Author’s Note: Okay, this is my fan-fic of Ronin Warriors. I’ve kinda' blended a bit of
YST into it, but since Ronin has a looser plot anyway, let’s just say that it’s
all Ronin stuff. If I get some facts wrong, forgive me. I’m obsessed, but I’m still
pretty clueless on the little details in their backrounds. I tried to have this take
place in Ryo’s junior year (which makes Sage and Cye in--- senior?). If you see any
blaring errors, e-mail me please- HYPERLINK . Um, that’s it. Please enjoy!
Eclipse (

The hissing seemed to come from all sides of the walls, until it seemed as if the walls weren’t there at all. He smiled and his eyes gleamed behind his thin rimmed glasses. It was working. The image became more defined and clear. He smiled. "Master," he murmered, "it is time." <> "I am ready." <> "Will you bestow your grace on me?" a silence replaced the disturbing hissing. "Please, master?!" he called worriedly. <>The candles that lit the room suddenly blew out and the last trace of hissing abruptly stopped. He smiled again and sat in the darkness, utterly alone.

Part 1: Ryo tapped his fingers against the desk repetedally. "I hate Engish class." He muttered. "Can’t we just focus on a language that we actualluy USE?" "We use English all the time." Rowen countered, flipping through vocabulary flash cards. "Even in training. I mean, Kento is from New York, Cye lived in England, and I…" "But I’m from a total Japanese home, so don’t lecture me." Ryo laughed and snatched the cards playfully away from Rowen. Rowen grabbed them back and smirked wildly. "Just look on the bright side, this is the last final exam before Winter Vacation! Loosen up! You’d better get to your seat, now, before the test starts." Ryo nodded and dashed across the room to his seat. His desk partner looked absolutely petrified, burying her head in her arms. "What’s up, Katherine?" Ryo asked his her. The girl looked up, her mascara smeared just slightly. "Oh my gawd! Ryo, I am so going to fail this exam!" "Settle down." He laughed, trying desperately to take his own advice in the process, "Just think some sort of ‘happy’ thought before the test starts." Katherine raised her eyebrow skeptically. "Something happy, huh?" she closed her eyes for a moment and was completely silent. Then, without warning, she burst out giggling. "Ah, that’s better." Ryo smiled, "You look really pretty when you laugh, you know that? What did you think of?" Her eyes flashed impishly. "Your tiger that you brought in last month. I imagined that he ripped our teacher to sheds before we took the test." Ryo gaped in shock as he clamped his hand over his mouth to keep from bursting into a non-stop fit of laughter. Petite and tranquil, there were times through out the semester that Katherine’s blunt statements startled him to no end. Their nassily-sounding proffesor started to talk, signalling the class to calm down. "The test will be an hour and a half. There is no talking, drinking, eating, laughing, or chewing gum. In fact, don’t even breathe too loud if you want to make sure that you pass." A few of the bolder students laughed. The teacher glared at them. "You think that I’m joking? I’m not." The class was silent again. The tests were handed out and he paused in front of Ryo and Katherine’s desk. "Well, Miss. Lakran, you look cheerful. Ready for the exam?" "Why, of course, sir." She chirped, taking the stack of papers from him. As he passed away from their table, she made a choaking gesture and Ryo had to clamp his hand over his mouth again. Maybe this test wouldn’t be so bad after all. * * * * *
The bell sounded and all fifty English students bolted towards the door. "Well?" Katherine asked as Ryo’s feet hit the pavement. "How do you think you did?" "Passing." Ryo smirked. "What about you?" "Hopefully the same." She smiled and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Thanks, Ryo. I owe you my sanity." Ryo nodded as she jogged towards the locker room. He sighed aloud, watching her incredibly short uniform-skirt sway back and forth a bit. A loud cough from behind him brought him back to reality. "Oh, hey Rowen! How did you do?" "Good. That wasn’t bad at all… at least I don’t think… um." "Oh don’t try and spare my ego, Mr. Genius!" Ryo chortled, ruffling Rowen’s blue hair. Rowen laughed too, but paused to gesture towards the locker room "So, what’s going on between you and Katherine?" Ryo flushed. "Nothing. But you already knew that." "Yeah." Katherine Lakran was considered off-limits to almost any guy at the school because of one good reason: Nathan Lakran. The brother and sister were a year apart, and although Nathan was younger, he ran her life completely. She never went to school functions or dances, and neither did Nathan. But then, Nathan couldn’t do much of anything! He was confined to a wheelchair, and had been since seventh grade. No one really knew why. All that they knew was that Katherine was hot, and certified as unavailable. Lots of guys had asked her out, but she wouldn’t put in any effort to go against her brother. Even Sage had made an attempt and had been turned down, polietly, but firmly. "Ready to meet up with the guys?" Ryo nodded. "Yeah! Winter Vacation, here we come!" Part 2: "I love Christmas time." Rowen stated aloud to no one inperticular. No one responded. He smiled and shook his head. Everyone was off in his own world. It made sense. After all, Christmas was only three weeks away. Tonight they had come to Mia’s ‘University Ball’, and so far it had been a complete snore. Mia had spent the entire time with other proffesors and instructors, leaving the five boys alone at one of the tables. "Man, I wanna’ drink." Kento grumbled. "You have water, Kento." Sage sneered. Always trying to be the responsible one, Rowen smirked, unless it has to do with girls. Then you can chuck any type of responsibility out the window. "But we’re all of a ‘could-pass-for-older’ drinking age! Hey, and what about you? You’re old enough!" Kento whined. Cye grinned a mischievous, boyish grin. He was old enough too, but the he thought of drinking as ‘prohibited’ to himself. "Well, it is Christmas time, Sage. Maybe we could…" "We might just be able to get away with it." Rowen thought out loud, glancing at the many serving tables. "I swear!" Sage sneered, "You’re all against me!" Kento laughed a loud chortle of a laugh. "Hey, Ryo? What do you think?" The warrior of Wildfire was silent. They waited, but he just stared off into space. "Earth to Ryo! Ryo! Hey, are you awake?!" Cye laughed. Ryo started as if arousing from a dream. "Huh? Oh… um… sorry. I guess I spaced out there. What were you saying?" "Kento and Sage are at it again." Rowen chuckled, his blue hair bobbing in front of his eyes. "WE ARE NOT!" Kento and Sage snapped at the same time. Rowen and Cye both put their fingers to their lips to quiet them. Ryo shook his head and went back to staring off into nothingness. Or… was he? Rowen followed Ryo’s gaze. Rowen’s jaw dropped just a bit and his eyes widened in breif surprise as Sage and Kento continued to bicker. "Fine!" Sage finally gave in. "You can try and get away with it if you have the money. I’m not putting in one cent!" "Great!" Kento laughed. He grabbed Cye’s hand and Sage’s shoulder. "Come on!" Rowen laughed and turned back to the silent dreamer. Ryo sighed, oblivious to Rowen’s gawking, and took a sip of his water. Rowen nudged him. "Stop gaping and go talk to her!" Ryo almost choaked on a piece of ice. He licked his lips and tried to play dumb. "What do you mean, Rowen?" "Oh, come on!!! You’ve been staring off in that direction all night! Are you trying to tell me that its coincidence that there’s a really hot girl over there in a really tight dress, and that it’s a coincidence that you’re totally spacing out?!" Ryo blushed deep red- almost as bright as his armor. "Um, I guess not." His dark hair hung far to low, blocking his crystal blue eyes from Rowen’s veiw. Ryo swallowed nervously and turned away from the veiw. "So, how’s that book you’re reading? The new Michael Crichton, right? That’s supposed to be cool. So…" "Oh no you don’t!" Rowen laughed. "Come on! Since when are you the type to be shy? That’s my job, remember?" Ryo laughed at the comment, but shook his head. "Since when did I ever talk to a girl? And, why would she want to talk to me?" "Have you looked in the mirror lately?" Rowen teased. Ryo frowned and sipped his water. A girl who worked at a small grocery store had once told him that his features were unusual and mysterious, causing Ryo to be more than just a bit self-consious. He hated being the center of attention. Well, at least in social situations. In battles, he loved being the focus. It meant that he was doing more than just a decent job of kicking some serious dynasty-ass. Ryo sighed and pushed himself up, "Do you realise who that is, Rowen?" "Hmm?" He looked up at the girl again and his eyes widened. "Oh wow! Katherine Lakane?!" "Yeah." He smiled at Ryo. "Even more of a reason to go talk to her! Go on!" Ryo sighed again and gave Rowen a glare that said ‘If I bomb, I blame you’, and strolled over to the table, where the slim girl sat alone. Katherine had long, green hair and dark eyes that seemed to gleam in the dim lights. Her dress was black and more than just a little revealing. She was also wearing a dark lipstick to match her attire, but her eyes were soft in comparison. She wore a thin, dark choaker and bracelet, but no other jewelry at all to be seen. Ryo’s throat stung a bit. You idiot! He thought to himself, Why are you getting so worked up? You’re supposed to be the rational one, remember? He shook his head absentmindedly and cleared his throat. She started and looked up at him. "Hey, stranger. So, did you get the results on your test?" "Ryo?" she gasped. "What are you doing here?!" "I’m here with some friends. So… uh… look, I don’t mean to intrude. But…" Ryo desperately tried to think of a topic, "Well, you looked sad… and, um…" "Ahhh, I see. Well, trust me," Katherine chuckled, "You don’t want to hear my problems. These don’t have to do with school." "Why wouldn’t I want to hear them?" Her eyebrows arched slightly and she smiled. "Because they’re long. So, unless you have, like, three hours…" "Do I look busy?" Ryo laughed. Katherine’s eyes widened more and she smirked again. "No, not really." She paused and looked Ryo over once. "Do you want to sit down?" Ryo nodded and sat down on the seat across from her. The seats were extremely uncomfortable, but he didn’t care. There was something about this girl… He smirked. Maybe it was just the fact that she was really attractive. Or maybe it was because she was off-limits. That could be it. But he wasn’t used to being at all turned on by the girls that he was around- that was Sage’s job for both of them- but he could feel his face grow hot as she started to speak. "For a start, my parents died two years ago…" "I’m sorry." "Don’t be. I’m okay with it. It was a car accident. These things happen…" she looked up at the expression on Ryo’s face, "…and by the looks of it, you’re pretty familiar with that yourself." Ryo nodded, flushing the faint memories of his long dead parents out of his mind. "My parents left me to take care of my brother. You know Nate." She gestured over to a group of students in a huddle. Ryo could pick out her brother immediately. From afar, he could still see the gleams in his eyes, which was identical to hers. His wheelchair was an older style, but looked like it had had several modifications and restorations. The boy’s flame red hair swayed in front on his thin edged glasses and dark, green eyes. As different as they were, Ryo could tell that these two were related. "He’s gotten worse." Ryo heard her murmur. "It’s a decaying condition that attacks the bones. It started in his lower legs when he was young. He could still walk fine back then. Then, he needed a cane… then a walker… then he was put in a wheelchair. No one knows where it could spread, or what to do." "I… I’m sorry." Katherine blushed. "Now, aren’t you glad you asked?" She muttered sarcastically. "Yes." She twitched in surprise and smiled. "Oh, Gawd! I’ve been rattling on and on, haven’t I?! I’m so sorry, Ryo!" "That’s okay, Katherine." She waved her hand to the right and smiled "Please, call me Kat" "Okay." The two of them sat in silence for a few moments. She raised a pink, mushy looking beverage to her lips and sipped a few times. She stole a look back at Ryo and smirked. "What are you drinking anyway?" "Water." "Ooh. Smart lad!" She smirked and gazed out the window a second. "Hey, it’s kinda’ stuffy in here. Do you… do you want to go out to the balcony?" "Sure." Ryo took her arm and she flushed just slightly. He led her outside with hardly a second thought about his friends. "But, Miiiiaaaaaa!" Kento whined. Her cold glare became colder, causing him to shiver just a little. "Hey! I only had *hic* a little bit!!!" Cye giggled from behind Kento, enjoying the entire situation, including getting busted. That was one thing about Cye no one understood: he would get into trouble all the time, but never once complained about consequences. It was almost as if he enjoyed them too. "You’re underage. Kento!" Mia snapped. "And even then, maybe one glass I could overlook, but Kento…!" "Hey, I warned him." Sage snickered. Mia whirled around to Sage, eyes blazing. Sage realized that he had made a bad choice to speak. She gestured towards his wineglass. "You are supposed to be responsible! You too Rowen! If you guys don’t take responsibility, who will?!" "Ryo." Sage laughed, only half kidding. Mia started and looked around frantically. "Where…where is Ryo?" "He’s busy." Rowen chortled, avoiding the question-filled glances from the other guys. After a few moments of pure silence, Rowen was starting to feel really uncomfortable. He gazed around, looking for somekind of new distraction. He didn’t need to look far. "Um, guys." Kento grumbled. One look at Kento, who gestured almost frantically with his hands, was all it took. They all jumped up and helped him to his feet. "We’ll be right back." Sage sighed, glancing at Mia. "We need to take Kento to the bathroom." Mia shook her head, thoroughly disgusted with the boys’ behavior. Still, she smiled to herself, they sure look cute. She sighed and waited for her friends to return. The moon shimmered down on all the guests who were on the balcony. Kat sat on one of the stone ledges, swinging her feet like a little girl. Ryo stood next to her, leaning against the one pillar. "So, you’re parents died when you were really young?" Kat asked, picking up the conversation where they had left off to stare into nothingness. "Yeah. My dad died later though. I… I can hardly remember my mom anymore. My dad I can definitely recall, and all the foster homes that I lived at, but my mom’s a bit of a blur." Ryo shook his head and the akward silence was restored. "God, it’s beautiful out here." Kat sighed, noting that Ryo looked like he needed a subject change. He gave her a grateful smile and nodded. "It certainly is.’ He brushed a few strands of hair out of her face, so he could see her better. She turned to him, a suspicious look on her face. "You’re not even looking at where I was talking about." "I know." He stepped closer to her, just in the nick of time for her to burst out laughing. "What? What’d I do?!" "Nothing, except… damn. You don’t hit on girls very often, do you?’ "Uh, no. Why? Is it obvious?" "Only when you use cheap lines like that." Ryo grimaced. "It was pretty bad, huh? I actually stole that one from Sage Date." He smiled and remembered Sage using it at their last school dance. Funny, it had worked then. Kat nodded,"Yeah, but Sage is a complete flirt. He can get away with bad phrases like that. You just are too serious looking to pull it off." Kat’s eyes glimmered and she turned even more towards him. "But, I have a fool proof way of telling a girl that you like her." "Really? And what’s that?" Ryo’s smirk grew and Kat looked like she was going to laugh at any moment too. "Just grab her and kiss her. If she hits you, she’s not interested right now, but might be later. See, girls love danger and romance and you would have just combined both. If she kisses you back, she’s yours! It’s pretty simple!" "I don’t know… how do I know that I can believe you?" Ryo laughed. He took another step towards her. "I think I just might have to test this theory.’ "Test away." Kat smirked. Ryo nodded and leaned towards her. She swallowed just a bit nervously as their bottom lips brushed. "Hey, Ryo!" a voice called from behind them. Ryo jumped about two feet back from Kat as she flushed a brilliant shade of crimson. "Oh, hey Rowen." Ryo grumbled. Rowen ran up and nodded at Ryo. Then he gave Kat one of his ‘I-don’t-know-you-but-I’m-going-to-be-nice-and-say-hi’ waves. She smiled back as he turned to his friend. "Look, we’ve got to go. Kento… um… never mind. You’ll see." Ryo sighed and nodded. He turned back to say goodbye to Kat. "Hey! Where’d she go?!" Ryo frowned and glanced around the balcony. He eyed the ledge that they had been talking at and smiled. A small piece of paper was sitting in the ridge. It had only three words scribbled on it, and a collection of other numbers, but what it said made Ryo’s day almost perfect: "Call me! Kat:727-…" Ryo looked over the numbers and grinned to himself. Rowen peered over his shoulder and laughed. "Ryo’s gotta’ girlfriend..." he sang in a child like tone. Ryo glared at him. "Knock it off!" Ryo smiled, then suddenly grew serious, "Oh, and Rowen, do me a favor, okay?" "Hmmm?’ "Don’t tell the guys." Rowen frowned and nodded. He didn’t really like it, but he understood. * * * * * The drive home was a quiet one. Kat hummed to herself while her brother’s nose was buried in a book. "Hey, Kat." "Hmmm?" "This book tells a total contradiction to the old ‘Black-Scrolls’ that were discovered in 1754! I’ll have to do more research on this." "Mmm." He looked up at his sister and scowled. "And I just discovered the secret of all life. I’ll win a Nobel Prize before the year’s over." He muttered sarcastically. "Mmm." "And you’re not listening to a single word I’m saying." "Huh? Oh, sorry, Nate." Her brother, Nathan, smiled. "You met someone at the party, didn’t you?" "Yeah, I met a lot of people. Remember that you introduced me to that professor who specialized in Chinese Mythology. Oh, and that lecturer you were telling me about… Mia! She’s nice." "You know that’s not what I mean." Kat blushed in the darkness. She glanced over at Nate. "Yeah, sort of." Nate made a few obnoxios whistling noises and teased her with a few childish rhymes. "Oh, shut up!" she laughed, but really she was happy. This was the first time in awhile that Nate acted like a normal person. His face suddenly beacame dark and expressionless again. "You know…" he began in a tone that sent shivers across Kat’s spine, "This is a bad time for you to get a boyfriend." "He’s not a boyfriend." Kat laughed, "I just met him tonight!" "Either way, I need you at the house! I can’t yield because of your relationship." Kat’s eyes narrowed and she pulled over to the side of the road. "Well, excuse me for wanting a life!" she snarled. Nate smirked at her defiantly. "Damn it, Nate! What’s so important that I can’t spend time with one guy?!" Nate didn’t answer. At least, not in words. Instead, he waved his hand, causing a greenish-blue flame to appear in his palm. He tossed it back and forth a few times, then it disappeared without a trace. "Did you see that?" he asked, excitedly. "Yeah, but… well… so what? You’ve been doing theses tricks for more than a year now. What’s so important about this?" "It’s ‘dynasty’ magick. It’s important." His eyes flashed dangerously, "This is a very bad time for you to get a boyfriend." "Yeah, whatever." She sighed, flipping the engine back into life. The rest of the car ride was silent once again. Part 3: Kat awoke the next morning with a light headache. She sighed and stared at the white ceiling of her room for a few moments before she forced herself to get out of bed. She sighed and walked briskly over to the kitchen. After pouring herself a cup of tea, she popped two pop-tarts into the toaster and collapses into a chair. Was Nate up yet? She strained her ears and grimaced. She could hear the faint clicks of a keyboard being clinked every few moments. Nate was always waking up early to research and study. She could never do that. Ever since their parents died, Nate and Kat had been home schooled. But, while Nate had done far more than was expected and was going to college lectures; Kat had to be poked and prodded to do anything. The only thing that she needed no coaxing in was training in martial arts. It was her escape from the world that she did whenever Nate’s constant necessities or requests seemed overwhelming. The toaster popped and hissed, signaling that the pasteries were done. She pushed them each onto a small plate and carried them into Nathan’s room. "Morning." She sighed and set down his plate near the keyboard. "Thanks." He acknowledged, still staring at the computer screen. Kat nodded and collapsed into a small chair, next to her brother. She stared at her breakfast and grimaced. She was not in the mood today. Nate had already attacked his breakfast, leaving the plate emptly as he continued to work. "Hey, Nate?" "Hmmm?" "You want my pop-tart?" Nate clicked the ‘save’ button on his computer and swivled around to look at Kat. "Are you going to eat?" he demanded. Kat laughed. "Of course. You know I can’t skip meals without being really grumpy. I wouldn’t do that to you! I’m just going to have something else." "In that case, hell yeah!" Kat laughed and handed him the colorful edible. Nate immediately scarfed it down as he turned back to his computer. Nate, like her, was always hungry, but he was also as skinny as a rail. She, on the other hand, was slim, but needed to work hard to stay that way. Nate could eat anything, not move a muscle, and still not gain an ounce. Kat yawned and made her way back into the kitchen. She dug an ice-cream sandwich out of the freezer and returned to Nate’s room to talk. "That’s your breakfast?! Kat!" "What?! It could possibly have three out of the four food groups in it, you know!" "How?" Nate sighed. "Um, the chocolate cookie has sometype of grain in it; that’s one. There’s dairy in the icecream; that’s two. There’s strawberry icecream, and that might have somekind of fruit trace in it; that’s three." Nate laughed. "Whatever. As long as you don’t eat sushi for breakfast, I can’t complain." Kat snickered at the thought of Nate practically getting sick last time that she had eaten a raw-tuna roll one morning. "I won’t." she promised with a giggle. The silence returned as each of them finished their breakfast. Nate was the next to speak. "So, did you think about what I said?" "Hmm? About what?" "The guy you saw at the party. Are you going to persue this stupid experience?" Kat glared at her brother. "For your information, he was very nice to me, but it’s not like I’ll see him again before school starts because…" "He called." "What?!" Kat leapt from her chair and dashed over to her brother. "Yeah, earlier this morning. He said he’d call back around eleven." Kat looked up at the clock. It was barely ten o’clock. "So, what are you going to say when he calls." "Probably ‘hello.’" Nate laughed and stopped typing again. "Damn," he chuckled, "you know what I mean." "Yeah. But… I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter right now. Like I said, I hardly know the guy." "I don’t know him at all." Nate sighed, "And yet, I still hate him." Kat made an annoyed, snorting sound and stuck her tongue out at her younger brother. Nate smiked, but inside he was worried. He was worried as hell. * * * * * "I WON!!!" Kento leaped up from his chair and did a litle victory dance. Ryo laughed as Cye turned bright red. "I told you I wasn’t good at this game. Now, put on Street Fighter and watch as I kick your virtual behind!" "Oh please! I am the king of fighting games!" "That’s funny," Ryo interrupted, "because I could have sworn that you haven’t beat me once!" "And I’ve beat you a few times, Kento." Rowen muttered cockily from behind his book. Sage smiled but didn't comment. He didn't like video games too much. "Okay, okay! I get the point! You know what? I challenge you all… BWUAHAHAHA!" Kento did his best immitation of a cartoon-villan-laugh. Cye burst out laughing and tossed the playstation controller over to Ryo. He caught it with ease. "Now, remember, Kento." Ryo warned, "Don’t blink. If you do, you might miss my triumph." "Oh no! I’m not gonna’ lose that fast!" The clicks of multi-colored buttons and the digital cries and grunts were the only sounds to be heared for a few moments. "K.O." Ryo finally laughed as Kento yelped. "No! Man, one of these days! Hey, I’ll play Rowen, now!" Rowen laughed and closed his book. "I don’t know, Kento. If you’re looking for an easy win, then you’re out of luck!" Rowen grasped the control that Ryo had handed him. "Bye, you guys!" Mia sighed. "Hey, I thought you were off of work for the holidays! What’s with the suit?" Sage asked. "Remember? I have a workshop about ancient armors that I wanted to go to. Can you guys be here by yourselves and not burn down the house?" "But of course!" Rowen said, stressing his already charming accent. Mia shook her head as she walked out the door. "Hey, what time is it?" Ryo asked, tearing his eyes away from the television screen. "Um, eleven o’six." Sage sighed. "We should probebly start…" "It’s eleven already?!" Ryo started. "Damn… um, I’ll be right back." Ryo picked up the cordless phone on the way up to his room. The sound of Kento’s whining and Rowen’s laughter was silenced as he shut his door. They couldn’t know. The phone rang and Kat picked it up immediately. "Hello?" "Hi, is Kat there?" "This is she." Ryo’s throat went dry for a moment. "H-hey! Um, this is Ryo." "Oh, how are you?" "Great, thanks. Hey, are you free for lunch?" An uncomfertable silence was established. "Today?!" "Yeah." "Kat!" A new voice sounded in the backround. Kat groaned. "Um, hold on a sec, okay?" Kat pressed the mute button and turned to glare at Nate. "What?!" "You’re not going.’ He stated matter-of-factly. Kat scowled. "EXCUSE ME?!" she laughed in disbelief. "You heard me. I need you here and too much is at stake. You’re not going." Kat shot dagger-looks at her brother as she took her hold off of the mute button. "Ryo? Lunch would be great! Yeah, today at noon is perfect! Uh huh. Yeah, I know that place. Okay, see you then!" Kat set down the phone, a satisfied grin on her face. The smile faded when she saw Nate’s scowl and betrayed glare. "Are you mad at me?" she asked, truly concerned. Nate forced himself to smile. "No." Kat nodded and gave her brother a careful embrace. She grabbed her jacket, straightened her hair, checked her outfit, and bounded out the door. Nate sat alone, disgust burning like fire in his eyes. * * * * * Ryo was dressed in his favorite outfit of jeans and a distinct teeshirt. This tee was black and had the Chinese symbol for fire on it. It was one of his favorites. His black hair hung unruly along the back of his neck and the sides of his face, just like he liked it. He tied his old sneakers and vaulted over the stair rail. "Whoa, Ryo! Where ya’ going?" Rowen asked. "Out. I’ll see you guys later." Ryo picked up his brown, leather jacket and started towards the door. "Are you gonna’ be back in time for training?" "Oh shit!" Ryo gasped, "I totally forgot! Um, nawe, I’ll train later. See you!" "Hold it!" Sage snapped from his chair. "We all really need to train! How come you’re going out?" "Look, I forgot, okay? And Kento isn’t here either. He went to the store. I’ll just work extra hard tomarrow. It’s not a big deal." "Oh yes it is." Sage scoffed. "We need to be prepared! You can’t just leave whenever you feel like it!" "But you can?! Oh, gee, that’s fair." Ryo sneered sarcastically. "Not to mention, we ARE prepared. I’d be able to tale on five dynasty warriors, cold turkey, right now! Sage, forget it. It’s one day; it won’t make a difference." "One day always makes a difference!" "Damn it, Sage, it doesn’t matter!" "Yes it does!" "Whatever. I’m leaving!" Ryo swung his jacket over his shoulder and slammed the door. It echoed in the old house for a moment. "Don’t you think you were just a bit too hard on him." Rowen sighed. "He’s right too. He never gets time off. I say let him skip a few practices. Hell, we’ve all done that." "But we don’t all wear the armor of Inferno! He’s supposed to be somekind of responsible leader, right? Well, that means showing up for practice." "You’re being too hard on him." "Come on guys!" Cye sighed, "This isn’t doing us any good." Sage snorted haughtily. Rowen grunted, but nodded. Cye gulped. They couldn’t start fighting again! Not after all that they had been through! Cye had noticed the tension between the warriors for a couple days now, and it was promptly getting worse. Cye stared at the door, the echo of the slam still humming in his ears. Ryo, he thought, this team is starting to fall apart, and you are going to be caught in the middle if something isn’t done! Ryo stood outside the door for a few moments, scowling. Damn, why did this happen? He knew for a fact that everyone in their group had skipped practice at least once. Even Sage had backed out when he had a chance to catch a movie with Ami Makata, one of the most beautiful cheerleaders at their school. But Ryo, being the stable leader, never missed a practice. And the first time I do… Sage bites my head off, he sighed to himself. He shook his head and slipped the jacket on. The cold, winter wind cut through him as he made his way over to the garage, where his motor bike was parked. He cranked the gas petal a few times and escaped from the unsettling scene that he called home. * * * * * Kat sat on the stool, her chest aching with guilt. She knew that Nate had lied when he said it didn’t bother him, but what was she supposed to do about it? Ever since she was a little girl, Nate had been able to manipulate every situation to his advantage, leaving her to fend for herself, alone. Truly, she was sick of Nate getting everything he wanted. While some people might go out of their way to treat someone like Nate with courtesy, Kat went out of her way to treat him no different than a normal little brother, making sure to let him do things that she know he could do by himself. She teased him about little things, and he teased her back. And she shared secrets with him and he… Kat shivered at the thought of Nate’s secrets. Nate’s secrets were dark, and she had sworn not to tell anyone. After all, what were big sisters for? As much as she hated how Nate acted at times, she truly loved him. That’s what made it so hard… "Hi!" Ryo’s voice sounded from behind her. Kat startled at the silent approach of the boy. "Hi, Ryo." She smiled warmly at him. She noticed the red eyes and grim expression on his face. "Hey, what’s wrong?’ Ryo swiped at his eyes. "Oh, nothing." "I don’t beleive you." Ryo smirked, his blue eyes shimmering. "Well, trust me, you don’t wanna’ hear my problems." "Why not? Oh, let me guess. They’re long, right? Well… do I look busy?" Ryo laughed at the clever use of his own line. "No, actually, you don’t. Fine…If you really want to here it. Um… let me start by telling you that I live with five friends of mine. Four are boys and one is a girl. She’s a teacher. She’s more of an adult/ parent to keep us in line, don’t worry…" "I wasn’t." "Oh. Um, anyway, so I’m bestfriends with everyone there. But, a couple of these guys and I have been clashing lately. Well, almost all the time. But it’s been more in fun in the past. Lately it’s just been arguing. I don’t know… it’s just…" He paused for a few moments, listening to the clock tuicking on the wall. He sighed and started to speak again… Tick-tock-tick-tock… "Damn, I know exactly how you feel!" Kat sighed. "Actually, Sage’s and your relationship sound like the relationship between Nate and me." "What do you mean?" Ryo asked. Their food had arrived (hamburgers and french fries, yum!) and he was picking at it with only half interest. "Well…" Kat breathed loudly and started to tell Ryo about Nate’s behavior… Tick-tock-tick-tock… "Sounds like we have more in common than we thought." Ryo laughed. Kat sipped at her soda. ‘What do you mean?" "Well, we both feel totally controlled, but we don’t do anything about it. In fact, you know what I noticed?" "Hmmm?" "We both used the phrase, ‘who are they to tell me…’ about different people. Like who is Sage to tell me when I can go out and when I can’t?! Same with your brother. Weird, huh?" "Huh, I guess you’re right." She paused. "Yay, I’ve now titled an issue. Psycology class should be a breeze, now." She muttered sarcastically. "You make it sound as if I’m joking. I’m not! Really, we have a lot in common. In fact, it feels nice to talk to someone who understands." "Yeah." Kat agreed. "Hey, Ryo?" "Hmm?" "I’ve gotta’ go in a few minutes. We’ve been talking for almost two hours and I need to take my brother to the library." Ryo’s eyes widened as he looked at the clock on the wall. "But, before I go, I wanted to ask you a question." "Oh? What’s that?" "Remember the party where I gave you that advice on how to tell someone that you like them.’ "Yeah." Kat sighed and stood up. She tucked her hair behind her ears while Ryo stood up to face her. "Well, I thought you should know that I’m taking my own advice.’ She grabbed Ryo around the neck and pressed her lips to his. He let a short gasp escape his mouth before he returned the act. Kat pulled away after a few seconds, then sighed. "Call me later, ‘kay?" She walked out of the small café. Ryo smiled and put him hand over his mouth. It tingled a bit with the memory. He shook his head and grabbed his jacket. Guess it was time to head home… Part 4: "Please, Master Tulpa!" he cried ihto the darkness, "I am ready to receive the power! Really, I am!" Fire burned from the many candles that filled the room. The fire reflected in his eyes too, causing them to sparkle and shine. The imprisoned spirit glared at him, looking even more evil than he had in life. <> "No." the boy laughed. "I’m willing to sacrifice allso that I can have power. In this case, it’s one in the same." The spirit in the portal laughed and shimmered. <> "And my sister?" the boy asked, his eyes glistening with a splinter of optimism. "What about me?" Kat’s voice sounded from behind him. Nate swiveled around in his wheelchair, his side-wheel catching on a stray candleholder. With a loud cry, Nate’s chair toppled to the ground with him still in it. Tears stung his eyes as his face collided with the hard ground. "Damn it!" he snapped. "Kat, can you help me up?!" Kat assisted her sibling on reinstating his sitting position and turned to the shimmering spirit. "Something’s changed, hasn’t it?" she sneered. "You’re planning something. What’s it got to do with Nate? Or me?" <> "Nate?" Nate smiled at Kat’s distressed tone. "Oh, I’ll explain Kat. I’ll explain it all in due time. But, right now I just need your help." He smiled a dark smile. "Will you help me?" "With what?" she sighed, obviosly tiring of the conversation. Nate smiled as his plan spewed from his chapped lips. Kat sat on one of the tailsman-tables, ignoring the reverence that Nate held to the divination objects. Kat shook her head and sighed. "So, what your saying is that you made a deal with the dead-demon-guy? And you can walk if you help him destroy the… the…" "Ronin Warriors." Nate offered. "Right, them. So, besides the fact that I’m your sister -who, by the way, thinks that your judgement was incredibaly stupid- what does this have to do with me?" "I want your help." Nate smiled. "Awe come on, Kat! You said that if I ever needed help…" "I meant with kids picking on you, or homework or something! This is a bit different!" "Kat! Please!" Katherine shuttered and she looked up at the ghost, watching her with glowing red eyes. A shiver traced up her spine, causin geach muscle in her body to quiver slightly. "Fine." She finally breathed. Nate smiled and hugged his sister for a breif moment. "Great. Now…" he held out a golden, yellow candle. "Touch the flame, Kat." She waivered a bit, but reached out and nudged the blaze for a moment. Energy shot through her, making her gasp aloud. She thought that she heard bells for a moment, but she wasn’t sure. A power wrapped around her entire body and pulled tight, hugging close. She felt like a strange new force blazed inside her, like a…oh, what was that word…inferno? Why did that word come to mind? Kat’s brown eyes fluttered open and she gasped. She was cloaked, head to foot, in a golden armor. It looked like a strange cross between a samurai’s armor and a ninja’s robe. Criss crosses of bronze bands patterned her torso, and two chinese-style butterfly swords were tucked in a golden belt. Instead of heavy leg wear, her armor cut off in short, skirt like plates that allowed her to move easily. She put her hand to her face and noticed that, besides the rounded helmet, she also had a silver facemask that hid all of her face, except her eyes, from view. "That was incredible!" she breathed and looked up at Nate. He had his own, dark green and brown armor. Kat tried not to, but she coldn’t hold back a few loud snickers. "What’s so funny?" Nate demanded. "Um, your armor just looks, well, stupid! You have spikes everywhere! It looks weird!" "Gee thanks for your support." By now, Kat had gone from simple snickering to loud chortling. "Yeah, yeah! Laugh it up!" He put his hand to his face, where his own facemask was in place. He also had a lime-colored visor that acted the same way his glasses did. In fact, he thought to himself, I can actually see better through these! I have complete night-vision! "So, you will help me, right?" Kat stopped laughing and looked at her golden gloved hand again. She sighed and nodded. "Yeah, but only if you need it. I don’t wanna’ cause trouble if I don’t have to!" It took Kat a few moments to realize that the room had gone completely dark. The candles had blown out and the evil ghost was no where to be seen. Nate didn’t seem to care. "Thank you, Kat." He smiled under his mask. He stood up. Kat gasped. He was able to walk in the hard armor! Nate smiled underneath his mask and embraced her. Kat’s eyes started to water a bit at the sight. "Thank you." * * * * * Bam! Kento’s gloved fist slammed into the punching bag. "So, Ryo just left, huh? Hmph, I missed all the fun again!" "Fun?!" Cye gawked, "Everyone was snapping at eachother like sharks and you think it sounds fun?!" "Whoa, chill out dude! Okay, not fun exactly… but entertaining. Man, I wish I hadn’t missed it!" "That reminds me," Sage sighed, swinging a karate kick into another bag, "where were you, Kento?" "Um, I stopped at the burger joint after I went to the store." He winced at the sharp glare from Sage, "I was hungry!" "You’re always hungry." Cye laughed, giving Kento a playful slap on the side of his hard head. Kento flinched and knocked Cye back. Then he knocked Kento back. Then… "Arrrrggggg! Hold still you!" "Oh no you don’t! You wanna’ hit me? Then you have to catch me!" The two of them ran around the barn-like hutch that the warriors used as their training room. Finally, they were both out of breath and laughing too hard to even think about hitting one another. Rowen and Sage were laughing too; Sage had to clutch his punching bag to keep from falling over as he guffawed deeply. Kento wiped a tearing eye as he tried to stop laughing. "Hey,’ he finally sighed, "when is Ryo coming back anyway?" "Now." A voice sounded from the doorway. The fighters turned to see Ryo, leaning on the side beam, a sad smile plastered on his face. He walked over and picked up a lone pair of boxing gloves. "Um, sorry I’m late…" he paused and glanced up at Sage. Ryo almost looked like a child, the way his crystal blue shimmered, asking for forgiveness. "Sage, I’m really sorry about this morning." Sage nodded and smiled. He tried to hide the fact that he was delighted that he didn’t have to apoligize first. "Hey, it’s alright. Don’t worry about it." Ryo nodded and threw a few side strikes at the bag. Rowen started his usual drills of pull-ups and sit-ups, as Kento and Cye started lifting weights. "Can I get some help here?" a voice called from right outside the door. It was Mia. She appeared in the opening, a large grocery bag covering almost her entire torso. The bag was so full that it looked like it could explode any minute. "I’ll help!" Sage dashed over and took the bag from Mia. He also succeded in knocking Rowen down in the same action. Rowen shook his head. What a flirt! He had to force down various harsh comments that sprung to mind as Sage accepted the huge bag. Ryo laughed and helped pull Rowen to his feet. Kento made a face that seemed to say ‘Same old, same old.’ He began to laugh too. "Is that too heavy?" Mia chirped as she began to unlock the door to the kitchen. "No." Sage half grunted, half squeaked, from behind the groceries, "But I would be very happy if you opened that door a bit faster!!!" Rowen, Kento, and Ryo burst out laughing again, and were met with a few dirty looks from Sage. Rowen shook his head again and turned to Ryo. "Psssst, hey Ryo? That reminds me…" he whispered. "Hmmm?" "How’s the little lady?" Ryo’s eyes widened with a warning glare. He elbowed Rowen in the ribs and sent another panicked look his way. "Shhhh! Shut up!" he whispered in a frenzied tone. Rowen snickered as he shrugged. Ryo’s look softened and he quickly whispered. "Just fine, thanks." "Hey guys, let’s take a break." Sage called, his face red and exhausted looking. "Damn, what did Mia have in there, bricks?" he grabbed his water bottle from the bench in exasperation. The boys all laughed and started for the kitchen. Ryo paused, noticing that Cye was still sitting on the floor by the weights. "Hey, Cye, you coming?" Cye looked up and let out a loud breath that he had hardly realized he had been holding. "What happened?" he asked in a hushed tone. "Huh? What do you mean?" "To us, what happened? We started to argue again, this morning. We haven’t fought in such a long time, but we did today. Why? We’ve been through so much…" "Cye," Ryo smiled and put a thin hand on Cye’s scrawny shoulder. ‘You’re worrying too much. We’re the Ronin Warriors! We’ve been to the Dynasty Realm, a place worse than hell, and survived! And that’s because we worked together, as a team… as friends. Don’t worry. Nothing will tear us apart. I promise." Cye nodded. "Now come on! We better get a snack before Kento eats it all!" Part 5: "Okay, I’m getting really pissed off!" Sage sneered as he dished some chicken-ramen into his bowl. "What do you mean?" Cye asked, knowing all too well what the answer would be. "Ryo. He hasn’t been home for dinner at all these past few days." "Yeah, whazzup with that dude?" Kento mumbled between mouthfulls. "Who knows. But he’s gone all day, and half the night! It hella tickes me off! Sure, we stay up anyway, but just when we decide to go to bed, in trudges Ryo, at around eleven o’clock! By then, I’m too tired to chew him out, and by morning he’s off again! I swear, that guy…" "Deserves a break." Rowen interrupted, "Besides, I’m sure he has his reasons for being gone." Sage’s eyes blazed with fury. "Okay that’s it!" he snapped. He jumped to his feet and slammed his hand down on the table. "Out with it, Rowen! You know what’s going on, don’t you?!" "Well… yeah, but I promised I wouldn’t tell." "Oh please, like you’re such a goody-goody that you’de never break a promise. What about the time that…" "Stop." Rowen interrupted before any embaressing moments could resurface, "Besides, since you’re acting like such a jerk, why would I tell you?!" "Stop playing around! Out with it!" "No!" "Guys, please…"Cye started. "SHUT UP, CYE!" Both Rowen and Sage snapped. Cye’s eyes widened, then they started to water. He stood up and rushed from the dining room. Cye dashed into his room, slamming the door behind him loudly. He collapsed onto his bed, sobbing furiously into the pillow. Ryo, you promised! Fresh teardrops streaked his cheeks plainly. Damn it! You promised that nothing would come between us. Lair! Where are you?! He shook his head, knowing that Ryo wasn’t totally to blame. He wiped his tears and stared out the window. Ryo… where the hell are you? * * * * * Ryo laughed as Kat swirled gracefully. She looked as agile as the animal in which her name sounded. She laughed too, her girlish bubble-with-glee making her eyes shimmer. "Okay, this doesn’t seem fair! You have to dance, too!" she snickered. "Oh no! I really don’t think you want me to." "Why not?" "Let’s just say that the girl I took to homecoming wasn’t to keen about my dancing skills." "Ah…" Kat stood about three feet away from him, the dance-club lights reflecting off her hair. The dress she wore had light purple flowers decorating it, but you couldn’t tell in the dark atmosphere. For all he could tell now, they looked black. "Sorry," Kat finally sighed, "That doesn’t get you off the hook with me." Ryo laughed and didn’t resist as Kat grabbed his hand and yanked him onto the dance floor. "Okay, but I gave you a fair warning." The songs changed and Ryo’s arms encircled Kat’s waist. They moved as one unit to the beat of the song. As the song ended, Kat whispered to him, "See, you’re a great dancer." Ryo laughed and shook his head. So, the couple danced, and talked, and danced, and danced. Oh, and they talked while they danced. But, mostly they just danced. A slow song whirled into play and Ryo changed his footing a bit. He felt Kat’s hands ring around the back of his neck, sending a shiver through him. He blushed without warning. Kat sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. "See," she sighed, "you’re not half-bad." "What? I’ve been demoted? I thought that you said I was great!" Kat flushed. "Oh, you’re good, but… um… you haven’t done anything fancy, right? I mean... uh…" "Oh, I see. So, like this?" Ryo suddenly shifted his weight and dipped Kat low, so that her hair brushed the floor. She let a started yelp escape from her lips as Ryo quickly brought her back up. She was still a little off balance when Ryo pulled her towards him. He embraced her tightly. He’s really warm, Kat noticed. A smirk played upon her lips. "Show-off." She teased. Ryo didn’t respond. Instead, he leaned down a bit and kissed her earnestly. Kat smiled and hugged him close when the kiss ended. Her lips still felt warm. They had been dating for about a week and a half. Kat considered saying it. Then she reconsidered. She felt Ryo’s lips brush her neck and she considered again. This time she chose quickly. "I love you." Ryo bit his cheek at the sound of the words. Oh boy… the three words that every adolescent boy fears. Ryo paused. Did he fear it? The answer panged in his gut. No, he didn’t. He was surprised; that went without saying. But… his throat stung and he thought it best not to say anything at all. Ryo leaned in and kissed her again. This time it seemed, well, easier. His tongue slipped past her lips, causing her breath to retract a bit, slighly. Then she moved forward, pressing closer to him and putting more passion into the kiss. "Gawd, get a room." They heard someone sneer in passing. Kat pulled back in a spontaneous giggle, unable to stop. Ryo chuckled too, but more in the lack of anything else to do than the remark actually being funny. Kat paused in her giggling and frowned. "Hey, what time is it?" Ryo grimaced and pushed up his sleeve. His watch (actually it was Rowen’s watch, but he said that Ryo could borrow it) read 9:43 in plain, green numbers. "Shoot! You have to be home by ten, huh?!" "Yeah, but we can make it if traffic is good. If not, what’s my brother going to do? Ground me? More likely he’ll sulk and make tomarrow a living hell. But that’s okay… it was worth it. Really." Ryo smiled and ushered her out of the club. His red motor bike was parked near the edge of the parking lot. He tossed a spare helmet her way, which she caught with her usual grace. Then she slid behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He started, then smirked to himself. Oh yeah, Ryo thought, chicks always do that on those old movies. Man, if I had remembered that, I would have driven my bike around more. He smiled and cranked the gas petal. Lucky enough, the traffic wasn’t bad at all. The couple arrived at Kat’s driveway at barely 9:58. "Made it." Kat laughed, pulling off the tight helmet. "Yeah, but barely." Ryo sighed. Kat shrugged and gave Ryo’s torso another quick squeeze before climing off of the motor bike. "Hey Ryo?" "Huh?" "Um… I wasn’t joking. I… I mean that I…well…" "I know." Ryo sighed. He took off his own helmet and kissed her lightly again. A few lights flickered on in the house, causing her to pull back. As she did, a strange popping sound occurred as their lips pulled away. Kat laughed again. Ryo shook his head. Okay, that was something else that never happened in the movies. Kat laughed somemore, then smiled knowingly. "Call me!" "Yeah." Kat nodded and walked, rather normally, up the steps towards her house. "Hey, Kat!" "Hmm?" Ryo stopped, his tongue freezing in his mouth, unable to form the words. Damn, he realized, I can’t say it. Not yet. It seemed easy for her, but… I can’t. "Um… you looked really beautiful. Well, hell, you’re always beautiful. Uh… I’m just rambling now. Forget it." Kat flushed in the darkness, although Ryo didn’t know why. "You really think so?" "What?" "You said that I’m beautiful. Do you really think so?" "Yeah, of course." Kat smiled again and blew him a final kiss. She then dashed up the stairs and entered her home. Ryo smiled again and put his helmet back on. Time for him to go home too. "I’m not talking about anything tonight." She reported as Nate opened his mouth to report on his latest finding. "I’m heading upstairs and going straight to bed." "Good." Kat started at Nate’s response. Good? Her puzzled look was met with a sly glare from Nate. "We’re waking up early to practice. You need to get a hold of that armor, okay?" "Whatever." She traipsed upstairs and slipped out of her sundress and into a baggy teeshirt. She had always hated nightgowns and preferred to sleep in old sweats or shirts. Kat stretched and collapsed on the bed. Technically, she wasn’t ready for bed yet, but she didn’t have the energy to go finish. She smiled to herself and hugged her knees to her chest. Ryo had said that she was beautiful. She sighed and curled up tighter. No one had ever told her that before. Her parents had always been busy with Nate and she had spent most of her time just playing by herself or with some neighborhood boys. But, how many boys do you know that would tell a girl that she’s pretty after she had just beaten them at dodgeball? Did Ryo see something that no one else did? Or did everyone else just not tell her because it never came up? Kat got up and ran down the hall to the library. Nate looked up, surprised at her sudden entrance."Nate, am I pretty?" Nate shrugged. "You’re cute enough." "That wasn’t the question." Nate looked up again, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes exhaustedly, and looked at her again. "Yes, Kat. You’re very pretty. But, you’re also interrupting my work. Okay?" Kat frowned. That’s the way it always was. Always. Kat slammed the door behind her and crawled back into bed. Tears were streaming down her face, smearing her makeup all over. Then she stopped and smiled again… Ryo had said she was beautiful. She sighed and wiped her face. Then she turned over and went to sleep, still not technically ready for bed. Part 6: Sage sipped his latte, staring into open space. "I’m going to kill him. When he comes home today, you’ll have to hold me back." "Uh huh." Rowen replied, stirring his mocha. He decided not to remind Sage that he had said that yesterday too. He never did act on it; they were usually all too tired by the time Ryo trudged home. "I don’t know." Kento muttered, having the same thought that Rowen did, "I think you said that yesterday too. Funny, ‘cause the dude seems the same. I could be wrong though. I see barely any of him anyway." Kento paused and scrached his head. "Hey, Rowen, was that a sentence?" Rowen nodded. Cye laughed and sipped his hot chocolate. Rowen smiled. Cye hated coffee almost as much as Kento loved it. The two of them were perfect opposites, making them perfect friends. "I mean it this time! At the very least I’m going to subdue him to a very long string of examples of my being very pissed off!" "You’re going to cuss ‘im out?!" Kento snickered. "Oh please! The last time you tried that you ended up saying something like, ‘oh, aren’t we confident now?’" Sage scowled. "You’re not going to let me forget that, are you?" "Nope." Sage sighed and shook his head. "Well, we were all a lot younger then. Give me some credit, will ya’?" Cye smiled. "We were a lot younger, weren’t we. We had just started being Ronin Warriors. That seems like eons ago!" "Yeah," Rowen agreed, leaning as far back as his seat would permit him. "Wow, do you guys realize that Christmas is next Monday?!" "Woah!" Kento laughed, "That means I should probably do my shopping. Last year, I got caught in that rush for presents on the last day, and that was so not cool! Well, at least almost everything was on sale." Sage frowned, "Kento, was that book you brought me on sale on the last day before Christmas?!" Kento blushed and shrugged helplessly. They laughed… all of them. "I see them." Nate whispered from a top a building. "They’re in that café." <> the being stated in an apathetic tone. "Now?!" <> Nate sighed and licked his lips nervously. "ARMOR OF FOILAGE! TOA-JIN!" "So, I’m guessing that we all need to shop for each other." Rowen groaned, "Since we really don’t shop for anyone else..." "Speak for yourself." Sage laughed, pulling out a long list of names. Cye peaked over his shoulder. "Whoa! Who are all of them?" "I’m not sure. I keep track of all of the girls that I’ve dated this year and didn’t end badly. This is the list… although I’m not sure who half of these people are. Um, Rowen, does that look like a ‘D’ or an ‘O’?" Rowen shook his head, ‘"O’… as in ‘oh-dear.’" Sage shrugged as they all gathered up their stuff to leave. All of a sudden, a huge, rough vine shattered the café window and slashed across the tables. "What the…?!" Kento yelled. People all over screeched with fright and ran out into the snow filled streets. The warriors did the same, alert for any evil to attack. "Ah, dear Ronin Warriors," a youthful voice laughed from a top a nearby building, "nice to see that you could make it." A rather tall figure, clad in dark green and brown armor, leapt down onto the street. "Who the hell are you?" Rowen demanded, stepping back into a fighting stance. "Tisk, tisk," The figure laughed, "You actually expect me to tell you? Trust me, I am no Dark Warlord. I’m not that stupid, thank you. Why would I give you any information to use against me? I like having the upper hand." "Okay, buddy." Kento growled, "I don’t know who you are, but you are really pissing me off! I’m Kento of the Hardrock, and I’m gonna’…" "Kento!" Sage said grabbing his friend by the shoulder. "What?!" Kento snapped. Sage shook his head in shock. "You haven’t transformed yet." Kento winced as he looked down at his jeans, tee shirt, and sneakers. "Oh yeah." He laughed. Kento tossed a small, orange orb into the air and jumped. In a bright flash of light, he was covered in his hard, armor like undergear. Sage and the other Ronins sighed and did the same. "Okay, now I’m ready!" Kento yelled. "Prepare to meet your doom, dynasty trash!" The figure started to chuckle quietly as he waved his hand. A bright beam of green light errupted from his palm, along with four, thorn-covered vines. Each stalkwrapped around the Ronins and started to crush them with surprising force. Sage gasped as the vine presssed across his chest, feeling like it would definitely crush his rib cage if he hadn’t been wearing his armor. Rowen was wrapped in the vine from head to foot, the thorns scrapping aginst the weakest places in his armor. Kento tried to pull the vines off of himself, but instead they just got tighter and squeezed against his throat, cutting off his air supply. Cye tried to dart away as the last vine spyraled toward him. It gripped his wrist and began to crush, but didn’t get any farther than that. Cye scowled. No! He had to do something! He closed his eyes and called upon his power with an especially commanding voice. "ARMOR OF THE TORRENT! TOA-JIN!" A wave of power washed across cye, until he stood, cloaked in full-battle armor. "Okay, Bucket-head!" Cye grinned, using his all-time favorite line for dynasty warriors. "It’s my turn!" He clipped away the vine and stepped back into a fighting pose, his trident pointed at the warrior. "SUPER WAVE SMASHER!" The blue, water like power smashed into the dark warrior, causing him to fall back, and his vines to release the Ronins. "Great job, Cye!" Kento laughed in a scratchy voice. "Now let’s really show this guy what we can do! ARMOR OF HARDROCK…" "Don’t bother." The dark knight laughed. "Really, this isn’t fair, is it? Both of our teams are incomplete. Where’s Wildfire, hmm? And my associate isn’t here either. So, tonight, at nine o’clock sharp, we’ll battle! Each full team against the other. But you must show up, Ronins, or I’ll destroy the entire Downtown area! Understand?" Kento opened his mouth to swear at the warrior, but he was pushed back by another green vine. "Good. Nine o’clock, Ronins! Sharp!" The fighter dissapeared in a green cloud, leaving the four Ronin Warriors alone in the frost covered street. * * * * * "Come on!" Rowen snapped at his clock. "Where is he?!" "I’m going to do more than kill him." Sage decided. "Me too." Kento barked. Cye and Rowen nodded in agreement. Cye glanced at the alarm clock. It read 8:42. "We’re not going to make it." He declared. "Make what?" a familiar voice asked from the hallway. All four Ronins jumped to they’re feet. "Battle!" Kento yelled as if that said it all. Cye grabbed Ryo’s hand and practically dragged him back out the door in which he had just walked. "We’ll explain on the way." Rowen announced. Ryo frowned and nodded. "ARMOR OF HALO!" Sage started… "ARMOR OF HARDROCK!" "ARMOR OF TORRENT!" "ARMOR OF STRATA!" "ARMOR OF WILDFIRE!" Ryo finished off, "TOA-JIN!" An eruption of multi-colored lights filled the small living room, covering each Ronin. Soon, they all stood in their armors, each ready for battle. "Ronins!" Ryo smiled from his mass of red armor. "Let’s move out!" They laughed and ran out of the house. * * * * * "You’re late." Nate muttered. "Sorry." Kat sneered, climbing up the steps of the huge building’s fire escape. "It takes awhile to get up here, you know." She looked at her brother’s dark armor, glistening in the white snow and the moonlight. "What are you all dressed-up for?" "A battle." Nate turned around to face Kat, his eyes shining from behing the bright green visor. "Will you help me?" Kat rolled her eyes. "Yeah. You know I will… just don’t do anything totally stupid." She smiled and positioned her hands. "ARMOR OF TEMPEST! TOA-JIN!" The gold armor appeared on her once again, along with the matching helmet and silver facemask. "Well, I’m ready anytime that you are." Ryo stopped once he reached the downtown square. "Well? Where’s this dude you guys are all so worried about?" "Um…" Cye looked around and checked the time. "He should be here. In fact, we arrived with not even a minute to spare!" "I still don’t see what the big de-" Ryo started, but he was interrupted by a loud, childlike laugh. "Well, I see you barely made it, Ronins. What happened? Did you have trouble finding ONE member of your team? Seems like Wildfire should be more timely, hmm?" "Awe, shut up." Ryo sneered, "Well, at least this should be quick. Looks like there’s only one of you and five of us!" "You practically read my mind, Wildfire." The knight bowed a bit as a second individual approached. Her slender figure was covered by a golden armor, which glistened in the city lights. "Hi ya’, Ronins." She laughed, giving a little wave. Ryo frowned. Awe man, not another chick-warrior! Sage let a loud whistle escape from his lips before he cocked his sword, ready to fight. Kento laughed and then shrugged at their two enemies. "Awe please! I could take you down and not even break a sweat." The female warrior’s eyebrows arched. Then she giggled, causing Ryo to start. It sounded familiar… almost like he had just heard it that day. Déjà vu… Ryo thought. "Really, Ronin?" she purred at Kento. "Let’s see." She leaped from the building, doing a full summersault in the air. As she landed in front of him, she drew two short weapons. Ryo immediately recognized them as Chinese-style butterfly swords. Kento growled and rushed at her. She dashed to she side and whapped him on the head with her spiked sword hilt. "Too easy." She sighed. She twirled her sword around her finger, almost nervously. Rowen inclined his bow slightly, "ARROW SHOCK…" He never got to finish, as the other warrior knocked the bow and arrow from his hand with a sharp vine. The male warrior made a soft ‘tisk-tisk’ sound as the female knight sighed. "Oh sure," she muttered, unable to keep the sarcastic tone from seeping into her voice, "don’t let me have any fun." The dark warrior turned and arched his own eyebrows from behind his visor. He gestured with a wave, that said to all: Be me guest. The girl nodded and slipped into a Chinese fighting stance. "CYCLONE STAB!" She cried at Rowen. Rowen braced himself, but still fell back in agony, as sharp winds cut through him. Damn, he thought, these winds are sharp. They’re almost like knives! He couldn’t stop himself from crying out as another stabbing breeze slashed through him. The girl didn’t say a word- in fact she looked almost sad each time a wind slashed at him. Suddenly, a long sword gashed across her cheek. She gasped and grabbed at her face as the winds slowed and died. She turned towards Ryo. His sword point was just a little bit red with her blood, from where he had just cut her. "Damn!" the girl cursed as a trickle of blood ran down her silver facemask. "That was a cheap shot, Ronin! I…" "You know," Ryo sneered, his face hidden in the shadows of his own helmet, "I’m getting really tired of this whole Ronin thing! We do have names, you know." "You act like I should give a…" she trailed off as her eyes widened. Ryo noticed her arm was quivering a bit. Her grip suddenly tightened on her swords and she stood up tall. "Okay, fine! What’s you’re name, Ronin?" "Ryo of the Wildfire!" he stated proudly, "Not to mention, your worst nightmare, babe!" The warrior started to tremble a bit, but she braced herself and tried to look strong. "Hmph. You know what, Wildfire? I don’t think you’re worth my time. So I’m going to go now and… um… do evil stuff or something." "What?!" Ryo almost laughed, "You’re just gonna’ bail?" "Of course." Ryo could tell that she was smirking from under her mask. "She who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. Chow, Ronins!" The girl slipped her swords into her belt and swished her hards around in the air. Soon, a whirlwind swirled around her and she dissapeared. The Ronins stopped fighting he male knight and turned to glare at the place where the female had stood. The dark warrior looked just as surprised as everyone else. "Well…" he sighed, "looks like my partner knows something that I don’t. We’ll continue this in due time." The warrior bowed and dissapeared in a swirl of thorns and leaves. Ryo shed his armor immediately. He stretched in his jeans and teeshirt, smiling gleefully. "Well, that wasn’t so bad. I don’t get why you guys were so stressed. No one got hurt, we got here in time, nothing got too smashed up, and…" *WHAP* Ryo fell back onto the snow covered ground and clutched the side of his face. It stung with a fury. Sage stood above him, eyes narrow and filled with contempt. "You idiot!" Sage snapped, his fist still clentched tight, "We barely made it! If any innocent people had died today, it would have been all your fault! How can you just stand there and act like a battle is no big deal!" Ryo forced down a wave of tears. "Funny, that’s what you always do." "I –we- don’t let it get in the way of our battles! If after the fight we all want to act like we’re normal, I don’t see a problem, but you’re taking this way too far!" "The hell I am!" Ryo stood up; his black hair was filled with snowflakes and his cheek was still beat red where Sage had punched him. "Everyday, after we battled, you guys would all talk about food, or movies, or some dumb video game, while I would just sit there and let it eat away at me! Now, for once, I don’t spend my free time sulking, and you just can’t take it, can you?!" "Oh please! It’d be one thing if you were just happy, but you dissapear with no explaination or reason!" "Why should I tell you where I go?!" "Oh shut up and let me finish!" "No!" "I said shut up!" "Oh bite me." "You first!" "No, you!" "Oh go fu-…" "Okay!" Cye interrupted, seeing where the conversation was headed, "Let’s go home, cool off, discuss this…" "NO!" Sage and Ryo snapped, more at each other than at Cye. Ryo’s eyes narrowed menacingly. "So, do you guys all feel this way, or is it just Sage here?" Ryo turned to Cye, who turned an unflattering shade of red. "Um… Ryo… it’s not like…well… Sorry, Ryo." Ryo frowned and turned way. "Kento?" "Sorry, dude. But, well…" "Rowen?" Rowen was staring at the ground, a guilty look plastered on his face. "Rowen?!" Rowen galnced up and sighed. "I… um…" That was all Ryo needed. "Fine!" He grabbed his jacket, which had fallen on the ground, and brushed the snow off of it. The cold winds of winter had suddenly picked up and were rushing through the streets. Somewhere far off, Christmas carols were being played. Ryo stared off into nothing for a moment, taking in everything in sight. Christmas lights hung from every store and house, snow covered the streets and housetops, and plastic Santa Clauses decorated shops in many variations. Then he sighed and put two of his fingers on his bottom lip. He whistled loudly, causing Rowen to wince a bit at the sharp pitch. Whiteblaze galloped towards the group and Ryo fell to his knees, hugging his friend closely. "Hey buddy." He sighed, stroaking the tiger’s white and black forhead. Ryo turned back to the group. "If you guys are really serious, then there’s no point in me being around at all. I’ll see you later." He turned and started to walk away, Whiteblaze at his heels. "Ryo!" Rowen started. Cye silenced him, putting a small, but strong, hand on his shoulder. "Don’t, Rowen. Maybe this is for the best, for awhile anyway." Rowen sighed and nodded as the figure of the wild, black haired boy dissapeared from sight. Part 7: Her face was buried in her pillow, which was soaked from her tears. She wasn’t crying now though. She was just lying there. He sighed from the doorway in which he was leaning. "Oh come on, Kat!" he whined. "I know you’re awake, so stop pretending." Kat let out a barely audible snort and buried her face in the pillow even more. "Why aren’t you speaking to me?" Kat sat up, a scowl fixed on her face. "Why?! Take a damn, wild guess!" Nate rolled his eyes. "Don’t tell me it’s because I didn’t tell you that Ryo was the warrior of Wildfire." Kat threw a book at him. Nate ducked to the side with a laugh. Kat bolted up from her bed and ran towards the door. "We’re out of milk. I’ll go to the store." She sneered the words laborously, making Nate want to laugh. "Uh… Kat…" "What?!" Nate smirked and pointed at her nightshirt. "You might want to get dressed." Kat blushed and grabbed her clothes from her desk chair, then left the room. * * * * * Ryo sat in the cabin room, feeling completely alone. The only sound was the noise of his breathing, Whiteblaze’s sighs, and an old clock ticking ad nausium. "Here we are again, buddy." Ryo sighed. Whiteblaze looked up at him questioningly. "I didn’t think that this could happen. Not at all. We were a team, weren’t we? I mean, foster homes are one thing. They have an excuse to ship you around. But this was different." He chuckled to himself, "At least, I thought that it was." Ryo stood up and grabbed his jacket. The clock chimed five-thirty and the sun was about to rise. Ryo smiled and clicked his tongue for Whiteblaze to come. He didn’t want to miss this! * * * * * A knock sounded loudly at the door. Nate cursed quietly and wheeled up the ramp to the front door opening. He opened it causiously, not wanting his chair to tip over again. A boy about his age stood in the door, a wild and passionate glare in his blue eyes. Nate’s own eyes narrowed. "Hello, Ryo." "Oh. Hi, Nate." Ryo nodded and gave a little wave to accompany his smile. "Is Kat here?" "No." A silence fell between them. "Oh." Another silence followed. "Well… I was wondering if she wanted to go to breakfast or something. Say, have you had breakfast?" Nate started, "What?" "I asked if you’d had breakfast." "Uh, no." Ryo beamed. "Great. Do you want to go for breakfast? I mean, it’s not like we ever talk, and you are Kat’s brother." "Ryo, I can’t leave the house." "Why not?" "I need someone to push me and…" "No problem! I once lived in this foster home where this person’s grandmother also lived and so I took care of her a bit. I pushed her around in her chair all the time! It’s totally easy!" Nate’s eyebrows shot up from behind his glasses. "You lived in a foster home?" "Yeah, several actually." Ryo smiled and brushed some flakes from his hair. "So, do you want to go or not?" Nate frowned and scowled again. "Ryo, I don’t like you one bit… but breakfast sounds great!" Ryo laughed out loud and nodded. Nate guffawed loudly too, his cheeks flushing with bursts of color. Ryo stopped and smirked. "Nate, in all of the time that I’ve seen you at school, that is the first time that I have ever seen you smile." Nate shrugged. "Well, you didn’t see me too much." Ryo nodded and pushed Nathan’s chair away from the house, grinning all of the way. * * * * * The breakfast was slightly cold as Sage picked at it with his fork, pushing the greyish eggs around on his plate. "Hey Kento," he muttered, "do you want these?" Kento nodded and took the plate without a second thought. "What’s wrong, Sage?" Mia asked. Sage scowled and shook his head. "I mean, your hair is a mess, your shirt is wrinkled, and you didn’t touch breakfast! Something is definitely up!" "Yeah," Rowen smirked, "I mean, since I fixed breakfast, I can completely understand that last part, but the first two are totally not you!" The silence returned again. "Look, Sage, what happened last night wasn’t entirely your fault." "Shut up." Sage sneered, his hands buried in his mop of hair, "Just shut up. We all know that it was my fault and there’s no skirting around it. But I was right, damn it! I was right, wasn’t I?" The table resumed its silent game. "I still don’t entirely understand what happened." Mia sighed. "I mean, what could be so bad that Ryo just left like that?" "Simple," Cye sighed quietly, "we didn’t need his help. We were angry with him, and we made it clear that we didn’t need him at all. For him, there is no worse feeling than to be unwanted." Kento grunted uncomfortably, chewing on his toast with vigor. Sage sneered and punched him on the side of the arm, "Quiet, will you? I’m trying to think." "Ouch! Hey, man, I’m eating!" "So what else is new?" "Try: the fact that you’re thinking at all!" "No, Kento, that’s you." "Hey!" "Whoa!" Cye jumped to his feet, pushing inbetween the two young men. "Guys, this isn’t ‘Survivor’! We can’t just pick eachother off one by one! We need to stick together!" For once, Sage’s expression softened. "Yeah, I know." He sat back down and embeded his head in his hands once more. "Can some one please answer a question for me?" Rowen muttered, trying to turn the subject. They all looked up "How did I get stuck with cooking breakfast?" He paused to gesture towards one of the grey eggs "Sorry, by the way, guys. I really don’t know if those things are edible." He laughed along with the others and shook his head. "Seriously, whose day was it? It wasn’t mine." That dreaded silence returned and Rowen suddenly realized why the schedual didn’t work at the moment. Sage scowled and left the table with out another word. "Sage!" Cye called, but he didn’t answer back. Cye sighed loudly and shook his head. "Well, later, I’ll take over dinner if someone can go to the store and get some ingredients." Mia nodded in approval and Rowen breathed a small sigh of relief. Cye was a great cook, and Sage was decent too. But whenever Kento, Rowen or Ryo tried to cook, some strange concoction usually ended in ordering take-out. Well, not always. Ryo usually skirted by through making really simple meals, like rice-balls and tuna-rolls. Rowen’s pride about following directions always left him trying to figure out some complex recipe, and always failing. Kento, on the other hand, just threw anything into a pot and had fun with it… therefore causing Cye to usually come to his rescue. Cye was definitely the best ‘chef de cuisine’ of them all. "I’ll go." Rowen laughed, cleaning up the dirty plates with Mia. "Naw," Kento muttered, "I’ll go. I need a walk anyway." "Maybe you should both go." Mia offered, "Do you guys remember the size of Cye’s last grocery list?" Rowen laughed whole-heartedly as Cye flushed. "Oh come on! It wasn’t that bad! And the dinner was great, wasn’t it?" "Yeah," Kento agreed, "And it tasted even better after being lost in the supermarket for three hours. Where do you come up with these ingrediants, man?" "There in the recipe!" "Uh huh." Kento smiled and gave his friend a firm pat on the shoulder. "Whatever." "Oh, stop teasing." Rowen laughed, "Sure, Cye. Kento and I will head over to the store before training." "Thanks, guys." Cye smiled, "I’ll go make the list, now!" Mia giggled as the other boys groaned. With that type of time, Cye’s list was going to be another long one. * * * * * "Well?" he asked, his glasses shining in the diner light. Ryo sat back in his chair and sighed. "Was it Confucius?" Ryo finally asked. Nate shook his head and sipped his orange juice. "No, Confucius believed that the present is out of step with the past, unconected as it were. The quote was from Loa-tse, who believed that everything is in harmony with everything else." Ryo nodded and chewed on a piece of fruit. "How do you know all of this? I mean, there’s a basic Chinese philosophy class in senior year, but you’re a sophomore and that goes way beyond that class anyway!" Nate smirked, "I take classes at UJC on the side. The university is a great place and they are really great about me sitting in on lectures, as long as it doesn’t go towards actual credit. This is just something I have a passion for. I absolutely adore old legends, prophecies, myths, traditions, and philosophies. I read anything of that sort whenever I can." Ryo smiled and nodded. "That’s kind of like me and Martial Arts. I’m always trying to improve by working on different sryles." "Really? What do you know?" Ryo waved his hand modestly. "Um, I know basic Karate, Taekwondoe, Jujitsu, Wing-Chung, Tae-chi, and bits and pieces of a few other styles." Nate shook his head in wonder. "Wow, that’s great! I wish that I could…" he trailed off suddenly and scowled. "Never mind." "Hey, Nate." Ryo offered, ‘There are styles that deal strictly with hand movements, you know. It might be really great if you wanted to give it a try!" Nate shook his head. "No, I just have too much to do." "Ah, I see." Ryo returned his attention to his breakfast for a few moments. "Hey, Nate, I have a question." Nate looked up. "You said that you take classes at UJC, right? Do you know this instructor named Mia…" "Of course!" Nate interrupted with a grin. "Mia teaches most of the major legend and prophecy classes. She’s great!" He was suddenly silent, "Wait a second! How do you know her?" Ryo shrugged, ‘She’s a good friend of mine, actually. Almost like a sister. She’s so cool. A little critical at times, but great!" Nate flushed a bright crimson and startes to slice at his already cut pancakes. Soon they were nothing but small ribbons. Ryo laughed out loud. "Oh, God, I don’t believe this." Nate looked up, startled. "Huh? What?" Ryo smirked and leaned closer to Nate and lowered his voice. "You like her, don’t you?" "Of course. She’s a great speaker and she’s nice. What’s not to like? I learn a lot." "You know what I mean. I can tell by that look! You think she’s a hottie." Nate flushed a brighter red. "Don’t make fun of me!" "I’m not!" Nate started and looked up again. "You’re not?" "No, not at all! I think its great. Mia’s a real sweetheart. I’m not surprised that you like her. Although I should warn you that she’s living with four guys." Nate paled significantly. "W-what?!" Ryo bust out laughing at Nate’s expression. "Don’t worry! They’re just boarding with her, in separate rooms, as friends!" Nate sighed and glared at Ryo. "You did that on purpose didn’t you?" Before Ryo could answer, Nate started to chuckle and shake his head. "You know, I can see why Kat would find you so charming." "Gee, thanks." Nate nodded, but didn’t go on. Kat finds you charming, he thought to himself, but I still don’t like you, Ronin. There is no way that this can end well! "Hey, do you want to walk… I mean stroll… around town a bit. I am really bored and don’t have anything planned." "Gee, Ryo, I don’t know. I have so much work that…" "That you can do later, right? Come on, you need a break!" Nate smiled sincerely and shrugged. "I do, don’t I? Well, in that case… lead on!" Part 8: "That’s a rather small jug of milk, Katherine." The cashier smiled. "You were just here last week, right? Why don’t you buy a bigger one so that you don’t have to come back as often?" Kat smiled and set a few more items on the counter. "Because I need an excuse to get out of the house a lot, and milk seems like a good one." The cashier nodded and started to ring her up." Kat heard a loud laugh from a few isles down, as a squeak of tennis shoes sounded and footsteps came her way. "Hey, Katherine!" Kat looked up and recognized the boy immediately. His blue hair and dark eyes were unmistakable! "Hey, Rowen. How are you? How’s your vacation?" "Um, alright I guess. You?" "Both great and horrible. Thanks." Rowen nodded in agreement. "Say, you haven’t seen Ryo around, have you?" Kat stopped and let her purse fall from her arms a bit. "I don’t like the sound of that tone at all. Is he missing?" Rowen sighed. "Not in the sense that you mean. You see, we all live together as roommates and such. But Ryo stormed off yesterday, after this one argument. I was just wondering if he had stopped by your house." Kat shooker head. "Not that I know of. I mean, I’ve been gone all morning so I guess he could have, but he certainly missed me." Rowen nodded and adjusted his baseball cap. "That probably means that he’s staying at the cabin. I thought so anyway, but I just wanted to see if he was with you instead." Kat laughed and winked. "Come on, I don’t know him that well!" Rowen chuckled and shook his head. "But really, do you know how I can reach him?" "I’m not entirely sure if he has a phone or not, but I can write down where it is. It’s in the woods, but still fairly easy to find." Rowen took out a pen and started scribbling instructions on an old recipt. "Hey! Rowen! Where are you, man?! I need help here!" Kento’s voice hollered from one of the many isles. Rowen sighed and handed Kat the paper. "I’ve got to go. If you see him, will you call and tell me that he’s okay?" "Of course, Rowen. You’re a great friend, really." "You too, Kat. You too." He nodded and dashed away to see what kind of catastrophe Kento had created now. Kat payed for the groceries and smiled to herself. * * * * * "I’m home!" Kat called. Nate looked up from his book, a smile glowing on his face. "Okay, I didn’t want to admit it before, but that Ryo is a nice guy. He’s a dead guy, but a nice one none the less." Kat dropped her bags and dashed over to Nathan’s chair. "You saw Ryo? Where?" "He stopped by the house earlier. We went to breakfast and then took a walk to the library. I needed to pick up that one text and Ryo had fun looking up mindless things like the word ‘fire’ in twelve different languages." Kat shook her head in wonder. "Out of all the people in the world, you two are two that I would never imagine being friends." Nate frowned. "How come?" "You’re trying to kill him and his other friends for one." "But otherwise…" "You’re nothing alike." "No, we’re not." Nate smiled, "But he’s exactky like you. And I like you, Kat." "I’m your sister." She sighed loudly, "You have to like me." Nate shook his head and stood, his sub-armor holding him up straight. "No," he smiled, giving his sister a kiss of the cheek. "I don’t." Nate walked out of the main room and into his own bedroom. Kat followed him. "Well, did he leave a number?" Nate shook his head. Kat cursed quietly and returned to the kitchen to put away the groceries. Nate waited until she was gone to light a candle. When the flame was large enough, he pulled a small scrap of napkin from out of his pocket. It read: "Kat, please call me here. Talk to you soon! –Ryo (563-9686)" Nate smiled wickedly as the note burned into black cinders. * * * * * Sage cleared away the empty dinner plates, dumping them in the sink with out much thought. His eyes were a bit foggy, his mind miles away from his chore. His feathery blond hair blew a bit in front of his eyes, the always-unreliable heater kicking in a few hours later than expected. Sage smiled slowly. The warm air rushed into his face, drying up a tear that had trickled down his cheek nearly ten minutes ago. He could hear Mia and the other guys in the den, talking comfortably and with ease. He wiped the last remanant of the cold tear away and set the last dish in the sink. At that moment, the phone rang. "Hello?" Sage asked suavely, picking up the receiver on the second ring. "Um… hi. Is Ryo Sanada there?" a girl’s voice asked hesitantly. Sage winced. "Uh… no. There’s no one here by that name." "Oh… I must have the wrong number." A slight pause in the person’s breathing told Sage that they didn’t really think so. "He moved out." "Oh… I just had a question about English class. I guess I’ll see him at school. Thanks." "Yeah, sure." Sage hung up, an uneasy feeling settling in his stomach. "Who was that?" Cye asked as Sage stepped into the den. "I dunno. Someone who had a wrong number." Sage hesitated slightly, his lavender eyes flashing sadly. Rowen knew that the call had been for Ryo. The room was suddenly silent, as the snow began to fall once again.