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"Shards of Reality"
By Jinx&Jedi

Co-written with Jasson Knight

Chapter Seven

      The sun-lit mountain peaks rise above the tree-line like a party of silent sentinels. The wind blows over ice and snow, stirring up powder that glitter in the air in a crystalline spray. The deep green of the evergreens look almost black against the brightness of the eternal glacier that caps the mountains, moving at its slow, ponderous march down the deep canyon of the riverbed. Far below the effects of its march could be seen.
      Two climbers are making their own march up the mountain. One foot at a time, they force themselves higher and higher, aiming for the peak. There, they would begin their training.
      The rear climber tugs his face-guard higher, makes certain the binding is fast. A few stands of frost covered blue hair stick out from under the thick, neoprene mask. With an audible growl that would tell anyone that knows him of the small amount of sleep he’d gotten last night, he shoves the wild blue locks back under the protective mask.
      Rowen Hashiba, sighs and kicks the ice slope to bury the crampons on his boots deeper. The spikes of the crampons dig in, securing his to the steep, ice glazed slope. The rope that connects himself with Rahne Sanada begins to pull taunt, signaling him to move a little more forward and higher.
      It would be hours before he’d be able to fall into a nice, warm sleeping bag and forget about this frigid mountain slope. Until, then he could only keep going, and hope that Rahne would find her way up the mountain.
      Careful, we’re coming up on a crevasse... he hears her whisper across his mind as Rahne hitches herself up to look over the lip of the cliff. Blizzard visibly shudders and guides her boyfriend away from the dangerous chasm.
      Rowen curiously rises a little to see the crevasse actually dives down into the canyon carved out by the glacier. Shit... that is a LONG way... he thinks, unconsciously patting the pocket that houses his power crystal.
      Finally the slope evens out, and Rowen flops gratefully onto the flat, safe snow field. Even under Rahne’s thick snow gear, she’s nearly bouncing around with her enthusiasm.
      ~ You’re nuts, ~ he tells her in sign language, sitting up. Rowen disconnects the rope between them and takes off his heavy pack; trying his best not to yawn.
      Suddenly Rahne takes off her face mask; her grin broadening. "Ro’! Temperature inversion! Can’t you feel!?" she cries, her voice wild sounding with excitement.
      Rowen sheds his gloves, ~ Calm down, I can feel. ~
      Rahne shoves her hood back and removes her own pack. ~ "Sorry. It’s been so long since I’ve climbed for fun!" ~ She tells him out loud and in sign language as she sets the frame backpack down on the thick snow.
      His collapsible snow-shovel out and ready to set to work, Rowen gleefully removes the sweat soaked mask. He shoves his gloves back into the pockets of his deep blue parka, and flashes Rahne a grin as he pulls out his power crystal.
      She nods and reaches into her own pocket; removing the small violet colored orb.
      Rowen concentrates on his power, and feels the rush of power as his armor is summoned. A brief burning sensation flares on his forehead: "Life!" He cries out.
      Almost like bells were going off in his head he can feel another armor being summoned: "Hope!" Rahne cries out as his mind and vision clears.
      A moment later both of them are in their subarmors: Rahne’s white and violet; his dark blue and white.
      Rahne smiles and giggles, "That is such a rush!"
      "Time to get to work," Rowen reminds her, not wanting to be as hard on her as he knows he has to be. They needed Blizzard if there was already something new out to get them. And that burn on Alex’s back still was fresh on everyone’s mind.
      Ryo, I hope Alex’s accepting the armor... we can’t afford them the time! Rowen thinks as he watches Rahne begin her hike to the summit to discover her armor power.

Meanwhile...

      Sage grumbles as he hangs up the phone. The school wasn’t happy with their sudden decision to "go on vacation early."
      They needed time to train, and they knew their enemies had access to the school.
      Alex had been asleep since Ryo had given him his power crystal a couple nights ago. It worried Halo, but he remembered how much they’d slept after getting their armors and how much Ryo slept after getting Inferno.
      Rahne would probably come home and sleep for a couple days if she managed to summon her full armor.
      "Hey, Sage?" Yuli asks, leaning over the banister to look down at him.
      "Yeah, Yuli?" Sage turns around to look at the second youngest of the household.
      Yuli crosses his arms and chews his lip thoughtfully for a moment. "Where’d Cye, Ryo, and Saen go? I haven’t seen them all day."
      "They went to get some groceries." Sage shrugs, tossing his hair out of his face.
      "Oh."
      "You knew they left," Sage says, trying not to get upset with the child. He knows it must be tough being a kid cooped up with a bunch of teenage guys. "What’s up then, Yuli?"
      Yuli bites his lip, "Rowen and Rahne radioed down from the mountains. She said she may know where Morgan is."
      Halo nods; deciding in that instant that a certain Warlord should know...

Someplace else, another Ronin is ascending to power...

      A deep, thick fog shrouds the city as think, dark storm clouds roll and boil across the sky like an angry sea stirred by hands of chaos itself. Thunder growls in the distance, as lightning leaps with sudden, eerie grace from cloud to cloud.
      The young man looks up into the sky as cool rain splatters and flattens his fire colored hair. Expecting to see a giant, ominous castle floating like a specter of death over the silent city; he shifts unconsciously into a fighting stance.
      Nothing.
      The city was dark, but it wasn’t the pall of death. Only sleep. For once; it seemed, the entire city slept. However, to his psi, he could see the truth:
      Behind those walls of stone and glass, his own mind slept peacefully.
      Alex sighs as the rain washes over him, taking in the fresh, clean smell it carried with it. His psi seems to be healing at a shocking rate; just as he could no longer sense any pain coming from his battered body.
      "Too bad this is a dream. I woulda preferred to have stars..." he whispers to the storm’s wind.
      "True," a familiar voice answers. "But the stars still shine just as brightly."
      "Father!!" Alex shouts, running to meet the armored figure of his father as he emerges from the lifting fog.
      Anubis, former Dark Warlord of Cruelty, smiles and chuckles; holding his arms out to his son.

Two hours later, in the mountains...

      "C’mon Rowen... Wake up!" Rahne demands, irritated that he’d gotten the shelter up and had promptly fallen asleep on top of his sleeping bag. "Whatever happened to practice?!"
      For his part, Strata only mumbles something noncommittal and continues his marathon sleep session.
      Blizzard sighs in frustration, and stares down at her boyfriend. Slowly a rather funny, albeit evil, thought rose to mind
      She sips her hot chocolate, thoughtfully scooping marshmallow goo out with her stir stick as she contemplates his back. Rising and falling rhythmically as he breathed; his back was broader now since he’d grown a little. His shoulders also had grown wider, not so much as to make him appear larger. Just noticeably. His blue hair stuck out in every direction in the worst bad hair day she could imagine. Rowen’s pale skin on his neck and face slightly reddened from the cold, but handsome to her way of thinking...
      Damnit, I wanna train! Rahne thinks with a brief scowl.
      Then she nonchalantly pours her hot chocolate on Rowen’s armor clad back with a smirk. The marshmallow goo trickles down to the small of his back, and congeals in a gooey puddle.
      He mumbles something and rolls over onto his back.
      Then Rowen’s eyes snap open, with a look of complete horror on his face. "You didn’t-!"
      "Uh huh," Rahne smirks and walks out of the igloo.
      Later that night, Rowen sighs and helps Rahne to her feet. He was trying to be tough on her; and he was failing miserably.
      "Again. I know you can do it."
      ~ Do I have to? ~ she signs, laying her head against his shoulder.
      "Yes."
      "Okay." Rahne sighs and then takes up the stance once again. "ARMOR OF BLIZZARD!! DAO KITAI!!"
      Once again, nothing happens.
      Rahne curses, tears of frustration running down her face.
      "Hey!" Rowen exclaims, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close. "Hey, don’t cry. You cry and you’ll never be able to summon your armor."
      Rahne doesn’t answer, her face looking lost; tears still running down her cheeks.
      Rowen exhales a noisy sigh; turning around in a aimless circle as a plan forms in his mind. The sky had become covered with a thick blanket of clouds; a light, powdery snow falling time to time from the high cloud ceiling.
      "Justa sec..." he says, stepping away from her. She needed something to aim for, and Strata could deliver.
      He removes his bow from the catch on his back; not taking his eyes off the clouds. Reaching a hand back, an arrow leaps to his fingers from his quiver.
      Rowen knew what he needed was possible: he’d done it once before. Of course the victory had been tainted by the capture of Sage, Cye, and Kento.
      The string makes a soft noise of stretching as he draws it.
      Overhead the clouds hang, snow drifting down to kiss the bare skin of his exposed face.
      "ARROW SHOCK WAVE!!"
      A golden burst of energy streaks heavenward like a runaway comet, vanishing into the clouds like a phantasm. For moments the feel like centuries, Rowen stands there; begging, pleading, commanding his power to do what he needs.
      Then, miraculously, the clouds part.
      Rowen breathes a sigh of relief that suddenly stops in his throat and becomes a gasp of wonder. The clouds continue to break up, letting the eerie light reach the ground.
      "Oh, my..." Rahne whispers, as Rowen pulls her in tight to his body.
      High above them, dancing in the sky like a silent fireworks display, ribbons and veils of light and color dance with an eerie, slow grace. The individual threads lengthen and flow, all pointing north like the arrow on a compass.
      "Aurora Borealis," Rowen breathes.
      They stand still and silent in each other’s arms, watching the Northern Lights shimmer and dance thier way across the dark sky like an etheral painting. For a long time, they simply watch the phenomenon, forgetting the armor and the world for the space of several long minutes. Then...
      "I think I get your point..." Smiling, Rahne kisses him; then steps away. She braces her arm and screams: "ARMOR OF BLIZZARD!! DAO KITAI!!"
      This time Rowen feels the ripple of energy that heralds the arrival of the armor.
      He lunges forward, shutting his eyes against the blinding flash of light. An instant later, Rahne stumbles forward; collapsing in his arms. Her eyes lightly shut under the silvery metal of her facemask, her mind and still caught in the temporary suspended animation of the armor. Then her eyes flutter open and her facemask opens with a whisper of metal on metal.
      "I did it!" Rahne whispers then shrieks; kissing him repeatedly. Rowen swings her around and set her back down, laughing excitedly.
      An explosion rocks the snowy expanse without so much as a warning, throwing Strata and Blizzard away like mere dolls.
      The sense of danger seems suddenly overpowering.
      Rowen hits a rock with enough force to make bolts of color burst across his vision. Burning rock and shreds of camping gear pummel him as he comes to land. He falls into a kneeling position; ripping his bow free from it’s hook on his back as his other hand drew the bolt of lightning that formed the shaft of an arrow in his fingers. Where are they?! Where’s Rahne?! he thinks, drawing his bow.
      Rahne realized she was too close to the brink of the chasm a moment too late. She claws at the snow and ice, trying to find purchase, but feels herself sliding over the edge. Rahne cries out as her grip fails and she begins to fall.
      A large hand, encased in red and brown armor, shoots out of nowhere, seizing her wrist so tightly she gasps with pain.
      "Can’t you stay out of trouble?!" Cale grunts as he lifts her easily and sets her back on her feet.
      Cale steps in front of her to cover her; Rahne rubs her aching wrist a moment before drawing her sword from its sheath at her side. "HEY! I don’t look for trouble, it finds me!"
      Cale shoves her to the ground roughly as another explosion sends up a geyser of burning rock and steam. He crouches, his face as intent as a wary predator’s as he scans the surroundings. Rahne catches a flash of green as Sage sprints to Rowen’s side.
      *Everyone: Retreat,*
Cale sends as clouds cover the sky once more and snow begins to fall heavily. *Meet you at the foot, east-northeast side.*
      At that Cale grabs her wrist and starts running, his leaps taking them farther and farther away from the snow field. It wasn’t hard keeping up, but Cale was good at what he was doing. She had lost all sense of direction within minutes.
      "Was that them?" Rahne asks him softly; already suspecting his answer.
      Cale glances back at her and nods.
      The first move had been made.

End Chapter Seven