Ryan raised an eyebrow at the strange contraption Katt handed him. “And what in the world is this?”

“I call this a crossbow,” Katt explained with pride. “You load the arrow in like this,” she gestured as she demonstrated, “then you pull the trigger, and—”

With a sharp *THWAP*, the arrow shot out in a straight line and embedded itself into a tree several yards away.

Joseph, who at this very moment was standing next to the tree, jumped. “Hey! Watch where you point that thing!”

Katt placed a hand behind her head and laughed. “Sorry, Joseph, I didn’t see you.”

Meanwhile, Ryan was most impressed with this display. “Think you could make me a couple more? This would be an excellent addition to our arsenal.”

“Sure!” Katt beamed.

Joseph took a step forward and cleared his throat. “Uh—mind if I interrupt for a sec?”

“Hi, Joseph!” Ryan greeted. “Getting supplies for Washuu-chan again, eh?”

“Yeah.” Joseph sighed. “Buying stuff for her is more like a scavenger hunt these days.”

Katt walked over to where Joseph was. “Let me see.” Joseph handed Katt the yellowed piece of paper. “Hm.” she frowned and furrowed her eyes and the scrawl. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this.”

“Why don’t we go to Madoka’s?” Ryan suggested. “If anyone knows about strange substances, it would be her.”


The moment Ryan walked into the door of the Lurker’s Retreat, he noticed a new face sitting at one of the tables. The fellow was a short, feminine-looking man, and his shoulder-[length] hair was tied behind his head in a low ponytail. At his waist was what looked like a katana. Taking long strides over a pair of regulars who were going at each other’s throats, [Ryan moved] to where the stranger was sitting.

“Excuse me, sir,” he began, tapping at the person’s shoulder. “But it’s illegal to carry swords in public.”

“Even this one, officer?” The man asked, pulling out his sword with his left hand. Ryan tensed and placed his hand on his own [weapon].

He blinked with surprise as the man’s sword came out of its sheath. “A wooden sword?”

“I keep it to scare off bandits,” the man explained.

“Well, then, I suppose that’s all right.” Ryan was about to leave when he remembered something. “But I’d better not hear anything about you waving that thing around, got that?”

The man nodded. “Of course, officer.”

“Oh, just plain Ryan would be fine.” Ryan said with a smart bow. “You new around here?”

“Mostly,” the man answered with the slightest touch of hesitation, returning the bow with a brief nod. “Soujirou.”

During this exchange, Joseph and Katt went to Madoka with Washuu’s latest request.

Madoka held the paper closer and narrowed her eyes. “Deoxyribose nucleic acid?” She pronounced, eyebrows arched high.

Joseph sat down and placed his elbows on the bar. “If I knew what in the world that was, do you think I’d be here?”

Katt sat down as well. “Hm.” Her eyes lit up as she remembered something. “Hey, didn’t something like this happen a while ago?”

“Huh?” Joseph looked up at Katt.

“Yeah,” Madoka chipped in, “once you came in here getting all panicky looking for something called ‘adenosine triphospate’, remember?”

Joseph snapped his fingers. “That’s right.” his face fell. “And it turned out to be a prank.” He buried his head in his hands. “I am an idiot.”

Katt patted Joseph on the shoulder. “Think of the bright side: at least Washuu-chan didn’t make you her guinea pig again!”

The sound of hoof-beats could be heard above the crowd. It came to a screeching stop in front of the Retreat, and then a figure could be seen skidding through the door. Ryan recognized the figure as Ace, the local mailman/delivery man/news source.

“GANGWAY!” Ace screamed as he zoomed full speed into the Retreat, bowling over several tables in the process. He finally came to a stop against the bar, using his heavy mail bag to lessen the impact.

“Hiya, Ace!” Madoka greeted. “What’s up?”

Ace hefted his bag onto the bar and pulled out several letters, calling out each recipient’s name as he dispersed the letters.

“Thanks, Ace.” Madoka caught the envelopes Ace tossed her way and dropped them into the trash can with just a slight glance. “Any news?”

Ace shrugged. “Not really, just the same old routine.”

“Lord Thickett approaches!” a panicked voice shouted outside, and everyone scrambled to look decent.

Ace crossed his legs and leaned against the bar. “See what I mean?”

With the precision of an army sergeant and the grandeur of a king, Thickett strutted into the bar, his consort Jessica at his side, and his henchmen behind him. The crowd parted like the Red Sea for Thickett and his gang, who made a beeline for the bar, where Madoka was cleaning shot glasses.

“Drinks all around, and make it quick,” Thickett ordered, resting an arm on the bar. Madoka obeyed, pouring her best sake for Thickett and his men.

Alzena, who happened to be walking by with someone else’s order at the moment, yelped as one of the henchmen reached out and pinched her butt. She shook a finger at the offender. “Ah, ah, ah. Look, but don’t touch.” Elyssa, out of the men’s reach on the other side of the restaurant, shot Alzena warning glance and shook her head.

Thickett watched this exchange with amusement and began sipping from the glass Madoka set before him. He waited for the man to almost fall off the stool trying to get another shot at Alzena before speaking. “Now, now, Yugo. If you really fancy that girl, there are better ways of going about it.”

Jessica laughed, a rich, throaty, yet pretentious laugh. “You? Play matchmaker for poor Yugo? He’d be better off joining a priesthood.”

Thickett smiled in response, but didn’t say a word. The Retreat stayed quiet as he and his followers finished their drinks. “Excellent, as always,” Thickett said, tossing a coin onto the bar. “Put the rest on my tab.”

With that, the group left the bar in the same manner that they had entered.

Madoka picked up the coin and frowned at its denomination. “This won’t even cover a tenth of what they just drank up!” she sighed. “Ah, well. At least he paid something this time.”

Elyssa held up the coins and bills at another table. “Look at this, Madoka! That green-haired guy left enough extra cash to cover most of the rest of it!”

Ryan blinked. He hadn’t noticed the stranger leave. When did he go?

“That wasn’t a guy,” Alzena remarked.

Madoka, Ace, Ryan, Katt, and Elyssa fell over. “WHAT?!?” They asked in unison.

“I’m the mistress of disguise, remember?” Alzena reminded them. “It was a piece of cake to tell that that ‘gentleman’ there was dressed in drag, so to speak.”

Elyssa looked out the door, as if she were trying to see where the stranger went. “But why?”


Kimiko watched as her target—the former killer known as Samui for her ice-cold personality—walked through the streets of Capow just about unnoticed.

No wonder they also called her the Shadow Assassin, Kimiko thought, remembering how Samui had slipped out of the bar without anyone seeing her. And no wonder the rest of the Shin Sen Gumi were jittery about her being in this city.

Clad in a ragged, old blue hakama, Samui could have looked like any of the other people in the streets of Capow save for the sword at her waist, her bright green hair, and the pale, thin scar across the bridge of her nose. And yet, she attracted very little attention.

It’s as if she doesn’t exist, Kimiko thought as she continued to follow Samui. But why, after five years of virtual disappearance, does she show up again here?

“Why are you following me?” Samui asked without bothering to turn around.

Kimiko almost had a heart attack, and it was now that she realized that she had followed Samui into a deserted alley. If she were to attack me here— Kimiko tensed and placed her hand on her weapon. “What are you doing in this city?” she asked in return, keeping her voice as calm as possible.

“I just wanted to sleep in a real bed for once, but—” what might have been a small sigh escaped Samui’s lips. “I suppose I could sleep out in the open again.” she looked up to the darkening sky. “Oh, well. ‘When it rains, I get wet’.”

“I—” Kimiko blinked, and the alley was empty. “Huh?” she stamped her foot. “Damn! I lost her!”