Author's Note: January 2015. I'm getting back into the Ronin fandom and I am taking another crack at this fic. As of 2015, chapter one, which has been posted for years, has been revamped. You will want to read it again as it now has more important information in it. I hope to post chapter two before the end of January.
By: Ghost of the Dawn
Chapter One: Killing Time
"You've gotta be kidding!" Kento blurted out. "Kayura?" He just stared at the woman standing before him.
Kayura swiveled her large, visible eye in Kento's direction. "Don't sound so surprised. It hasn't been that long since you've seen me. At least," she corrected herself, "not for you it hasn't."
"Well, sorry for the lack of hospitality, Kayura," Sage responded, arms folded. "But we just barely returned from a long trip ourselves and haven't had the opportunity to extend an invitation for company."
"I can see that," Kayura replied. They were all still in their Falanian clothing and she looked them over in amusement. "I apologize for coming so suddenly. Had I better timing, you would have been able to rest for a few days before this. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We need to go. Now. The sooner the better."
"Woah lady, back up here!" Kento jumped in. "Go where? Why? What the hell is going on?"
Kayura gave an exasperated sigh. "We don't have much time! We have to go! I'll explain when we get there."
Natalia stood near the back, completely confused as to what was going on. Mia looked at the different faces worriedly, wondering what it all meant. The five warriors all shared a similar aura of stubbornness. None of them seemed in the mood to go anywhere without an extremely good reason.
Ryo took into account that all his comrades felt the same way he did. "Looks like you're going to have to do more persuading than that, Kayura. If we don't get an explanation, we're not moving."
Kayura looked the stern faced Ryo over and then raised an eyebrow in challenge. "Not even to get your friend back? You're willing to chance not seeing that little red head again because you don't feel like listening to me? Or what about your tiger? Don't you want him back as well?"
Ryo's expression visibly darkened. "What do you mean? What did you do to them?"
"I didn't do anything intentionally," Kayura insisted. "Those two were passing through a portal into this world the same time I was. Our streams crossed and as near as I can tell, they never made it here. Instead, they probably got pulled back the way I came. I can take you to them, but we have to go. NOW."
Stubbornness turned to surprise and hesitance as the Ronins looked at each other for suggestions.
"Believe me," Kayura continued. "Where she is right now is probably not the safest place. And she's not coming back unless you go there and bring her back. The tiger, too."
The five looked at each other again.
"Where are we going?" Cye spoke up from the back of the room.
All it took was one to agree and their fate had been decided for the group.
Kayura smiled. She turned to Kento who was standing the closest to her.
"Hold up your arm."
Days later, Kento would still wonder why he reacted. For whatever reason, he did as he was told and Kayura slapped a large, black clamp to his wrist which immediately locked itself to him.
"What the hell?!" Kento demanded as he instantly tried to pry the thing off. "You tricked me!"
"All of you need to wear one of these," Kayura explained, ignoring Kento's complaints. She began handing them out to the other four. "You must keep them on you the entire time. It's important that you do so."
Rowen looked dubiously at the device he was given. The thing sparked at him. "I think this one's got a glitch."
"That's why we have to hurry. They're not going to stay functioning too long in this world."
"Mine's hissing at me," Kento whined.
"Put them on! Hurry!" Kayura ordered.
Cye and Ryo were still staring at theirs, but finally put them on. The clamps fastened around their wrists instantly.
Mia watched them all; worried. "Should I go with you or-"
"You needn't go," Kayura informed her. "We only enough for them."
"We?" Sage asked.
"Well, be careful then," Mia said, looking a bit disappointed. "I'll be here waiting for you, I guess."
Kayura gathered the five closer together and then turned to Mia with a knowing smile. "Believe me, you won't be waiting for them long."
With that, she held up her own wrist and pressed a button on her band. The contraption beeped three times and then they were gone from Mia's living room as quick as lightning is gone from the sky.
When it was silent and empty, Natalia turned to Mia, now the only person left in the room. "Okay, I know I've had to come to accept a lot of weird things these past few weeks. But you're still going to have to explain that one to me."
Mia just shook her head. "I don't know if I can."
It wasn't the same as being transported to Falnan. With that trip, Rowen could best describe it as a sense of motion and he could feel everyone moving with him to that other place. This was completely different. It was a sickening feeling. For a moment, he felt like he lost himself. Like his body and his spirit were split apart. And then those parts were split in more parts until he was completely undone to the very atom. Then everything moved without him. He was stuck, torn apart while it felt like time was moving on; moving at an unfathomable speed, while he stayed the same. Then, all existence stopped moving and he was sucked back together.
Rowen stood in stunned silence. His skin tingled all over like his whole body had fallen asleep. While he had been standing in Mia's well lit living room with his friends only a second before, he now was in some place dark and quiet. And he was all alone.
He was in some sort of building. Weak light leaked in from dirty windows, allowing him to barely see the area around him. The room gutted out as if in the middle of renovations or construction, the skeleton of the building exposed in parts. All was still and Rowen held his breath in the silence. He wasn't expecting this. He wasn't expecting to end up all alone in the darkness. Where was he? His instincts told him not to move, not to make a sound until he knew. His ears strained in the silence, listening for any kind of evidence to confirm or deny that he was the only one here. If he was indeed alone, then where were his friends? And what happened to Kayura?
A shuffling in the darkness caught Rowen's attention and he zeroed in on it. Where he had previously thought was devoid of all life, a humanesque form moved from the shadows. Rowen stared at it, backing up a bit. The light in the room was nearly nonexistent, but Rowen was still unbelieving of what his senses were telling him. From all appearances, the other figure had actually materialized into the room with him; as if stepping through the wall and through the darkness into existence.
Rowen's suspicions were founded even more when the figure's eyes began to glow eery red and Rowen knew he was dealing with something not quite human and probably not friendly.
The creature raised its hand and another red light glittered in the darkness. It flitted around the room to rest on Rowen's chest, over his heart.
The second Rowen realized what it was, his gut sank with a nauseous feeling.
It's got a gun. It's going to shoot me!
Adrenaline shot through his body and he lurched as he felt something whiz by and the wall splintered behind him. Rowen couldn't see in the darkness well and he slammed right into another wall, hitting his head none too gently. He violently flung himself forward again, eyes wide and wild, looking for his attacker.
I can't see in here! I can't hide! I'm going to get shot!
To his horror, Rowen now saw more sets of eyes materializing in the darkness. They all slunk toward him like unearthly beings and eyed their prey fearlessly. They knew they were going to win and Rowen was sure he was going to die.
Right then, the ceiling exploded above him as large body crashed through it. Weak rays of light streaked in from outside. The newcomer landed heavily on a dusty table-like apparatus, trench coat billowing behind him. The several pairs of eyes turned their attention to the intruder as he made a grand motion of sticking his arms straight out to either side of him.
Rowen realized there was a large gun in each of the man's hands only a split second before he opened fire.
The stranger's face was glittered with specs of light as his weapons went off in rapid succession. All Rowen could see of the man's face in the flickering lights was a wide, manic grin before he grabbed his head and ducked to the ground. Gun fire screamed around the room, tearing up the walls and radiating in Rowen's ears. There was the underlying melody of pained wails and bodies hitting the floor. It was the worst sound Rowen had ever heard. Something wet splattered on his arm and he curled up tighter on the floor; praying it would be over soon.
The deafening noise stopped suddenly and another smaller body dropped into the room. Female. She took a moment to survey the place and then jumped off the table to look around. Rowen could see her when he lifted his head, but stayed where he was, unsure if these new fighters were friendly.
The smaller body must have seen him, for she turned in his direction and Rowen saw a pair of red eyes materialize behind her. Before he could say anything, the female form pulled something from her belt and stabbed backwards. The creature behind her screamed as it was impaled and then electrocuted. Rowen stared wide eyed as the blue arcs of electricity lit up the form. It looked almost human, but had sharp teeth and screamed like a demon.
Its pain lasted only a second before the weapon stopped its assault and the body fell down dead. A sick, burning smell filled the air and Rowen's heart sped up even more. He was all that was left. Who were these people? What did they want with him? Without his armor, he had no way to defend himself and no idea where to go if he managed to get away. Still, he had to fight somehow.
The two figures both moved toward him and Rowen sprang to action. In the dim light, he saw one of the small hand guns the demons with the red eyes had been carrying. He snatched it up and jumped to his feet, aiming it at the only two still alive in the room.
"Stop right there!" he cried, his voice rising with fear. It sounded more panicked than Rowen would have liked. Though, in truth, he was terrified. "Don't come near me!"
He had the gun pointed at the smaller form who was closer. She froze as the weapon was aimed at her. However, the larger one walked purposefully forward and positioned himself between the female and Rowen's weapon. He now stood only a few feet from Rowen's gun, the barrel pointed at his head.
"I said stay back!" Rowen barked frantically. His hands were shaking.
The large form regarded him coolly.
"What are you going to do with that, Hashiba?" he asked in a deep, chalky voice. "You going to shoot me?"
Rowen was so surprised the stranger new his name, he lost all sense to react when the man reached out. He snatched the gun out of Rowen's hands by the barrel and rapped him smartly on the head with the butt of the handle.
"Ow!" Rowen yelled as his grabbed his head and hissed at the pain.
The large figure sighed at him, unimpressed and moved off. The smaller figure approached him.
"Rowen, are you okay? I'm so sorry I lost you upon entry."
"Kayura?" Rowen asked, a bit confused. So they were on his side. He looked curiously over at her companion. "Then who..?"
The man in the trench coat kicked at a dark, dead body before pausing under the whole he made in the ceiling. Casually, he lit a fat cigar and puffed out a thick cloud of rancid smoke. A sallow light fell on him from the hole above, playing with long, pale hair that was pulled back in a sloppy pony tail.
"Dais?" he asked incredulously.
Dais, for the most part, ignored him; but Kayura still wanted Strata's attention.
"Rowen, where's the others? What happened?"
Rowen blinked at her, trying to put his thoughts together. "I don't know. I just...was here. All by myself."
A worried expression covered Kayura's face. She breathed out deeply in frustration.
"Kay," Dais said, moving to her side. "We need to go. There's going to be others if we stay here too long."
"Yes," Kayura agreed reluctantly. "I don't think anyone else is here. Let's go."
Dais hopped back up on the table and motioned for Kayura to spring off his hands and jump back through the hole in the ceiling. Dais then looked to the still stunned Rowen.
"Hurry up, Hashiba. We don't exactly have time to play around in here. It's is the slowest I've ever seen you, I swear!"
The irritation in Dais' voice inspired Rowen into action. He quickly scrambled up and let Dais heft him up out of the whole. Kayura was above, offering a hand to pull him to his feet. Once out, Rowen surveyed where he was. They were standing on the roof of a building. Above them were taller structures and beyond those, a dismal sky with heavy smog only allowing a weak, gray light down on the city. A warm, foul air blew in Rowen's face from the humming factories nearby and he made a face.
"Where are we?"
His two companions ignored him.
"So what's next?" Dais wondered.
"Nothing else to do," Kayura sighed, "but go back home and try to figure out what happened."
"Sounds like a plan," Dais responded. He glanced over in Rowen's direction. "How about it, Hashiba? You wanna fly us back?"
Rowen's shoulders slumped. "Oh yeah, you don't know about this, but we don't have our armors anymore. I'm not sure exactly how much—"
"They just barely got back from Falnan minutes before I got there," Kayura finished as if that explained everything.
It must have, for Dais let out a heavy breath, puffing another cloud of smoke as he weighed his options. "Just barely, huh? Then we really have our work cut out for us."
"I told you Dais," Kayura replied, "everything is coming in full circle. This is our job to train them, just like it was theirs to train us."
"Fine, fine. Whatever," Dais relented. "You're the expert."
Kayura shot him a non-appreciative look while Dais approached Rowen. The two stood almost toe to toe and Rowen had his first chance to size up the warlord of illusion without his armor. The last time Rowen had met the white haired man he had been a boy of fifteen. Now he was almost twenty and had grown quite a bit. But while Rowen had grown taller than all of his friends, Dais was still just as tall. And a lot heavier than Rowen's thin frame. The ex warlord had no trouble at all grabbing Rowen and slinging him over his shoulder.
"What the-what are you doing?!" Rowen demanded. "Put me down!"
"Sorry, it's the fastest way to go, Hashiba."
Rowen could hear the smug grin in Dais' voice. "If it's any consolation, hauling your skinny ass around the city isn't my idea of a great time either."
Any retort Rowen had was cut off as Kayura and Dais jumped off the building. Rowen held his breath as the sickening feeling of freefall fell over him. It wasn't that he had never jumped off a building himself or flown several hundred feet above the ground for that matter. It was the feeling of not being in control at that altitude that turned his stomach.
But beyond the nausea, Rowen forced himself to pay attention to something very curious. The way Kayura and Dais were making their way through the city was similar to their old days; hopping roof tops in their subarmor. However, without said armor gear, Rowen's days of roof hopping were over. There was no way he could jump that far without it. And though Rowen could feel Dais had several layers of gear on, he knew the former warlord wasn't wearing his magical armor either.
Of course he wasn't. They should have lost their armors from the Falnan incident, too. Rowen was just realizing this, but it sounded right to him. The world had been reset and the four Warlord/Season Armors were also returned to Falnan, hence why time and the seasons started again for that world. Even this far in the future, Dais and Kayura didn't have their armors anymore. So how were they still moving so effortlessly through the city like this?
Rowen's stomach lurched again as Dais took another bone-jarring leap. Rowen instantly felt sorry for Mia and Yulie and all the times they had been hauled around by him and his friends. It definitely wasn't fun.
To Rowen's dismay, it felt like he was dragged clear across the city. Maybe two cities. However long it took, it felt way too long for Rowen's comfort. By the time Dias finally stopped on an old catwalk built into the side of an industrial building and put him down, Rowen was shaking and he felt like he was going to throw up. He legs felt weak and he fell to his hands and knees, unable to hold up his own body.
Dais looked down at him, not impressed. "It's a bit disappointing," he said with a frown. That fat cigar was still in his mouth. Rowen had to smell it's rancid smoke the entire way.
"Be nice," Kayura warned. "He just got back from a war and has done a lot of world/time jumping today. I'd like to see how well you do."
Dais' frown ticked up into a good-natured smirk as he tossed his cigar to the ground and rubbed it out with the toe of his boot. "Fine, fine." He reached out for Rowen's arm and hefted him to his feet. "Stand up Hashiba, you're almost there."
Kayura didn't look too approving at the way Dais treated their guest. But not much could be done about it so she merely followed him inside.
There was a heavy, black iron door built into the wall of the building. Dais hefted it open with a loud creak and Rowen had no choice but to be pulled inside. Within, the walls were dimly lit and filled with all sorts of pipes and humming machines. Rowen was half carried, half dragged into a room that should have felt large and spacious if there wasn't so much stuff in it. Sparsely placed light bulbs revealed odds and ends of furniture; a couch here, a table there. Piles of books were in every corner. There were computers, parts of computers and other gadgets scattered all about. And at the end was a pile of glowing monitors stacked on top of each other and a hunched figure sitting in front of them.
Rowen squinted, trying to make out the person. Between the dim light of the room and the glow of all the screens, he could only make out the silhouette's shape until he turned around in his chair. When Rowen got a look at the face, he recognized it instantly. That pale, olive skin and those abnormally large eyes that barely blinked and glowed with a yellow-green light that seemed to be all their own.
"Sekhmet," Rowen breathed.
The previous Warlord of Vemom looked Rowen over once as if he hadn't said anything at all and then turned to Kayura.
"You're a few short," he said simply and turned back to his screens, typing away.
"They didn't last," Kayura informed him. She tore the time band from her wrist and tossed it on Sekhmet's desk.
He stopped typing and took a moment to look over the device, mumbling to himself. "Get me that one, too," he then said aloud, nodding in Rowen's direction.
Dais reached down to snatch the band off Rowen's wrist and then flung him to the couch like he were a mere sack of hangers. Not that Rowen minded too much. The couch was soft and solid and, unless there was something special about this couch that he was unaware of, it probably wasn't going to carry him off anywhere.
Once he received both bands, Sekhmet hunched back down in his seat, shutting off everyone from his little world again. Dais and Kayura had moved on to let him work. Rowen sat where he was, feeling numb and still too in shock to realize he should be confused. Skehmet's presence was actually kind of comforting. The familiar scene of someone next to him deep in thought and ignoring him was like living at home with his father. He knew that feeling. But the rest was too alien to try to take in right now.
Rowen wasn't sure how long he was out of it, but his thoughts came together a little clearer when Kayura pushed a cup into his hands.
"Here, drink this," she said in a voice that was both soft and stern. "It will help."
Rowen looked down at the cup full of warm tea in his hand. He wasn't a big fan of tea, but as he lifted it to his nose, he smelt the same bitter sweet smell of one type of tea he didn't mind drinking. It was the same type Sage made. Rowen never knew what type of tea it was or how it was made, he only knew if he wanted tea like that, he had to get it from Sage for it did not exist in any store.
How Kyura had it was a mystery to him; but she was right. Drinking in the familiar taste settled him a bit and helped get his brain working again. After he had consumed most of it, Rowen let out a long breath and then looked evenly at Kayura.
"Where am I?"
Kyura stood up. "Come," she said. "I have something to show you."
Rowen got to his feet, a little dizzy at first, but he recovered his balance quickly and followed Kayura out of the room and down another hallway with old, flickering lights. As he trailed behind, he wondered about her. It had been almost five years since he had seen her last, but he still had trouble believing the woman in front of him was the same Kayura of the Nether Realm.
As well as Rowen recalled, she had been two years younger than they were. That would make her about eighteen in his time. This Kayura looked a bit older than seventeen, even older than he was now. She looked like a whole different person. She hadn't grown much taller, but she had matured in every way. With her hair cut short, only helped to make her look older. Gone was the cockiness in her stride; replaced with a much deeper confidence.
She led the way to a metal ladder at the end of the hall and climbed it. Rowen continued to follow to the roof of the building. Rowen looked around as he climbed out. It was the same sight as he remembered earlier: gray skies full of foul air and filth with rigid black buildings jutting like scorched bones into the horizon. The entire backdrop felt of age and filth and depression.
"Where did you bring me?" Rowen asked again, wrinkling his nose at his surroundings.
"Tokyo," Kayura said simply, not looking at him.
"What?" Rowen demanded. "No it's not! I think being in the Nether Realm too long screwed with your head. I've been to Tokyo many times. This isn't it."
"It is," Kayura insisted calmly. She pointed to the horizon. "It's a bit hard to see in this light, but there's Tokyo Tower over there in the distance."
Rowen's sharp, archer's sight barely missed anything and he could see it. A black naked skeletal form, like a bare tree in the dead of winter. He stared, mouth hanging open.
Kayura returned her gaze to Rowen. "This is not the Tokyo you're used to. Nor am I the Kayura of your time who had only been freed from Talpa's hold for a mere five years when you left Mia's house and came with me. It is now mid summer of the year 2320 and we brought you here because we need your help."
Rowen stared at her for a long time, letting it all sink in. Then he gazed again at the world around him in a new light. "This is...the world's future..." He breathed, never making clear whether it was a question or a statement.
"Yes," Kayura confirmed. "As you can clearly see, the city is slowly being eaten up, corroded away by some dark power."
"And it doesn't look like anyone's doing anything about it. Doesn't anyone care?"
"They don't know this is going on. The people of this city are blind to it. They are stuck on the Outside. They can't see what's going on within the Inside."
Rowen cocked his head at her. "I'm afraid I don't follow. How can they not see this?"
Kayura gazed deeply into the distance, her eyes settling on a tall tower, still very much intact among the battered buildings.
"There is a man who first came here a year ago. We know him only by the name Ryoushi – The Hunter. He placed a spell upon the city. The people here, they don't notice the Inside. It is like it does not exist for them."
"A spell upon an entire city. It's a lot like what Talpa did in Toyama."
She nodded. "It is so much like Talpa it is frightening. This Ryoushi, we believe he is from the world of demons. There, he has an army, a portion of which you experienced the other day."
"Then why don't I see an army?" Rowen pointed out, looking around. "If he has great numbers, where are they? Why hasn't he taken over the city by now?"
"Sekhmet's theory is that he doesn't have the power to bring his entire army over. He seems to be searching for something, we have yet to decipher what it is. Unfortunately, it is hard to get close enough to find out. He is aware of us, too, and he knows we're watching him. Here at the border of the Inside we are safe enough, but when we venture too far in, those shadow demons you saw are never far behind."
Kayura sighed as if suddenly tired. "I was hoping we could blindside Ryoushi by bringing you five in and rushing his stronghold all at once. Unfortunately, Time found our plan ill conceived. Having only one Ronin Warrior- one who is not fully trained in the ways of his mantle at that- will never bring us the advantage we were hoping for. We have no choice but to wait for the other four- wherever they are- and go from there."
Rowen was trying to figure out the next prudent question to asked when the hatch behind them flipped open and Dais poked his head out with that usual mirthless grin on his face.
"Hey Kay, Sekky says he's got some answers for us now. Thought you'd like to come hear them."
Kayura nodded and the two followed Dais back down the ladder.
"So, did Kay explain it all to you?" Dais asked as they walked back down the hall.
"The bare bones of it anyway," Kayura answered for Rowen. "I'm sure he still has many more questions."
"So those things you fought earlier? Kayura said they are shadow demons?"
"Yup, Hunter's lackeys," Dais answered. "The first string of his invasion, the weakest of his kind. They go down easy enough, but they like to attack in large numbers which can be tricky. We're still trying to figure out how the bastard manages to pull them in here."
"But they had guns," Rowen complained as if he were telling on someone for breaking the rules.
"So they did," Dais replied cordially. "Good thing we had them, too."
"It's a necessary precaution," Kayura explained. "The demon world is very near ours in the way of technological advances."
"Maybe more since we have yet to figure out how one bounces between two worlds," Dais muttered.
Rowen looked at the back of Dais' head as he walked.
"So are all of you still here alive in this time? Cale, too?"
Dais chuckled lowly. "You mean Mr. Kittens and Sunshine? He's skulking around here somewhere. I'm sure you'll run into him soon enough."
"And my friends? Where are they?"
"We're going to find out."
They walked back into the main room with the couches and the clutter and the dim lights. Sekhmet was still sitting where they left him, bowed in front of his many computer screens. He swiveled around in his chair as the three of them came in.
"So what's the damage?" Kayura asked.
Sekhmet looked at her seriously. "You're not going to like hearing this." But that promise didn't stop him from continuing as he held up one of the wrist bands that now seemed to have lost all its power. "As I explained to you before you left, Kayura, these bands needed to be clipped on and used as soon as possible. While they will keep your body safe during the time jump, the strain of it will start the devices decomposing at a rapid rate. And if you didn't get back here quickly enough, they would break down on you in the middle of the jump."
"And so?" Kayura pressed.
"So," Sekhmet emphasized, "you didn't get back here quickly enough." He then glanced over in Rowen's direction. "I'm surprised even the two of you made it all the way back with the state yours were in."
"So are you saying my friends are lost in time?" Rowen demanded. "They're floating around somewhere in history without any way to find them?"
Sekhmet looked him right in the face. It was the first time the ex warlord of Venom ever fully acknowledged Strata's presence.
"Sit down, Hashiba," he ordered. "You're too fidgety. It's making me nervous."
Rowen plopped onto the couch as if berated by a parent, not even sure why he followed the command himself. Sekhmet turned back to his computer screen mumbling something about how some things never changed.
"Our other four warriors aren't as lost as you might think," he continued to explain as he typed away on the keys, bringing up a series of charts on screen. "The bands held up for nearly ninety-nine percent of the jump. Which means they will enter in around this time. However, pin-pointing the exact day and place of entry is another matter entirely.
"I've calculated a window of a week from today; maybe two, in which they should arrive. But that window goes both ways. It's possible some of them may have already been in this time for a while and others have not arrived here yet. Where in the city they'll show up is also anyone's guess."
"What about Ryoushi?" Dais asked, looking the most serious Rowen had seen him that day. "Those shadow demons found Hashiba and Kay here before I did. If The Hunter didn't know we were up to something before, he sure as hell knows now."
"I'm sure he's known for a while," Kayura said calmly. "He knows we're running out of options and we would soon be trying something desperate. Just like we did."
Sekhmet nodded. "You two were easy to trace because you arrived when you were supposed to. The other four, their signals are going to be sporadic and uncontrolled when they enter. They will be hard to pin point, if their signals show up at all. It's bad for us, but it also doesn't help them any. And we'll just have to hope our boys keep their wits about them until we can find them."
"What about Robyn?" Rowen asked.
Dais looked at him. Sekhet turned around and did the same.
"She's here too, right?" Rowen pressed. "Kayura said she got sucked in back to this time because the portals were crossed. So she's here right?"
"Who?" Sekhmet asked blankly.
Kayura slapped the back of her hand against his chest and as a result, Sekhmet's eyes lit up.
"Oh HER!" he said as if just being reminded of something he was told a year ago. "Yeah, I'm sure she's around here somewhere."
"Yes, her," Rowen responded. "So do you have her here with you? Do you know where she is?"
Then the interest left Sekhmet's face and he swung back towards his screen with a dismissive flip of his hand.
"No, but don't worry about it."
"What?" Rowen barked, stomping over to Sekhmet's chair and forcing him to turn and face him. "What do you mean don't worry about it?"
Sekhmet looked irritated. "What do you mean, what do I mean? I mean what I say, and I said don't worry about it."
Rowen continued to glare at him sternly and the green haired man sighed.
"Look," Sekhmet said levelly. "I know you're a smart kid. I'm only going to say this once so you better pay attention. There is something extremely important going on right now that I need your full concentration on. It is better to leave the girl where she is than finding her and pulling her into this mess we're about to jump into. And you are going to have to trust me when I say nothing will happen to her because nothing did happen to her while she was here. Do you understand what I am saying?"
Rowen's mind took in that information the same way it took in everything else. It wrapped tightly around it, analyzing it from every angle. If Sekhmet knew nothing would happen to Robyn in this time, he knew this because he had been present sometime in her life back in their time. And he had found out from them or from her when they got back from this time that nothing had happened to her while all of them were in the future. Which also meant not only did nothing happen to Robyn back then, but she also must have gotten back to her own time safely for her to later meet the Warlords and for them to find out nothing had happened to her.
That or Sekhmet was lying.
At the moment, Rowen found no logical reason to believe that option. Which left him with the other; that the Warlord of Venom was telling the truth. That he really knew what he was talking about.
All this took less than a second for Rowen's mind to process and he nodded. "I understand."
"Good boy," Sekhmet said with a satisfactory tone. Then he turned right back around and paid Rowen no further mind.
Rowen frowned a bit. Even though they weren't enemies any longer, he still felt like nothing had changed. They still looked at him like a child and treated him like one. Like he was of no consequence. He didn't like it at all. If they had really been alive all this time, why had nothing changed?
He almost wanted to say something, but Kayura placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Rowen, come with me." she said in a voice that left no argument.
Rowen had no choice. He was in their world now. All information he knew was only what they willingly gave him. Any place they wanted to lead him, he had to follow blindly. And thus, Rowen followed Kayura back to the balcony they had landed upon when they first arrived.
"Are we going somewhere?" he asked.
"I'm taking you where you can rest," Kayura replied. "Some place better than that rat hole. And then tomorrow, we're going to start your training."
"Training?" Rowen wondered.
"Yeah," Kayura confirmed with a half smile. "We're going to teach you how to use that power of yours."
"But I don't have powers any more," Rowen insisted. "We lost our armors. They're gone; left in another world."
"We'll see about that," Kayura retorted. She hopped up on the hand rail, balancing on the thin metal, while the wind teased her short hair. "You really believe you need your armors or you can't use your powers at all? Haven't you ever noticed that even not wearing Strata, the wind always pays more attention to you, Rowen? That even if you walk down an enclosed hall, a breeze will pick up and papers will rattle without any explanation?"
Rowen looked at her in confusion. "I don't understand what you're getting at. I don't have Strata anymore. It's gone."
"You're wrong," Kayura insisted. "Get up here." She took his hand and pulled him up on the banister with her. Rowen teetered a bit. He still had exceptional balance. But being up this high without Strata, with several floors between him and the ground, made him nervous.
"Okay, now remember that feeling," Kayura instructed. "That feeling you had when you didn't have your armor on, but you would still feel the breeze being controlled around you. Remember how that felt and JUMP!"
Rowen got no warning as Kayura grabbed him around the waist and leapt off the building. Any sound of surprise caught in his throat as gravity took hold and both air and ground rushed up to meet him. The wind howled all around him but Rowen had no idea what Kayura was talking about, or what she was expecting him to do. Or why she saw it fit to splatter both of them on the concrete for no reason. But to his surprise, their free fall started to slow.
"I guess you're still not ready yet," Kayura said to him.
Rowen just stared at her as he felt some kind of power gain control of them. It didn't feel the same as when he used Strata to fly, but he felt a power pulling at them. Almost like a magnet, some kind of force gripped them and slowing their fall and Rowen knew it was under no doing of his.
Kayura touched down to the street daintily and Rowen stumbled after her. He clutched his heart to catch his breath, but Kayura was already walking off.
"This way," she called and Rowen hurried to follow after her.
She led the way winding through several back allies and other shady walk ways. Rowen got the impression she was taking these ways on purpose. Was she afraid of being followed? They emerged from between two buildings and suddenly, the city was normal again. People walked the streets, talking to each other, fiddling with their phones, carrying shopping bags. The buildings were in tact and well kept. Neon signs flickered and flashed in the fading light as a brilliant sun set overhead.
It felt to Rowen he had just stumbled into a completely different world.
"What the- what just happened?"
"This is the Outside," Kayura said as she kept walking. "The city is still the same as it has ever been here. As I said, they can't see the Inside. They aren't aware of how close they are to danger due to Ryoushi's spell."
Rowen trailed after her, earning a few odd looks from pedestrians at his strange dress. Kayura was the one who fit in this modern Japanese city. It was odd to be the one out of place here. A few blocks over, they ended up at a fairly nice apartment building. The sun had almost set completely by the time they made it inside. As the two waited for the elevator, Rowen marveled how he was suddenly surrounded by the norm when only earlier than evening he was staring at a desolate wasteland and being shot at by demons.
Even moreso, how strange was it standing in an elevator next to Lady Kayura, darling of the Nether Realm?
The elevator pinged the fifth floor and they stepped out. Kayura led them a few paces to apartment 510 and pushed a key into the lock. The apartment average size. Not too big, not too small. Quite nice, actually. It was quaint and lived in, and Rowen didn't know what to do with it all.
"You're welcome to take a shower," Kayura told him. "The bathroom's down that way. We need to get you into some normal clothes."
Rowen wordlessly did as he was told. He felt like he was back in grade school again. Especially when he visited Sage or Kento's house. He would just get pulled in with the flow and treated as one of the the kids. He always reacted just like he did now, doing what he was told without question while his brain tried to soak in all the information and figure out when was the right time to act on his own. Right now, Rowen's mind concluded, was not the right time, so he wandered into the bathroom and switched on the light.
The bathroom appeared as regular as the rest of the place, which surprised Rowen for some reason. Over three hundred years in the future; he expected more. It was clean and still came equipped with a sink, toilet and shower. The designs were slightly different; cleaner, streamlined, more efficient; but the functions were still the same. As soon as Rowen figured out how the shower worked and how to get the water hot, he discarded his heavy robes and stepped in.
He stayed there for quite a while. He loved long showers, but he also needed the time to himself. It was so much to take in. Even as fast as his mind processed information, it was still too much. He had been so close to home after being stuck in some fantasy world for almost a month and now he was gone from it again. Now in a world just as bizarre and just as real as the other. As he leaned against the side of the shower, he felt his world spinning out of control. This time, he didn't even have his friends to help steady him. He was all alone and they were lost.
Right then, a sick feeling of vertigo hit him and Rowen stumbled out of the shower and over to the toilet to throw up. He didn't have much in his stomach, but he heaved several times before he was through. After cleaning up and finishing his shower, Rowen just stood there in the bathroom. He looked at his steam covered reflection in the mirror and wondered where he should go from there. He wasn't going to go walking around in just a towel in a stranger's apartment, especially if Kayura was around.
He didn't stand in silence long before there was a knock on the door.
"Rowen, I brought you some clothes," came Kayura's voice.
He inched the door open and took the bundle before retreating back into the bathroom. He was a bit embarrassed Kyura had given him underwear, too. But since no one in Falnan had even heard of boxers, he wasn't going to complain much. As Rowen dressed in the provided t-shirt and jeans, he was surprised with how well they fit him. He wasn't exactly the easiest body type to shop for with how tall and thin he was. How did she know?
However, Rowen knew there were far more pressing questions to be asked other than how did Kayura guess his pants size and stepped out of the bathroom for answers. Kayura was in the living room placing a pillow and blanket on the couch.
"You can sleep here for tonight. We'll find better sleeping arrangements when the others start showing up."
Rowen looked at the couch and then at Kayura, rubbing his arm.
"You're going to find them right? The others? And you know this because you met us in our time and you saw that we came back okay, right?"
Kayura smiled as if he had just found the secret to her riddle. "Right," she confirmed. "But that doesn't mean we're going to shirk in our search for them. Believe me, we're doing everything we can to find where and when they are. I promise."
"..okay.." Rowen said weakly. He still looked a bit pale and wasn't feeling well at all. He grabbed the pillow and hugged it to himself as he sat down on the couch. It was then he noticed Kayura was staring at him with an odd look he couldn't decipher.
"What?" he demanded.
Kayura blinked and then smiled at him. "Nothing," she said with a shake of her head. "You just look so young, that's all."
"Last time I saw you, you looked twelve!" Rowen shot back, a bit of bite in his retort.
"Fair enough," she chuckled and reached forward, ruffling his hair as if he were her little brother. Rowen wasn't sure if he appreciated that or not.
"Try to get some rest," Kayura told him. "I know it will be hard, but try. You'll need it for tomorrow. I'm going back to help out in the search, but you'll be safe here. And then tomorrow, I'll do my best to answer all the questions I know you're just dying to ask." She then winked at him.
"Okay," he relented. "I'll try."
Satisfied, Kayura threw him one more smile before leaving the apartment. Rowen could hear her locking the door behind her and he was all alone. He sighed by the single light in the living room, feeling foolish. He did feel like a little kid. It was like he was staying over at some place his parents left him for the weekend. It wasn't home, but it was where he would have to be until someone familiar came to get him.
Rowen curled up on the couch, feeling ill and unsteady and lost. Hardly the feelings of an adult. Maybe he had grown younger with the same magic Kayura grew older and he was just a child in a big world. And thus, Rowen curled up under the blanket on the couch and left the light on. Sleep didn't find him easily. He had a hard enough time sleeping in his own bed. It seemed like he just lay there and stared at the wall for hours. Then his eyes suddenly popped open as someone walked into the apartment.
Rowen stared, startled that he had fallen a sleep. He remained motionless. This visitor was not Kayura. The figure was broad and tall, dressed in a long black trench coat with his back to Rowen as he locked the door. Even without seeing the face, Rowen knew exactly who it was. He had never seen the man without his armor before, but it seemed to make no difference. He was massive. Cale turned around and all the light seemed to be sucked out of the room. No, not so much the light being sucked in as the darkness was growing, gathering. It swarmed around Cale, adding to his mass, making him even larger and his foot steps heavier as he clomped towards Rowen.
"What are you doing on the couch?" Cale asked in a gravelly voice. It seemed hoarse as if his vocal cords grew dry from disuse.
Rowen just stared at the giant towering over him, wide eyed.
"Get up," Cale ordered and Rowen obeyed.
Once standing, Rowen found a different view of the ex Warlord of Darkness. Cale was hardly taller than he was, but he still had the bulk that made him look dangerous. His eyes, however, didn't reflect the same. Hidden under thick brows, they were tired and without malice. Just looking at those eyes took the bite out of his tone.
"Go sleep in the bed," Cale then told him, pointing to the bedroom door.
Rowen glanced in that direction. He wanted to say that Kayura had told him to sleep there but when he looked back, Cale had already climbed onto the couch, not even bothering to remove his boots. Rowen may not have believed it possible unless he had seen it, but Cale managed to fit his entire body, curled up with his back to the young man. Then he heard the warlord let out a heavy sigh as if he were a weary traveler back from a several day's journey.
"Turn off the light on your way, will you?" Cale mumbled into the couch. "I'm not paying to let you keep it on all night."
Rowen blinked at his back. This was Cale's apartment?
But he was too tired to be as shocked as he had been about everything else that day. He could be shocked tomorrow. Rowen just wanted sleep now, no matter whose bed it was. He reached for the light switch. Before he flicked it off, he looked back at Cale's hunched body. He now didn't look as large as he had before. He seemed a bit more deflated and tired on the couch and then Rowen plunged them both into the night.
He turned on a different light as he entered the bedroom. The layout was plain and uninteresting. Just a bed and a desk and a few generic odds and ends. It really didn't feel too personal and Rowen no longer cared. He heaved his own heavy sigh as he flicked off the light and threw himself to the bed in exhaustion. He barely managed to make it under the covers before he passed out.
The night of Ronin and Warlord sleeping under the same roof carried itself strangely and Rowen felt it affect his dreams.