WILDCAT to the Rescue

By Mardrena

"ROWEN! These piece of shit wrist-coms of yours won't stay put!"

"Well, maybe you wouldn't be having problems if you ate more and had wrists with a circumference greater than that of a stick!"

"Tanya, we're supposed to use these to relay information…"

"I am relaying information! I'm informing him that his gadgets suck!"

"You're just gonna have to wait until the Thunthen manufacture more of that elastic material."

"C'mon guys, keep channels clean, okay?"

"Tell that to your sister. She's the one cussing loud enough to wilt flowers!"

"*censored* YOU!"

"I can't say I ever heard Ander use that particular expletive before…" Naz Dassyr muttered as he stood close to the console and listened to the exchange relayed over the open channel. He arched an eyebrow and looked down at Miz Paufan, who sat in the chair. "Ugh! How much of that stuff must you insist on consuming!" he sneered as Miz snacked from a large bucket.

"Would you like to try some? It's quite tasty," the Common mumbled though a mouthful of buttered popcorn and held the bucket up towards Naz. Naz snorted and turned away, folding his arms over his chest. Unfortunately, the Captain had forbidden him from 'disciplining' Miz anymore, likely at the insistence of one of the Ronin; particularly Cye.

"Still no sign of any Dynasty goons?"

"Nope. None. Why go though the trouble of showing up on the evening news then up and vanishing as soon as we get here?"

"They intend to engage us on their terms, for whatever reason. Be on your guard."

"Um! Guys! Hello? Mayday! Emergency! Or something!" Miz stiffened in his seat when he heard Kento's transmission through high-pitched popping noises. "I'm being hit hard here!"

"Is that…gunfire?" Naz narrowed his eyes.

"Attention all other Ronin! Kento is taking heavy fire in his post!" Miz announced.

"You're not talking about the kind of fire Ryo makes, are you?"

"No. Ryo's the closest to his position. He's about a block due northeast of you."

"Gotcha. Kento! Any chance you can give me a visual reference for your area?"

"No, cuz my arms are rather occupied at the moment," Kento muttered as he had his facemask down and held both arms to shield himself from the withering hail of small projectiles.

A different sort of Dynasty Soldier than any had ever seen held one arm raised and fired a steady stream what looked-and sounded-like bullets from a protruding section of its arm. The design of the armor closely resembled the classic style, except the body looked less bulky. Kento seethed at being forced on the defensive and weighed options in his mind. He remembered the secondary abilities of his bo and wondered how far his control extended. He concentrated on the claw cables built into the ends and tried to will them to emerge and strike his foe.

The gambit paid off and the claws whisked out and struck the Dynasty Soldier in the face from opposite sides. Kento sprang forward as soon as he heard the gunfire cease and retracted both cables then struck the soldier multiple times, crushing the head into the chest cavity and striking it hard enough in the right shoulder to almost sever the arm from the body. Any triumphant joy Kento started to feel melted to confusion when he saw the body sparking.

Kento cried out and convulsed when something struck him in the back and sent a violent current through his body. He tumbled forward and shakily pushed himself to hands and knees then looked to the side. His eyes widened when he saw multiple barrels like those found on Tanya's clawnchers hovering close to his face; close enough that if they opened fire; he couldn't be certain that one of the projectiles wouldn't find their way through his eyes or neck.

"How foolish of you, Ronin Warrior, to assume we would be alone," a second soldier laughed and clenched its fist. The barrels began rotating. Kento felt sweat streaming under his armor.

A flaming blade severed the arm at the elbow. The soldier grunted in annoyance and turned to face his attacker, but a second slash decapitated it neatly. Ryo positioned himself between the soldier and Kento, but frowned when he didn't see the billowing cloud that signaled the retreat of the spirit inside. The still-standing body retrieved a spear with a crackling tip from its back and tried to stab at Ryo aimlessly, but Ryo easily dodged each attack. Ryo watched bewildered and stepped out of the way as the body toppled towards him. The body staggered forward a few steps then tried to turn around. This time, Kento struck it in the side, breaking the remaining arm at the joint. The body sparked and sputtered before falling still.

"What the heck was that thing!? Some freaking Dynasty Droid, or something?"

"I dunno…but it explains why they waited to attack until we split up to find them," Ryo muttered and looked at the remains of the first soldier. He frowned when he realized they had yet to vanish. He knelt down and picked up the arm he'd severed earlier. He turned it about in his hands and studied the mechanism that protruded from the length of the arm.

"This is a magnificent gift, Shannon. Thank you!" Danae praised as she and Dais examined the white leather-bound book embossed with gold letters reading "Our Wedding Memories". Dais opened the book and flipped through the pages filled with pictures from the Pairing.

"Oh, Sehk looks like he's having fun there," Dais chuckled when viewing a photo of the closing concert. "How'd you get these developed without any questions?"

"The guy I went to is a friend of my Dad's, plus I told him the services were held overseas. He believed me," Shannon explained and grinned. "I still got the negatives in case you want larger prints for your walls," Shannon said and glanced about the newly-excavated chamber.

"Bare walls and empty halls do not a home make," the three looked to the entryway and saw the elderly Tar Uhnin. "We can only do so much with stone. Additional furnishings would have to be provided elsewhere. Perhaps your mother could have some things sent from home?"

"Of course," Danae replied with a smile.

"Hey, I heard about the little heirloom you gave to her," Shannon spoke up and nodded towards the sword Gold Wing, which Danae had taken to carrying slung across her back almost constantly lately. "You sure it was a good idea giving that to her? She is pregnant, you know."

"Oh, there's no one more qualified to carry it! She's a Protector," Tar insisted.

"I've heard that several times. There a special meaning to it or something?" Dais asked.

"A Protector is…um…" Danae began and raised a knuckle to her lip. She smiled and glanced at Tar, apparently inviting him to provide his own insight. Tar returned the smile and nodded.

"In Thangien society, it's fairly rare for a family to have more than four children. The numerous Traels winnow the population. Yainae herself is the last survivor out of eight siblings. Families so blessed tend to ascribe roles to their children patterned after the Four Queens.

"Azuro is the Retributor. He is Witheren to the family, and as such is the first to meet swift and bloody vengeance upon those who would cause harm to the family. Aurora was the first to have children of her own, and represents Ritho as the Mother. She tends to be the compassionate and sensible sort. Danae is the Protector. She takes the role of Roth by placing herself between harm and her loved ones. Australa embodies Eyurodin as the Crafter. The youngest tends to be unburdened by the rigors of combat, and this allows ingenuity to flourish.

"Aurora is a capable warrior in her own right, nearly a Metraind herself despite the stress of delivering two strong sons. As I told Rowen the other day, an angry mother can be quite dangerous, but an expectant mother can be even more so," Tar explained and carefully placed a palm over Danae's stomach. Danae smiled and giggled softly.

"I can sorta see where he's coming from…after all, it's the lioness you have to worry about more, not the lion," Dais commented. The four of them shared a merry chuckle. Meanwhile, out in the hallway, Bak and Bau observed them.

"Captain…doesn't he look sort of like…well…without the bleached hair and missing eye of course…do you think he knows?" Bau whispered.

"No. Nor do I think we should tell him," Bak replied. Bau opened his mouth to protest, but Bak shook his head. "Keep in mind, old friend; we are guests in their company. We should not trouble them with the burdens of the past. They must learn the truth on their own."

Further down the residential hall in another newly-cleared chamber, Cale examined his designated room with all the glee of a boy. "I can scarcely believe it! We each get to have our own rooms? No more sharing beds! No more sharing bathrooms?"

"With all the comforts of the modern age. The Thunthen have worked wonders with this complex," Anubis said and gestured to the walls. "The volcano may be extinct, but it is by no means dead. The Thunthen were able to tap deep into the Earth's heat and use the energy to power various amenities such as lighting and air conditioning, along with-"

"THERMAL HOOOT SPRIIIINGS!" a voice sang merrily from further down the hall. Cale and Anubis exited the room and approached the speaker. They found Sehkmet, wearing sub-armor, sitting up to his chest in steaming bubbling water. "Bau and the Apprentices rigged this up by piping water in from the lake and circulating it in one of the old volcanic pits."

"You're gonna rust in there at this rate," Cale snorted.

"Right now, I'm feeling too good to care," Sehkmet moaned and immersed himself up to his chin in the simmering bath. Cale shook his head while Anubis wrinkled his nose.

"Sponge…" he sneered.

At the same time far away in the cavern complex, Ryo walked towards the newly completed infirmary and peered inside the medium-sized chamber. "Naz? You said you wanted to see me?"

"Hmm? Yes," Naz looked up from where he hunched over the remains of the decapitated Dynasty construct laid out upon one of the sturdy metal tables. Ryo walked over and stood on the opposite side of the table. "Your understanding of these beings is far deeper than mine, so perhaps you can offer me some insight as to their nature." Naz reached down and picked something up with his claws. "Can you tell me what this is?"

The object he held looked like a translucent bluish-gray ball, but closer inspection revealed multiple facets. Ryo leaned closer and squinted when he noticed a seething substance within the object. "It…it kinda looks like Nether essence…it's the stuff that comes out of Dynasty Soldiers when we kill'em," Ryo explained. Naz raised an eyebrow and glanced at the ruined body.

"So you're telling me this houses the emdour…the, um…consciousness?" Ryo nodded. "Hmm…I wonder then, if I were to subject it to a slight current…" Naz carried the object to another table and set it within an apparatus of some sort with multiple thin wires connecting it to one of the Thunthen computer tablets. Ryo watched amazed at how Naz managed to work with such intricate equipment despite the dagger-like claws. Naz stroked a claw over the tablet.

"-WHO ARE YOU WHO DARES HOLD MY SPIRIT HOSTAGE! I DEMAND YOU RELEASE ME PITIFUL MORTAL!" a gruff voice erupted from somewhere on the apparatus.

"You are in no position to make demands, my disembodied friend," Naz drawled. "We have a great deal of questions we would ask of you, and you will answer them all."


"Wow, we got a regular chatterbox here…" Ryo muttered. Naz arched both red eyebrows and moved his hand over to the tablet screen.

"Is…that…so… I served under the command of Sur Daggur in his prime," Naz placed his palm against the screen and turned it to the side slightly. Ryo's eyes widened when he heard what sounded like a shriek of agony coming from the apparatus. "And I remain quite well versed in the art of torture," Naz snarled. His lips peeling back over his teeth seemed reminiscent of Mal Daggur. Naz pressed the pad again, and again the spirit of the Dynasty Soldier screamed.

"Whoa! Naz, stop! We don't do this!" Ryo scolded. Naz paused and looked at him. "Not even to our enemies. We don't treat them like this, that's not how we run things," Ryo stated and shook his head and waved his hands. Naz's expression softened, looking understanding rather than disdainful. He nodded slowly and removed his hand from the pad.

"Ootonim," he said in the Thunthen language.

"HAH! WHAT NEED HAVE THE DYNASTY TO FEAR FROM SUCH A SQUEAMISH RONIN LEADER!" Both Ryo and Naz narrowed their eyes at that remark.

"…torture him." Ryo muttered and spun about on his heel to leave.

"WAIT!" Naz paused in placing his palm on the pad and Ryo looked over his shoulder. "I WILL TELL YOU THAT WHICH YOU SEEK…"

Ryo and Naz exchanged glances then looked at the multi-faceted object housing the spirit. "In return for?" Ryo asked and turned back around.

"RELEASE MY SPIRIT, SO THAT I MAY FACE PUNISHMENT FROM MY MASTER." Ryo raised an eyebrow, surprised by the request, but looked at Naz and nodded.

"By what manner did you acquire such advanced weaponry?" Naz queried.


"…Let me ask you something, disembodied voice…when you say 'outworlder', do you mean anyone not of this 'mortal realm', as you call it? Or are you referring exclusively to the Thangiens, whom you seem to have had much experience with? Because I'm afraid you have some rather poor news to return to your 'master'," Naz placed his palm on the tablet again and turned it, only this time Ryo didn't flinch or object when the spirit cried out. "For we are the Thunthen. We mapped the stars while the Thangiens huddled around their campfires singing songs of their ancestors. As you have earned the Ronin's ire, so too have you earned ours."

With that, Naz seized the faceted object in both hands and dug his claws into the material. Ryo watched as he squeezed tight, crushing the object from all sides. The material broke into fragments and spilled onto the table, but Naz tilted his head up and observed with great curiosity as the purplish smoke wafted up towards the ceiling of the chamber before dissipating. Their attention turned to the top of the table when the remains of the Dynasty Soldier disintegrated.

"Welp, looks like you'll be needing a new specimen," Ryo commented.

"I have enough data by which to go by…it's clear these new troops are intended to counter the Thangien Ranks…but, it's also clear they did not plan on you having our expertise by which to consult," Naz grinned toothily then frowned and raked his claws through his red beard. "Have the other Ronin convene in the exit tunnel in approximately four hours."

"I thank you all for coming here at this hour," Naz began, as it was rather late and most of the assembled Ronin seemed barely interested with a few of them yawning or cleaning out their ears. "As you all have heard, your long-time foe has taken to fielding mechanized troops in an effort to tilt the battle further in their favor. You only encountered a scant few of these… 'Dynasty Droids', as they've been termed," Kento grinned, pleased that they'd adopted the name he'd coined. "Were you to face them en masse, you might quickly find yourselves at a disadvantage.

"Previously, 'Dynasty Soldiers' were relatively easy to defeat. A single puncturing blow to the exterior metal shell, and the sentient vapor housed within-"

"Spirit," Ryo interjected.

"The sentient vapor housed within would be expelled," Naz reiterated and closed his eyes. Ryo made a face, mildly surprised, but continued listening. "With these Dynasty Droids, that is no longer the case." Naz held up a mockup of the multi-faceted object he'd extracted from the previous specimen, made of translucent green material. "This serves as the new vessel for the being's consciousness, and it controls movement of the body by relaying commands throughout the systems. In this way it acts as a core processor.

"It sounds simple enough; destroy the core processor, destroy the enemy. However it is not so simple. The multi-faceted design of the core processor deflects any form of piercing or slashing attack, as you can see here." Naz demonstrated by stabbing the object multiple times with a claw, only to have it glance off of the surface. "So despite any external damage your opponent may suffer, as long as the core processor remains intact, your foe remains a threat.

"We've created these dummies to simulate the exact molecular density of the alloy used in these Dynasty Droids," Naz gestured behind him where Miz stood next to a row of replica soldiers made of the same translucent green material. "Damage dealt to them is to be treated as if this were live combat. We will measure the effectiveness of your individual fighting styles so that we may develop new methods of defeating these enemies." Naz nodded off to the side where he'd set up a large screen showing an internal view of a dummy and the core mockup inside.

"Gauraax Ryo, if you would?" Miz said and moved a dummy forward. Ryo drew both swords and tested his grip. He glanced from the screen to the dummy, trying to figure out where to strike the core. He tensed then stabbed, his sword running through the chest of the dummy.

The screen buzzed shrilly and Ryo glanced to the side. He saw the blade of his sword had merely grazed the top of the core. Naz shook his head. Ryo pulled the blade out and stabbed again. This time the blade bounced off towards the side. He scowled at the screen and prepared to attack again. Miz's eyes widened when he saw fire dancing along the edge and gave the dummy a wide berth as Ryo slashed. This time the blade cut the dummy in half from the right shoulder to the left hip. Steam rose from the core, having been melted through.

"Yeah!" "You show that dummy, Ryo!" "That's how you do it!" The others cheered, and Ryo stepped back, satisfied, but Naz frowned and scowled thoughtfully.

"How much energy does it take to execute that maneuver?"

"Not much," Ryo shrugged and sheathed his swords.

"How much is 'not much' when dealing with these by the dozen?"

"Oh…well for that I'd probably use my Wildfire Flare."

"Yes, but considering this is supposed to simulate close-range combat, you should conserve energy." Naz drew a tablet out of his shell and tapped an icon tagged "moderate success".

One golden arrow stuck into the chest plate of the next dummy. A second struck, followed by a third. The screen showed neither arrow had pierced the thick plate. The core processor remained intact and the screen buzzed in disappointment. "tsk tsk It would seem your particular weapon is ill-suited against these constructs. If the next warrior would step for-uhh…Rowen? Your test is concluded. Rowen? Err…" Naz blinked when he saw Rowen scowl and pull back on the bowstring. "Rowen…I don't think-" A crackling boom echoed through the exit tunnel, and most of the other Ronin shut their eyes against the flash.

Miz peered through the large hole in the dummy. He looked from side to side then leaned back and made an "ok" sign with his fingers at Naz, who quickly tapped "moderate success".

The translucent green material crunched loudly as Kento buried his bo into the body between the right shoulder and neck. The dummy cracked in half down the front and the core mockup popped out and landed on the floor, rolling about a few inches before settling on one of the facets. Miz and Naz stared at the core a few seconds, blinking. Then Naz looked up at Kento. "Congratulations Kento, you smote your enemy so hard you caused him to quite literally crap himself," he said dryly. Kento giggled and brushed a thumb against his nose.

Anubis swung his chain at his side a few seconds before hurling it with such force that the claw plunged through the dummy's chest entirely. The chain dangled out the other side, and the core mockup rest snugly in the grip of the weighted claw. "Well done! If I'm reading this correctly, it measured an impact of at least 2600 psi. That's most impressive for manual force alone! And such precision!" Naz praised. Anubis smirked and coiled his chain.

"Pfft. Showoff…" Dais grumbled.

"Oh? I'd like to see you do better!" Anubis challenged.

"Fine! Maybe I will!" Dais snorted and stepped forward as Miz brought out a fresh dummy and set it down. Dais tried striking with his nunchucks and morning star, but both weapons failed to pierce the chest plate, and the screen buzzed rudely. Dais growled angrily and raised his extensors and slashed at the dummy. All six sickle-shaped blades plunged through the core, splitting it in two. The screen beeped positively and Dais grinned in satisfaction.

"Very good, Dais, but if this were live combat, what would you do against the rest of your enemies who are arrayed against you?" Naz asked and waved to the remainder of the dummies.

"Um…hrm…" Dais tried to tug his extensors loose, but they remained firmly buried in the dummy. Dais tugged harder but paused when he heard a metallic tapping and felt something on his shoulder. He glanced to the side and saw Anubis rapping his knuckle against his armor.

"This is the sound of the enemy caving your skull in," Anubis said. Dais grumbled in dismay, and Naz ticked off "poor success" on his tablet.

Cye plunged his trident into the dummy, easily shattering the core and making a mess of the rest of the chest cavity, twisting his weapon like winding a fork through noodles. The screen beeped positively, but Miz looked almost terrified.

"That...that was a rather…brutal strike…" he stammered, wide-eyed.

"I've had previous experience," Cye said flatly, scowling slightly as he tugged his trident loose along with a mess of wires. Naz ticked off "high success" on his tablet without hesitation.

Sehkmet sighed in disappointment when his initial attacks met with the same result as Ryo's earlier attempts. The edge of his Snake Fang Sword glanced off the facets uselessly.

"Wait! Look!" Cye exclaimed and pointed at the screen. The see-through vision showed the outer surface of the core mockup starting to slag inward, then peel open as acid ate away at the material. The screen beeped in approval and nearby Ronin congratulated Sehkmet and slapped him on the shoulder plates. Naz marked off "high success" on his tablet but blinked in surprise when he saw the rest of the dummy's interior started to melt.

"You might wanna move that outside…" Ryo cautioned. Miz picked up the dummy by the arms and scampered quickly down the exit tunnel, holding the melting dummy at arm's length.

Sage cleaved his dummy in half with a single slash, raising one hand and splaying his fingers in a confident flair. Miz clapped and some of the other Ronin cheered.

"Big deal. His blade's made of dererium. That's hardly a display of skill," Cale snorted.

"Then why don't you show me how you'd do it, 'veteran'?" Sage gestured to screen.

"Hrmph…I'll show you how we did it back in my day…" Cale unsheathed his sword and waited for Miz to get out of the way before slashing at the dummy. His sword severed one arm but lodged into the thick armor of the upper torso. Sage made a soft snort and Cale growled angrily. He pulled back with his claw gauntlet and thrust, plunging the blades into the chest and breaking the core mockup in half. The screen beeped and Cale let out a warlordish cackle.

He pulled back to extract his gauntlet, but the ridges of the armor plating seemed to have stuck inside the dummy. "Uh…hrm…just give me a moment…" Cale muttered and tugged again. Still the gauntlet refused to budge. He tugged harder, trying to wriggle loose, even going so far as to swing his feet up and brace them against the dummy's chest. Naz and Miz exchanged glances then looked back at Cale, who tugged with all his might to no avail. Naz sighed and tapped "poor success" on his tablet. "Oh come on!" Cale squawked in protest.

The chakaram stuck into the chest plate without breaching the armor. The launched blades also struck with negligible damage. One Swirlwind Sword glanced to the side of the core, and the other missed its mark wide. Naz made a clucking sound with his tongue and looked at his tablet. He frowned and glanced up when he heard a grinding creak. "Ahh…Tanya, your test came out negative. You're wasting your-"

Tanya had wrenched the chest plate of the dummy open with her other dagger and thrust her left arm into the chest cavity. The screen showed her hand closed around the core mockup. She snarled angrily as she tightened her grip around the core. The material started creaking, and much to the Thunthen's horror, cracks appeared in the faceted surface. Her fist closed and broken chunks of the core shell spewed about the chest cavity. Tanya slipped her arm out of the dummy with considerable ease and stalked away furiously. The other Ronin stepped out of her way.

They blinked and watched in surprise when Tanya spun about on her heel and stalked back over to the dummy quickly. She took a step back then swung up with her right knee, burying it into the crotch of the dummy with enough force that the girdle pushed up into the upper chest. Satisfied, she stormed away towards the back of the group.

Naz's claw had been hovering over 'poor success', but he quickly tapped 'high success'. Miz whimpered and tucked his head down towards his chest, almost trying to retreat inside his shell.

"…Allright then…well, after all of your tests, we've concluded that crushing and chopping blows have the highest rate of success. Piercing and slashing attacks can be viable when augmented with energy manipulation, but I advise caution when facing large numbers. Although I find it rather unusual that the enemy would neglect to use corrosion-resistant materials, acid is also quite effective, so their loss is our gain," Naz explained.

"What about other vulnerable points? You said the core controls the body…what if we sever connections to the core?" Ryo suggested and walked over to another dummy, tracing an outline on the chest plate with his index finger. "I mean, they can't fight without any arms, right?"

"Destroying the core would be more efficient."

"Well, seeing as how Talpa's obviously going through so much trouble to get a leg up on us, it's only fair that we return the effort," Ryo reasoned and shrugged.

"Hey, you realize what this means right? We can't face these guys anymore in anything less than full armor," Rowen brought up and frowned.

"Forces of darkness; playing dirty since time immemorial," Cye rolled his eyes.

"Kento very well may have met his end today if not for the Thunthen's aid," Anubis added.

"Eh, for all we know the bullets mighta ricochet off that thick skull of his," Dais chuckled.

"I choose to take that as a complement," Kento sniffed and stuck his nose into the air.

"I will have the Apprentices manufacture more dummies for you to practice with. Miz, deliver these results to Sul," Naz ordered. Miz took the tablet and scurried towards the main cavern. The other Ronin followed him towards the main cavern, discussing potential new strategies.

"Hey, Anubis, wait up a sec," Ryo called. Anubis paused and looked over his shoulder. "Who's Lord Tchnetun? The guy we interrogated referred to him by name. He said he's the one responsible for these new guys. I thought you'd told us about all the Dynasty lieutenants."

"Hrm…well…he's not exactly a lieutenant, at least not in the same sense as the Brothers. He's more of a…I suppose you could say 'technical consultant'. He spends the majority of his time in his personal realm, studying the advances made by society here in the Mortal Realm. The Dynasty draws power from fear, and mortals fear that what they don't understand. The more a threat is understood, the less threatening it becomes, until it's no longer feared.

"I suspect civilians such as Mia, Roxi and Brianna have given the Dynasty reason to believe that mortals don't scare as easily as they used to. The Thangien's consistent support has also convinced the Dynasty to change tactics. Rowen is correct about us having to adapt, but the Thangiens themselves would likely be affected as well, since they ride unarmored."

"That's another thing…I've been noticing soldiers being a lot more chatty lately…"

"Ahh, that's largely due to the nature of the Brother's forces in particular. They are culled from wicked souls swayed to the Dynasty over the centuries. They still retain the tactical thinking of a human warrior, even as spirits. They've thrown their lot in with the Dynasty, and redemption is impossible for them, as they've completely given up their humanity."

"Wait…so you're saying…we're dealing with…human spirits now…" Ryo frowned.

"I'm afraid so," Anubis admitted before departing. "Things only get harder from here on out," he added over his shoulder. Ryo let out a sigh and scowled.

"Ryo." Ryo looked over his shoulder when he heard Naz speak. "I may have something that could aid you out in the field. I've been working on it for some time, but I would require a live reference to complete it, and to that end I have a rather unusual favor to ask of you."

"Sure. Go for it," Ryo asked and shrugged.

Indeed, Naz's request was unusual as he spoke: "I need to borrow your cat."

Ryo didn't think it was possible for Whiteblaze to have as sour an expression as he did now, but he managed just that as the Apprentices poked and prodded, taking measurements of various areas of his body. Tuv lifted one of the great paws and gently pinched the finger pads, examining how the claws extended and sheathed. Dhr took note of the proportions of the tiger's face, even measuring the ears, which were flattened. Vud sat off to the side sketching something on one of the computer tablets with a claw. Sul picked up the long striped tail and held it taut to measure its length, but he cringed wide-eyed when Whiteblaze swung his great head around and growled.

"No mauling," Ryo ordered sternly. Whiteblaze snorted and turned back around to sulk.

Clouds drifted over downtown, and far below people went about their daily tasks. Only a few people happened to stop and gaze up at the sky long enough to wonder why some clouds appeared to be pressing up against something. Then they considered that staring up at the sky during broad daylight might be a bad idea and continued on their way.

"How pathetic, that we continue to skulk behind illusions like a pack of cowards…"

"It is best to tread on the side of caution, Khamnes," Duratir said as he and Duratin entered the colonnade. The slim armored warrior with green trimming and gold helm crests looked over his shoulder at the Brothers. "Lest we incur the wrath of the Ronin and their allies."

"'Incur their wrath'? HAH! The Dynasty has fallen far if we fear mortals…"

"Does it not give you pause to hear that the Ronin Warriors potentially have yet a new ally? If the reports from the scout are to be believed, they may prove an even greater threat."

"Pah, even with your new bodies, you two still behave like the doddering old men you once were. In a matter of days, I shall take a contingent into the city, and we will remind the mortals what it is to fear! You can stay up here and watch from afar my victory!" With that, Khamnes exited the colonnade with a swagger. The Brothers glared after him.

"We will watch…"Duratir muttered.

"But I doubt it will be your victory," Duratin snorted.

"I want to thank you all for coming here this morning," Bak Thraplek said and waved both hands. To his left stood Naz Dassyr, and to his right Chi Chi Lina, Australa. The youngest of Ander's daughters apparently shared the same opinion as her sisters when it came to working alongside the Thunthen, and had eagerly pursued the task given to her at Naz's special request. She looked exceptionally bouncy, wiggling from side to side apparently excited about something. Most of the Ronin living up in the estate and a few of the Elders stood in the middle of the main cavern, accompanied by Kayura and Whiteblaze, all curious about all the fuss.

"Thankfully a week has passed without incident from our enemies, allowing our esteemed artisans to finish their masterpiece. Through the vision of Naz Dassyr," Bak gestured to Naz, who didn't hesitate to preen. "And the skilled hands of Chi Chi Lina, Australa," Australa smiled and bounced up in place a few times. The Elders traded whispered remarks about how long-winded the Thunthen captain could be. "We have created what I hope will come to embody the marriage between our people's technology," with that, Bak stepped to the side.

The Ronin heard the whispering hiss of hydraulics and a heavy clanking. Then they saw it, and Ryo's eyes widened in shock as he took a step back. A long smooth-segmented tail lashed behind it, tipped with a tapered cylinder. Four thick, powerful limbs ending in four-clawed feet clacked against the polished onyx-and-gold floor tile. Blue stripes marked the face, sides, and limbs of the steel-gray body, while red bordered the ears and nose and gold adorned the sharp crests on the shoulders, hips, elbows, and knees. The eyes glowed blue, but the mouth hung open, unmoving and displaying a row of sharp metal teeth.

"It is my greatest honor and pleasure to present you with, the WILDCAT. Weapons-Integrated Live Defensive Combat and Tactical Support."

"…then shouldn't it be called 'WILDCaTS?" Kento quipped idly, earning scowls from both Naz and Australa. Naz let out a dismissive snort while Australa closed her eyes and sniffed.

"We built it using the same principles behind the Pegasi, with dererium mined from Thanged and phergon from Thunthen. Phergon has more practical uses than just providing heat," Naz explained, casting a glance at Australa, who giggled. "The Halo Forge will burn for years to come from just a single sample. With the WILDCAT, we've utilized our phergon-powered closed-fusion technology to equip it with enough armaments to embarrass a carrier. We-"

Whiteblaze erupted with angry growling and took a step forward. He flattened his ears against his head and his lips peeled over his gums. Whiteblaze growled louder and he stepped closer, lashing his tail quickly. WILDCAT's HUD registered Whiteblaze and analyzed him before producing the text in its personal vision reading "Threat Level: Negligible".

"WHOA! Whiteblaze! Easy! It's just a robot!" Ryo squawked and ran over, promptly wrapping his arms around his friend's thick neck and trying to hold him steady. Whiteblaze continued stepping forward, dragging Ryo along with him.

"Actually the proper term is 'automaton'," Naz sniffed.

"I do not understand why he would feel offended," Australa remarked, blinking in surprise at Whiteblaze's agitation. "We forged the chassis in his likeness."

"Yeah, I don't think he appreciates the homage," Ryo grunted as he tried to no avail to keep Whiteblaze from pressing forward. The soles of his feet started squeaking against the floor, until finally his butt rest against the tile. Naz and Bak exchanged glances before Bak sighed.

"KOI! KOI! Come here please! Will you please remove this fenda from the premises?"

The other Ronin looked sideways when they heard the echoing thump of heavy footsteps, and Ryo continued to struggle with his companion. Whiteblaze himself didn't notice the newcomer until Koi Udsarrin scooped him up unceremoniously off the floor. The tiger let out a strangled, confused-sounding growl of the sort no one had ever heard from him before and squirmed as Koi cradled him in his arms on the way to the exit tunnel. Ryo remained sitting on the ground and watched the two leave before heaving himself to his feet.

"Captain! CaptainCaptainCaptain!" Miz chattered as he ran over. "I just picked up alerts from civilian radio signals! Multiple enemy sightings in their metropolitan area!"

"Finally!" "We're on!" "Time to put those new techniques to use…" the other Ronin cheered.

"Ah! This will be an excellent opportunity to field-test the new WILDCAT unit!" Naz spoke up suddenly. "It is fast enough to arrive wherever it's needed in mere seconds. It requires a simple vocal command, which I will provide you with. Should you find yourselves pressed hard by Dynasty Droids, merely call the WILDCAT. Perhaps once you've soundly beaten the enemy, they will reconsider their faith in their new forces."

"See, normally white is recessive, but since both of the parents are white, it ended up being dominant in the two girls. Orange is recessive in them, but it still had a chance to pop up in any children, and it did with the boy," Yulie explained as he leaned against the rail overlooking the tiger enclosure at the zoo. Far below, the tigress Kiasha calmly observed her cubs at play. They had grown considerably since the first time Yulie had seen them as newborns, and now easily dwarfed full-grown housecats. The two white females napped while the orange male paced.

"Very good, Yulie!" Mrs. Yamano beamed. "Have you come up with names for them?"

"That one over there is Whisker. See how the fur pokes out all over the place around her nose. The other girl I named Snow since I don't think her stripes will ever grow in all the way."

"…that orange one's got a bit of a mean streak," Mr. Yamano commented as he watched the orange male pad over to Whisker and start tussling with her. Whisker pushed her brother away and rolled onto her back, brandishing her paws. The male seemed to grow tired with her and turned around, noticing how his other sister seemed to think she could exclude herself from the brawl. He padded over and promptly seized Snow by the shoulders and flipped her onto her back, with Snow swatting at him half-heartedly, almost bored.

"I call him Magma, cuz he reminds me of Ryo," Yulie snickered. "The zoo's never seen a tiger in captivity give birth to three healthy cubs at the same time. They're still not sure who the dad is, but they probably just assume Kiasha was pregnant before she got here since the cubs were born a good while after she arrived."

"What do you supposed they'll do with them when they're grown?" Mrs. Yamano asked.

"Eh, probably split them up and ship them to different zoos," Mr. Yamano shrugged.

"Oh, that would be a shame! Considering how special they are…" while the humans up above talked, Kiasha glanced about, faintly recognizing Yulie's face.

The humans jumped, startled when the other nearby enclosures erupted with agitated cries. Elephants trumpeted in distress, birds wheeled about, and monkeys shrieked and beat their branches. Kiasha flattened her ears and rose to all fours while her cubs still played blissfully.

"What on Earth has gotten into them all?" Mrs. Yamano whispered. Yulie glanced around until he spotted a security station and ran over. A lone guard lounged inside.

"Sir, can you change to a news station real quick?" Yulie asked. The guard glanced at him and lazily thumbed the button on his personal TV.

"Reports are coming in that downtown is once again under attack by unidentified forces. Eyewitnesses describe the attackers as being heavily-armed, possibly members of a foreign terrorist organization. Citizens are advised to avoid the downtown area and remain indoors until the defense forces arrive to engage this new threat…"

"Huh…that sucks…" the guard muttered. Yulie stepped away from the booth.

"Mom, Dad, I want you to take the car and get home as quickly as possible."

"Wait, what? You can't go off…fighting the 'forces of darkness', or whatever! It-it's a school night!" Mr. Yamano sputtered weakly as Yulie pulled a gleaming pearl from his pocket.

"I don't want the Dynasty getting their mitts on you a second time!" Yulie growled sternly and clenched the pearl. His clothes flashed and changed into loose-fitting white leather armor. Thankfully most other zoo visitors' attentions remained on the hysterical animals. Mr. and Mrs. Yamano exchanged embarrassed glances when Yulie cupped his mouth and let out a high-pitched yowl, but again the cries of the animals masked the unusual sound.

Much to the Yamanos' relief, no one else but the animals noticed the distant shrill bubbly whistle as White Wind soared overhead and swooped down at an angle. Yulie ran over to the fence and sprang up, bounding off of the bars and launching himself into the saddle.

Mr. Yamano clamped a hand over his head and opened and closed his mouth, while Mrs. Yamano seemed relatively relaxed. "They grow up so fast these days, don't they?" she chirped.

The morning star plowed through the chest of the Dynasty Droid hard enough to send the core processor flying into the face of another nearby attacker. "'2600 psi' my ass!" Dais sneered.

"See what you can do when properly motivated?" Sehkmet teased. Dynasty Droids seemed quite surprised when their nice shiny new sophisticated bodies turned into metal paste after just a single cut from Sehkmet's Snake Fang Swords. He swung forward and laid the blades against the ground, sending forth a reddish fog into the attacking forces. Soldiers that charged through staggered to a halt and convulsed violently when the mist ate away at their insides.

Sehk stood up and sniffed the air then frowned. "Hrm…yeah, I'm sorry but burning circuitry doesn't smell too good," he muttered and shook his head.

"Anubis! You crazy son of a bitch! These guys are using bullets now, and you STILL insist on not wearing a helmet!?" Cale squawked angrily. Anubis lashed his chain about undeterred, and somehow managed to catch incoming projectiles inside the links. Cale's jaw dropped in surprise when Anubis whipped the chain just so that it sent the bullets flying back, striking those who'd shot them. The mechanical bodies toppled back, riddled with bullet holes.

"I'm sorry, what were you saying? I couldn't hear you over the sound of me brutally slaughtering our enemies," Anubis said camly. Cale stared at him before letting out a sigh.

"So, I'm guessing with Dygra and Pharaohn gone, Talpa couldn't make anymore Gargoyle Soldiers? That's good. I like having the skies to myself," Rowen taunted from where he pelted the invaders with arrows on high. The arrows stuck into the chest plates harmlessly.

"What was that supposed to do?" a soldier growled disdainfully. A second after, the arrows exploded and tore the chest armor wide open, cracking the core processors.

"Blow you to bits," Rowen said calmly but rubbed his eyelids. "Man…Naz was right about having to conserve energy…Rowen to Cye, how's things going on down there at your end?"

"Well, when I started fighting all those years ago, I never imagined I'd be fighting legions of armored shells. Now? I never imagined I'd be fighting legions of armored robots. As for Tanya? Well, you know her; finding new, creative ways to a man's heart besides the stomach."

"We'll make these fancy new tin cans wish they stayed regular tin cans!"

A Dynasty Droid grunted in protest when Kento struck its elbow and knee joints hard enough to break them in half until it sagged to the ground like a rag doll. "Not so tough now, eh buddy? Whatcha gonna do? Kneecap me? Oh wait, you can't, because you don't have a mouth!" Kento taunted while leaning over the floundering soldier.

"Always a fan of the simplest approach, hmm?" Sage teased from where he dispatched Dynasty Droids with a variety of complex maneuvers.

"Well, it's like Anubis says: 'shame is worse than death', and these guys don't really die."

Ryo fought without company in a different corner of the city, employing various traditional and Rait'chian techniques against his foes. "You seem quite fond of that Outworlder fighting style." Ryo raised an eyebrow and looked over his shoulder and spotted a single Dynasty Droid wearing more elaborate armor than the rank-and-files. Gold accents adorned the green armor.

"Okay, seriously, they're Thangiens. Will you guys please get it straight? …And who the heck are you supposed to be anyway?"

"I am Khamnes. I am perfection. I am the future of the Dynasty, and your demise. I have never had the pleasure of facing a Ronin Leader. I am pleased to be able to face you now as a worthy warrior than when you were but a stripling opposing the Master."

"…Ooookaaay…so, what? The Brothers on vacation or something?" Ryo made a face and readied his swords at the same time Khamnes drew his spear.

"I am the chosen of Lord Tchnetun, and soon I shall replace those fools Duratir and Duratin as Talpa's new right hand!" Khamnes attacked first, and Ryo easily parried, but Khamnes parried his own attacks with similar ease. As they exchanged blows, Ryo felt an eerie sense of familiarity with some of the techniques Khamnes used. They seemed to be evenly matched.

Ryo gasped when he saw the 'charging the blade' and jumped back seconds before Khamnes brought his spear down into the pavement. The ground split from the force, and the leading edge of the crack stopped just between Ryo's feet. Ryo glanced from the crack to Khamnes.

"Why do you hesitate to cross swords with me, Wildfire? Could it be that you have finally met your superior in combat? Lord Tchnetun has granted me knowledge of all the fighting styles of the Ronin Warriors. You are mighty indeed against our weaker minions, but how will you fare against the techniques of your own friends and yourself?"

Now Ryo realized what had seemed so familiar. Khamnes had used moves from Kento, Cye, even Tanya, and he had even managed to execute a Cresta's Wheel without proper training. Ryo frowned and surveyed the area. He'd destroyed the rest of the nearby troops earlier, so only Khamnes remained an opponent. Ryo glanced at Khamnes again then narrowed his eyes. The red energy rings formed above him and swept down then up, vanishing along with Ryo.

"Flee all you want, Ryo of the Wildfire. Today, a reckoning dawns upon all Ronin Warriors!"

Kiasha paced alongside the lip of the deep moat separating the wall from the ground. She paused and glanced over her shoulder at her cubs. Play had exhausted them too much to worry about the menace that had the rest of the zoo's residents in hysterics. Magma nestled comfortably between his sisters, and Whisker curled up on her side. Snow yawned briefly and twitched her ears. Kiasha looked up the sheer concrete wall and lashed her tail from side to side.

"Boss! Come quick!" a zookeeper leaned inside the security post booth. "Kiasha's trying to escape, and I think she's gonna do it!" The guard turned the switch on his monitor and called up the white tiger pen. Sure enough, the female Bengal had managed to leap onto the wall and clung to it by her claws. She slid down a few inches, but would haul herself back up twice as much.

"What on Earth has gotten into them all…" the guard muttered and grabbed a tranquilizer gun, thumbing a dart into the chamber. "Back away folks, I'll handle this," the guard assured and waved at visitors who had crowded around the fence to watch. Kiasha noticed movement out the corner of her eye and recognized all too well the muzzle of a gun. The guard took aim and prepared to squeeze the trigger. Kiasha's grip faltered and she slid down the wall some. The dart flew out of the barrel and sped towards her rump.

Kiasha bunched up her hind legs and poured all her strength into a single bound, leaping out of the way of the dart and catching hold of the top rail of the fence. People screamed in horror, though one nearby child reached forward and patted the white fur before her parents seized her and dragged her away. The guard tried to reload quickly, but Kiasha hauled her hind paws up onto the rail and sprang down onto the ground. Visitors panicked and fled, but the tigress ignored them and bounded for the exit. The guard shot again, but missed.

The animals in the enclosures she passed on her way to the city streets continued shrieking from the threat they sensed. For the sake of her cubs, she would find that threat…and kill it.

"Listen up everyone! Watch out for a Dynasty Droid in green armor. He calls himself Khamnes, and he's touting himself as some new general. He's somehow able to copy our own moves; He almost used a Cresta's Wheel on me!"

"You allright?" Sage asked into his wrist-com. Kento leaned over to watch the screen.

"Yeah. Nothing got broken, but avoid him for now. We need to make sure the people in the city are safe first, then we can take care of this guy. If things look dicey, call the WILDCAT."

"A bot that can copy our own moves? Man, what'll they think of next these days," Kento muttered and he and Sage ran down the street to search for other areas under attack. They paused and hid themselves in an alley when they spotted hundreds of Dynasty Droids corralling civilians into chariots and cage wagons. "Aw man! Look, they're harvesting people again! Grrr…we can't let them get away with it this time!"

"Yeah, but there's so many, if we try to intervene, something might go wrong…" Sage muttered and surveyed the enemy forces. Kento looked about and scratched his head.

"Hey, we can call WILDCAT."

"…I am not saying that phrase," Sage growled and folded his arms over his chest.

"C'mooon," Kento teased and poked him in the shoulder plate.

"Then you say it."

"No, because I wanna hear you say it." Sage scowled in exasperation. "Fine, Mr. Courteous; we'll settle it the gentleman's way!" Kento sniffed and raised a fist. Sage raised his own fist and held it close. The both of them silently counted to three. Kento rather uncharacteristically chose paper, and Sage made the unfortunate decision of choosing rock. Sage let out a heavy sigh and hung his shoulders, while Kento jabbed him with his elbow. "Saaay iiiit."

Sage huffed in frustration and raised his wrist-com, toggling audio link. He cupped his hands to his mouth and tilted his head up. "WILDCAT TO THE RESCUE! WILDCAT TO THE RESCUE!" he yelled, using the specified summoning command Naz had programmed into the automaton. The two of them looked back out into the street to make sure the enemy hadn't noticed. Then they glanced down the adjacent streets. "Yeah, there's no way it'll get here that fast-," Sage began but paused when he heard a very faint, distant clanking.

People on the sidewalks of streets unaffected by the Dynasty attack staggered from the shock sent out from something passing by unbelievably fast. So fast in fact, the air before it seemed to warp and bend and they only heard rapid clanking and saw a billowing dust trail. Kento and Sage watched in surprise as WILDCAT slowed its pace. It walked up to them.

Sage blinked and looked down when he noticed Kento hold out his hand, outstretched with palm up. "I made no such bet!" Sage squawked in protest.

"Pfft…cheap-ass…" Kento grumbled and held a fist to his mouth and cleared his throat. "Um, WILDCAT? Bad guys," Kento said and pointed at the Dynasty kidnappers. WILDCAT turned its head in that direction slowly then began walking out into the open.

"What is this? Wildfire's pet approaches!" a Dynasty Droid guffawed as the WILDCAT approached. WILDCAT only superficially resembled a tiger. It did not swish its tail nor twitch its ears, and it walked very mechanically with the limbs moving directly forward.

"Perhaps he has fitted it with armor as a means to challenge us. Very well, let us test how many lives this cat has left!" The soldiers turned their attention away from the civilians they'd captured and pointed their arm guns at the WILDCAT. WILDCAT scanned all hostile enemies and analyzed them according to the data programmed into it by Naz Dassyr. Its' HUD separated hostiles from friendly targets and marked the hostiles appropriately. Kento and Sage watched anxiously as the Dynasty Droids opened fire and pelted WILDCAT with bullets.

The projectiles pinged off the dererium shell harmlessly, and the resulting din masked the whispering of compartments hinging open along the shoulders, sides, and back. The segmented tail arched up and the tip pointed forward. Heavy metal spurs plunged down into the pavement, similar to those of a Pegasi preparing to fire its horn cannon.

The captured civilians found themselves treated to a spectacular display of light and sound as WILDCAT unleashed its arsenal. The tail beam blasted holes through soldiers, vaporizing the core processors with surgical precision. Brilliant green energy spheres pelted soldiers that tried charging forward, and small rotating cannons mowed down those attacking from the sides. The wide launcher mounted on the back fired spinning energy discs that cut through the reinforced armor of the Dynasty Droids with ease. In a matter of seconds, not a single enemy remained moving, and not a single singe, crater, or broken window marred the surrounding buildings.

Sage let out a low whistle, thoroughly impressed. WILDCAT retracted its weaponry and walked back over to the two Ronin. "Take WILDCAT and help out the others. I'll stay here and help these people," Sage said. Kento nodded and ran down the street with WILDCAT following close behind. Sage set to cutting open the cages and releasing the victims from their bindings.

"Talk about out of the Wildfire and into the frying pan!" Ryo moaned when he found himself ambushed by a large contingent of Dynasty Droids. He made good use of his training and deflected bullets with his swords, but the enemy began closing in. "Let's see how fireproof you guys are!" Ryo plunged his swords into the ground and crouched. A flaming shell formed around him, melting incoming bullets. Then the shell exploded outward, catching nearby soldiers unawares and reducing their inner parts to slag. One of the soldiers that had escaped the attack stabbed at Ryo from behind with its stun spear, and Ryo collapsed onto his knees. Remaining soldiers closed in with arm guns raised. Ryo called down his face mask and tensed.

"AI AI AI EEEOOOHHH!" a familiar voice hollered, and Ryo recoiled when missiles struck some of his enemies squarely. He looked up and saw White Wind wheeling about overhead.

"YULIE! What the hell are you doing here!? This is no time for amateur heroics!" Ryo yelled and stood up when his attackers became occupied with the Pegasi and his rider.

"Who says we're being amateur about anything?" Yulie called back and held on tight as White Wind banked to avoid gunfire.

"These guys were specifically designed to counter the Pegasi!" Ryo argued while he took out nearby soldiers. White Wind remained undeterred and sliced off limbs with his eye beams.

"Well, they're doing a pretty crummy job of it." Ryo watched intrigued as the Pegasi colt soared through the air. "The Dynasty just assumes Pegasi are mindless robots, but they're not. They have their own rhyme and rhythm." Just then, White Wind tucked his wings in and swung his legs forward in a spin. He swept past Dynasty Droids and used his wing blades to cut them to pieces before swooping back up and leveling out. "Can you please not do that! You're gonna make me throw up!" Yulie complained, looking queasy. White Wind chirped apologetically.

"Go on, get out of here!" Sage yelled at the last liberated civilian, who fled down the feet as fast as humanly possible. Sage scanned the broken cages and wagons to make sure he'd forgotten no one. Satisfied, he turned to leave but paused when he heard the clank of metal.

"You may have thwarted us today, but in the end, all souls gravitate towards the Dynasty," a green-and-gold armored Dynasty Droid gloated. Sage raised an eyebrow and drew his sword.

"Let me guess, you're Khamnes?"

"Indeed. I see that my renown is spreading amongst the Ronin Warriors."

"It's hardly because of your combat prowess. Copying the fighting styles of others, pathetic! Ryo said you knew some Rait'chian moves. Well, there's over a thousand of them, and I'm fairly certain I know way more than you."

"Perhaps, but unlike a pathetic mortal mind, I retain all of the knowledge imparted unto me. I never forget a technique, but you might. Tell me then, does this look familiar to you?" Khamnes raised his spear and held it pointing downwards infront of him. Sage realized too late the technique and tried to bring his arms up in time to shield his face. "PERICING RADIANCE!"

The tip of the spear erupted with light, burning Sage's eyes and sending him staggering. Sage cried out and tried to open his eyes to get a fix on his enemy, but colored speckles obscured his vision. Khamnes strode over to the fallen Ronin confidently. "I would have liked to claim Wildfire as my first kill, but I suppose you will suffice. Soon, all will remember the true might of the Dynasty!" Khamnes proclaimed. Other Dynasty Droids arrived and gathered around to witness their leader dispatch Sage of Halo. Khamnes aimed his spear at Sage's neck…

Something rather large and heavy plowed into him from the side, and powerful jaws clamped around the elbow joint of the arm that held the spear, crushing the servos. Khamnes growled in protest and tried to push the white tiger away by beating at its face with his fist. The tiger released its grasp and sprang away to tackle another soldier, crushing it under its weight. It leaned down and tore the faceplate clean off with its teeth.

Sage blinked repeatedly, surprised to hear angry growls. The spots still plagued his vision, but he caught glimpses of black-striped white fur. Apparently Whiteblaze had decided to join the fray, not wishing to relinquish his duties to a robot. Sage used his sword as a crutch to stand and waited for his vision to return. Sure enough, a large white tiger took down the vaunted Dynasty Droids as easily as prey in the wild. Some of the soldiers tried to open fire with their arm guns, but the tiger sprang away in time. It caught one from behind and bore it down to the ground then bit into the neck. The soldier squirmed violently and convulsed before falling still.

The other soldiers fell to the sharp claws and crushing bite until only Khamnes remained. The tiger bounded towards him and pounced, bringing its full weight to bear against the Dynasty general. Khamnes caught it by the chest fur with his remaining arm and held it above him with shocking strength. The tiger swiped at his face with its forepaws and scrabbled at his arm with its hind paws. Khamnes let out a smug snort, and Sage heard the click of the arm gun.

Bullets tore through the chest and exited out the back between the shoulders, spattering the white fur with red. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OOOOOO!" Sage shrieked at the sight. Khamnes tossed the tiger's body to the ground roughly.

"How foolish of you, beast; to think that you could oppose the might of the Dynasty…" Khamnes sniffed and turned to face Sage. His body jerked when Sage dug the edge of his blade between the gun shoulder and the chest, all the way down until it touched the core processor. "B-b-but, I-I am su-supposed to be p-perfect!" Khamnes sputtered feebly.

"Well, now you're a perfect pile of garbage," Sage hissed and pushed down on the blade, cracking the core. Khamnes' spirit fled into the sky and his broken husk collapsed to the ground. "Oh noo…Oh noo," Sage moaned and ran to kneel beside the fallen tiger. "Ryo's going to freak…wait…this…this isn't Whiteblaze…" Sage frowned when he saw light blue eyes. "Oh no!" Rings of green light formed above him and swept down, and he vanished.

Kiasha lay on her side, her body shuddering as blood soaked through her fur. Her tongue twitched over her teeth and her tail hung limp. Just as her vision started to fade, the rings reappeared and deposited two people: the armored man and a woman with long black hair.

"What's going on-oh goodness!" Kayura gasped when she saw the fallen white tiger. She reached out and placed a hand on the shoulder and set the Staff along the ground beside her.

"Her name's Kiasha. Yulie told me about her one time. She's this tiger Whiteblaze has been visiting at the local zoo. Please tell me you can do something! She saved my life; I'd be dead if she hadn't intervened. Her injuries are too severe for my skill alone. Maybe if we-" Sage began.

"SAGE! SHE'S ALREADY DEAD!" Kayura burst out in tears. Sure enough, no part of Kiasha's body moved. "Her spirit's clinging by the barest of threads just for the sake of communicating with us! Ohh…she very much would like to live, she really would…She's seen how we fight, and she wishes to aid us, but there just isn't anything I can do! Her body is broken beyond all hope of repair! I would have to find a vessel to house her spirit somehow, but I've-" Kayura wiped tears from her eyes and paused when she spotted something several blocks away.

While the other Ronin had focused on driving away the last of the Dynasty Droids, WILDCAT had come to a stop with no one nearby to give orders and stood idly. Kayura stared past Sage and saw the tiger-shaped automaton. She ran her tongue over her lips then took a deep breath. "WILDCAT, come here," she said sternly.

*Voice print recognized: Lady. Kayura.* Sage turned to the side and scooted away as WILDCAT lumbered over and came to a stop close to Kayura. Kayura picked up the Staff and clenched Kiasha's fur between her fingers. She began chanting, and the rings began clanging. Sage watched in awe as each individual strand of fur began glowing. Kiasha's eyes relayed one last image to her mind: that of a large gleaming four-legged form.

Kayura pulled up and turned her hand over, palm up with fingers splayed. Strands of glowing fur peeled away and darted up into her palm. Kiasha's body began disintegrating into light, and bit by bit strands of light coalesced into a glowing white sphere in Kayura's palm. "Kayura…what…what are you doing?" Sage asked, bewildered.

"I honestly have no idea!" Kayura sputtered as the last of Kiasha's body vanished. Kayura turned to the WILDCAT unit and set the Staff on the ground again. She reached out with her free hand and inserted her fingers through the mouth, grasping the lower jaw. She tugged down, trying to pull the mouth open. WILDCAT obliged and hinged its jaw open all the way. Kayura placed the sphere into WILDCAT's maw and cupped the chin in her hand then pushed up, clamping the jaws shut over the sphere. She scooted back and waited anxiously.

WILDCAT began twitching and collapsed onto its stomach. All four limbs sprawled to the sides and the tail hung limp. Sage and Kayura watched with both horror and apprehension as WILDCAT began twitching violently, and they heard the sounds of circuits whirring in protest. The glowing blue eyes went dark and WILDCAT ceased moving. Kayura sighed in dismay.

The eyes flickered back to life, only this time they glowed white. Static muddled the HUD before it clarified, and vision locked upon the two people kneeling nearby. One heavy paw braced against the ground, followed by another. WILDCAT rose to all fours slowly, servos creaking and hydraulics hissing. The head turned from side to side, and the tail began swishing.

I LIVE! Kayura heard a shrill voice cry in her thoughts just as WILDCAT lunged forward and pressed its head against her chest, knocking her onto her back.

"Ohhh goodness!" Kayura gasped and stroked the segmented neck.

"How-what?" Sage stammered in awe.

"I remembered Bak saying the WILDCAT was built using the same technology that created the Pegasi, and that Pegasi are living spirits housed in bodies of metal. She can never again be a creature of flesh and blood, but she can still fight, and she is very much a fighter…and a hugger! Ooh boy!" Kayura giggled as WILDCAT nuzzled her fiercely. Sage chuckled cheerfully.

"Ryo!" Ryo paused on his way to the residential hall and looked over his shoulder to see Naz approach. "I heard about what happened! My condolences to your companion!"

"Thanks. Sage, Australa, and Yulie went to go pick up her cubs. It wouldn't be right to just leave them alone without their mother, or to get separated from each other. They'll be taken to Thanged to stay at Mazzan. At least there they can stay together and be well cared for."

"While my enthusiasm at today's victory is tempered by today's tragedy, there is one bit of good news. It would seem in her final battle, your friend's mate uncovered a glaring weakness in the Dynasty Droid design," Naz began and held up a computer tablet for Ryo to see. "This innocuous relay here just below the neck? It's chiefly responsible for transmitting commands throughout the upper body. Its' position makes it impossible to sever through direct decapitation, but a crushing blow-such as the one caused by the fenda's bite-would immobilize it."

"Huh…that'll be good to know for the future. Knowing Talpa, I doubt today will change his mind about anything. Thanks for the info, and for everything else," Ryo nodded. Naz made a claw salute and walked back to the comm. room. Ryo glanced to the side when he saw green armor plates. "Oh! Hey, you're back already! So, how'd things go with the cubs-" Ryo paused and did a double take when he saw the condition of Sage's face.

Angry red, shallow scrapes marred his cheeks and forehead, and a deep bloody scratch went down his nose. "…That orange one's a biter," he said stiffly. Ryo stared at him a few moments.

"Yeah…I see that…" The two looked out into the main cavern where Whiteblaze sat on the floor tile. His ears twitched and his tail curled as WILDCAT walked towards him.

"Do you think he'll know it's her?" Sage whispered and patted his face with a Richtho leaf.

"Animals have a way of knowing things humans usually don't. We'll just have to see."

Instead of growling angrily, Whiteblaze looked curious about the WILDCAT unit. His ears flattened then rose and his brow furrowed. WILDCAT's gait had a more relaxed pace to it, and the tail lashed from side to side instead of swaying loosely. It came to a stop a foot away and sat its hind legs down and curled the tail about its paws. Whiteblaze stood up and took a step towards the automaton. The dererium ears twitched ever so slightly and a faint sound like a metallic purr escaped the rigid mouth. Whiteblaze extended his head forward and WILDCAT did the same, and the two rubbed their necks together, nuzzling each other tenderly.

"Will you look at that…" Ryo whispered.

"Her spirit may remain here, but can this really be called life?" Sage frowned.

"I dunno, Sage. Life…life's what you make of it…"

"A thousand-thousand pardons, Master Talpa!" Lord Tchnetun blubbered and prostrated himself before the throne. "Once Khamnes' spirit is retrieved, he shall be punished severely!"

"No." Lord Tchnetun looked up and cringed. "Let his spirit languish in the Void for a time. If he would presume himself to lead armies, he must learn the lesson expected of all leaders: to know when and when not to engage in direct combat. That is what underlings are for. That is why the Brothers have survived for so long." Far away down the throne room, Duratir and Duratin listened. Their faceplates seemed to tilt up in somewhat of a smirk.

"O-O-Of course, your eminence! I will continue perfecting my designs! I grossly underestimated the ingenuity of the Ronin Warriors and their Outworlder allies! I will not stop until I craft an army worthy of the Dynasty!"

"Do that. For now, your current design will suffice. The Ronin believe themselves triumphant against a few thousand constructs. We shall see how they fare against all my vast armies."

"And…what of the new Outworlders hiding in the Heavens?" Lord Tchnetun asked timidly.

"Their existence is a matter of no concern. I will send her to deal with them…"