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"Naaza," a little boy’s voice calls in the darkness. Sekhmet supposes he’s dreaming. He tries to banish the dream and go back to the dark oblivion that was his sleep. "Naaza," the young voice calls again, more insistently. Sekhmet frowns mentally, scouring his mind. For what child would know Talpa’s original name for him? "Naaza!" The darkness vanishes and is replaced with the stunning beauty of a bamboo forest. A cool wind blows; the faint perfume of cherry blossoms wafting with it. "Naaza!" He turns to see a little boy with brilliant red hair standing on a ancient path. The breeze ripples the soft, short, cream colored cloak on the boy’s small shoulders. The boy scuffs one soft leather boot in the dirt; looking down, then he finally remembers to bow. Sekhmet feels an unaccustomed, friendly smile pull the corners of his mouth up. "Alexander, my boy! Hello!" Then the Warlord remembers. "But, son, you’re dead. I watched your father bury you." The little boy gets an annoyed look on his small face. "No, I’m not!" Sekhmet frowns again and shakes his head. This was only a dream. "Look, Sekhmet, I know where the Sanada girl is!" The dream shifts abruptly, so that Alexander is the Ronins’ age. He doesn’t even wait for Sekhmet to acknowledge this change. "Do you remember the well that went down into a labyrinths and then into dungeons? Cale was more familiar with it, but you went there once to beat this guy up who was your enemy!" Alexander was getting impatient, it appeared. "Remember, it was like an inverted tower, going underground instead of up?" He looked so much like his father. It was a pity he didn’t survive. " -Remember?...Sekhmet?" But this was only a dream... "This isn’t a fucking dream, you asshole!!" Alexander roars at the Warlord, too frustrated to feel his usual shyness. To Alex’s shock Sekhmet slips from his telepathic grasp and sinks into the nebulous depths of madness. "What happened to you...?" Alex whispers as he resurfaces in hell incarnate. Cale shoots around the corner with all the agility of a cat, following Kayura’s summons. Cursing as his feet finally hit a slick spot, he slides through the open door of the throne room. Rahne had been missing for a week and a half, and their progress in tracking her down had amounted to absolutely nothing. In hopes of speeding the search, they had moved to searching the maps of Netherworld. He’d gone into his quarters for something trivial, only to find Sekhmet decimating his last sketchbooks. Fortunately most of the damage had been isolated to empty pages and a few torn out pages of the full ones. Having hidden those away from prying eyes, he’d taken his only color sketch to show Sage. It was one of Anubis’s eldest son when he was about a year younger than Yuli. "What in - ?" he sputters, gazing at the section of wall that housed the viewing screen. Framed within it was an image of Wildfire’s sister consulting a red-haired youth. It wasn’t Rahne that shocked him, it was the boy. His wild looking hair looked like he’d cut with a single swipe of a blade and without a mirror. Now it hung around his face like a fiery shockwave; making the dark circles that ringed his emerald colored eyes seem even darker. He looked way too thin and emaciated; Cale almost didn’t recognize him. Then, Rahne must have made one of her smart mouth comments, because the boy starts laughing. Cale’s heart almost leaps out of his chest. "Alexander...!" Cale almost reaches out to the picture. No one, except Sage, notices his shock. "Wonder who the guy is with her?" Ryo mutters suspiciously. Sage pokes Cale’s arm and whispers into his ear: "Do you know that kid?" Cale gives him a distracted nod, "He died...! I held him in my arms, he was dead!" Sage looks at him as if he was going out of his mind like Sekhmet did. He didn’t understand his disbelief. "Cale... man?" "Sage, that’s Anubis’s son!" Halo watches the boy for a few minutes, then grabs the sketch Cale’s holding. He looks at Cale’s sketch and then back at the wall. His pale eyes grow big. "That is him..." Sage whispers. Rahne follows Alex closely; the feeling of danger was coming all too often. They’d found rations and had been living off of them for a while. It was better than the thin soup they had been feeding her last week. There had been a lingering sense of danger that permeated everything in that room. Now, she can feel it again. She tries to keep going, but it’s almost worse than the worst panic attack she’s ever had. She had a really bad feeling about this. "Alex...?!" Rahne whispers, trying to keep from shaking. "(It’s okay...)" He repeats. Suddenly Alex stops dead still, listening. His own body starts shaking slightly. "MOVE!!" Alex yelps, pushing Rahne down the hall. Behind them a four-legged creature leaps out into the hall, a putrid stench following it into the hall. Rahne doesn’t get a good look at it, but it looks faintly dog-like, but without ears. As it moves in the dim light it appears reptilian. "(Don’t analyze it! RUN! That thing bites or claws you, you’re dead!)" What is it? Rahne asks in her mind, putting on a burst of speed. "(Talpa called ‘em "Perdition Hounds." My uncle called ‘em "Wraiths", and I’m more inclined to believe him!)" Suddenly the ground shakes. Alex pushes her faster, his face more terrified looking than it did when Zanaton got him. Rahne sprints faster, a stitch forms in her side, she couldn’t keep running like this too much longer. The thing gives a shriek that borders on a roar. It pierces into her brain like a hot knife through butter. It leaps after them in a flurry of razor sharp claws and poisonous fangs. "(It saw us!!)" Alex drags her even faster. She runs, nearly stumbling as the boy yanks her almost off her feet. There’s a light to their left. Alex grabs her hand and hauls her down another hallway. Hard metallic claws scrape and ring against the stone work as the Wraith pursues them. The end of the corridor is glowing. Alex runs right into it, dragging her along. Light fills all her senses, then she falls to the unforgiving cement, half on Alex. He drags her to her feet and takes off down the hall. He sees an open reinforced metal door and bolts for it. Those horrible claws skid on the smooth surface of the cement. Alex and Rahne tumble inside. The red-head immediately jumps to his feet and tries to shut the door. The whole room shakes as the creature slams against the door. Alex’s knocked flat onto his back. He kicks the door with all his might with both booted feet. Rahne gets a running start and rams the door with her shoulder. Alex gets to his feet and puts his weight into shutting the door. Rahne looks around frantically and spots a fire extinguisher. She rips the pin out. The fire extinguisher belches out a plume of cold fire retardant. The thing backs away, momentarily stunned. They slam the door shut, and Alex locks it with his mind. He sinks to the floor and lays there panting for a few minutes; runs his hands through his hair with a groan. Rahne sinks to her knees and takes a few deep breaths; too relieved to feel any fear. "(We’re safe now, I think.)" Rahne finally takes a look around. Computers sitting on dusty stands. Guns, walkie-talkies, and coveralls hang on hooks on the walls. Workstations equipped with all sorts of analyzing technology. She thinks she recognizes a Gas-Chromatograph over on the wall, and a water purifier on one of the tables. Rowen could tell better than she could. She climbs up onto one of the benches to get a better look at the small tubes on the wall. They’re labeled "Hydrogen," "Helium," "Oxygen," and "Nitrogen." She jumps down, then a shiver not brought on by cold travels up her spine. "Alex, where are we?" "(To tell you the truth, I don’t know. Someplace Talpa saw fit to make a connection to,)" Alex tells her psychically. Rahne looks around, then motions to the racks of guns and lines of computers, "But technology didn’t work around the Dynasty, Alex! Why is it here?!" He looks back at her and sighs, "Easy answer to that, Rahne. We’re out." Rahne tenses suddenly, hope floods her mind in a warm rush. She starts to giggle uncontrollably, then laugh. "(You’re right. We’re back in your world, but this compounds the Dynasty’s. More than likely this dates back to Talpa’s most recent campaign. Which means there are probably more Wraiths here...)" Rahne stops laughing; realizing what that would mean. This entire complex was infested with Wraiths meant for the Ronin Warriors. She feels herself blanch, they had to stop the guys from trying to come here! They’d be killed! They begin to search the connecting rooms for something that could help them. Rahne looks at the computers, all of their screens are dark. She comes across a notebook computer. Rahne brushes the dust off it, wondering how many people Talpa corrupted to get the pricey bit of electronics. She lifts the screen and tries to turn it on. It refuses to fire up. Rahne begins to walk towards the room Alex was currently exploring. She passes a drainage grate in the floor, when a gentle wave washes over her. She looks around, expecting to see Guardian hovering nearby or Alex playing with the spring-loaded air-cannon she saw on the shelf. Nothing was there. The wave washes over her again. It was coming from the grate. Rahne goes back and kneels in front of it. Something was glowing faintly a little ways down. The screws in the grate are missing, so Rahne hooks her fingers in the grate and pulls up. It gives suddenly, knocking her backwards. Rahne sits back up and reaches gingerly down. Her fingers encounters something like a small, cool, stone ball. She pulls it out and stares at it. Its glowing a faint violet in color, a strange symbol gleams briefly brighter on it. "Hope," Rahne whispers absently; closing her hand tightly around it as she brings it to her chest. It felt as comforting as the old blankets she and Ryo used to carry around when they were small children. She stuffs it in her pocket and replaces the grate. Alex cautiously peeks around the corner, his kusari-gama held at ready. Behind him, Rahne brandishes a now-wickedly sharp machete. He’d followed the directions his uncle had taught him to put a keen edge on it, and - Jeez, did it work! Nobody was there that he could sense. He rounds the corner and almost straight into Darr’rak’s pet Warlock. Alex gasps in terror, too afraid to move. Brak’katt laughs and grabs the collar of Alex’s shirt. Alex doesn’t even try to struggle. He just stares up at the man who kidnapped him as a child, who beat him until his mind and body was too weak to resist Zanaton. He had been one of his father’s most trusted servants... He raises his dagger high over Alex’s head. "Ready to join your mother in the Afterlife?" he snarls with an evil leer. They’d forgotten Rahne. She vaults right over Alex’s head, hurling her foot into the Warlock’s face. The Warlock loses his grip on Alex as he flies backwards with the force of her kick. Rahne doesn’t let him get up; pressing the attack. As he gets to his feet, Rahne kicks his knee as hard as she can. Bone shatters explosively as she destroys the joint. She turns and runs back to Alex as sharp metal claws scrape on hard cement. Rahne shuts her eyes as tears begin to flow for what she’s done; she drags Alex to his feet and runs for the door. She slams the heavy door, and locks it. More soldiers and another general pour through another door, trying to cut off their escape. Behind the door comes a terrifying set of cries that pierce into her brain like a hot knife through butter. The huge factory-like complex stands darkened and seemingly empty. The Ronin Warriors get ready to enter it. White Blaze roars in anticipation. Ryo looks back at everyone, making sure they were ready to go into this place. Each Ronin nods in acknowledgement as his gaze reaches him. Mia clutches her naginata with white knuckled hands, while Yuli sticks close to her. He hadn’t wanted to bring Mia and Yuli, but he knows no other way to keep them safe. The Warlords were taking care of the Netherworld part of this mess. Cale had begun to exterminate the creatures he said inhabited this complex, working his way here from the Netherworld. Rahne half-drags Alex down the hall, running for all she’s worth. She’d managed to slam the huge door on them; trapping them within the Wraith-infested inner complex. She sincerely doubts it’ll hold them for long, but it’s at least slowed them down. She skids around a corner, into a huge room... and almost into a huge, wicked looking spiked staff and naginata blade. "KENTO!!" Rahne shouts in delight, pushing the weapon away from her face. "Babes...? BABES!" Kento lowers his naginata, grabs her up, swings her around. Then he jerks her in for a gentle bear hug. "Careful, Kento! Don’t squish ‘er!!" Rahne extracts herself from Kento’s hug and bounds over to Cye and Sage. "Oh, I missed you, Rahney!" Cye exclaims, hugging her just as tight as Kento did. "Who’s your friend?" "He was being held captive too. His name’s Alex. How’d you guys find us?!" "Thank Cale," Kento says, with a hint of distaste. "Hey, he did all right this time!" Sage exclaims, waiting for his hug, but settling for a shoulder to squeeze. Cye taps Rahne on the other shoulder and points towards a streak of fast moving dark blue, followed by an equally fast moving red. Rahne meets her boyfriend halfway. She slips his helmet up a little so she can get a good kiss. Rowen kisses her repeatedly, then one more of the long variety. Ryo clears his throat. Rowen lets go and Rahne turns to hug her twin brother. He holds her for a long time, trying to assure himself that she was real. Rahne touches the purple bruise on his face with refreshingly cool fingers, tracing the outline of the bruise in the shape of a large fist. "Who gave you this?" Ryo shoots Kento a dirty look. "Someone didn’t like my attitude..." Rahne laughs and rests her head on her twin’s shoulder. Ryo strokes her hair, knowing that laugh was forced. Her blood-shot eyes tell him that she hasn’t been able to sleep much. He leans his face into her hair, feeling his shoulder muscles finally relax. He hadn’t realized just how much this had bothered him, until now. He blinks back tears as all the fears melt away. He sighs as the headache he didn’t know he had eases. He looks over her shoulder at the boy who was with her. He honestly looks like a whipped dog. Who is he? Ryo thinks, turning back to his sister, she looks up suddenly. "OH! Ryo, there’re these creatures here...!" Ryo hugs her tighter. "Yeah, Cale’s taking care of it. Wraiths." Rahne wraps her arms around his neck, and rests her face against his armor once more. "What a charming moment," someone says dryly. Alex screams suddenly and drops to the floor, blood flowing profusely from multiple puncture wounds on his back. "Alex!" Rahne cries out, trying to run to her friend. Ryo restrains her, keeping her away from the danger. This guy wasn’t visible yet. Mia and Yuli are over by the far wall, alone. The Warriors back up, covering them. Ryo presses Rahne down to her knees, and Mia gets a firm grasp on her. ~ Please, Ryo! Help him! ~ Rahne signs. ~ Rahne, there’s a guy there. We can’t attack until we can see him. ~ he replies hurriedly. Two men appear. One of them is obviously another General, the other is wearing clothes way too fancy for what he’s doing. Actual living soldiers appear behind them. "Darr’rak!" Cale’s voice suddenly booms. He teleports in right in front of the warriors; his face red with fury. The Warriors shift into fighting stances, slowly moving towards the new aggressors. "Ryo, make them stop! They’ll kill Alex!" Rahne pleads, straining against Mia’s hold. Dais and Kayura teleport in, adding more support. The Ancient’s descendant is weak, but her immortality protecting from the effects of her injury that would fell an ordinary mortal long ago. "Attack!" The Emperor booms, pointing at the Ronins. Rowen stings an arrow, his face dark with anger. "I don’t think so! ARROW SHOCK WAVE!" The arrow shimmers into a bolt of pure energy, and then Rowen shoots it. It flashes into a ball of energy that tears across the distance separating them like a run-away comet. The battle doesn’t get very far before the last few surviving Wraiths enter the fray, attracted by the smell of fresh blood. They feast on the dead, and ignore the smoking shells of the youja soldiers. As the two forces engage, Rahne sees a single wounded Wraith enter the room. If she didn’t know what they were capable of, she might have felt sorry for it. It lifts it’s head and smell fresh blood. Alex’s. It advances on Alex’s unconscious and bleeding form. She had to do something! She dashes the tears flowing from her eyes. She had to help him! Mia watches the battle unfolding before her. That poor kid was a goner though: none of the guys could probably reach him in time. From behind her Rahne jumps to her feet and runs towards Alex; a shockingly bright, violet, forehead kanji shining brilliantly under her bangs. "Rahne! Come back!" Rahne screams in mute fury. Her hands suddenly start to sparkle. The tiny sparks start to swirl and coalesce around her hands. She leaps over Alex’s prone form, she thrusts her hands out before her, trying to block the monster’s sharp claws. There’s a sudden and brilliant flash of light and a small crash of an explosion. The monster is lifted completely off the ground and hurled across the room. It strikes the wall solidly; it’s carcass smoking slightly. Rahne looks at her ice-burnt hands, suddenly afraid of herself. She shakes her head, unwilling to believe what happened. "RAHNE!?" Ryo yells, running towards her. "Ry-*" Rahne’s eyes roll back into the back of her head as she faints. Ryo catches her just before she hits the ground, cradling her. She had looked more scared than hurt. Her hands look severely frostbitten; her fingertips feel almost completely frozen. However as he touches them, the black soot wipes off revealing just pale, cold skin. He checks her pulse: it’s slow, but steady. Ryo picks his sister up in a fireman’s carry and takes her over to Mia and Yuli. The guys and the Warlords are keeping the goons and the idiots busy. He’d make a return trip and grab the red-headed kid - What?! He half dumps his sister in Mia’s arms and rushes back to the boy. Sekhmet, sans armor, comes running down the hall and tries to grab the boy. Ryo tackles him to the ground. He leaps right back up to his feet; throwing the boy over his shoulder and hauling him over to Mia and Yuli. Behind him he sees Dais haul Sekhmet over in the same manner, except that he’s restrained the warlord. As soon as he sets the kid on the ground, Mia rolls him over to check his back. Ryo doesn’t stick around to see what happened to him, but he re-enters the fight, madder than ever. "Let’s listen to my sister for once, boys." Ryo growls to the others. "It’s over in about five seconds." The two remaining Warlords and a very weak Kayura retreat back to protect the non-fighters. Each of the Ronin’s armors start to glow. Ryo puts away his swords as White Blaze races over to him. Colored bolts of energy rip out of each Ronin and into Wildfire. Ryo visibly braces himself as the sound of escalating energy shrieks through the air. "INFERNO!" Ryo and his tiger vanish in a wash of roaring flames. Then two beings in white armor appear where they once stood. Ryo remains silent while he draws the Soul Swords from their sheathes on White Blaze’s back. The Emperor teleports away in a hurry, leaving the obviously very stupid general to face the White Armor of Inferno. Kayura raises her staff and teleports the un-needed people out of the pre-Inferno ground zero. The general lifts his weapons and charges Ryo. Whatever special attack he tries fizzles out as Ryo lets loose a very controlled Fervor Flare. It still annihilates the soldiers and the general, but it doesn’t leave quite as large a scar. Just the complex and the ground around it for about a thousand feet. Rowen cradles his girlfriend against his chest, glad she’s not awake to see the White Armor at work. Sage and Kayura were already working on Alex. The wounds went deep, one them came damned awful close to severing his spinal column. Kayura chants a healing spell, supplementing Sage’s own healing abilities. Alex groans and tries to roll over. Sage pins him down, pouring more healing energy into him. When there’s nothing else they can do, they wrap him up in blankets and restrain him to keep him from possibly hurting himself. Kento blinks and tries to keep himself awake. He had a REALLY bad case of highway-hypnosis. He gently swats Rowen to wake him up. He blinks tiredly, actually not sleeping as hard as he normally does. "Tag, you’re it," he states, pulling off onto the side of the road. Rahne murmurs something in her sleep as Rowen shifts her to one side so he can get up. Then he lays her down on the seat. They’d slipped mild sedative in her food, so she wouldn’t continue to worry herself sick. She’d gotten quite a shock to discover that she had powers. She’d get another when she woke up and discovered herself in violet and white sub-armor. Mia had explained that all Rahne had done was incorrectly used her Armor’s special power: A defensive shield. Rowen gets out and stretches. Kento gets in, moves Rahne back into a sitting position and promptly falls asleep. Rahne slumps right back into her old position. For once they all took one vehicle; Kento’s huge van. Rowen gets in the drivers seat, and notices a pair of lavender eyes looking at him sleepily in the rear-view mirror from the back of the van. "Sage, you awake?" "Uh-huh." Sage blinks his eyes, not caring at the moment that his hair is no longer in his typical style. "Shot-gun’s open." Rowen says, patting the empty passenger seat. Sage stumbles to the front, and flops down into the empty seat. They both wonder how they’re going to stay awake when a thunderclap of a snore rattles the van’s windows. "Okay, I’m awake. So, there anything we can talk about?" Sage says to Rowen in a conversational manner and in perfect deadpan humor. "Um... How’s Nascar doing?" "The season ended a while back, Rowen." Sage remarks, running his hand through his messed up hair. "Um, Okay. Um, how’s Alex doing?" "Cale said he’s sick. He’s going to pick him up in the morning and take him to get it treated in the Netherworld. Otherwise I think he’s going to be okay." "He know ‘bout his Dad?" Sage shakes his head. "Ryo was gonna break it to him, later." Rowen nods. "Darr’rak got away, didn’t he?" "‘Fraid so, Rowen. Cale and Dais found his stronghold, though. So he can’t go back there." "How’s Sekhmet doing?" "Kayura said that it would take awhile to undo the damage, but he should come out of it okay." Rowen sighs, it was as good a victory as they could hope for, for now. He was facing Talpa again, this time without his father or the other Warlords. His child’s mind was fluttering with fear and nervousness; but there was also pride. Alexander was taking the report of the battle to Master Talpa. His first in what would eventually become a regular activity. He stops at the wide doors, waiting respectfully. Master Talpa knew he was here, but was obviously testing his patience. "Enter." Comes Talpa’s deep, gravelly voice through the relatively thin wood. The doors swing open on their own, and Alexander steps into the darkness of the throne room. He walks in, careful to be respectful. Last time he had been disrespectful; Emperor Talpa had been amused. Last time. He stops in front of the Dynasty Emperor and bows, keeping his eyes trained on the floor. Chapter 8 pg2