Disclaimer: I do NOT own Yoroiden Samurai Troopers.


Deep in the shadows of the dense Aokigahara illegal pitches were assembled and, yet, they remained hidden from any and all interlopers. Not that anyone would dare journey into a haunted forest, for the locals were a superstitious folk, the tourists stayed on the trails and others simply wandered in to die.

The provisional base was constructed from protective, climate regulatory, camouflage materials. Within the bowels of one said structure, the very heart of the encampment…

…A shady being turned to face two men dressed to the nines in black attire, who together bowed in his presence. Two guardsmen stood behind the pair, keeping vigil at the entrance way.

"Well?" His voice resounded, deep like the roar of a waterfall yet also monotone in character.

"Sir," one of the men addressed their superior. "There are two groundskeepers at the shrine."

"And?" An intense silence wafted when the inquiry had been made.

"We do not know." The same man spoke, his reply somewhat hesitant. "We could not distinguish one from the other at the time for there were too many witnesses in the area. Yokohama is immensely populous, the streets compact…"

The atmosphere in the shelter had grown heavy while an alien darkness shifted the light.

"Bring me the woman." Their higher directed.

The two men bowed and withdrew, only to return several minutes later callously dragging a battered and broken near stiff by the arms. The shattered figure trembled, her teeth rattled with every wheezing breath. Every inch of her crooked and disfigured. Her nose was smashed inward, a number of her teeth missing, fingers twisted, limbs pulled out of joint, legs broken, ears removed, and an eye carved out from the left socket. She was the shadow of the woman she used to be, covered in bruises, severe burns, and bleeding gashes.

The warlord moved up to her. "Where is he?" He regarded her mechanically.

Low murmurs eased their way from her, her body wrecked in terrible agony as she struggled to breathe.

"Listen carefully." He tried again as he grasped her violently by the jaw, inflicting more pain. "There are two Shihans at the location you gave me. Where is Fengge?" He released his grip on her.

The woman's teeth chattered, words stuttered and incoherent.

The warlord stared down at her, his demeanor vacant of emotion. Several others like him grunted, one amused by the woman's inability to respond.

The warlord flagrantly pulled her head back, by her peppered blood and filth encrusted hairs, so as she could look at him. "You may have taken him in, gave birth to him, raised him, nurtured him as if he was your own, hid him from the world, and even so much as kept his true identity from him…" His dark eyes gleamed. "But we know what he is, his nature, and we'll be there when his true power rises, whether you are alive to see it or not. Taking the boy out of the country was only a wasted effort, Watcher, just as the lies you have fed him all these years will be your own undoing. Again, where is Fenghuang's container?"

She quavered a response; "Y-you…and-d-d-d y-your…m-masst-t-t-t-t-ter c-c-c-can b-burn in-n-n-nnn HHHELL." She managed out, used all of her remaining strength, and spat on him.

The warlord was unimpressed, his stare unblinking. "You will appreciate that one cannot tame the beast, for the beast must be destroyed or it will destroy." He turned heel and nonchalantly wiped away the spittle from his person. "Remove the two children from the enclosure and deport them to the mainland."

"What about her?" A lieutenant questioned, referring to the woman.

"She's superfluous." Another warlord remedied. "Better yet, bound her up and leave her to starve for now, then we'll lynch her carcass up for the birds."

"You heard him, she's expendable!" The same lieutenant charged the two containing her, who hauled her away immediately afterward.

"Shen, Mei, Bo, Lei, Zhu…" one of the other warlords drew their attention, who was sifting through items they had raided from the Watcher's home. "Could this be him?"

He held up a group photo that contained all of the Troopers, the boys shoddily cosplaying as gunslingers.

"Gross, Xiang." The female member of their group commented. "They have such terrible tastes."

In Yokohama, at the shrine…

From his seat at the table, Ryou observed as a bowl of hot food was served to him. The dish was Vegetable Curry, garnished with cilantro for that extra appeal and flavor.

"Wow, Shu! That looks great!" Ryou complimented, then took hold of his spoon and dug in.

"Thanks, glad to have you over…" Shu replied as he handed Seiji his portion. "How long are you here for?"

"Mmm?" Ryou swallowed. "Not long, unfortunately, this weekend alone. Was in the neighborhood, so I decided to drop by…" He revealed. "I also came this way to tell you that I won't be joining you for winter since I'll be busy this time. Sorry."

"No problem." Shu donned a merry smile, burying his disappointment. He pulled out a chair and sat down. "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."

"Oh, and before I forget…" Ryou continued. "I heard from Touma. He says he's doing fine in America, school is keeping him busy as usual…"

Shu turned his gaze from their leader and peered down at his food, for once reluctant to chow down. He could not explain it, but he felt a sudden wave of nausea wash over him. Maybe a cosmic torrent of energy pouring through his Kundalini was the cause?

"And I heard from him that Shin is sharing an apartment with him."

Or was it something else? Alerted, Shu snapped his gaze back onto Rekka's wearer.

"Shin is staying with Touma?" Seiji rephrased Ryou's statement. "When did THAT happen?"

"I asked the same thing." Ryou explained; "Shin told me himself that he was in the same area and, rather than afford a place on his own, he decided to board with Touma and chip in on the rent."

"And did he explain to you as to why he never returned my calls?" Shu asked suddenly.

The room had fallen silent as tension rose and loomed in the air.

"…Actually, no, he didn't." Ryou answered, not knowing how else to respond.

Shu sprang up from his seat and cheered; "Well, that's great! All fine and dandy, life is all sunshine and rainbows, everything's keen! Some best friend he turned out to be! I'm SO lucky! Can't you see how pleased I am?"

Ryou cringed at Shu's blatant exoneration.

"Cool it, Shu." Seiji warned, fully aware of how upset his partner was.

"Shin is going through some things." Ryou tried to explain.

"Oh, really? And what are these THINGS, OH FEARLESS LEADER?" The Kongo warrior challenged, leaning over the table, his eyes wild. "Surely, whatever it is, one of the key symptoms is the inability to ANSWER THE PHONE or RETURN MY CALLS." He suddenly struck his palms against the table's surface, which somehow caused the food in the china to ripple rather than spill.

The lights above them flickered, the antiquated chandeliers vaguely trembling. Shu's bottom lip trembled just the same, failing to hold back the tears that streamed down cheeks. He expressed himself eloquently, his tone laced with a quiet vulnerability and, yet, his words were honed and aimed with such precision. "HE spoke to YOU, but he wouldn't speak to ME…" After salvaging his composure, Shu peeled back and shed himself from their company. "Enjoy your meal, stay as long as you like."

Once Shu vaulted from the room, Seiji crossed his arms and turned to Ryou.

"You should tell Shin to call him." He advised, and then enquired; "And what is it that he's going through exactly, anyway?"

"I don't know." Ryou responded candidly. "He wouldn't tell me."

Seiji rolled his eyes. "Why am I not surprised?"

Ryou shrugged. "Anyway, I'll tell Shin to call him…or tell Touma to tell him, whichever happens."

For now, Shu had fled to outside, nearly breaking down the door on his way out. Out there in the open-air, the man kicked the dirt and, by doing so, symbolically kicked himself.