One didn't live in the Underrealm
without learning how to take care of
oneself. And Artemis knew how to take care of herself. Using her
fallen branch like a bo staff, she began to relax into the rhythm of
fighting, her trembling fears were replaced with an icy calm.
Kento was begining to hum in an off-key voice "I've been working on the
Railroad," as he batted and shattered his way through the ranks of
skeletons. The going was easy, or so he thought.
"None shall pass..." a desolate voice moaned.
"Yeah, man, I heard that before!" Kento swung his staff like a baseball
bat, fully intending to shatter the skeleton before him.
A gloved hand caught the blow and barely shifted. Two pinpoints of red
light flared within pools of blackness. Kento's eyes widened at the
sight and the skeletal warrior's grinning visage stared back with eyes
of fire. This was a skeletal warrior, one of extreme power and skill.
Kento attempted to pull his staff from the skeletons grip. But it
"None shall pass..." the moan was louder, more insistent.
"Uh.." Kento looked around. "Somebody.. HELP!!"
Kento did as commanded, and sheilded his face from the shards of bone
that flew from the demolished wrist. Raising his eyes, he nearly
fainted at the sight. Artemis held the branch expertly, balancing on
the balls of her feet, facing the skeletal warrior. Kento got to his
feet shakily; the skeleton's hand still gripped the end of his staff
with a death-grip.
"Shut up and fight!" she snapped urgently.
"They're going to get
through that!" Styx growled. "We should fight
Diamond snarled wordlessly, pushing the girl forward as they ran
through the forest. "We... need a strategic... advantage..." she
panted. "If.. if.. we want... any chance of beating... them..."
Styx snapped a tree branch in her violence shoving it aside. "Who
cares if we have an advantage or not! We could take them out!" She
made a half motion to her remaining brothers and sister.
Diamond ran short of breath, and stopped running, leaning on a tree for
support as she labored to catch her breath. Lethe ran nearly a hundred
more yards before realizing that the others had stopped with Diamond.
She was ready to turn around and head back, when she saw that she was
standing on the gradual slope of a mountain.
She had never claimed to be a very smart person, but Lethe stood there,
looking up the mountainside at the tree line. Just beyond the tree line
lay a small cave with boulders and brush scattered around. She started
to climb up towards it.
Once there, she turned to look back down. She could see everything
around her, the entire tree line as it stretched around the mountain,
and the entire perimeter that lay around the cave. She took to her
heels, sprinting back to her sister-empress.
"Guess what?? I found our 'tegic 'vantage!"
The woman lifted her head.
"Are they gonna be alright?"
Mia smiled softly. Liza had returned to being the shy soft girl that
Mia had come to know and love. "They'll be fine, Leez." she assured the
girl, at the same time assuring herself. "Just fine."
"You sure?" Liza asked, pressing the point. "I mean.. me and
Sekhmet.. we got plans... we ...." She trailed off, wringing her hands
in her lap, her throat too constricted to go on.
Mia rose from her seat and went to stand beside the girl. "Trust me.
The boys can take care of themselves." Inwardly Mia laughed. After so
many years of peace, back in wartime, Mia found it so easy to think of
the Ronins as boys but not men. She hugged Liza in a sisterly manner.
Sage crushed the last little
skeletal mouse under his heel with a laugh
of semi-triumph. "Is everyone okay?"
A soft murmur of affirmatives ran through the group. Kento, still in
shock over seeing Artemis fighting, grabbed her by the shoulders.
"ARE YOU CRAZY?? What do you think you're doing!?" he demanded, shaking
her back and forth.
Artemis shrugged out of his grip. "Helping a friend," she replied
cryptically. She had after all made a promise to Anubis and was
determined to keep that promise. She looked into the forest. "Quick..
we loose precious time with each delay!"
The Underrealmer started off into the trees, but the others hesitated,
thinking this strange and unlike her. Ryo made a snap decision, and
headed after her.
"She's right! We've got to stop them before anything else is released
into the world!" he admonished. With a chorus of grunted agreements and
calls, the warriors followed.
"That's STRAtegic ADvantage!!"
Cocytus automatically corrected her.
"And now.. what are you..." he stopped short as he drew up next to his
sister. "Yowza. Now that's an advantage.."
"I to'd ya." Lethe replied, making her way back to the little cave.
"Look.. I c'n see far 'way!"
"Which means others can see you too." Styx snapped, starting up to join
her. "Now.. get inside, we have plans to make."
Diamond watched the four siblings move inside. She frowned slightly,
wrinkling the creases and deepening the wrinkles around her mouth. The
gem was getting to Styx's head, making her so cock-sure. Diamond then
smiled; she would let the pyramid of power topple down around the girls
head. And then.. she would rebuilt.. with a sturdier foundation.
The aged sorceress followed the Children of Hell up to the cave, and
slipped inside. "This is your war, Styx," she murmurd carefully to the
girl. "Your war, your plans."
"I get that orange creep." Phlegethon muttered.
"This is ridiculous,"
Kento muttered, lumbering after Artemis' fleeing
form. "What's she doin' out here?"
"Save your breath, Kento, and run!" Cye gasped beside him. "C'mon!"
The smallest Ronin jetted ahead, to join with the others. Kento
grumbled again, under his breath, but followed.
Artemis caught a flicker of something on the wind, a warning breeze
that whispered in her ears. She stopped short, still within the
treeline. She could barely make out the break and the boulderstrewn
slope ahead of her. With a silent thanks to Sibyl, she backed slowly
Ryo saw her and managed to stop the others. Thunderstorm and
Moonshadow crept up to join the Underrealmer.
"What is it?" the Conduit whispered. "What's up ahead?"
"Tree break," Artemis breathed. "And the Children."
Thunderstorm exchanged a short glance with her friend. Then nodded, as
unspoken words passed between the two. "Stay here," she said to the men
gathering behind them. "Shadow and I will go up and scout."
Dais supressed a gasp. "You'll be seen."
"No.. we won't." Storm returned, patting his hand with a smile. Then
to Shadow: "You ready?"
Shadow nodded, closing her eyes and gathering energy within herself for
Storm to shape.
The shaman chanted softly, taking only the energy she needed lest she
give them away. "Grandfather Wolf lend us Your form, lend us the use of
Your ears, Your eyes and Your nose. Hear me Grandfather, please.. hear
Dais rubbed his eyes; Sage grabbed the nearest tree in a death grip.
Where the two women had been standing, there was now two wolves, each
standing waist high. The subtle differences between them told the two
apart. Thunderstorm with the full markings of a wolf, and Moonshadow
only half marked. With a slight dip to the men, they ran off.
Sekhmet whistled softly. "Now that's a trick.. oulff-" Cale chuckled,
removing his elbow from Sekhmet's stomach.
Artemis frowned slightly. "We wait... retreat a little farther, in
case they've posted a watch."
The two women-wolves made an
easy sweep of the grounds, sniffing out
hiding spots and communicating silently.
<Look.. this stand of boulders is a good attacking point..> Shadow
thought to Storm, sniffing around behind a pile of rocks.
<Mm... yes, and easily defended...> Storm mused. <See, we can bring
them up through that point of the forest.. and get here quickly under
<If we can manage to surround the cave, we could garrote them out..>
<That's out of the question, we'd need someone _in_ the cave to drive
Moonshadow snuffled. <Did you smell what I smelt around Artemis?>
<The ghostscent, faintly.>
<That's our.. _inside_ person.. > Moonshadow chuckled. <You deal with
Artemis.. I'll get the others to their spots.> Moonshadow nipped her
friend's ear lightly and ran off.