Outside Cytek Headquarters, the clouds in the sky had taken on a purplish hue as the orange sun began to set, the whisper of the night about to wrap the city of Tokyo in shadows.
Yet as lanterns and bright marquees gained strength, a development no one could have expected took place atop the 109mens commercial building on Jingumae-Dori. A group of men were making the final preparations before beginning their mission, concealed from curious eyes by the green meshes mounted before the scaffolding structure on the rooftop. The figures dressed in dark fatigues and tactical gear were grouped in pairs, those in front cutting holes on the screens with military knives while the guys behind them squeezed the triggers of their grappling-hook pistols. Cables hissed across the street, burring themselves in the wall of the opposite edification: Cytek Headquarters.
Casting the heavy weapons aside, the men made one last brief check of their bulky equipment. They donned some stylized two-piece red oni masks, ranging from the nose down to the chin. These had two small cylinder filters on each side, while the upper frame was made up of ballistic googles. Finally, they brought dark hoodies above their heads as they wielded fearsome M4A1 automatic carbines with incorporated ACOG sights along with customized stocks and handguards. And so, with the cables secured from their end, the men threw themselves into the void, dangling from wheeled devices that fit over the cable line until they reached the other end.
At the same time, three step-vans below them moved across the asphalt at moderate speed before coming to a halt in front of Cytek HQ’s main entrance. As the rear double doors flung open, other men wearing similar dark uniforms came down in a rush, brandishing the same assault rifles as their partners above. They headed straight for the tempered glass doors, and in half a heartbeat, they were swarming into the energy tycoon’s heart. Everyone in the lobby froze with a wide-eyed grimace, the brief moment of silence shattered by shower of brass cases casings being fired into the air. The leader of the terrorist surged ahead of his peers, wearing a gold mask, and rolled a smoke grenade on the floor. Sooner than later, shouts, complaints, and curses of all kinds took over the ground level, followed by the sound of coughing of those who fell victim to the toxic gas.
In the meantime, the terrorists burst across the waiting area through the thickening gray cloud, still firing their weapons at the ceiling. With their masks secured, they moved unhindered by the smoke toward the reception desk. Even if they couldn’t see quite well beyond it, they knew the inside of the building by hearth, having practiced that maneuver as many times as they had dreamed it.
“Everyone, get down on the floor!” shouted their leader. “Now, now! Come on, people!”
One of the security guards near the desk seemed lucid enough to respond to their assault, reaching for the holster on his belt and willing to pull out his gun. To his misfortune, an armed tug anticipated his reaction and aimed his rifle at him. “Don’t even think about it!” he barked at the guard. “On the round! Now!” He then waved his weapon at the partner beside him, who seemed ready to perform the same foolish move. “Both of you! Drop your weapons!”
Unwillingly, the guards obeyed and dumped their pistols as they threw themselves to the floor, their hands on the back of their heads. Two tugs kept an eye on them as they kicked their guns out of their reach, the rest of the aggressors either taking positions on the ground level or heading for the service stairs.
Their leader, meanwhile, had jumped over the counter and was now waving his menacing M4 carbine before the terrified eyes of the employees. “Away from the desk!” he demanded at them. “Put your hands on the ground, and don’t even think of doing something stupid!” The woman right before him swallowed hard, her body shaking as she did what she was told. The other employees around her followed suit, fearing for their welfare.
Satisfied, the leader glanced at his watch, confirming they were well within schedule, when he heard a click on his earpiece. “Mitsuhide-One to Ieyasu-One,” began a voice, which he immediately identified as the man in charge among the group of infiltrated guards on his payroll, who, like so many others, had joined the company throughout the last year. He was waiting for his report. “Monitoring center secured. The guard offered resistance but was already dealt with. My men are taking control of the upper floors, and Hidetada is setting up the annex to work on our little project.”
This, of course, brought him further comfort. In a matter of minutes, his comrades would seize Cytek Headquarters in its entirety, leaving his object of hatred on his knees in a political statement that would shake the foundations of the most corrupt enterprise of all. Whether the masses would come to their senses regarding the current shape of the world was a secondary issue. For the time being, he had to focus on the plan. What Mitsuhide-One had said confirmed the men from the Iesada squad had successfully entered the building from the fifth floor, carrying a bag full of submachine guns so the guards would possess a little more firepower. His squad, identified as Ieyasu, was in charge of taking over the lobby and rounding up the hostages from the adjoining floors. Ietsuna, Tsunayoshi, and Ienobu would take care of the fifth, fifteenth, and eighteenth floors, respectively, bringing together low and mid-level employees. Yoshinobu in the twenty-first had to deal with the security guards, while Iesada would go up to the twenty-fifth to manage the executives still in the building. Finally, Hidetada, which had parted ways with Ieyasu after the initial assault, would prepare ‘Porphyrion’ in the adjacent building.
“Affirmative, Mitsuhide,” the leader replied as he recalled it was time for the remaining squad, Tsunayoshi, to deal with his most valuable hostages. “It’s time to take care of the students.”
Inside the conference room on the sixth floor, things were no longer amusing for the students of Shibuya High School. Devoid of white and shimmering lights, the suite looked pale and gloomy amid the feeble greenish glow of the emergency lights system. Smiles and grimaces of vague interest had been replaced by anxious and fearful faces. As for Kazuto Sugiyama, he was trying to stay calm, glancing at his surroundings to ease the growing uncertainty at the edge of his thoughts. The suite shutters were now open, so he saw through the windows a couple of technicians standing beside their workstations. They were chatting among themselves with furrowed brows while checking their cellphones every so often. The picture did little to reassure him, yet Kazuto knew there was no use in giving in to fear, at least not until the situation cleared up.
Meanwhile, the security door, which no longer seemed to lock as it should, swung open. A guard stepped in and joined the female guide. He ought to have brought some news with him since the teachers gathered around him, exchanging some words in a low voice. Then, the brown-haired woman turned toward the students. “I need you to pay attention to me,” she said in a composed manner. “There is some kind of situation in progress in the lobby. We were asked to wait here until whatever is happening concludes. I know this is unexpected, but in these situations, the best thing you can do is to stay calm and follow my instructions.”
Her words did little to reassure the students, who began whispering with concern. Kazuto, for his part, checked up on his friends. Raisuke was looking all over the room as though the walls or the ceiling would provide him with an answer, while Nozomi was gripping her sides with self-hugging arms. Her forehead was drenched in sweat and drained of color, and Kazuto thought for a moment she was telling herself to breathe normally.
“What the hell is going on?” she muttered, insecure.
The boy tried to come with some words to soothe her—when a scream came from somewhere on the floor.
Everyone jumped at the noise, which was followed by the shattering staccato of an assault rifle being fired up into the ceiling. Students turned and cringed in response as they witnessed, from one moment to the next, men in black uniforms with rifles in their hands storming the floor. Under no conscious thought, Kazuto wrapped his arms around Nozomi and Raisuke, pushing them out of their seats and under the horizontal table. His eyes alert, he glimpsed the guard who had joined the students drawing his pistol and stepping into the workstations area. But his reaction proved hasty once the menacing shadows multiplied and converged on his position.
“Put it down! Don’t be stupid!” yelled a dark figure.
“Drop your weapon! Drop it!” urged another.
The situation had escalated beyond the security man’s capabilities. From under the table, Kazuto saw the man releasing the grip from his pistol, which fell upon the floor with a thud. Immediately, one of the thugs forced him to his knees, restraining his hands with plastic handcuffs. But as one of his colleagues bent down to pick up the gun, a shiver ran down Kazuto’s spine at the sighting of his devilish red mask. He remembered it, as well as the imposing and frightening attitude with which the men wearing them terrorized people for their macabre ends.
Those despicable beasts who had killed his parents... The initial flood of terror that had seized his body was soon replaced by hatred. For a second, he wanted it to drive his body into action and take a stand—even if his fragile casing was insignificant before their power. There was nothing he could do about it.
There was, however, someone who demanded his efforts. As Kazuto turned to Nozomi, still curled up in his arms, he noticed her eyes were narrowing into unconsciousness as he sensed her body became frail. “Nozomi?” Kazuto asked, alarmed. “Hey, are you—?”
In the blink of an eye, the girl slid down on the floor and out of his grasp. Kazuto felt as though the world around him was spinning out of control, but he reminded himself his friend needed him strong. Letting go of Raisuke, he didn’t hesitate to come to her aid, focusing on giving Nozomi enough space to catch her breath and regain consciousness.
Yet what he failed to grasp was that a terrorist was moving on them.
Suddenly, a teacher of his class ran up to confront him, placing herself before the man and the students in her care. “Please, don’t hurt them!” she begged desperately.
The man was in no mood for arguments, so he brushed her aside. Much to her misfortune, Nozomi had regained some awareness, her eyes wide with terror as the menacing thug pulled her up by the arm. “Don’t make me waste my time, kid,” he spat rudely. “Get yourself together!”
Kazuto didn’t know how or why, but at that moment, he decided he wouldn’t allow him to go any further. Somehow, all his anger and frustrations channeled into the pressing need to intervene. His fists tightened with conviction, he rose to face the terrifying man hurting his friend. “Don’t put your hands on her, you peace of—”
For his brave stand, Kazuto was clubbed by the stock of terrorist’s carbine, which hurt his jaw and made him spit blood once he found himself on the floor. The terrorist mocked him with arrogance. “It seems we have a hero here, huh? How about—?”
A commanding voice prevented him from carrying on with the strife. “That’s enough, soldier!”
All eyes on the floor turned to the new masked figure that had burst onto it. Still washed over by a burning sensation of pain, Kazuto made an effort to notice the mask under his hood wasn’t red but golden. The female teacher, in the meantime, knelt down to assist his and help him regain his footing. “Stop messing around with them and stick to the plan for once!” he yelled at his colleague with an authority only a leader could display.
The man merely nodded in response, all trace of arrogance vanished from his manner, as the terrorist leader walked out of the room. He was joined by a fellow comrade, who whispered something to his ear. Kazuto only caught his startled response. “What do you mean you found the twins on the server room?”
For a moment, the boy forgot about his condition, a sense of vapid curiosity flitting across his face at the mention of the twins—followed by a sharp twinge on pain there where the weapon had hit him. He assumed they were talking about Saori and Hayato, of course, who had parted ways with the group long before. Only God knew what became of them since the nightmare had begun.
Saori had her ear pressed against the server room’s entrance door when she heard the distant popping sound of gunfire alongside screams. Anxious, she brought her mouth close to her hidden microphone. “Eagle Eye, are you there?” No reply came from the other end. “Eagle Eye, this is White Leopard. Do you copy, over?” she insisted. Still no response.
“What’s happening?” Koizumi-san whispered behind her, choking back a sob as if she sensed something.
The girl, for her part, had little doubts about the situation. The uploaded payload had disabled the building’s security and power systems. The presence of infiltrated guards and assault rifle fire coming from the lobby made it clear terrorists had taken over Cytek, Eagle Eye’s lack of response caused by his capture, or worse. She had no idea for what purposes they were doing all this, and this wasn’t the time to pursue the thought any further.
While trying to come up with a way to explain all this to Koizumi-san, Saori felt fear bubbling up inside her. It threatened to flood out into panic as the full extent of what she was dealing with crystallized in her mind. They were both trapped there at the mercy of terrorists who vastly outnumbered them, let alone in terms of equipment. Just the thought of it sent a chill down her spine and made her stir.
But she couldn’t allow fear to take hold of her.
Shaking her head back into cold focus, Saori pondered how to proceed. She followed her first instinct and kneeled to pick up the guard’s gun from the floor; it was a nine-millimeter Glock. Removing the magazine, she verified it was full, all thirteen rounds in place. Whether she would use them or they would make a difference, Saori didn’t know, the risk of attracting more attention than necessary if she fired them too high for her taste. At any rate, she pulled the magazine back and resolved to conceal the gun in the small of her back. She then faced Koizumi-san, mustering all the confidence she could as she grabbed her by the shoulders.
She could feel the trembling of her body as she talked to her as calmly and clearly as she could. “Listen to me, Koizumi-san. I want you to do exactly what I tell you—”
“No!” she cried out while shaking her off. “You first tell me what the hell is going on!” The woman’s face was a mess of conflicting emotions, terror prevailing above all others. She was falling apart before Saori’s eyes, about to go into shock. She took a few steps back—and before Saori could stop her, she was bolting for the door, desperate to get out of there and leave everything behind.
No sooner had she stepped out of the room than a door opened somewhere on the floor. Saori heard movement in the hall and made for the bottom of a row of server racks. “Hey, you! Stop!” yelled a guard outside, having sighted Koizumi-san. The woman screamed in panic as Saori dared to peer out from behind cover, spotting two dark bulges subduing her and pulling her out of the area like a sack.
But one of them had a flashlight, and as soon as he reached the door, a beacon of light burst into the server room. Saori’s heart skipped a beat. Fortunately, her mind reacted in the nick of time, making sure no part of her body was exposed to the revealing glare. She held her breath for a few seconds, listening to the humming of the servers and the guard’s footsteps closing on her. Then, all of a sudden, the man broke into a run, coming to a halt midway to where she stood. He ought, Saori thought, to have spotted his colleague’s body. She hissed in frustration, suspecting he would call for help over the radio at any given minute. She had to do something.
Carefully, she removed a cartridge from her Glock’s magazine and tossed it across the aisle, bouncing onto the floor with a clatter. The man turned toward the sound, which Saori knew the moment the flashlight whirled beside her. Then came the footsteps converging on her position, her heart racing as the guard neared the corner. Saori never expected the man to surge into the aisle, gun in hand and aimed at head-level there where the noise had come.
But he found no one.
By then, Saori had moved around the server row and toward the exit door. Her heart leaped to her throat as the beam of light suddenly shifted to the frosted glass walls. Yet she realized she had left it behind, so she was safe from being spotted. Saori crouch-walked to an adjacent office, surveying the cameras mounted on the ceiling to make sure they didn’t pick up her movements. She slipped into the room, closing the door behind her and pressing her back to it. The girl let out a long breath, finding some degree of calm and safety at last.
A voice in her earpiece brought back all her worries. “White Leopard, if you still hear me, find a place to hide.” It was her father. “Alpha is almost there. They’ll make their way to you and get you out of there.”
For a moment, she considered his words, the opportunity to get out of there and leave everything in the hands of his colleagues. But a certain matter pressed on the back of her mind, and she was too deep in now to cast it aside. “What about Blue Jaguar?” she whispered into her mike. “Are we going to abandon him just like that?”
“Let us take care of that. I need you at Hardy Barracks to plan our next move.”
At that moment, Saori glanced at the watch in her left hand, realizing it contained everything she needed. She knew she was probably making a mistake, that the smart thing to do was follow her father’s advice. But her gut told her otherwise, to trust her skills and the tools at her disposal.
“I won’t leave him like this. And I can be your eyes inside and get you all the intel you need.” It seemed to her that it was only now, when he had uttered the words, that she had made her choice. “Call Alpha off. I’m staying.”
Shibuya High School students were now sitting on the floor around the conference table, waging a tough battle against fear and uncertainty. For some strange reason, the terrorists didn’t want them in the seats. Pressing an ice pack on his bruised cheek, Kazuto saw their struggle reflected in their uneasy grimaces and word exchanges. The adults weren’t in much better shape, trying to mask their anxiety by keeping themselves busy checking them out. The teacher among them, for instance, was crouched in front of Nozomi, examining her condition. Her face had a much better color, so it looked like she had already recovered, at least within what the circumstances allowed.
When the woman stood up to check on another student, silence fell over the room. Everyone tensed at the sight of the menacing golden mask stepping into it, the man behind it carrying himself as if he owned the place. Then, as he chose to reveal his face out of the blue, a few girls gasped out loud at the large vertical scar on his forehead. It took Kazuto a moment to register the familiarity of his facets, the disheveled black hair framing a mouth drawn in a tight frown. Takeshi Uchida. His formidable presence loomed over the students as his grim eyes scrutinized them from his position of power.
Before he even wondered how the man everyone assumed dead was now standing in front of him, Kazuto threw a sidelong glance at Issei. The boy was gaping at his older brother in disbelief. But Takeshi paid him no mind, his eyes moving past him as if he was just one more of the bunch.
Then, the leader of the terrorists addressed his captives. “Good evening,” he began, his voice thick and stern. “As the person in charge, I apologize for the trouble we have caused you, but I’m afraid you will remain our hostages for the moment.” He took a brief pause, measuring his tone. “Our conflict is with Cytek and the Sentinels, not with you. This is merely a statement and a test. So as long as you follow our instructions to the letter and don’t speak with any of us unless we tell you to do so, you’ll be fine. I’m a man of my word.”
Out of the blue, Issei Uchida rose from the ground, stepping forward with wobbling knees. “O-Onii-sama, why are you doing this? I thought you were—”
Holding no sympathy for his younger brother, Takeshi slapped him hard in the face, sending him to the floor. A stir ran through the conference room as Issei grabbed his reddened cheek in shock, staring at his brother in disbelief. While Kazuto saw the man’s gaze remained impassive, he sensed a hint of disgust in it. “As I told you, I am a man of my word,” Takeshi said, addressing no one in particular. “Don’t test my patience. If any of you display the slightest sign of resistance, we will shoot you without hesitation.”
The leader of Amaterasu weighed the looks of his captives one last time as if feeding on their fear. For a brief moment, he stopped on Kazuto, sparing him a single sharp glance. Deep down, he was terrified, of course, his throat dry and tight with uneasiness at the terrorists’ display of control and authority. But Kazuto dared not flinch. He wondered if he was fooling himself, holding on to some newly founded courage that would only endanger his life. And still, something crystallized in Kazuto’s mind. He could no longer sit idly by and watch as those he loved suffered at the hands of people like him.
The moment faded as quick as it had come, and Takeshi had moved his gaze away from him. He turned around and abandoned the suite, leaving a couple of armed men guarding the entrance. No one inside relaxed at his departure, not even Kazuto, who was now convinced nothing but long hours of tension and bewilderment awaited him.