RESTORATION

Business had been slow for Sasuke over the past year and a half. When he had graduated from university it had seemed like his whole life had opened up before him, now however, so many years later it felt as if the walls were closing in on him.

He looked around at the gathered expressions of his fellow travellers and tried to ignore the contrast between them and the incandescent sunlight that streamed in through the tram carriage's open windows. He had travelled such a long way from his childhood in Shizuoka and yet, despite the distance, he still seemed to be trapped in the same cycle of drudgery that had been established long before his high-school years.

He sighed and reached inside his jacket, patting the inside lining until he felt the reassuring bulge of his cigarette carton in the silk of his inside pocket.

Sasuke's admittedly unusual career choice as a private detective had seemed like a good idea at the time, now however, with no real savings and no prospects so to speak he was almost on the verge of admitting that it perhaps wasn't the most sensible of options. Friends and family alike had urged him to search for a more conventional choice of employment, his mother particularly, who had been incensed to discover that he had taken a part-time job at an amusement park simply to make ends meet.

And yet despite the hardships and the fact that actual assignments were as rare as gold dust, Sasuke couldn't quite bring himself to close the door on his one-man agency and hand his licence in.

He couldn't resist mystery; it was as simple as that. Ever since childhood he had been fascinated with finding solutions to situations that confused all but the most dedicated of minds. Even the most trivial mysteries, such as finding the location of a missing feline or a misplaced set of keys, were relished by his young mind.

He alone had been the sole founder and member of his school's junior detective club. It hadn't mattered to him that no one else had been interested, all that mattered was the discovery and resolution of mystery.

With a half-fond smile of recollection he reached into his pockets and retrieved the crumpled note, unfolding it and once more reading the details contained within. The note had arrived a week ago but he had been unable to investigate due to the shifts he was working at the amusement park. Now, five days later, he at last had the opportunity he needed to investigate the contents further.

The note had been delivered with no markings as to indicate when it had been posted nor had the author deigned to append a name to the work. It was a vague suggestion scrawled in a horribly cursive script that gave little details. Despite this Sasuke had found his mind enthralled by it.

The bell rung and the tram slowed finally to a halt, pushing him forwards amongst the crowd till he was finally on the street, his worn leather shoes tapping a broken rhythm on the cracked pavement beneath. Idly he retrieved the carton from his pocket and flicked open his silver lighter, bringing the pale flame to the tip of his cigarette and exhaling loudly. With disinterest he glanced once more at the note and the address attached at the very bottom before crumpling the paper back into his pocket.

The address given was in the Italian quarter. He looked up at the aged buildings haphazardly growing upwards like entwined plants stretching for the sun and dispassionately registered that he was in the right place.

Quickly he bowed his head and turned the collar of his suit jacket up against the bitter wind, moving swiftly amongst the crowds of dull, grey faced people and overawed tourists. With pained indifference he lost himself in the crowds, moving beneath the shadows of those twisted buildings and walking ever further down into the below-street-level heart of the city. As he descended he glanced occasionally over his shoulder, watching the faces of those he encountered harden as the buildings in which they lived became more and more disjointed in appearance. He didn't pause to talk, moving solemnly forwards, his mind focused on the contents of the message.

Despite his excitement, a note of silent dread had crept into his thoughts. He couldn't help but remember the curious events of the previous year.

He recalled the bright flash of green light and the reassuring voice and then his memory descended into a kaleidoscope of surreal images; monsters, ninjas and colossal helicopters...it was like something from a cheap paperback or, at the very least, gaudy weekend morning television for children.

He jumbled the images, trying to arrange them into some kind of order, conscious of the fact that he was struggling too hard to match the memory with the words that had been scribbled in the note he had received.

Sweat dampened his palms as he walked through littered streets and abandoned buildings, turning a corner and heading down a pockmarked concrete slope into an underground car park beneath a long forgotten warehouse.

Slowly he stepped into the dim light between the rows of burnt-out cars and froze, his muscles tensing and the fine hair on the back of his neck standing on end. At the other end of the squalid concrete car park was a hideous figure, several feet taller than him. From its broad shoulders protruded golden horns that shimmered softly as the pale sunlight struggled to illuminate its stature. Its flesh was as cold and grey as any lifeless metal and, as it slowly turned to face him, Sasuke gasped in revulsion at the swollen, emotionless eyes that filled the majority of its blank face and the massive curve of the horn that protruded from its forehead.

It turned fully and for the first time the young detective realised that the monster was armed, a massive golden club held tight in one of its massive hands.

"Welcome, little man." The monster growled, its voice low and rumbling and more than a little surprised. It barked a short, sharp laugh and took a single step forwards.

Fearfully Sasuke began to grope the air behind him desperately searching for something, anything that could be used as a weapon against the giant.

"You're one of the monsters I saw last year!" He whispered in horror, glancing around at the empty spaces between the ruined cars for any trace of the familiar flash of green light, willing that barely remembered figure to come once more to his aid. The world about him remained solemn and dead.

"No, human, I am nothing like the monsters thathave previously haunted you." It took another heavy step forwards, its massive feet shattering the scarred concrete beneath it. "My name is Prometheus Titan; Aurgette King."

"Aurgette?" Sasuke repeated, sweat running cold down his back.

"We are the faceless soldiers of the Earth, little human. The spirits of neglect gathered in hives beneath the soft crust of your society. We are a culture of disrepute, fashioning our children from your waste."

"What do you want from me?" Sasuke cried out in sudden desperate fear as the giant took another two steps closer towards him, making the distance between them seem infinitesimal.

The creature paused, tilted its head and then, without a hint of mercy in its cold voice, it replied simply: "Your face."

In the blink of an eye the giant leant forwards and charged, pulling back one of its massive fists and slamming it into Sasuke's shoulder. He screamed out, his lips dry and his eyes wild with terror as he buckled beneath the weight of the crushing blow, the bones of his shoulder dissolving into ruin. His knees faltered and a second giant hand snatched him up by his shirt and lifted him into the air.

"Great detective, you have no idea how important you are." The monster whispered close to his face, pungent breath issuing forth from its pin-prick nostrils. "With your face and your spirit we can walk freely amongst your people. Your spirit has been tainted by legendary power, little man, with that talent working in our favour there is nothing we cannot do."

Sasuke blinked, struggling to remain conscious enough to resist. His head lolled, tears of pain and exertion running down his burning cheeks. The monster reached out with its free hand and he felt the fingers close about his head, encompassing him in darkness.

With brutal efficiency they tightened about him and he was shocked awake by a sensation of terrible pain as the pressure began to crush his head tighter and tighter. He opened his mouth and screamed into the darkness, warm flecks of spit staining the palm of the monster's hand.

There was a sudden muffled explosion and he felt the air upon his face once more, his body falling the short distance to the ground as the giant released him. He crashed forwards, barely holding himself up on one arm as his head throbbed in agony. Slowly he looked up and for a single moment he saw the back of the familiar costume, the shimmering gold and green of the armour and the heavy baseball bat he had carried at his side.

He screwed his eyes up and blinked them open again and, as he did so, the green of the warrior's armour faded to black.

"Who are you?" He whispered; his voice weak.

The figure glanced over his shoulder, looking down upon him through the ragged black visor that hid his eyes.

"Are you okay? Can you still run?" He asked anxiously.

Sasuke stared up at him, studying the detailed diamond shapes that ran up his arms and legs. His boots were topped with gold and, hanging from the golden belt at his waist, was a silver staff of sorts with a crafted dinosaur handle – a staff that he had initially mistaken for a baseball bat.

"You're one of the legendary warriors..." Sasuke gasped, hauling himself to his feet, his eyes narrowing in pain. "You have to tell me where the other one is; the one that took my place!"

"There's no time now!" The warrior said; his tone full of strangled urgency. "Quickly, run from here! Run whilst you still can!"

Sasuke stumbled forwards.

"Please you have to tell me..." He gasped, collapsing into the armoured warrior before him. "I need to know..."

With a roar of contempt the giant lashed out, crashing the back of its hand into the side of the warrior's helmet. Beneath its colossal knuckles the armour cracked and shattered, splintering out like shards of glass as the warrior crashed into Sasuke and they both tumbled to the floor.

The pain in the detective's shoulder and head throbbed all the more powerfully now, his vision fading in and out as he clawed himself up from the stained concrete of the ground, struggling to focus on the pale, frightened face behind the cracked masque.

"Please, save yourself." The figure whispered, forcing a smile onto his lips. "Otherwise my death will be in vain."

"Don't say that!" Sasuke blurted out, tears welling up in his bloodshot eyes. "You're a legendary hero, you can't die!"

The giant hand descended once more, wrapping over the warrior's shattered helmet and hauling him up from the ground. Before the darkness overtook him Sasuke could make out the faint traces of pale white whiskers upon the man's face.

As he slumped forwards again into the dirt he heard the expressionless giant laughing from behind the smooth flesh of its face. His sight faded and he felt the gentlest pressure upon the back of his head.

"Sleep well, great detective, Prometheus Titan affords you slumber this night." The giant boomed heartily. "You have proved yourself the perfect bait and now."

The pressure upon his head suddenly intolerable and the world around him turned abruptly, and finally, to shadow. In the faint distance of his dying mind was the memory of a single flash of green light flickering once and then guttering out forever.