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"Moon light used to bathe the contours of your face,
While chestnut hair fell all around the pillowcase.
And the fragrance of your flowers rest beneath my head,
A sympathy bouquet left with a love that's dead.
And I wonder if you know that I never understood,
That although you said you'd go,
Until you did, I never thought you would."
--Don McLean from Empty Chairs

***
Chapter 14:
The Awakening
By Darster and Satori Shiro

Auburn opened her eyes and immediately shut them again against the overwhelming wave of agony she felt. EVERYTHING hurt especially her shoulder. Now she realized how well the Stone of Protection enhanced her natural healing ability, but natural ability would have to suffice for the moment, or however long it took to get her jewel back, if ever.
The pain that ran through her shoulder made Auburn want to cry, but the overwhelming feeling of loss made her want to curl up in a corner and die. She had lost her armor, she had lost her battle, but most of all, she had lost Cody, the only person in the world she would ever love. The link between them had all but deadened, and she gave up any hope of ever feeling anything again. Anything except pain that is.
Why am I even bothering? She asked herself. Why do I care? I should just give up, like Raven wants. At least then, it wouldn't hurt so much. The thought of opening her mind to the peaceful waves of darkness grew stronger, until the psychic call came through her shields. It was the same call she felt when Phoenix appeared to her, and it eradicated any sense of self-pity she'd been feeling.
Her subconscious reached out instinctively, looking for the source of the call, and heard the same cry of a soul in pain as before, but closer this time. It seemed to originate in the castle.
:Someone, help me!: Rei's subconscious screamed to anyone that would hear her. Auburn answered instinctively, but she could barely hear her through the dark blocks that Raven erected here. All she could do was reach out and try to hang on to the connection the best she could.
:Rei?:
:Annie?: she asked sounding a bit relieved.
:You know my name?: She replied, equally surprised since she'd only introduced herself by her nickname here.
:Yes, but÷: Suddenly, fear and anger filled in. :Not yo--: The connection was quickly broken before Auburn could get a firm fix on Rei's mind.
:Rei?! REI!:

Auburn awoke with a start this time, her eyes quickly finding the door. In one fluid movement, she made a leap for the exit. The sharp pain lanced through her shoulder, and the chains binding her wrists to the wall jerked her back to a sitting position. She cursed fluently and mumbled incoherently for a while, not realizing anyone was in the cell with her until she felt a cool hand on her warm forehead.
"Whoa, take it easy! You don't look so good," said a female voice from beside her.
"I'm fine," Auburn answered quickly, trying to muster enough concentration to snap the chains open with her limited telekinesis.
After struggling for a few minutes with the stubborn locks, she gave up and channeled her little bit of remaining energy into blocking the waves of pain that cascaded over her. Then she added to her unknown companion, "I'd be a lot better if I could get out of these chains."
"Good luck, " the girl said solemnly, eyeing her with a strange look.
Auburn's night vision adjusted to the dark cell, and she finally focused on the brown eyes framed by shoulder length green hair. The girl was young, probably not more than sixteen or seventeen if that. Auburn didn't know how she'd gotten mixed up in this mess until she remembered Bird's mental directing. She served the same purpose for Rei that Cody did for her. Just perfect, Auburn thought, closing her eyes and sighing in frustration.
Keiko eyed her cellmate strangely. This had to be Cody's friend, because she fit his description perfectly, except that she didn't have the white jewel he mentioned. Keiko wasn't sure why she felt that was important, but why else would he have mentioned it. She wanted to ask her about him, but some sense of self-preservation told her that would be a bad idea. The girl looked a little bit worse for wear; her green eyes still held a glassy look, and she seemed to be running a fever. Her face was rather pale, and Keiko inhaled sharply as she finally noticed the deep knife wound in her left shoulder.
"You sure as hell aren't fine!" Keiko yelled, fingering the wound that had only barely closed.
Auburn let out a cry of pain as Keiko touched the tender wound and resisted the urge to lash out, knowing the chains would hold her back anyway.
"Please don't do that," she hissed with forced calm. "It still hurts."
Keiko backed away slightly at the almost animal-like look of ferocity in her eyes. "What happened?" she asked in a soft whisper.
"I got stabbed in the back by a traitorous son of a bitch," she explained venomously.
"Come now, is that any way to talk about the dead?"
The Warlord of Corruption appeared in the hall outside the cell, obviously enjoying every moment of Auburn's torment. He smiled wickedly at her, then crossed his arms and laughed outright.
Keiko skidded for the cover of shadow, watching the girl's reaction to him. As soon as she spied him, her eyes turned to turquoise blocks of ice. If Keiko didn't know better, she'd swear the temperature in the room dropped about twenty degrees from that stare. Condensation formed on the chains binding the girl's wrists to the wall, and Keiko sensed more magic in the works. She ducked even farther into the shadows.
"What did you say?" Auburn asked, her tone so dangerously low and cold, it sent a chill breeze through the cell.
"Dead, little girl. As in 'no longer among the living'. Your lover boy went tumbling out a five-story window. He's gone, never to return again! It is a pity he can't fly!"
Cale continued his maniacal laughter, unaware that Auburn's battle aura was glowing again. Another icy breeze dropped the temperature in the cell enough to freeze the metal chains holding her to the wall. All she saw was red, and all she heard was the crackle of frozen metal breaking as she sprinted for the door again. Keiko watched in shock as she reached through the magical barrier and grabbed the unarmored Warlord by his cloak.
"You had better hope he is alive somewhere, Demon of Darkness," she said in that same dangerous tone. "Because if he isn't, you better hide in the deepest, darkest recesses of your Dynasty because there is nothing on God's green Earth that will stop me from hunting you down."
In response, Cale passed a touch of his dark energy through to her, enough to activate the magical block on the door once more. Auburn jumped back only partially as the electric shock hit her, and she continued to glare at Cale haughtily.
He blew her threat off like a gust of hot air. "That's some big talk for someone who no longer wears a Ronin Armor," he said with a smirk.
"I don't need my armor to whip your pathetic ass," she retorted angrily.
He chuckled. "You are rather beautiful when you are angry. Perhaps I will ask Raven if I can keep you around as my personal slave."
Auburn's response came to her lips quickly, because she didn't have anything else to loose. "I'd rather die first."
"That can be arranged as well," he hissed back at her.
Another of Raven's lackey's appeared, this one an athletic female with long white hair and violet eyes. She eyed Auburn with contempt, and Auburn matched her stare for stare.
"Well, then, whatever you are planning, you better make it quick, because when I get out of here, I'm sending your master straight to Hell, and you can all rot there with him!"
Kimiko became angered at the girl's impudence, but stifled the urge to strike her dead on the spot. Raven said there would be time enough for that later. She could not wait until the time comes.
Make my day, lady, Auburn thought as she watched Kimiko's features contort in an expression of anger. I just need a reason to bust that door wide open÷
"We shall see," was all Raven's former lady said as she and Cale disappeared to parts unknown. "We shall meet again."
Her voice echoed back to Auburn's mind, which sounded very much like a taunt. Yes, we shall meet again, she thought angrily, yes we shall. Then we'll see who laughs last.

When the Warlord and the woman had safely retreated, Keiko rubbed the cold of off her skin as she crawled out from her hiding place and eyed the girl standing before her in shock. She had none of Rei's magical 'abilities', but she'd be blind not to see the power swirling around the girl, just waiting for a release. It was unrelenting fury, like the calm before a severe summer thunderstorm.
"That was incredible," Keiko whispered.
"Never let them see you sweat, kid," she replied, sitting down and resting against the back wall of the cell.
"Cody said the same thing," Keiko replied, following suit.
Auburn tucked her knees up, resting her head on them and trying to ignore the persistent pain in her shoulder. "Met him, did you?"
Keiko grinned involuntarily. "We kinda ran into each other. Well, I mean before all÷well, this÷" she waved her hands at the cell.
Auburn nodded, making no other reply. Keiko paused a moment, but couldn't stand the silence or the not knowing any longer.
"Look, could you possibly tell me what exactly is going on?"
"Where exactly would you like me to start?"
"Your name for one. I'm Keiko."
"Right, Rei's friend. Call me Auburn."
Keiko rolled her eyes. "Do all you Americans have these crazy names?"
"Just the ones who get involved in situations like this."
Keiko sighed, then pressed on. "All kidding aside÷I want the full story."
Auburn sighed in the same fashion, then grinned. "What the hell, we aren't going anywhere."
She adjusted her position to make her shoulder more comfortable, then proceeded to tell Keiko the long story.

Y r S w T

The sound of clashing metal on metal rang loudly through the trees. Rowen and Sekhmet fought though neither one was tired out just yet. Night has fallen and the full moon shone brightly above them with stars shining down on them.
In the middle of their dangerous dance, Rowen felt a stab of pain coarse through his body like a shock of lightning. He dropped to one knee and clutched his head. This pain, where was it coming from? Seeing his chance, Sekhmet took his time crossing over to his opponent with his sword in hand.
"What is the matter Strata? Tired already?"
An evil smile spread across his face, and Rowen could only look up at him and glare through the pain. "Well, I'll end that for you!"
Sekhmet was getting a kick out of this. He finally gets to do one of the Ronin Whelps in! This would definitely please the master when I bring his head and armor.
"Goodbye Strata!" he said as he swung the blade down toward his neck.
Before the metal could make contact, a soft golden red glow surrounded the warrior, blocking the attack of the sword. "What?!"
At that moment, Sekhmet received a message from ShadowRaven. :You are to return at once. I have what I wanted.:
:But master÷: he protested.
:Return at once!: Sekhmet unconsciously took a step back at the mental command, but he quickly recovered his wits before replying.
:As you wish.:
Sekhmet did not dare to breathe until he was sure the connection was cut. Once he was sure the master was out of his head he looked down at the warrior.
"Today must be your lucky day Strata. Enjoy it while you can because you will not be so lucky next time!" he stated aloud to his victim before disappearing.
Rowen nearly collapsed on the spot. That was too close, he thought as the pain subsided enough for him to think straight once more. He quickly dispensed his armor back to its hiding place. He was back in his street clothes with the medallion hanging around his neck. The medallion was glowing brightly. Could this have caused my headache and stopped Sekhmet's blade? A slow realization dawned on him.
"He has her."

Y r S w T

Sage watched Mia and White Blaze, still stinging from his loss to Cale. He should've been able to help her! He couldn't believe he fell for the distraction that easily. Out of frustration and anger at himself, he lashed out at the one and only thing that was in his way. He drew his armored hand back and struck the tree that was next to him.
Startled by his action, Mia looked up at him from where she stood leaning against a tree and sighed. Please, she begged to the sky, send us some help.
The cry of a panicked hawk drew Sage's attention skyward, where he saw Bird flying toward them in a hurry. She seemed to be leading a second hawk, this one weaving erratically through the sky. Suddenly, it stopped trying to fly altogether and came crashing down to Earth with a massive thud. White Blaze stopped his eulogy and ran to inspect the crash site with Sage right on his heels. Mia followed behind them, and they all stared in shock as the bird shape-changed into a human form. The male figure made no attempt to move, and Bird perched gently on his shoulder, rubbing her feathered head against his cheek in hopes of waking him. White Blaze sniffed his scent, then gently nudged him, licking his face with wet kisses. The tiger received no response in return, and Mia looked down at the strange figure in confusion.
Bird cawed piteously at Sage, and he put the two together. "He's your owner, isn't he?" He asked the hawk.
She tossed her head almost as if to nod at him.
"Who is he?" Mia asked.
"Auburn's friend. When Bird found her, she said something cryptic about 'her shadow' and more company."
"Shadow? You don't think that maybe÷he's with the villains, do you?" she asked nervously as she watched the man sleeping at her feet.
Sage shrugged. "I have no idea what happened to him, and I don't dare try to find out. If he's as psychically powerful as she is, we could be in a lot of trouble."
"Maybe you better go find the others÷we should try and regroup and figure out what to do," Mia suggested.
"I'd rather not leave you by yourself," Sage replied.
"White Blaze will stay with me, but hurry. There's no telling what will happen to Rei."
"Okay÷but be careful. Blaze, take care of her."
Sage disappeared into the forest, using Cye's psychic aura to find him. Mia took off her jacket and placed it under the boy's head to try and make him more comfortable as she watched over him. White Blaze lay down at his back, looking toward the forest for any signs of trouble. Bird perched to his immediate right, looking for trouble that way. Mia sat in front of White Blaze, watching his back, and to the left for any more attacks. But she got the feeling that the villains wouldn't return, having already gotten what they came for.

Y r S w T

Silently the shadows of the elaborately decorated room converged into one solid form on the bed. The shadows formed into a body of a sleeping female. Silently the shadowy warrior deposited his burden on the bed in the dimly lit room. The warrior stood at the corner of the bed, keeping watch over the girl that was lying there. A soft glimmer broke through the vacated hollows of the eyes in the helmet. But the light soon faded as another shadow entered the room.
"Well done my warrior. Your job is done now. Return to your quarter and await your next order." Shadow Warrior bowed deeply to his master before retreating to the shadows of the room and disappeared.
There may be trouble if my prize warrior is taken from me, he thought as he enclosed the room in a psychic force field. The little princess stirred as he worked his magic into the room. Now the fun begins.

Y r S w T

Through the dark halls of the silent castle stalked a very angry predator. The entire army was set and ready for the final command and she should be at the head of this army not among them! Her defeat against that stupid Empress wasn't bad enough but to be demoted down to the role of lieutenant in the ranks is down right humiliating! Then to find that she brought in a warrior her self is just too much to bare.
Her long white hair was pulled back into a single braided rope of hair. She was still wearing her light battle armor. Kimiko stalked the halls in anger causing all the servants to scatter as she walked by. The sight of fear in the servants as she passed made her feel better.
"What is the matter? Can't take it?"
Kimiko spun around confronting the voice. To her great dismay and anger the source belongs to Lady Kayura. "What do you want?"
"To tell you that antagonizing our guests is not one of the smartest choices you have made. Even without the armor, the girl is still very powerful."
"I do not see why Raven does not just dispose of her then," Kimiko replied angrily.
"Not that it is any of your business, Lieutenant," Kayura twisted the title into an insult, "but he wishes to see if he can use her power to his advantage."
And that will be his downfall, Kimiko thought, unsure why she felt this way.
"Oh, and I am also here to tell you about the capture of the chosen one."
"What?! He finally found her?!"
"Quite so. The Shadow Warrior brought her in after I brought the warrior of nature," she gloated.
"Shadow Warrior? He used the Shadow Warrior?!" she said in wonder.
Could he be that desperate in catching her? I could have done that for him and all this would be done and over. She quickly turned around and ran away toward the throne room, leaving Kayura there in the hall wondering what was going on.

Kimiko ran into the throne room and searched the room for the scroll she knew was there. So you decided to have that twit bring the girl in huh? It is a pity the girl had not realized her powers yet. This is your downfall, she thought, and so it was written in the legends. She located the scroll that was lying next to the portal. She opened the scroll and searched threw it. After a few minutes she found what she was searching for. A small smile spread on her bright red lips. Now it begins.

Kayura wondered what made Kimiko scurry away so quickly. She was not the type to back down from a confrontation, and this made her suspicious of the woman's intentions. She suddenly remembered the armor she was supposed to be guarding, and quickly strode back to her chambers to make sure it remained in its hiding place. She opened the magical treasure box Raven had given her to store the white jewel, only to find that it had mysteriously disappeared. Kayura looked all about her rooms, and scryed with her inner powers to find the tenth armor, but found nothing. She rang for one of the servants, and a young woman quickly entered.
"Milady?" she asked somewhat fearfully.
"This box, have you opened it?" She asked angrily.
"No, milady, you said it was not to be touched."
"Well, someone has opened it, and taken the jewel that was inside. I want this castle turned upside down until it is found, do you hear me?"
"Yes, milady" the girl replied with a small bow, quickly backing away at the cold anger burning in Kayura's eyes.
"Good, now go."
She is powerful, but she could not possibly have recalled the armor so quickly, Kayura thought. Not with the blocks Raven has set here. Still, she decided to check on the guests in the dungeon, just in case their plans were in jeopardy.
Kayura disappeared from the room and reappeared in the shadows of the dungeon. She stayed out of sight of the two females as they sat there and talked about the problems. Lady Kayura silently reached out to the redhead and found that she did not have the stone, neither did the other girl have it. So where could it be? Could Kimiko have it? After all, she did run off in a huff. Her anger builds up as she disappeared into the shadows in search of Kimiko and the stone.

Y r S w T

The young woman slept quietly amongst the pillows, undisturbed by her own arrival to another world. The soft golden-red glow that had previously outlined her body has long disappeared. ShadowRaven had relieved his prize warrior to his room, awaiting his next order. In a swirl of shadows, Raven disappeared and in his place stood a middle age man. Tall, lean with a touch of a potbelly, and deep blue eyes that hid behind some graying black hair. He looks at her with satisfaction written on his lips and victory in his eyes. This could not be happening, he thought as he watched her stir under his powerful gaze; this is just too easy. Time to get to work.
"Rei, dear, wake up."
"Just five more minutes," she mumbled incoherently into the pillows.
"You must get up. It's me, Dad."
"Huh?!"
This got her attention immediately as she quickly pushed all the pictures and sounds from her dreams to the back of her mind. She quickly sat up in the bed causing her head to ache. However, the sight of her long-lost father sitting in front of her gave her a good enough reason to shove it all aside.
"Dad? But÷you÷" she stuttered.
She could not bring herself to say the words that she had to cope with all her life. She just stared at the man, taking in his image, trying to match it up with the faded memory of the picture of her father before he died in the fire that claimed her parents lives. This can not be him, she told herself. He died in the fire with mom trying to get out, she told herself as she frantically tried to find a more logical reason for this man to be able to live through that horrible night.
"Dead? True enough for you to think that since that horrible night," he said as though he was reading her mind. "It was not my idea or your mother's but we had to leave to protect you and your brother." He said as he touched her hand.
"What is going on? If you are here then where is mom? And is Darien with you?" she could not help but blurt out the questions that were bubbling up inside of her. At the same moment, her head started to ache again, more intense then anything she had to deal with before.
"My are we full of questions. Okay, the reason I am here is to tell you that you are safe and that your mom and I were brought here before the accident. The people you saw were just ghosts, fakes to fool you and everyone else that maybe trying to hurt you. Your mom is in the kitchen cooking your favorite meal and as for your brother, well he is around here somewhere," he said with a soft chuckle.
Rei did her best to hide the pain but it was so overwhelming that it caused her to bring her hand up to her face and let a small moan escape from her lips.
"What's the matter, honey?" he asked in a worried tone, the happiness quickly faded from his face.
"My head hurts," she shyly confessed to him.
"I think some of your favorite herbal tea will help you." Her father got up and crossed to a small table by the wall. On the table was a tea set. He poured some of the teapot's content into a cup and gave it to Rei. "Here, drink this."
Reluctantly she took the cup and held it up to her eyes. Should she? As if to prove a point, the piercing pain shot threw her mind once again in twice the strength of before. This deciding for her, she drank down the content. The smoothing warmth of the tea eased her head and every part of her body that ached. She could not remember the last time she felt this good.
"Um÷when well I get to see mom?" she said as stifled a yawn with the back of her hand.
"After you rest. I'll come back and get you when she is done. I will also bring your brother."
"Okay. 'Night, Dad."
"Good night, sweetheart," he watched her go back to sleep with satisfaction written all over his face. "Sleep well, dear. Sleep well."
The man stepped away from the bed and stood in the center of the room, beaming with delight. The spell is working. The 'tea' will push her all the way to my side. Now all I have to do now is to keep the Ronins away from her before the time comes.
"You are now mine!" ShadowRaven spoke softly to the girl as he revealed his true colors.

Y r S w T

The scattered images and impressions in Cody's mind organized themselves into a coherent, logical whole that his subconscious mind replayed for him like a movie of the week. He sat within his psychic safety zone, currently a star speckled sky over a wide open plain, and watched the last days events play out before his eyes. He remembered every moment of his capture and subsequent possession by ShadowRaven, and it was slow torment to watch himself hunting his sweet Auburn down like prey. The last straw was the final clip of the movie where he buried a dagger in her back in a fit of anger, completing the evil overlord's triumph. As if it didn't already rip him apart inside, the image repeated itself over and over in his mind, forcing him to relive the moment repeatedly. Finally, he realized that another presence directed his thoughts, and he turned toward the source of the intrusion.
The voice spoke up before he could. "She went looking for you, you know. She denied her duty to protect to go trailing after you, and this is how you repay her? Why she even chose you is beyond me÷"
"What do you want from me?" he asked in confusion.
White light swirled beside him, then settled into swirls of green before he noticed the female figure standing beside him. She had Auburn's countenance and features, as well as her armor and her jewel, but it wasn't her. At least, not the Auburn he knew. This version possessed a lot more power, power that swirled around her in that white/green mix, and she seemed ready to unleash it upon him.
Passion alit her words, along with a righteous indignation, and unrelenting anger. "What I want is for that memory to be forever burned in your mind. One tragic mistake may have just sent your world as you know it into an age of darkness, and I want you to feel regret every day you live as a slave to that demon. If he lets you live at all."
"Who are you?" he asked, wondering how she could infiltrate his personal space and berate him so completely, as well as take on Auburn's form to boot.
"What am I would be a better question. And to answer it, your worst nightmare if you keep acting like that."
She gestured toward the instant replay for emphasis, scoffing at him. "And to think, even after all that÷she still loves you."
Cody looked back at the looping image, pushing self-pity aside for the time being. He watched the image loop in front of him, analyzing it as he would the engine of a car, picking apart the components until he came up with a bottom line. Faith, he thought suddenly, if I only had more faith. Faith in Auburn to let her be the person she was, and that he fell in love with, rather than asking her to change. Faith in himself to resist anger that led to temptation÷or perhaps he needed faith in something else. Someone else, Auburn would tell him were she here.
"Faith," he said aloud to Auburn's strange spirit sister. "I need faith."
He closed his eyes and said a small prayer to the God he hoped was listening. I know I've never done this before, he thought, but my dad always told me better late than never, so I'm asking now. Help me. Help me help her.
The white aura surrounded them both, and the spirit's tone suddenly became much softer. "Now, I understand. This was written long before the legend could be written down." She removed the Stone of Protection from her neck and put it in his hand. "Guard that until the time is right."
"Wait, how--"
"You'll know, trust me. In the meantime, guide the other warriors to her. There's still time to turn the battle if we hurry."

White light washed over him, and the spirit disappeared as he awoke. He first noticed the gentle weight perched on his shoulder, and turned his head to find Bird sitting there watching him.
:Welcome back,: she greeted him warmly.
:I owe you one, featherbrain. I don't think I'll ever be able to repay you.:
:You owe me quite a few as I recall. Just thank your lucky stars I was able to find you.:
Lucky stars, God, Fate, Destiny or whatever, I'm thanking them all right now, he thought.
He rolled over completely and sat up, finally noticing the white tiger lying beside him. Lying on the other side of the tiger was a young woman with long red hair who looked as though she'd fallen asleep on watch. Cody stared for a minute until Bird gave him a mental introduction.
:White Blaze and Mia Koji. More players in this strange battle.:
"Don't forget me," spoke a voice from above him as a strong hand pulled him to his feet.
A very solid Warlord of Cruelty stood before him, and he thought that Anubis should be dead crossed Cody's mind, but stranger things had happened lately. Auburn's ancestor seemed to size him up with those piercing emeralds, and then he nodded in satisfaction.
"She chose well."
"Yeah, well you might not have thought that last night," he replied.
Anubis shrugged. "I can relate. You were luckier than I was÷you escaped with your life."
:Barely.: Bird's thought echoed beside him.
He felt her gentle touch on his shoulder, and reached up to scratch her head, only then noticing he held the Stone of Protection in his hand, exactly where the spirit from his dream had left it.
:It looks as though I'm not the only one that brought something back with me,: she said, indicating the jewel he held in his hand. He looked back to the Warlord and held it up for him to see.
"Maybe you can explain why I have this."
"Probably because Auburn does not," Anubis clarified for him.
Cody rolled his eyes, and Anubis grinned. "I'm sorry. However, I can't help you much as far as the Armor of Nature is concerned. You probably know more about it than I do, but it seems the link between you and Auburn is strong enough to allow you to tap some of her powers."
"Such that if she couldn't wield the armor, I would be called upon to guard it after an initiation?"
"Initiation?"
"That's the only word I can come up with," Cody tried to explain. "This strange 'spirit' appeared in my dreams, and she looked just like Auburn. She started berating me, and then I had this strange realization about faith. Then she gave me the jewel and told me to guard it, then she muttered something cryptic about ancient legends."
"It seems you were talking to her yoroi, which I find very surprising, but the Armor of Nature is still quite a mystery. But if she asked you to guard the armor, then it would be wise to do so."
Cody placed the jewel around his neck, and quickly changed the subject before his mind started spinning again. "If you don't mind me asking÷where EXACTLY did you come from?"
"Cye and I stumbled upon this clearing while looking for Mia and Rei."
"Well, you found one of them," Cody pointed out. "Who's Cye?"
"One of the five warriors Phoenix originally called to this battle. We were separated from the other four."
"The same guys from Los Angeles?"
"Yes. This seemed like a good place to camp and regroup, so I sent Cye out to see if he could find the others."
The Ronin of Torrent stepped out of the forest at the mention of his name with Sage trailing right behind him. Both of them looked at him somewhat suspiciously, and their eyes widened in shock as they noticed the jewel around his neck.
"Where did you get that?" Sage hissed at him, drawing his sword.
Cye eyed the young man as though he was trying to see into the stranger's soul. A small smile turned up in the corner of his lips. If he found something out, he sure was not going to say anything about it.
:Cye and Sage,: Bird pointed out, taking flight. :They're a little on edge right now.:
:So I see. We had better help things along before they do something drastic.:
Cody calmly looked over at Anubis in response. "You explain. I'll go see if I can find the other three."
"Wait a minute, you aren't going anywhere until you answer my question!"
Before Sage could move toward him, he turned and dashed into the shadows of the forest, blending into the shadows completely. Bird followed his trail, leaving the three Ronins, the sleeping woman, and the tiger on their own.

Y r S w T

Where is he?! He had to be here somewhere! Damnit! Kento thought darkly as he went searching through the woods for the Warlord of Illusion. I know he is here somewhere!
Dais was everywhere in the forest, being relentlessly unbearable by multiplying himself. Kento struck out at every one of them but all he got was air. Could the warlord have left? Not likely.
"Looking for me?"
Kento quickly turned around and sent a boulder flying toward the voice. He turned around and found the boulder sailing through the warlord before crashing down on the ground behind him.
"What's the matter Dais? Chicken to face me?"
"Actually I am here to tell you something." The warlord stepped out of the shadows behind his illusion. "I just got a message that is very interesting."
"Oh, really? What would that be? Your master finally found his underwear? Or maybe that they finally found out that bad guys always loses in the end?"
"Guess again, Hardrock. It seems your pitiful efforts to protect the house has failed."
"WHAT?!"
The shock of hearing this was overwhelming. So this was why they were called out of the house to chase after Sekhmet. The only person he didn't see out with them was Rowen. And whatever they did to get through him apparently worked.
"NOOOO!"
"What!?" Dais turned around to find Ryo standing there with his swords drawn and ready to fight.
"Hey Ryo, you okay!" Kento smiled as he saw his friend up and about. Now we can do some major butt kicking!
"You better hope they are all alright," he stated in a dangerously low voice as he slowly approached the warlord. He totally ignored Kento's words. "If I were you, I would run far, far away and never return."
"What's the matter Wildfire? Afraid for that little female? It's a pity she did not make it!" he said, laughing maniacally.
"You lie." Ryo whispered almost inaudible to Dais. Was this why he could not contact Rowen?
"Do I?" Dais watched as Ryo continued his steady approach. "A pity Strata could not protect them."
Apparently that was the last straw for Ryo. He charged at Dais and swung his blades at the warlord's head. Dais ducked at the last minute but missed a kick that connected to his chest, throwing the warlord back.
Kento was about to jump in and join the battle but Ryo stopped him with a gesture. He was about to protest but a glare from his leader made him back off. Kento did not know what was going on in his friend's mind and he was not sure he wanted to know.
Dais grunted as he slowly got up from where he landed from the blow. Okay, it was not a good idea to make him mad. He prepared to return the whelps attack, but the master's call painfully ripped through his mind causing him to step down from the attack.
: Are you deaf, BOY! I told you to return at once!:
: But master÷: he begun to protest.
: LEAVE THEM! I have what I want.:
: Yes Master,: Dais replied, preparing to teleport back to the Nether Realm. As he left, a stray thought wormed into his mind.
:Tell your master thanks for the flying lesson. I'll be back to reclaim what's mine.:

**************
to be continued...

Greetings, Ronin Fans. You have reached the end of the fourteenth chapter of this amazingly long story. This just the start for there is more to come. Sit back, relax and enjoy. But if for any reason you have any questions about this story, don't hesitate to write to me.
-Satori ^_^