"Dark Dreams"

By Jinx&Jedi

Chapter One

"EARTH TO SAGE! EARTH TO SAGE! Houston, we have a problem..." Sage doesn’t answer, but with a Cheshire-cat grin, he begins to walk towards two swimsuit clad girls, totally oblivious. There he goes again... 3... 2... 1... 0... yep, turning on his personality’s built in girl electro-magnet. Several obscenities come to mind, but he figures them a waste of breath. Rowen shakes his head irritably, keeping half an eye on his stunt kite. It had an annoying habit of veering off to the right, just like someone else he knew. Then with a grin that spoke volumes, he pulls back on the right handle, sending it into that beautifully wicked sixty-plus-mile-per-hour power-dive. Its fabric vibrates in the air, making a mind shattering roar: With Sage and his latest attempts right below. Sage and the girls look up as this multi-colored blur comes from above. The girls shriek and Sage dives for the ground. With seeming nonchalance, Rowen pulls back first his right hand, then punches both his handles forward, and the kite suddenly turns nose up again and hangs, stalled in the air. Then with a light twitch of his left line, the kite floats to a perfect landing on it’s wingtips. The kite was a blast to take out to the beach... Whoops... Rowen realizes his mistake when Sage lunges for his kite, destruction on his mind. Oh, no you don’t! Rowen re-launches his kite in a flurry of disturbed sand, showering Sage with a generous faceful. "ROWEN!! You jerk...!" Rowen rolls his eyes and lands his kite downwind, away from Sage. Rowen pulls a tent stake from his belt loop, and stakes his handles so his kite won’t launch without him. He walks down the length of his line set to take his kite apart. Rowen takes the spreaders out of his kite and folds it up; then winds his lines up figure-eight style on his winder. He joins a still fuming Sage on the sidewalk, his car keys are out and obviously ready to leave. "Idiot, I should whip your butt..." Rowen looks across the beach toward the girls, and sees their boyfriends walk up to them. "You were saying..." Sage grimaces, and then sighs. He shakes his head back and forth, unsure whether to laugh himself sick or groan. "Knew it was too good to be true..." They were obviously headed back to the jeep. "So where now?" Rowen asks, running a hand through his dark blue hair. Sage shrugs noncommittally. "Got anyplace in mind? Cause I sure don’t." Rowen frowns as he puts the tailgate down and slides his kite in. He was about equally clueless. "Dunno. Maybe... there’s a Chicago-style hotdog place down on Main we haven’t tried yet..." Sage tries hard not to make a face, but he can’t help it. Over the past week they’d eaten their fill of beachfront hot-dog and pizza stands, and one more was beyond his tolerance. But their spendable vacation money was running low and their still had to get back home with what they had. Rowen catches the look on his face as he climbs in to the passenger seat, "Um... there’s a McDonald's down the road." Sage rubs his eyes, trying to rid them of that overly dry feeling that always seemed to come from beaches, "Cardboard works I guess." Rowen sighs, disbelieving that they could get bored of vacation this quick, but knowing that it’s the truth. So he says it very quietly: "Or we could go home..." Sage gives Rowen a funny sideways look, "You too, Ro?" They made it to the highway in record time, and turn back towards Toyama. It was definitely time to go home.

"I can’t believe all of you got bored this fast!!" Mia gives the four young men a glare; her house had been nice and peaceful with only herself and Yuli. "You’d think all of you would want to stay away, having fun!" Kento looks up from his bowl of ice cream, and shrugs. "My little brothers and sisters got on my nerves after a while..." Cye opens his eyes, awakened from his doze, and mumbles, "There are just so many amusement and water parks you can visit before they get old..." Mia rubs the bridge of her nose and turns to Rowen and Sage, and says, "I shouldn’t ask should I?" Rowen looks up from his book and shakes his head, giving her a sheepish grin. Mia throws her hands up in the air, and stalks out of the room; obviously in a black mood. There’s a short silence, then Sage breaks it with: "Not too melodramatic..." Yuli suddenly scuds into the room, his small face excited. He’s clutching a small box, wrapped in brown shipping paper and a letter to someone. "What’cha got Yuli?" Cye asks, sitting up. "My thingy for my Game Boy’s here." Cye nods diplomatically. Nothing lasted especially long in Yuli’s hands, almost every toy that someone purchased for him was broken within the month. Didn’t matter that the tools were kept locked up now, one forgetful moment and Yuli was into them. Didn’t matter that Rowen kept his repair stuff for his kites locked in a toolbox, Yuli had somehow gotten hold of one of his epoxy tubes. Now Mia had a bleached spot in the middle of the rug in her study. Fortunately it had only been one of the two separate components of the epoxy, so it had only made a mess and bleached the rug. He figured it was a phase Yuli was going through. Better get that letter away from him, or he’ll have that all to shreds... Cye quickly snatches the letter away from Yuli, "Who’s this for?" Everyone looks up expectantly, as Cye checks the name over the address, "It’s for Ryo." Darn it. "What’s for me?" Cye looks up to see Ryo in the doorway, his duffel over his shoulder, White Blaze at his side. "Hey , you too, Ryo?" Cye asks as he hands over the letter. "Yep." Ryo tears the letter open, unfolds it. A wide smile spreads itself across his face. "Oh man, I didn’t think I hear from..." Ryo lets his voice trail off. He sits on the edge of an empty easy chair, that silly smile plastered across his face. It was obviously from someone important to him. He nods occasionally, then suddenly explodes with laughter. "YES!!" The other Ronins look at Ryo in stunned disbelief. "Ryo?" "Um... buddy?" "Hey, Ry? Who’s it from?" Ryo looks up at them, his face beaming. "My sister." Kento gives Ryo a strange look. "'Sister?'" Sage springs to his feet, "Whoa, rewind and run that in slow-mo for me. You... have a sister!?" Ryo’s dumb grin gets even impossibly larger and he nods. "Twin sister." Rowen shakes his head. Ryo had always been something of a mystery. And now he has a sister the same age as he is. Screw diplomacy, as soon as Sage discovered that 'twin’ meant same age, opposite sex, and (more than likely) fair game; it’d all go straight to hell. "She’s coming to Toyama to see me..." Ryo starts. Sage must have just gotten it, he interrupts Ryo, "Is she a babe?" That was a mistake. The goofy grin vanishes from Ryo’s face as if had never been there, and he says in a dangerously quiet voice. "Touch her, Sage, and so help me..." "P.B.B., Sage. Watch out." Kento chuckles, a grin spreading itself across his own face. He knew firsthand what that was like. "Protective Big Brother. Don’t mess with him." Ryo had stalked out of the room after warning Sage away, to ask Mia if she could stay here. He almost gets to her study before he relaxes. "God... why did I do that?" He mumbles to himself, and leans his forehead against the wall. His sister was a big girl, and she could take care of herself. But she’s so vulnerable, she wouldn’t know how to handle Sage! his thoughts protested. But, she had an acidic mouth just like he did, full of insults and attitude. "Ryo?" Kento comes up behind him. "You okay?" Ryo turns around and leans against the wall, trying to keep from shaking. "Yeah... no. God, I don’t know. I just don’t her to get hurt, y’know?" Kento smiles sympathetically, "You’ve got the same problem I do. It’s called 'love', Ryo." Ryo shakes his head, "It’s different, Kento." Ryo shakes his head, and lets out a shuddering sigh. Kento puts one of his large hands on Ryo’s shoulder, obviously his sister’s homecoming was a double edged sword. And it was proving difficult for him. "What, man?" Ryo sighs again, and squeezes his eyes shut. He clenches his fists to stop his hands from shaking. "You can tell me, Ryo." Ryo sighs, and then says, "She’s deaf." Kento nods, not quite understanding. He’d seen deaf people who could take care of themselves, and acted like there was no difference at all. He’d even heard that in some circles, being deaf was a culture. He’d seen one girl on Hard Copy who had pretended that she wasn’t deaf, and made it through college, drove a car, and participated in sports without anyone the wiser. "Rahne acts like it doesn’t bother her, but it does. She takes all sorts of stupid risks, just to prove that she’s not weak. But she’s so gentle..." Ryo rubs his temples, his face getting red. It isn’t because she’s deaf. It’s because she worries him... "Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I’ll help keep an eye on her. Okay?" Ryo looks up at him and nods, looking frustrated. Kento leaves Ryo to talk to Mia, and heads back to the living room. The others are watching TV, trying to forget Ryo’s short temper. Kento decides to forget about it for now, he was hungry and there was a freshly stocked refrigerator. Then he’d tell the guys.

June 3, 11pm. Rahne tries to relax in her airplane seat, feeling exhausted and uncomfortable. The seat was well padded and since this was a ‘red-eye’ flight, everyone was getting ready to sleep. But something just kept nagging her at the back of her mind. Three nights ago, Rahne had gone to see a Magic Show with some friends, and had come home with nightmares. She really didn’t want to sleep, because she knew what the dreams would show. And what was worse was that it had absolutely nothing to do with the show... She’d had the same set of nightmares a year ago when Ryo had seemed to drop right off the face of the planet for a while. Why had they started again? What’s wrong with me?! Rahne thinks as she stares out the window. She wanted to be with her brother, she always felt safe around him. Even though he was always mad at her for something she did. Especially about her choosing to learn rock climbing, and for riding her motorcycle. He didn’t mind the dancing or gymnastics, or the martial arts... well for that one - it was only when he was there. Stop brooding... I gotta do something! Rahne picks up one of the books she brought with her and starts to read. She’s maybe read for an hour, when the man next to her asks her something. She can read lips, and with a scowl she throws her book down on the seat and shuts the light off.

The people of the night dance under a galaxy of maniacally shifting lights; darkly and lustfully. The throbbing music matches the dancers perfectly: dark, seductive, immoral, yet weirdly sensual. While all the dancers wear deep, rich colors, a young woman standing a pool of moonlight in front of the room’s only window and draped in a pale blue gown stands out. Beautiful and dreamlike. And pure. She shies away from the dancers, her very nature warning her away. Phantasmagoric swirls of color\light throb in time to the music - that even while deaf she can still sense through the exaggerated bass beat. She’s thankful for being unable to hear anything in this place, but it makes her all the more uneasy. The sense of danger is almost palpable. A soft tap on her bare shoulder breaks her from her brooding. A tall man stands just outside her circle of moonlight, handsome from what she can see of his face. For a second, she thinks her eye must be playing tricks on her, - Was that an eye-patch?-, then it vanishes. He says something to her, almost shyly. She reads his lips carefully... - He wants me to dance with him...- "Of course..." she breathes, her voice too perfect, since she’s never heard her own voice. He leads her to the dance floor, then briefly standing apart and still as if contemplating her. He offers her his hand and she accepts it. He spins her in close to his body, then out again. She catches the rhythm of his dance, and lets him lead her in what she perceives as a waltz combined with one of the sensual Spanish dances. He places one hand on her lower back and helps her perform a dip. The room shifts wierdly, suddenly it’s over looking a battle field, thats littered with bodies. Her partner gently spins her again, then lifts her briefly. The corpses shift like foul, brakish water. A few rise from the others, impaled on spears or sharp outcrops of rock. One of them is her father. Then there’s her friends from Michigan. She can’t see Ryo or White Blaze. -Where are they? Are they safe!?- As he swirls her past the window, she notices the curtains: White tiger fur. Suspended from the middle of the window is a tiger’s skull, its warm brown eyes looking glazed in death. - WHITE BLAZE!! - There’s a pit now in the centre of the dane floor, covered by a grate. A stench like burning meat and Sulfuric Acid combined fill the air. She tries to shut her eyes; she dosen’t want to look. Somehow, the dream shifts again so she’s looking down. Admist the steam now wafting up is a shock of perpetually wildly styled black hair, the rest is submerged in boiling acid. Then he’s leading her back to her pool of moonlight under the glaring flashes of paparazzi cameras. When they reach her pool of moonlight, the people seem to miraculously forget about them and start dancing again. The man says something to her, but Rahne’s mind denies this perverted reality. She looks at this denial, and then she starts to fight this intrusion with her mind. - This isn’t right!! It’s all fake! - Briefly she see the man as he truly must appear: Tall, with long curly white hair, an eye-path covering his left eye - the other blue, a sharp nose, much older than herself. - An illusion!! - "Who are you!? What do you want!? Leave me ALONE!!" Rahne screams at him, her pulse hammering as the illusion becomes visible once more. The man sighs and steps backwards into deeper shadow. He seems to fade away completely, dissipating into shadows. One words hangs subliminally in the air like an echo of half-dreamed sound: Dais. Rahne awakens with a small squeak that would have been something louder had she not bitten her lip at the last moment to stifle the sound. She puts her hands over her eyes, trying to keep from crying. It wasn’t the worst nightmare she’s had lately, but after losing so much sleep, it feels worse than it actually was. On a morbid whim she checks the time: 9am Eastern Standard Time, USA; which given the time difference, it was 11pm Toyama. Rahne had been awakened by the light footsteps of the flight attendants as they woke everyone up to fasten their seatbelts, they were approaching Toyama. They couldn’t get there soon enough for her; she wanted to be with Ryo like yesterday.

Ryo leans against a support column in the airport terminal, waiting for his sister’s flight to come in. She had hopped a "red-eye" from Grand Rapids, Michigan to L.A., California, now she was about to arrive in Toyama: at midnight. There was definitely something to be said about time-zones, but Rahne was bound to have some pretty severe jet-lag. Ryo chuckles to himself, but actually feels a little sorry for his sister. The guys were combing the airport, trying to find out what the delay was. She was supposed to have gotten in an hour ago. Mia’s standing over by customs, speaking with one of the officials about something. The sound system has been making all sorts of crazy-sounding announcements and reeling off endless flight numbers since they got here. Now he hears the number he’s been waiting for: #129 from L.A. His sister was home. Ryo crosses the space separating him from the luggage conveyor and waits. There wasn’t a spectacular amount of people here, but there was enough to make it a more rational location to wait. Two attendants open the terminal door and a few minutes later people begin to stream out. Rahne’s one of the last to leave the plane, looking exhausted and tousled. Ryo bounds over to her, and catches her up in a fierce hug. She hugs him back just as fiercely, tears welling up in her eyes. "Hey! What’s with the waterworks?" Ryo teases, both out loud and in sign language, throwing an exaggerated glance at the water spots on his shoulder. "You got my shirt wet!" Rahne laughs softly and wipes her eyes on her jacket sleeve. The oversize, black denim jacket; he remembered, had been his. Ryo gives his sister a mock-accusing look, and is rewarded with a raspberry from Rahne. "You told me you didn’t like this one..." Rahne retorts comically, her voice its typical too soft. "...I don’t, Sis." Ryo chuckles, and then sobering, he grabs her up in another hug. "Jeez, I missed you!" "Me, too." Rahne whispers, squeezing her eyes shut to hold back tears. Even through the thick jacket he can feel her trembling. ~ "Rahne, what’s wrong?"~ Ryo signs to her without verbal words, for privacy. ~ "You’re shaking like a leaf..."~ ~ "Last few days I haven’t been sleeping well..." ~ Ryo thinks for a moment, they were both experts on not sleeping well. ~ "What, too much stress? Or just strange dreams?"~ Rahne sighs exhaustedly, ~ "Nightmares, actually..." ~ Wildfire squeezes his sister’s shoulder supportively; the guys and Mia are standing by the column he had been leaning against. He sees Kento and Cye shouldering Rahne’s duffels. Out loud now, Ryo speaks slowly so she can read his lips, "Well, let's get you home to bed." "Sounds good to me, Ryo..." Introductions are short and to the point. Sage can’t help but admire Rahne’s face and body; it was definitely going to be interesting living with her in the house. It felt like an early birthday present. Rahne climbs into the cramped back seat of Mia’s jeep with Ryo. As she pulls out of the airport, Kento and the others in his van behind them, Mia wonders what Rahne and Ryo are doing. They were facing each other, not speaking. Then she catches the brief flash of a hand gesture. Sign Language. They were conversing silently in sign language. It doesn’t last too long, Rahne turns in her face to look out the window. When she looks back a few minutes later, Ryo’s sister is asleep. "Ryo, does she know?" Mia asks softly. Meaning the armors and their battle against Talpa. In her rear-view mirror, Ryo, his face outlined in light and shadows, shakes his head, "No." Wildfire then goes silent and watches his sister sleep. Her features are briefly illuminated by the harsh gleams of passing headlights or the occasional streetlight. Granted, the orangish-yellow light of a sodium-vapor lamp isn’t flattering to anybody, but she looked like she had actually reached the end of her rope weeks ago.

Ryo reaches out and brushes her perpetually wild shock of bangs, identical to his own, away from her eyes. She kept her hair long now, and trained into a braid. When they were children, she had had unmercifully curly hair. Her hair had become soft and wavy now, its length pulling the curl out. He wondered why all these old memories of what she looked like kept coming into his mind; they were facts that had become mostly cosmetic in nature. Ryo sighs as Mia turns onto their road. Maybe now she’ll take it easy. Rahne wasn’t a complainer; in fact, when something was truly wrong, she’d go quiet. Just like he’d do. But on the opposite... Ryo had an aggressive streak where Rahne was passive, for example. But most people would skip over any resemblance if they were separated. As they pull into the driveway, Ryo lightly shakes her. Her eyes flutter open to a squint, yawns, and unfastens her seatbelt. Without a word he leads her to her room and shuts the door behind him. White Blaze blinks at him sleepily as he turns his bedroom light on, then immediately puts his large head back down. Ryo peels off his T-shirt and kicks off his slippers. He flops down on his bed, then rises again in disgust. He empties his pockets of the offending, hard materials and flops back down. He switches off the light and promptly falls asleep. Almost immediately it’s morning. Ryo rolls over with a groan and pulls the covers up over his head. He falls back asleep, ignoring his alarm. He’s awakened a few minutes later to the sound of sloshing water, and tosses the covers back. Cye’s standing there in his sub-armor, holding a bucket of water: very typical in this house. "I’m up, Cye," Ryo grumbles as he climbs out of bed. "Don’t let my sister catch you in that, please." Ryo pulls a shirt over his head, and follows Cye downstairs for breakfast. He finds the other guys in their sub-armors, shoveling food into their mouths. Kento had foregone the use of silverware and was simply tipping his cereal bowl, drinking his cereal in huge gulps. "Did I - miss something?" Ryo asks, filling his bowl with Wheat-Chex and milk. If Rahne came downstairs right now, he would have a lot of explaining that he didn’t want to do. He had never bothered to tell her about the armors. And wasn’t going to either, not if he could help it. "Training, remember?" Rowen raises an eyebrow, staring at Ryo like he was insane. "You scheduled it." Ryo gives Strata a dirty look over his cereal. "Before I found out Rahne was coming, thanks. It’s not my fault." Kento swallows his last mouthful before saying, "Look, she’ll probably sleep till noon or later." "Yeah, she was dead on her feet last night." Cye adds, rinsing his bowl out before he puts it in the dishwasher. "Fine. Fine. I know when I’m stonewalled." Ryo pulls a chair out from the small kitchen table and sit down to eat his breakfast at a more leisurely pace than the others. Soft, thick fur brushes Ryo’s right elbow a second before White Blaze butts him gently with the top of his head. "Hey, White Blaze." Ryo says brightly, stroking the tiger’s head. Tiger fur was much softer than it’s coarse looking nature suggested, and thicker than all get out. After Ryo finishes his breakfast, they jog on out to their new "playground". About a month ago, the Ronins had cleaned out an old, unused barn at the back of the Koji estate and had repaired it to serve as a small gym. Along the walls they had hung heavy bags to practice kicks and punches, not that they could get too rough on their homemade bags, but it worked. They’d also laid down cement on the inside and then had put a thick tumbling mat under the highest section of the roof. Kento and Cye had made a balance beam and had covered it with a rough textured vinyl. Mia had pleaded with the PE Department of her University to get the worn equipment that usually ended up in the junkyard and had come away with a High Bar, a set of Uneven Bars, Rings, the Tumbling Mat, and a set of weights. Rowen had even somehow managed to rig a nylon climbing rope around one of the rafters. Now, the only trick to it was that none of them knew what to do with the Uneven Bars, or the High Bar. Plus, yesterday, Kento had proven himself to be a lead-butt, and had very nicely removed the climbing rope from the rafter... the hard way. To Rowen, it looked like one huge mess, and one he would rather not deal with. It’s finally getting warm out; though some mornings are still a little chill. He leaves the barn, bow and a small supply of arrows in hand; in search of some way to challenge his archery skills. The warm, delicious sunlight beats down on the top of his head and shoulders; he fastens his sweatband around his head. It was too nice a day to be inside. As he rounds the old silo, he catches sight of his usual target through a foot-wide hole in the brick surface. He knows there’s also a tall-picket fence and a barbed wire fence between himself and the target. "Hmmm.... Through the silo, through the fence, under the barbed wire... nothing but target." Rowen draws his bow. Arrow nocked. Release. >thunk< Perfectly through. Too easy. Rowen frowns down at his bow, it’s the one from his armor. Maybe if he used his regular, perfectly normal, compound bow instead he could get some real practice.

Page 2