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"I am immortal and I am not alone. Now is
the time of the Gathering, when the stroke
of a sword will release the power of the
Quickening. In the end, there can be only
-Highlander’s opening.

Chapter 6:
The Gathering
By Satori Shiro and Darster

Rei wandered down the stairs, taking in the sights that surrounded her. Pictures of friends and family hung on the walls, an antique grandfather clock stood in the hall majestically telling her that dawn was to come soon. A feeling of happiness swelled in her, as she looked at one picture in particular. In the picture, there was an old man sitting at a desk working on a computer. Standing behind him was a smiling young girl. It seems as though the camera had caught the man unaware until the last minute. A small smile crept to her lips at the sight. Damp sandpaper brushed against her hand, snapping her out of her thoughts.
"Alright White Blaze, I’m coming. You sure are impatient, aren’t ya?" Rei followed the tiger through a rather large living room and into the kitchen. She pushed the double doors open to find Mia at the stove waiting for the water to boil.
"Sit down and relax a bit while I make the tea," she said, gesturing to the table behind her.
"Uh, thanks. I know this is very strange and all having people just drop in from out of nowhere…" she said nervously as she sat down in a chair. The kitchen was a good size and it seems to be well stocked, too. Strange for someone who lives by herself. Oh well, I guess I’ll find that bit of information out later.
"No really, don’t worry about it so much. I have people that drop in on me every now and then so this is no big thing."
In fact, at that moment, they received an unexpected visitor in the form of a brown hawk that perched delicately on the windowsill in the kitchen. Mia had opened the window to let in the fresh morning air, and the hawk took advantage of the makeshift roost. Both girls exchanged a puzzled glance, then looked back to the majestic bird that ruffled its feathers, then sat watching them plaintively.
White Blaze padded over to the bird and placed both of his huge paws on the sill, inspecting the newcomer. In some odd communication ritual, the bird and cat touched, wing to paw. Rei shifted uncomfortably as the hawk turned its tan eyes upon her. It peered at her questioningly with bright intelligence shining in its eyes, then took flight as quickly as it landed. White Blaze stared at the retreating aviary with some interest, then turned back to see the two girl's reaction.
"What was that about?" Rei asked, astounded. She got the feeling there was more to that bird than met the eye. Were hawks found in this part of the world?
Mia shrugged, dismissing the incident. "Stranger things have happened here." The water had finished, and she poured some into two cups. She brings them over to the table and hands one to Rei as she sat down. " I am sorry, but I didn’t catch your name." Noting that the hawk was gone from sight, White Blaze wandered back to his spot.
"Oh I am sorry, my name is Rei Saotome, your name is Mia, and the big guy down there is White Blaze," she said, gesturing to the huge tiger at Mia’s feet.
"Um, Rei, I don’t know how to say this so I’ll just come out and say this. How do you know about Anubis?" She leaned forward toward Rei to hear what the strange girl had to say.

Y r S w T

Auburn slowly opened her eyes. Her eyes wandered around her surroundings a bit, as she tried to remember where she was. She still felt slightly groggy, but the pain in her side and head had subsided. Remembering the fight with Cale, she quickly got up but found out that it was a mistake to do so. She nearly tripped over her own two feet as the last wave of dizziness passed over her, but managed to plant both on the ground. The Armor of Nature long since dissipated, but she at least felt halfway like herself. The guys, she thought, remembering their predicament. I have to find them, she thought.
"There is no need to do so my child."
"Wha…" She asked incoherently, startled by the second mental intrusion. Only Cody read her thoughts so completely.
"They are fine. They are all wide-awake, except for Rowen who is still asleep, and are hungry, especially. So don’t worry about them." She turns around to find Anubis sitting on a log watching her.
"How long have you been sitting there?"
"Long enough to know you talk in your sleep," he chuckled as he watched her stretch and walk over to him.
"Very funny. I doubt you found out anything you didn't already know." She ran her fingers through her hair, somewhat from nervousness, but more to clear it of leaves and brambles. "That psychic link works both ways," she pointed out. "So spill it. I know you have something on your mind."
"Your search for the Phoenix child is over. I have found her and she is safe. I can not tell you yet where she is for there are more of the masters' spies out looking for her."
"So we need to go to a place where we can talk without being overheard, right?"
A lone branch snapped behind them, and the two turned in unison to see Ryo had come up behind them. He stood leaning against a tree watching both of them intensely. He couldn't help but stare. Anubis lounged on the hollow log contentedly, as though sitting there as a ghost was completely normal. Auburn stood beside him, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was talking to a dead person. Or was she? She turned to see his approach, and in that moment, the resemblance was unmistakable. Ryo finally understood why she looked so familiar when she had joined their group, but what was the connection? He sighed, knowing that another round of explanations would cost them valuable time.
He cleared his throat and spoke up. "Are you all right?"
"Never better," Anubis quipped jokingly.
Had it been possible, Auburn would've smacked him upside the head, but she settled for rolling her eyes. "I'm fine, thanks, Ryo. How are you and the others?"
"They're eating. I sent Cye and Sage into town to see what supplies they could find. They should be back soon enough. Rowen still hasn't awaken yet, last time I checked."
Auburn read a bit of nervousness in the Ronin Leader's tone. "Something wrong?"
"I'm not sure," Ryo answered slowly. "I thought maybe you might be able to help. I know Rowen isn't exactly a morning person, but this just seems different."
She nodded, wondering exactly how much of last night's events they knew about. "Lead on, I'll see what I can do."
Ryo walked back toward their camp, Auburn following quickly behind. She didn't bother to see if Anubis was following, knowing he'd be able to find them easily enough. As they re-entered the clearing, she saw that the boys had rekindled the fire, probably thanks to Ryo, and they now sat around in various stages of life. Kento stopped eating long enough to acknowledge their presence, and Cye seemed too deep in thought to notice them. Rowen lay curled up in his sleeping bag by the fire, still dead to the world. Auburn hoped it wasn't literal. Sage knelt beside him, looking a bit disconcerted.
"Find anything unusual Sage?" Auburn asked, dropping to her knees beside him.
"As far as I can tell, he's just…sleeping. I don't know…something just feels weird. Maybe you can find out what." He looked hopefully at her.
Auburn removed the Stone of Protection, and laid it in Rowen's opened palm. Something in his subconscious shifted, and he stirred slightly, enough to grip the stone tighter in his hand. She probed deeper to find him in a deep sleep, not unlike the trance-like state she often entered psychically, but mentally unhurt.
"He moved!" Sage cried, relieved.
"He's fine," she relayed. "If I were to guess, I'd say his subconscious opened up wide enough that he's having some kind of dream vision. Didn't you tell me that he said Phoenix said he was to protect this girl?"
"Yes," Ryo replied, still watching Rowen’s sleeping body. "So he said anyway."
"That might explain it then."
"Explain, what?" Kento asked, still eating away. Even though she told them about herself, he still did not fully trust her.
Rowen whimpered, clutching Auburn's stone even tighter, then started to thrash around in his sleeping bag a little. He started to whimper which deepened into a soft growl, then a high pitched scream.
Rowen woke up and sat up straight, looking around wild-eyed. His thrashing about caused everyone that was around him to scatter. Kento dropped the last of his brunch and armored up immediately, searching the area for enemies. Cye abruptly lost his train of thought, and walked over to his friend.
"Easy there mate, you're all right," he soothed, placing a gentle hand on Rowen's shoulder. The Ronin of Strata shook off the effects of the dream and relaxed a bit by the fire, holding his head in his hands.
"You okay?" Ryo asked softly, taking a seat beside Rowen.
"Yeah. I just had this odd dream. I was with her…"
"Her?" Kento interjected.
"Yes, the girl Phoenix sent us to find…"
"You found her…let's go!" Kento urged, still armored and ready to fight.
"Settle down Kento," Ryo countered. "It was just a dream."
"No, this felt real. We were together, and walking through this thick fog. Then she disappeared all of a sudden, and I tried to find her, but got lost in the dark. After that, the darkness itself seemed to thicken, and my throat felt tight. I thought I would suffocate till I saw a faint white light, then it grew brighter…and I woke up."
Rowen peered down at his hand to find he still held the Stone of Protection. He glanced at Auburn, then tossed the stone to her with a half smile. She grinned and winked, easily catching the stone and placing it around her neck once more.
"You guys are looking at me like I’m crazy. What else happened?"
"Cale 'happened'."
Anubis' ghostly form appeared out of nowhere, solidifying somewhat under five surprised glances. Only Auburn seemed unaffected, dousing the remains of the fire with some loose soil.
"Uh, is it just me, or aren't you supposed to be dead?" Kento questioned the ghost directly, stunned.
"I am. I was sent to help you on your quest."
"Sure, hey why not?" Sage said, in mock hysterics. "First Phoenix appears out of nowhere, then Auburn appears out of nowhere, then Anubis' ghost appears out of nowhere!"
Ryo's eyes flicked back and forth between Anubis and Auburn, who now stood beside the ghost, watching the five boys collect themselves. "You two…" he pointed to them, unable to remember the connection.
"…are related," Rowen finished for him. "Direct descendants actually."
Ryo's mouth opened, then closed, and Kento stared, dumbfounded. Fortunately, Cye saved them both embarrassment by noticing the name Anubis just mentioned.
"Did you say Cale?"
"As in the Warlord of Corruption?" Sage asked incredulously. "That's impossible! The warlords lost their armors after we defeated Talpa!"
"Well, someone found them," Auburn remarked.
"Yeah, and how would you know?" Kento sneered at her.
"Because I fought him last night while you all were sleeping."
"You WHAT?!" all five Ronins echoed collectively. Kento shot her a look somewhere between disbelief and awe. Nah, he thought, she's too much of a lightweight to take on Cale alone. Wasn't she?
Anubis gave his ages removed descendant a look that seemed to say 'I told ya so', and she grinned back at him, then continued with the short explanation.
"When you all went to sleep last night, I stayed awake to keep watch. I picked up Lady Kayura's psychic aura, and found her trapped in a dungeon. Our enemy is now Lord ShadowRaven…who obviously didn't like me intruding on his personal space, because he sent the hired guns out shortly thereafter."
"We're not fighting Talpa then after all?" Cye asked in astonishment.
"All she told me was that he was intent on finishing Talpa's work."
"Great, just great." Ryo ran his fingers nervously through his dark hair, pacing. "So let's see if I can got this all straight. We were sent here by Phoenix to find this girl, who is the key to defeating this Shadow Raven fellow, who's holding Lady Kayura prisoner. In the meantime, the Ronin of Nature, and her long dead ancestor Anubis, Warlord of Cruelty, join the search/quest. That sound pretty logical to everyone?"
"That helps, a little," Cye said.
"Oh yes, most definitely," Kento agreed sardonically.
"Yeah, but there's just one problem," Sage pointed out. "and it's the same problem we had yesterday. Where is she, and how are we going to find her?"
The cry of a roving hawk cut through the air above them, distracting all seven warriors from Sage's question. The bird circled once, then dove toward them and landed, perching gently on Auburn's left shoulder. The boys stared in awe as she ruffled the bird's feathers playfully.
"Finally caught up to me, did you?" She asked the brown hawk on her shoulder. "Sure took you long enough."
"Is it…yours?" Rowen asked, not remembering anything of this sort when they first met.
"Her name's Bird. No, she's not mine. She belongs to my shadow, which should be showing up anytime now," Auburn answered as her eyes and mind searched the forest for the person she knew would be there, or not far behind them anyhow.
"Huh?" Kento asked intelligently.
"Never mind. Just don't be surprised if we get more company."
Bird shifted back and forth on Auburn's shoulder as if impatient. Finally, she winged into the sky, circling them once more and cawing at them.
"I believe you should follow her," Anubis suggested, secret knowledge shining in his eyes. He picked this time to make a discreet exit. He quietly faded away.
"Following a bird? That's crazy," Sage protested.
"Isn't that what we are doing now?" Cye retorted.
"Good point," Ryo added.
"It beats standing around here," Kento agreed, putting finality to the issue.
"Not to mention, she won't leave me alone till we do," Auburn replied as she watched the hawk circle them from above.
"I guess that means you're leading," Ryo said. With a slight nod, Auburn sets off after her feathered friend, with the five other boys in tow. Something made her turn back around toward the disarrayed campfire they were about to leave behind them. Maybe she had doused the fire, but the elements would never forgive her for leaving all this litter behind. The Stone of Protection glowed a soft white as all six sleeping bags rolled themselves up, and the litter disappeared in a small blaze. Auburn concentrated a bit harder and directed all but one of the sleeping bags back to the town vendor. The leftover rolled and came to rest in front of a large tree, in plain view for the person she knew would find it. It would be a cold night without something to keep him warm.
"Coming, oh fearless leader?" Sage asked her flirtatiously as he noticed she lagged behind.
"Just housekeeping. Keep Nature Beautiful and all."
"She already is," he said under his breath.
Auburn resisted the urge to laugh outright at him as she easily caught up with the rest of the boys. If he only knew…

Y r S w T

Lady Kimiko stood in the shadows of the throne room watching her master issue orders to the worms that calls themselves ‘warlords’. The master brushed her aside as soon as the warlords entered, so she retreated to the shadows of the throne room, which was not hard to do. She had been very upset the day her lord decided to take those three to their side. She thought it was a bad idea but she would not dare to speak to her master about it. She remembers the last time someone spoke against him. His bride-to-be decided not to marry him and told him that outright. She was a very beautiful woman and she took pride in her beauty. She caused her own downfall for in his anger, he took her beauty away by destroying her face with a hideous scar.
"Lady Kimiko, come to me." The voice thundered through the room pulling her out of her thoughts. Reluctantly she stepped out of the shadows and bowed to him. She saw that the warlords had left, to do what she would never know.
"So you have been here all along. Have you been listening to my private conversation with the warlords," he whispered to her in a dangerously, dark tone.
"No my master, I have not. I have been waiting to ask you a question." She held her ground not willing to bend. She was afraid for her life but she was not going to show her fear.
"Then what do you wish to know?"
"I would like to know what you wish of me. I have been waiting patiently but I grow tired of it. I wish to go out and do something for you my lord."
"So you wish to do something, is that it?"
"Yes my master." He laughs as he watches her intensely. She was confused as to why he was laughing so, but then again he sometimes just burst out like that.
"So be it. You wish to fight, I have some one for you to fight after all." His eyes shine brightly with a dark fire.
"Master?" Kimiko was shocked for she has no idea what he was getting at.
"Now go and prepare for your battle. I have things to do."
As soon as she left, he himself left the throne room and reappeared in the dungeon. He strolls up to a door and finds Lady Kayura sitting on a pile of hay with her hands in chains.
"What is the matter my dear?" He said with a smirk. He could not help but love the way her face changes every time she sees him. "Did I crush your plans for a dashing rescue?"
"What do you want?" She hissed at him. "Don’t you have something better to do then bug me?" She struggles once again against the chains that bind her hands.
"I am here to offer you your freedom."
"What?" She stopped in mid tug, very surprised by his offer. Then she recovered her wits. "What’s the catch, Bird-brain?" This totally ruffled his feathers, so to speak.
"This you will have to wait and see," he said darkly. With those words, he disappeared, his dark, sinister laughter echoing through the halls of the dungeon.
Whatever it was, Kayura knew positively that she wouldn't like it. The Ancient had said, before he left, that Anubis is out helping the Ronins as much as he could. So all she could do now was hope and pray that they would complete their quest, and soon.

Y r S w T

"So what you are saying is that Anubis came to you after ran away from the armored warriors from your dreams because you were afraid for their lives when they came to your aid after you were attacked by a shape-shifting woman," Mia said in a rush of breath. "Did I get it all right?"
"Well, yeah, that just about sums it up," Rei said as she finished the last of her tea. They had been sitting there talking about each other's lives as total strangers yet they did not feel that they are strangers at all. Rei felt an odd sense of warmth that she had not felt in ages as she sat there and talked to this girl. Strange, but then again, what in her life hasn't been strange.
Mia weighed Rei's words for a moment, then walked out to the living room, re-entering with another photo.
"The warriors you saw…is this them?" She showed the picture to Rei as she pulled her chair closer to the table.
Rei studied the picture carefully. It was a group picture. She easily picked out Mia and White Blaze, along with a small boy who hugged the tiger tightly. The picture also contained five boys all smiling happily. Inspecting the picture more closely, she pointed to a blue haired young man.
"Him," she said, indicating Rowen. "He, he was the one that protected me from that, that weirdo, whoever she was. The other four closed in to help." Rei looked at Mia, wondering how she had gotten this picture.
Mia nodded, and for once Rei noticed a genuine understanding of her words. Not like Keiko, who despite all her efforts, didn't understand what was going on.
"These are some friends of mine," Mia explained in response to her unanswered question. "If they came to your aid, you have nothing to fear. Why did you run?"
"I was scared," Rei replied sheepishly, "all these people coming out of nowhere, all looking for me. I didn’t know what else to do."
"It's okay. You are safe here." Mia eyed her questioningly, sensing there was more to the story. "Did anything else happen?"
"Well, no, not really, though I did talk to someone else before I met Anubis."
"I don't know," Rei shrugged. "It was weird though…she looked just like him, and had this glowing white stone around her neck," she said, lost in thought, recalling things from that day. "Kinda like…this one," she added, pointing to the picture, and the Jewel of Life around Ryo's neck.
"That's strange," Mia mused. "I don't remember ever meeting her. She was with these five guys though, right?"
"No, not at the battle itself. She stopped me as I was running away. I guess she wanted to see if I was all right. Then she said that they needed my help, but I kept running, not caring to know more. She seemed really concerned about me though."
"Odd," Mia said to her, pouring them more tea, and returning to the table. "Can you tell me anymore?"

Y r S w T

The words of the Restless Heart song that earned his girlfriend her nickname came back to him as he sat on the log that served as a makeshift bench in this small Japanese village.
"Sweet Auburn, sometimes it's like I never knew ya, sometimes I gotta go back to ya…how true," he mused to himself, running his fingers through his shoulder length black curls. "So sweet, you feel the need to solve the problems of the entire world by yourself."
He sighed deeply, asking himself how she had again done this to him. He'd been visiting long time family friends in Japan, and she'd been vacationing at Matt's beachfront cabin back in the States. They had both decided the time apart was necessary due to some added 'stresses' in their relationship.
He supposed that it wouldn't have been so bad except for the incident at Disneyland. She disappears out of her own bedroom, and he finds her days later in California, amidst a pile of rubble once known as the "Happiest Place on Earth." Not to mention the 'baggage' she brought back with her. For instance, a battle armor that controlled the powers of Nature and slaughtered demons from another dimension. That took some getting used to, but hey, if he could walk around talking to a hawk and take its shape at will, anything was possible.
No, what really bothered him was how this armor affected her empathy. It amplified it, extremely, as though her natural ability wasn't enough. In fact, the stronger the empathic pull, the further Auburn was drawn into these dangerous situations, and the weaker her self-preservation instinct got. Her feelings of the heart were about twice as powerful as her sensibility in the head, and heart won out every time. That was the real problem. As she got more and more caught up in otherworldly matters, her self-preservation instinct dropped dramatically. She had no regard for her own life at that point, and he'd be damned if he sat by and watched the love of his life sacrifice herself for just any cause.
He grinned to himself. A mutual friend called them light and dark, day and night, polar opposites. She herself often called him her 'shadow'. She chased him away sometimes, but he always came back. At any rate, he'd always been able to make her see the sensible side of things, so here he was. Visions of mass destruction that seemed to somewhat center around her drew him away from his vacation, and toward her psychic presence, which ended in this little village. He sent Bird ahead to see what she might find on her own. So here he sat, watching and waiting. The interesting sight of five sleeping bags mysteriously appearing on a table in the storefront area caught his eye, and he realized he was very close to ending his search.
"I hate waiting," he grumbled.
"Are you waiting for someone in particular?"
His head snapped up, and he jumped slightly, unaware anyone had been listening to him. His eyes focused on a young girl who couldn't be more than sixteen, with long brown hair. She looked frazzled, yet somewhat excited to see him.
"Aren't you a little young to be striking up a conversation with strange men?" he asked at her bravado. "You don't even know who I am."
"Yes I do. I even know who you are waiting for."
It has to be him, Keiko thought. Rei's real long lost brother. He found out she was in danger and came looking. The dark curls gave it away, though his eyes were a deep brown. He wore black jeans and a black T-shirt, and stood a good six feet tall. The American accent threw her off a moment, but it was possible. It had been a long time since Rei came to the orphanage…
He stared at her somewhat stupidly. "I don't think we are quite on the same wavelength here."
"Oh, you don't have to pretend, I know everything. But she's not here. No one has seen her since last night."
She? That explained the sudden stop in Auburn's psychic trail, but how would this girl know her? Then again, she made new friends as fast as most people made enemies, so it didn't surprise him much that she might know something about his girlfriend.
"Do you know where to find her?"
"No, but if we look, I bet we can find her."
"Uh, we?" he asked, again in shock at this girl's forwardness. "You still don't know who I am."
Keiko sighed. "Okay, fine. We'll introduce ourselves, and then we won't be strangers, okay? My name is Keiko, and you are..?"
"Nature's shadow," he answered cryptically.
"What kind of answer is that?!?"
He ignored her question as Bird's deep warm voice echoed distantly within his head.
:Are you coming?: she asked.
:Why, did you find something?:
:Five Japanese samurai, one passionate M.I.A. redhead, and the object of their search. Does that qualify?:
:Works for me. Lead on.:
To Keiko he replied, "Can you talk and walk at the same time? At least, I assume you'll follow me even if I tell you to stay here."
"Follow you? Right now?" Keiko looked back toward the school. She'd spent her lunch recess searching for Rei, but if they both turned up missing, it would look suspicious. But Rei is my friend, she thought to herself, trying to decide which course of action to take.
"Yeah. I'm done waiting, and I've found what I'm looking for, and I've wasted enough time doing both."
With that, he stood and stalked toward the forest. Keiko took one last look at the school, and the orphanage, then ran to catch up with him. If there were any chance he knew anything about Rei, she'd chance it.
"Hey, Shadow! Wait up!"

Another shadow watched them depart, smiling widely. If I can’t find the chosen one, her friend will do just fine, she thought darkly. "The mistress will be pleased," it spoke, disappearing into the darkness of the shadows.

To be continued…

Okay you crazy Ronin Warriors fans out there, Chapter 6 is here to save the day. If ya’ll are wondering what Y r S w T stands for, look no further! The capital letters are the initials of the Japanese name of the show and the lower case letters are the initials of the American name of the show. I use it as a cue for when a scene change is about to occur. Let me know what ya think of our little story. Questions, Comments, Flames and any suggestions are always welcome!
-Satori ^_^