By the time Ryo had managed
to pull himself back to Mia's house, the sky was lightening with
dawn. Whiteblaze moved patiently beside him, as Ryo wished that
he was still the small boy of 14 that could easily ride the tiger.
Whiteblaze was his support, each time Ryo felt he was swooning
from the pain in his side. His ribs burned with a fire that he
just couldn't handle. He fell against the front door heavily,
only to find it locked.
It was early, everyone was asleep. He leaned against the door, exausted. "Mia," he prayed silently. "Please wake up early.. somebody?"
There came no answer to his silent prayers. "Please?" he whispered aloud. He didn't feel like he had the strength to shout, but gathered what he had left and concentrated it into one loud wordless cry.
Whiteblaze echoed it with a roar. Someone was sure to hear it.
* * * * *
Liza rolled over, pulling her hands up over her head to block out the sound. She cracked open one violet-blue eye and peered groggily at the clock. It was barely 5 a.m. and the damn tiger was already here? She closed her eye, thinking that didn't seem right.
Something large stirred next to her on the bed. Liza turned her head and looked at the sleeping form of Sekhmet. He had slept nearly from the moment she had gotten him to bed until now.. and she wasn't about to wake him. He looked so childish, curled on his side, with his arms, no doubt healed by now with Artemis' herbs, cradled protectively against his abdomen.
She heard Whiteblaze roar again, and sighed. She rolled slowly out of the bed, the absence of her slight form barely causing Sekhmet to stir in his sleep. She sighed again to herself, scolding herself silently for falling asleep fully clothed. She felt grimy and disgusting, but she ditched the idea of a fast shower just to shut up that dumb tiger.
Pulling the door open, trying not to make any more noise than she needed, she attempted to sneak out without waking Sekhmet. But he was already awake, watching her with an amused expression.
"Going some where?" he whispered, barely so she could hear it. Liza froze and met his cool gaze. She smiled. "Whiteblaze is outside making enough racket to raise the dead!"
Sekhmet pushed himself into a seated postion, smiling as he noted the lack of pain in his arms. He stretched slowly, and then hopped to a standing postion. "I'm coming with you," he rumbled quietly.
Liza couldn't help but smile at his protectiveness.
As the two descended the stairs, Sekhmet was pulling the bandages off his arms, fully confident that they were healed. By the time they reached the living room, he was noting the faint scars he bore as a testament to his brief struggle with the mephit. Thinking of the steam imp, he looked around for it, wondering just where it had been thrown. In the middle of the kitchen he saw a pile of still-wet rags, and the bowl that Artemis had used to hold the concoction that healed him. He figured the worse had happened to old Fetrilmyn and laughed slightly.
Liza was nearing the door when Whiteblaze let out another long roar. She was amazed that none of the others had been awakened by the sound. Glancing at the VCR in the living room she changed her mind. There was the Hellraiser tape sticking out of the video slot. Cale and Kayura had stayed up watching it all night. In the computer room, Mia had left her system running, searching through thousands of files with dozens of keywords. She was nowhere in sight. Dais must have finished his book, because Sekhmet nearly crushed it as he sat in the easychair. Sekhmet nearly laughed at the title. "Dreams and Illusions" by Edgar Cayce.
Liza unlocked the door quickly, cursing the loud tiger outside and wondering why the hell hadn't Ryo shut him up yet? She pulled the door open suddenly, prepared to speak sternly to Whiteblaze.
Liza jumped backwards as Ryo's unconcious form fell inwards.
* * * * *
"So, it was Archeron?"
Artemis asked quietly.
Ryo nodded, keeping a hand, out of habit, at his bruised side. Artemis had done her best to ease the pain, but the injury was only a bruise that traveled straight through to the bones beneath. Three bruised ribs, Ryo had to show for his brief battle with Archeron. "Yeah, but I found out where they're hiding."
Those words caught the Overlord's attention, and the three of them leaned forward. Kayura smiled at the predictability of the movement. Artemis motioned for them to back off.
"We're going to need the other Ronins for this.." she murmured, thoughtful in her tone and posture.
Ryo reached across the end table and picked up the phone. "Reach out and touch someone," he smiled.
* * * * *
Diamond watched the portal to
the Abyss carefully, for some inkling of the creature about to
come through. Garblufink cowered at her side, and the four other
Children of Hell milled about behind them. Archeron had been punished
for allowing the Ronin to escape, his wounds had not been healed.
He was left propped up against a tree, trying to tend to his wounds
himself. All others were ordered not to speak with him, and they
were learning that to disobey or dissappoint either Diamond or
Styx would result in similar treatment... perhaps even death.
Styx held the glowing sick-blue stone between her hands, her face underlit by its tainted glow. Her callous blue eyes were closed, and she mouthed the words that Diamond had taught her slowly. For long moments, it seemed that nothing would come out of the portal.
At least until a mass of rolling black cloud spilled out from it, flowing over the ground like an inky creature in itself. Diamond smiled as the cloud began to take a form, or rather several forms. The wraiths slowly formed themselves into torsos and upper limbs, topped by a head with glimmering red eyes, and supported by a pillar of billowing, inky black cloud.
Styx didn't stop with these monsters, though, she continued to call into the Abyss, looking for something to lead the mindless wraiths. She was not prepared for what answered her call.
"Yessss.. missstressssss," the sibilant voice purred from the darkness.
* * * * *
Kento and Cye were the last
to arrive at Mia's. Kento was still sleepy, his weariness, most
likely from his job, showed plainly in his puppyish face as he
slumped into a chair. Sage was an early bird anyways, so the morning
wake up call had caught him in the shower. His hair was still
damp and hanging rather lank when he arrived. Rowen fought off
the inclination to complain heartily about the earliness, and
settled with asking the question.
"Why can't the bad guys ever pick the late afternoon to start something?"
Artemis smiled and shrugged his question away. Ryo laughed slightly, but remembered the graveness of this situation.
"We can make it a safe bet that they'll move thier camp before long," Ryo began, having updated everyone soon after Cye and Kento had arrived. "Mia's still sleeping and we'd like to keep it that way. With us all here, we can make a strike against them-"
The sound of the door opening stopped Ryo in mid-sentance. Eleven heads swiveled to observe the door, which seemed to have blown open on its own. Whiteblaze gave a soft whuffle of greeting as two figures emerged from the early morning light. The sight was breath-stopping.
The two figures were clad in fringed leather, soft doe-skin and rougher buffalo hide. The foremost of the two wore a mantle of a silvery-gray fur. The features of this one were obscured by the markings of a wolf, white around the eyes, darker gray along the high cheekbones, and a streak of near-black down the long noble nose. The dark eyes that stared out from underneath the thick, wild mane of black hair were unnervingly familiar.
"Thunderstorm?" Dais asked incredulously.
The Native American made no movement except to stand aside for her companion. This one too, was wearing the mantle of a wolf, except it was smaller and not as adorned with fetishes and ornaments as the others. This one's tawny blond ringlets were woven with feathers of great birds-of-prey. Her eyes were only on one thing, her best friend, Storm. Moonshadow's face was also painted, hers split in half by a vertical dark line. The left half was untouched, the right half was decorated like a wolf's face.
It was Sage's turn to be shocked. "Moonshadow?"
Dais stared. Even after what he had seen her do for Cale, he couldn't believe that this was the same eccentric painter. But deep within himself, he did. Deep within himself, he knew that this was the same person. This was still Thunderstorm.
"You are about to go into battle against a sorceress." Thunderstorm intoned. "You have no idea what you face, or how to face it."
"Let Wolf guide your path," Moonshadow continued. "Let us come with you."
"Wolf?" Sage asked, rising and taking an unsure step towards his girlfriend.
Shadow calmly regarded his outstretched hands, then shifted her gaze to Storm.
"Perhaps we'd best explain." the shaman offered.
Sometime later, the blank expressions upon the Ronins and Overlords faces had solidified into something more substansial, a quasi-understanding.
"Soooo," Ryo drew the vowel out for emphasis. "Storm's a shaman with a wolf totem and Storm's a .... Conduit?"
"Wolf, not a wolf, just Wolf," Storm corrected patiently. Ryo nodded, and asked again. "Conduit? I don't think we all understand that.."
Shadow smiled knowingly at her friend. "I'm like a copper wire connecting the energy source to Storm.. that energy flows through me. In essence, I'm nothing more than connective tissue. And I can handle more energy than a normal person.. so I'm a Conduit."
Ryo nodded, taking a while to digest that information. Sage sat in stunned silence, sharing a disbelieving look with Dais every once in a while. Liza had retreated upstairs, all this being just a little too much for her to fathom.
Storm rose to her feet from her crossed-legged position on the floor with graceful ease. Her eyes seemed not to focus on the Ronins, but on a point beyond each of them. "We should be going, soon, before the tides of power...."
Her voice trailed off. Shadow rose moments later, straining to see what the shaman saw. The singer's hand brushed against Thunderstorm's arm, causing the Cherokee to glance over.
"Too late..." she intoned, ominously.
* * * * *
Diamond watched as the four
able Children picked up the camp. Archeron moaned from the now
festering wound in his upper thigh. Whiteblaze had ripped away
a large chunk of flesh during the fight. His sister, Lethe, moved
about him, ignoring his pleas for a drink of water or a taste
of food. She had always been good at ignoring people, losing herself
in her own little world of oblivion and she was ignoring her brother's
pleas without remorse.
Lethe packed up bed rolls into Diamond's little pouch. Even though the pouch itself seemed no larger than the head of a human, it had the capacity to hold a ceaseless amount of objects without gaining wieght. Diamond prided herself on its creation, a magickal artifact of great use.
Archeron caught Lethe's leg as she moved to step over him.
"Please," his voice was cracked from a day's lack of water. "Just a little.."
Lethe pulled her foot free of his half-hearted grasp, and savagely kicked his face. Archeron bit his tongue nearly in half to avoid crying out as her boot connected with the gashes made by that damned cat. He let his anger overtake his pain.
Styx smiled as she walked through the cloud-like forms of the eight summoned wraiths. She had not yet sent them out on thier task, not until the Children were ready to leave the camp. Her cold eyes were like chunks of sharp ice as she knelt beside Archeron. Taking her hands from behind her back, she showed him the clay mug full of water, and a few strips of tough jerky.
Her grin grew sadistic as she sipped the water, closing her eyes and sighing at the taste. Archeron fought to keep his eyes open, and raised one hand weakly for the cup, begging, beseeching.
Styx laughed and rose to her feet. She walked only six feet away, and set the water and the jerky down upon the ground.
"You may join us, when... if, you can." She never looked back, as she strode off, the inky clouds following her, the sick blue glow of the Jewel of Transcendance glimmering faintly.
Archeron watched them all leave, and felt the shadowy presence of the last creature summoned forth from the Abyss leave as well. Looking longingly at the water, part of him hoped and prayed that the callous bitch fell.. and part of him died, knowing that his sister.. had just abandoned him...