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A Season Of Dragons

by P L Nunn



It was snowing outside. Those small, cold flakes that stuck to the ground with so much more consistency than the bigger wetter flakes that had been falling further down the mountain where the air was warmer. It was good skiing snow. Powdery and light. He'd get out his skies today and test it out. There was hardly anything more important to do - - hardly any task or chore that he needed to give more attention to. He'd come up here to get away, pure and simple. And it had been days and days and days and he still couldn't quite make himself uncoil and relax. Couldn't make himself forget. Things said and unsaid still lurked under the surface and Ryo had never been that good at ignoring problems. He'd always sucked at pretending they didn't exist. He could name other people that were infinitely better - - but no - - he'd told himself today that he wouldn't dwell on the bad things. Wouldn't think about anything at all, but the pure snow and the unspoiled wilderness. Wouldn't do anything but challenge the mountain and beat it fair and square.

He finished up his breakfast, waving the waitress away when she attempted to refill his coffee. He didn't need the extra caffeine. The snow had him hyped enough. The TV over the battered counter where he sat blared out the morning news. He listened to the sports and let his attention drift away when the scores were announced and the newscaster went on to other less interesting things. He was eating cheap. His money was limited, even sleeping in the jeep. When he was out, he'd either have to find some sort of temporary work up on the mountain, or head back home.

"Hey, look at that, will you?" The other two customers at the truck stop/diner were watching the television, one of them gesturing with his well chewed cigar at the screen. "It looks a helluva lot hotter down there, than it is here." They laughed.

Ryo glanced up, catching a panoramic view, shot from a plane, of the smoking mouth of what looked to be a wakening volcano. The newscaster was going on about earth tremors and erupting volcano's and whole sale military evacuation of an island in the Philippines. There were casualties and relief from the mainland was being flown in.

He finished up his luke warm coffee, loosing interest in the news, putting a few coins on the counter for a tip and sliding off the stool to leave. He slipped his coat on, gathered his hair and pulled it out from under the collar and plunged outside into the fine snow. His breath formed a hazy fog before his face and he grinned at the chill bite of the cold. You'd never know the jeep had once been red, from all the frozen mud. He frowned at the level of the gas and figured that was another chunk of his dwindling cash gone. Too bad he didn't own plastic. Or maybe not that bad at all, depending on how you looked at it. It wasn't like he had some endless supply of money available to him - - not like some people, who never even looked at price tags or bills - - who just laid out that all powerful piece of plastic without a care of how to pay the monthly bill when it came.

But there he went again, building up resentment when he'd told himself he wasn't going to. Concentrate on the mountain and the sport. Concentrate on the here and now and the things he could effect and not on lost causes. He started the jeep and pulled out onto the snow covered road. Two lanes of slippery, treacherous, winding mountain road. It was as much a challenge navigating his way up the mountain as it would be skiing back down.

The cold and the exertion and the thrill ate up the morning. There were a few other people on the slopes - - those who found no challenge in the milder grades offered by the few ski lodges that dotted the elevations. The ones who liked to live dangerously and fly down almost vertical slopes dotted with trees and sudden drops and rocky outcroppings.

He was on his second run when it hit him. It came out of the blue when he was a quarter way down the slope, snaking his way through a strand of trees. A sudden, piercing - - shock. Not quite physical. Not quite not. It tore through him like electricity, blinding him for a split second - - numbing him. He tumbled, limbs gone rubbery and weak and careened head over heels down the slope until he came up hard against the unforgiving trunk of a tree and lay there stunned thereafter, head spinning from both the impact and the unexpected shock that had caused it. The pain was gone - - the metaphysical sort at any rate - - and in its place was - - - void. He didn't know how to explain it otherwise. One moment he'd been whole - - complete - - and the next, a connection to something that had been a part of him for a very long time was severed. Simply gone. Three gaping wounds that let the cold into his soul and left him shivering and shocky and almost weeping with the loss. Or maybe all that was the result of barreling into a tree.

"God. God." He whispered through chattering teeth, and curled there, half buried in snow, trying to stop his limbs from shaking - - trying to get his head from spinning and his thoughts formed into some cohesive whole.

"Rowan . . ." he murmured, because Rowan was one of those holes. And Sai and Kento. Those euphorial threads that connected them - - that had connected them for as long as each of them had possessed the armors - - was gone. Severed in no gentle fashion and all three threads cut simultaneously.

For one brief moment of panic he searched for that other connection - - the one that was stronger and more precious than the other three - - and found it safe and sound and as intact as ever it had been. Seiji was okay. It was the others that had stepped out of his awareness. An odd awareness at that. One that he was hardly cognizant of at all save when it was gone.

"Sai?" He breathed the name through lips gone white with cold. He hadn't been cold a few minutes ago. Now he felt it in his bones. He pushed himself up, untangling limbs, shaking snow out of his jacket and his hair. He'd lost a ski somewhere upslope and limped back up the mountain with the one over his shoulder, somewhat dazed, not quite certain if he ought to ski down and get a ride back up to the jeep from one of the other skiers, or trudge back up to the top on foot. He didn't think he was up to the trip down. Didn't think his concentration was altogether whole enough to navigate the trials and tribulations of that challenging trip. So he hiked up, through the snow. He found the other ski on the way.

A forty five minute climb back up to the top. He threw the skis in back and collapsed into the drivers seat. Sat there trying to collect his breathing and his wits. Gone. Gone. Gone. Something had happened to Rowan, Sai and Kento - - three parts of the whole that made up the bearers of the ancient, mystical armor they possessed. The urge to get home was suddenly overwhelming. The need to find out what had happened.

He stopped to get gas and to phone home. The phone rang and rang and on the sixth ring the voice mail picked up and Sai's voice came on greeting him good day and urging him to leave a message that they were most certain to get back to him about.

"Anybody home?" he asked, not holding out much hope that the phone would be picked up. "Rowan? Kento? You there? Its me. Pick up."

Nothing. His message time ran out and the connection clicked off. There was a way to leave personal messages that could be retrieved from other phones - - but he'd never bothered to learn how and he kept forgetting the code to access the voice mail.

So there was nothing but the long trip home, with the awareness of the loss slowly fading with the monotony of the long drive. Seiji hadn't taken his cell when he'd fled. Sai, being ever helpful, had pointed that out afterwards. Ryo would have broken down and called him otherwise to see if he'd felt the same thing that had knocked Ryo for a loop. Would have managed to get over all the anger, hurt, frustration and willingly opened lines of communication for that bit of vital information. But he didn't know exactly where Seiji was and didn't know the number of his ancestral home - - if that was indeed where he'd gone - - didn't even know where it was. Showed how much Seiji shared. Which was not at all. But Seiji had to have felt it too. Seiji was more aware of the metaphysical stuff than the rest of them. He had to have been hit with it as hard as Ryo had been, which meant maybe he was on his way home too.

But the house was empty when Ryo finally pulled into the yard with its winter yellowed grass and its sprinkling of brown leaves. Not even a tiger sprawled on the porch to greet him. Just silence and shadows and a cold house. He turned on the lights as he traveled room to room, unnerved by the lonely darkness. Sai's room was neat and orderly, but Kento's and Rowan's had been left in turmoil, drawers half open and clothes carelessly strewn about, as if they'd packed in a hurry to go somewhere. He went back downstairs, into the kitchen and found a neatly written note addressed to him propped on the kitchen table.



Since I know you've forgotten your code to enter the voice mail and can't get the message I left there, I'm leaving you a note to let you know we've all gone on vacation. Well, Rowan and Kento and I at any rate. Of course Seiji's still off sulking and who knows where you've been - - but I digress.

We've gone to the islands and plan to have a wonderful time enjoying the sun, the sand and the ocean. I've written down the telephone number and the name of the resort we're staying at in case of emergency.

Wish you could have come with us.



Ryo reread the note. And again.

Comotes Island? Where had he heard that name before? Recently heard it. He took a breath, half recalling the news cast that morning. Of volcano's and earthquakes and casualties in the sunny Philippines. He took the phone and the note with him to the den and flipped on the TV. Channel surfed until he found a news channel and left it there while he dialed the number of the resort Sai had written down. It rang twice before an automated voice came on declaring that service to the area of his call had been interrupted. He tried again with the same results.

He sat there for a while, with the phone held loosely in his hand, somewhat at a loss. Then the rambling newscast about some labor strike ended and the picture of a distant island with a clearly smoking volcanic peak appeared on the screen. The reporter was on the deck of a ship, being filmed with the island behind her. There were glimpses of a military ship between her and the island.

Refugees are still being evacuated from Comotes Island, which was hit earlier this morning by a devastating earth quake. The long dormant volcano behind me has become active with the geological unrest. The military has declared Comotes a disaster area and marked it strictly off limits for civilian personnel. They are conducting the search and rescue of the islands inhabitants, both native and foreign. Comotes was recently made famous by the discovery of ancient statues that archeologists date to be as old as those found on Easter island. Ironically enough, those very finds were uncovered by earthquakes that rocked the island some months ago. We've no exact figures, but military sources say that the death toll is so far in the hundreds. . . . . .

"oh - - God. God." He rose, suddenly breathless, feeling like he'd been kicked in the gut - - repeatedly. For a moment, panic set in. Pure unadulterated, adrenaline-fed panic. Then the rational part of him seeped in. The part that functioned like a well-oiled machine in the midst of hair-pulling, nerve-wracking chaos. They weren't dead. His faith in the world, no matter how hard and how many times the world slapped him down, was too strong to believe otherwise. Something had happened to sever the ties they all held - - but they were still alive and more than likely in a precarious situation. Which meant he had to get to them. Which meant he had to get to that island. Which presented a more daunting problem. He could face earthquakes and erupting volcano's without batting an eye - - procuring airline tickets when he had all of twenty-seven dollars to his name was a whole nother dilemma.

He parted with something he treasured to gain the money. Stopped in the city at the little family run weapon's shop that was his absolute favorite place to waste time in when he was in town. The sword he sold back to them had been a birthday gift from Seiji. A hand made, hand tempered datchi of the finest quality. Perfect balance, perfect fit in his palm, the blade so bitingly sharp that you didn't even feel it when it sliced skin. He'd known it was expensive - - how could it not be? - - he just hadn't know how much, until he was offered a tentative price for the thing by the owner of the shop. He'd taken it without haggling. Rowan probably could have gotten a fair bit more, but Rowan loved to argue - - over anything - - and Ryo was in a hurry.

He got a commercial flight into Manila and a charter plane into Cebu, which was only a hop skip and a jump away from the devastated island of Comotes. Finding a boat to Comotes proved more difficult. Traffic to that island had been suspended. The military had banned both flights and sea travel over and around the area of the island. Cebu was swarming with relief workers, and refugees from the neighboring island. Maybe three hundred people had been evacuated, was the rumor on the streets, and a good deal of those were tourists and foreigners. A fair number of the native population was still there, either refusing to leave their homes or scattered throughout the mostly forested island and ignorant of the attempts to get them out of danger before the volcano erupted.

"I'd heard that it already had erupted." Ryo asked of one native vendor on the docks of Cebu.

The wizened little man grinned at him, dark eyes crinkling in a brown face. "All sorts of rumors flying around. All sorts of crazy things people are saying. Demons coming out of the volcano. Boogy men feeding off the flesh of men and stealing the children and the young women away into the forest. People say all sorts of things. Believe what you will."

"Who's saying all that? People from Comotes?"

The old man grinned again. "Those that the army lets talk. Soldiers been all over too. Not a common thing to see men with guns look so spooked. Not a common thing at all. Maybe it is the mountain scaring them. Maybe not."

"I need to get over there."

"Most people are running. Scared of the mountain, scared of the boogy men."

"I'm not scared of the mountain. I have friends there. I need to see if they're okay."

"Military won't let anybody go over. Not even the reporters."

"I can pay."

The old man, shrugged, contemplating. Ryo held out a ten dollar bill. It had more value here than it did back home. The old man grinned again and the bill disappeared. "Go down to the end of the docks. Ask for a man named Kro. For the right price, he might help you visit the mountain before she explodes."

He had to swim a quarter mile to shore through waters as dark as pitch with barely a moon to cast glimmers off the undulating waves. The captain of the little fishing boat that had taken him that far had assured him - - repeatedly that no sharks patrolled these waters. Had warned of shallow reefs further towards shore, and refused to take his decrepit little boat closer than he had. Which meant Ryo swam, with everything but his shorts bundled up in a wad and tied loosely about his neck. It would have been better if there was a modicum of light. In the darkness, the water seemed eternal - - infinite - - and he feared more than once that he'd gotten turned about and was swimming in the wrong direction. Even the armor wouldn't help him much in the middle of the ocean. It tended to sink, Wildfire being very much at cross purposes with the sea and all she entailed.

The pain of scraping his knee on the reef was a welcome one. It hinted at a closeness to shore. There was sand under foot soon enough. He caught the leading spine of an urchin at the edge of the reef in the fleshy part of his foot. Grimaced and cursed and staggered limping up onto the sand to collapse, feeling blindly for the offending spine and gingerly plucking it out. His foot throbbed like he'd stepped on a wasp and he felt certain some bit of the spine was still lodged in flesh. He twisted his foot up to his mouth and sucked at the spot, but didn't manage much blood. It was a little swollen. Were sea urchin's poisonous? He didn't know and wished Sai were about to answer the uneasy question.

It hurt, but not so much that it impeded his walking. He wasn't ready to pull the sneaker on over it yet, though, so he carried the pair loosely by the knotted strings as he walked down the beach, picking out details of forest here and there in the shadows. The air smelled a little of sulfur and smoke, but the ground was stable under his feet. There were a few tentative animal noises from the forest, but on a whole the island was eerily silent. The resort was a good two miles walk up the beach from where he'd been let off, according to the fisherman. He couldn't see even the silhouette of the angry mountain from here. The moonless sky and the forest hid everything. He felt it though. Deep in his bones, he felt the churning discord burning under the earth, rock heated by too active geography, wanting to surge to the surface. If people were refusing to leave this little island - - then they were fools.

Perhaps two thirds of a mile up the beach, the throbbing ache in his foot began to reside. If he could just keep from stepping on any other prickly things he'd be all right. He thought about stopping and putting on his sneakers, but the notion of sand grinding into the urchin spine wound made him reconsider. Walking barefoot on the sand was acceptable. Eventually he came upon a dock and above it a steep cliff upon which the silhouette of a large building could be seen. There were no lights shining from within. No sound of habitation. There were steps leading up, but part of the cliff had crumbled away, leaving a large gaping hole mid way up. He put on his sneakers then, sitting on the wooden dock and brushing the sand off his feet. Climbed the steps as far as they would take him, then navigated the crumbled portion. Not too hard a climb. Nothing to work up a sweat over. He wished he'd brought a flash light. He hadn't expected the lights to be out. The earth tremors must have disrupted power. The silence was daunting, but logic said that the resort of all places would have been evacuated first. Most of the people extracted from the island had been tourists and foreigners.

He padded through the darkness to the resort, wary and quiet in his movements. He was not without resources - - rather powerful resources - - and yet something about this place and its deathly silence made his heart pound in his chest and his stomach quell.

One of the front doors was off its hinges. It hung there, swinging slightly as he touched it, squeaking hinges breaking the quiet. There was a scattering of overturned furniture and potted plants on the floor. The rug under his sneakers was soggy with water. There was a ragged hole in the wall behind the reception desk. Something dark and organic in shape lay in the shadows behind it. There was the distinct taint of blood in the air.

Something clicked behind him and he whirled, spooked enough that he almost called up the armor - - but it was a man with a gun. A man in military fatigues with suspicious, frightened eyes and fingers clutching too tightly to the automatic weapon in his hands.

"Hey. Don't shoot." Ryo raised his hands to show his lack of threat.

"Don't move." A very, very nervous soldier. Another one came out of one of the darkened rooms behind the counter

"Who are you? Where did you come from?" the second soldier demanded.

"I'm Ryo. I came from the beach. I am not the enemy here, so could you please point that somewhere else?"

"You're American?" one of them asked, visibly relaxed. It was his accent. Sometimes it worked against him - - sometimes for him. He figured this was the later.

"Close enough." He agreed. "Is everybody here gone? Did the earthquake do all this?"

"Come with us." They obviously were not of a mind to answer. One of them grasped his upper arm and hauled him down the lobby towards another set of doors. These were broken, too.

"I have friends that were here. I need to know what happened to them."

"Quiet." The one not gripping his arm snapped.

Just outside the shattered doors was a manicured patio leading down to a pool area. A few more dark shadows converged, proving to be another set of soldiers.

"Another civilian, sir." One of Ryo's reported. "American."

A man with insignia that Ryo didn't recognize looked him up and down, then gestured sharply with his gun. "Take him to the rendezvous point with the others to await transport out."

Ryo opened his mouth to argue - - then snapped it shut, eyes darting to the trees at the back of the pool as something large disturbed the foliage. The soldiers immediately turned, and began firing off a barrage of bullets into the trees. The rapid gunshots deafened him to the sound of the one that came from behind, from the roof of the resort. It hit the back of the soldier next to him with enough impact to drive the man to the ground. Less than a heartbeat and warm blood geysered up, splattering Ryo's legs. Something flared out and hit him, making him stagger. A wing, one might almost think, if the darkness hadn't made everything indistinct. He went to one knee, shocked, staring at the dark form of the dead man the winged attacker used as a launching pad in which to attack another victim. It was damned fast. And it was working in concert with the thing in the trees. That one lunged out of its cover, ignoring the bullets that impacted its body with solid thumps. A man screamed and the noise of one less gun polluted the air.

Three down before he gathered his wits enough to do something about it. Before necessity took over and chased away the shock of having something out of Jurassic Park jump out at the dark at him. One of the creatures turned and made a swipe at him and he rolled, calling on his link with the armor as he did, feeling that crackle of energy that always made his hair stand on end and his skin prickle as the armor coalesced around him. He came up with a snarl, not nearly as vulnerable as he'd been going down. Lunged back with the echoes of dead men's screams in his ears, drawing a katana as he did.

Slice. That blade cut through flesh that mundane bullets hard hardly dented. A hissing squawk of surprise and pain from the recipient of that backhanded slash. The immediate attention of the other one that abandoned its prey and bounded towards him. Claws raked his armor. He felt the strength behind the blow, but the armor held fast against the assault. He kicked out. Whirled and drew the other blade, cut out with the both of them, and sissored the sharp edges along a thick, reptilian neck.

Oh, blood spewed then. A head toppled, cleanly sliced from the stump of a neck. A heavy body fell. He hardly paused in his pursuit of the other one. Just danced in regardless of the claws that slashed at him, trying to gut him, and drove the right-hand bland into the thick chest where the heart ought to have been. Apparently the heart was somewhere else, for though the beast screamed and jerked away in utmost pain, it did not fall. It did flee though, and he would have followed, hyped up by the violence and the adrenaline it produced, but for the gurgling plea of the last man to fall to the two creatures. He dropped to a knee then, sick to his stomach that he hadn't acted quickly enough to save these lives. This man, though living now, didn't have long left to him. His hands feebly tried to hold in the mess the creature had made of his guts.

"I'm sorry." Ryo said earnestly. "I'm so sorry."

A gurgling attempt at speech. A distant disbelief in eyes quickly glazing over - - and then nothing. He was just gone.

Ryo knelt there, not certain what he ought to do with these bodies, whether to leave them here for others to find - - and chance the beasts coming in from the forest decimating them more than they already had been or perhaps drag them inside where they would have a bit more protection.

Four trips inside and he had them laid out in the unforgiving darkness. If there was blood on the armor from it, he could neither see nor feel it. He went back outside and stood there, listening to the breeze ruffling the foliage and the soft lapping of the ocean not so far away. He didn't think there was anything more alive here in this abandoned resort. They were all fled or - - worse. Which category were his friends in? Fled would be a relief, but fled wouldn't account for the shock he'd felt through his link to them, nor the abrupt separation. If it was worse, he wanted to find out.

He just didn't know where to start looking.

There was a road leading from the resort inland. A road must lead somewhere. To a town perhaps, where there were more people, who were alive and were able to shed some light on an otherwise frighteningly dark situation. The earth trembled once under his feet, a sleepy groan of discontent that did not last long, nor was of much consequence. The mountain was not ready to relieve the pressure building under it yet. That he felt as clear as day now that the armor of Wildfire was a palpable thing around him. That simmering, molten heat beneath the earth was very slowly coming to a head.

Down the road, past fields of unidentifiable crops on one side and the dark shadows of a tropical forest on the other. There was a sound from the field. An aborted sniffle that sounded childish and frightened.

"Hello? Is anyone there?" He called out a wary greeting, stepping off the side of the road and staring intently into the depths of the field. Abrupt silence met his query.

"I'm not going to hurt you. Really." He wondered how innocent a visage he made, armed and armored to the teeth. Rather frightening, probably, himself a prickly silhouette in the darkness. He swept the helmet off, dangling it at his side, shook hair out of his eyes and stepped into the fringes of chest high growth.

"Are you hiding from those things? I saw them, too. They're pretty scary."

Another rustling step. "I want to help you."

Further out, himself trying to follow the sense of fear and warmth and - - humanity that the armor's heightened senses allowed him to perceive. He pushed back a plant and two small, huddled shapes whimpered, staring up at him owlishly.

"Hey. There you are." He crouched. Slowly, carefully, the armor making armor sounds as he squatted. "See, I'm not a monster." He smiled and wondered if they even saw it in the darkness.

"Do you guys live around here? Where's your mom and dad?"

One of them lifted a shaky hand and pointed in the direction of the road Ryo had been following.

"Is there a town there?"

The littlest one nodded.

"Is that where your folks are?"

Again a nod of affirmation, but the older one shook her head solemnly behind what might have been a younger brother.

"No?" Ryo asked.

The girl covered the boys ears and whispered harshly. "It ate them. A boogy beast - - it ate them."

Ryo stared, stricken.

"It'll eat us too. Its chasing us." She predicted with a fractured, fearful certainty to her voice.

"No.' Ryo shook his head. "No. I won't let it. I prom - - -"

The girl screamed even as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He whirled, dropping the helmet, drawing a sword with his right hand and almost meeting the attack before it was on him. It came out of the sky, which had covered its approach, wings stretched wide and gliding in on still air. It hit Ryo with its feet first and he tumbled backwards, crashing through the harvest. He came up slashing. Cut through the thin, tough fiber of a wing, blocked a blow to his head with a forearm and danced back out of way, fast and graceful and deadlier by far than anything the creatures had expected to find hiding in the fields.

There were more than one. Three of them. Two very much like the shadowed shapes he'd seen at the resort, one smaller, closer to man sized - - albeit a very tall man - - faster, sleeker, with a long tail compared to the others shorter ones and more ability, it seemed to lift itself into the air by the mere flapping of its long wings than the others had. This one let him slice away at the other two, let him draw blood - - let him find a weak spot in defenses and slip the tip of his blade into a deep eye socket. This one assessed him from a distance and found him an altogether prickly foe to fight - - and lunged instead at the children, who squealed as its hands grasped them.

There was the distinct snap of bone and one of the children ceased its screaming.

"Hun'ra Natari." A gravely voice hissed.

Ryo froze, his swords dripping blood, one of the creatures at his feet, the other one snarling and holding a wound in its side, one torn wing limp at its back. The little boy hung just as limply from the smaller creature's hand, head twisted at an odd angle, eyes open in fear. The girl was sobbing, breathless and beyond fear, falling quickly into shock.

With a curious tilt of a face that in the shadows was a little more human in feature than the other two, it tossed the still body aside. Like it might toss aside an orange rind that it had picked clean.

"You - - bastard." Ryo whispered.

It wasn't mindless. There was something in its stance that dared Ryo to press his luck with the welfare of the other child. He lowered both swords - - marginally - - his hands shaking so badly with rage that the tips were trembling anyway.

It said something else, one sharp word and its larger, wounded companion charged Ryo. Hit him a pounding blow to the side of the head that he might have shaken off if he'd had his helmet on. If he'd not had the armor it would have killed him. Probably taken his head right off his shoulders. He staggered, went down. Lost one of the swords in the process, seeing very little more blinking lights for a second or two. The beast came at him to finish the job and he came back to himself with a snarl, slashing out with the blade still gripped in his right hand and slitting the thing's throat.

But too late, for the other one, still clutching the child had taken three bounding strides and launched itself into the air, flapping towards the forest. Ryo screamed his fury and started after - - stopped in a moment of practicality and searched out his helmet and second katana, then ran full tilt for the woods. The thing was headed east. Due east and he could hear the sound of its wings as it flew. Hear the subdued cries of the child. But the sounds were growing fainter. He couldn't waste time. Couldn't stop. If he ran into another obstacle in the forest, he'd loose them for good. Anything that got in his path was dead.

Then something did. In the dense undergrowth something lunged out at him, or past him. It didn't seem quite intent on him. Ryo ducked and slashed, crippling a wing, ducking under a startled move to rake claws down the front of his body, coming up under those arms and sliding his swords up into flesh that bullets couldn't pierce. He hardly even thought about it. His body had gone into that mode where defense and offense were as natural as breath. Where the blades were extensions of him that sometimes moved without him even having to think about it.

Another something coming out of the woods on the heels of the first. Ryo whirled, came in low, ready to gut his enemy - - and had his blade parried. Steel on steel. The metallic clang of it echoed in the ghostly silence of the forest. He brought the other one up, driving it for his foe's face - - and came up short in the almost glow that radiated from the long length of polished metal that had parried his first slash.

Pale eyes blinked at him through the shadow made by an overhanging helmet. He blinked back, shocked beyond words. Anger flared for a moment that had nothing to do with the adrenaline laced furor his system had fallen into. Almost he didn't drop the blade. Then his lips pulled back in a frustrated snarl and he whirled, abandoning the hold of those eyes and pelted into the forest, hoping he still might have a chance to pick up the trail.

Seiji. Goddamned Seiji. Showing up in the forest like a wraith - - drawn here as certainly as Ryo had been. And with so many more resources available to him he goddamned well could have let Ryo know - - goddamned well could have made an effort to track Ryo down before tromping out here by himself.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck." He cursed as he ran and Ryo hardly ever was reduced to such a disreputable outlet. He ought to be damned glad to see Seiji. Ought to be grateful for another ally to figure out what was happening here and where their other friends had gone. Instead he was pissed and thinking violent things directed at non-reptilian things.


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