Prologue

"Hai~"

A young teenage boy of sixteen sighed as he crouched down behind the low ledge of the rooftop of an old building. His black hair was almost invisible in the dark, and his dark brown eyes, hidden behind a pair of black spectacles, scanned across the area below.

"Man, where is he?" the youngster grumbled. As expected of people his age, he wasn't patient enough to wait the long night out. Cursing, he shoved his hand into the pockets of his black cotton jacket, shielding them from the cold. "If I had known, I would have brought along a book or something."

It wasn't that he was feeling cold. Dressed completely in black, from his black jacket covering his black T-shirt to his black Jeans, with black half-gloves and sneakers to match, he was nearly invisible to anyone who happened to glance in his direction. The night provided ample cover for his nocturnal pilgrimage, blanketing him in its comforting embrace and rendering him unseen.

"What would a yakuza leader be doing here, anyway?" the irate teenager grumbled under his breath, shaking his head in disbelief as he glanced down. He surveyed a narrow alleyway, which was blanketed in a blacker darkness, possible because it was well hidden from any attempts of the moonlight to reach it. Even during the day, the sun was unable to illuminate it.

But what annoyed him more was its occupant.

"There's nobody except a drug addict here," he muttered, studying a drug addict who lay wasted on the ground. He had chosen a couple of giant trash bags as his bed, and was squirming between two rubbish bins in order to keep himself warm. The youth watched as the drug addict injected himself with a syringe.

An expression of pure bliss washed over the wasted man's features as the drug flowed into his system. His grip on the syringe slackened and it dropped onto the black trash bag before rolling off. The young man caught a brief glimpse of a familiar label on the syringe and frowned.

Is that Trisken? The young man wondered, squinting at the syringe. Jeez, is that guy crazy? He's injecting himself with Trisken? That's the most expensive drug in the market right now! It's highly addictive; half of the drug addicts in the city are wasted and dead because of it alone.

He leaned back as he tried to recall the properties of the deadly drug. It gives a wonderful sensation for about an hour, with the consumers feeling a sense of joy, exhilaration and light-headedness akin to floating in a cloud. The users would feel as if they were in Heaven…however, after the hour, they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. Shivering, excruciating pain, uncontrolled sweating and migraines, followed by nausea and diarrhea…almost all the addicts go bankrupt in their desperation to buy the drug.

That looks like his last dose. Where is he going to get the money to get more?

The youngster shook his head vehemently as soon as he realized what he was thinking. "It isn't your problem, Fujimoto Hideto," he lectured himself tersely. "It isn't your problem."

Swallowing hard, he gazed over the ledge again. However, something caught his eye this time. Turning to his left, he spotted a huge assembly of people marching into the alleyway. His eyes widened as he recognized the plump figure leading the assembly.

Said figure stepped out into whatever thin light there was, which came from lights behind darkly tinted windows, unveiling his less than handsome features. Raising his hand, he signaled for the entire platoon of yakuza to stop behind him.

Halting abruptly, the yakuza stood rigidly in formation. Their features and clothing being concealed by the darkness, they could easily be mistaken for soldiers.

The fat man looked harmless enough, but Hideto knew that his plump appearance belied a formidable power. He might be wearing a cheap, brown suit, but he was actually one of the most powerful and richest yakuza leaders in the city. He had monopolized the city's drug trade, inflating their prices exorbitantly in the black market. He was practically the sole person responsible for the plight of drug addicts in the city.

Despite this, even the authorities couldn't touch him. How could they? So much as arrest one of his henchman, and they put their lives and even their families at risk.

Hideto had no scruples killing him. No, in fact, he would love nothing more to smash that bastard's head in, especially after what he did to suck every single cent out of every drug addict before leaving them to die from extreme withdrawal symptoms.

Which was why he jumped at the chance when Udono Reisuke offered him a contract for the yakuza head's head. It wasn't for the ridiculously enormous sum of money that the pharmaceutical corporate president promised as a reward. Nor was it because it was his job, his profession as an assassin either. While he wouldn't be so hypocritical to call himself an avenger of justice and the defender of the innocent, he at least held on to a certain code of honor.

After all, assassins only killed their targets, delivering a swift, painless death. While most of the times, they failed in the latter, at least they tried. It was against an assassin's code of honor to prolong a person's death; a shame, even.

However, the actual reason behind that code was practicality. Wasting too much time torturing their targets was inefficient and greatly increased the chances of their victims escaping, as well as diminishing theirs. Therefore, it was an unspoken rule to finish off their targets as swiftly as possible, to avoid certain backlash and retributions.

Therefore, as much as Hideto would like the yakuza boss to feel the same suffering he had dealt to others, he could not afford to. He knew he had to swoop in, kill the target and slip back out without anyone noticing. Then report to Udono.

Not that he was on friendly terms with Udono Reisuke either. He knew the only reason why Udono ordered the hit was because he would be able to seize control of the black market once Matou Sutarou was dead.

Hideto crept along the ledge silently, his hand reaching for one of the swords on his back. He had strapped two swords onto his back for easy access and minimum obstruction. He might not be able to perform an Iai, but to holster them on his waist would be a little cumbersome and might restrict his movements. Besides, he could always unstrap them if he wanted to.

The small contingent stopped in front of the drug addict, much to Hideto's surprise. What could Matou want with a drug addict? Maybe he was going to buy some more Trisken? But if that was the case, there was no need for the yakuza head to come all the way out here personally. He could have delegated that task to a pusher.

"So, what did you call me down here for?" Matou asked.

The drug addict stirred and rose. Forcing his body off the trash bags, he hurried forward. As his tall, thin and scrawny body emerged from the shadows, Hideto recoiled from horror at how emaciated he was. He was obviously dying from drug abuse, yet he refused to give up on obtaining even more Trisken.

The drug addict grinned toothlessly, the flesh on his skeletal face being pulled over their limits. What little hair he had left dangled messily over his oil scalp.

"My lord," the old man croaked excitedly, his gravel voice hissing from his ruined throat. "Thank you for coming…I guarantee you will not be disappointed."

"I better not be," Matou replied, leering at him. "For your sake."

The man nodded eagerly, his head bobbing up and down like a balloon at a funfair on display. "You won't be, trust me."

"So what do you have for me?" Matou repeated, annoyed. "Quit wasting my time and spit it out already, old man."

The drug addict sank a hand into the tattered rags he wore as clothes and produced a small bottle in his hand. It looked like a beaker no bigger than a normal bottle of mineral water. Yet what was inside was not liquid, but a stone.

No. Hideto squinted at it. It had the shape of a stone, but it gleamed like a gem. Catching the faint light on its surface, it sparkled brilliantly, contrasting with its dark surroundings.

"W…what is that?" Matou demanded, awe catching his voice. His eyes widened as he leaned forward, peering intently at the gemstone, as if it would answer him.

"I…I do not know, my lord," the man admitted, but Hideto could see the satisfaction on his face, the satisfaction of catching his lord's attention.

Matou spared a glance of distaste at him before returning his greedy gaze upon the gemstone. "You don't?"

"But I do know its value, my lord," the drug addict rambled on enthusiastically. "I found it by chance, and I knew it was something you would definitely be interested in. it's something that will fetch a high price…I used to be a broker at a pawnshop. I can tell that it's worth at least a few trillion yen!"

Hideto frowned. Surely the drug addict's brains were addled, or he was just exaggerating. Something that small could not possibly be worth a few trillion yen, no matter how rare or valuable it was.

Matou snorted, but chose not to say anything. "Then why are you offering it to me? Why not sell it to someone else?"

Hideto could probably guess why, but the addict humored him with his reply.

"My lord, do not be hasty in selling this precious treasure. It appears to have mystical properties…" the addict clasped the beaker tightly. "I have not confirmed this, but it may be able to enhance a mage's magical powers."

Now this caught Hideto's attention. If it really was able to enhance a mage's magical powers, then it certainly would be worth a few trillion yen.

Matou, too was drawn in by the addict's words. "Enhance a mage's strength? Are you sure? How do you know of this?"

The drug addict was happy to assuage the yakuza leader's curiosity. "When I touched it, I felt something…a communal with Nature. A strength I have never felt for years returned to me. Naturally, all this is wasted away by my…consumption of Trisken, but I assure you that when I first touched it, I definitely felt stronger."

"Really?" Matou looked unconvinced. Hideto understood why. A drug addict, who was especially prone to hallucinations and desperate for Trisken might just about try anything. He looked at the old man curiously. "And you're giving it to me instead of using it for yourself?

"It's useless to me, my lord," the man explained sadly. "My power has been wasted away by Trisken, any hope I have of recovering my magic skills are gone."

Hideto disagreed. If he could just survive cold turkey and work hard enough, he would be able to recover his magic skills. He was just using Trisken as an excuse to escape from reality, to escape from working hard. All he wanted to do was bask in Trisken for the rest of his life, all the way until he died.

"So…" Matou smiled. "Do you have any more of these gemstones?"

The drug addict shook his head. "No. Sorry, but this is all I found."

"A pity," Matou shook his head as well. "Then no one else will enjoy this gift."

"You alone are worthy of this gemstone, my lord," the man said flatteringly.

Hideto hardly agreed with him.

"You've done well, my friend," Matou praised him. "You will be handsomely rewarded for this."

The man grinned proudly. "Glad to serve you, my lord."

Matou arched an eyebrow at him. "I suppose you deserve something in return. What would you like to have?"

"I…I…" the drug addict swallowed, evidently perspiring. He rubbed his hands in anticipation and smiled crookedly. "Might I have enough supplies of Trisken to last me for the rest of my short life?"

Matou laughed good-naturedly. "That's all? Don't you want anything else?"

"It's more than enough, my lord."

Hideto rolled his eyes, now completely certain that his claim of the gemstone being worth a trillion yen and able to enhance a mage's power was nothing more than the ramblings of an insane man hooked on drugs.

Matou didn't seem to share his opinions. Instead, he leaned closer.

"Really?" he whispered genially. "Tell me, my good friend, does anyone knows about this little gemstone of yours?"

"No one else knows about this, my lord," the addict replied happily, like the fool he was. "When I first found it, I immediately contacted you. No one else. Not a single soul knows about this, I swear."

"Good. Very good." Matou drawled pleasantly as he took the beaker and stuck it into his pocket. "I'll see to it that you're handsomely rewarded." He clapped a comforting hand on the old man's shoulder. "It was good doing business with you."

He turned to walk away. The contingent of yakuza broke apart like the Red Sea before Moses, making way for their leader to pass. Once Matou reached the end of the contingent, he paused to issue and order.

"Kill him."

The obedient yakuza henchmen complied unquestioningly and immediately. Hideto watched in horror as the shocked drug addict's expression was obliterated by heavy gunfire. The body was riddled by bullets before it fell like a broken doll, the blood spraying forcefully from it.

Hideto clenched his fist in anger. The motherfucker had lied to the drug addict, who trusted him!

Glaring at Matou, Hideto followed along silently, preparing for a chance to swoop in and attack.

Meanwhile, Matou was turning away from his victim. Retrieving the beaker from his pocket, his crushed the beaker with his bare hand, allowing the stone to fall into his palm. Clutching it, he focused his energy into it.

Nothing.

Sighing, he brought it up close to his face and studied it. Other than looking pretty, it carried no other extraordinary features.

"As expected, the idiot lied to me," Matou muttered, exasperated. "Not that I would ever believe the word of a mad, wasted addict, but still, he really pissed me off. Trying to cheat a lifetime supply of Trisken out of me with an ordinary gemstone? You've got guts, my friend."

Glancing back at the broken bloody body of the drug addict, whose guts were oozing out of massive bullet holes blown through his body, he added cryptically, "Well, maybe no longer, I guess. I guess it was a good idea blowing them out of your body."

"Well, I guess you probably won't have guts either, after I'm done with you," Hideto commented dryly as he dropped right in front of Matou. His katana flashed.

Matou screamed as he clutched his bleeding hand. The gemstone flew out of his hands and into the air before turning round and arc and descending into Hideto's outstretched hand.

"I guess I'll be taking this, since you don't want it," Hideto remarked, casually stuffing the gemstone into his pocket.

"Y…you bastard!" Matou spat. "You cut off my little finger!"

"I was actually aiming to disembowel you," Hideto admitted. "But now that I think about it, isn't it really fitting for a yakuza like you to be missing his little finger? I mean, don't you guys cut off your little fingers all the time?"

"Kill him!" Matou roared, backing away. His yakuza henchmen quickly placed themselves between their leader and Hideto, readying their weapons.

Hideto rolled his eyes. "I happen to know other yakuza who are far more honorable than you."

Matou ignored his offhand remark. "What are you waiting for?" he yelled at his men. "Fire!"

Hideto shook his head as he drew his other wakizashi in his left hand. It might be several inches shorter than his katana, but the difference in length was insignificant. "Bring it on."

The yakuza opened fire once they ascertained their boss was out of their line of fire. Hideto moved forward, swinging his two blades quickly and gracefully, slashing away in what seemed like an ethereal dance of violence and beauty. Matou watched, shocked, as bullets scattered to the ground around Hideto like leaves, all sliced into half.

Approaching in a mad whirl, Hideto broke into the midst of the enemy, slicing any bullet that approached within a feet of him. The enemy, as disciplined as they were, refused to scatter, and were ruthlessly cut down by Hdieto's twin blades of death. Blood flew and sprayed across man and wall as Hideto slashed man after man, cutting their heads, weapons and limbs in an unstoppable whirlwind of destruction.

By the time he was done, there was nothing but carnage, blood and sliced bullets at his feet. Hideto paused for a while to catch his breath…

One of the two remaining bodyguards who were flanking Matou immediately opened fire.

Hideto glanced up and swung his sword upward, slicing the incoming bullet into two. Without missing a beat, he launched himself into the air and right in front of him, cutting him down. The final bodyguard fired several rounds at him as well, but Hideto dodged, the bullets scrapping past his cheek by mere millimeters, and struck out with his sword. The final bodyguard dropped, his torso neatly cleaved in half.

Matou backed away, but he was clearly impressed. "Not bad," he remarked, smiling. "I had those guys trained so rigorously in a military camp and heavily equipped, yet you were able to take them out so easily."

Hideto didn't hesitate, launching himself at Matou. Swinging down his sword, he struck…

Clang!

Surprised, Hideto staggered back as a thin, tall middle-aged man parried his strike with a dosu. A dosu, or a yakuza knife, was normally used by higher-ranking honorable yakuza.

"I'm afraid that you'll have to go past me if you wish to take on Matou-sama," the grim-looking bespectacled man declared.

"Thank you, Seirobi," Matou smiled thinly. "It appears that this young man is trying to kill me."

"I'll take care of him for you, Matou-sama," Seirobi responded without hesitation. Adopting a stance, he turned to face Hideto squarely, raising his dosu for a strike. "I hope you are prepared, young one."

"How is that someone as honorable as you is working for a bastard like Matou?" Hideto demanded, crossed.

"It is the yakuza tradition to serve their leaders with unquestioning loyalty," Seirobi replied, staring at the younger man firmly. "For years, we yakuza have followed a code of loyalty, and we do not question our leader's decision."

"It is too bad, then," Hideto murmured. "It is a pity to kill one such as you."

"You are the one who will meet his death here," Seirobi countered.

"Perhaps," Hideto conceded. "Let us find out, shall we?"

Seirobi wasted no time in charging forward, but Hideto was equal to his challenge. Parrying the former's dosu with his right katana, Hideto thrust his left wakizashi under Seirobi's guard. Noticing the danger, Seirobi twisted his body to one side, but was unable to avoid the attack. Hideto's blade nicked him, drawing a thin line of blood.

"You're really skilled," Seirobi mused, smiling, as he drew back. "It's been a long time since I have faced an opponent of your caliber. It appears that I have underestimated you, and for that I apologize. It seems that young people these days are quite talented, aren't they?"

"I beg to differ," Hideto countered, readying his blades for another go. "I have no talent at all, but I make it all up with hard work."

"Hard work?" Seirobi chuckled. "Interesting."

Hideto narrowed his eyes. "You'll be surprised to see what hard work can do."

"Show me, then," Seirobi challenged. "Show me how far you've come with your hard work." An eerie glow enveloped him as he adopted a new stance. Hideto watched, amazed, as the old man's muscles began bulging and enlarging, ripping apart his cheap suit in the process.

The dosu glowed ethereally with a yellowish aura. Seirobi rose to his full height. Packing over two meters of pure muscle, the middle-aged man cut an intimidating sight. What remained of his suit lay in tatters over his highly developed body, and whenever he flexed, the remnants of his pants would be stretched way beyond their breaking point. Even his shoes were not spared.

"What the hell…are you doing some kind of Hulk imitation?" Hideto demanded. "You're in the wrong comic if that's the case…"

"I'm coming," Seirobi interrupted Hideto's tirade with an ominous warning.

Hideto blinked for a moment before realizing something was amiss. "Wait…he disappeared?"

Something screamed from above him. Instinctively, Hideto jumped out of the way, barely escaping the screeching dosu in time.

Seirobi's dosu slammed into the ground with such force the concrete split into two, with the crack splintering and fissuring for meters. An explosion knocked Hideto off balance, sending him tumbling onto the ground.

"Not only has his strength increased, he's gotten a lot faster too!" Hideto realized. Scrambling to his feet, he barely managed to parry the next blow from Seirobi's dosu.

However, Seirobi had packed an unbelievable amount of strength behind that single swing. Despite Hideto managed to block it with both blades, the impact sent him flying off his feet and several meters in the air. He crashed into the brick wall behind him, smashing a huge dent in the concrete. Gravel and dust rained down on him as he grunted in pain and fell to his knees.

"W…what a monster!" Hideto realized as he swayed unsteadily to his feet. However, he wasn't given enough time to recover. Seirobi was already upon him before he could react.

"If that's all you've got, it's over," the middle-aged man declared.

He swung his dosu in a vicious arc, which Hideto scarcely managed to duck. However, the entire block of building behind him was cleaved into half. Hideto couldn't even pause to glance at the crumbling building as he forced himself to leap out of the way to avoid another of Seirobi's strike. The second strike struck the ground, sending another explosion across the alleyway, and Hideto felt himself getting knocked over from the concussion.

Seirobi, however, was not done with him. Not yet.

Jumping up, he crashed toward Hideto, using gravity to his advantage and he swung his dosu down. Hideto barely kept up with him, raising and crossing both his swords in defense. They parried the dosu, but the impact caused another explosion. Hideto groaned in pain as his body was forcibly sunk deeper into the fissured ground. His bones and nerves were screaming in agony, but he gritted his teeth and steeled himself to withstand the other blows.

"I'm impressed that you are able to survive my blows," Seirobi remarked as he stepped back. Hideto seized the opportunity to jump to his feet.

This guy may be strong, Hideto realized as he cast a glance at Matou. But I can't waste too much time and energy to fight him. I still have Matou to deal with later, so I have to end this battle as quickly as possible!

"I'm sorry, Seirobi-san," he said, shaking the dust off his body. "I apologize for underestimating you as well. I guess it's time for me to show my serious side."

"Forget it," Seirobi countered. "I wish to finish this as fast as possible, and I'm afraid I can't take any risks. You seem to be hiding some trump card under your sleeve, and I hope to finish you off before you can draw it."

He swung his dosu, blasting a huge wave of greenish energy that destroyed both the ground and surrounding walls. The entire place lit up as a massive explosion flooded the area.

"It is done, Matou-sama," Seirobi said, turning to face Matou. However, he staggered back when he saw the person standing behind him. "You! How…"

"Funnily, I share the same sentiments," Hideto remarked flippantly as he readied his swords. "I too, wish to finish this battle as fast as possible."

"Then allow me to attack," Seirobi acceded briefly before swinging his dosu. Hideto was forced to duck as the building behind him was cut into half.

"Like I said, it's time to show you my serious side," Hideto declared as he straightened himself up. Seirobi narrowed his eyes as he realized something was wrong. There was something different about Hideto. An azure aura seemed to be surrounding him.

All around Hideto, the temperature began plummeting rapidly. Seirobi, despite his thick layers of clothing, could feel the cold biting through the material and into his skin. Clenching his teeth, he began shivering from the cold.

"W…what did you just do?" he demanded. Then he reeled from shock at the sight of his surroundings.

The temperature had plummeted so low that the water vapor in the air was beginning to condense and freeze rapidly, hanging suspended in the air and settling as a heavy fog that blanketed the alleyway.

"Concealing yourself is futile," Seirobi warned. "My attacks can reach everywhere." He swung his dosu around, blasting another wave of energy that ripped through the fog. The air cleared for a bit before being draped in fog once again.

"Show yourself!" Seirobi yelled as he attacked again. This time, there was an edge to his seemingly calm voice. He looked around, but everywhere he glanced, there seemed to be a shadow darting away at the corner of his eye. "ARGH!" he screamed as he struck his dosu into the ground, sending a tremendous wave of green energy that burst out from around him, destroying everything in the vicinity and temporarily lifting the fog.

Panting, he seized the brief respite to look around but there was no sign of the young boy.

"I'm in your blind spot," Hideto said behind him.

"You!" Seirobi swore as he spun around, his deadly sword flashing toward his younger opponent. Hideto was forced to duck as a spiral of sharp green energy tore through the air above him. However, he stomped his right foot forward to stabilize himself before rushing toward Seirobi.

"Souten Hyougetsu (Azure Heaven Ice Moon)!" Hideto yelled as he swept past Seirobi in a counterattack. A huge block of ice shaped as the full moon encased the sword-wielding yakuza as dozens of crescent-shaped icicles burst around the circular glacial pillar. Seirobi's expression of disbelief was frozen on his face, literally, along with the rest of his body.

"It was an honor to be able to duel with you," Hideto bowed respectfully, with his back toward his frozen foe, even as the moon-shaped ice shattered, reducing the proud yakuza's body to nothing more than shards.

A snarling voice snapped him back to attention. "Must I do everything myself?" Matou growled in exasperation. Hideto caught him trying to get away as the fog began setting back over the alleyway.

"Those yakuza bodyguards, Seirobi and their loyalty are wasted on a leader like you," Hideto sneered at his fleeing back. "You're nothing but a disgrace to the honorable tradition of the yakuza."

"What do you know about the yakuza?" Matou roared furiously.

"Enough to know that you're a disgrace to them," Hideto replied as he approached the yakuza leader cautiously. He was all too aware of Matou's prowess. After all, Matou didn't get to where he was today by being a weak, unintelligent coward. He was definitely a powerful man, and someone not to be underestimated.

Matou turned around to grin at Hideto. Hideto froze, unnerved that the yakuza leader was staring straight at him.

"Sorry, kid," the middle-aged man chuckled. "I may not be able to see you, but I can…sense you."

Hideto was taken aback, but he didn't doubt his words. After all, the yakuza was staring straight at him. Matou raised a hand, which was glowing with brown energy, and slammed it into the ground.

Hideto blinked in surprise as huge aftershock of brown energy arced toward him from the ground, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. He instinctively jumped away to avoid a direct collision.

However, even as he avoided the brown energy, something hard and solid slammed into his side and threw him across the air.

"Uhn!" Hideto grunted in pain as he crashed into the ground heavily, sending up a shower of debris and sand as he landed. "What the hell?" he swore, dazed, as he struggled to get back to his feet. That was not an easy task as the wind was completely knocked out of him.

As Hideto forced himself to his feet, he began to notice that the earth around him was moving and crawling around. It was as if the ground beneath his feet had come to life.

Oh, jeez, Hideto realized as a heavy sense of dread descended upon him. I'm screwed.

He knew that Matou was strong; heck, he even came prepared to fight a titanic battle with the yakuza leader. However, he was at a complete disadvantage if the old man could control the earth. That would mean he had total control over the battleground. Literally.

"What do I do now?" Hideto wondered to himself.

"You know, I'm pretty impressed," Matou admitted as he drew closer. "You're much stronger than any of my bodyguards. And to be able to defeat Seirobi…you have skill, I'll give you that much." He paused, an enigmatic smile stretching over his pudgy face. "What do you say? I would like to offer you a job."

"A job?" Hideto mumbled, still dazed from the earlier blow.

"As one of my bodyguards. I'm sure you'll be able to do a much better job than any of them. And money's no issue, really. Name your price."

"Sorry, but I must humbly reject your offer," Hideto bowed in a manner he hoped to seem apologetic to Matou. "But I'm currently under contract."

"I can offer you much more," Matou countered. "Hell, I can even buy out your contract, no, even double the price of that worthless contract will be no issue. How about it? I'll pay you so much that you and your descendants will never have to work again for the rest of your lives."

Hideto studied the yakuza leader carefully. "It's not about the money," he admitted. "No one will hire an assassin who immediately switches loyalty to the highest bidder. I have a reputation as well as my integrity to keep intact. And to be honest, I have my own reasons for accepting this contract."

Matou chuckled. "Though I'm disappointed that you are rejecting my offer, you have indeed raised a valid point. Admittedly, I too wouldn't be so eager to hire someone who discards his contract for the promise of more money."

"I am glad you understand," Hideto said as he gripped his katana and wakizashi tightly and raised them in front of him, assuming a fighting stance.

"That's right, I almost forgot." Matou laughed whole-heartedly. "We're still in the middle of business, aren't we? Fine then, let's get this done and over with." The yakuza leader threw his hand forward, his appendage glowing with ferocious brown energy.

The earth began shaking and trembling violently as dirt was forced out of its body. Some of the loosened soil floated up and coalesced together into massive lumps before hardening into immense boulders. The rest of the loosened soil was left attached to their mother earth, but they began lengthening and growing, their structure strengthening as they assumed the forms of giant snakes with rocky spikes bursting out of their bodies.

Matou hurled the boulders at Hideto. The shower of massive rocks shot forward with the intent to crush the teenager. Hideto lunged forward to meet this attack. Bringing his katana and wakizashi up, he cut the boulders into pieces as he danced to a tune of destruction no one else could hear, slashing the offending rocks into debris and powder in a single, fluid motion within their midst.

However, just as he was finished with the first wave, Matou already had another wave lying in wait for him. Launching them at the young man, the boulders flew with such strength and ferocity that Hideto was forced to hop a few steps back in retreat. Gripping his katana tightly, he swung his weapon, unleashing a surge of azure energy that engulfed the gigantic rocks and freezing them within ice.

"Not bad for one as young as you," Matou complimented. "It really is a pity to kill someone of your caliber."

"Really?" Hideto raised his eyebrows questioningly. "Because I don't find it a pity to kill you."

Matou snickered. "You won't be able to kill me with just your power. Shall I prove it to you here and now? I guess I need a more decisive move to bring you to ground." Raising his uninjured hand, he commanded his earth snakes forward. The giant serpents slithered in the air at unbelievable speed, smashing through the frozen boulders, which shattered into thousands of icy fragments, but continued charging forward as if there wasn't a barrier.

Hideto was already on his feet, leaping through the air and weaving through their writhing mass in an attempt to dodge their blows. One of the serpents that were aiming for him breezed past him, just millimeters away, and smashed into the ground, creating a small crater.

Hideto watched the scene of destruction with apprehended horror. "That would have crushed me if I hadn't dodged in time!" he realized.

Grinning, Matou continued to direct his serpents' unceasing attacks. The rock serpents launched themselves at Hideto once more, forcing him to work hard to evade their relentless assaults. However, he soon discovered that their tremendous weight and brute strength weren't their only weapons.

As he barely dodged one of them, spinning around to avoid it, its row of spikes slashed a hole in his denim jacket. Hideto could almost feel the sharp points graze his flesh.

"My jacket!" Hideto cursed. "That cost a bomb!" however, he wasn't even given time to continue his exasperated tirade, being forced to leap away once again as another serpent barreled toward him. Breathing heavily, Hideto fell back to a safe distance.

"Tired already?" Matou shook his head, amused. "I have just started warming up, you know."

"What?" before Hideto could register the yakuza's words in his mind, the latter had snapped his fingers. The giant earth serpents increased their speed up a notch.

Hideto couldn't even react in time, the earth serpents striking him before he could so much as blink. Crossing his swords in front of him, Hideto desperately tried to parry their charge. His feet screeched across the ground, heating up from the friction that was produced in their attempt to hold their ground.

However, another serpent struck him from the back, sandwiching him in between.

"Argh!" Hideto coughed out blood as the two serpents sandwiched him. Another two serpents came from his sides and slammed into him. A final serpent descended him from the top and crashed into his head.

"An attack from all sides!" Hideto cursed before pain engulfed his body another huge explosion resounded across the remnants of the alleyway.

Hideto extricated himself from the mass of the bodies, wiping blood from his mouth. Spotting another serpent from the corner of his eye, he summoned forth an ice barrier to hinder its charge. However, the serpent smashed through the ice effortlessly and continued its reckless charge.

Hideto glanced at his left hand. The wakizashi was all but destroyed, its blade shattered into millions of fragments. Even its hilt was not unscathed.

"Ah, damn," Hideto moaned. "I knew this wasn't a great wakizashi, but I never expected it to break so easily." Sighing he turned to face Matou. "Well, it doesn't matter. I was always better at using only one katana anyway."

As one of the earth serpent lunged forward, Hideto tossed what remained of his wakizashi at it. The broken hilt struck it and exploded in a brilliant azure blaze, reducing it to nothing more than dust.

Matou's eyes widened at the amazing sight. "So you do have a trick up your sleeve…but I seriously doubt you'll be able to obliterate all of my serpents at once, especially now that you're one sword less." The surviving dozen snakes or so all reared up at the end of his sentence, getting themselves ready for another charge.

"Are you deaf?" Hideto demanded. "I said I was better at using one katana, didn't I?"

Matou smiled maliciously. "We shall see about that." Holding up his hand, he commanded all twelve serpents to attack. As one, the immense snakes launched themselves at the young man, a fearsome sight to behold as they charged forward.

Unperturbed, Hideto waited for them to approach until they were but a few meters away.

"SOURYUHA (Azure Dragon Blast)!"

Swinging his katana, Hideto unleashed an enormous amount of azure energy. Much more than any of his previous attacks from before, his blast of energy took the form of an enormous azure dragon that dwarfed even the mammoth earth serpents. Shrieking and roaring, it swept across the entire horde of incoming monsters, obliterating the entire wave of them.

Shocked by its power, Matou raised a thick earth wall in front of him to shield himself from the blast, but the azure energy dragon tore through it effortlessly, ripping it to shreds of dirt before culminating in an explosion that sent Matou flying.

The grizzled yakuza leader struggled to his feet, but Hideto was already upon him.

"Souten Hyougetsu!" Hideto yelled as he struck Matou, rushing past him and encasing the yakuza leader in a moon-shaped pillar of ice with dozens of crescents as a decorative sharp gate.

Panting, Hideto slowly rose to his feet. "It is done," he murmured softly.

Within the ice, Matou smiled.

Realizing that something was amiss, Hideto spun around only to be struck by a huge earth spike from the ground. The ice encasing Matou cracked and shattered and the yakuza boss emerged, relatively unscathed. Constructing a crude club out of earth, Matou seized the chance to strike Hideto.

Hideto wobbled off-balanced, but he managed to parry the blow. Staggering back, he desperately swung his katana and succeeded in nicking the yakuza, ripping a hole in the latter's brown jacket. However, his pathetic attempt left him defenseless.

Matou capitalized on his fatal mistake and stepped in, ramming Hideto across the face with his club in a vicious counterattack that sent the young man hurtling across the air.

Hideto dropped his katana as he was thrown back, and landed heavily on the ground.

Oh, shit. I've made a serious miscalculation, Hideto realized as he was sprawled on the ground. I'm at a serious disadvantage without my katana, especially since it amplifies my power.

Matou must have realized that too, for he had immediately launched himself at Hideto, and battered the helpless teenager with his club. Hideto struggled to evade the yakuza boss's merciless blows, but was unable to avoid a few of them. Staggering to his feet, he crossed his arms in front of his face to block blow after blow.

Seeing an opening, Matou punched him in his solar plexus, causing Hideto to double over. Stepping in, Matou rammed Hideto's face with such force that the latter's glasses went flying. Blinded and in agony, Hideto was also hurled a few meters away, crashing into the ground in an untidy heap.

"It seems that this battle is over," Matou declared triumphantly. "I guess your life ends here."

To his surprise, Hideto began laughing.

"W…what's so funny?" Matou demanded, glaring at the sprawling young man.

"You have just made the worst mistake of your life," Hideto replied, amused. Matou stared at him, taken aback by his tone.

"W…what?"

Hideto got up to his knees. He kept his head lowered and eyes closed. At first, Matou thought that he had blinded the young man, but the creepy smile on the boy's face erased any traces of that thought.

"What do you mean by that?" he growled, raising his club for another attack.

"Don't worry about it," Hideto responded pleasantly. "Because it's also the last mistake of your life."

Then he looked up and opened his eyes to look at the yakuza boss.

And Matou understood.


"I've done it," Hideto declared, staring intently at Udono Reisuke. The latter was busily reading and writing letters to pay him any attention.

The pharmaceutical corporate president looked up from his desk. "Done what?" he demanded, annoyed. Udono Reisuke was an extremely busy man with a lot of work to do, and thanks to that he was often without patience for any nonsense.

Hideto sighed, exasperated. "I've killed Matou Sutarou," he snapped. "You are to keep your end of the deal. As agreed, you are to pay me twenty million dollars."

"Fine, fine," Udono impatiently threw a check at Hideto. "Twenty million dollars. If I ever have need of your services again, I'll call you."

Apparently, Hideto was not the only assassin he hired, nor was Matou the only target.

But, still…

Hideto raised his eyebrows. "Are you paying attention?"

"Yeah, yeah," Udono waved him away irritably. "You killed some bloke named Mikiri?"

Hideto gritted his teeth as anger surged through him. "No, I killed Matou Sutarou. The yakuza leader that rivaled your company."

This managed to catch Udono's attention. "What? You killed Matou?"

"Yes," Hideto growled as the last vestiges of his patience slipped away. "You were the one who hired me to do so."

"You're Fujimoto Hideto?"

"YES." Hideto seethed, losing his patience. The president definitely had not listened to a single word that he had said earlier.

"Well, well," Udono was smiling. However, it was not a very nice smile. Instead, it was filled with triumph, as if he had just achieved a great victory. "I guess I can't thank you enough. Matou's death would mean that I control the black market now! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! I'm the largest supplier of Trisken now!"

"Well, not really." This time it was Hideto who was smiling coldly.

Udono veered around to look at his hired gun, his face unpleasantly twisted into an expression of surprise. "What do you mean by that? Is there someone else who's dominating the black market that I didn't know about? Or did Matou leave something behind that could still threaten my business?"

Hideto shrugged. "I don't know anyone in the black market, and the only thing Matou left behind was this." He pulled the gemstone out of his pocket and studied it in the light. "But it's mine now, I suppose."

"What's that?" Udono demanded, staring at the gemstone curiously.

"I don't know," Hideto replied, staring at the sparkling stone intently. "But it's rumored to be able to enhance a mage's strength."

"That little thing?" Udono made a face. "How?"

Hideto shrugged. "Beats me. But apparently Matou liked it enough to kill the original holder on the spot."

"And how did you get it from him?"

Hideto was annoyed, but he resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the infuriating corporate president. "I killed him, remember?" actually, the truth was that he had nicked it long before Matou's untimely death, when he had cut the latter's finger off, but it was pointless and tiring to divulge every single detail to Udono.

Besides, he probably wouldn't be listening, anyway.

"So…" Udono looked lost in thought for a while. "It isn't anything that will threaten my monopoly in the drug trade, right?"

Hideto gritted his teeth. "Does this look like a freaking drug to you?" he growled. "Use your head a little. It has no bearing on your business in the black market whatsoever."

Udono looked unperturbed by Hideto's outburst. Instead, he jerked his head at the young man. "Right. So is there anything else you know that I should take note of?"

Hideto's face broke into a wide, evil grin. "Well, actually, when I think about it, there is something."

Udono glared at Hideto. "Really?" he snapped impatiently. "Then stop wasting my time and spit it out!"

Hideto slowly shook his head, an expression of feigned surprise etched over his face. "I'm surprised you actually want to know."

"What is it?" Udono growled, his temper reaching the boiling point. "Hurry up and tell me!"

"I'm here to kill you."

Silence.

Udono did not respond for a while. It took a few seconds for the words to finally register in his brain. And when it finally did, his expression instantly transformed into that of shock. His face turning so pale that it was practically white, Udono staggered back.

"Y…y…" he spluttered, but it was clear that he was completely dumbfounded from shock.

Suddenly, he glanced at his desk as if he had just remembered something. His left hand quickly snaked out and pressed the red button on his desk. "Guards!" Udono hissed into the intercom next to the button. "Get in here as soon as possible! There's an assassin in my office right now!"

But, even after a few seconds later, the reinforcements still did not arrive.

"Something wrong?" Hideto asked pleasantly.

"W…where is my security?" Udono stammered, his whole body beginning to tremble from fright. "W…what did you do to them?"

Hideto shook his head disappointedly, wondering why such powerful leaders were so useless and defenseless in battle.

"I took care of them before I came to visit you," he replied. "I'm afraid there will be no one to help you…because they're all dead."

Outside the president's office, the corridor was littered with dozens of corpses. Blood was splashed all over the once pristine white walls. The entire area looked like a warzone.

Udono's mouth opened and closed, as if trying to speak, but this time, no words came out.

"So it's just you and me," Hideto continued, slowly approaching the trembling pharmaceutical corporation president.

"You…you…" Udono spluttered. He clenched his shaking fists and forcibly gathered a huge amount of orange energy in them.

Hideto sighed. Udono might be a coward, but when cornered, he might prove to be as formidable as Matou.

"You must be wondering how I'm planning to kill you since I don't seem to have any weapons on me right now," Hideto commented, raising his hands to show that he was completely unarmed.

"I don't care how you're going to kill me. I'm going to kill you first!" Udono roared and threw up his hands and unleashed all the orange energy he had at hand.

Hideto calmly somersaulted away from the devastating orange blast of energy that obliterated the entire floor, instantly burning the expensive and exotic carpet into ash along with it. Hideto spared a glance at the sixteen-foot wide hole in what remained of the floor as soon as he landed on his feet.

"I can see that you're really desperate to kill me," he remarked casually.

"Stay away from me!" Udono cried as he threw his arms up to cover his face. Orange energy enveloped them as he prepared for another blast of energy.

Hideto sighed in resignation and stopped. "All right, fine then. I'll stay here then."

Udono glared at him in response, and threw a hand forward to release another devastating blast. However, Hideto smiled eerily at him, totally unmoved by the president's incoming attack.

Hideto's smile widened into a grin, unsettling and unnerving the already frightened corporate president further.

"W…what's so funny?" Udono demanded shrilly, not caring how pathetic he sounded, or how violent his legs were shaking beneath him.

"You," Hideto replied simply.

He stared straight into Udono's eyes – and took off his glasses.

Staring into Hideto's eyes, Udono froze.

Literally.

Hideto's dark brown eyes had an azure tinge to them. Udono continued staring at them, transfixed, unable to tear his gaze away from what seemed like boundless depths behind those mystical eyes. He felt an incredible amount of fear, fear he had never felt before in his entire life, as well as extremely cold chills crawling all over his body.

It was only two seconds, but it seemed forever before he realized that those extremely cold chills weren't solely from fear. They were ice. His whole body was transforming into ice.

He didn't even have time to protest before he was completely frozen solid.

Hideto smiled and shook his head. Putting his glasses on, he spared one last glance at the frozen ice statue of the former president of the pharmaceutical corporation. Unlike his usual spells and techniques, his eyes didn't just freeze the enemy by encasing them in ice. They transformed the entire body of the victim into ice.

Much like Medusa, a gorgon whose gaze could turn anyone who looked into them into stone, Hideto could turn anyone who looked directly into his eyes into ice.

"This is my secret weapon," Hideto mused softly, as if explaining to the frozen (and very dead) corporate president. "And it's still a secret because anyone who sees them ends up dead anyway."

Smiling, Hideto left the frozen Udono to chill in his office. After checking his coat to ensure that the gemstone remained in his pocket, he pulled out a grenade from another pocket.

He walked into the private elevator that was situated at the opposite end of the office and pressed the button for the lobby. While the doors of the elevator were closing, he waited till there were but scant centimeters between them before pulling the pin of his grenade out and tossing the explosive back into the office. The grenade bounced on the undamaged remains of the floor before coming to a stop beside the ice statue of Udono. The doors then closed, blocking any view he had left of the room.

As the elevator descended, the entire office above exploded, destroying everything on that level, including the bloody corridor with all the corpses. Of course, Udono's frozen self was not spared. In fact, he was the first to be shattered into nothing without a trace.

As Hideto exited the building, the entire building blew up behind him and began to collapse within itself. Gigantic flames began engulfing the collapsing structure, devouring whatever traces and corpses that were left unscathed by Hideto's earlier grenade attack.

Hideto didn't even look back. Instead, he was more focused on his bankbook. A smile crept across his face as he read the statement.

"Looks like all of that pharmaceutical corporation's funds now belong to me," he chuckled, stuffing both the check and the book into his coat. Leaving the blazing scene behind, he disappeared into the shadows, leaving but a final sentence behind.

"It's been nice doing business with you."