A Grab for Power

"Wait!" Shuji said rushing to slap the receiver from Natsu's hand before she could share her intel.

"Urg, what's the meaning of this, Shuji?" she said.

He quickly turned the telephone box off. "They have a telephone box like ours. I think they're listening in to whatever we say."

"Yeah, that box he had did look like ours," Scruffles said, scratching his head with his overgrown claw. "How did I miss that?"

"So I can't contact any of the other teams or the main force without them knowing." Natsu rested her chin on her finger and thumb as she entered deep thought.

"We could rush in for a surprise attack," Scruffles suggested, his lips curving up at the thought, revealing his menacing canines. "That is one of my strengths."

"But we would be quickly overrun," Shuji protested, "and quickly lose whatever little advantage we had. The 3 of us are too few."

"That's why we have the flare gun isn't it?" Scruffles said. At that, they both looked at Natsu, still deep in thought.

"No, Shuji is right." Natsu said. "But thankfully there is a solution." Natsu picked up the receiver from the floor.

"Wait, they'll hear us remember?"

Natsu waved Shuji's concerns away. "I'll send a GAP coded message out. Anyone with a GAP personnel should be able to decipher it."

"Assuming they kept up with their books." Scruffles said. "The City Guard have their own book of secret codes. But I haven't looked at in a long time so I wouldn't be able to decipher it even if I wanted to. To be honest, the only code I remember and obey very well is the code to attack."

"Really?" Shuji said. "What is the code the City Guard uses to signal an attack?"

"Well first, one of us usually takes a deep breath," Scruffles began, "and shouts 'attack.'"

/

Kita picked up the telephone box after it went silent. There had been a message sent through but whoever was speaking abruptly stopped. He and Eri Musigi continued deeper into the Crossgang settlement.

Kita found it amazing as the settlement went ablaze with murmurs on 'Wrath's return.' It seemed that Eri Musigi's famous reputation within the gang eclipsed his own infamous one.

"Hey Wrath," Kita said, "so since I've led you here like we agreed, how about you give me my money and we can go our separate ways?"

"There are still a few more things I wish for you and the Crossgang to do."

"I knew you'd say that," Kita sighed. He did not like the way he equated him and the Crossgang as his servants. He doubted Kiwaza would like it either.

"Wrath, you bastard!" An angry voice vibrated throughout the settlement.

Kita flinched, both from the anger in the voice and the fact that someone would address Wrath in such a manner. Instead of getting mad, Eri Musigi smiled calmly.

"Kiwaza, it's good to see you again." Eri said to Kiwaza who stomped closer to them with Pikad in tow.

"Don't give me that," Kiwaza said, facing off against Eri. The other members of the Crossgang were beginning to crowd around them. "Where have you been?"

"I got hurt during the kidnapping but I am okay now." Eri said. "I never abandoned the Crossgang. As soon as I healed from my injury, I came back."

Kita tilted his head in confusion. Why did he say that last part louder than the first?

"What is he doing here?" Pikad pointed at Kita who gave the shorter man an unpleasant look.

Kiwaza smiled grimly. "Not only do you bail on the plan but you come back with this spineless worm, who I should wring his neck." Kiwaza enclosed his thick hand into a fist before Kita's hand.

Kita involuntarily shrunk back from him.

"Kita is under my employ and protection," Eri said. "He helped me get a doctor for my injury and he is the one who led me here. But enough about that, I have important information to share with you, the leader of Crossgang."

"Fine, follow me, where we can talk in private. He stays out here." Kiwaza glared at Kita before turning around and leading the way.

/

"The sun has set
Seeking greater adventures
In the horizon beyond.
While we anxiously wait
with darkness and stars
comforted only by dreams
of better days to come
when the sun shall rise again." Janice recited as she gazed at the night sky.

"Uh?" Omoi said.

Janice sighed as she tore her eyes from the outside to Omoi in their dark prison. "Poetry is lost on the young… unless it comes with a funk beat."

"The young? You're not that old, Janice."

A feint smile touched her lips. "I was trying to say that the sun has set."

"Oh," the little girl said as she rose to her feet. "Then why didn't you just say that?"

Omoi looked out through the bars.

"The guards seem to be gone too," Janice remarked. "There seems to be some kind of commotion happening."

"At least that makes things easier for us." Omoi reached through the bars at the lock. Turning the keyhole up towards her, she slotted a stick and wrench into the hole and began working on it.

/

Kita listened to the message passing through the telephone box. His brow folded in a frown when he did not understand the message the woman was speaking. He felt a presence near him and groaned when he saw Pikad, framed by the half moon hanging in the night sky behind him.

"So you're working for the Plastic Kid now?"

Kita remained quiet as he turned the telephone box off.

"So how much did Plastics pay you?"

"I don't see how that's any of your business," Kita said.

"As long as you're surrounded by the Crossgang, anything you do is my business." Pikad said, noticeably fidgeting with his flick knife.

Kita narrowed his eyes but remained quiet. He looked at the wooden house Eri and Kiwaza had entered, wondering what they were speaking about.

Kiwaza laughed mockingly and insincerely. "You want me to lead my gang into another suicide mission? You must be mad!" Kiwaza patted Mr. Fufflemitts back during his merriment.

"You know as well as I do that the City Guard and GAP won't let you simply be," Eri Musigi said. "You might as well go all the way."

"I see what you're trying to do," Kiwaza said. "You're trying to force me into an action… your action. It's not going to happen. I'm not going to dedicate my gang to another one of your suicide missions."

"And there's nothing I can do to convince you otherwise?"

"No," Kiwaza sternly said.

Eri Musigi clicked his tongue before he got up and kicked his chair away.

The sudden action caused the cat to hiss in surprise.

"You are weak and a stupid leader," Eri venomously said before he turned around and left the shed.

"What? No one talks to me like that!" Kiwaza followed him out. "Wrath, who the hell do you think you are? Get back here, bastard!"

Mr. Fufflemitts leapt off the desk and followed Kiwaza out.

Their argument spilled on to the outside. Eri stopped and faced Kiwaza. "Who am I? Maybe that's a question for you!"

The members of the Crossgang gathered around, listening to the two.

"I'm not the man who led his gang to kidnap the mayor's daughter and then left some of them behind to save his own skin!" Eri Musigi said. "And now look at the Crossgang." Eri gestured to the people around him. "Kiwaza has failed you all, he's taken a gang that ran the city and downgraded you to some forest camping hippies!"

Kiwaza looked around at the gathered gang members.

"You're not listening to this garbage are you?" Kiwaza angrily shouted.

"Never boss!" Pikad passionately said. "He is just an outsider. The Crossgang's loyalty is to you!"

"And how has he rewarded all of you for your loyalty?" Eri Musigi said. "The Crossgang is on its last legs and it is his fault." Eri threw an accusatory finger at Kiwaza who was now breathing heavily in anger. "In the history of the Crossgang, you are probably the worst leader ever. There needs to be a new leader."

Kiwaza's angry expression softened into confusion before he laughed. "And who's that leader? You?"

"I can save the Crossgang." Eri said, looking at the gang members. "You've all seen what I can do."

There was silence all around as no one dared move or say anything at the risk of angering either man.

"You fools!" Kiwaza said. "An outsider will not just come in here and lead us." Kiwaza reached into his person and produced two golden knuckledusters with a blade at their ends. "You won't even be alive to make your foolish claims," he said as he slipped the knuckledusters over his fingers.

"Fine, you and me," Eri Musigi reached into his white Tuxedo jacket and withdrew his si, "whoever wins, will live to lead."

Kita gulped. Eri Musigi had stopped his uncanny show of emotion and his tone had returned to neutral. Was he acting all this time?

There was a moment of silence as both men faced off against each other. No one even dared breath. Then Kiwaza ran forward pulling his fist back.

Tch, he's telegraphing his punch. This will be easier than I thought. Eri's knees bent slightly in preparation.

When Kiwaza was close enough, his fist shot out. "Barreling Fist!"

He's fast! Eri sidestepped. He leaned his head back as the bladed part of the knuckledusters nicked his cheek. The path of his punch forced me to dodge to the outside, where the blade is suppose to finish the job. Eri could not help but be impressed. But he has made an error, by forcing me to dodge on the outside and failing to execute his technique, he has shown his vulnerable back to me. Eri shifted forward, thrusting his si for Kiwaza's back.

"Whipping Tornado!" Kiwaza span rapidly, forcing Eri back lest he gets his arm lobed off. Kiwaza stopped spinning, facing Eri with his hands up.

A defensive technique to protect him from a counter strike should his previous technique fail. Eri twirled his si before pointing it at Kiwaza. This man, he is many paradoxes wrapped in one. He is not like most thugs, swinging and kicking blindly in a fight. He's moves whisper of someone who practices and has actively thought of how he fights. He has not grown fat with wealth but instead with power.

Both combatants ran at each other, where they met, there was a flurry movement. Kiwaza's jabs were akin to a boxer's, forcing Eri to weave his head out of the way as he attacked with his si. Eri quickly learned that chopping strikes were useless against Kiwaza's knuckle duster fists, so he opted for thrusting attacks instead. He stabbed multiple times at his fists but Kiwaza ignored the wounds on his hands and continued with his offense.

Kiwaza surprisingly thrust his foot out, in an attempt to kick Eri's leg out from under him. The tactic would have worked on a less experienced fighter, however, an expert like Eri was able to block it with his own foot. This caused Kiwaza to stumble forward, leading with a punch that forced Eri to duck under it. Kiwaza regained his balance and thrust his other fist out for Eri's face. Eri fell back, seeing the punch shoot forward, inches above his nose, landing on the ground. Kiwaza dropped to his knees and stabbed down. Eri rolled out of the way before Kiwaza stabbed at where he had be en. Eri kicked Kiwaza in the cheek while he was still on his knees but the man did not move. Eri rolled behind him but before he could strike…

"Whipping Tornado!" The furious spin forced Eri to abandon his attack as Kiwaza spiralled to his feet.

Kiwaza's movement ended with him facing Eri and once again, they faced each other.

/

"This… may be a problem," Shuji said.

"What do you see?" Natsu said. Everyone looked at Shuji. Ever since, she sent out the message, all the scouting groups had converged on their position… all except for one. The main force was still quietly making its way to their position.

"Eri Musigi AKA Wrath, is fighting with someone."

"Who?" Scruffles said. The dognoid had returned to a more human form, his fair skin having returned and other than the dog ears and noticeable canines his face looked human.

Shuji groaned in effort. "Don't know but judging from his energy signature, I'd say he is a little on the hefty side."

"You mean he's fat," Scruffles said. "If that's the case then he must be Kiwaza."

"The leader of the Crossgang," Natsu said.

Scruffles nodded. "If the leader of the Crossgang and Eri Musigi… Wrath… whatever his name is, are fighting, then that must mean…"

"It's a power grab!" Natsu said.

"If there's a change of power," Shuji said as he focused on the two far away energy signatures, "how would it affect the hostages?"

/

Kiwaza's chest rose and fell as he tried to calm his breathing. Compared to the more composed Eri Musigi, he had expanded more energy in trying to land a hit.

"So, are you going to fight me with your hand in your pockets?" Kiwaza quickly glanced at Eri's other hand which had never left the comfort of his white pants for the duration of the whole fight. "Kind of arrogant, isn't it?"

Eri Musigi twirled his si leisurely. "This battle is over."

"So it is arrogance," Kiwaza said.

Eri Musigi took off, his si twirling in his arm behind him. Kiwaza gritted his teeth in anticipation. Eri Musigi stopped and attacked at an angle, thrusting his si forward.

Kiwaza blocked it with the blade of his knuckleduster.

Eri hooked the blade of the knuckleduster and swiped it away before thrusting the point of the si to Kiwaza's face but it was blocked by his other hand.

Around they went, in a dance of attack, defence and counter attack, with Eri being slowly pushed back by Kiwaza. Kiwaza thrust a fist forward and Eri ducked low before swiping at the big man's leg, cutting in a deep wound. Kiwaza grunted before he kicked at Eri, who blocked with a forearm, the force of the kick sent Eri rolling back but he qquickly returned to his feet in time to see Kiwaza rounding on him.

"Double Barrelling Fist!" Kiwaza thrust both hands forward.

This version of the move guarantees that I'll dodge onto the outside, Eri Musigi thought as he sidestepped the two thrusting fists. He had to raise his si to block the bronze blade of the knuckledusters coming for his neck. His si failed to completely block the attack and by leaning back, the blade made a second deeper cut from his ear to his cheek instead of on his neck. Eri recovered and moved towards Kiwaza's newly exposed back.

"Whipping Tornado!" Kiwaza spun but thanks to the leg injury Eri had made earlier, he stumbled and his technique faulted.

Eri Musigi thrust his si into the side of his abdomen, withdrawing his other hand from his pocket, which he used it to block one of arms with the blades coming to decapitate him. The si remained in Kiwaza's abdomen, and using the movement of Kiwaza's failing spin, eviscerated his round abdomen diagonally.

Kiwaza collapsed onto his knees, blood welling up from his mouth as he grabbed at his abdomen to stop his intestines from seeping out. Everyone watched in shock as Kiwaza remained on his knees, blood continuing to flow from his mouth like a water fall of red.

Mr. Fufflemitts meowed in horror as Pikad gazed upon the sight in disbelief. A deathly silence had fallen on the Crossgang.

"A pity," Eri said as he pulled a silver, silk handkerchief from the pocket of his tuxedo jacket. He used it to wipe the blood from his cheek before wiping Kiwaza's blood from the blade of his si. "You would have been a useful servant in what's to come but now, you'll just have to die."

Kiwaza gritted his teeth in an attempt to bite down and stop the blood seeping through them. With his last drop of energy, Kiwaza lunged for Eri.

Eri withdrew his gun and pointed it at Kiwaza's head, bringing the larger man's movement to a stop.

Kiwaza's eyes opened wide as he stared at the barell of the gun between his eyes. "You-You had that all the time?" Kiwaza bloodily spat.

"Yes, you were always going to lose this fight, Kiwaza…"

/

Janice's fingers fidgeted anxiously. "Are you close to doing it, Omoi?"

"I think I'm making good progress," Omoi said as she worked the lock with her makeshift tools.

There was a loud bang in the distance, causing both girls to jump.

"That did not sound good."

"Sounded like a gun shot," Omoi said.

"You better open the lock with haste then."

Omoi nodded before returning her focus to the task and then she froze. "Oh no."

"What?"

"I-I didn't mean to," Omoi said, "I just got scared and-and…"

"Omoi, what's wrong?" Janice snapped.

"I dropped one of my tools," Omoi said.

Janice sighed and held her head in despair.

"Isn't there anymore wire in your bra?"

"No." Janice said sliding down to the floor. "Wait!" Janice grabbed at one of the feathers running along her forehead and pulled it out from the root. "Will this work?"

Omoi looked at the brown feather for a moment. "Yes," she said taking the feather. She bit into the feather, shaping it with her teeth before using it with her other remaining tool. She heard a click and the lock opened. "I did it!"

Unthreading the lock from its place, Omoi and Janice pushed the door open.

"Which way should we go?" Omoi said looking to and fro. They were surrounded by wooden houses.

"Uhm… this way!" Janice chose a random direction and they both ran in it. "We need to get into the forest as quickly as possible."

/

"This is bad," Shuji remarked.

"Are you a bearnoid or something?" Scruffles said. "Cause it sounds like you're going to give us more bad news."

"Sorry," Shuji said.

"Don't apologise, just give us your bad new… I mean your report." Natsu said.

"I think Omoi and Janice are escaping."

"What's so bad about that?" Scruffles said.

"Well… they're heading straight for the group of gangsters."

"Then we have to rescue them now," Scruffles said, looking at Natsu hopefully.

"Yes," Natsu said after a moment of thought. She looked at the gathered scouting parties members. "Alright, we'll have to act sooner than expected without the main force. Follow my orders and don't take any unnecessary risks. We are currently outnumbered so as soon as we get the targets we retreat into the forest toward the direction of the advancing main force."

The group prepared to move out as Natsu turned to Shuji.

"Shuji, you can stay here and wait…"

"If you don't mind, I would rather not." Shuji said, slinging one rifle onto his shoulder in favour of his silver one. "I have enough firepower to be of assistance, so I would like to… assist."

"Fine," Natsu quickly relented, having no time to argue.

Scruffles smirked at Shuji. "Shuji, stick with me. We'll watch each other's backs."

Shuji nodded before cocking his rifle.

"Alright," Natsu stood at the head of the group. "Move out!"

/

Janice and Omoi quickly made their way through the settlement. Omoi grabbed onto Janice and dragged her behind the cover of a shed.

"What?"

"There are people ahead," Omoi nodded before him.

Janice peeked out from their hiding place and frowned at the group of people she saw.

The Crossgang had surrounded a man dressed in white. Beside the man was a dead body, laid splayed out. Omoi recognised the cat that strolled onto the dead body, meowing in sorrow as it rubbed its face against the dead man's. Realising the man would not wake up, the feline turned to look back at Eri Musigi with hate in its yellow eyes.

The cat charged for Eri, hissing angrily. It lunged for him, claws drawn and fangs barring. Before the cat could reach him, he was kicked away. The man in white looked back at what had just happened and saw Pikad, still in the soccer kicking pose.

Mr. Fufflemitts landed a distance away with a grunt. It got up and limped away, meowing in pain as it gazed back at Pikad and Eri in malice.

Pikad abandoned his pose and bowed his head to Eri Musigi. "Boss Wrath, I am Pikad, you're most loyal servant."

Janice watched as Eri talked to the rest of the gang.

"We need to go…" Janice said.

"Awe, poor thing." Omoi said as Fufflemitts limped closer to her. She reached out, slowly. The cat hissed warningly when her hand was inches from its face. "Don't worry, I'm a friend. I won't hurt you." She caressed its head and once she was certain it would not bite, she picked it up. Mr. Fufflemitts initially resisted, scratching at her forearm with its back paws but after some coining from Omoi it relented and allowed her to place it against her chest in her arms.

"Omoi, we need to go." Janice repeated.

Omoi nodded and they began to silently run away from the group of gangsters.

Janice stopped, almost making Omoi crash into her. "What's wrong?" Omoi said, peeking from behind Janice.

Janice faced the drunken man before them, who was peeing but stopped when he saw the two.

"You two escaped!" The man said.

Janice spread her arms protectively in front of Omoi, "Please sir, don't hurt us. Just let us go."

"Heh, you must be mad." The man said clawing for her through the air. "Come here!"

Janice stood frozen, trying to keep herself in between the man and Omoi. Omoi gently placed the cat down before running from behind Janice at the man.

"Omoi's Super Special Sucka Punch!" Omoi said, punching the man in the crotch.

"Oof, you little…" The man fell to his knees as he grasped the place between his legs.

Janice was frozen in shock and it took Omoi grabbing her hand to make the chickenoid snap out of it. "Come on!" The little girl said, picking Mr. Fufflemitts into her arms and leading the way.

The man stumbled away from the girls, closer to the gathered gang members. "They're escaping!" He shouted as he stumbled closer to the group. "The prisoners are escaping!" He said as he entered amongst them.

Eri Musigi's eyes lit up with alertness. "Capture them!" he ordered. "We can't let the mayor's daughter escape!" He ran in the direction the man had come from and like a tide, the rest of the Crossgang followed.

Janice initiated a transformation mid-run. The structure around her mouth grew harder, yellower and slightly extended, forming a proper beak. Fine hairs grew around her face as feathers covered the ebony skin of her arms legs and neck. The fingers at the end of each hand elongated and fused, claws grew from the resulting two fingers and single apposable thumb that looked like the end of a birds feet. The feathers on her forearms elongated and multiplied to form wings that extended over her hands and her tail feathers grew in volume and length. This all happened within seconds and once she had fully transformed, her speed multiplied.

She scooped Omoi from the ground and placed her on her back before breaking into a full chicken sprint. Omoi was taken aback by her sudden increase in speed. She held on tightly to her feathered neck, as the surroundings blurred around her.

Janice looked behind her and although she was extending the gap between herself and Crossgang, Eri Musigi was somehow keeping up.

Eri pointed his gun at her, "Stop!" When the chickenoid did not stop he fired a shot at her feet, Janice came to a halt. He stopped and slowly strolled to the girl, keeping the gun hefted at her.

"Why did you stop?" Omoi said.

"I don't want to get shot!"

"Get that imp from your back." Eri continued.

"Imp?" Omoi grunted in annoyance before she hopped off Janice's back. "I'm not an imp you…" Omoi froze when she recognised who she spoke to. "You're…"

"The Otake girl," Eri Musigi said, his aim wandering to Omoi.

"No," Janice stepped in front of Omoi. "You'd shoot a little girl?"

"He'd take a cute blond boy hostage and threaten to kill him for money," Omoi said from behind Janice. "I've no doubt he'd kill a girl."

"What are you talking about?" Janice said.

The rest of the Crossgang caught up and stood behind Eri.

"Our escape failed," Janice said. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," Omoi bravely said.

There was a trotting of feet and Omoi looked behind her to see a small group of people running towards them.

"Janice," she said, tugging on the sleeve of Janice's dress.

Janice looked behind her and the sight caused hope blaze anew.

Natsu withdrew her red little gun. "Prepare to fire flares," Natsu said as she pointed hers up, "Fire… now!" She pulled the trigger and a florescent ball shot into the air where it burned brightly in the dark night, suspended for a moment before drifting to the ground.

Three more flares shot out into but these ones went into the ranks of the Crossgang, causing them to scatter in fear. Once used up, Natsu threw away her smoking flare gun and withdrew both her swords from the sheaths at each hip.

"It's GAP!"
"Run away!"
"The City Guard has come to arrest us!"

The gang members shouted as they made to flee.

"Do not run, fools!" Eri shouted above the panicked thugs as he took aim at Natsu. "We outnumber them. And if we lose the girl, we're as good as dead!" Eri was about to shoot when another shot came off, exploding near his feet and forcing him to jump away.

"Missed!" Shuji said as he took aim at Eri once more.

Natsu stopped the charge beside Janice, making sure the group surrounded the mayor's daughter. Shuji stopped in front to cover them as he shot at Eri Musigi who was zipping around to stay ahead of his bullets.

"Gather around, we need to start a counter attack!" Eri said as he dodged bullets. One shot went wide of him, hitting a pole. This caused Eri to pause and look at the blond haired shooter. He stood in place staring at Shuji challengingly.

Shuji took aim and fired a volley of shots. Each shot punched a hole around the unmoving Eri Musigi who looked unimpressed. He raised his own gun and aimed at Shuji before firing a shot.

"Look out!" Scruffles growled before tackling Shuji out of the way of the bullet. "Man, this guy is a crack shot, unlike someone I know." Scruffles stared pointedly at Shuji.

"Sorry," Shuji said as he returned to his feet, reloading his empty rifle.

"Retreat," Natsu said when the Crossgang got organised and rallied together.

The group ran away, with Janice and Omoi, who had returned to riding on her back, in front. Their bodies acting like a wall between the girls and the Crossgang behind.

"After them!" Eri Musigi said. The Crossgang ran after the fleeing group while Eri stayed behind, shooting into their ranks.

Someone fell to a bullet, revealing Shuji to Janice. "Shuji!"

Omoi saw Shuji and her face lit up, "Mr. Shuji!"

Shuji smiled and nodded before someone else near them died from a hole in the head.

"As long as we're bunched up like this, we're easy targets." Nastu said. "Scatter keep Janice in sight.

The group split up, making it harder for Eri to shoot them down. Janice stayed with Shuji, who was running with Scruffles.

Scruffles stumbled and fell, whereupon he struggled to get up. Shuji stopped, prompting Janice to do that same.

"Go on," Shuji waved them away as he went to help Scruffles.

"No, I can't leave you here!" Janice said.

"I'll be okay," Shuji said. "You and Omoi are the important ones here, so go. Be safe."

Janice nodded and forced herself to leave Shuji behind.

Shuji crouched beside the dognoid while firing a few shots into the crowd of Crossgang members, forcing their charge to slow down as they took cover.

"Scruffles, get up!" Shuji said, trying to help him up. He withdrew his hand to see it stained with blood. "Scruffles?"

Scruffles got to his knees, revealing his bloody leather vest that had failed to protect him against the bullet which made a hole in it.

"You got shot?"

"You need to leave," Scruffles said, pushing Shuji away.

"I can't leave you, not after…"

Scruffles grabbed Shuji, sinking his claws into his arm. "It's too late for me. If you die here, then my death will be for nothing." Scruffles growled. "Now go, I'll hold them off while you get away from here." He forced himself onto his feet grunting with every moment. Looking back at Shuji, his mouth curved up to reveal his menacing canines. "You know, you're not as useless as I thought you were." Scruffles charged at the thugs who had begun their charge again.

He dived into the first man before him, ripping his throat out with his claws and left him gurgling in death as he attacked the next. He swiped at more people who retreated, taken off guard by his brazen and furious attack. Scruffles vision began to blur as death's grip tightened around him. However, even with his failing sight, one image came through sharp and clear, and it was Eri Musigi, in his white crisp white tuxedo suit.

"It would be fitting… to kill the one… who killed me!" Scruffles charged for Eri, his claws at the ready at his side.

Eri fired a shot.

Scruffles blocked by crossing his arms before his head, allowing them to stop them bullet. Eri fired a few more shots into his chest, bringing him into a down and rolling on the ground from the momentum. Scruffles tried to get back on his feet but another shot at the centre of his forehead ended his struggle.

Eri Musigi frowned at his now empty gun before he looked at the Crossgang. "What are you all waiting for? Get them."

They burst into action, resuming the chase after Janice and her outnumbered guardians.

/

Janice entered the forest with a few of the officials trailing behind, her speed placing her a little ahead of her would-be protectors. She looked back and when she was sure she was momentarily out of the sight of the GAP officials and City Guards, she stopped.

"Omoi," Janice said as she removed the girl from her back and placed her on the ground, "keep running, the GAP and City Guard personnel should catch up with you shortly."

"I don't understand," Omoi said. "Where are you going?"

"I have to help Shuji," Janice said, looking at the settlement. "Tell the others that I've gone ahead."

Omoi smiled knowingly. "I didn't know you had a crush on Mr. Shuji. Must be strong if your risking your life to help him."

"It's nothing he wouldn't do for me… actually, he is literally doing it now."

Omoi nodded, "Good luck."

Janice briefly hugged her before sprinting away. A moment later, a few GAP and City Guardsmen joined her. Omoi relayed what she was meant to tell them and they believed her, having seen Janice's speed first hand, they had no doubt that she had ran ahead.

/

Shuji fled from the three Crossgang members chasing him. He stopped and fired at them, forcing them behind cover but as soon he turned his back to flee they pursued him again. Shuji quickly grew tired, his body not used to such extended physical activity. He finally collapsed, his heart beating painfully in his chest. He turned his gun around again but all he got when he pulled the trigger was nothing, as his gun had run empty.

He stared at the oncoming thugs, with menacing looks on their faces. Janice leapt out of a few bushes, stunning the thugs to stillness.

"Shuji, we do not have much time." she said. "Get on my back."

"Uh… what?"

Janice grabbed Shuji's hand and slung it over her shoulder. "Hang on!"

Shuji instinctively held on, allowing himself to get into a piggyback position. "This… doesn't feel… right," Shuji said between breathes, "shouldn't we… be doing this… the other way around?"

"No time for chivalry." Janice said as she shot into the woods. "There's plenty of time for that later." She smiled.

Although her speed was heavily impaired by the additional weight of Shuji, Janice was still able to make some headway into the woods. She weaved through the group of Crossgang, who were surrounding the forest in their pursuit. She began slowing down to a walk.

"Janice, are you okay?" Shuji asked before she fell forward into a bush, sending him toppling forward. He got to his knees and crawled to her. "Janice, are you okay?"

"I'm sorry, Shuji." Janice said pushing herself off the ground with her arms. "I guess I've reached my limit. I've been sprinting around a lot…"

"You don't have to be sorry," Shuji said, squeezing her shoulder.

They rose when they heard the sound of trudging and mumbling heading for them. Shuji fumbled his rifle and dropped it to the floor, alerting the person coming over to their position. The man slowed down and gazed at them through the bushes.

Shuji and Janice stood still as they stared at dark haired man, waiting to see what he would do.

"Kita, have you seen anything?" Someone shouted.

Kita kept quiet, staring at the two.

"Kita, you spineless worm! Have you bailed on us again?" Someone trudged his way.

"No, there's no one here!" Kita said, turning away from them and walking towards the direction he came. "Why do I have to look, I'm not working for the Crossgang."

"Because we'll kill you if you don't help us," the man answered.

"Yeah," Kita said, "that sound about right."

When they were gone, Shuji and Janice breathed a sigh of relief. They were unsure why the thug they who had spotted them showed them mercy but their was no time to ponder on it for too long.

"Come," Shuji said, offering Janice his hand, "we can't stay here for too long."

She took it and was helped to her feet. Shuji led the way with Janice behind as both exhaustedly walked deeper into the forest, hand in hand.

/

Omoi and her guardians ran to their fullest but it still was not enough to escape their pursuers. The thugs ran in a crescent pincer move, surrounding her and the GAP and City Guard personnel. Everyone drew their weapons- knives, daggers and swords. Omoi placed Mr. Fufflemitts down and held her hands up in tiny, defiant fists at the men who surrounded and outnumbered her and the group she was with.

Before they could engage, an arrow of focused air crashed into the thugs formation, scattering them. Omoi looked around and running to their position were a large number of GAP and City Guard and amongst their number were Yuki and Shinji.

"Mr. and Mrs Otake!" Omoi said, her eyes threatening to water.

"Omoi!" Shinji grinned as she Yuki reached their position.

The thugs of the Crossgang were already fleeing, being chased down by the rest of the main force.

"It's good to see you safe again, Omoi." Shinji grinned.

"Is good to see you too, Mr. and Mrs Otake!"

"Calm down, girl." Yuki said.

"Sorry ma'am," Omoi bowed, thankful to be saved.

/

Shuji and Janice continued deeper into the forest.

"I'm sorry."

Shuji gazed at Janice with confusion. "Why are you apologising."

"For failing to help you," Janice said. "I went full transformation and still I failed."

"Hmm… to be honest, I failed you." Shuji said. "The whole reason why I am here was to save you and Omoi but I ended up needing to be rescued. I'm… weak, and I'm sorry about that."

"Weak? I think there are many kinds of strength in the world, Shuji and I think your kind of strength is the strongest. It does not take strength for a talented, invincible fighter to step into battle but it does take strength… great inner strength for someone who is vulnerable to enter battle for something he believes in. You're one of the strongest people I know."

"Thank you," Shuji smiled, "but you know by your rule, you're one of the strongest people I know too."

Janice smiled, "I… I guess I am, aren't I?"

They giggled.

"Anyways, we should find some cover until things become safer."

"How about that cave?" Janice said with a twinkle in her hazel eyes. "We should be safe and alone in there."

"You're right," Shuji said, leading Janice into the cave, where they disappeared into its dark depths. "We should be safe in here, until we get our energy back."

"I know something that will get our energy back."

Shinji yelped. "Janice, don't do that. That will make us even more tired!"

"I beg to differ," Janice said softly. "Don't you want to?"

"I do but I think your overestimating my ability!"

"Only one way to find out," Janice said before Shuji yelped again.