The chill night air whipped up from the streets and gilded mosque rooftops of Kazakh, catching the monomolecular metal skin of the hang-glider from underneath and lifting it upwards another fifty meters. Below, several sentries had become aware of his presence in the sky and had begun firing their antiquated rifles at him. He was mostly unconcerned about their assault, as eleven years of specialized training had prepared him for situations such as these. What did concern him was the fact that unless he caught another updraft very shortly, he was going to undershoot his estimated landing point by a good one hundred and twenty meters. At his current altitude and velocity, he had approximately two minutes before it would be impossible to make the landing site. He focused on his target and concentrated on holding the glider steady...

...and a bullet pierced the skin of his glider's left wing, increasing his drag just enough to drop him down about two hundred meters.

"Damn it all..." he muttered, and began scouting around, looking for an alternate place to land.

There was a clear spot some five hundred meters off, at the top of a mosque that appeared to still be under construction. Seeing no other alternatives, he aimed his glider towards it and began his descent. When he was within one hundred meters of his goal, another bullet ripped through his glider's skin, this time on his right tail fin. His acceleration instantly plummeted, his glider threatened to stall out, and he instinctively pulled back, increasing his drag exponentially. He recovered a few dozen meters in altitude...just enough to gain the top of the unfinished mosque. As soon as he was within landing altitude, he dropped to a steel girder and crouched there for a moment. No sooner had he done this than five more bullets tore through his glider; one of them pierced his light source's power supply, causing it to explode and destroy the entire thing.

He scanned the area, establishing his bearings and searching for the mosque that had been his target. It was some five kilometers off, guarded by no less than thirty soldiers, several dozen automated energy cannons, and two robotic walkers. A rumbling sound emanated from below him, washing over him in a wave of vibratos. He looked over the side of the girder and saw a long row of small, pod-like structures breaking through the asphalt below him. He watched as their dome-caps split open in four sections, slid into a special sheath inside the pod's external skin, and exposed the bright tips of the interior structure. These tips began to glow yellow-white and projected a sheet of energy that began to rise upwards into the sky. He stepped back from the edge as the energy-wall rose past him, watching as it extended upwards into the sky and eventually met another one coming from the other direction. The two merged some fifteen hundred meters above his head, forming a dome.

He bent down, picked up a rusty nail from the top of the girder, and hurled it at the energy barrier. The energy vaporized it in an electricity-laden shower of sparks.

"Containment shield," he muttered. "They mean to keep me here..."

As he stood there reflecting on implications of the shield's presence, a soldier approached him from behind. Unfortunately for the soldier, he stumbled, alerting the young man to his presence. The young man whirled, drawing his sword-like weapon and swiping through the air in one fluid motion, bisecting the soldier before he even had an opportunity to cry out.

The young man stepped over the two pieces of the soldier's body and made his way towards his target, sprinting along the unfinished mosque's top to its edge. He leaped over the four-meter gap between this mosque and the next, slipped on the dome's surface, and plunged his hook into it as he began to slide backwards. He pulled himself back up and began scaling the wall. A panel opened on the wall opposite him and blaster cannons extended from the aperture beneath it. They targeted him and opened fire. He lashed out at them savagely, timing his ascent to avoid the remaining cannons' assault. He gained the top, slid down a slope on the other side, narrowly avoided the retractable spikes which extended from the ledge above him, and finally tumbled into what appeared to be an open laboratory. As he fell through, a retractable ceiling extended across the chasm, cutting it off from the outside. He looked around. In the corner was an elevated glass chamber in which a red-clad soldier was sealed. Several tubes protruded from his arms and chest, pumping various liquids into his body, which had the cumulative effect of massively beefing up his musculature. The soldier grew so large that the chamber became extremely confining, and as he flexed his newly improved muscles, he shattered the entire setup. He looked at the young man standing opposite him and snarled.

"I am Strobaya, captain of the 182nd division of Kazakh's ground forces," he shouted in a thick Russian accent. "You must be the Strider, Hiryu!"

The accused said nothing.

"So, you have nothing to say?" Strobaya questioned. "Prepare yourself, for you will die shortly!"

He dove at Hiryu from where he stood on the platform, attempting to catch hold of the youthful Strider. But Hiryu dove underneath Strobaya's leap, rolled and slid, and skidded to a stop directly below the platform where the enhancing machine had stood. Strobaya somersaulted across the floor until he struck a wall, then stood up and dove at Hiryu again. Hiryu stood his ground, striking out with Falchion in a vertical slash that hit Strobaya like a thousand uppercuts and cleaved him from navel to nose. Strobaya staggered backwards a couple of steps, then stood and flexed his muscles once more.

Hiryu's jaw dropped away from his face. Not only was Strobaya not dead and not even unconscious, he was also not bleeding. In fact, the long, streaking gash that Falchion had inflicted upon him was merely a surface wound: just beneath Strobaya's natural skin was a secondary skin made of a metallic alloy! The machine had transformed the soldier into a maddened cyborg!

Strobaya dove at Hiryu for the third time, catching him in a bear hug that brought him to the floor and nearly broke his ribs. Strobaya then sprang to his feet and pitched Hiryu headfirst at the far wall.

As he flew towards the wall, Hiryu placed his hands on the floor behind him, using the momentum to transform his free flight into a back hand-spring. He was unable to arrest his momentum completely, however, and struck the wall back-first, knocking the breath out of his lungs.

He slid down the wall to the floor as though the wall was heated and he was a piece of shaved ice.

As he rested there momentarily on one knee and the knuckles of his left hand, Strobaya charged at him for a fourth - and Hiryu swore, final - time. Just before the bionically enhanced soldier was within grabbing distance, Hiryu threw himself into the air in a cartwheel jump, extending all his limbs at the apex of his leap to maximize his forward momentum. As he fell back down to the floor, he drew his cypher and attacked Strobaya from behind.

He struck the soldier's back no less than nine times before he touched the ground.

Strobaya sank to his knees. The last thrust had bitten deeply into the area where his shoulder blades had once been, puncturing his now-cybernetic heart. He turned slowly to face Hiryu, twitching violently.

"Well done, Strider. But it is still as I said. You will die here!" he said in a low voice.

Then he threw back his head and roared with laughter as he opened a panel on his wrist and punched in a command. He exploded, and the ceiling erupted into flames and began crashing down upon the floor! A bracing strut landed directly beside Hiryu, and he jumped to the side in alarm. He then dashed for the platform, slid into the space beneath it, rolled over onto his stomach, and covered the back of his head with his hands as he waited for the rest of the roof to cave in.

When it finally stopped, the entire floor was ablaze, except for the area underneath the platform where he lay. The metallic surfaces that covered the floor were rapidly growing hot, he realized, making it imperative that he get out of that chamber as swiftly as possible. Unfortunately, he had no room to draw Falchion and get a good swing at the platform above him, and thus could not ascend to its top without being badly burned.

He heard the screaming sound of heated metal tearing and giving way above him. One end of a large bracing strut broke loose from where the ceiling had been and swung down violently, scraping across the platform above Hiryu's head. The strut had enough momentum to completely wear through the metal of the platform, tearing a hole in it. Hiryu looked up, saw this, and shoved his blade through the hole. He pulled back as far as the hole would allow, and slashed downward with all his might. He managed to lengthen the hole by a good two meters, which was enough for him to grab with his hook and bend toward the floor. He tore the heated metal easily, widening the gap and climbing through it to stand on top of the platform. He then darted up the bracing strut and leaped for a wall off to his right. Using his hook, he scaled the wall until he reached another girder some sixty meters above the platform. As he pulled himself up, he heard and felt the other end of the strut break loose; he looked down and saw it completely crush the very spot where he had been lying only moments before.

No sooner had he clambered up onto the girder than another soldier attacked him. Frustrated and angry, Hiryu attacked him with a flurry of sweeping strokes: stroke one disarmed the soldier; stroke two sliced off his firing arm; and stroke three decapitated him. The lifeless body tumbled backwards as though it were made of limp noodles.

That done, he looked around. To his surprise, he was now standing where he had originally intended to land: directly in front of the mosque. He took off full tilt towards the mosque, scaling its sides and finally gaining the top. As he reached the mosque's pinnacle, a robotic spider-walker appeared from below him and fired vibrato projectiles at him. The projectiles flew in arcs, and were not aimed precisely at him; however, this did not matter, as they caused the mosque dome's surface to vibrate, which in turn caused Hiryu to lose his footing and tumble down the side of the dome. As he fell, he passed between the walker's legs and continued sliding onward. He caught a glimpse of a row of shield-pods as he tumbled, and he brought his hook down hard on the dome, halting his somersault before he fell into the shield.

His new position gave him ample opportunity to destroy the walker, and he took full advantage of it. Grasping Falchion by its vertical handle, he thrust it at a forty-five degree angle as hard as he could, piercing its control box and shorting the entire robot out. The walker stood there for a long moment, then shuddered and exploded downwards, shattering the mosque's dome and sending Hiryu plummeting to the floor below. A multi-turreted laser defense system was waiting for him, and actually managed to fire off four shots before he lost all patience and pounced on it, thrusting Falchion laterally through its single eye and pulling up with every erg of strength left in his body. The maneuver sent bits of electronics, glass, and wire flying outwards in the arc described by Hiryu's cypher. The defense system exploded, and the floor dropped out from under him once again.

As he fell, he felt bullets whizz by his head, and, grasping his blade's handle in both hands, he stabbed downwards blindly. Falchion penetrated the gunner's skull, and Hiryu's own momentum carried him completely through the gunner to the floor below. The two halves of the gunner's body fell to either side, and Hiryu bolted down a ramp towards three more guards. He pounced on them, nailing one in the chest with a flying kick as he sliced a second in half with a back-handed stroke. He executed a backwards somersault off of the first guard's chest and stabbed viciously through the third's belly the instant he landed. He then spun clockwise, buzz-sawing both the first and third guards in half before either of them even had a chance to react. The first guard's body never touched the ground while it still had life in it.

The only thing left between him and the assassination of Kazakh's prime minister was a metal door. He sliced it in half, then kicked the two pieces off the frame with roundhouse side-kick. They flew backwards some twenty meters and landed directly in front of the prime minister. He considered Hiryu as though this sort of thing happened every day and remarked,

"Ah yes, the Strider. Do come in. We've been expecting you."

Hiryu entered silently, walking purposefully towards the prime minister. When he was less than ten paces away, the prime minister made a hooting sound and transformed into an insect-like being with a hammer and sickle in its two main forelegs, and three plasma cannon protrusions where his nose and eyes had been. The cabinet members, one by one, leaped up into the air and transformed into body segments, joining up with the prime minister and forming a type of large cybernetic centipede. Hiryu recognized the formation.

"Ouroboros..." he said in momentary shock.

The whole procession charged headlong at Hiryu, who snapped out of his daze, threw himself into the air in a cartwheel jump, and landed on Ouroboros' back just behind its head. He gripped its back with his hook in his left hand as the centipede-like creature crawled up a slope, twisting and turning the entire way in fervent attempts to shake him off. Finally it did so, just as he thrust downwards with Falchion and severed one of its main locomotive limbs. He went tumbling off to the side, but regained his footing in time to see it head towards him, rather uncertainly at first. As it moved, it left a trail of purplish blood from the severed limb, which now lay on the floor. He leaped at it once more, but this time it caught him in the ribs with its sickle blade and flung him into a nearby conference desk, which cracked and gave beneath the force of the momentum. Had it not been for the sleeveless mail shirt beneath his gi, the sickle would have cleaved him in two.

"Do you really think you can win?" Ouroboros shouted at him, in a voice that sounded as though it were the sum total of all the voices that belonged to the men who comprised its body. "You can never defeat the lord!"

Hiryu made no reply. Instead, he sprang into a one-handed cartwheel, rolling to his left to avoid one of the energy blasts from Ouroboros' head cannons. He sprinted at it full throttle, then dove and slid to the side just as it swung its hammer downwards at him in an extended arc. He heard the sound of marble tiles crunching behind him as he slid alongside the beast, hacking at the locomotive limbs with his blade. As his momentum wore down, he reached across with his hook, gripped a broken armor plate, and swung up onto its back once more. Then Ouroboros' gathered itself up in a circle, hoping to trap him within and lacerate or crush him to death with its hammer and sickle. It succeeded in trapping him in the circle, but as the front segment came around, he seized an opportunity and jumped at it, thrusting through its neck with his cypher. He pierced the armor and skewered the former prime minister's throat in doing so, but since Ouroboros was still moving, he continued the maneuver and slashed wildly at the front segment's head and forelegs, severing all three extremities. As its head popped off, Hiryu felt the whole procession go limp beneath his blade, and he leaped to the side. The circle came crashing down with a terrific clatter, smashing many of the polished marble tiles that lined the floor and causing fragments from them to fly asunder in various directions.

After prodding it several times with his blade to be sure it was dead, Hiryu scanned the room and noted that there was another exit from the building. He took a gamble, and left the mosque by that door.