By: Ghost of Dawn aka Ty-Chou
Chapter Nine: Fear No Evil
The entire hospital building shivered, as if with fear. Outside, the skies darkened angrily, swirling over a particular part of the city. Robyn and Cindi were pressed to the glass, both terrified and yet dying to get a better view of the turmoil churning in the distance.
Robyn felt Ryo's presence at her shoulder as he carefully made his way to stand next to her. She glanced at his face as his intense blue eyes stared at the eye of the storm.
"What's going on out there?" she asked softly.
He just continued to stare, jaw set as one hand held his aching side. No, it was happening too soon. He wasn't healed enough yet and the battle was already going down. There had to be some way to get out there.
"I take back any earlier comments I said about the brilliance of this plan," Sekhmet said as he watched Ryoushi's army pour forth like it had no end. Bodies just kept coming, all dark, malformed, strong and battle-hungry.
"Then don't look at that," Kayura told him. "Look at them." She nodded toward the three ronins, all tensed and armed for the fight. "This is what they saw when we—when the Dynasty attacked. They saw countless, strange enemies when they were but boys. Only five of them against all Talpa's power. They stood their ground and they won. We can do the same."
Sekhmet sighed and then tensed for battle. "If you say so."
Dais slapped him on the back. "Come on, big eyes, don't be so glum. Dying here, saving all mankind, won't be so bad."
Sekhmet gave him a disgusted look while Kayura spoke into her radio. Before her, the three ronins attacked as one.
"They're here in droves," Kayura's voice crackled over the radio. "Now's the time to go."
Sage tensed at the signal, his heart suddenly at double time. Cale and Suzu stood on either side of him and he jerked when each grabbed his arm.
"If you want to keep up with us, you're going to have to put up with it," Cale said, holding him tighter so he couldn't pull free. "We're going to be hauling ass much faster than you could go by yourself."
Sage set his jaw. "Fine."
No sooner had the word escaped his mouth, than the two warriors at his sides propelled them all off the rooftop. Instead of falling, they were whisked through space; one rooftop, then another, covering large city blocks in the blink of an eye. This was the power of Cale's armor at work. Originally used to slip through the darkness undetected, the skill was repurposed to spirit them forward, one short burst at a time. Could Cale always do this, or was this something he learned over time? If Sage lived long enough, would he too be able to see his armor's power evolve with the wearer?
The tower came upon them in a blink. Warping from rooftop to rooftop, they bypassed the option of dropping to street level to try the doors. Instead, with a burst of speed, they flung themselves through the seventh story window. Cale, with his heavy jacket, took the brunt of the impact as glass shattered around them. They slid several feet along the floor before finally coming to a stop.
Sage sat up, inspecting the new scrapes and carpet burns on his bare arms. His instincts told him something dangerous moved behind him, but the body was already going down as he turned to face it. Suzu stood over him, a short sword in her hand, the blade hardly the length of his fingertip to his elbow. A shadow demon fell dead as Sage jumped to his feet.
Cale was already in full form as more came, all armed with firearms. Sage jumped into action as well, calling forth his no-datchi. The three of them made short work of the demons and soon there wasn't a single one left alive.
"Now what do we do?" Sage asked as he looked around, tensed and ready for more enemies.
Suzu looked to the wall where the elevator doors waited. "Might as well go all the way to the top and see what we can find."
The three warriors, all with bloody blades, stood in the quiet elevator as it rode to the fifteenth floor. There was no music, just silence and the hum of the elevator as it rose to the top. No one knew what they would find there. When the elevator dinged, they all tensed, blades ready and hearts racing.
The elevator doors slowly, smoothly slid open. They half expected to find themselves at the doorway to hell. Some demon hatchery where the monsters were grown, with pools of fire and undulating egg sacks hanging from the wall. But it was merely the top floor of a tower. Very much a penthouse suite, the entire floor all one, large office. A long, expensive rug stretched the length of the room leading to a collection of black leather future and a heavy, oak desk. Beyond it, floor to ceiling windows giving a breathtaking view of the city.
There at the window, with back facing them, stood a man. He was silhouetted in the pale grayish light of the Inside as it filtered through the glass. He was tall and lean, dressed in a deep blue suit that was tailored perfectly to accent broad shoulders and a narrow waist.
The three warriors stepped off the elevator before the doors closed on them, but they didn't move any further. Weapons ready, they remained in a defensive position as a group. They still weren't sure they weren't at the doorstep of hell. Despite all innocuous appearances, their instincts screamed there was very real danger here.
"You seem to be in a terrible rush to die," said the man as he turned from the window, one hand still in his pocket. He was fair skinned, blond haired and blue eyed. A devil with an angel's face. "So do the rest of your compatriots. You former underlings of Talpa continue to bring more into your suicide pact."
Cale growled at the mention of his former master. "How do you know of him?"
The man walked to his desk, producing a bottle of unidentified alcohol and a glass. He poured himself a few fingers. "Talpa and I, we originate from similar dark places. You could say his exploits in this world caught my attention."
"And with Talpa gone, you thought you could take his place?"
The man did not respond as he sipped his drink.
Suzu stepped forward, her sword lowered slightly. "They call you Ryoushi, The Hunter. What is it that you have come here to hunt?"
Ryoushi sniffed the aroma of his glass. "This nose of mine tracks down opportunity, and power. I smell you, Cale of Corruption, Demon of Darkness. I smell Talpa's stench on you even now, as well as your cohorts. He is the reason you do not age.
"And your champions, the Ronin Warriors of time long past. Those who defeated Talpa. I could smell them, too, when they came here. I can tell their power has changed. It runs rampant around them, unleashed, confused without the armors to anchor it."
Ryoushi set down his glass and in a second, he was across the room, mere feet from the warriors. Too quick for Sage to draw his sword, but Suzu was ready. Her short sword was out, blade pointed mere millimeters from the flesh of Ryoushi's neck.
"You, however, are my mystery." He stared into Suzu's hood as if he could see all. "I've tried to get a fix on you, but I just can't quite pin it down. Sometimes you smell of Warlord or Ronin. Sometimes, you smell like me." Ryoushi gave her a charming smile. "You must tell me what you are. I have been so curious to know."
Suzu's hand on the blade remained firm, the tip pinned against his throat. "First, tell me about the Dynasty Gate. Why do you need it? What are you going to use it for?"
"You know the answer. To own, to control, to destroy." Ryoushi chuckled. "You just don't know how I'm going to use it, do you?" When no one responded, he laughed again. "I'm very tempted to tell you. Or, better, yet, allow you to live long enough to watch me. Though as much as I'd like to see the looks on your faces, keeping you alive until then will be so much more work. I'm afraid I'll just have to kill the three of you n-"
Suzu's blade plunged into his neck, the tip poking out the other side. Sage balked at the sudden attack. It seemed dirty somehow to just blindside an opponent like that. But just as quickly, Sage realized that a being that could summon hoards of demon armies without even being present certainly wasn't going to be mortally wounded by a single stab.
And he was right. Ryoushi choked at the loss of his vocal chords, but didn't seem too concerned with the blade in his neck. He was more irritated he had been cut off in the middle of his speech than anything else. He grabbed Suzu's sword by the blade and pulled it out, only minimal blood coming from the wound.
Cale ran him through next, shoving the sword through his chest and then pulling it back out. Ryouchi stumbled a bit, but only looked more pissed off at the attack.
"Stop gloating before the fight even begins," Cale spat. "Now show us what you really look like."
Ryoushi just grinned. He coughed once as the wound at his neck healed itself. "Why? What's wrong with this form? Is it difficult to fight one of your own when I look like this?"
"I was Talpa's warlord. You won't be the first human or human-like thing I've killed, but if you'd rather banter instead of fight, that's fine with us. The longer we stay here, the more time the rest of us will have to wipe out your forces. Then you'll be the only one left." Cale pointed his blade, his voice going lower. "And you will never see that gate."
Ryoushi actually frowned at that.
"Now," Cale continued, "your cowardly ass can fight us. Or, if you're afraid you're going to lose, you can sit yourself in that chair and wait until we hear the rest of your hoard is wiped off the face of the Earth. Your choice."
No sooner had Ryoushi snarled, than his body burst into action. The three warriors jumped away—Cale to one side, Sage and Suzu on the other—as Ryoushi's form split open like an explosion. From the human-sized facade came a hulking mass. Limbs, eyes, teeth shot out in all directions, taking up all the spare room. It happened so fast, Sage had trouble wrapping his brain around what he was looking at. The monster seemed to change constantly, it looked dog-like, then resembling a lizard, then as if it were a demon crawling from the depths of hell.
The thing kept growing until it crashed through the ceiling, tearing off the roof. Suzu and Sage lost sight of Cale as they pressed themselves against the wall to avoid being squashed by debris. Once exposed to the sky, the monster stretched and grinned several hideous grins from all the gaping, fanged mouths on its deformed body.
"Were you expecting something more like this?" Ryoushi laughed.
Several random eyes also dotted the unidentifiable form. The largest sat in the middle of a thick skull. That was where Sage landed, slamming his no datchi into the pupil.
"The bigger they are, the easier they are to hit," Sage growled. Did Ryoushi not understand how used he was to facing foes so much larger than himself? With a battle cry, Sage unleashed all of Halo's power from his hands and down the blade. White hot lightning spilled into the monster and he squawked and spasmed from the power.
Cale quickly followed Halo's example, stabbing the side of the beast and pouring his own power into the body. White and red lightning danced and sparked against each other, the power of two opposites building up until they exploded, throwing both Darkness and Light against opposite sides of the broken room.
When the smoke cleared, the body that remained was merely a shriveled husk of its former gruesome self. Now only a third of its size, it twitched and smoked on the ruined carpet. Sage was about to approach, but Suzu held an arm in front of him, her body still tense. Ryoushi wasn't finished yet.
"Come on, stop faking," Cale chided. "You're not the only one with a good nose."
The husk cracked open with a dry hiss. Cale carefully peered in to find it empty. The back of his neck tingled and he spun around just in time to block the attack from behind. Ryoushi was now human-sized again, but not in human form. Black as pitch, no features could be identified on the body, save the sharp blades that made up his arms. Cale parried with both his swords, blocking each attack from the creature.
Suzu jumped into the fight, coming at Ryoushi from behind. But a third blade arm shot out of the monster's back, countering her strike. In this form, he was without any visible eyes, yet it seemed Ryoushi could see in every direction all at once.
Sage stepped into the fray as well and another blade grew from the body to counter his attack. Then, the blackness that was Ryoushi pulled apart, splitting into three, one opponent for each warrior. Soon, all three sets were in full force, jumping, stabbing, dodging around the remnants of the penthouse suite.
"What exactly are you doing here, fighting me, Warlord of Darkness?" Ryoushi's black form asked. He had no mouth to be found, yet the voice seemed to come from the region of the head. "Don't you miss commanding Talpa's armies? Join me and you can have it all again."
Cale parried each blow, unimpressed. "I miss working for Talpa like I'd miss a cancerous lump. What kind of fool are you to tempt a free man with chains?"
"You wanted chains once, long ago. You wanted Talpa to take away your accountability, or else you wouldn't have accepted him. I can do that for you again. I can let you go wild, let you spill blood until your heart's content. And you can blame it all on me."
Suzu threw her blade at the form she was fighting, so hard that the impetus knocked the body against the wall, pinned like a butterfly. A flying kick to the one that taunted Cale sent it slamming against the wall as well. Neither attack seemed to hurt the copies.
"Did I strike a nerve, little girl?" Ryoushi's voice cackled. Now it seemed to be coming from everywhere. "You defend the wicked from the wicked, yet it's your hero you should worry about the most."
Cale and Suzu snapped their gaze around to Sage, who was fighting on the other side of the large room. Too far away. And the ground below him shattered like glass.
In a blink, Suzu was off, racing for Halo. She materialized next to him as he tumbled through the floor. To his horror, it seemed the tower had suddenly been gutted. Now a hollow citadel, they plummeted through what felt like a blackened pit and the sides of the building came alive with teeth and eyes. This, too, was Ryoushi. Either the building was part of him or he had possessed the building. Either way, it was terrifying. Sage could barely process what he was looking at, let alone come up with some sort of plan to counterattack this thing that was everywhere at once.
Spines flew out from the walls as they fell, massive spears coming at them from all directions. Suzu grabbed Sage, whisking them away with Cale's armor powers. They flew faster down the shaft than the spines could catch them and made a surprisingly soft landing on the ground floor. But it was there they were truly trapped. Black walls on all sides, no exit to be found. More spines shot out, intent to impale them from every direction.
Then, Cale appeared in front of them and Sage felt that familiar sense he was suddenly somewhere else and nowhere at all. It happened a few times in his past when he had fought the Warlord of Darkness as a teenager. This was Cale's personal pocket dimension that he kept just for himself and his victims. It was the only safe place they could get to.
"What the hell are you doing?" Cale growled, grabbing the woman's shoulders roughly. "Don't you dare pull that shit again, Suzu! You keep worrying about me and you're going to get him killed!" He jabbed an angry finger in Sage's direction. "You're going to get us all killed!"
There was silence from the hood. Sage could almost hear her mouth gaping at the sudden tongue lashing. But Suzu said nothing to defend herself.
Cale growled as he turned from her, still irritated. "We shouldn't have come here when we had no idea exactly what he can do."
"You haven't even begun to see what I can do," came the chilling voice of Ryoushi. Its source seemed to come from every direction.
Then, the darkness came. True darkness. Sage though he already was in darkness in this place, but he was mistaken. This world, while nearly without light, still had a haze of red in its deepest corners. This was black which light could not reach. This was pure evil.
Cale felt it, too. He could feel Ryoushi's power seep into his world, swallowing it, merging with it, and his heart sank into his stomach. Cale had been the biggest fool of all, thinking he could be here with this demon and his power would be of any use. No matter how much he tried to change as a person, his armor was still the worst of them all. And now Ryoushi was sucking up the power of Darkness and using it for himself.
He turned to Suzu, eyes wide and wild. "Take Halo and get the hell out of here! Now! I'm just making him stronger!"
"Only if we let him," she growled, grabbing Sage's wrist. "Push him out."
Sage blinked at her. "How can I..."
"Cleanse this place. Not the darkness, push out the evil."
Even before he could do it himself, Sage felt Suzu give him that special kind of boost only she could give. Halo's power surged out in all directions, looking for the thing that did not belong. It was an odd sensation. As a teenager, Sage and his armor found Cale to be the unwanted power. Now, he could feel Cale's power in this place and Halo identified it as a fellow armor. It was Ryoushi's contamination the light was now after.
Greenish white lightning veined out in all directions, cutting through the evil, slicing it away until it retreated once more.
"We can't stay here any more," Suzu said. "We can't fight an entire tower by ourselves."
Cale nodded. "We go back to the gate. We help tear down the army. Once his forces are gone, then we'll go after him again."
Sage and Suzu nodded. Cale opened a door back to the real world, using the power of his pocket dimension to slip them through the walls of the demon tower. Sage went through first, still on full alert as he stepped through the wall of the tower and into the city. Suzu was about to go next when she felt that evil come back in full force. Half in, half out, she turned to fight as blackness flooded the pocket dimension once more.
"Suzano!" Cale screamed as he felt all Ryoushi's power rush upon her. He pushed her out of the way and she stumbled backward into Sage.
Before she could catch her footing, there was a sickening crunch of bones. The exit into the real world had turned into a mouth full of teeth and snapped shut like a bear trap, Cale's torso caught right in the middle. Sage trembled as he stared, his eyes meeting Cale's pale as ice irises. So wide as if he still couldn't believe what just happened.
Something in the warlord's chest lurched and he tried to breath in, only managing to spurt out blood as it leaked from both his mouth and nose. The mouth and spiny teeth disappeared, allowing Cale to stumble out. He collapsed on the ground, an alarming amount of blood instantly leaking from several holes in his torso.
Suzu tried to run to him, but Ryoushi—the first form they saw when entering the building—materialized before them. His suit and hair still looked impeccable.
"What an idiot, trying to be a hero at the last minute." He frowned at Suzu. "It's your fault I had to see someone who could be so useful to me go to waste like that."
Suzu screamed at him and charged. Ryoushi's expression instantly turned to surprise when Suzu grabbed him and flung him with a strength he was not prepared for right into the side of the tower. The concrete side of the building cracked. She slammed him a second time and both fell inside the building where all was still black as night.
With the way clear, Sage rushed to Cale's side, eyes wide and frantic as he looked the Warlord over. There was so much blood, Sage was kneeling in the puddle surrounding the body that still continued to grow. There were so many holes in Cale's form. The way the body lay, his arms and his spine had to be broken. How was Halo going to fix this?
Another mouthful of blood was coughed up as Cale looked at the frantic young man. "Stop, stop it," he rasped as Sage attempted to heal him. "Not even Halo has that much power."
Sage stared at him helplessly. "Then what do I do?"
All Cale could do was glare at him, the rest of his body was useless. It took great effort for him to get the words out. "What you're NOT going to do is tell my past self about this. If you tell him this is how I go I will kick your ass. Do you understand me?"
Sage didn't know what to say.
Inside the tower, walls painted black in Ryoushi's essence, Suzu was seething. She still had Ryoushi's human facade in her clutches, practically crouched on top of him.
"You dare come back in here, little girl?" he taunted. He was smug even now, though his suit and hair were a mess. "You can't possibly think you are a match-"
Suzu screamed. Her entire body surged with power, with heat, with the fire of a certain red armor. She punched her fists into the demon's torso, breaking through his flesh, and let loose the full inferno into him. Ryoushi screamed as the fire consumed him.
From outside, Sage felt the fire rush out of the hole in the side of the building. Halo instantly reacted, creating a protective dome around himself and Cale to block out the scorching heat. Was that Wildfire's power? How in the world could Suzu access it when Ryo was nowhere around?
The ground shook, the very foundation of the tower threatening to collapse under the power unleashed within it. Then, something shot out of the side of the building, flying through the air and toward the part of the city where Sage knew the gate to be. That couldn't be good.
Suzu stepped out of the hole in the building, her long cape now burned to a scrap of charred cloth that barely covered her shoulders. Her hood was still in tact but she seemed winded as she stumbled to the ground on the other side of Cale. She felt his bloodied torso where Sage dared not touch him.
"I'm sorry," he rasped weakly at her. "I never meant for my last words to you to be-"
"Shut up!" she snapped at him. "We can fix this! Let me think! I'm not done trying!"
"Suzano," Cale said softly, and the way he said it made Sage think he had completely missed something between these two. "The battle's not over. You have to let me go. Please."
"You know I don't like good-byes. Just do it and get out of here." Cale coughed up another clot of blood. He should have been dead by now already. It was the armors power keeping him alive this long.
She leaned forward, whispered something to the Warlord of Darkness and he closed his eyes. Then she stood and Cale went still, the body turning an ashen color. Then, it slowly faded away.
Sage stepped back in shock as Cale's form dissolved before his eyes into a dark colored mist. It floated in Suzu's direction, becoming part of her shadow. All that was left of Cale was the blood on the floor and on them.
Suzu stood quietly for a moment, and then looked in Sage's direction. Her voice held a tightness to it now. He could tell she was trying to keep it together.
"Ryoushi's hurt, but I don't know how bad. He's headed for the gate. We have to go."
Sage felt like he should say something. Offer condolences, comfort, something. But he wasn't given the opportunity to speak as Suzu grabbed his arm and they were spirited off.
"What the hell are you two doing?" Cindi demanded. She had been staring out the window, completely entranced by the blackening sky, the rumbling of the ground, the tower than had suddenly turned pitch black. Then she suddenly noticed she was the only one in the room watching. She found Ryo and Robyn in another room, the latter wrapping Ryo's body from nearly under the arms to his hips.
"I have go to," was all Ryo said.
"He says he has to go," Robyn repeated. "So I'm making it so he can't move. If he can't bend at the waist, he can't rip his stitches."
Cindi walked over to them, hands crossed over her arms as if observing two children writing on the wall. She looked Ryo in the eye. "If you go out there, you're gonna fall apart and no one's going to be there to sew you back up again."
Ryo's gaze did not waver. "It doesn't matter, I have to go where the others are. I'm not done fighting."
"You're not going to make it, kid. You'll be bleeding out by the time you get there."
Ryo ignored her that time. He had voiced his intention. No amount of arguing was going to make him change his mind.
It was clear on Robyn's face that she believed Cindi's words. If Ryo went out there, he wasn't coming back. Still, she dutifully wrapped him with all the gauze and bandages she could find. Her expression was regretful as she put the last clip in place.
"There, how does that feel?"
Ryo pulled his shirt down and tried to bend forward. It was painful to do so, but the wrappings sure made it quite a bit more difficult to stress his stitches. "It will do." He looked down at the tiger who had been laying on the floor. "Come on, White Blaze, let's go."
Both women followed him to the bottom floor and out the doors of the hospital. The wind had picked up, the air growing cold like a spring storm unwilling to let go of winter. The atmosphere crashed with the sound of lightning, though none could be seen. There was great power at work out there.
The two females helped Ryo climb his tiger, though Cindi protested the entire way, continuing to insist he was going to die. That, and he was going to look like a damn fool riding a tiger around the city. Had he gone mad?
Robyn said nothing until Ryo reached out a hand to her. "Come on."
"Oh HELL no!" Cindi announced, standing in between them. "You can go out there and get your dumbass killed, but you're not taking anyone with you."
"She doesn't belong with you," Ryo said like he had all the authority in the universe. "She belongs with us, and she's coming with me." He held out a hand to Robyn once more.
The redhead looked at him, then at Cindi. "I have to go."
The older woman sighed. As much as she didn't like it, she understood there was something in motion that she did not understand and she was in no position to stop it. "You're an adult, Little Bird, you make your own decisions."
Robyn hugged her. "Thank you, for everything. I don't think I'll see you again. But maybe after all this, you'll be able to go home."
Cindi, a few inches taller than her, kissed the crown of her head. "Maybe you will, too."
They pulled apart and smiled at each other. Robyn turned to Ryo, but she didn't take his hand. This idiot. If she let him pull her up, he would already tear his stitches. He did need someone looking after him. Instead, she hefted herself onto the tiger in front of Ryo.
He blinked at her in surprise that she would put herself in the front. She bent forward, digging her hands into the thick, white fur. "Hold on and try not to start bleeding at least until we get there."
Ryo smirked at her and held her waist.
Robyn glanced at the woman watching them, gave Cindi a brief smile and then they were gone, racing off into the street toward the eye of the storm. As fast as these strange people came into her life, they were out of it and Cindi knew in her heart she would not see them again.
Kayura's team was still holding the gate well. Both ronins and warlords were a little scuffed up by now, but still holding strong. The ronins were learning their powers well and holding their own. The enemy's numbers were slowly going down. If they could keep this up, they just might make it.
"Ryoushi's headed your way!" Sage's urgent voice sounded over the radio. "He broke away from us, he's coming for the gate!"
Dais, who always remained close by, fended the hoard off so Kayura could answer her radio. Both were honestly surprised the other team made contact with this being they knew in name only. "How close is he? What does he look like?"
Sage's voice phased in and out. He must have been in and out of dimensional jumps thanks to Cale's armor. "Look to the sky. He should be on you any second." Then, the sentence that made her blood run cold. "He could be anything."
At those words she saw something in the sky, headed right toward them and coming in fast. It flew in like a dark missile, but landed lightly between the two sides, hardly disturbing the ground. The demon hoard instantly grew still and then cheered at the sight of their leader.
Kayura was only a few yards from him and she wasn't sure what to think of what she was looking at. He was a fair-skinned young man in a suit—at least half of him was. The other half was burned almost beyond recognition. The burns, however he got them, didn't seem to hinder him any, but he did not look happy.
"Lady Kayura," he called to her, "relinquish that gate or I will personally wipe you all out and my hoard shall feast on your entrails. Is that what you want for your people? You can still save their lives. You can give them time to run."
Kayura eyed him for a moment, taking in the sight of him. Then she reached for the ancient staff that was strapped to her back. The clang of its golden rings caused the monsters within earshot to shudder. Ryoushi's jaw instantly tightened and he visibly tensed as she aimed it at him. He crouched, ready for a fight.
As a second thought, Kayura swung the staff around to a new target. Now Ryoushi's eyes were wide as she pointed it at the Dynasty Gate looming above her.
"No, Ryoushi, it is you who will run. Abandon your hold on this city or I destroy the last one."
He just smiled at her. "No, my dear. If you had any intention of taking out my gate you would have done it already. You have nothing to bargain with."
The demon stepped closer and Kayura spun to turn the staff on him. Black tendrils shot from Ryoushi's shadow, racing for her. Kayura deftly back-flipped out of the way, but felt the staff rip from her hands as she did so. She stared in horror as the ancient staff was pulled back toward Ryoushi. It hung in the air next to him, the demon not touching it. It was very possible he could not touch it.
The ground rumbled, a sharp spire of dirt and rock shot up from the ground, knocking the staff from Ryoushi's grasp and sending it spinning into the air. It landed on the ground among the dark creatures and they scattered in its wake, unwilling to touch it.
"You're not the only one who can play at that game," Kento grinned.
Ryoushi just smiled back with the half of his face that wasn't charred. "Perhaps not, but I'm better at it."
Razor sharp black spikes shot up from the ground everywhere. Everyone moved quickly to dodge the attack, some weren't so lucky. Even a few of Ryoushi's own monsters were impaled upon them. Sekhmet found himself with a small gash in his leg. Cye winced as he felt one sharp end slice through his arm. To his horror, it more than just a light scratch. He had been cut almost clean through to the bone and blood poured out freely.
Rowen, the closest to Torrent, swore under his breath as he ran to his friend. Ripping the sleeve from his jacket, he rushed to make a tourniquet to slow the bleeding. Even as he tore the second sleeve off to press to the wound, he knew it wasn't going to be enough to stop the blood.
Cye was already stumbling, lightheaded from the wound, as Dais ran toward them.
"Here, I got this." The warlord pressed his hands to the bleeding gash and when he removed them, a sticky, filmy substance had plugged the bleeding.
Rowen stared at him. "What are you, Spiderman?"
"It's one of the stranger armor powers we have, but it will hold Mouri together until we can get him proper treatment."
"You're all going to need proper treatment when I'm done with you," Ryoushi said.
Then, Sage was just there next to them, stumbling as if shoved into existence. Suzu was there as well, her appearance came in a surge of fire as she materialized next to Ryoushi and hit him with a flaming fist. The demon was caught totally off guard and was sent flying several yards.
The hooded woman didn't waste any time as she disappeared and reappeared next to the ancient's staff. Retrieving it from the ground, she immediately fired intense, golden beams of power into Ryoushi's army. They fled and screamed as they were vaporized.
While the enemy was occupied, Rowen grabbed Sage's wrist, placing Halo's hand to Cye's wound. "Here, fix this."
Kayura ran up to them at that moment. "Where's Cale?"
Even as Sage tapped into Halo's healing powers, he lowered his head. "Cale isn't coming back."
Taking in all the blood covering the blond young man, Kayura stared with wide eyes, her face suddenly loosing all its color.
"Shit," Dais breathed. "He won. I owe him 2,000 yen in the afterlife."
"You bet over who would die first?" Rowen demanded.
"Thought I'd win for sure with how bad that bastard's luck was."
Cye could feel Sage shaking as Halo stared him down, jaw set. "There was nothing lucky about the way we went."
"Wait, why is the winner the one who goes first?" Rowen asked.
"Later," Kayura cut through their conversation. "We have to deal with this later. Sage, stay with Cye, try to put him back together. The rest of you, we can't let Ryoushi get to the gate."
Several yards away, Kento caught up with Suzu, watching her back. "Man, girl. You've got a mean right hook." He balked when he suddenly noticed all the blood on her clothes. "Are you... that's not your blood, is it?"
"No," she said flatly. "I'll be okay."
But Kento could see she clearly wasn't without her own wounds. The long-sleeved shirt she wore was charred away up to the elbows, revealing both hands and arms with skin burned red from the fire she used on Ryoushi. Apparently, she could access Wildfire's power, but she did not have Ryo's ability to remain undamaged by the heat.
Ryoushi's forces were scattering as their opponents gathered themselves to fight. Ryoushi himself, however, merely picked himself up, ready to go again. Suzu tensed as he turned to look at her.
"Suzu, chill with the fire, okay?" Kento whispered.
"I can't," she responded with a shiver. "It's the only thing that's hurt him so far. Unless this staff comes through for us."
"Damn, we need Ryo."
She swallowed. "I know."
"She is darkness and she is light," Ryoushi taunted in a sing-song voice as he walked toward them. "What are you that you can both wield the power of the Armor of Darkness and Corruption and the ancient staff? Maybe if I dissect you, I will find out."
Kento stepped protectively in front of her. "You'll have to go through me first."
"As you wish." Ryoushi's fingers turned to spears, stretching out to impossible lengths, coming right for Hardrock's heart.
As Kento closed his eyes and regretted his words, he felt power build all around him. A protective golden force field blocked the attack, shattering the black razor-sharp edges as the powers collided. The ancient staff had saved them.
Suzu fired on the demon. He leaped out of the way, only to have another gold beam strike him in the chest. He fell to the ground, a golden arrow poking out of his torso.
"I think you better stay down," Rowen said, another arrow strung and ready to fire.
Ryoushi growled as he clutched at the arrow at his chest. He tried to sit up, but a hailstorm of sharp metal pipes fell upon him, compliments of Kayura. He was impaled through arms and legs and several parts of his body, pinned to the ground like a butterfly. The damage seemed to anger him more than hurt him as he growled and struggled.
For the moment, he seemed caught as Kayura approached Suzu to retrieve her staff. The other woman relinquished it with a hiss. It took effort to pry her fingers from the golden metal. Even bits of her burned flesh remained behind.
Kayura made a face at that.
"Sorry," Suzu rasped, and then coughed. Flecks of blood came out on the back of her hand when she tried to cover her mouth.
Both Rowen and Kento looked alarmed, but Sekhmet had already grabbed her shoulders from behind to get her attention.
"You need to cool it. Using so many different powers like this is going to tear you apart."
"It doesn't matter." Suzu kept her gaze in Ryoushi's direction. "I'll use anything I have to to stop him."
"No kidding. He just doesn't stay down," Kento said. More of Ryoushi's soldiers were running toward them. Kento made them think twice by crumbling the ground at their feet and splitting the sidewalk, leaving a sizable crack between the factions. Only Ryoushi was on their side of the divide now.
When Hardrock then took a step toward Ryoushi, the demon stopped struggling and melted into a black puddle. Kento jumped back in surprise as the puddle dissipated before his eyes.
"Damn, he's gone!"
Then the ground tore up all around them as a black beast the size of a small building burst out from below.
He could be anything. Kayura recalled Sage's earlier words with horror as she tried to take in the massive head, the bear-like muzzle. The rows and rows of teeth.
All within the vicinity tried to jump out of the way, but Ryoushi had a target in mind. No matter how fast she moved, Suzu could not hide from the heavy claw that slapped her right out of the air. She slammed against the side of a building, leaving a pretty good dent in the brick before crumpling lifeless to the ground.
Ryoushi grinned his predatory grin at putting what he considered the most troublesome fighter out of the game. His grin was abruptly cut short as one of Strata's arrows found his eye. He reared back in rage, pawing at his face.
While the monster was distracted, Sage and Cye ran over to Suzu's motionless form. The former crouched over her, noticing he could see Suzu's mouth and chin under the hood. Since she was out cold, the veil of blackness she used to hide her face was gone. Her lips were ashen and flecked with blood. Sage reached out to touch the hood.
"Don't you dare, Sage," Cye hissed, holding his wounded arm. The bleeding had stopped, but the cut was still very deep and could easily start bleeding again under any stress.
Halo frowned, but respected the woman's privacy as he merely pressed his fingers to her neck. "She's still alive." After securing the hood over her head, he picked her up and looked down at the both of them, still covered in Cale's blood. He was still trying to process what happened back there. That someone they knew was no longer with them. There wasn't time to fully take it in.
"We need to find somewhere safe to put her," Cye said.
Sage watched the massive beast, nearly three stories high, thrash before them. "There is nowhere safe."
Kayura leaped to and fro, trying to dodge Ryoushi's new form as he jerked from side to side. The beast's long, spiked tail swished dangerously close, but she managed to jump to the fire escape of a building and a clear shot presented itself.
"Demon BEGONE!" Kayura pointed the staff and poured its full power upon the darkness. The demon screamed, high and shrill as it was hit. The golden light cut through it, eating it up piece by piece and swallowing every part.
When it was over, there was nothing left to be found but a sizzling, smoking smudge on the ground. Kayura panted from her perch, sweating and spent. It had to be over now. She could see Dais being the bravest of them all down below, nudging the black smear with the toe of his boot. That irritated her for some reason. Even if the evil was vanquished, that seemed dangerous somehow.
"Humans are such gullible fools," Ryoushi's voice suddenly sounded and everyone froze. "Give them something big and terrible to look at they suddenly forget about the important things."
His voice was coming from behind them.
Kayura's heart jumped into her throat. No! Not from...
Ryoushi's previous form, the half-charred business man, stood at the Dynasty gate, one hand touching the ornate frame. "The hunter can have many tricks, but it never forgets its true prey."
With a surge of power, the gate activated, a white light forming, swirling within the open arch. Kayura jumped down to join the others as they all ran for the gate. They had to stop Ryoushi. Whatever he was going to use it for, they couldn't let it happen.
As they reached the gateway, the portal found its destination and showed them all what was on the other side. Everyone froze in their tracks at the sight of it, at the sight of him.
"It's... it's..." Kento couldn't bring himself to say it.
Rowen stared as his knees grew weak. His bow almost clattered to the ground. No, God, no! Don't make us fight him again!
The hulking dark form stood on the other side of the gate, as large and as fearful as the ronins remembered. One mighty swing from his giant sword cut the very land in two, splitting it and making the whole earth tremble.
"It's Talpa," Kayura breathed.
"No, Talpa's dead," Sekhmet said, just as breathless. "How... how can he...?"
Talpa wasn't the only one there. He was in battle with someone. Someone in the white Inferno armor.
"That's Ryo!" Cye announced as he moved forward, Sage at his side. "And behind him, that's us! This is our fight with Talpa when we were kids!"
"The gate opened to the past, to when Talpa was still alive," Sage said. Suzu began to stir in his arms.
"No, no, no, no," Dais had been muttering under his breath. Then he suddenly turned from the scene. "Shit, I'm out."
He tried to flee, but Kento was there, blocking his exit with his naginata.
"What do you mean you're out, you coward?"
Dais grabbed his staff, pushing Kento back. "Listen, you, if Ryoushi brings Talpa to this time, we're all in trouble. If you don't remember, we couldn't break Talpa's hold on us until he was dead. If he comes back, he has control of our armor. That means he has control of us and your allies are cut in half. Do you understand me?"
Kento blinked at him, feeling his strength drain away as Dais' words sank in. "But... but you couldn't. You wouldn't let him take over you again, right?"
"If you want this armor so bad, Talpa, you'll have to pay the price," the past Ryo said on the other side of the gate.
"I have no time for these games. Give me that armor, now!" Talpa demanded.
"Try it on first. If it fits... it's yours!"
They watched as Ryo willed the power of the Inferno armor into Talpa's body. As Talpa was held back and the other four ronins surged to attack, their armors glowing in hot light, circling around the Dynasty master and tearing him apart.
"I don't understand," Kayura said as she stared. "Why is Ryoushi letting Talpa be defeated again? What is he doing?"
Talpa's armor was sliced in two, the power from the Jewel of Life rushing in, pulling Ryo's teenage self out as Talpa's armor crumbled and fell into a heap behind him.
Ryoushi stepped in front of the gate. "Here is where I cut in."
No one had noticed it the first time around. They had all been too relieved Ryo had survived to realize. But when Talpa was defeated, a thick, black cloud—the essence of his power—drifted from his shell to forever vanish into the ether.
Ryoushi saw it. And before anyone could stop him, he reached out his power and grabbed it. It was as if the scene of the past could not even see him or the giant portal that held him as he sucked Talpa's essence into the future, into himself and he swallowed it whole.
The warriors were all helpless to do anything but watch as Ryoushi turned to them, a wolfish grin of triumph on his face. Then his whole body began to bubble and boil. His form grew in grotesque clusters of flesh and metal, bursting out on all sides. His enemies backed away as his mass began to swallow up all the space around him.
His form grew to the height of the buildings and taller as a dark armor manifested itself around him. It was similar to Talpa's, but a swirling, black abyss seemed to be the body beneath it, an abyss full of red, all-seeing eyes and terrifying whispers.
He grew until the city could not hold him and the pressure built until it exploded. There was an audible shattering of power as there was suddenly no longer any Outside or Inside. The entire city and all of humanity was free to look upon the hulking terror rising above the buildings.
"YES!" Ryoushi screamed to the sky. His face was now nothing but a wide, rictus mouth. A mouth built to consume everything. "Talpa's power is now added to my own! Tremble before me, mortals! Your world now belongs to me!"
A great panic took hold of the city as the very fabric of their reality ripped open. Portals opened everywhere, massive black holes. From within came creatures of every shape and monstrosity. Giant spider-like things, reptilian predators, and winged horrors descended upon the frightened masses, intent on wiping their kind off the face of the planet.
"Okay, guys, what the hell do we do now?" Kento demanded of his cohorts. "He's even bigger than Talpa was."
"His army's bigger, too," Rowen said grimly. He looked at his bow and it suddenly seemed so useless. "I'm sure missing our armors and those old sure-kills about now."
"We have to keep fighting," Suzu's weak voice cut in. As she regained consciousness, she pushed away from Sage's chest until he put her down. She pressed a hand to her head as if she were dizzy. "There's got to be something else we can do. I'll hit him with fire again."
"And what, burn his toe?" Sekhmet demanded. "You need to stop, Suzu. You're not strong enough by yourself."
"I'll hit him with more fire," she insisted. "Something's got to hurt him."
"I have something that will hurt him," Kayura muttered, clutching the staff tight. She took off by herself, Dais calling after her as she rebounded off one side of a building to another, making her way to the rooftops. Five stories up, she was barely to the monster's chest. There she paused, one flat hand raised up in the motion of prayer.
Please give me the power to defeat him, Ancient One. This is our last hope.
As Ryoushi noticed her, Kayura aimed the staff and, with a loud war cry, attacked. She poured all the power—both the staff's and her own—into the attack. A blinding golden beam of light arched up, hitting the monster full in the face, causing it to stumble back.
For one brief moment, Kayura hoped the staff was overpowering the darkness. But it didn't take long for Ryoushi to regain his balance and he turned on her, releasing a power of his own. A deep darkness shot back and swallowed the golden light. Kayura stared, too baffled to react as she watched the blackness rush down toward the staff. When they collided, the ancient staff vibrated fiercely from the backlash, then exploded in her hand.
Kayura didn't even feel the shards of metal pierce the flesh of her palms as she felt like she was watching her whole world crumble. Not the staff. How could they go on without it? It was all they had had left.
"Aw, did I break your little trinket?" Ryoushi cackled. He raised a hand to the stunned Kayura.
She stood there dumbly as his palm slapped down, intent on squashing her like a bug. A flash of white, and Dais had her in his arms, whisking her out of the way just in time as the massive hand devastated the rooftop.
Kayura seemed to be in a state of shock as Dais landed back on the ground. He set her on her feet, but she merely stared in the distance. He grabbed her bloodied hands, checking the damage. He had been scared to death a shard of that damn staff had impaled something more important, but it seemed only her hands were bleeding.
He put her face in his palms. "Kayura, are you okay?"
She slowly shook her head. "That was all we had. Without the staff, what can we do?"
Then, there was a sickening crack, the sound of wood snapping. Everyone looked over at the Dynasty Gate. The gate was still active, though now back to a swirling portal of light without a destination. A fracture had appeared on one side, slowly growing from the stress of use.
"We're out of time," Suzu announced as she turned to the ronins. "You have to go through the gate. Now!"
"No, we're not leaving," Sage insisted. "We can't leave the world like this."
"We can't leave Ryo and Robyn either," Kento reminded.
"But... it's your only way back home," Suzu said. "If it breaks..."
"Then we stay here," Sage told her. "We stay until it's over. Even if that means we're stuck here."
The roar of a tiger cut off any further argument and no sound could have been more welcome. White Blaze ran into their midst as the others gathered around, overjoyed to see that he had two passengers and all that were missing were now found.
"Hey guys," Ryo called as he approached. "Sorry I'm late to the party."
"Yeah, you missed all the fun," Kento said sarcastically as he motioned to the world practically falling apart around them. He smiled at Robyn. "But I see you were still doing something important."
They all found it odd that Robyn was sitting in front on the tiger, but didn't question as Robyn slid off. Not until she was clearly helping Ryo get off himself. There was a red stain at his side, leaking through his beige T-Shirt.
"Ryo, what happened?" Sage demanded.
He looked a bit embarrassed. "I got shot."
"You got shot?" Rowen cut in. "Out of all the things you would think we'd die from."
"I know, right?" Ryo agreed with a weak laugh. He was in pain. The drugs he had taken were not all that strong, nor had the ride with White Blaze been a smooth one. There was already a thin sheen of sweat on his brow.
"And are you okay, Robyn?" Cye asked as he moved in. "I'm sorry we weren't able to find you sooner."
Robyn jerked back from him, her eyes instantly going to the nasty, sticky lump of blood over his arm. She didn't know this guy. She didn't know what to say to him.
While Cye thought her reaction odd, he did not have time to comment on it, Ryoushi was coming for them.
"There you are," he said as he stepped around a building to find them. "All the little insects all huddled together. Hold still and I'll make your deaths swift."
He lifted an armored boot to stomp them and most had the sense to dodge out of the way. Kento managed to grab Robyn before hauling her out of the danger zone. The poor girl was nearly entering a state of shock from the madness around her. She shouldn't have been there, but the was no where else to go, not now.
Ryo was a bit on the slow side himself. Suzu had to push him out of the way as the foot slammed to the ground, shaking everything around it. Ryo grunted and then cried out in pain as they rolled along the ground.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, pressing a hand to his wound where the bloodstain was now steadily growing bigger. "You shouldn't have come. You're hardly holding yourself together."
Ryo noticed the burns on her arms. "You've been using Wildfire without me."
"I didn't have a choice."
"If I use it—if I call forth all the power I can—do we have a chance?"
Suzu looked skyward to the evil towering over them, to Ryoushi's beasts flying above him, to the other monsters stalking and preying upon the city in all directions. "I don't know. Though I do know you have a good chance of bleeding out before that abomination ever goes down."
Ryo looked around at the rest of the group, his heart thudding in his chest. They were all bleeding. They were all dirty, hurt, exhausted. The city was screaming, the enemies were everywhere. And they had very little left to give. He clenched his fists in frustration. They were the heroes, weren't they? How could they get to this point, when there was so little fight left in them?
"Ryo!" Rowen called as he came up. He and Suzu both hefted him to his feet as gently as possible. "Ryoushi absorbed Talpa's power."
"He did WHAT?!" Ryo demanded.
"That's why he's so powerful now. But if he has Talpa's power, maybe he has Talpa's weakness now, too."
As the other warriors gathered, their faces all lit up at this new idea.
"The Inferno armor," Cye breathed. "Talpa was never a match for it. But...can we gain access to it somehow?"
Sage glanced over at White Blaze as the big cat butted his head against his thigh. "The Inferno was Hariel's armor. It was never mentioned as any part of the seal that guarded Falnan. It's possible that since we still have access to our armor powers, we have access to it."
Ryo nodded. "We can try."
"No you're not," Suzu stepped in. "The Inferno armor puts a great stress on a healthy body. It just might eat Ryo alive in his current state. Let me try to wear it."
All the ronins just stared at her as if it were the stupidest thing they have ever heard.
Even Sekhmet put a hand on her shoulder, pulling her back. "Suzu, just because the armors let you use them from time to time, doesn't mean you should be trying to abuse the privilege."
"He's right," Ryo cut her off with a hard look. "No offense, Suzu. I understand what you're trying to do. I know you want to protect us, but you aren't a part of this. Defending the mortal realm is our job and we'll decide who risks their lives for it. Not you."
She looked like she wanted to argue, but ultimately said nothing.
"She does have a point, Ryo," Kento said. "You aren't looking too good, man. You make sure we don't regret this, bro."
Wildfire put a hand on Hardrock's shoulder, trying to put on a brave smile. Ryo knew there was a possibility he wouldn't survive this. Maybe none of them would. Maybe they all would die together this day. Perhaps the entire mortal world would. But they would never know what was going to happen until they tried.
At the corner of his eye, he caught Robyn's form as she slid down to the ground, her body pressed up against the side of a building. She looked terrified, the scared rabbit look Cindi talked about now plastered all over her face. Her body trembled, her wide, wild eyes almost sightless as her brain tried to process all the chaos around her.
There was nothing Ryo could do for her right now. Being over by that building was the safest place for her. Ryoushi would never notice her there when all the warriors were gathered away from her. They would all have to leave her there so they could fight. So they could protect her and everyone else.
Ryo looked around at his friends. "Ready, guys?"
They all nodded with determination.
"Look out!" Kayura screamed and another foot crashed to the ground.
They all barely managed to dodge out of the way. The ronins were scattered now. But it didn't matter. The armors always knew how to find each other. As they had in their youth, Strata, Halo, Hardrock, and Torrent summoned their powers. The energy glowed around them and they willed the armor and their spirits to Ryo's aid. Each one of them offered a silent prayer with them: please let this work.
The armors responded. The method was familiar and Ryo saw the power of his friends racing toward him. He felt the overwhelming energy engulf him, swallow him whole. The nearly searing fire burned him up and rebuilt him, built a shining white armor around him. And to his side, Black Blaze burst from the frames, offering the Soul Swords of Fervor on his back.
As Ryo took those powerful swords in his hands, he was suddenly full of hope that they were going to win.
"I see you found your own armor, tiny bug," Ryoushi laughed. "You're going to need it."
His arm transformed into an enormous blade and he stabbed it toward Ryo's much smaller body. Ryo lunged out of the way, leaping to and fro to climb the buildings for a better vantage point. As he moved, he felt the pain again. Inferno could not help him with his wound and he felt warm blood now leaking down his side.
I have to do this fast before I bleed out, he thought to himself.
The second Ryo reached the closest building top, he didn't give any time for Ryoushi to threaten or gloat. He jumped into the air, Soul Swords poised and gaining heat and energy fast.
"RAAAAGE OF INFERRRRRNOOOO!"
Fire burst from the smaller form, a power so much bigger than itself. A fire that could swallow the monster whole.
But Ryoushi was ready. With a mere wave of his hand, he opened a portal protectively in front of him and that black hole swallowed the entire sure kill as if the deadly inferno were nothing but a puff of smoke.
Ryo landed back on the rooftop, stumbling and panting. He had to lean on Black Blaze for support as dizziness fell over him. It wasn't enough. His best wasn't even a fraction of what was needed to take this guy down. What was he supposed to do?
"We have to hold him," Kayura said as she watched the failed attempt. She turned to Suzu and the remaining warlords. "We have to make sure Ryoushi can't move so Ryo can get a clean shot."
Sekhmet instantly held up his hands. "Nothing I can do about that."
Dais stepped forward. "But I can do something."
Suzu nodded as well. The three of them took off, cutting away to catch the monster from behind.
Ryo continued to pant on the rooftop, his terrified mind racing. What was he supposed to do now? His team suddenly landed beside him and he was both happy to see them and terrified they would die with him.
"Don't give up, Ryo. We're here for you, buddy," Kento called.
"Ryo, you're fighting him the wrong way," Rowen said.
"Right," Sage agreed. "Remember, it wasn't Inferno's sure kill that ultimately defeated Talpa."
Ryo looked down at his hands. "That's right, it was the armor itself."
"Inferno cleanses the darkness," Cye said. "It debilitated Talpa enough for us to finish him."
"Just don't put yourself in there this time," Kento added with a grin. "We don't have the Jewel of Life any more to fish you out."
"You had your turn," Ryoushi announced above them. "Now it's my turn to show you my power."
A great ball of black-blue energy formed in his hands, so much larger than any of the ronins. For a second, they thought they were never going to get their second chance. But then Ryoushi let out a startled squawk as his arms were suddenly pulled away from him and the energy ball dispersed.
"WHAT?!" he bellowed.
From behind, Kayura stood on another building top, guiding the chains that now wrapped around Ryoushi's wrists, forcing them backwards. Dais helped, his webs reinforcing the shackles. Suzu was there, giving both their powers a boost.
But Ryoushi fought back. He wasn't about to be taken by such a cheap trick. He pulled forward and felt his shackles give.
"We're still not strong enough to hold him," Kayura said through gritted teeth.
"But he is strong enough," Suzu announced. "We need to use his own powers against him."
Kayura's eyes flew wide in horror, but there was nothing she could do about it as Suzu flew toward the hulking monster. "Suzu, no! You don't know what will happen!"
The hooded woman ignored the warning. She landed on Ryoushi's shoulder and crouched, bare hands to the metallic skin of the gigantic demon. If she could access the armor powers and Talpa could also access the armor powers, then maybe, somehow, she could access Talpa's powers. She concentrated, reaching out to feel the energy force of the body at her fingertips.
"She is darkness, she is light," Ryoushi's same taunt from before reverberated in her head. "But if she is too much darkness, then the light... it goes away..."
Suzu tried to jerk back as her hands sank into the very form of the demon. It was too late. Ryoushi had his hold on her and he was not letting go. Black tendrils reached out, wrapping and around her and pulling her inside until everything went dark.
Even from their side, the ronins could see what was happening and they were helpless to do anything but watch in horror as Suzu's terrified form was sucked into the demon's body.
"Suzu!" Rowen screamed, startling the others out of there stupor. He tried to race for her, but Sage grabbed him and held him back. "Let go of me! We have to get her!"
"It's too late," Sage said softly. "She's gone."
Rowen struggled against him. "No! We can't let that happen! She... she..."
Sage whirled him around, grabbing his shoulder. "She's what, Rowen? What is she making you hide? What is she?"
The tears that came to his best friend's eyes took Sage aback. Rowen shook his head, but his mouth began to form a response.
Ryoushi's new shouts of outrage cut him off and the warriors looked on in bafflement as the demon's body seemed to have turned on itself. Thick, black tendrils coming from Ryoushi's own form wrapped around itself, pinning his arms to his sides, holding him hostage.
"What is this?!" Ryoushi screamed as he struggled. "What are you doing to me!"
"It's Suzu!" Cye cheered. "It's got to be! She's taking over."
"Then we have to hit him now while we have the chance!" Sage said.
"No!" Rowen cried.
Kayura's voice came in answer, speaking clearly in their heads. Just as she had been able to do the last time they fought Talpa. "Ronin Warriors, you must attack now!"
Ryo stared at the bound demon. "But what about Suzu? We can't just let someone die so we can live."
"Listen to me, Suzu can't die. She isn't like you. It's part of the pact. As long as we are alive, she can't die. But if she stays in that monster too long, she will never be the same again. Take Ryoushi out now!"
The ronins looked at each other. They looked at the demon-filled world falling apart around them. They had no choice. It was now or never. They had to fight.
Each of their kanji flared. Each of their power surged as they transformed into brilliant beings of light. They flew off the building top, encircling the towering evil, spinning faster and faster. Ryoushi cried out at the light collided with him, cutting through him like a knife. The armor powers ripped through his limbs, his torso, his head. Ryoushi cried out as darkness was swallowed by light and his demon hoard mirrored his cries of pain as they all felt the crippling effects of the armor's wrath.
The inferno armor raced forth, piercing the torso where the heart should be—if such an abomination ever had a heart. With one last scream of pain and outrage, Ryoushi's form disintegrated. With his power gone, his followers faded from the human world, the portals repairing themselves. All the demon's influence was erased by light until it was no more.
The ronins; still dirty, still wounded, still covered in blood, floated slowly down to the street below. Massive footprints were still embedded in the concrete not far away. They met up with Kayura and Dais and then walked over to where Sekhmet crouched next to a prone form. Suzu.
Before they could even inquire on her current condition, Suzu moaned and Sekhmet helped her sit up. Immediately, she was on her hands and knees coughing and vomiting a thick, black ooze. The ronins were horrified at the sight, but Sekhmet just calmly patted her back.
"There, that's good. Get it all out."
Another wooden crack sounded behind them.
"The portal," Kayura breathed when she was reminded of its existence. They were extremely lucky Ryoushi hadn't kicked the thing down during the battle. She ran toward it, finding the archway to be nearly falling apart. Light could be seen through the cracks. "Ronin Warriors, you have to go now! This thing could crumble any second! It's your only way home!"
Ryo instantly turned and ran toward the last place he saw Robyn. She was still there, curled up against the side of the building. She was staring off into space, extremely shell shocked as Ryo grabbed her. "Come on, we have to go!"
Robyn was suddenly thrown into the here and now and she was filled with a new terror at the large spot of red that had blossomed on Ryo's side.
"Look at you, you're bleeding."
"We'll fix it in a minute! Come on!" The pain was secondary to the adrenaline still pumping through his veins. Above all, he had to get Robyn home. Even with the monsters now vanquished, she didn't belong here, he needed to get her home.
Kayura had already changed the portal to its new destination—the ronins' present. She ushered Kento and Cye through as the gateway threatened to break apart. "Go! Go!" she urged, grabbing Sage's arm.
Sage resisted, unwilling to leave his best friend behind. "Rowen! Come ON!"
Rowen still stood over Suzu, looking lost.
"Strata, get going!" Sekhmet growled at him. "You want to stay here forever?"
He couldn't look away from the hooded woman, still dry heaving on the ground. "I... I don't..."
"Rowen, you have to go," she rasped between coughs. "It's okay to leave. We're okay here."
"But you... I don't want to..."
"You will see me again, you moron, you know you will. Now go!"
Sage had Rowen's arm now, physically dragging him toward the gate. Rowen helplessly allowed himself to be led. He didn't want to be done here yet. He had questions that needed answers. There was so much he wanted to say.
Right at the threshold of the gate, Dais stepped in front of him and Rowen paused.
"I nearly forgot one thing," said the Warlord of Illusion. He grabbed Strata's head, fully palming his face. Rowen felt the power of the Illusion armor upon him and suddenly, that most important secret he had was blocked from his memory.
Grinning, Dais let go of a very startled and blank-faced Rowen and then shoved him into the portal. "You're welcome," he called after him.
Whatever that was, Sage didn't care as he stepped him after his friend. As long as Rowen was in, that's what mattered. Ryo followed at his heels, pulling Robyn by the wrist with him. The gate began to shutter as White Blaze jumped through and then it exploded in a shower of wood dust and splinters.
The now much smaller group gathered around the remains of the last of the Dynasty Gates and looked silently upon it.
"Think they made it?" Dais finally asked.
Suzu coughed a few more times, flecks of black still coming out onto her hand. "Of course they did." She reached up, removing her hood. Her messy, dirty hair was pulled up in a high ponytail and the color of it was bright red. Her face sported a long cut across her nose that reached from almost cheek to cheek. It was still healing, but it would probably leave a scar.
Bright green eyes looked tired from the long battle. Her smile held hope, but a certain sadness as well.
"I know they did. I was there."
"Well, be careful then," Mia said as she looked over her five warriors. She still didn't know what to make of Lady Kayura's appearance, or her strange clothes. But there was nothing she could do. If the Ronin Warriors had to go to save the world, she couldn't stand in their way.
"I'll be here waiting for you, I guess."
Kayura smiled at her, her one eye visible through her thick bangs. "Believe me, you won't be waiting for them long."
In a burst of light, Kayura and all the ronins were gone. Disappeared from her living room as if they had never been there. The house fell quiet as it suddenly felt very empty.
Mia was reminded there was still one more person in the room as Natalia approached her. "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, still staring at the empty space. "I don't know if I can."
Natalia touched her shoulder, gathering the older woman's attention. "I'm sure you can figure out a place to start. We might have a good amount of time to get me up to speed."
Mia breathed out deeply, letting the familiarity of finally being home sink in. Yes, she could find a place to start.
"Let's move to the kitchen. I'll make us some tea and sandwiches."
The blonde woman smiled. "Sounds good."
Natalia found herself a place to sit at the small table while Mia put water on the stove to boil. There was a long span of silence and Natalia allowed it to grow. She could tell Mia was still trying to process it all herself. When her thoughts came around to a good starting point, she would let Natalia in on the story. She just had to be patient.
Both looked up when the land line in the kitchen suddenly rang.
"Huh, who on earth could that be?" Mia asked out loud as she went to answer it.
She wasn't too far away and Natalia could hear every word on Mia's side of the conversation.
"Hello?" A pause and then a gasp from Mia. "Kento? Where are you? I just saw you leave!"
What Mia heard next almost made her drop the phone in surprise.
"What do you mean you're in Tokyo?!"
To be continued in the next book.
This chapter has been one of the most difficult to write in all of my writing career. My writing buddy Mel will attest to how much I bitched and moaned about it for the longest time.
This whole story, despite how short it is, was quite difficult. The first chapter was published in April 2007. Chapter two wasn't posted until around the beginning of 2015. This somewhat eight year gap between the first establishing chapter and the rest of the story was really quite a challenge. I had honestly forgotten most of what was planned for "Warriors Still" when I picked it back up and pretty much had to make it up as I went.
This story seriously felt like someone else had written the first chapter and I was left to come up with the rest. Even the villain—I couldn't remember why I used that name or what I was going to do with him. I think that's why it ended up so short. I'm sure my past-self had so much more planned for it. But, since Past Self was also apparently not into keeping notes on those ideas, I essentially had to make it up as I went. I think the story still did what it was meant to do, which was give you massive amounts of foreshadowing and will hopefully make you refer back to it as new developments happen in future installments.
And now, all of us—the boys, this writer, and the reader—are happy to finally be home. No more fantasy dimensions, no more time travel. They just get to be home for a while and be themselves. And I am SO looking forward to writing about it. I sincerely hope you are looking forward to reading it.
I know in the time from when I started this story to now, the fandom has dwindled, but I hope there are still a few out there that read these fics. I would love it if you select few would take the time to comment on your thoughts of this story as a whole now that it's finished. And I will hopefully see you again when the new story comes out. Thank you, all!