He flew across the chasm a mere instant before the last, and most powerful, mine went off. The blast of the explosion gave his leap enough momentum to carry him all the way across the gap, where he slammed into a metallic slope covered with a sheet of ice. He lay there for a short moment, then he began to slide down the slope backwards and towards the chasm. He quickly pulled out his hook and plunged it into the slope. Having halted his slide, he struggled to his feet and ascended the slope hesitantly. He gained the top and looked up.


For hundreds of meters over his head, a network of cris-crossing inclined platforms extended, each one running beneath a powerful electromagnetic generator. The generators crackled with excess energy and fired it off in synchronization every few moments. Through the gaps between the platforms, Hiryu saw that most of the excess energy arced upwards to a giant airship, which was only beginning to lift off. He ascended the platforms as swiftly as he could, taking care to avoid the energy outbursts. As he raced upwards, frog-bots assaulted him from beneath the frost-coated platforms, reaching through with oversized, shining jaws to snap at his ankles and forcing him to slow down. He managed to take out a couple of the pesky automatons, but for the most part he kept his focus on the airship above and continued his energetic darting towards the uppermost platforms.

After fifteen minutes of speeding full tilt up the frosted inclines, he reached the summit, however, he was too late to catch hold of the airship's underbelly. It had risen rapidly and was now hovering nearly two kilometers above his head.

Then a few of the soldiers on small air barges (which were little more than platforms with tail fins and propellers mounted underneath them) took notice of him, and began flying towards him, firing their assault rifles all the while. He deflected the bullets with Falchion, waiting for one to swoop in close. After a long moment, one air barge's pilot grew impatient and did just that, only to have Hiryu pounce on top of him, slicing him through his midsection and kicking the two halves of the body off the barge. He then seized the barge's controls and began to fly it towards the airship, only to have another barge's pilot attempt to crush him by landing on top of him. Hiryu reached up with his hook and snagged the side of the barge above him.

"Hey! What the?!" the barge's pilot exclaimed, and began firing at him.

Hiryu grasped his hook in both hands, tucked his knees up to his chest, then immediately snapped his legs outward. This movement rocked the barge, throwing its pilot off-balance and sending Hiryu sliding down its length. His hook snagged on the tail fin, and he threw his legs upward, using his momentum to sling him upwards onto the barge's deck. Without moving from where he landed, he pivoted, drawing his cypher and slashing outward as he spun. Hiryu's attack bit deeply into the pilot's chest, and he tumbled overboard.

At this point, parachute-bombs began dropping all around Hiryu's general vicinity. He looked up.

A minor assault ship had noticed the turmoil in this airspace and was now floating some thirty meters above his head, dropping the bombs from its open bay doors. Hiryu manned the controls of his newly-hijacked barge and began flying it in erratic patterns to avoid the explosives, while still making his way towards the gunship. When he had covered about half the distance to it, an explosive blast rocked his barge and he fell over the side. He hooked the edge as he slid past, and hauled himself back up, only to find a yawning hole in his barge's deck. He spotted another pilot three meters above him and put every last erg of his barge's energy into lift. It traversed two-thirds of the distance required, and Hiryu jumped the rest, catching hold of the other barge's underside...

...and its unlucky pilot's foot. Hiryu hadn't grabbed the edge of the deck this time, he'd thrust his hook directly through the deck's underside, skewering the pilot's foot in the process. The pilot yelped, and began firing his submachine gun downwards about the same time as Hiryu stabbed upwards with Falchion. A few of the bullets struck Hiryu's back, but his mail shirt prevented them from traveling any further. Falchion was more successful: it stabbed through the pilot's nether regions, making him into an "it" very quickly. The man crossed his arms over the area, did the McPherson strut, and toppled off of the barge. Hiryu clambered onto its deck, and for the third time, took the controls and began to fly it towards the gunship. He flew directly underneath the bomb bay doors, caught hold of a narrow platform mounted beneath them, and swung up onto it. He then cartwheel-leaped over two massive propeller arrays, rebounded off of a rotating platform, and landed on the main deck. A small energy cannon popped up directly in front of him, and he stabbed its glowing control panel before it even had a positive lock on him. It smoked for a bit, then the panel exploded. He continued on past.

Then, three young women stepped out from behind twin bay doors which were a little ways ahead of him. They were dressed in traditional Chinese women's attire, and were identical except for the color of their shirts: one had a red shirt, one green, and one blue. The one in green gestured towards him, speaking first to her comrades and then lifting her voice to address him:

"We are the Kuniang sisters: Ton Pooh, Nam Pooh, and Sai Pooh. Turn aside or you will certainly be destroyed."

Hiryu stood his ground unflinchingly. He had heard this sort of talk from Solo, as well. The attitude seemed to be ingrained in these people by...whoever they were working for.

They all leapt at him at the same moment, without warning. He did the same, rising into the air to meet them. He took a swipe at Nam Pooh (the one in red). She kicked at his blade so swiftly that the air currents surrounding her leg hardened into an opposing blade; this instantaneous weapon caught Falchion's blade by the flat, flinging it outward. Hiryu's torso twisted in midair, contorting from the blow. He had no time to recover from this, as Sai Pooh (the one in blue) brought her right leg crashing down between his shoulder blades, sending him hurtling into the waiting devices of Ton Pooh (the one in green), who pump-kicked him, knocking him face-first into the bay doors.

He hit the deck and rolled to his left only seconds before Sai Pooh's knee struck the floor where his head had been. He pushed up from the deck while still rolling, drew his cypher, halted his spin, and dropped into his defensive stance as Nam Pooh came speeding towards him in a soaring dragon strike. He caught her forward leg with his left hand and sliced through the kneecap and hamstring of her back leg with Falchion, which was in his right. Then he side-kicked her in the midriff, knocking her back several meters and sending her sliding over the gunship's side.

"Next," he said to the remaining two.

Furious, Ton Pooh closed the distance between herself and Hiryu by executing two forward hand-springs and a round-off, shooting two meters up into the air at the end of the round-off and hurtling down directly at his solar plexus. An instant before her heels would have crashed into his torso, she whipped her legs upwards so that they were perpendicular to her upper body, threw them outwards and brought them back together so that they smacked into the sides of his skull and ended up wrapped around his neck. She threw her head backwards as her legs wrapped around his shoulders, planting her palms on the gunship's deck and preparing to plant his head in it.

As she pulled him forward, he realized what she was attempting to do and dove forward with as much thrust as he could muster. He rolled, with her legs still wrapped around his shoulders, allowing the momentum to carry him back into a standing position. Ton Pooh was momentarily stunned from the unexpected dive, and did not realize that she had ended up in the same position she had been in before. Hiryu looked down at her, and an odd thought struck him.

"You know, this situation could be funny if it weren't so life-threatening," he said.

Ton Pooh blushed.

Hiryu placed his left arm underneath her, palm down, across the small of her back. He then violently jerked it upwards and to the left, throwing her off of him and sending her rolling into the base of the bay doors. He had not even time to blink before Sai Pooh landed a flying kick to his right shoulder, driving him down on one knee. She cross-kicked him in the left shoulder, which turned him around so that he faced her, and followed that up by bringing the heel of her right hand down in a leopard blow intended to drive his sinuses into his brain. He caught her wrist with his left hand and threw her backward over his shoulder as he spun in the opposite direction and stabbed her through the lower back. She went limp before she even struck the deck, and tumbled into a heap near its edge.

Ton Pooh, who was only now recovering from colliding with the bay doors at high speed, stood up shakily and raised her eyes only to see Hiryu streaking towards her faster than she wanted to admit. She dodged his first thrust only by the narrowest of margins, and somersaulted to the side. He slashed repeatedly at her, but she evaded his strokes, sometimes countering them with her kicks, knocking his blade away only to have it redirected into an attack somewhere else.

After several minutes of this battle-dance, she thought she saw an opening: Hiryu was not guarding his center point! His blade rotated and flashed around his person, but only rarely did it cross directly in front of his chest. She went for the kill with a power extension, but he twisted to the side, dodging the kick. He caught her ankle and flung her outward as he swiped a shallow stroke across her torso that extended from just below her left collarbone to the outside of her right shoulder. It didn't kill her immediately, but it would soon enough. He then yanked her back towards him and brought his knee up into her stomach as he released her ankle. She fell to the floor, curled up into a fetal position momentarily, then rolled over onto her back. He leaned over her, grabbed her now-blood-soaked green silk shirt by the collar, and lifted her up off the deck slightly.

"Who do you work for?" he hissed through clenched teeth.

"How is it that you have bested five of his top agents, and yet do not know the name of the one you fight?" Ton Pooh asked, by way of reply.

"Do not toy with me," Hiryu warned her. "I am in no mood to be jerked around."

"Oh," she said, then looked him over and smiled faintly. "Too bad."

It was Hiryu's turn to be stunned. He sat there for a moment, speechless. Then she began to faint and he shook her, bringing her back to the present.

"Who is your boss?" he asked. "Take me to him!"

"You fool," she said. "We control the world as long as there is the flying battleship Ballog!"

She pointed up and to the northeast, where the massive airship had ceased hovering and had begun to fly off into the distance.

"You can't be serious," Hiryu replied. "You send a toy like that into battle?"

"A toy?"

"I could destroy it myself," he continued. "Alone. And I will."

"I doubt that."

He shook her once more, a bit more gently this time.

"Who are you an operative for?" he asked.

"Meio, the Grandmaster," she whispered.

Her eyelids fluttered for a moment, then Hiryu felt the entire length of her body go slack. He released his grip on her shirt, stood up, and walked over to the closed bay doors. He cut through them in three strokes, put the gunship's pilot out of commission with a fourth, and manned the controls for a final time. He set a course for Ballog's landing strip.