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"Alexander Shuten Koma. What do you have for me?" He straightens, keeping his right fist tight against his chest, his left hanging at his side: Like his father and Cale had shown him. "Master Talpa. The Warlords send word that the Dessanin sovereigns are ready to join you, Sire." His six-year-old’s voice sounds strange in the echoing throne room. "Excellent!" He turns to a little girl standing beside him. Her empty and vacuous eyes stare at him eerily. She looks up at Talpa as if he had spoken to her. She blinks stupidly, but then Alexander sees someone he had only heard referred to and whispered about: Lord Badamon. He points at the girl and she vanishes. The Priest of Darkness stares right at Alexander and nods at him. Alexander forces himself to bow. "This child could be extremely useful, Emperor Talpa." Alexander feels the hair stand up on the back of his neck. His rudimentary telepathic abilities pick up things he wished he hadn’t known. The air in the throne room smells dead like a tomb and all his telepathy can pick up is a sense that reeks like rotting meat. He doesn’t know what that means, but he knows it can’t be good. The paranoia that Cale had drilled into him starts doing the multiplication tables. Then Master Talpa’s attention turns back to his young messenger. "Tell me, Child. Do you desire to join your Father in battle? We begin our assault on the Mortal World very, very soon." His child’s face must have become flushed with excitement, because Talpa laughs. "Then you shall!!" the Emperor booms, still laughing. Master Talpa tells him of what he is to do in the assault. There are apparently, people who would resist him; he was to hunt them down. And kill them... NOT MY FRIENDS! Alex wakes up with a jolt, tears running down his face. He hurts all over, but his head hurts the worst. It feels like the worst case of migraines that could even be conceived. He’s thankful it’s early morning and still dark, but the sound of Kento’s snoring makes up for it. Was it all a dream? He wonders. He’d dreamed other things before, so why not all that pain. The memory of Talpa and Badamon feels like a festering sore on the surface of his mind. He curls up into a fetal position and breathes deep, trying to resubmerge the telepathically enhanced memory and dull the pain. Remembering was child’s play. Forgetting was; for all intents and purposes, impossible. A hand comes to rest on his shoulder, and his telepathy automatically catches the person’s surface thoughts. Concern, worry, and warm-heartedness pervade his mind. "Alex, time to get up. We’ve gotta get up before Kento, or there won’t be breakfast!" Ryo whispers, offering him a water bottle and some migraine medication. Alex accepts them gratefully and drinks deeply to help down the medication. "Where am I?" "Home." Ryo keeps his voice to a dull whisper, and then pauses. "You okay?" Alex winces in pain as he sits up, his joint cracking. "Yeah." Alex wanders down the hall to the bathroom to get a shower and go about his morning business. He looks at himself in the mirror and wonders where he got the clothes he’s wearing from. He’s wearing a No Fear shirt; new from the look of it. He likes it though: it reads "Reality is Virtual" on the back with a montage of pictures of CAT scans, x-rays, and computer crap. He picks at the white piping on the side of his black athletic pants, wrinkled from sleep, thoughtfully. "Duh," he says softly and silently chides himself. Of course Ryo’d taken time to get him normal clothes, so he didn’t look like a total alien - "What?" He moves his head suddenly and there it was again. A sparkle coming from one of his ear lobes. He leans in close to the mirror to get a look at the earring. It was little more than a loop of wire that barely made it around his ear with a miniature hematite bead on it, with Dessanin symbols written on it. The symbols simply said: "Quake with Fear." Then his shirt brushes his forearms, and his arms sting. He looks down at them in astonishment. Running from wrist to elbow on the inside of his arms arm two long, wide scabbed cuts. "Um, Ryo?" Alex calls, unable to tear his gaze away from the cuts. Ryo pokes his head in the door, his toothbrush jammed in his mouth. "Yeah?" "Where’d I get these?" Alex asks, holding up his arms for the older boy to see and then points to his earring. Ryo walks over and spits the mouthful of frothy toothpaste out of his mouth. "I thought you knew, you were awake." "I don’t remember." Alex turns back around and washes his hands. Ryo shrugs and rinses his mouth out from his own water bottle. "You were sick, and apparently the cuts were part of the treatment. Cale said you’d have some short term memory problems for a few weeks. And you got the jewelry a couple days ago." "Uh-huh." "By the way... Kento was wondering. How old are you, anyway?" Alex snags his own toothbrush and shrugs, "Turned thirteen a few months ago." Ryo knits his eyebrows together; he would have to have a serious talk to the guys. They had thought that Alex was fourteen, but he was a whole year younger than Cye. "You look older than that. Cale first said you were fourteen." "He forgets a lot. He’s too used to immortals." Ryo leaves Alex to his shower and puts his slippers on, taking the steps two at a time down to fix breakfast. Later, Alex takes the steps at a breakneck speed, his still damp hair slicked back so it would dry right. Kento was waking up! Ryo told him that he’d have to make it downstairs before Kento to get any breakfast! Ryo, Rahne, and most of the guys (except Rowen) are already down there, busy shoveling food into their mouths. Ryo hands him his plate and fills it with a large omelet and a side of bacon. Alex sits beside Sage and begins to eat. He never realized how hungry he was, until now. Suddenly the earthquake hits: Kento comes barreling through the door. "AWWW YEAH!! FOOD - FOOD!! I AM STARVIN’!!" he bellows as Ryo hands him the largest plate in the kitchen, absolutely heaped with food. Alex gets halfway through his breakfast when Yuli comes in. He sees Alex and immediately takes a seat next to him. Ryo shoves a plate in front of Yuli, complete with a sticky bun that Yuli tears into with gusto. The kid stares at him, watching his every move. Alex shifts nervously in his seat, and covers up a blush by getting a drink and blinking as if he’d just got that rush from drinking the cold milk after eating the hot eggs. "I’m gonna get an earring when I get older," Yuli says, reaching up in an attempt to play with the small ring in Alex’s ear. Alex leans his head away from the rug-rat’s sticky hands. "Please don’t. Your hands’re a mess," Alex says quietly, trying not to let his shyness embarrass him. That pierce was still fresh, and that couldn’t be good for it. Yuli looks at his fingers and sticks them one by one in his mouth to clean them. Alex looks at him in panic. Sage chuckles at him. "Keep your hands to yourself, Yuli," Sage tells him, swatting his hands away from Alex. "Yeah. C’mon, Yuli, you’re being rude," Cye adds, intercepting Yuli’s next attempt. Yuli immediately tries again. Kento abandons his food momentarily and pulls Yuli’s chair away to the end of the table. The guys were mildly amused at the situation. Alex reaches out to Sage’s mind to figure out what happened. The pierce was a conversation piece for everyone else, even though he didn’t remember when he got it. Miss Koji must’ve been spitting nails though, if what he was picking up from the guys was correct. Ryo, Rahne, and himself had gone shopping for clothes for him, and he’d gotten the pierce as a spur of the moment thing. He’d come home and had managed to sneak in without Mia noticing. Then she’d come in with a note from his uncle and he hadn’t been quick enough to hide it. Now Yuli idolized him even more because he’d broken the rules. Alex whispers a "thank you" to Kento and looks down at his plate. "You look a lot like your dad. Can you teach me Go? He said he would, but then the Dynasty started doing these bad things..." "Umm, I don’t know how. That was my Dad, not me. Ask Rowen, he was trying to teach me last night." Alex murmurs, picking at his food. "You don’t know how!?" Yuli cries out, almost climbing onto the table. Sage rolls his eyes as Alex leaps to his feet as Rahne leaves her seat down by the opposite end of the table to get away from Yuli. Rahne puts her dishes away and leans over her brother’s shoulder. She rolls her long braid up into a bun and sticks a pencil through it. "We still on for practice? Remember, no White Blaze this time." Her twin brother nods, shoveling food quickly into his mouth. His eyes are sparkling in anticipation. "Don’t worry, he’ll be out playing with Yuli." "He’d better. I’m not letting you cheat this time." Ryo gives her a hurt look. "Me? Cheat? Never, what sort of a brother you’d take me for?" Rahne rolls her eyes expressively, "Mine. Who I know too well." Ryo grins and chugs his milk. He wipes his mouth and eats his last few bites. They run out of the house, summoning their sub-armors. They decided last night on doing this by the lake. Ryo warms up opposite his sister, watching her fluid movements. He couldn’t wait! They stand opposite each other like they did the first time when Ryo’d won. They bow to each other and take up fighting stances. "Careful. Water’s deep here, remember." Rahne advises him. Ryo whips his foot out in a high kick. She blocks it easily, never taking her eyes off his face. He tries several punches and kicks, and each time she either dodges or blocks. When Rahne tries a punch, Ryo catches her arms in gently flips her over his head. She rolls with the fall, laughing a little in surprise. Ryo lashes out with a round kick. Rahne steps sideways and forward. She strikes the inside of his thigh, causing his momentum to spin him around in the opposite direction he wanted. He stumbles to a stop and laughs at her, feeling a little nervous, given the proximity to the area where it really would have hurt. She smiles at him, her eyes sparkling from his reaction. ~ Don’t go there, please, ~ Ryo signs, hurriedly stepping out of the way of her next punch. He blocks her next volley of punches playfully. "Wouldn’t dream of it, Bro," she replies with a laugh. She gives him a large raspberry and performs cartwheel out of his way. Ryo laughs, lunging at her in an attempt to tackle her. A large streak of white and black flashes out of nowhere with an excited roar, knocking both of them into the drink. White Blaze immediately turns and swims back to shore, looking very smug for a tiger. The Twins surface and begin treading water. "What was that about him playing?" Rahne asks, parting the black curtain of saturated hair with her hands. "Oh, shut up," Ryo mumbles through his own mess of wet hair. "Will not." "You better." "Make me!" Ryo splashes a small wave at her. Rahne returns it with a funny, sideways look. They turn away from each other. And swim closer to the more gradual shoreline. When their feet finally tough the bottom, Ryo splashes Rahne again. Rahne gasps in mock anger, and splashes him back. Then, Ryo and Rahne start splashing each other; their laughter filling the air. The End Note from the Authoresses: Hey, how’d we do? We admit that it didn’t quite go the way we expected, but we hope it was entertaining. We wanted to bring Anubis back originally, but somehow it twisted until we ended up with Alexander. In fact a lot of things got twisted out of the way we originally planned them. Please drop us a line, tell us how we did. We don’t mind getting flambéed a little if we goofed on anything. Thanks! Jinx & Jedi