Ronin trip

Book two: Wild dogs and hunting wolves

Chapter six: I want to know why history repeats.

Seed Affleck looked over what was left of the mercenary based and scowled.

"So when all is said and done, all we have to show for nearly getting fried is a this pile of rubble? Well, this attack could have gone better..." He mused more to himself than anyone else

In response Captain Culgan showed off his typical skill at being able to scowl at someone without ever needing to move his lips.

"How the situation turned out isn't what matters. What matter is that we need to check this place for survivors, ours or theirs." Seed kicked at a pile of ash and walked a few paces before kicking at another pile of it.

"Yeah. Survivors, like we're gonna find any of those. There was considerably more of Ryube or Toto after we were done with them than this place. No normal person could have survived this. Hell we haven't even been able to find any intact bodies." Seed noted dourly.

Culgan began to inspect another portion of rubble pushing it aside to side nothing but ash beneath.

"Be that as it may Seed we have to check. Our loses were too great to ignore the possibility of locating survivors who can help us when we reach Muse." Culgan reminded his partner.

A moment later a mostly intact support pillar among the rubble shifted. Underneath it was Prince Luca Blight, quite blackened of face, but still quite shining of armor. He stood up and looked at Seed, Culgan, and all the other Highland soldiers present.

"Worthless, worthless, all of you so god dam worthless. Apparently I really need to do everything myself. Seed, Culgan, stop whatever your doing, we have more important things to do than look for those who weren't clever or strong enough to save their own lives.

We have some revenge to extract. This will look like nothing but a flicker in the night next to the bonfire I plan to turn Muse into." His orders given Luca looked towards the Muse and let loose with a single phrase with enough venom to poison an entire towns water supply.

"Kiken Ookami!" He bellowed to the sky.

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"He's strong." Callan Wright noted in between spurring his horse onward.

"My cheek is currently telling me that Cal. He didn't just make me sweat, he actually managed to make me bleed..." Alexander muttered in amazement.

"So do you have a plan for how to deal with Luca Blight?" Cal inquired a moment later.

"At the moment plan involves the next time I pick a fight with him it being some place outside." Alexander answered with a low guttural growl.

"As for the rest of it, remember Jowston is a pretty large nation, and we just took a nice bite out of Luca's men.

"The four of us get to Muse and let Anabelle know first hand what happened. If Luca is ready to take on any defense we throw before him, let's see how well he does trying to conquer an entire city instead of a small fort. Remember, if Luca's men busy crawling all over the fort before we blew it up they couldn't be focused on chasing down our soldiers..." He further explained.

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Riou and Jowy looked back at the fort and then at their two guides.

"So now what?" Riou asked, looking at the ruins of the fort. Somehow, he wasn't sure how, the four of them had gotten separated from the rest of the Prophets of the Destruction.

James let out a profound sigh as he slowly went from looking southwest to northeast.

"That's simple. Alex, Florence, Cal and Devi, are going to take our fastest horses Muse and tell people what happened. Meanwhile, we and the other mercenaries head for it on foot. The walk will be a little on the long side, but if you aren't use to marching then I guess I'd have to ask you, are you sure you're a solider?" The question was asked in considerably more whimsically than Riou had asked the nay-kobold a similar question but that didn't mean it was completely without barbs.

"What about Pilika? We can't leave her behind and she won't be able to move very fast." Jowy demanded with a side glance at the girl in question.

"I may look wiry as all get out, but trust me, underneath this jacket, is naught but fur, bones, and pure feline muscle. I can carry her all the way to Muse, and not be panting hard. That okay with you sweetheart? Just think of it as a very long kitty-back ride." James answered before he gave a jaunty shrug bouncing Pilika slightly.

In response Pilika's mouth moved but no sound came out. James tilted his head to the side in surprise and then twisted about so that he could have one of his ears right before her mouth.

"Could you say that again?" But in response to the nay-kobold's words Pilika's just once more moved her mouth without producing any actual sound.

Mirri leaned close and pushed aside some of Pilika's light brown hair.

Underneath it was a small bruise on her forehead, from which a trick of blood had emerged but mostly been soaked up by her hair. Mirri ran a finger through that trickle and then licked the blood from her finger. She then proceeded to roll the contents of her mouth around with her tongue as if tasting a very fine wine before finally speaking.

"Could be much worse could be much better. Coming face to face with Luca Blight the man who doubtlessly at some level killed her parents, scared he speechless, literally.

She still understands what we're saying, but she just can't formulate words. If I took a couple pints of her blood I could probably fix the problem, but the cure would be worse than the disease. It would be like the equivalent of trying to fix a broken bone by shoving it back in its socket, and the mind is far more fragile than your average bone.

Not only that but there's the issue of how loosing that much blood at such a young age could kill her. Sometimes the best approach is to just let the body and the mind heal problems at their own pace." Mirri reflected.

Jowy walked over to James and held out his arms.

"Give her to me." He demanded in a an emotionless tone of voice.

James looked at Jowy and arched back his eyebrows.

"You sure about that? Humans aren't exactly known for being able to carry other humans for long distances." He offered up sounding like some ancient professor talking about a particular species of insect.

Jowy just dropped his staff and dropped it at James' feet.

"You can take this, and if I ever start to slow down you can have her back. But until I slow down..." Jowy promised them.

James gave in and handed Pilika over, and at once Jowy gave her a tight hug.

"It'll be okay Pilika, if you can't talk I'll teach you how to write at the very least." He promised the brown haired girl.

At first all Mirri did was sigh, clearly not expecting Jowy to be able to carry Pilika and keep up a reasonable pace for very long at all.

"Fine, now that we've got all this sorted out, let's march." She ordered.

March they did.

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They didn't march long that day, shortly after night fell they found a grove of trees and fell asleep under them. The next day however, they marched till they reached what was left of the village of Toto that Pilika had come from.

Amazingly Jowy had never fallen a step behind Riou even while carrying Pilika, though when they finally did come to a stop he was breathing incredibly raggedly and his face was as pale as Mirri's.

Though Jowy seemed to glad just to have a chance to catch his breath, Riou had his other things on his mind.

"So what exactly is there to eat?" The black haired youth wondered aloud.

He taken the time to grab a few pieces of hard bread before leaving the fort but had devoured them several hours ago. At the moment that he asked the question, Mirri was leaning against a piece of rubble that had once been a house and pointed a finger at James.

"You know what to do, let's search this place and see if we can't find a pot. They might have burned down every single thing they could have, but iron pots are a long way from flammable. Ohh and enough wood to start a fire would be nice also." She ordered.

James got to rummaging at once, and not wanting to feel completely useless Riou also did as well, about sixty seconds later he caught glimpses of Nanami picking up a few sticks of only mostly burnt wood also.

When they compared all they had, it wasn't much just an iron pot, and a couple of sticks.

Headless of their lack of resources James happily stacked the wood and rested the pot onto of it.

"Okay then, all we need now is some water. They can hardly have burned down the well, so if you three would make a couple of trips while James gets the fire going we'll have ourselves a meal ready soon." Mirri continued to instruct the other four without doing any work herself.

True enough the three Highlanders had canteens with which they took water from the well and slowly filled up the pot. Which left them with a steaming bubbling pot full of water, and absolutely nothing more than that.

"Okay then, so where's the food?" Jowy asked while stamping his foot on the ground in irritation.

Mirri reached over and picked up a charred piece of wood which she began to beat against the pot.

"It's quite simple really. You bring the fire, I'll bring the feast. All aboard that's going aboard!" She declared confidently.

As the ringing sound produced by the impacts filled the air suddenly a veritable stream of rats came forth from the ruins of the city. They also proceeded to come to an abrupt stop around the group in a most distinctly unratlike way. Mirri waved her hands towards the rodents and smiled.

"All these lives will I give you, ay, and many more and greater." Mirri said in an ominous tone as she clenched her fists.

The rats did nothing other than squeak pathetically as James picked them up one after another and proceeded to drop them into the pot.

Once all the rats had been dealt with James proceeded to stick what had apparently once been an iron fireplace poker into the pot and stirred with it. After a while he dipped a hand into the pot and smiled.

"Just right, rat stew, my specialty, who want some?" James offered.

Riou considered decisively saying "not me" but his stomach apparently had other ideas.

Eating stewed rats on his lap after having them removed from the pot through the process of being impaled on a fireplace poker was not his idea of a reasonable meal even for a military man.

But for all it's faults it did do something to fill his belly. It was amazing how much something simple like that could mean to you when you were quite hungry. Even Nanami ate hers with a stoicism that most trained soldiers would have envied.

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Riou came awake when he felt the tapping on his shoulder and looked over at Jowy who had apparently decided to wake him up.

"What is it?" Riou mumbled, still having some trouble keeping his eyes open at the moment.

For an answer Jowy motioned towards Pilika who was shaking his leg at the moment.

"I don't know, but she's from around here so there must be something she wants to show us." Jowy suggested.

Riou slowly nodded and then looked at his sister.

"Should we wake them up just to be safe?" Riou pondered.

At the moment Nanami was laying asleep not far from her brother. James and Mirri were likewise asleep (that had thrown Riou slightly, he had thought that the Prophets of Destruction stayed awake at all hours of the day and night) with James laying his head in Mirri's chest and she absentmindedly nuzzling the back of his neck with her chin.

"You think something bad is gonna happen to us in here? I doubt it, why would Pilika want to take us some place dangerous? We'll bring our weapons and that'll be plenty." Jowy stated confidently.

As quietly as they could (and to Riou's slight surprise without waking anyone up) the three of them walked away from the others. It didn't take them long to reach the destination Pilika's had in mind for them, it looked like a small man made cave that had for some reason decided to pop into being near the edge of the town.

Pilika jumped up and down at the sight of it and Jowy just nodded slowly.

"This was a shrine that she showed me not longer after I washed up. It was her parents' job to protect and care for it. Supposedly there was some kind of great treasure inside and she could only remember the doors ever once being opened." Jowy helped fill his friend in.

The doors" had doubtlessly once been mighty pieces of wood with a stout iron bar across them to keep them shut, but now they simply lay on the ground, blackened and charred like the rest of the village.

Pilika very slowly started to walk towards the shrine with her two companions following in tow though Riou didn't seem much point.

"Whatever the treasure was, I doubt it's still here anymore. Luca probably either set it on fire on stole it depending on what it was." He predicted pessimistically.

Undeterred Jowy walked deep into the cave and began to read an inscription he could make out through the flickering torchlight that lit the shrine.

"'My friend and I seal our thoughts here. We deeply regret that we could not make them one.' Then there's a dash and two names. 'Han and Genkaku'... wait... you don't think whatever this is it has something to do with your adopted father do you?" Jowy wondered.

Before Riou could answer someone else did in.

"Do not worry... There are some treasures that not even Luca Blight can defile..." Announced a woman who suddenly appeared in a swirl of white light.

She had a mature face, and wore a purple outfit with a hood that covered her from head to toe. She had eyes that were a solid pool of black and she somehow floated without touching the ground. At once Riou and Jowy reached for their weapons, but the woman only laughed.

"You need not be alarmed. I am Leknaat, inheritor of the Gate Rune. The keeper of the gates between worlds. She who watches the great scales of Fate. I am here because you two have awakened the True Runes that rest within this place." Leknaat expounded.

"You mean the True Runes actually exist?" Riou gasped in surprise. He had heard stories of the 27 True Runes of course, runes far more powerful than any man made ones were, supposedly they had existed since the creation of Suikoden.

"Yes they exist, in fact you have already had your destiny intertwined with those who bear them. If you accept the True Rune's offer, then your destiny will become inescapably intertwined with them for a great while longer.

Housed within this shrine are two of the True Runes, and they can grant each of you great power. However be warned, do not mistake power for peace, and there have been many who have sought to control True Runes, and only too late discovered that their True Rune has been controlling them." Leknaat whispered towards the pair.

"You said that we've run into people who have possessed True Runes? Who are they?" Riou wanted, no he needed to know the answer to that question.

"The wolf, a noble creature existing ignobly on the fringes of human society. Lighting, striking from far away and leveling foes without mercy or warning. The trickster, always one step behind or one step ahead of others. Blood, rushing to every wound, rarely appreciated for its healing properties. The gardener, nurturing life with one hand, yanking weeds from the soil with the other. Gravity the force which simultaneously pulls us down and yet lets us walk. The beast, frothing at the mouth over its kills. But at your beck and call could be an entirely new kind of power... There are great rewards from holding a True Rune, but also great risks. Make your choice." Leknaat said while spreading her hands wide.

"This True Rune, it will make us powerful right? I'll do it. I'm tired of standing around watching everything I ever cared about slip away from me unable to anything! Right Riou?" Jowy inquired while casting a quick glance in Pilika's direction.

Riou wasn't sure of what exactly Jowy was getting himself into, but he also wasn't about to let him go it alone.

"Whatever it means, whatever happens, I'll stick with you Jowy. You said there are two True Runes correct Leknaat? I'll take one also." Riou decided.

Leknaat nodded and raised her hands.

"The Runes expected as much, which was why they bothered to awaken from their sleep. Give me your right hands, and be warned, not easily are True Runes melded to human flesh. There will be great pain, if you wish to rethink your decision, best do it now." She uttered one final warning.

It went unheeded however as both Riou and Jowy raised their right hands, and Leknaat took them. Almost at once Riou felt like his entire body, no his entire mind was on fire.

"Onto you Riou is conferred the Bright Shield Rune and the status of Guardian, long may you protect those who you hold dear. Onto you Jowy is conferred the Black Sword Rune, and the status of Warrior, long may you strike down those who bar your way." Whispered Leknaat's voice.

Everything went white, he thrashed about trying to free his hand from the strange woman's grip. She held him fast though, and pain continued to flow through every single inch of his body. All he could do was accept the pain and wait for it to pass. It showed no signs of ending or lessening however and the only respite Riou could find came when eventually all sense of consciousness fled his body.

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Riou looked over at Jowy and Pilika, all three of them were laying down inside the shrine.

"Was that all just a dream?" Riou couldn't help but wonder aloud.

Jowy held up his right hand, burned onto the back of it was a black sword.

"No, it was very, very real." He reflected.

Riou looked at the back of his own right hand, on it was a shining green shield.

"Yeah, you're right, I don't know how exactly, but I feel, well a lot different." Riou admitted.

"Damn, we take our eyes off you for one second and look what you go and do!" A female voice interrupted the pair's introspection.

Mirri and James were standing at the opening of the shine with their eyes intently focused on the two symbols now emblazoned on the back's of Riou and Jowy's right hands.

"You kids are going to need to buy some gloves the first chance you get. I know I have an extra pair I can lend one of you, but I'll want them back." Mirri advised them.

"What gives you the right to tell us what to do about these things?" Jowy demanded, while still rubbing his hand as if to see if he could get the symbol on it would fade away.

As one James and Mirri pulled off their right gloves.

On the back of James' right hand was the image of a white cat. It sat on three paws with a it's front left paw upraised, and a large golden coin sparkled on it's neck. The image on the back of Mirri's hand was much more simple, but equally vibrant, a single large drop of blood.

Then they put their gloves back on and Mirri once again showed off her traditional smug smile.

"You see, Riou, there are people who think that they can gain a True Rune by killing off it's current holder. Secondly, you let people see this thing, and then people know that they should expect the amount of power your packing. Surprise is a useful weapon in combat and you should never just give up any chance of having it on your side.

Thirdly and most importantly, your still just kids compared to us even if you have True Runes, because we have them also.

I am... well it's not nice to ask a lady her age, so James how old are you?" Mirri suddenly broke off.

"Three hundred somthingity something. I'd be more exact but the calendar of my homeland doesn't match up with the one you guys use, so I have to guess." James answered after some quick reflection.

Riou looked at James in amazement. He had heard that nay-kobolds had a lifespan that differed from the human one, but not by that much!

More to the point, it was impossible to imagine someone like James could act the way he did, compared to Master Genkaku who (if the nay-kobald's word was to be believed) had been less than one third his age when he had died.

After all someone was three times as old as Genkaku should have acted three times as dignified not... not the way that James acted.

"How can you possibly be 300 years old?" Riou blustered in befuddlement.

James slapped the back of his right glove, underneath which the symbol of his True Rune dwelt.

"Well I was born, and I never quite died, so every so often I had a birthday, and those birthdays kept adding up, which is how I got to be three hundred years old. But seriously, the issue isn't with how old we are, it's with how young you are. Until you've had the True Rune for at least a decade your going to have no real sense of the power you have. It's not so much that your playing fire, as playing with a firespear." The nay-kobold reflected.

"A decade? By that time we'll doubtlessly be just about ready to stop fighting. I mean we'll be getting old." Jowy pondered.

James and Mirri looked at each other and then let louse with a long series of laughs.

"You boys don't know much at all about True Runes do you? I mean haven't you ever heard the one about how once you have a True Rune melded to your right hand you never age past your physical prime?" James eventually managed to explain once he was done laughing.

Riou shook his head as did Mirri and James went back to snorting in contempt.

"Honestly, what do parents teach their children these days? I mean like I said, I'm, well let's say three hundred and such and such. Do you have any idea what that translates to in cat years? And yet I still feel like I just got my first mane!" James clarified further, or at least he tried to.

His words however just drew still more odd looks from from all three of the people who were actually inside the shrine rather than just standing at the mouth of it.

"James, the kids haven't been with you as long as I have. Kids, what James is trying to say is that after three centuries he still feels totally hale, hearty, and otherwise could not be more vigorous. Trust me, he's loyal as a dog and yet a real wildcat in the sack. You know what the 'sack' is by the way right?" Mirri translated, perhaps a bit too fully.

Riou was old enough to understand what she meant of course, and judging by the way Jowy's was turning red was he knew as well. Except that what started as a simple flush of embarrassment now seemed to be giving way to anger

"Yes we know! But I'm willing to bet that Pilika doesn't and what do you think your doing talking about it in front of her?" Jowy protested.

"Don't worry about that Jowy. I'm sure it went over her head. Besides, you guys have more important things to worry about than a little soldier talk." Mirri sighed.

"For example in a couple of hours you're going to start hearing a voice in your head and seeing things or people which that aren't actually there when you stick your hands into them. Don't worry, you'll get used to it after a week or so, if it's still really bothering you after a month then it's probably your True Rune chipping away at your sanity one pebble at a time and worrying won't do you any good." The vampire clarified.

If that statement had been meant to inspire confidence, it failed spectacularly but neither James nor Mirri seemed to care.

"Now then, why don't we do some training?" James offered happily.

"Training?" "What happened to getting to Muse as soon as possible?" Riou shot back.

"You two have a lot to lean about being a vessel for True Rune." Mirri said with another smile."

"If I carry Nanami and James carries Pilika we can run all the way to Muse. One thing every True Rune grants its holder is increased strength, speed and stamina. So let's go see how good you are at using it." Mirri inquired.

By the time Riou and Jowy had left the shrine James was already at Nanami's apparently part way through an explanation.

"Don't worry about what your about to see. It takes a hell of a lot to hurt someone with a True Rune, we're just going to teach them the way a mother bird teaches its kids to fly." The nay-kobold reassured her.

That comment however did little to lift the cloud of apprehension that had fallen over Riou.

"Ladies first, which one do you want to put through the wringer?" Then James offered with a polite bow to his partner.

Mirri took a few steps to the right and locked her eyes on Jowy, before quite extravagantly licking her lips. James straightened up, looked at Riou and made a few more pointless gestures with his hands.

"Well then, guess it'll be you and me sparring together. I suggest you watch closely, because the paw is quicker than the eye." James commented as he began to casually walk to the left, and stand still.

Not one after another, he did both at once.

Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon James "step out" of himself leaving a copy of him behind. As he continued to walk along he left seven more of himself in "his" wake. All of the nay-kobolds took one step towards Riou and spoke in the exact same voice.

"Your a little confused now aren't you? Well allow me to introduce you to me, myself, and I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII.

Only one of me is actually James Firecat, the other 8 are nothing more that projections of the Trickster Rune. Oh and the longer you use a True Rune, the more in synch you get with it, the more power you can call forth from it. At first I could only make simply duplicates which would fall apart when a leaf blown by the wind passed through them.

These days however I've got complete sensory hypnosis, a blind man couldn't penetrate my powers. Check this out..." He cried out happily before every single James drew knives and hurled them at Riou.

His target brought up his tonfas to defend himself and managed to block a couple of them but still he felt several flashes of pain which somehow went as quickly as they had come and then he looking down saw that he was unharmed.

When Riou returned his attention to his part opponent, part mentor, he saw that one James was still holding his knives.

"You felt that right? The pain is all in your mind, but it's still there, and it can make someone flinch at all the wrong times. Of course you know which me is real now, so I'll have to switch things up. The real James sheathed his knives, and all of the copies vanished. Then he executed a long cartwheel his body "stopping" at various points as copies split off from it leaving Riou once more unsure which James was real.

"Okay there we go. Now then I'll start with something simple, CATPILE!" The real and the copies all screamed in one voice before they raced at Riou.

Riou fought them off as best he could, striking at them with either hand, causing several of them to vanish as his blows went right through them. However almost as soon as he started fighting, he was suddenly tackled, from behind. He wound up face down in the dirt with the weight of James on his back.

"See that's one of my favorite tactics. You get the guy so focused on seeing a bunch of you rush right at him that he never even suspects the real you might be circling around behind. But still not bad at all, you got four or five of me in the time it took me to side step and pounce. Well then now that I've got the adrenalin pumping THINK FAST!" James suddenly shouted jumped into the air.

Riou rolled over as fast as he could so he could trying to keep his eyes on the nay-kobold. In mid air James drew a knife and hurled it right at Riou. The drawing happened with the same smooth precision that always accompanied James' maneuvers but the knife seemed slower. Riou rolled to the side again and the knife buried itself in the ground.

"Catch it!" James chanted the phrase merrily as he drew another knife and much to Riou's surprise, threw it at him underhanded.

Instead of his normal pull back, this time James' arm went back straight horizontally without any sort of vertical uplift. As it went forward the knife went arm went a little lower, and then he let go of his weapon's hilt.

The odd tactic didn't seem to impede the accuracy of the knife that much, it was still headed straight for Riou's kneecap but it was slower. Riou neglected to take James' advice and simply blocked it with his tonfa.

James looked crestfallen for a moment and sighed.

"Fine, let's just keep trying till you feel comfortable." He reluctantly suggested.

James kept throwing the knives, and Riou kept blocking them. Eventually James gave up (or possibly simply ran out of knives) and simply nodded to Riou.

"There, you're a lot better than you used to be whether you know it or not. How did yours do Mirri?" James asked his partner.

In truth Riou had been too busy defending himself to pay any attention to how his friend was doing. What he saw when he looked over instantly made Riou feel his tiredness drain out to be replaced with embarrassment at how easy things had been for him.

Jowy now had several fairly obvious and rather nasty looking bruises on his body, unsurprisingly Mirri had apparently been a harder teacher than James. What was surprising was that he was smiling. He gave Riou a thumbs up as their eyes met.

"I think I'm starting to get the hang of it." Jowy declared confidently.

That was more than Riou could say, everything he had done had been unintentional.

Nanami was still looking at the two of them much more sedate than normal.

"You two are lot better. Way better than when you were just a couple of days ago from military training." She noted.

Mirri nodded as she sedately walked over to Nanami and easily picked her up.

"That's right, but you should be careful of them for a couple of days. Until they realize how much power the True Rune grants it's easy to actually crush someone's rib when you only meant to give them a hug." The vampire pointed out.

Which made one more wonderful thing which the two new True Rune bearers would have to worry about. On the other hand it explained pretty well why this time Jowy didn't say a single thing when James picked up Pilika (while Mirri hoisted Nanami to her shoulders) and took off at a quick trot.

Riou followed them adopting a similar pace as did Jowy. They were both still waiting to start feeling tired an hour later.

End Chapter six.