Chapter 3
Stolen Moments
by Fuuko no Miko

She was running. Fast. So fast she was sure her feet barely touched the ground. She was panting, gasping for air when she ceased and had fallen on her knees. She looked back, trying to assure herself that her pursuant was far and she was safely hidden amongst the tall trees that surrounded the vast thicket she was in.

Still breathing in a harried pace, she all but crawled towards the clear stream of water that flowed before her.  She took a deep breath before scooping handfuls of the cool water to drink. The liquid travelled almost painfully through her parched throat, but it was relieving nonetheless. She took in a couple more scoopfulls before sitting back and attempting to catch her breath. She knew she couldn't risk staying here for long as she was sure the person chasing her would find out which of the forks in the road she took and find her. She had realized earlier in the pursuit that regardless of the direction she took, he was almost bound to find her. She could delay him only long enough and then he'd find her again. As if he had a bug planted on her somewhere. Either that or he was some kind of metal and she, the magnet that pulled him. She decided to take one last drink before setting off again, only to be shocked at the vision before her.

A man's face.

She'd almost jumped when she saw it, thinking he had finally caught up with her, but realized quickly that it wasn't the face of he who was giving her chase. She dared look again at the water's reflection, and gasped as she stared disbelievingly.

Was that her face?

Why in hell do I look like a man?

She rubbed her eyes, thinking that the illusion would go away with the clearing of her vision. But the image on the water's surface remained. Fuuko touched her cheek and was alarmed to find the reflection doing exactly the same thing. And though she acknowledged the fact that her face had a tinge of masculinity, she wasn't that dense to recognize that the reflection showed a real male. Their eyes and hair were of the same coloring, and the face matched, albeit his had stronger features. His shoulders and chest broader and he was obviously taller. He wore a ninja's outfit, much similar to the one Recca favored when they first went to Kurei's mansion. Fuuko was sporting a shirt and jeans that were both now dirty and tattered from all her running.

Reminding herself that she should not risk dily-dalying over a dumb trick of her exhausted brain and body, she proceeded to make a dash for the clearing ahead when she saw the appearance of another image on the stream's crystalline surface. A beautiful young woman with long, silvery hair and eyes that were like chips of ice, staring intently at her. Her mouth moved, as though calling Fuuko. The latter recognized a wound on the other girl's abdomen, slowly oozing with blood that began to drop on the water's surface, turning the stream red.

"Ta...tasukete..." was the word that barely came from her mouth.

Fuuko looked up.

But it wasn't a girl she saw. It was a mask, an expressionless iron mask.

He had a sword.

He had caught her.


The silent scream ended in her throat as Fuuko bolted upright from her supine position. Her breathing hard, her face bathed in sweat and her heart pounding so hard it felt like brusting through her chest.

It took a few seconds before it occured to Fuuko that she was not in the middle of a thick forest but in the safe confines of her bedroom, swathed in the thick covers of her mother's handmade quilt and being watched over by the icons of J-pop plastered on her walls. Realizing it had only been a dream, she raised her knees, buried her face in them and hugged herself, as though comforting her from the turbulent contents of her head.

It's been three nights in a row.

It was almost always the same dream. The scenery would vary from time to time but the content remained. She would be running and he, or "it" more appropriately, would be chasing her. "It" being the operative word, since on certain days it would be a man, and on other times a woman. But the mask was constant. A cold mask of steel with the sign of death engraved on its forehead. And the sword...a long blade made of material she couldn't quite identify, but knew it wasn't metal. Crystal? Ice? Water?

Add the fact that he always seemed to be able to catch up with her, one way or another.

She never could outrun him, or her, or whatever it was.

She had generally attributed this to the up-and-coming Ura Buto Satsoujin. Although fighting in general never gave her the jitters, this one was different. The opponents were more honed warriors who do this for honor and supremacy. Madougus were the main weapons and the stakes are much higher than an ordinary skirmish in the school playground could ever accomplish. It was going to be a long battle, and she knew it would never be easy. And though she had much confidence in the skills of the Hokage, she could not dismiss that nagging feeling that at some point, things were going to be much more than they can handle.

Had they bitten off more than they can chew?

She hoped she was wrong. Dead wrong.

Her eyes quickly shifted to the golden-haired little girl sleeping beside her. Thankfully, her bedmate was still wandering in dreamland, unshaken by Fuuko's sudden awakening. She muttered something incomprehendable before pulling the partially-thrown-off covers around her. Fuuko moved carefully, not wanting to wake her up. A short glance on the bedside alarm clock told her she had but a half-hour to get ready before the rest of the team set off for the Ura Buto Satsoujin.

He put on spectacles in place of the usual contact lenses he used on daily basis. The rim of the eyewear would conceal the lines that were beginning to form under his eyes. Lines produced by the lack of sleep he had for the last few days, thanks in no part to the disturbing nightmares that began to invade his usually restful slumber.

Tokiya was no stranger to nightmares. He's had them almost every night the time his nee-chan was killed, and before that when his parents perished in the accident. His first few months with the Uruha was also plagued by nightly terrors that would jolt him awake. But after which, the horrid dreams would be few and far between. It was only during this last three or four days that his strange visions during sleep began to bother him. Giving him restless nights. Enough to cause a relatively haggard-looking assassin present at the breakfast table. And if Kurei hadn't been so busy with the preparations for the Urabutosatsoujin, he'd note that his right-hand man showed less vibrancy than usual.

The Ura Buto Satsoujin.

He should be all up-and-about by the time the blasted tournament rolls along. He can't afford to be in a narcoleptic daze while fighting. Though he had little doubt that he'd lose just because he needed more shut-eye, he didn't want to show a battle that was any less than the lethal show of skill he usually possessed.

He didn't like half-baked performances.

Besides, Kurei-san doesn't take kindly to pathetic show-ups for the Uruha. He can be severely unforgiving.

A half-baked Uruha was considered a dead one.

Especially one who belongs to the caliber of the Jyushinshuu.

After having his regular fare of oatmeal, toast, bacon and a mug of steaming coffee, Tokiya walked out towards the grounds of the coliseum. It was still early but people have been arriving by the dozen. Spectators mostly, men who have nothing better to use their time on than watch this public display of blood and gore. The combatants arrived a while later in smaller groups. All heading for the registration area and falling in line.

"Konbanwa, Mikagami-san!!!!"

Tokiya turned about to see Demi walking towards him, skipping merrily.

He simply nodded in acknowledgment.

"You don't look trussed-up for battle." she commented as she took the place beside him. "Which team are you on?"

He didn't reply.

"Are you even in the tournament?" the mouse-eared referee inquired. He was testing her patience, as always.

A smirk found its way to a corner of his mouth. "You ask too many questions, Demi-san."

"And you don't give too many answers yourself." Demi pouted as Tokiya began walking away. For all his good looks, Tokiya Mikagami was about as friendly as a grizzly bear. Which was too bad. She was certain he'd attract more people to him if he had a more amiable personality. Not necessarily admirers, as Kami-sama knows he's got more of them than he'd ever want to, but friends. He seems so...alone. Like a magnet, he tries to repel anyone who ever attempted to get close to him.

"I'd love to see the day somebody breaks that icy exterior of yours, Mikagami-san." Demi called out to the ensui master. But he had walked away far enough not to hear her.


She was the first thing he noted when he stepped towards the registration area. There weren't too many females who attended the tournament whether as combatants or audiences so she was easy to notice. But then he guessed he'd find her even if females were the only contestants. Something about her drew him, regardless. He'd give an arm and a leg to know what it was or how she does it. He didn't have a clue.

He was standing a full twenty feet away, embedded amidst dozens of warriors, lining up and waiting for their turn at the table or at the arena. Most of them noisily bantering, talking about strategies, opponents and prizes. Tokiya unnotably blended with them, listening more than speaking. All the while his attention focused on the girl standing far and away.

Raiha looked up from discussing the conditions of joining with the creature at the registration table. His eyes located that of Tokiya. And even at at distance their gazes met.

Is that who I think it is? the purple-haired Hokage wondered.

A passerby blocked his line of vision, and by the time he had it again, Tokiya was gone.

"What are you looking at, Onee-san?" Fuuko inquired.

"Nothing, nothing." he dismissed. "I just thought I saw someone familiar."

"So its settled." the registration official declared. "Yanagi Sakoshita will be your wager for the tournament."

"Yes." Yanagi confirmed. The look on her friends faces showed obvious disapproval, but her decision was final. They could do nothing more to sway her. Recca was the most dismayed of all.

"Don't worry, Recca-kun." Yanagi smiled to allay his anxiety. "I know you wouldn't lose."

We can't lose. We can't afford to. Fuuko thought.

The rest of the Hokage echoed her thoughts.

Tokiya's brow raised upon overhearing the wager as he got closer to the registration table. They're willing to put the Sakoshita girl up as a prize? He didn't know what manner of men these Hokage ninjas are. Other than the one they called Raiha, the rest of them looked relatively weak and inexperienced. How could they even think of doing that? But then he guessed it would spell better for the Uruha and Kurei-san. They wouldn't have a difficult time acquiring the healer Mori-sama wanted so badly.

Then again, maybe not.

His line of thinking was interrupted by the sudden skirimish that erupted. He heard the registration officer mention something about testing the ability of the Hokage to qualify into the tournament and then all hell broke loose. Tokiya stepped aside as a group of twenty men attempted to squash the neophyte team of teenagers. And while he was severely tempted to see how Fuuko was faring, he swiftly turned about and walked away.

It was not the time for him to inject himself suddenly into her life. Not yet. Not now.

When he looked back he wasn't that surprised to see the Hokage standing. All in one piece. Nary a scratch on the team members. In less than 20 seconds too. Fifteen if he counted correctly. Seemingly, as they have proven before, they were a force to be reckoned with. Never to be underestimated.

Tokiya hoped Kurei-san realized that. He knew he had. Initially he was more dubious than certain the Hokage would be a significant participant in the Urabutosatsoujin. Now he wasn't as sure.

"Measuring up the opponents I see?"

The bland expression on Tokiya's face didn't change upon seeing the speaker. "They're more than they appear to be Aki-san."

"They're nothing but a bunch of stubborn teenagers." the blue-haired girl commented. "I find no difficulty in defeating them. I doubt they'd even make it through the first round."

"You never know." he said drily. "What are you doing down here anyway?" he tried to sway the conversation. "Aren't you supposed to be in the mansion?"

Following you and looking for that bitch you seem to be attracted to, Aki mentally replied. Instead she painted a smile on her lips and hooked her arm around his. "Just looking at the adversaries," she answered sweetly. The look he shot her showed disbelief but Aki shoved it aside. "Let's go backstage. I want to show you my costume for the fight."

He immediately disengaged himself from her. "I have more important errands to do, if you don't mind Aki-san."

"But I do mind." Aki pouted. Not that her statement changed his decision as he quickly went in the opposite direction. She followed suit and trailed behind him.

She can be such a pain sometimes, Tokiya thought as he manuevered amongst the fallen bodies of men who were engaged in battle with the Hokage earlier. He risked a quick look behind him to see if Aki was still following him when he suddenly collided with a solid object.

It wasn't a large thing, but it must have been moving fast enough to cause a relatively strong impact, almost knocking him off his feet. He quickly regained his balance but the one he ran into fell smack with a resounding thud on the floor.

"Watch it! You..."

It was a good thing Fuuko held back the obscene retort from escaping her lips. She became awestruck when her neurons registered who stood before her, offering his hand to assist her in standing up.


A current ran through her nerves when his hand touched hers and he pulled her up.

The same kind of electricity that excited her when he first touched her hand not too long ago.

"Gomen nasai."

He didn't let her hand go just yet.

"Is that you, Tokiya-san...?"

But before anything else could transpire betwen them, a petite blue-haired girl interjected herself and pulled him away.

He didn't look back.

And disappeared among a bunch of rowdy men who were picking a fight amongst themselves.

Fuuko blinked. Was she seeing things? The collision was real, she was sure of that. Her behind still hurt a bit from her landing on the marble floor. But was he? Had she been thinking of Tokiya too much to cause her to see him in the guise of another? It was too quick to note, but then...

What would he be doing in the Ura Buto Satsoujin?

She recalled their conversation a little over a week ago.

"Where do you study?" she had asked him after telling him of her school.

"I don't." he replied curtly. He seemed to have a penchant for short answers.

"You work then?'


"What do you do?"

He flashed her a smile that would've knocked her off her feet if she'd been standing. "Why'd you want to know?"

"Curiosity." she answered for the lack of a better reason. She didn't think he bought it though.

"Aren't you all?" he smirked. "I do some work for a businessman and his son." he supplied.

"Oh." was all she could mutter. He didn't look the type to sit back on a desk filing papers or typing letters. He looked and sounded too smart to do so.

"I know I don't look the part." he seemed to have read her thoughts. "But it's something temporary. I just need to accomplish a few things before I move on."

She detected a slight change of intonation when he mentioned something he had to accomplish before moving on. But it changed quickly before she could evaluate its meaning fully. "I'm thirsty. Care for a drink?" he offered.

She nodded. He left and came back with her favorite rootbeer and canned lemon iced tea for him. After that they started talking about soccer.

I do work for a  businessman and his son, he had said. Fuuko wondered...if it had indeed been Tokiya she ran into...could he be working for Kurei and Mori Kouran?

"Oi, Fuuko!" Recca called from afar. "What are you doing over there? We've got to get settled!"

"Coming!" she yelled back. Her eyes searched around for any trace of him in a crowd of warriors and onlookers. But the vast number of combatants have gathered in the registration area and had blocked whatever sight there may have been left of him.

Tokiya cursed his luck as he absent-mindedly allowed Aki to drag him away. He didn't want Fuuko to know he was here. Not yet, anyway. He'd introduce himself properly, maybe think of an excuse why he was here and to put up a facade she wouldn't recognize in case she got around to watching any of his battles. He wanted her to see Tokiya Mikagami the man. Not Tokiya Mikagami of the Uruha Jyushinshuu.

Somehow he felt the initial impression he gave her as a regular clerk cum artist would disintegrate the moment she found him slicing his opponents with the ensui. It wasn't a very good impression. Fact is, it would be a real lousy one.

And since when did you become overtly concerned with making a good impression on a girl, eh Mikagami? he seemed to hear his alter ego taunting him. You're a stone-hearted assassin. Kurei-san's perfect soldier. The prime example of what a cold-blooded Uruha should be.

And here he was worrying what a wide-eyed, messy-haired tomboy would think of him.

It bordered on the ridiculous.

Didn't it?


They called him desumasuku.

Mask of Death.

When he marched in front of a bewildered audience on his lonesome, a wave of audible whispers proclaimed uneasiness in his presence. Regular spectators have did not recognize him from any of the previous Ura Butou Satsoujins. The fact that he was new and was alone stimulated more than plain curiosity among the onlookers.

His scheduled opponents on the opposite side of the arena scoffed.

"Pretty brave of you to come here on your own boy!" one of members of the other team chided. "You must be wet behind the ears!"

A behemoth standing over 7 feet sneered. "Where's the rest of your crew? Have they ran and left with tails between their legs?"

"Why am I beginning to think this is just a waste of our time?" a third one added. "He doesn't look he'd last through even one of us."

A middle-aged warrior who served as the team's captain wasn't as sure. "He is of the Uruha Kurenai." he stated. "I most certainly doubt Kurei-sama would send someone by himself if he knew he couldn't assure a victory."

"Surely you jest, Hirato-sama?" the first one asked. "He looks skinny as a streetlamp! Other than that creepy-looking mask of his, he looks no more threatening than a thirteen-year old girl."

"You know little of the Uruha Jyushinshuu." observed Hirato. "Kurei-sama is a wily character. He can be very deceptive."

"Deceptive or not, I want a piece of this Desumasuku!" declared the 7-foot giant as the referee, Toraha, called him for the first bout. "Preferably his scrawny neck."

The words of insult and disbelief came not only from the other team but from hecklers in the audience as well. Names referring to half-hearted males and synonyms to poultry were thrown at the sole member of the Uruha Kurenai in attendance. He paid them no mind as he stepped on the arena platform, the overhead lights catching the silver material of his mask, making it almost blindingly bright.

He was clothed in black. A form-fitting outfit that outlined his slender but solid-muscled built. His leather pants adhered like a second skin while his long-sleeved shirt stretched over his well-shaped torso. His feet were covered in leather boots, much like his master, Kurei-san. A silver necklace looking like a chain hung from his neck with a yin-yang pendant. He had thrown his silver hood and cape aside, letting his long tresses freefall like a watery curtain on his back and revealing fully the silver mask covering his face. It was an unusual mask, with slits just enough for his eyes to see through. On the corners of the eyeholes were two groove-like canals lined with blood-red markings extending downward. It appeared as though the face of the mask was weeping, with blood serving as tears. And though the tears were simply colored areas, they were so well made they looked real. Too real. It gave more than a handful of members of the audience goosebumps. As a final touch to the macabre look, the creator of the mask had engraved on the forehead of the metal piece the kanji for death.

Tokuma, the seven-footer, crossed his arms arrogantly as he walked towards the middle of the ring. His opponent silently stood there, not a word out of him despite the jeers thrown at him. While Toraha explained the rules, Tokuma looked down at the other man. He was met by an icy blue gaze with coldness that had an impact of an arctic blast. A chill ran through the bigger man's spine, for a reason he couldn't totally fathom. By the time Desumasuku shook his hand, Tokuma was more than a just a little anxious.

From a concealed portion of his attire, Desumasuku pulled out a sword with a blade of ice.

Kurei had told his right-hand-man that participating in the preliminaries was not necessary, as Uruha Kurenai was the last tournament's champion and could forego the particular round. But he had stubbornly insisted, citing the fact that it was his first match in an event such as the Urabutosatsoujin. The Uruha head had no choice but to allow him so. But he had let his man go alone and fend for himself. It wasn't much as a punishmment for his bullheadedness than it was a test of his ability. Kurei had known Hirato Takafumi's group was more than average but he knew his man was better.

Much better.

Half an hour later, when Kurei turned on the monitor, he saw his henchmen entering and picking up five bodies from the arena. Two of them were dead and three others were wishing they were. A lone figure stood in the center of the arena amidst deafening cheers.

Tokiya Mikagami had scored his first victory.

In another part of the building, the Hokage celebrated theirs.

"This might interest you." Kurei declared as he tossed a videotape in the lap of a resting Tokiya. The latter was relaxing on a recliner with his feet propped up. A glass of red wine rested in his long, fine-boned fingers.

"Your favorite team I surmise." Tokiya noted blandly as he inserted the video tape in the VCR. His superior took the chair next to him. "That one should pose a threat." he commented as Raiha, the first one to step into battle, made short work of Daikoku and his spinning staff. "He's good. Very good."

"I wonder how much its going to cost to lure that one into the Jyushinshuu." joked the scarred flame master. Although a serious undertone could be detected in his implication. The purple-haired Hokage didn't even sweat after finishing off the first of the Kuu Team. Kurei was more than interested on how the one they called Raiha would fare if given a stronger opponent.

"You just might be in for a package deal." Mikagami answered. "The girl with the fuujin is his sister."

Kurei thought he detected something different in the way Tokiya spoke when he mentioned the Kirisawa girl. He cast a sidelong glance at the ensui-wielder but saw no change in the latter's facial expression to implicate anything. He guessed he must be imagining things.

They watched the rest of the tape in near-absolute silence. Not much was said other than an occassional sentence here and there until they got to Recca's battle with Kukai where Kurei seemed to have reserved all his vile comments for. Tokiya regarded his superior with subtle amusement.

At least an hour after the master of the blue flame left his quarters, Tokiya removed the tape and using his madougu, ripped it to shreds.

He went to his dresser table and picked up the frightening piece of metal that shielded his face earlier.

Desumasuku had a job to do.

Fujimaru stumbled drunkedly on his way back to the hotel where the participants of the Urabutousatsoujin were staying. He had stayed way over an hour after Kukai had told him to return. What could he do? He can't help it that the alcohol they served at the bar was so darn good. Too bad none of the lovely ladies wanted to share it with him.

"Tish their losh, not mine...*hic*" he told himself as he staggered in a drunken daze. He tripped, falling on all fours on the damp grassland. He struggled to get to his feet, holding on to the lamppost before him as he tried to hoist himself up.

Now since when did they start putting lampposts in the middle of a country dirt road?

When the drunken member of the Kuu looked up, it wasn't a lightbulb that he saw.

And before his alcohol-befuddled brain could register anything, he felt a sharp kick on his chin, sending him careening backwards and hitting a tree. Hard.

Fujimaru tasted blood as it trickled down his mouth. This nearly knocked him into sobriety as his blurring vision made out an approaching figure in the darkness. A tall, trim figure in ebony clothing, with his hood and cape flowing dramatically in the wind was approaching him. And while his lean figure didn't seem to pose a threat, the mask that gleamed onimously under the light of the pale moon did.

"W-Whazz your f***in problem, man?" Fujimaru spoke roughly despite the fact that his heart was thumping fearfully in his chest.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you to respect women?" came the voice from the evil-looking mask of metal.

Before the lewd fighter of the Kuu could muster up an answer, another kick sent him flying across the dirt path.

Fuuko was sitting by the window of their hotel room, nursing a reheated mug of hot chocolate Kagero-san had made earlier. It was nearly two in the morning but she could not get herself to sleep. The rest of their team was deeply in slumber. It wasn't that she wasn't tired from the events of the day as the others were. She was. Especially after that battle with the despicable Fujimaru that left her dog-tired. But when she spent the better part of an hour tossing and turning in the bed she shared with Kagero-san, she decided she'd sit up until the lulls of sleep would lure her to bed.

It was all Tokiya's fault.

Or at least the man who looked like him.

But it was Tokiya. She was sure. Positive.

Unless her imagination ran absolutely wild on her, she could swear on her life that it was him.

The man she had ran into had the same build as Tokiya. The same short, silvery hair inside the baseball cap. She didn't get a good look at his eye color behind the spectacles. But the voice, that laconic way he apologized to her spoken in tones bereft of emotion was one and the same.

What would he be doing in the Urabutousatsoujin then?

It would have really bothered her to know that he was working for Kurei.

Why should it though, another part of her inquired. The guy obviously worked behind the scenes. He was probably a secretary or an accountant. Hell, he might not even be working for Kurei and Mori Kouran. He had mentioned before that he worked for a businessman and his son. And how many firms in Tokyo are run by father-and-son tandems? Tokiya could be here merely as a companion to one of Mori Kouran's filthy rich guests. Kagero-san had mentioned that games like these drew more than the usual crowd of wealthy people who did high-stake betting. Gambling with human lives and placing their bets on it. The thought made her shudder with the inhumanity of it all.

She gazed at the half-moon that illuminated them that night. She sighed as she made a subconscious wish.

If only I could see him again.

She didn't know why she wanted to. She just did. Not because she thought he had the least been interested in her. That was highly unlikely. He was just being polite back then, asking to draw her and all. He was probably even bored then and had talked to her merely to appease it.

Don't think that way, imouto-san, her brother advised her after she had related to him what had transpired between her and Tokiya that afternoon. You are attractive. Just because you don't get chosen in a beauty contest doesn't mean you aren't. And besides, you have a good heart. Perhaps that was what he appreciated the most.

If only she could believe her oniisan.

Because she had wanted to think he might have, even with the slightest possibility, found her likeable.

An ear-piercing scream tore through the night, interrupting her thoughts and waking her two sleeping companions.

"What could that be?" Yanagi asked as she ran towards the window.

"Who could that be?" Fuuko asked alternatively. Though the screeching sound sounded vaguely familiar.

"It rather sounds like that fellow you battled earlier Fuuko." Kagero said as followed Yanagi to the window.

"That blasted idiot Fujimaru?" Fuuko raised her brows. She listened and heard a bellow similar to the one she mustered up from him earlier. "He probably got beaten up for leching his drinks in the bar."

A full minute passed by with no further sounds. The two women then decided to return to bed. Fuuko followed shortly, her thoughts still preoccupied with the man with silver tresses.

The following morning, Saicho woke up to find their lecherous teammate sprawled on the hotel lobby. Badly beaten and barely breathing. A piece of paper was tacked to his torn shirt with Fujimaru's incomprehendable scrawl.

I swear on my blood that I will respect women from now on until the day I get buried.

Nobody asked who did a number on Fujimaru. Many thought he deserved it. Not that he would rant on who did it to him either. For some odd reason he chose to be silent, merely thankful that he was still alive.

Raiha, despite himself, managed a smile. Whoever got to Fujimaru did him a favor. After what that worm did to his sister, he would have trampled him himself. He would have, had he not been a bit more rational.

"What d'ya mean we can't start the second round?" Recca asked, annoyed.

"As if you don't recall what happened yesterday?" the mouse-eared referree replied. "You," she pointed out, "put potholes on the platform."

"Can I help it?" Recca said arrogantly, receiving a customary wallop from his teammates.

"Why are you in such a hurry? That platform is going to be your grave anyway."

The Hokage turned to see a beautiful red-haired woman with a flute. "Neon of the Uruha Jyushinshuu." she proudly introduced herself. "I came to see you in person before Genjuroh's team makes chopped liver out of you." she eyed them derisively.

"One of the persons in Kurei's mansion." recalled Recca. "Don't be so sure of yourself! We won our first round."

"A stroke of luck." Neon said. "I just came down to say hello...and goodbye." and she flashed a wicked smile at them before walking away.

"One of Kurei's jyushinshuu, huh?" Domon said, following her with his gaze. "She's pretty, but Fuuko is still all I want."

Raiha wasn't able to prevent his younger sister from punching Domon.

"Well, if it's going to be awhile, I think I'd take a walk." Fuuko declared. "Care to join me, oniisan?" she asked her brother.

He gently shook his head. "I'd love to imouto-san, but there's just a little something I'd like to do."

"Okay." she said before happily running off.

Raiha took off in the opposite direction.

What the siblings didn't know was that they searched for the same thing.

Or the same person for that matter.

And only one of them was bound to find him.

The castle seemed to beckon to her to enter. Unfortunately the guards didn't share the same feeling.

"Go fish." Fuuko stuck her tongue out at the two men in black who denied her entrance. She turned about, ticked off at having been turned away. She hid behind a tree after getting an idea of how to get herself in.

"What was that?" one of the guards said upon hearing the rustling of leaves from a certain distance.

"We better check." the other one declared. The two abandoned their posts to see what caused the noise. Fuuko came dashing from the opposite direction and quietly slipped in through the door.

"Baka." she giggled as she made her way through the seemingly empty castle. She stood in the middle of a grand hall, awed by its magnificence. Nobody appeared to be present, however, which left her walking in slow strides while admiring the palace's grandeur.

After taking a cautious tour of the first floor, and evading the occassional guard wandering in the corridor, she decided to take a peek at the second floor.

"What a beautiful place." she said to herself, wondering how much it would have cost to build the majestic structure. Mori Kouran obviously had money to burn. Loads of it. She was pondering on this when she touched a part of the wall that began to move.

"What tha..."

The next thing she knew she began falling into an abyss.

"Where the hell is she?" the leader of Team Hokage was near screaming with Domon trying unsuccessfully to pacify him.

"Maybe I should go find her." Raiha said with a crease on his brow. Fuuko was never late like this. She always made it a point to come on time and perpetually stressed that. He feared something might have terribly gone wrong.

"You can't go, Raiha." Kagero stressed. "They might disqualify us."

"Who's gonna fight in Fuuko's place though? We can't battle with just the three of us." Domon pointed out.

The subject of their conversation was unknowingly stuck in the bottom of a pit, cursing her luck and waving angrily at no one in particular.

"Fuuko no baka!!!" she berated herself. She had left the fuujin in her niisan's bag and she could find no exit. Feeling through the walls, she noted three buttons. "God let it be the one." she whispered as she chose one of the three, hoping it would be one for an exit. She gasped as a panel of the wall opened, ushering in water. Lots of it. And it filled the pit faster than she could count to ten.

"Aaargghh!" she groaned loudly. "Out the frying pan and into the fire! Damn! Into the fishpond is more like it....help!!!"

The trap door that covered the pit was made of solid steel. The walls surrounding it were several feet thick. Between the powerful rush of water and the thick walls, no one could hear the screams of help coming from within.

But sometimes, instinct becomes a more powerful tool than actual witness.

He was on his way up the castle when he passed by the emptycorridor. He immediately noted that something was amiss. When he approached the hall that led to the trap door, he noticed that the secret panel on the wall had been moved. The dust patterns on its surface had changed and if one had taken a good look, as he had, a small handprint could be seen against it. For some odd reason he felt his heart skip a beat faster as he went on bended knee and pressed his ear against the solid floor.

"Somebody!!! Heelp!!!"

He quickly removed the jacket of his three-piece suit and kicked off his patent leather shoes. He pushed a button located in a corner known only to members of the Uruha, opening the metal trap door. He muttered an oath when he saw that the water had gone up nearly to the surface. The one who had called for help was nowhere to be found.

Aki was hurriedly climbing the stairway, angry at one of the guests who had delayed her from following Tokiya by making useless chitchat and asking for her number. She near tripped because she wasn't used to walking fast on high heels. She was about to go further to the third floor when she saw that the trap door on the second floor was open. Thinking an intruder might have infiltrated their hideaway, she hid behind one of the massive pillars supporting the castle. She gasped as she recognized the person who emerged from the water-filled pit. And what shocked her even more was the fact that he was not alone.

Who's that he's carrying?

He laid her on a prone position on the floor, pushing on her back to release the water from her stomach. He turned her over and pressed again. When he decided that all the water was out, he carried her in his arms making his way to one of the guest rooms on the same floor.

Aki decided to follow them.

Fuuko no Miko's Rant:
Okay! This seems to be getting longer than I assumed ^_^. Anyhow, you *must* forgive me for taking so long to follow up the chapters. I went on leave for a month (which was very, very necessary) so I didn't have access to my PC or the story. Gomen nasai! I know I left you hanging there. But anyways, now I have a wee bit more time to write so hopefully I can go faster. While reviewing the chapters, I noted a few more loopholes in the plot...but heck if you don't notice them then I won't point them out ^^;;;. As you note, I also borrowed a couple of scenes from the manga and modified them here and there. This story has waaay gone off tangent from Rekka no Honoo, more or less. And if you wonder why Tokiya must go on under the guise of Desumasuku (what a mouthful to pronounce!), it is because I have something special planned for him *cackles evilly.* My biggest apologies to Aki fans as well, for making her a bitch of sorts. Yeah well, there has to be an antagonist (as if there aren't enough already) in there somewhere...and Miki sure didn't look the part...Kirin's heart belongs to Rasen...Mikoto is strictly Mokouren's property and Aoi isn't supposed to make an appearance yet. Rekka no Honoo and all its characters strictly belong to Anzai Noboyuki and I claim *nothing* to them. All that belongs to me here is the plot, the idea, Hirato Takafumi's Team, and Desumasuku. Desumasuku is *MY* creation and nobody has the right to borrow him in any fic without telling me so, okay? Please? Desumasuku literally translates to Death Mask. His look is loosely based on Spiderman's Dr. Doom and one of my favorite professional wrestlers, the Undertaker. Until the next chapter, keep reading ^_^.