In death we find resolution.

In death we find damnation.

In death we find rebirth.

In death we find salvation.

The Last Ronin Warrior

By Mardrena

A blue and silver metallic form streaked around an antennae tower then shot up straight alongside it. It wove in and out of the beams forming the structure with fluidity only a living being possessed. Rowen looked over his shoulder to see if anything followed him after his aerobatics and sighed in relief. He looked forward and prepared to dive back to the street level, but recoiled in shock upon seeing the hulking metallic form that hovered above him.

Reddish metal plates composed most of the body with detailing in dark green and gold. Thick fingers tipped with razor-sharp metal talons clenched tight around a heavy axe. Instead of smooth militaristic boots, the feet ended in thick talons. Wings composed of metal ribs and leather flapped from its shoulders, amazingly able to support the immense weight of the construct. From a distance, the face looked almost cartoonish, but up close, Rowen saw details that only contributed to the construct's intimidating look. The lower half of the face stretched forward, as if someone had grabbed it by the nostrils and pulled, creating a muzzle. Metallic lips frozen in a cruel grimace displayed jagged teeth. Instead of empty space, or even blank white eyes, hellish light occupied the eye sockets.

A deep echoing growl rumbled within the construct's empty body and out the fanged mouth as it raised its axe. Rowen jerked his attention away from studying the construct up close and dove to put distance between them. Just as he readied his bow to fire, however, the construct folded its wings and dove down to get back in melee range. *This isn't a Nether Soldier! They don't think, but this thing does! Nether Soldiers don't do this!*

Just as the construct prepared to drive its axe into Rowen's face, a feathery blue blur swept infront of it and screeched repeatedly. The construct growled in frustration as razor sharp talons carved into the thick face plate. While the large blue bird kept it distracted, Rowen moved around till he had a clear view of its back and fired three shots.

The construct flapped its wings and turned to glare at Rowen, more annoyed than angry. Rowen actually felt nervous and prepared to fire again. Then the construct jerked and writhed in midair. The great blue eagle clung to its back and dug its talons into the armor, cracking it and peeling a large portion back as if opening a sardine can. Black mist billowed out of the opening, and the construct, now clearly dead, plummeted to the ground.

"Thanks for the help, Razor Wing. He almost had me there," Rowen said to the eagle and looked at the rapidly falling wreck. "I wish I knew what the deal is with these new enemies. I can't believe he managed to keep up. He even out-flew me at one point. Well, c'mon, let's head back down and see how the others are doing. I'm sure they're having as hard a time killing these things, and that was just one." Razor Wing cawed in agreement and the two dove back towards the distant streets. As they approached the rooftops, Rowen spotted a friendly figure. "Whoa!!" he dove down and Razor Wing banked sharply as the body of another demonic construct flew past. "Hey, watch where you throw those things! They're a lot heavier than they look!"

"I don't feel a difference," Kento shrugged as he slammed a construct in the stomach with his bo and flipped it off the rooftop. Rowen pelted it with arrows to make sure it died before hitting the ground. He turned and started to cry out in warning as a construct leapt at Kento from behind. Kento spotted this and managed to react in time. He ducked down so the construct sailed overhead then caught it with his shoulder and tossed it into the air. Razor Wing caught it and gave it the North American Strata facial treatment before letting it fall dead towards the street. More constructs arrived to face the Ronin Warrior.

"Well, you seem more than capable of handling these things on your own." Rowen commented.

"Eh, I wouldn't mind the company, but you'd probably be better off helping the others. Fighting one of these is like fighting six regular soldiers," Kento remarked as he fended off blows with his bo before returning them.

"And not everyone's as strong and hardy as the great Kento of Hardrock, hmm?" Kento smirked and chuckled. Rowen shook his head and drifted away from the rooftop. "Allright then, catch ya later," he waved and descended.

A mother and her young daughter fled down the wrecked street screaming in terror at the monstrous winged thing that flew after them. The little girl tripped over a tangle of metal pipes and her mother whirled around to try and scoop her up, but recoiled in terror as the winged thing landed and stepped towards the fallen child. It reached out with its curved talons towards the whimpering child. Then something miraculous happened. Two red hot blades sliced through the metallic monster, cutting its arms off from the shoulder down, then the blades sliced through the chest and head. The monster collapsed in pieces, and the girl dared look up and saw not another monster, but a young knight in magnificent red and silver armor.

"Get out of here! This area's no place for civilians!!" the young man barked. The mother hurriedly scooped up her child and the two took off running away from the battle zone. "What is it with people? This street was supposed to be evacuated an hour ago!" Ryo complained.

"Eh, you know civilians, they think they can stick things out," Cale commented.

Ryo snorted in disgust. "Oh they'll get stuck allright, like pigs," he sneered and helped Cale take down a pack of attacking constructs.

"Where did these things come from anyway? I thought you guys said Dygra was the last Dynasty lieutenant!" Sage shouted above the din of battle.

"Last lieutenant, not last servant," Sehkmet calmly corrected. "With Dygra gone, it only makes sense there'd be lesser minions aspiring to fill the void and become lords themselves."

"So you're saying these are renegades from the Nether Realm?"

"That's impossible. Kayura took part in a ritual to seal the Nether Realm. No one goes in or comes out. Lord Mabu agreed that the surviving residents be granted autonomy. He was the most peaceable of the nobles-"

"Or as Talpa'd say: a spineless coward," Cale interjected.

"So we felt comfortable leaving the Nether Realm under his rule. Even if capable, he wouldn't dare launch an attack on the mortal realm," Sehkmet explained and parried a construct's attack before spraying acid in its face.

"Which had nothing to do with us threatening to kick his ass if he tried," Cale added.

"So wait, you're saying these are from some *other* realm?" Ryo raised an eyebrow.

"Of course. Just as there are other worlds, like the Thurukian system, there exist other planes where beings exist. Talpa's power was such he could travel with ease between realms, and conquered all he visited. I'll bet anything these things are from such a realm."

"If he had all these other realms as part of his empire, why the hell was he so obsessed with taking over Earth?"

"Because this realm is a waypoint!" The three of them looked up as Anubis sprang high into the air, lashing his chain with such force, it sliced through the torsos of any pursuing constructs. "The crossroads of creation. From here extend paths to all other worlds and dimensions," Anubis explained as he displayed his newfound vitality, felling multiple constructs with ease whereas other Ronin had trouble with just one.

"Gyaaah!!" Tanya squeaked and stepped back when a construct attacked with startling speed. The Lady Ronin pulled out both chakaram halves and prepared to join them, but then the construct lashed out with one foot, and in a surprising move, tripped Tanya, causing her to fall on her back. Tanya "oofed" and sat up only to see the construct looming over her, axe raised to split her skull in half. "Two can play that game!" Tanya shrieked and struck with both feet, striking both of the construct's knees. Instead of falling back, however, it started to collapse on top of her. Tanya closed her eyes and held up both chakaram halves. She felt something bear down on her, pushing her onto her back again, and the creaking of metal, then after that quiet. She opened one eye a crack and looked up to see both blades lodged firmly in the construct's grotesque face. Tanya slowly began to push the body to the side enough to slide out from under it.

"These are a lot tougher than your average tin cans," she muttered. While she gazed down at the dead construct, another sprang up from behind silently. It nearly brought its blade down on Tanya's shoulders, but six blades sliced it in half. Tanya turned around when she heard the noise and saw Dais with his weapon in one hand.

"Well so are we," he stated. "These gargoyle soldiers aren't unbeatable."

"'Gargoyle Soldiers' eh? Well they're certainly ugly enough to be called that," Tanya snorted.

"BAAA!" Boulderdash bleated and bashed a Gargoyle Soldier in the face twice before it went down and didn't get back up. Iguadalupen bounced along the street like a wayward saw blade and reduced soldiers to parts. Lyor didn't have Jaguaradina's company at present, but still managed to prove he was the bigger beast by bringing soldiers down with the ease of felling an antelope. Razor Wing made a show of diving with incredible speed, so fast he plunged through the chests of attacking soldiers, wheeling up for additional dives.

Kento hadn't moved from his spot on the rooftop, where soldiers still swarmed him from all sides, as if his tenacity annoyed them so much, they relentlessly tried to bring him down. He glanced to the side when he saw a tall spiraling column of blazing white light that started to take the shape of a long sinuous neck with a horned head and long, powerful arms. "Uh oh, guess Ryo's calling in the big guns. Whoa! Hey, where do you go off taking a cheap shot like that?" Kento caught a Gargoyle Soldier by the collar and hefted it up above him, knocking its companions away with its flailing wings and talons. "RrrrrrRRRAAAGH!" Kento flung the soldier almost clear across the street towards another building. "Hah! Take that!"

Kento had underestimated the result of the heavy Gargoyle Soldier's body striking the distant wall. Instead of breaking into parts, the Gargoyle Soldier plowed through the corner. Cracks spread from the initial hole, and soon a huge slice of the building peeled away and slid towards the street. "Oh *that's* not good," he muttered and quickly scanned the street to see if anything was in harm's way of the collapsing structure. Kento gasped in horror when he saw Cye on the sidewalk. "Oh no! CYE! CYE!! Ugh, get off of me!" Kento grunted when a soldier leapt onto his back. "CYE!!" Kento kept screaming as he shrugged off the soldier, but his voice wasn't carrying far enough over the sounds of battle. "SAGE! ROWEN! ANYBODY! YOU GOTTA WARN CYE!" Kento shrieked desperately.

Sage heard his friend's cry and looked down the street and saw Cye battling several soldiers, completely oblivious to the debris collapsing above him. "CYE! Get out of there, now!"

"Bloody damn demons! Why don't you go back to your own realm and leave ours alone!" Cye snarled and stabbed soldiers in the chest, cutting through the inch-thick armor. He paused and looked over his shoulder when he heard his name being called. Sage was yelling at him and waving his arm to the side. Cye looked up when he noticed a shadow falling over him and gasped, alarmed to see tons of concrete raining down above him.

"CYE! What are you waiting for, get out of there, now!" Ryo yelled, expecting Cye to teleport, but the Ronin Warrior merely stood there staring.

*I can't move! I'm trying to, but I can't!* Cye's legs seemed to have turned to stone, and his mind to jelly. He heard Ryo and Rowen shouting, but it was too late. The debris fell all around him, entombing him in darkness.

"Uhnn…ow…wow, what a headache…" Cye's eyes fluttered open, only to close again as dust fell onto his face. He grunted in protest and tried to shake his head or sneeze some of the dust away. He managed to worm his right hand out from under concrete slabs and rubbed his face and eyelids before opening his eyes again. It took a few seconds to adjust to the dark. "Ahhh!" Cye yelped when he found himself nose to muzzle with a Gargoyle Soldier. It took a few more seconds for him to realize the eyes weren't glowing. Cye let out his breath in a heavy sigh and pressed his palm against the soldier's chest plate. He used his left hand to start pushing away chunks of rubble from his side. Once he had enough room to move his arm freely, he braced both hands against the soldier's chest plate and shoved repeatedly until he felt the weight above him start to shift and give way. He brought his knees up and pushed harder. Light filtered in from a newly formed gap. Cye sat up in his hollow and moved his right shoulder to the side and shoved the body away, exposing a large enough opening for him to crawl out of.

He took a minute to rest after he hauled himself to the top of the pile of rubble before standing up shakily to survey the area. "Whoa!! Jeez, the battle must've gotten out of hand after I went down. Wonder where they ended up…" Cye glanced to the sky and blinked, surprised to see it a pale greenish color. "…well that's weird. Must be too much dust in the eyes, yeah, that's it… Hmm…a better vantage point might help. Hyah!!" Cye crouched and pounced, wall jumping towards a nearby roof. Once he landed, he slowly began to turn around.

"WHOA!!" Cye recoiled in shock at what he saw. The city lay in ruins for miles in either direction. The tall form of Raurgoth towered above surrounding buildings, but instead of gleaming white scale, the Inferno Dragon's body appeared to be made of stone. Raurgoth stood as if challenging something, with arms raised and wings outstretched. Deep, blackened holes riddled the right wing, and the left seemed to have fallen, or been broken off by some impact. A single large hole, several feet in diameter, marred the otherwise smooth chest.

Cye dared to look back down at the street, and he saw now what he didn't see at first when he emerged from his concrete tomb. Among the rubble were broken bits and chunks of stone that didn't come from the sidewalks or buildings. Boulderdash stood on his hind legs, head and neck curled, but both forelegs were broken off at the elbow. Iguadalupen had been broken into several segments. Only his head remained recognizable. Lyor appeared to be intact, but lay on his side, frozen mid-pounce. Jaguaradina also seemed unscarred and seemed to be looking behind her, teeth bared at some long gone threat. Razor Wing lay on one side, with one wing outstretched and the other shattered, as if he'd turned to stone high in the sky and plummeted to the street. Cye glanced at each of the stone Incarnations and a nervous thought pricked at his mind.

He turned around and held up his hand. "Great White Shark!" Light blue light spilled out of the ring and onto the rooftop. Cye looked relieved at first when Foam Reaver materialized in his personal body of water, but joy quickly turned to shock and dismay when Foam Reaver heaved himself into the air and let out a terrible sound, like a cry of pain. Sharks didn't make sounds like that, at least not living ones. Foam Reaver twitched a few more times midair before going rigid and falling onto the roof, cracking it slightly under the sudden weight. The body had turned to stone. "…not a good sign." Cye looked at the petrified Raurgoth. Whatever had happened to the Inferno Dragon affected the other Incarnations the same way, but they weren't dead, were they? The Incarnations were supposed to be spirit beasts, and spirits couldn't be killed…

"My God…what happened here?" Cye stood alone on the rooftop, deep in thought and sick with worry. He wasn't paying attention to the curious shrill sound approaching from some distance behind him. "Hmm?" Cye looked over his shoulder and squinted to get a better look at the object approaching at high speed. "Uh oh…Whoa!!" Cye sprang up and caught onto the front of the craft, letting it take him on a wild ride as it veered up. Cye clung onto the opaque canopy and stared at his reflection in the shiny blue glass. *This doesn't look like any military jet I've seen…* "Um, excuse me, I was wondering if you could tell me what happened-WHOA!!" Cye clutched onto a protruding wing as the craft barrel rolled suddenly, apparently trying to shake him off. The metal mesh and black plate covering his hands found little purchase on the smooth metal, and despite scrabbling frantically, Cye slid off, falling away from the craft. As he entered freefall, the craft spun around on a dime and came towards him. "Definitely not military!"

The craft opened fire, trying to pepper Cye with a rain of white hot orbs. Cye blinked out of sight and reappeared on the top of the craft, just behind the canopy. "That does it, no more Mr. Nice Cye! You're going to give me answers!" Cye turned his weapon around and plunged it into the conduit holding the canopy in place. He wrenched the blades from side to side, slicing the panel loose, then grabbed a ragged edge with one hand and shoved it away. Cye reached down, expecting to grab a cloth uniform. His fingers brushed against smooth metal plate, not that different from the armor he wore, though considerably less bulky.

The metal covered head swiveled around at an impossible angle and craned back to look at him. Glowing white lenses stared at his face. Cye stared back in disbelief, not sure what to make of the thing sitting in the cockpit, or even what to call it. Before either of them could act, a sudden impact shattered the craft and sent Cye spinning into the air again. He righted himself and glimpsed three more craft coming to finish him off, identical to the first. He glanced at the city and focused on a roof top then vanished just as the craft opened fire. Cye paused a few moments to catch his breath. He'd learned weeks ago teleporting in rapid succession quickly drained the body, and he'd need to conserve strength to survive this ordeal.

The trio of craft closed in on him rapidly, and Cye glanced around for an exit. A fast moving blur close to the street caught his eye, and at first glance it looked like some sort of bullet train. Instead of teleporting to the top, he risked a jump, aiming to land on the lead car. He miscalculated the train's speed and ended landing several cars away, crashing into the top and tumbling several feet before coming to a stop, almost dangling off the edge. The pursuing craft seemed to have lost him, and Cye took the time to rise to one knee and assess his surroundings. His eyes widened when he saw the contents of the car infront of him. It had high walls and an open top, the wind battering the figures huddled within.

A gaunt, disheveled, thinly-clothed man looked up slowly. The wind whipped dirty hair away from his face and he blinked dry eyes in confusion. A woman beside him in similar physical condition leaned back slightly to get a better look at what caught the man's attention. Soon dozens of people were staring up at Cye with a mixture of bewilderment and sadness.

"Look…it's a Ronin Warrior!" "I thought they were all gone." "Please help us!" "I don't wanna be converted!!" "Save us!" Hands reached up, begging, pleading. All Cye could do was stare at them. Were they survivors? Refugees? Refugees of what? "Look out!"

A blast rocked the car Cye sat on and threw him off, sending him tumbling down an embankment and into a drain channel. He pushed himself to hands and knees and glanced up at the pack of tri-wings that arrowed towards him. *I'm too noticeable in armor, and I can't really stand and fight, not here. I need answers first.* Cye backed up close to a large drain pipe and waited for one of the flyers to shoot. The blast struck bare concrete, and when the smoke cleared the Ronin Warrior was gone. The craft hovered in the air, seemingly confused. Further down the channel, several humanoid figures ran towards the pipe, metal-clad feet splashing through water.

Cye had entered the pipe wearing his armor. When he exited it into a large creek, he wore sub-armor. He almost paused, wanting to sit down and rest, but the sounds of metallic footsteps coming up the pipe meant his unknown assailants had decided to continue the hunt on foot. Cye took off running quickly at first. The creek turned into a small stream, water coming up to the middle of his thighs. Cye glanced up when he heard that familiar high pitched whine in the distance. He took a deep breath and dove underwater, pressing his body close to the graveled bottom and grabbing sunken rocks and weeds, crawling forward against the current.

Cye recoiled when a bright beam sliced into the water no more than a few inches away. Far above on the bank, armored shock troopers fired beam weapons at the shadowy form beneath the water's surface. Cye kept himself against the bottom, hoping he'd come across something to give him cover to transform again. He had a reputation for being able to hold his breath indefinitely, but even he needed air, and would soon if the shock troopers kept attacking.

*What?!* Cye watched a large mass shoot past and recognized it as a large cluster of fish going the opposite way, with the current instead of against. Cye's eyes widened in horror when he saw beams cut into the school. Water boiled away from the impact area, and small scorched bodies drifted to the surface. *They're sacrificing themselves to protect me….I won't forget this, my friends!* Cye thought and kept crawling upstream while the shock troopers blasted away at the school. Before they realized their mistake, Cye had moved some distance away and found a sunken boulder where the water colliding with it produced thick foam that could conceal him until the shock troopers had moved out of the area entirely. He pressed himself against it, digging his feet into the silt and gravel to keep the current from carrying him away.

*A good periscope might help…unless…* Cye closed his eyes and seemed to stop breathing. It had seemed like ages since he used his innate ability, but despite that, miniature consciousnesses answered his query. He never could get clear images-fish eyes and memories were too small for that-but he did get impressions, of metallic figures searching relentlessly. They seemed to be moving away, as the impressions faded gradually. Cye emerged from his trance and broke through to the surface. He leaned against the boulder and waded towards the bank.

Cye keeled over abruptly, collapsing against the rough bank. He barely managed to sink his fingers into the soil and anchor himself against the current threatening to drag his body back into the creek. Fighting asphyxia, he somehow summoned the strength to dig his elbows into the soil and haul his upper body onto the grass and mud. Darkness filled his vision, followed by odd shifting speckles of varying hues. He had stayed down far longer than he'd thought, and the fatigue he'd suffered from the building collapse combined with his flight from the unknown soldiers had depleted him almost completely. As his eyes closed, he could only think about how Kento would tease him for sullying his reputation by passing out.

When consciousness returned to Cye, he was somewhat confused to feel a warm, soft surface against his cheek and neck instead of the wet slick of a river bank. He blinked a few times to let his eyes adjust to the dim light. Something half-obscured his vision and he tried reaching up to brush it off, pausing in surprise when he had to worm his arm out from under layers of blankets.

"Wait," a stern feminine voice said. "Don't move too quickly. You need more time to recover." More curious than cautious, Cye pushed himself up on one elbow and shrugged off the warm towel only to collapse onto his side again from an overwhelming wave of dizziness. "I tried to warn you…silly boy. Here, drink some of this. Sip it, don't gulp. It'll ease your rattled brains." This time Cye obeyed and waited till he felt a small cup being pressed into his outstretched hand and moved it slowly to his mouth. He recognized it as tea and mumbled thanks before attempting to drink. The hot liquid felt refreshing as it trickled down his throat drop by drop. The pain behind his eyes slowly ebbed away and he dared to open them again, hoping to see his surroundings and his mysterious host.

The walls, floor, and ceiling appeared to be made out of hard packed soil, and bits of roots poked into the room from here and there, so it was safe to assume he was underground. The chamber was fairly small, no bigger than a bedroom, but half as tall so he couldn't stand up to his full height. Fire crackled in a niche built into one wall with the smoke drifting up out of a narrow opening. Steam spewed out of a kettle hanging from a tripod over the fire, presumably the source of the invigorating tea. Cye scanned the walls and noticed darkened passages that seemed to lead to other similarly built chambers.

"I was out fetching water from the stream when I saw you. You looked in such a sorry state I couldn't come back here to get help, so I ended up dragging you myself, if you're wondering how you got here." Cye finally got a good look at his host as she lit small lanterns hanging from the thickest of the exposed roots, adding more light to the dim rom.

She looked middle aged at first glance, but as she lit more lanterns, shadows revealed deep stress lines in what should've been a smooth, cheerful face. Long silvery hair flowed down her back, with only a few strands of the original black remaining, giving it an almost lavender hue. She shook out the match she'd used and ground the smoking head into the dirt to extinguish it completely then turned to face him, studying him with her oddly familiar-colored brownish eyes.

"We don't have much, as you can imagine, but you are welcome to stay with us as long as you wish," she offered and smiled before scooting over towards a short table set up by the fireplace and began dicing up vegetables and what looked like small fish gathered from the same creek where Cye had collapsed. He paled, trying to restrain his revulsion at seeing his tiny saviors being prepared for stew by the well-meaning woman. Thankfully the woman didn't blend the two together, putting the fish into a separate pot and the vegetables in another. He glanced around the chamber again before choosing to speak for the first time since passing out.

"I don't know what to say…Thank you doesn't seem worthy enough," he commented.

"It's the weight, not the words, that matters." Something about this woman seemed familiar...

"Um…so…who else lives here with you?" Cye asked and sat up.

"My youngest, but she's asleep. You'll meet her another time."

"Ah…um…my name is-"

"Cye of the Torrent. Yes, I know who you are." Cye blinked in surprise. "I've heard about you and seen you, though you have never seen me. You don't have to know my name though. That isn't important now." The woman set the two pots over the fire, using an iron bar to keep them separate then sat back down and brushed her hands over her apron. "What is the last thing you remember before the fight that brought you here?" she asked and narrowed her eyes slightly.

"After the fight in the city-the first one-I woke up under a pile of rubble and found the city almost completely destroyed. I tried to look for the others, find out what went wrong, then some of those things… the sky ships, attacked. They just kept coming and coming, chasing me all the way out into the outskirts. I somehow ended up in the forest-"

"What do you mean by 'first' battle? It wasn't against the sentinels?"

"No. The Dynasty…at least that's what we assumed they were. They looked like demons but were made of metal armor, like Dynasty Soldiers except way tougher. I remember the others trying to warn me about the collapse…" Cye frowned and glanced to the side before looking at the woman again. "Where are the others? They wouldn't have let the city be destroyed like that."

"You really don't know, do you?" she asked. Cye frowned, annoyed by the cryptic tone.

"Know what? What happened to the other Ronin Warriors?"

"The battle you described, against the winged demons…that happened three days ago."

"THREE DAYS?!" Cye shot to his feet, forgetting how low the roof was, and banged his head against the hard-packed dirt. He clutched the top of his head and swore loudly, trying to brush loosened soil out of his bangs. "All of that-I've been out for three days?! How is that even possible! The others would have dug me out, they would never have let the city fall!"

"You will lower your voice, young Ronin. Righteous or rogue, you will not use that tone or those words in here while my girl sleeps," the woman stated levelly and glared at him. The anger in her eyes compelled Cye to sit, and meekness replaced frustration. The woman waited a few moments before taking another deep breath. "The others…never came for you, because the Enemy likely attacked right after your accident. And they could not stop what happened afterward. They were caught off-guard. Three days ago, there were ten Ronin Warriors. Now, only one remains alive. Cye…you are the last."

Cye couldn't believe his ears at first. He stared at her, that cold, sick feeling creeping into his gut again, the same one he felt after seeing the petrified Incarnations, after seeing Foam Reaver go rigid, only this time a hundred times multiplied. "….How? How could-How?" he stuttered.

"They struck without warning from the skies and rained death upon the city…Cale was the first one to go... I was there during the initial attack, the fight against those demons you talked about." The woman chuckled and shook her head. "Like a foolish, stubborn old woman, I lingered. Hiding in the shadows, cheering my-them on…" she ran her tongue over her dried lips and closed her eyes. "He died most horribly, I think. A streak-a beam of light came from above and…cut him through." The woman drew her hand across her midsection, from one hip to the other. "But he didn't die right away. Another beam came, then another, again and again, each one blasting away his body from the inside out….and I could still hear him screaming!" Tears ran down the wrinkles in her cheeks as she struggled with the memory. "Even after his body was gone…you could still hear him scream and scream…just for a few more seconds."

"Rowen was in the air and tried to retaliate. He saw them first, but before he could attack a bright light enveloped him, and he was gone. Not even ashes were left of him. Sehkmet, that silly, brave man….he went berserk after seeing Cale go, and he unleashed all his fury against the smaller craft, the air fighters, as they appeared. Sage joined him, just as overcome with grief after Rowen was killed, and it seemed as if the two of them would prevail… The last thing I saw before I fled the city was fire, like a tidal wave, sweeping in all directions from downtown… Sehkmet and Sage were incinerated on the edge…just a few seconds from escaping.

"That can't be true. Ryo wouldn't let things come to this! They had time! They had options! What about Raurgoth? What about Inferno, or the Thangiens? They would've answered a call for aid!" Cye sputtered. The woman threw him another quelling glare.

"You still don't understand! Four of them were cut down within minutes, you were lost and buried. Raurgoth tried to avenge the fallen, but the Enemy killed him with their weapons. The White Dragon is a living creature, unlike the others. When he passed, so did the other beasts, for they are bound to him. Only five Ronin remained-" Cye wanted to interject that five, including Tanya, was more than enough to summon Inferno, but the woman's gaze intensified. "The Enemy harried them relentlessly. Dais…poor foolish man…he thought he could use his power to buy them time to hide and form the White Armor. The Enemy saw him… they literally tore him to shreds." The woman gazed at Cye with sad eyes. "They had no time. They had no options."

Cye sat there, both horrified and entranced as the woman continued her grisly account. "Ryo and the others managed to escape and tried to organize a counterattack. By then the…invaders…I suppose they could be called aliens," she muttered absently before resuming. "They began erecting huge bases all throughout the area. Within the day, you could not look in any direction without seeing one. I can only assume the rest of the world has fallen by now, as not even the surviving Ronin could stop them."

"What happened…to the others?" Cye whispered. The woman shuffled over to the fireplace to check the progress of her meal and stirred both pots before sitting back down. She toyed with the corners of her apron then spread it over her lap.

"The…remaining four…attempted a direct assault on the Enemy's capital, which they chose to build outside the city. Kento and Tanya remained outside. They did everything in their ability to keep the Enemy distracted. I don't know how Kento died…I never saw him again after that battle…and Tanya…" Cye frowned when he noticed how the woman's face went rigid after mentioning the Lady Ronin's name. "fell to an insidious trap…impaled her from below.

"Ryo and Anubis tried to attack the core. I heard Ryo was captured…" Again she seemed to choke up, whereas she'd been so calm earlier when describing the others' deaths. "They tortured him…tore off his armor piece by piece…he would not talk, and they killed him…placed his body outside as a warning against those who would oppose.

"Anubis suicided, but not in a cowardly fashion. His last act was to unleash all his power in a desperate attempt to destroy the core…he succeeded in destroying a large portion of the base…but the core prevailed. I heard he said, before the end, that 'the fates had returned him from death many times, and it was his turn to return the favor'. It is tragic his sacrifice was for naught…" The woman turned back to her stew and began setting out dishes and bowls.

"That's it? That's all? It couldn't have ended like that! What about the Thangiens! They're oath bound to protect Earth; it's their ancestral world! They would've come in force to fight!"

"The Thangiens," the woman said the name with contempt. "Oh they came, in all their fury, and all their glory…" The woman stood up and paced along the wall towards some shelves. She turned to Cye. "Where were the Thangiens when the city was all but leveled? Where were the Thangiens when the people were rounded up like cattle and sent to Heaven knows where? Where were the Thangiens when the Enemy swept over the world like a plague?" Her voice rose with each sentence, startling Cye with her rage. "Where were the Thangiens when my son and daughter were torn apa-!" The woman's bellow ceased abruptly as she spun around to face the wall and clamped her hands over her mouth, quaking with grief. She took a step towards the shelves and reached out with one hand, placing her fingers upon two objects.

Cye had to lean to the side to get a decent view, as the woman obscured the shelf with her thin body, but he saw just enough to make out a vaguely recognizable shard of golden metal that branched out into two short crests and a broken black emblem with a symbol made of several S-shaped streaks surrounding a red eye. Before Cye could ponder what the objects were and where they came from, the woman turned back to him and composed herself, wiping away tears.

"Thanged has fallen. The lavender-haired one came with many riders, and at first it seemed they would indeed avenge the Ronin. But then the Enemy unleashed a terrible, terrible weapon that seemed to snuff out the very souls of their valiant steeds. The metal horses fell dead, one by one, and with them their riders, plummeting to their deaths. The Dynasty, no longer honor-bound to remain in their realm, used the great gate to flood into the planet. The Thangiens had already suffered devastating losses, and though they fought bravely and killed many, in the end, only numbers mattered, and they were overwhelmed. Not even their gods would save them."

The only sounds in the room after she finished speaking came from the crackling of the fire and the bubbling of the fish soup, which the woman hurried to attend and began ladling portions into the prepared bowls. "So now you know what transpired while you were gone. I've heard of colonies situated deep underground where the last of the free people live. I never saw fit to join one. I've lived well enough on my own here. If you choose, I will give you directions to the nearest one, or you are more than welcome to remain here with us-"

"I'm not staying." Cye stated suddenly. The woman glanced at him. "You said the core is located in the base outside the city? Destroy it, and they all fall?" The woman nodded, appearing confused by the odd question. "I'm leaving. First thing after I've rested up, I'm heading out. One way or another, I will destroy that core."

"You will destroy yourself! What makes you think you'd succeed as one where neither the Ronin nor Thangiens could with many?"

"Maybe they don't know I'm the last. Maybe they won't notice me till it's too late. I'd rather die in battle than live out the rest of my life huddling in a cave like a coward!" Cye noticed the look the woman gave him, but he didn't care if he came off sounding rude. Courtesy had been Sage's specialty, and he was dead. Cye relaxed and shook his head. "Like it or not, I'm still a Ronin Warrior, and I am duty bound to fight the enemy and avenge my friends."

The woman eyed him with a mixture of respect and pity. "Well…if your heart is that set on your quest…you can at least stay the night here and rest warmly. Put some food in your stomach," she gestured to the bowls of soup. Cye blushed and averted his gaze.

"I don't eat fish," he mumbled. The woman smiled merrily, the first time since before she began her tale, and held up a plate of vegetables.

"Meat is hard to come by these days, so you'll have to settle for these." Cye gratefully accepted the plate and ate heartily. "I don't know much about the Enemy's inner workings. There are many traps and sensors that only react to those not of their kind. Their primary base has a series of pipes that extend to the edge of the bay. One might be able to sneak in through there before drawing too much attention. Blue pipes mark places that require a great deal of power, likely places of importance. The core was located at the center, though it may have been relocated after Anubis' attack. There remain a great deal of sentinels and flyers about, but the core itself is not heavily guarded…as if they don't expect anyone to attack it again. They are that sure of their might…and that could very well prove their undoing."

Sky fighters flew by in a loose formation, idly surveying the area. They had their sensors on any threat from the air, not from the sea, and didn't notice the ripples moving towards the opening of a drain pipe. Black plate-covered hands reached up and grabbed the edge. A light blue and silver form hauled itself up into the rim and disappeared into the shadows.

Cye smirked when he noticed how relatively untouched the ocean was. His body had been replenished with the woman's generous meal, and his armor's power was at its peak so close to the bay and its birthplace. "Allright you metal monstrosities, time to wake up with a cold splash of saltwater!" Cye hefted his trident and readied himself to summon his ultimate attack, but as he harnessed Torrent's power, another word formed in his mind, as if augmenting his armor.

Humanoid figures, not as heavily armored as the sentinels, lugged canisters to and from the nexus of the pipes. The one standing closest to the hatch turned around when it heard a strange cry echoing from the distant darkness. "SAVAGE SUPERWAVE SMASHER!!" Before the drones had a chance to react, tens of millions of gallons of seawater surged out of the relatively small opening with enough force to tear apart their metallic bodies. Focused by the pipe, the deluge plowed through walls, conduits, and hapless drones and sentinels. Even though their bodies were designed to be relatively waterproof, that did not help when the flood struck with such force to rival any of their energy weapons. Water that came in contact with hot surfaces erupted into thick steam clouds that filled the air. Within seconds, the majority of the base was flooded. As the waters seemed to lose force and began receding, those remaining drones and sentinels that had not suffered the brunt of the blast congregated around the opening.

Wet-sounding metallic footsteps echoed from further down the pipe. Some sentinels raised energy rifles and aimed at the darkness. One of the drones raised a thick lens and light flooded into the pipe, just far enough to make out a humanoid figure approaching. The sentinels made humming, chirping sounds among themselves, sounding almost confused about the heavily armored being. Suddenly the figure vanished and reappeared right infront of them. The last thing they saw was the almost sadistic smirk on the face of the young man.

Plates, parts, and wires flew in all directions as Cye cut into the throng, performing moves he never would have used before. These things weren't human, and all he had left was vengeance and hate for those who slaughtered his friends. He screamed as he drove his trident into the chest of a sentinel, slamming it onto the floor and twisting the weapon in his hand like winding a fork through noodles. He felt satisfied as the constructs writhed and twitched as his weapon tore out critical wires and nodes. One drone headed to a panel on a wall and reached as if to press something. Cye spotted it and lunged, bashing it across the face with the blunt end of his trident then sweeping up and chopping off its right arm. The drone made a digital sounding whine, as if pleading, but Cye was devoid of any sympathy.

"Don't like it much when *you're* the one caught off guard? It's not as fun when *you're* the one being sliced in two, is it?!!" he howled and cut down the last fleeing sentinel by stabbing it in the back. He took a few moments to catch his breath and survey the room. He noticed blue pipes along the wall, just as the woman described to him. Pulsing light led away from the facility, and Cye followed it into a large corridor. He happened upon another unfortunate group coming to investigate the source of the flood. He left them in pieces and continued walking, not noticing the bright red liquid dribbling out from severed limbs and torsos.

Thick fog hung in the air, making things difficult for the drones working to clean conduits and systems damaged by water. One of them looked up when it heard metallic footsteps. Fog swirled away in the wake of the person walking towards them. The drone made a frantic sounding chirp and a quartet of sentinels rushed over and fired with their energy rifles.

Cye wasn't the least bit worried. He could easily avoid each blast, and he had a laser of his own. One by one the sentinels fell back, their skulls pierced with high pressure water blasts. The drones met similar fates, and Cye kicked aside their corpses as he continued on his way. The pipes led him to a large chamber with walls covered in screens and panels. Some sort of control center. Cye raised his trident and prepared to do some redecorating.

"Cye? Is that you?" Cye froze when he heard his name called and turned around.

"I know that voice…" he spotted a humanoid figure standing by a corner, shadowed by a thick pillar. "Rowen? Rowen, is that really you?"

"I noticed your calling card and came to investigate," the voice chuckled. Cye recognized the shape as definitely being Rowen. He couldn't quite see him clearly, but for some reason the eyes seemed to shimmer, like those of an animal facing a bright light.

"She told me you were dead! That you'd been killed in the first assault!"

"Who?" the shadow that spoke with Rowen's voice asked, curious.

"Well, the woman, the old lady in the forest. The flyers chased me out of town and I managed to lose them near a river, but I passed out and she saved me and took me to her home. Well, I wouldn't call it a home. More of a cave if you ask me…"

"That so?" There was a long pause then the figure raised its wrist to its mouth. "Attention flight commanders. Target has been confirmed to be dwelling southwest of base. Target is underground, so search for heat signatures and locate. Leave no survivors."

Cye's jaw dropped in horror and he heard the whine of engines through the roof. "Rowen!! What are you doing! They'll kill her!" he screamed. The figure shifted to one side.

"That's kind of the idea," Rowen's voice said calmly. The figure took a step towards Cye, moving out of the shadows. "I really should thank you. The old woman has been a thorn in our sides for quite some time. She thinks we don't notice her, sneaking into the courtyard, blubbering and crying about those rotting carcasses we put on display. She even snuck away with a few pieces of armor. Every time we send scouts to follow she gives us the slip, but your clue about living underground in the forest narrows things down."

"Ryo and Tanya's bodies…she was their mother?" Cye whispered, now understanding the significance of the woman's words and why she kept the broken part of Ryo's helmet crest and Tanya's chest insignia. Now she would join her children because of his actions.

"The pathetic rabble calling itself a resistance force will be short one of its leaders, and soon the rest will follow until there is no opposition left." Rowen stepped fully into the light. Cye's horror intensified when he saw clearly what he couldn't see through shadow.

At first glance it looked as if the figure wore armor, but the fit was far too close. Gold colored plates covered the shoulders, elbows, knees, and collarbone. The trademark blue hair remained mostly intact, including the thick forelock hanging down between the eyes over the thin metal band that went across the forehead. The skin looked pale, almost white, and thin metal wires ran over the skin from the sides of the head to the cheek on either side, ending in three flat studs. Thin tubes seemed to go into the skin where the jugular veins should have been. The only flesh visible remained on the head, and from the neck down, gleaming bluish metal covered the body.

"My God…what have they done to you?" Cye breathed, feeling sickened.

"'They'? They didn't do anything to me. I chose this." Cye could only listen to the construct with Rowen's face as it continued talking. "The woman told you I was killed in the first attack, didn't she? Heh, I wasn't killed. I was *saved*. When I saw Cale go down, I suppose I wanted to do the human thing and avenge him, but then the light came, and next thing I knew I found myself aboard their vessel. They showed me their plans, and the truth behind everything." Rowen took a step towards Cye, who involuntarily took a step back. "Cye, you were right all along, from the very beginning! The fighting would never end for us. We'd always have to clean up the mistakes of mortals. Humans would never find peace unless-"

"Humanity itself was changed…" Cye muttered. Rowen snapped his fingers.

"Exactly! Cye, these guys, they aren't the villains everyone's been painting them out to be. More people have been saved than killed, and those that were killed fought because they wouldn't understand. They refuse to accept the truth and embrace a peaceful future."

"I can't believe that…I won't! The Rowen I know would never suggest such things!"

"The Rowen you know is dead!" Rowen snapped and narrowed his eyes, which Cye found he couldn't look at directly. They disturbed him too much, the way miniscule wires flashed and plates shifted where the iris should have been. "He died and was reborn, free from human frailties and faults. Cye…" Rowen's expression softened, appearing almost sympathetic. "I wasn't converted in time to save the others. They threw their lives away fighting blindly."

Before Cye left the woman's cave, he told her about the prisoners he'd seen on the train, and that one of them had said something about "being converted". She replied: "I do not know, and if I knew, I would not tell you, for it would be too terrible to describe let alone understand."

"But you're here. You're alive, and that means there's still hope. Think about it; a world without hunger, without avarice or fear." *Without freedom…* "An end to wars and death, an end to the endless fighting. Think about it Cye. Together we can help build a world that no longer needs Ronin Warriors." Rowen extended a hand in a gesture of friendship, but all Cye could do was stare at it and the way the finger joints looked more like hinges than bone and flesh covered in metal. Rowen waited expectantly for an answer, while Cye remained silent.

"How can it," he muttered dully, breaking the silence.


"How can the world need Ronin Warriors…" Cye whispered then squeezed his eyes shut and looked Rowen in the eye, face twisted with rage. "You killed them! All of them! Every single one! Murderer….TRAITOR!!" Cye snarled and gripped his weapon tight. Rowen withdrew his hand and scowled, all trace of the camaraderie he displayed earlier vanishing from his face.

"Anubis said the exact same thing." Cye's eyes widened upon hearing that. "I don't know why I thought you'd be more reasonable than him. He was supposed to be the most reasonable out of all of us." Cye noticed a part of Rowen's right arm rise up, exposing a tube-shaped apparatus. "If I cannot convince you to embrace this greater truth, I have no choice but to destroy you," Rowen spoke with a robotic tone more befitting of the sentinels or drones.

"DIIIIIEEEE!!" Cye screamed at the top of his lungs and thrust. Rowen took aim and got off a single shot before the three sharp blades plunged through his torso and out his back. A mess of wires and broken circuit boards clung to the tips. Cye stood there with his arm extended, face twisted in rage. Rowen stared at him sadly.

"…Cye…uuugh…" Rowen let out a last rattling sigh before toppling backwards onto the floor. Cye lowered his weapon and glanced at the blades, not surprised to see no trace of flesh or blood staining the tips. The Rowen he knew had died long ago, and the construct he'd killed was but a hideous mockery of the noble Ronin of Air. Sorrow replaced anger, and Cye stared at the sparking mortal wound a few moments before deciding to continue with his mission.

Cye had barely taken a step when he registered a sharp, burning pain in his right side, just below the ribcage. He staggered to the side and braced his hand against a wall and looked down to examine the source of the pain. He spotted a small hole the size of a coin in the armor, and out of curiosity, poked one finger inside, surprised when it went in all the way to the knuckle. He looked over his shoulder and down his back and glimpsed another hole mirroring the first. The armor around the edge looked singed. "Oh… not good…" he commented. Even in death, Rowen's aim had been accurate, and while the laser blast likely cauterized the wound, it would be only a matter of time before it would bleed again and his body would feel the effects.

*I don't have much time left…please, let me live long enough to finish this last battle…* Cye prayed to no god in particular. "My friends! …Rowen," Cye didn't notice the glistening trail running down Rowen's cheek. "I'll be joining you soon!" He couldn't save the woman, or himself, but he could finish what his friends had started.

The elderly woman knelt outside the covered entrance and plucked roots out, dusting them off gently before placing them in a basket. A traditional garden would've looked too conspicuous to overhead patrols, so she planted seed among other short plants, letting them grow naturally. She hummed to herself as she worked, but paused when she heard a different sort of hum and looked to the east. Silvery dots appeared in the sky and grew larger. Soon they took on the shapes of fighter craft. She grabbed the basket and crept into the opening, drawing the grassy cover over it, and peeked out through a crack. The craft weren't flying at a sustained altitude…they were making a beeline for the cave! The woman dropped the basket and ran inside, all the way to the back of the dwelling and into the small room reserved for sleeping. She knelt down beside the slumbering small form on the floor and scooped it up in her arms.

"I love you. I love you so, so much! No matter what happens, no matter what they do, we will always be together!" she whispered and patted the shiny black hair.

"Hello Momma…" the girl mumbled sleepily. The woman rocked back and forth on her heels, listening to the increasingly louder whine of the approaching sky fighters.

The fifty or so sentinels and shock troopers guarding the entry to the core were no match for Cye, driven as he was by desperation and determination. A single high pressure blast disabled the magnetic locks and the doors slid open. Cye staggered into the massive circular chamber and gazed up at the pillar of spiraling light extending out of an immense pit. He remembered what the woman said about Anubis suiciding and had an idea of how he did it. Anubis drew his power from rage and battle, but what greater fury than that of the seas? This would be Cye's last act, and he would not fail. He aimed his trident at the pit and closed his eyes.

*"Even if you destroy me, others will take my place, for I am one of many,"* a deep voice rumbled from the direction of the pillar. Cye opened his eyes and looked up, surprised to see particles of bright light swirling within the pillar. They began to take on a familiar shape.


*"You call me by one name, but I am known by others. I am those that exist now, and those that have yet to come."* The particles shifted again, and formed the faint outline of a tall lizard-like creature. Then they took on the form of a handsome young man wearing strangely shaped armor. *"Your fight encompasses not only the city, or this world, or even other worlds. You are both destined and cursed to take unto your shoulders the guardianship of the entire galaxy!"* The shape changed again, becoming that of a seductive woman wearing an elegant gown, then changing to that of a stocky cat-like creature with a flaring mane and long flanged tail.

*"I will test and torture you. No matter how many incarnations you defeat or kill, I will always return. You are doomed to fight as long as you draw breath and exist as a Ronin Warrior. Until you die all together, the Ronin Warriors will always be expected to protect others. I will come at any time, take any form, and you will fight, but where one falls, another will rise. You are your own shackles which bind you into eternal servitude! Servitude to the weak!"*

"I won't allow it! I will destroy you here and now! I will end this!" Cye screamed. All of his fury, love, hate, and sorrow he poured into his trident and hurled it into the pit. The particles assumed the shape of Talpa again as the floor cracked open. "I NOW KNOW WHY I AM A RONIN WARRIOR!!!"

*"Deluded fool! I am immortal! I am omnipotent!"* The particles changed shape to the draconian creature. *"I am timeless! I am-!"* The apparition's monologue was cut short by the quaking emanating from the pit. Cye's armor glowed with brilliant blue light. He didn't realize immediately that he was tapping into a power far greater, and much more ancient than the armors. The complex shuddered and cracks widened, extending deep into the crust.

Far away outside the city ruins, fighters sat parked on the scorched ground. Smoke drifted up from a smoldering crater, and surrounding plants and trees crackled with flame. The fabric of a bright blue swatch of cloth curled as fire ate away at it. Sentinels picked through the site, searching for any surviving life. One of them kicked aside a scorched black and gold symbol. They all looked up and to the east when they heard a loud crashing sound. If able to, their eyes would've widened at the sight of a gargantuan wall of water surging over the land.

All over the planet, the ground cracked and collapsed as every drop of water pounced up out of the seas and onto each continent, enveloping and crushing all of the bases built by the Enemy. Through the rage of one person, the world was destroyed, and soon, remade.


When Cye opened his eyes, he was more surprised by the fact that he had eyes than his surroundings. "Where am I?" his voice echoed. "What is this place?" Cye looked about wildly, trying to make sense out of nonexistence. "Am I in Heaven? Wow…it looks just like everyone says it does…" he glanced about at thick walls of fluffy white clouds, expecting to see pearly gates. Then the clouds began to dissipate, and soon Cye found himself standing in what looked like a large room with a wooden floor and tall glass windows. Warm sunlight shone against a series of blank canvases propped upon easels scattered along the walls. Plants hung in pots suspended from the ceiling and wind chimes sang delicately.

"Am I dead? I am dead, right, I mean I have to be after doing all that…what *did* I do?" Cye said absently, trying to remember the word he spoke before everything faded.

"You are neither dead or alive," a feminine voice spoke, sounding much younger than that of the elderly woman. This voice, however, sounded quite familiar. Cye turned around, trying to find the speaker. "But caught between the waking and the dreaming."

"It can't be. It's impossible!" he gasped when he saw the person standing atop a set of shallow stairs. Her hair hung down over her shoulders and thin reddish bangs hung over gentle emerald eyes. She wore a simple white dress and a knit shawl draped over her shoulders and arms. Gone was the sorrow and fury she carried for centuries from the last time they met, and only timeless peace and kindness remained.

"You of all people should know that nothing is impossible," the young woman said and smiled. "It's been a long time, Cye of the Torrent. I am pleased that you-oh!" the woman gasped in surprise when Cye lunged and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, burying his face into the knitted wool of the shawl. The woman smiled radiantly and placed one hand on the back of his head and the other on his shoulder, returning the embrace.

"I am so glad to see you!" Cye breathed and choked back a sob.

"As am I. I have watched you since, and it gladdens me that you haven't lost your kind spirit. Though the world goes mad and the cold winds of war sweep over the land, the single spark of kindness prevails through all. I pray you never lose that spark. It lends you strength greater than your mortal flesh or even your armor," she said as they parted and stood facing each other.

"You said I'm not really dead. What is all of this then? Was all of that the future?"

"No, what I showed you was not what will happen. It is what *could* happen, if you and the other Ronin Warriors are not prepared for what awaits. As you've discovered through the past few months, there are threats other than the Dynasty you will face. It is an endless cycle, battle. At every point in history, where reigns one overwhelming force of evil, overwhelming good rises to defeat it. Where good reigns supreme, evil soon creeps in to undermine it." As she spoke, Cye saw a curious series of images in his mind. Two immense dragons, one like Raurgoth as if he wore the Inferno Armor, and the other black and wearing sinisterly crafted armor, circled each other, one rising above the other, ascending higher and higher. As they battled, Cye called to mind an ancient symbol. "And in pursuing battle, there is balance."

"Balance…through battle?" Cye raised an eyebrow and glanced to the side.

"I don't expect you to understand completely. It confused me too, at first," she chuckled. "Do not hold despair in your heart, however. As you are one of the Ten Ronin Warriors, so are the Ronin one of many factions." She turned around and gestured to one of the blank canvases. Thick lines of black ink crisscrossed over the white fabric, forming a strange design. "While I no longer see clearly the future, there are a few signs I will share with you.

"Warrior folk with righteous might. Dragonmen shall join the fight. Last, not least, he comes at night; a silver shadow seeking light." The image formed was that of three figures: a humanoid one wielding a sword, a tall reptilian creature baring its claws, and a dark-skinned saurian beast lunging forward. The three stood side by side, and the style was unlike anything he'd ever seen before with black triangular eyes. "You've encountered the first of these allies."

"The Thangiens…"

"Yes. I don't like them…" she muttered, sounding disappointed. She folded her arms over her chest and ran her fingers along the shawl. "They may have come from Earth, and they may claim they are human, but they are not human. All their ballads are written in blood, and they sing songs of steel. Their hearts are wild and dark…ooohhh!" She shuddered as if suddenly chilled and wrapped her arms around herself. Cye reached out and placed a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. She glanced at him and smiled. "I'm glad they have not swayed you. But while I do not approve of their practices or beliefs, they are crucial to your coming battles. The second ally will appear soon, but you will need all three for the last great battle."

"End Tide…"

"When all good heroes will die. As I said, the cycle is endless, but with the passing of one generation, a newer, younger one shall take its place. Even if good can never reign forever, its reign can last for centuries. Your death will ensure such peace." Cye smiled at that notion, that his fighting *would* make a difference. "Know this. The enemy you faced, the invaders who presumed to shape humanity to their whims…is the enemy you will face in the Entide."

"So there is no way to change this future? There is no way to save-"

"How does a hero become a hero? Is he born righteous and good, or does he begin in depravity and cruelty before repenting and redemption?" Cye remembered Anubis. "How does a villain become a villain? Is he born always hateful and selfish, or does he begin in glory and honor before descending into madness and despair?" And Cye recalled the tragic vision of Rowen. "All roads are set in stone, and while the destination cannot be altered, the ways to get there are endless. And after the destination is reached, a new journey begins."

"I think I'm starting to understand…" Cye commented. The woman reached up and tousled his hair and Cye chuckled and smiled.

"Give it time." Her expression became stern and she clasped her hands over her stomach. "There are other prophecies I will give you, but their meanings I will leave to you to decipher." She turned to another blank canvas and lines appeared, forming a crude image of what had to be Kento, arms raised as if preparing to strike something. A fainter outline surrounded him, but of what, Cye couldn't tell immediately. "When Rock and Fire stand opposed, and Wind drifts on afar, the Spirit Springs and the Rune Waters will tame the Avatar."

Lines appeared on another canvas, forming the image of a winged figure reaching out to catch another. "With a crack and a groan went the ground to the hollow. As he fell his friend dove, but he bade him not follow. He vanished from sight to a darkened abode, and his departure inflicted much sorrow." The winged figure was that of Ryo wearing Dragon sub-armor, and the one falling had to be Sage, judging from the hairstyle.

"Foe's great malice flares aglow, into burning pools they go. Stronger, different, not as before. Ronin Armors are no more." Lines showing several figures falling into flame formed on a fourth canvas. She pointed at the fifth and last canvas.

"Three wars you'll fight before you go; wars of Rage, Wrath, and Woe. The things you've learned, do not forget; your duty is not over yet." Suzunagi looked at Cye again. "Remember what I said: Not all is what will be, but what could be. The destination remains the same, but the ways to get there are endless. I will return you now to the waking. Your friends are worried."

"I know…I can feel that now."

"Good." Suzunagi smiled again, with all the pride and gentleness of a mother looking upon her child. "Never lose your kindness, or your love."

"I won't forget. Not ever…" Cye closed his eyes and faded from sight. Soon the cozy room faded as well, but the figure of the tall slim woman remained. No one else remained to see the curious transformation which took place as red hair changed to a light silvery-gray, growing longer and reaching to the waist. The shawl and gown melted into a militaristic uniform with high white crests extending from the shoulders and yellow gauntlets and boots covering the hands and feet. A gray sash crossed the chest from the left shoulder to the right hip, and blue fabric of varying hues and shades covered thighs, arms, and torso.

*"While I regret resorting to this sort of deception, but it is necessary if he is to be swayed,"* the woman spoke with an echoing voice. She looked up and opened her eyes, no longer soft green, but with jet black irises and potent steel-gray pupils. *"There can be no hesitation when the Entide comes. THEY MUST BE PREPARED."* The last sentence came with a loud boom, reverberating throughout the dreamscape, and yet the woman did not move her lips. At last she departed, and the dreamscape ceased to be.

The mere act of opening his eyes seemed to take incredible effort, but at last Cye could see his true surroundings. He lay in what looked like a hospital bed, with his neck and back braced against thick white pillows and thin linen sheets covering his body from the chest down. He blinked several times to adjust to the light of the room before taking notice of the man standing at the foot of his bed. He looked a great deal older, middle aged roughly, with blonde hair combed neat and straight. He held a clipboard in one hand and thumbed through sheets of paper. He happened to glance to the side out the corner of his eye and saw Cye looking at him.

"Wow. Look who finally decided to wake up! How are you feeling?" the man asked.

"Tired…" Cye's gaze drifted down towards the man's name badge, which read Dr. Charles O'Connor. "You're Shannon's dad, aren't you?"

"In the flesh. Pleased to make your acquaintance, though you were too unresponsive at the start," Dr. O'Connor extended his hand and Cye shook it politely.

"How long was I out?"

"Three days." Cye nodded and sat up in bed slowly. "While there wasn't any sign of severe head trauma, you continued to remain unconscious, even though you were otherwise perfectly healthy. Judging from the high levels of brain activity, however, you appeared to be operating in a dream-like state. Whatever it was, it must've been intense. You gave us a real scare the other day when you flat lined."

"I died?!" Cye's eyes widened.

"Technically for only a second or so. Care to tell me what happened?" Dr. O'Connor set the clipboard back in its shelf and turned to Cye. Cye bit his lip and frowned.

"I need to speak to Ryo first…is he here?"

"Just outside." The doctor stepped over to the door and opened it up a crack. "He's awake," he called to the other room. Suddenly the door swung open and Charles almost lost his balance.

"CYE!! Dude, I am SO sorry I knocked that building down on you! I didn't mean to-"

"OUT! He asked for Ryo! You'll get your turn soon enough!" Charles barked and pressed his hand against Kento's face and shoved him back into the other room.

"How do you expect him to forgive you, now that you went and told him you're the one that did it?" a voice belonging to Sehkmet snickered.

"If he asked for Ryo it must be something important," Tanya commented. Cye could see into the other room a bit and spied the figures of Rowen and Anubis standing against the opposite wall. Rowen muttered something to Anubis, who nodded, and Cye caught a glimpse of a third person; Sage. Cye shuddered involuntarily, remembering the possible future and the version of his friend he'd encountered there. Rowen glanced in his direction and nodded in agreement to something Sage said. Charles stepped to the side to make way for Ryo and exited the room himself, closing the door behind him.

Ryo eyed Cye with a neutral expression and leaned against the door, arms folded over his chest. "Welcome back. Feeling better I assume?"

"As good as can be expected given all that I went through," Cye chuckled ruefully and drew his knees up and rest his arms across them.

"The doc said you were dreaming. About what?"

"The future. Or what might be the future. I saw the world taken over in less than a day, and you and all the others were dead." Cye didn't see fit to tell what happened to Rowen, fearing Ryo would find it more unsettling than he had. "Ryo…I saw *her*." Cye didn't need to elaborate on who he meant by "her", as Ryo nodded understandingly. "She showed me things…things I don't completely understand, but things that are real." Cye crossed his legs and set his hands on his knees, averting his gaze. "Entide will happen in our lifetime, and the Ronin Warriors will have to fight in it, but the battlefield isn't going to be Thanged."

Cye looked at Ryo worriedly. "It'll be Earth."