Chapter 1: "It's nothing personal!"

Something was wrong.

Why didn't the bank clerks show any fear? They'd arrived with an artillery that would have put a small army to shame, and yet … These people had to know who they were dealing with! The red clouds on their jackets and their black masks were dead giveaways considering how often they'd hit the headlines in the past few months.

Usually, people were keenly aware of the fact they never hesitated to shoot hostages if push came to shove, but these bank clerks seemed mildly annoyed at best. Either they were extraordinarily well prepared for situations like this or they knew something the robbers didn't. Personally, he believed the latter to be the case, but it was too late now to abort their mission.

Two of his masked colleagues, Kuu and Nan, kept the hostages in check while Shu ordered the manager to stuff the little money they kept at the counter into a plastic bag. Gyoku himself was cleaning out the client's pockets. Loose change, jewellery, and wrist watches rapidly disappeared in his black sports bag.

It was a good haul, still he felt queasy. This was taking far too long.

"60 seconds, Shu", he called to the man at the counter, who just couldn't get the bank manager to hurry the fuck up. "We have to be out of here in 60 seconds!"

Shu signalled understanding, grabbed the plastic bag, and nudged the manager with the barrel of his gun to stand with the other hostages. When he turned to face Gyoku, his eyes gleamed red underneath his dark mask. He seemed worried as well.

Suddenly, the alarm went off. Bright like a beacon and blaring like the sirens that would chase them soon. Most of the hostages jumped in surprise. Only the bank manager raised his head, grinning triumphantly. He stared directly at Kuu, who – strangely – made no move to wipe the grin off the man's face.

Gyoku came to his aid.

"Bad mistake," he yelled, took aim and moved to pull the trigger. He never got the chance to follow through.

Within mere fractions of a second, Kuu spun around and kicked Nan in the gut. The sudden attack took Nan by surprise and that hulk of a man collapsed like a sack of potatoes. Shu was closest, but – like Gyoku – hesitated. Kuu gave him a blow with the butt of his rifle and he joined his partner on the floor. All Gyoku could do was watch in disbelieve. His trigger finger wouldn't move. Then he heard glass shatter. A SWAT team stormed the bank. Kuu used the diversion to move in and grab Gyoku by the collar.

"It's nothing personal," he whispered while ramming his fingers into Gyoku's stomach. "I liked you well enough, partner. But now it's time to go."

Gyoku couldn't breathe. His vision blurred a little with the pain and Kuu's deep, well-known voice left his ears ringing. Somehow he still managed to raise his gun and push the barrel against Kuu's chest. This time, he didn't hesitate.

It wasn't the only gunshot ringing through the bank, but it was the only Gyoku registered. Kuu looked at him, surprised. It wasn't hard to picture his pale face underneath the mask. With a silent cough he went limp and dropped to the floor. Out of habit Gyoku tried to catch him, but he was too weak to support his weight and they went down together. Kuu desperately fought for air, blood soaking through the black cloth of his mask. Life was quickly draining from his body.

Around them, hostages ran screaming and prevented the SWAT team from closing in. Gyoku let go of his dying partner and crouched down behind the counter. He felt cold inside. The pain in his stomach was crippling. For a moment, he thought he would throw up.

"Pull yourself together!", he muttered to himself. "Just a little longer."

Taking one deep, excruciating breath helped him calm down a bit.

He was in deep shit. As far as he could see, Nan and Shu had somehow managed to leave the bank, drawing fire from outside. However, there still were police on the inside, looking for him, and his hiding place sucked balls. He needed to get out immediately!

His chance came in form of an obviously rookie SWAT team member hopping over the counter without checking if the other side was clear. Gyoku grabbed his knees, felled him and put an arm around his neck to strangle him. It didn't take the unfortunate kid long to die. Swiftly, Gyoku stripped him of his uniform, ignored the youthful appearance of the dead man's face, and disguised himself. The black body armour hung loosely on his small frame, but Gyoku knew he couldn't do any better. With the self-confidence of a practiced conman he walked out.

It wasn't until he crossed the threshold that somebody called to him and ordered him to stop. Gyoku grabbed his gym bag tighter and started running. Something hit him in the back, pushed him forward, made him stumble. But his vest was bullet-proof, and he continued on. Shots cracking behind, he made for a group of civilian onlookers. Once he came close, the SWAT team would be forced cease fire.

To some extent, his plan was a success. He managed to reach the group and the onlookers scattered in fear, creating the same kind of chaos their hostages had in the bank. Nonetheless, a bullet found its aim. Gyoku was almost out of view when he felt the projectile pierce his right shoulder, almost causing him to drop his bag. There had to be a sniper hidden somewhere on the roofs.

Gyoku ducked behind a parked car and shed his disguise. Thankfully, there were still people on the street. Frightened, nervous people. He could hide among them. To prevent getting caught by a surveillance camera, Gyoku pulled his mask over his flaming red hair like a beanie, stuffed as much of the SWAT team boy's armour in his bag as he could, and concealed his bleeding, broken shoulder underneath the excess cloth. His legs shook badly and he wasn't sure he'd make it.

Just when he considered giving up, a biker appeared right in front of him. It was a godsend.

He forced the guy at gunpoint to abandon his motorcycle. Good thing he knew how to ride it!

Five minutes later and a few blocks down, the sirens faded away. He'd finally lost them. Gyoku left the stolen motorcycle in an alley and only just remembered to wipe it down so as not to leave fingerprints or traces of his DNA. If he got caught after all that happened today, he'd be dead. Just like Kuu, who would have bled out or suffocated in the meantime. Lying helpless on the cold, hard floor.

Once again, Gyoku felt like throwing up and had to stop in order to compose himself.

Kuu was dead. Really fucking dead. He'd shot his partner! Their heist couldn't have gone more wrong. Gyoku wasn't even sure if Nan and Shu escaped. Considering the veritable hail of bullets the police brought down on them, it seemed unlikely.

Was it really Kuu's fault? Why had he attacked them?

Once Gyoku reached their arranged meeting place, all adrenaline seeped out of him like water through a sieve. A wave of pain washed over him as he struggled to climb onto the backseat of the waiting van. Blood drenched his sweater, warm and pulsating. Within seconds, the upholstery was smeared with red. He felt dizzy, had to lie down. Everything hurt so bad.

Their getaway driver watched him in the rear-view mirror, her blue hair pinned up in a hairdo that was anything but inconspicuous. Her face didn't betray any emotion.

"I suppose it didn't go well, then," she said eventually. "Where are the others?"

Gyoku groaned with pain. He still couldn't really breathe and his vision blurred. Somehow, he still managed to answer.

"Kuu's dead. I don't know what happened to the others."