he threatened to hurt her, Uriko was determined to prove that he could not bully her any longer, and should he start to get physical in their next encounter, she would fend off his attacks with all of her might… although she had to train for a little while and get more skilled at her techniques before she could effectively defend herself.

When she awoke in the morning, the dream clung to her mind, along with the memory of her sister's comforting smile lingering behind her tightly-shut twin lids, and then she slowly creaked her eyes open to timidly glance over at the still form sleeping right next to her, but for the first time since the night of her attack, she did not feel fear-stricken by his presence.