"…Always felt I was outside lookin' in on you.
You were always the mysterious one,
With dark eyes and careless hair.
You were fashionably sensitive but too cool to care.
Then you stood in my doorway with nothing to say,
Besides some comment on the weather…"
-"Foolish Games" by Jewel
The Beginning of the End
By Satori Shiro and Darster
Cody hung onto the darkness as long as he could. It was the only thing keeping the pain at bay, but it soon faded into a mass of swirling gray mist. The agonizing pain slammed into his mind once again, and he felt as though his head would rip in two, or explode from the impact. He tried to block everything out, but his shields were too weak. The only other option was to ride the wave, and hope it reached the crest soon.
After what felt like eternity, the pain in his head subsided a bit to match the general ache he felt along the rest of his body. He realized his eyes were open, focusing slowly on the dark stone ceiling above him. He focused on one square at a time, then let his eyes roam around the entire length of the ceiling before he trusted himself to move.
He remembered the brief sight of a white haired man aiming toward Bird before she was shot down, and he passed out. I'm gonna pay that son of a bitch back for this, he thought ferociously. His only consolation was the fact that he was alive, which meant that she was also. Somewhere anyway, hopefully with Auburn, his fire-branded, overzealous, passionate angel.
He used the wall behind him for balance and shoved himself upright until a sharp jerk on his wrists stopped him. He heard the rattle of metal on metal as he lifted one arm and found it bound to the wall by a rather short length of chain.
"How predictable," he growled aloud.
"Are you okay? I thought maybe you were dead."
Cody heard another rattle of chains across from him, then saw a shadow shuffle around in the darkness before he recognized Keiko's voice.
"My name is Cody," he said belatedly. At this point, it wouldn't matter what she knew about him. "And no, I'm not dead. I only wish I was." A slight groan escaped his lips as he tried to move around. Okay, that hurts.
"Well, Cody, this is some kind of mess we're in…."
Her voice droned on and on, but he didn't notice as he was concentrating on the chains that pinned his wrists to the wall. He stared at the cuffs, mentally willing them to open. Keiko's shrill cry echoed through the cell, breaking his concentration momentarily.
"Are you listening to me?!" she wailed when she saw he was not.
"Keiko," Cody said through clenched teeth, trying to regain his focus, "would you please just shut up so I can concent---"
SNAP! He cut himself off mid-sentence as the wrist cuffs fell away. Gingerly, he stood, rubbing his arms and letting the last wave of pain pass over him. Cody looked down at his left hand and found he still wore his wristwatch. Deliberately, he pushed one button in particular on the digital face. I hope that technology still works in this crazy place, he thought. He crossed the cell to where Keiko sat, and freed her from her own bonds with minimal effort. She stared dumbly at him as her chains magically snapped open.
"How did you do that?" She asked in awe.
"Teleka--what?" she said totally at a loss.
He skipped the long, drawn out explanation, simply saying, "Magic."
"Oh, good!" Keiko exclaimed, jumping off the small pile of hay and straw she was sitting in. "Then you can 'magic' the lock on this door open so we can get out of this freaky ass place!"
"Don't bother trying," purred a soft voice.
Lady Kimiko appeared before them, and stood in the hallway. Her violet eyes scanned them with interest and flickered with an amused spark. They collided with the boy's own brown, which smoldered into black coals as he glared at her. He was awake, and alive, and from the looks of it, not very happy. Both somehow managed to escape their chains, and the girl stood behind him as if to hide from her.
"My soldiers would have you dead before you left that cell," she added with a cruel smile on her lips, waiting for his reaction.
The boy laughed aloud, folding his arms in front of his chest in that age-old gesture of defiance. "Oh, give me a break, lady. I'm not stupid. You don't want us dead."
It was her turn to glare at him. "What makes you so sure?"
"If you wanted us dead, we'd be dead already. You wouldn't have gone to all this trouble to get us here."
"What?" Keiko asked softly, involuntarily speaking out. To Keiko's amazement Cody just kept on going.
"To be blunt, we're the bait in a rat trap. Unfortunately, the rat is on the wrong side."
"Bite your tongue, boy, lest I cut it out." Kimiko snapped angrily, growing tired of this boy's impudence. Then again, it intrigued her to see someone so cocksure in this realm. Raven had the uncanny ability to make most individuals cower in fear, but this one, this one, had a strong spirit. A spirit that the master will break, she thought. Perhaps, after the battle, the master will let me have this one as a slave. Whatever is left of him, that is.
"Now, now," the boy clucked at her. "Don't damage the inventory. It won't bring in a high price at auction."
"You insolent dog!"
Her dark power crackled from her fingertips to match the fire in her eyes. Unconsciously, she threw the energy into the cell at the boy that was standing in the middle of the room. The power went screaming in to the room as if it had a life of its own. A flash of white light blocked most of the blast, but it was still enough to send him reeling into the wall. Kimiko stared somewhat in shock. Even at such a distance, that blasted girl's power protected him, as part of her aura flashed outward, but she watched in some satisfaction when the boy crumpled to the ground. His eyes flashed with a dark fire of their own, and Kimiko jumped back as a few stray pieces of straw strewn about the hall ignited in flame, seemingly from the fierce look in his eye. A whoosh of dark power stamped out the flames, and she grinned evilly. The will to survive is strong in this one. The master's mental call rudely pulled her out of her thoughts and sent her into a mad dash for the throne room. She left their two unhappy guests to their own devices without another word.
Seeing that the woman had left, Keiko knelt down beside Cody as he shook off the effects of the attack. "Are you CRAZY?! How can you be so cocky at a time like THIS?? She could have KILLED you!!!" she wailed as she sat next to him.
"I've been in a lot of situations like this," he said, finally sitting up again. He winced at the pain in his back and head. "Rule #1: Never let them see you sweat. Rule #2: Don't get them mad at you."
"Well, it looks as though you broke the second rule by making her mad."
"Maybe I'm confusing that with Rule #3: Anger is your enemy's enemy."
That blast sent him reeling and his reserves held just enough power to keep him from falling back into unconsciousness. He rubbed his aching head for emphasis, then grinned over at Keiko. She stared back at him incredulously, hoping his insolence wouldn't get them killed.
He seemed to read her mind. "Stop looking at me like that. I just told you, they don't want us dead."
"Yet," Keiko agreed. "But what happens when they get what they want?"
"If my girl has anything to do with it, they won't," he said with a soft smile.
Y r S w T
ShadowRaven looked at the chess pieces that floated in front of him. Each piece represented a person in this war for power. He watched each piece move around in the air on an invisible chessboard, moving into position. All of the Phoenix's pieces were gathered in one spot. This is too easy, he thought sinisterly. All of his pieces were in place and everything was going according to his plans. He slowly picks up the white queen. He turned it over in his hand and smiled at it. His prized warrior shall be bringing her here, to be his bride.
Lady Kimiko came into the room in a silent swirl of shadows. She was breathing a bit hard and he noticed that she was troubled.
"What is the matter my dear," he said as he dispensed the war board.
"The prisoners are free from their chains my lord," she said.
"It does not matter. They will not be able to leave that cell unless I want them to. I know about his power and I will be able to keep them there."
He waved his hand and the portal opened, revealing the two prisoners in their cell. The girl sat in the back watching the young man try everything he could to open the door. ShadowRaven laughed as the boy was flung across the cell by an invisible force. "This should keep him occupied and wear him out enough for me to use him."
"When will I be going into battle my lord?" she asked suddenly, changing the subject.
"Now, my dear," he stated coldly to her. His powers swirled around him like a trapped animal waiting to be set free.
"What?! Really?!" she asked stunned.
He saw that she was not prepared for this answer. He watched as her expression changed rapidly from astonishment to evil glee.
"Yes, go to the arena and prepare. Your opponent will be there soon." Mischievously, he watched her bow deeply to him and then disappear in a swirl of shadows as silently as she had arrived. It is time to prepare. He soon disappeared from the throne room leaving behind the small statuette of the white queen lying on his throne.
Y r S w T
"Sekhmet? HERE?!" Cye shrieked. They looked up at Cye to see that he had stopped cooking and he looked a bit pale.
"Cye, are you okay?" Mia asked in concern.
"Yes, yes, I am fine Mia, I was just surprised," he said after collecting himself.
"What are you talking about, Kento?" Sage asked as he looked at their newest arrival.
"Auburn said something about toxins and poisons in the air. I sorta put that with what's been goin' on together, which made me think that she meant Sekhmet." He stated triumphantly.
"My, this is the first time Kento actually thought before he acted," Rowen said with a smirk.
"Shut up you airhead!" Kento retorted good-naturedly.
"So that was why White Blaze disappeared all of a sudden," Rei said ignoring Rowen's joke as she looked around for the missing tiger. The last time she remembered seeing the big cat, he was laying at her feet, asleep. He moves as silently as a ghost, she thought.
"Well, then, let's go and flush him out!" Ryo stated as he headed for the door.
His sub-armor appeared on him in an instant, ready for battle. Kento and Sage followed suite with Cye not so far behind, but Rowen did not budge from his spot.
"What's the matter Rowen? Aren't you going with them?" Mia asked.
"No, I am staying here with you two," he stated firmly.
The two women just looked at each other then sighed. Rei continued her examination of the medallion's pieces. Mia saw them and started to flip through the book again.
"Now I know why I came in here," she said when she found the page she was searching for. "It seems as though the medallion is an important part of all this. The book said it was broken in half so its power would not fall in the wrong hands."
"So what will happen if I put them together?"
"I don't know. It doesn't say. All it does say is 'The power of the Phoenix will be unleashed and a new world will rise from the ashes of the old'. Doesn't say much else."
"I assume we can see what happens then, huh? Then you can fill the missing section for all to know about later, okay Mia?" Rei said with a soft smile.
"I guess it wouldn't hurt to see what happens," Rowen said as he watched them.
"Okay, here we go," she said as she slowly and carefully placed the two halves together.
Y r S w T
Cale sat in his room gathering his scattered thoughts. That witch of a child had pulled things apart in his mind and he didn't know what to do. Forgotten memories found their way to the surface, old memories of his old life and some from the recent. He fears that the master will find this out and he does not wish them to be stolen away from him either. Why are all these thoughts and memories coming out now?
His hand has long healed itself but the wound still stings. Plus the sheer humiliation of losing to the girl was made far worse when Kimiko saw the whole thing. That infernal wretched wench, he thought, this is all HER fault. If she would just do her own dirty work…
"So Cale, why are you sitting there in the dark? We have work to do."
He looked up to see that the Warlord of Illusion was standing there looking at him in a combination of disgust and amusement.
"What kind of work?" Cale asked as he rapidly hid all of the fresh memories away.
"Raven wants us to clear the battleground for him."
"Ah…So we are to go into the city and terrorize the citizens again? Why didn't you get Sekhmet? He loves to do that."
"The master has him off messing with the Ronins," Dais said with a snarl. "Come on and let's go."
"Fine." With that, they both disappeared from the dark rooms.
Y r S w T
Sekhmet glared at the ancient pile of metal in disgust. He had pumped enough poison into the vent to exterminate the entire insect population, yet there were no signs of distress from the occupants inside. What was taking so long for those infernal children to notice him!? It seems I've failed at flushing them out indirectly, he mused, so I suppose I'll just have to try the direct approach.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you never to mess with Nature," asked a soft voice from the shadows behind him.
As quick as a rattlesnake bite, Sekhmet whirled on the intruder, armoring up, and firing off his venomous sure-kill. The blast of light from behind him knocked him off his feet, and he rolled over, coming face to face with the same girl that fought Cale, and seemed to be one of the master's major problems. She wielded a gleaming sword of pure sunlight and glared at him with contempt.
"Careful little girl," he sneered, "An injured snake could slink away and find a new target."
Auburn read his connotation clearly, but pushed those thoughts away for the moment. She couldn't let his idle threats get to her. Cody wasn't in any danger, yet, but if she let this warlord get away, he could be.
"Better go back to poisoning one celled life forms, Snake Breath," Cye said coldly, appearing behind the Warlord, blocking him in on a second side.
Auburn sensed a forced bravado, as though there was some history between him and this enemy, so she stepped back and watched the interchange play out.
Sekhmet chuckled, the thought of destroying his old rival bringing out a blood lust in his eyes. "So be it Torrent."
"Armor of Torrent, Dao Shin!"
Within the next two breaths, Mia's backyard became a swampland of mud and poison fog as Cye and the Warlord went round and round. The other Ronins caught up quickly, and joined the fray, minus Rowen. Auburn guessed he stayed inside with the two ladies. Good, she thought, you guys aren't risking everything.
Everyone is in place. Now, my shadow warrior.
Auburn heard the dark thought as well as her own. She looked up, the Armor of Nature and her natural empathy enhancing her farsight again. She saw dark clouds rolling in off the horizon, and the sound of thunder crashing. The storm was about to break right over their heads. This is it, she thought, the end. There's nothing I can do here now, but I can be of use elsewhere.
She looked back at the four boys fighting in front of her, and sprinted away from the newly created battlefield, leaving the guys to do what they knew best. She stopped in a small clearing a few hundred feet from the house, and made a conscious decision she'd made unconsciously long ago.
A white tiger loped into the clearing, with a hawk perched on his back. The sight of Bird riding on the huge cat lifted Auburn's spirits a bit. Bird shuffled back and forth in anticipation, and the tiger licked her hand and tried to direct her back toward the house.
"Sorry, Blaze, I'm needed somewhere else. It's up to you to help them out."
She scratched the tiger's ears, and ruffled Bird's feathers.
:You too, featherbrain. Stay here and help.:
The tiger looked plaintively at the ghost he could sense was watching them, almost as if wishing him to change Auburn's mind.
He shrugged at the tiger. "Don't look at me, she's incorrigible."
The tiger glanced them both over once, before loping back off toward the house. Bird took flight on a newly healed wing, circled once, and perched in the tree above them.
:Maybe I can't go, but I can wait till you return.:
"This is what Raven wants, you know," Anubis added as he appeared beside her, breaking into Auburn's thoughts.
"He'd like nothing better than for you to go storming off into the Nether Realm, and leave the girl unprotected."
"I know. But she's not unprotected. The guys have all my knowledge, all my understanding, as Phoenix put it. They know what to do, and they know it better than I do."
"Then might I ask the reasoning for this ludicrous move you are about to make?"
Her eyes sparked with that righteous fire and passion. "When Phoenix called me, she said she hadn't expected another ally in the battle with this Shadow Raven. That makes me a wild card. I think it's high time for Nature to trump his hand, and get a little wild."
Anubis sighed inwardly, then grinned. She had guts, he had to give her that. "Then I suppose you will want my help."
He lifted the Stone of Protection from Auburn's neck before she could respond. How he manipulated the solid object amazed Auburn, but then again, he wasn't a normal ghost either. The jewel had been his long before she was born, after all.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm building you a gateway to the Dynasty."
The jewel darkened to a gray/black in response to the dark power he tapped. Auburn felt immense power swirl around him, then watched in awe as the doorway built itself from the bottom up, then solidified. She looked at the door to the 'gate', wondering what lay beyond it.
"So this is the infamous Dynasty Gate. Shouldn't it read 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here' or something like that? I expected something a little more intimidating."
"Looks can be very deceiving, my child." Anubis handed her stone back, then cautioned her. "You are on your own in there. I can't help you in the Nether Realm."
"Yet," she sensed.
"There's still a bit of work to be done here," he said, and faded away.
Auburn took a deep breath, and said a small prayer to the Lord above to protect her as He'd always done. The door opened easily as she pushed on it, swinging inward to reveal a cityscape not unlike the ones described in all the fantasy novels she read. The dark castle loomed in the background, and Auburn laughed nervously as she stepped through the doorway.
"Imagine Cinderella rescuing Prince Charming. What a story for the books this would be," she said aloud to herself, trying to eliminate the nervousness she felt.
The gate disappeared as she fully entered the strange new realm. Like a death row inmate headed for the electric chair, she took another deep breath and looked at her watch. Cody's signal was definitely stronger, and she let it guide her through the dark passages of this realm.
Y r S w T
In ShadowRaven's throne room, the chessboard reappeared on the throne, and glowed softly for a moment. One of the white knights slowly moved forward and crossed the board, aiming to put the black king in check. Two black pawns took their turns at movement, and blocked the knight's path, setting the game into a standoff.
Y r S w T
Dais yawned, and Cale sneered in contempt at the terrified citizens scrambling for their homes. Sekhmet tormented them so much, that the sight of the two Warlords appearing in the city sent them fleeing in fear. Within minutes, the streets were clear of everything but the usual refuse and dark shadows.
"You called me out for this?" Cale complained. "I could've been doing something more productive."
"Like brooding over your lost battle?" Dais taunted him.
It seemed to be all he thought about, even after the 'rest' the master had given him. Beaten by a mere girl, the same girl he had brought to her knees with one well-placed arrow. Dais resisted the urge to laugh aloud. His companion seemed a lot less corrupt these days.
"You weren't there," Cale growled angrily at him. "You don't know what happened."
"Speak of the devil," Dais said in a soft whisper, ignoring Cale's outburst as his good eye focused on one lone figure walking out of the shadows.
Cale followed Dais' glance, and his eyes alit with their usual dark fire as the girl's stone illuminated her features. Oh, how he would pay her back for humiliating him so badly. No one defeats a Dark Warlord and lives.
"She's mine," Cale said icily. When the master was done with her, she'd beg him to kill her. And just to torment her further, he'd let her spend the rest of her days as his slave.
Dais laughed finally. "As you wish. I myself would rather help Sekhmet fight more worthy opponents."
Cale didn't notice the Warlord of Illusion disappear to the mortal realm. He focused only on the girl who stopped mere inches from where he'd hidden himself in his beloved element of darkness. Oddly enough, she didn't notice his presence as before, intent on some other search. He knew what she wanted, and he could reach out and end this cat and mouse chase now. His urge for revenge would not be satisfied so easily, however, and he longed to see her suffer. Instead, he leaned over and whispered in her ear.
Y r S w T
The aura of excitement soon diminished as Rei placed the two halves of the medallion together, yet nothing happened. She waited a few moments before sliding the pieces apart and handing Rowen his half.
"Well, that was exciting. Some power."
"Perhaps there is some kind of key to unlock it," Mia suggested.
"What kind of key?" Rei asked, intrigued.
"Hard to say. Probably something internal," Rowen replied. "Sort of like when we got our armors. The power just came naturally when we were ready."
When will I be ready, Rei found herself thinking as she gazed intently at the golden necklace. Another vision appeared to her as she sat at the kitchen table. She saw Keiko and a young man running through a forest, hunted by shadowy creatures, the same ones that haunted her dreams. She inhaled sharply as she felt them caught in the grasp of darkness, then the vision faded. She shook her head slightly, trying to shake of the effects of the vision. Great, she thought, now they are coming while I am awake, too.
"Something's wrong, isn't it?"
She had no time to contemplate it further as a shadow from the kitchen reached for her and she screamed in terror. Rowen threw the kitchen table on its side as a makeshift shield as the shadow materialized into a suit of armor that focused on Rei, and stalked toward her menacingly.
to be continued…
Time for the usual requests. All of your questions, comments, flames, and suggestions are greatly appreciated here. I truly hope that you are enjoying this story. The Ronins and Co. belongs to their creators with the exception of my added characters. So please don't sue for all you will get is a headache and pocket change!