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Chapter Two

July 5th, 8:00am

"You three behave. And I mean that." Mia orders Kento, Rahne, and Cye. Ryo, Sage, and Rowen stand behind her, leaning against the jeep, ready to go. The orders were of the typical variety Mia left when she was going on a trip. They’re headed off to investigate a temple that had been unearthed in the north. Mia had only been given four security clearances, which meant three couldn’t go. They were spending a week up there, so whoever went with her had better be interested in what they were doing up there. Ryo, Sage, and Rowen had been it. Orders finished, Rahne hugs her twin briefly in good-bye. The others simply toss "later" or "bye" back and forth. Good-byes finished, Kento and Cye go back inside without looking back. Rahne; however, looks back at the Jeep and her brother, feeling her confidence falter for the first time. No Ryo meant the nightmares were back. Ryo turns around in his seat to face her, a supportive smile on his face. ~ Trust yourself, Sis; I’m not your confidence. Never have been. Try making your own. I love you! ~ he signs to her across the increasing space between her and the himself. Rahne smiles back. But she still didn’t feel very confident. Setting her mouth in a straight line, as the Jeep drives away, she follows her friends inside.

The next day

A hot, hazy sun beats down on the Koji estate; even though it’s only noon. Kento blasts Cye with the last of his water balloons, and stumbles to a stop. Cye slows down and walks back toward him, smiling and picking fragments of water balloon from his wet hair. Water glistens on his bare torso and drips from his faded, navy swimtrunks. "Well, that was fun." He says, running a hand through his hair, checking for pieces he might have missed. "Aw, yep. Hey, you seen Babes lately?" Kento asks, using his new nickname for Ryo’s sister. It had originally been "Babs", like the character from Tiny Toons; but one accidental slip of the tongue on his part, and it had become ‘Babes’. "Um, yeah. She went inside a half hour ago." Kento frowns; she definitely had an authority complex. The minute, the second; it had occurred to her that he was Ryo’s proxy, she defied him at every turn. He had laid down the rule, ‘Tell me where you’re going before you go.’ Simple. Logical. And thrown out the -- window. "For what?" Kento asks, forcing a playful tone into his voice. "I think she said her foot hurt. The one she stepped on wrong yesterday." Kento nods, already walking in the direction of the house. If it was her foot, he could forgive that; anything else and man, was she going to get it. He finds her asleep on the couch, an ice pack resting on her foot and ankle. There’s also an empty granola bar wrapper and a bottle of aspirin on the table: she had remembered that type of painkiller needed to go with food. Sage had made himself sick before they had realized what type they had bought. Cye heads for the bathroom to change into some dry clothes. Can’t get mad if she’s hurting, Kento thinks, taking the aspirin and empty wrapper back to the kitchen. Mia kept the aspirin in the First Aid Kit in the kitchen. Why is she making all these dumb clumsy mistakes? Rahne is the second most graceful and lithe person he’s ever met, next to Lady Kayura. Why she was suddenly stepping wrong just walking downstairs was beyond him. She could walk down a balance beam as if it was as wide as a sidewalk and she raised gooseflesh for anyone just watching her do her flexibility drills. Kento reaches out with the power of his armor on a sheer whim and checks the house. His special power gave him a sort of second sight, one that followed the natural energy that flowed through the earth. His sense flowed out of the room, he found Rahne and Cye easily. Cye feels his presence and asks him what he’s doing through his armor. Nothing, Cye. Cye yanks his swimtrunks back on and throws on a sleeveless T-shirt anyway: He had learned from experience that Kento usually didn’t do this without a reason. Then Kento feels something, a presence that to his sense is like a dark shroud.. The dark cloud flows towards her, reaching toward her with wispy tendrils, cautiously and discreetly. It’s surrounding Rahne slowly, like a predator stalking it’s prey. Kento can feel Rahne’s increasing fear like a drop in pressure before a storm. GET AWAY FROM HER!! Rahne wakes up with a shriek. Cye dashes into the living room. He holds her tight, her body shaking with terror. She starts to sob into his shirt. "You’re all right. You’re all right. Shhhhh." Cye repeats over and over, rocking Rahne back and forth. She can’t hear him, but it’s all he can think of to do. Kento runs into the room in his full armor. Torrent looks up at him, and presses Rahne’s face into his shoulder so she can’t see. "It’s okay, Rahney. You’re safe. Shhhhhhh..." Cye looks up at Kento, a questioning look on his face. What was it? His forehead kanji glows faintly in the sunlight streaming through the window as his sending reaches his best friend. Not now. I’ll tell you later. Kento sheds his armor, and sits on the edge of the couch. He reaches out and rubs her upper back and shoulders. She’s still sobbing, but she’s slowly calming down now. When Rahne’s calm enough, they take her into the kitchen. Cye makes her some tea to calm her nerves. Kento watches her drink the tea, trying to figure out why something had wanted to attack her. Rahne’s just as Ryo had said: gentle and quiet. The attitude was simply an act, to cover up what she considered cowardice. He had seen her spar with Sage, so he also knew she could fight. She’s excellent, as a matter of fact. All her kicks are crisp and clean, her punches are nearly a blur to watch. She looks up at him, her eyes looking tired. "How long have you been having these nightmares?" Kento asks suddenly, while she watching him. Rahne sighs before saying, "This round started up three days before I came here. But they stopped right after I arrived." She sighs and takes another sip of tea. Kento raises an eyebrow, and taps her shoulder to get her attention. "‘This round’?" Rahne sighs, "The first round started about a year ago, about two months after Ryo left." *KENTO!?* Cye startles as he realizes the time frame. *I know, Cye. Right after we beat Talpa the first time.* She describes the dreams to them. They’re wicked, dark dreams; corrupted images of reality. The least terrifying of them was simply a dance with a dark man with white hair and an eye patch; the worst she barely manages to tell them of. In that one, she dreamt of Ryo and White Blaze. In front of her very eyes they had become grotesque demons, and had tried to kill her. Only she killed them. Rahne starts to sob again, her pale blue eyes haunted and in pain. "S’Okay, babes." Kento holds Rahne tight to his chest, feeling angry and disgusted. He knows immediately who had sent these: Dais, Dark Warlord of Illusion. "Are you sure you’re okay?" Rahne nods, looking down at the table. Kento knows what she must be thinking: that she wants to tell them that she’d never be able to hurt her brother. No matter what. "I will be." she whispers. "Stay with her, Cye. I’ll be right back." Kento gets up and walks upstairs to his and Cye’s bedroom. He shuts the door, and goes out onto the balcony. He feels his temper start to boil over, he grips the hand smoothed wood, and fights himself calm again. He had been slowly learning to keep a lid on his temper, and Sage had been working with him so he could calm himself down. It worked so long as he got himself away from other people till he was calm. There was nothing else he could do, except wait for the guys to come back. His temper back under control, he heads back downstairs; vowing that if he ever ran into Dais again... the warlord was going to die a slow and painful death.

Day four

Kento had never realized how easy it was to get bored when it got this hot and muggy. The last two nights Rahne had slept as peacefully as hot, muggy nights allowed anyone to. He watches the weather report hopefully. There’s a thunderstorm to the west, still over the Sea of Japan. He frowns at the word "severe", but it’s better than baking. Cye and Rahne were swimming in the lake. Kento actually didn’t think any of them had worn actual clothes and not swimsuits since Mia and the guys had left. He switches Rowen’s PlayStation on and plays some Tekken. He’d had Rahne laughing hysterically last night while they were playing. He’d used the little orange lizard-dude, the one that must have eaten about a hundred pounds of something that didn’t agree with him, and was using his gas to waste people. She was laughing so hard, she didn’t even try to waste the little stinker. A smile pulls up the corners of Kento’s mouth: She had an infectious laugh. It was the type that made you feel giddy even remembering it. That crystal butterfly pendant she wore fit her personality perfectly: bright, cheerful, delicate yet remarkably resilient. Kento shuts down the game down, and heads on out to the Lake to join his two friends. The storm hits Toyama just shortly after midnight. High winds and torrential rain pound the city and surrounding countryside with unrelenting force. Cye - sprawled on top of his sleeping bag in the middle of the living room - watches the shadows play across the ceiling uneasily. Lightning briefly illuminates the room, and a gust rattles the windows. He didn’t mind storms, but the ferocity of this one bothered him. It obviously doesn’t bother Kento or Rahne: They were sound asleep. Then again, Kento - who’s draped across the easy chair and snoring - can sleep through most anything; and, Rahne - asleep on a couple floor cushions - was too deaf to hear much of anything. Cye listens to the storm and to Kento’s snoring, wondering which one had higher decibel levels. Jeez, Rahney, are you lucky. You probably don’t even know Kento snores. He rolls over to look at her, still concerned over those dreams she had been getting. Her features are relaxed in sleep, her dreams peaceful. He doesn’t even realize he’s staring at her, until she stirs and grumbles, "Go to sleep, Cye." "Sorry. Am I keeping you awake?" Rahne grumbles something unintelligible and goes back to sleep. Maybe she has the right idea... As soon as he’s asleep, Cye’s awakened by five or six simultaneous crashes of thunder and lightning in quick succession. "There goes the power," Kento states as the VCR clock blinks out. Cye rolls over to see Kento scoop the still sleeping Rahne up, and nod in the direction of the basement. Cye gets to his feet and slings his sleeping bag and pillow over his shoulder. They’re halfway down the stairs, when Rahne wakes up. "What’s goin’ on?" she asks in that too soft voice of hers. "Nothing. Better safe than sorry," Kento says loud and carefully so she can understand. The moment they’re down on the floor, Kento gently sets Rahne on her feet. "I’ll go find a torch..." Cye mumbles in his British accent, looking around on some of the shelves. Rahne looks around and then turns in a kind of aimless circle. Finally she leans on one the support columns. "The winds’ve picked up," she says quietly to Kento. Kento frowns and listens, sure enough the roar had impossibly increased volume. He gives her an exaggerated nod before joining Cye in his search for a flashlight. "Find it, Cye?" Kento asks as his best friend lays on his stomach and starts groping around under the bottom shelf. "Yeah, but it fell back under here... somewhere... yes!" Cye pulls the flashlight out, his grin visible even in the near darkness. "Um, what’s she doing?" Kento turns around to see that Rahne has climbed up a storage shelf to look out the high window. "Hey, Babes, get away from the window!" He bellows as loud as he can, hoping to get past even a little of her deafness. "She still can’t hear you," Cye says dryly as he rises from the floor, his hands rubbing his ringing ears. Kento strides over to Rahne’s perch, taps her ankle, and then when she looks at him, he points downward. Rahne pushes off the shelf, landing lightly on her feet. "I don’t like this... The winds’re too strong." Kento leads Rahne back to the storm shelter and Cye. It’s a little steel-reinforced bunker meant for weathering out the worst storms in. He’s pretty sure this qualifies as ‘worst’. They settle down inside, and Cye turns on the emergency radio. Evacuations in several towns, including the one where Yuli’s summer camp is. "Yuli’s probably having a good adventure." Kento jokes, leaning back against the wall. "Oh yeah, the National Guard and big army vehicles. He’s probably enjoying himself," Cye agrees. Rahne’s leans back against the wall, looking half comatose. She yawns, and gives them a sleepy smile. The entire house seems to jump almost clear off it’s foundation and a sound like shattering glass comes from above. Rahne sits bolt upright, her pale eyes suddenly afraid. Kento and Cye leap to their feet. It takes a force of sheer willpower not to pull their power crystals. "Stay put, Rahne," Kento commands her, already half out the door. "We’ll check this out," Cye tells her, pulling his sleeping bag over for her to sleep on. They leave Rahne in the storm shelter, and head upstairs. Their power crystals flash breifly as they summon their sub-armors. One of the big trees outside had been simply uprooted by the wind. One of the branches had broken off and was now on the floor in Mia’s room. Which just happens to be locked, just like she keeps her study. "I hope the neighbors are okay," Cye shouts over to Kento as they force the door open and barricade the window shut with a few planks of plywood, several two-by-fours, and brute strength. "Think we should check on them?" Kento asks, shouting to be heard over the wind. The new neighbors are an elderly couple who’re raising their grandchildren by themselves. They had just moved in, and they had a lot of mature trees in their yard. Those were the type that had begun to rot from the inside out. The other neighbors are a family who lives about a half mile down the road the opposite direction. The wind stops howling as Kento lodges the last two-by-four brace into position. "I think we’d better." Cye quickly looks out into the now quiet hallway, making certain Rahne wasn’t coming. "ARMOR OF TORRENT! DAO SHIN!" The armor of Torrent burst into existence, Cye goes downstairs, and into the storm to check on the elderly couple and their grandchildren. Kento goes back to the basement and checks on Rahne. She’s trying hard to sleep. "Cye and I are going to check on the neighbors, I want you to stay put. Get some sleep." Kento tells her before going back upstairs. Outside looks like a war zone. Trees down, debris scattered everywhere while arcing powerlines writhe and dance like metallic snakes. The smell of ozone is strong on the air. The wind is still howling like a vengeful demon, making walking - even with the Armor of Hardrock - difficult. Kento snaps one gauntleted fist in front of his face to block a piece of wind blown debris, wincing as splinters and shards of metal and wood skittle over his helmet and shoulder guards. He sees Cye make it over the hill, using his yari as a walking stick. He looks like he’s climbing the tallest mountain instead of just going up a hill, but the wind must be worse up there without any cover. He finally makes it to the forest. The very trees moan and rattle with the wind, swaying as if they were small weeds instead of the majestic, old trees they are. Kento lifts a downed barn owl from the forest floor and boosts it into a small cave in a rock formation. The little thing never once tried to bite him, it just let Kento manhandle it to safety. The winds are less ferocious in the forest; Kento looks back to survey the house. It looked okay other than for the broken window. He turns around and heads into the forest.

Ryo sits in their hotel suite, watching the storm’s approach to Sendai. Last time he was here he had lost to Dais terribly. Now he’s here just to look at some ruins with the guys. Sage is on the phone with his parents, telling them how cool the ancient temple was. Rowen was reading again. Something by Michael Crichton, from what Ryo could see of the cover. Most likely Sphere. He had gotten off the phone with Kento several hours ago. They had found the reason for his sister’s nightmares. Something had been sending them to her, or someone. Kento was certain it was Dais, but Ryo wasn’t so sure. Why would Dais send nightmares to Rahne now? Yeah, while they were enemies, sure. He had been shocked something hadn’t happened, now it seemed more logical. But now...? From Mia’s room in the suite, he hears her toss and turn in bed. Something makes Ryo get up and check on her. Maybe it’s just the knowledge that someone sent nightmares to his sister. A gust of chilly wind blows from under the door. Then Mia’s muffled voice then a muffled impact. Like something blew off her nightstand, maybe. Why did she leave her window open? We’ve got A/C. Ryo opens the door. A black booted foot whips out of nowhere, catching Ryo in the face. He topples backward, rolling with the fall. Rowen leaps up from his chair, his sub-armor appearing as he throws his hardcover book at Ryo’s assailant. It strikes the person hard in the chest, he grunts from the impact and hurls another kick in Ryo’s direction. Sage cuts himself off in the middle of a sentence; hanging up on himself, like his phone had cut out. So far the assailant hasn’t seen him. Good. That works to his advantage. It only takes him a second to get into his sub-armor. The bathroom’s connected to the master bedroom and to another room that Ryo uses. Sage slips into Ryo’s room and around to the bathroom and then into Mia’s. She’s laying dazed on the floor, her naginata on the floor by her side. Sage grabs it up, sneaking up behind the person; a male by the look of him. He swings it, brutally connecting with the man’s legs, sweeping them out from under him. Sage pins him to the ground, Ryo rushes over to help him as Rowen hits the lights. It’s a young man; about fourteen, with long black hair and chilly ice blue eyes. His features seem to be shadowy, like his skin doesn’t reflect all the light evenly. And he has that insulted look of someone used to being at the center of the universe. "Who are you? What do you want!?" Ryo snaps, pressing down on the naginata just to prove he’s serious. Rowen helps Mia up, and helps her over to the bed. She’ll have a doosy of a goose-egg, but otherwise she’s fine. "I don’t have to answer you, Ronin. You’re lucky your harlots have too strong a will, otherwise they’d be dead." Sage swings the naginata up, and points the blade at his throat. He says in a dangerously calm voice, "And I don’t like how you talk to ladies. Apologize." The boy actually has the guts to spit at Sage. Only the fact that Ryo holds him back, does Sage keep from breaking the kid’s skull. "You’re in no position. Now you are you?!" Ryo barks, grabbing the kid by his collar and hauling him to his feet. "I am Lord Zanaton, of the ShadowLands." Rowen raises an eyebrow from where he’s guarding Mia. Another Netherworld idiot. This one just happens to fit the old saying: "Old enough to know better, young enough not to care." Ryo glowers down at the Netherworld lord. So he sent the nightmares. "Why did you attack my sister and my friend?" Zanaton snikers at Ryo, as if it should be obvious. "Because I can, Ronin." Then the Netherworld Lord suddenly stares at Ryo with his icy eyes. Ryo feels pain skitter up his spine and dig into his brain. A telepath. Ryo closes off his mind completely with his armor power and then literally throws the boy bodily against the wall as hard as he can. The boy slides down the wall in shock, then disappears back to his Netherworld. "Well, I think that was the strangest one we’ve seen." Rowen says sitting down on the bed with Mia. "You okay, Mia?" Sage asks, pacing back and forth like a caged panther to get rid of excess adrenaline. "Yeah, he blindsided me. I tried to call for help, but I couldn’t open my mouth." Ryo kneels in front of Mia, putting his hands on hers. "He’s psychic. Kind of like Talpa and Kayura could do if they wanted. If you recognize what’s happening, you can block his type pretty easily. Or at least put some guards up where he could do the most damage." Ryo stands and goes to the window, feeling cheated. Their quiet period was over. The battle had begun all over again.

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