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A Season Of Dragons

by P L Nunn


Chapter Four


Seiji's head drooped, long curving locks of hair sliding over his profile, baring the back of his neck between hairline and shirt collar. Seiji had a beautiful neck, long and elegant, white, like a child who'd never been out much to play in the sun - -

Ryo blinked and had to remind himself not to stare. Not to dwell on Seiji's finer features - - because he wasn't supposed to be having thoughts like that now about Seiji - - about the aesthetic perfection of his neck, or how soft his hair looked, falling over his face. It wasn't only he was still - - god, what was he feeling towards Seiji other than wariness and - - well betrayal, which wasn't founded - - he knew damned well it wasn't founded and couldn't stop the feelings anyway - - it was that they were on a mission and you didn't fool around on missions because that could get a body killed. So stop looking at Seiji sitting across the little rocky niche. Stop thinking about Seiji and the emotional flack that came with him and just concentrate on keeping a watch while he slept, just like he'd keep one for Ryo when it was his turn.

They were both out of armor. They'd had to, exhausted beyond what common sense said they ought to be. Seiji said they'd lost time somewhere between there and here, going through the portal. Ryo didn't argue with that assumption, because it felt too much like he'd been armored up for days instead of hours. It was an uphill battle not to fall into sleep as soon as his rear touched ground, but they couldn't afford such luxury in enemy territory. So they took turns, an hour up into the mountains from the place they'd entered. An hour from that army camped out below the dragon statue. He'd wanted to go back at first and destroy that portal. Just blow the hell out of it and keep any more of the monsters from crossing over, but Seiji had convinced him to wait it out. Convinced him that it might be their only way back and the only way back for the people the monsters had kidnapped and brought here.

Another bit of logic that Ryo hadn't wanted to take, but forced himself to anyway. He wasn't fool enough to dismiss Seiji's reasonable advice just because he was angry at him.

Seiji came awake on his own, a few hours later, like he'd set some internal clock and it had gone off precisely when he wanted it to. He blinked into wakefulness and told Ryo to go to sleep. There was no arguing that either. He wasn't as good sleeping sitting up as Seiji, so lay on his side, with his back to the stone and let sleep fall over him.

Seiji woke him as the stain of dawn peeked over the rocks and he sat there a while, blinking sleep away and feeling the bone deep ache of sore muscles and the lesser irritation of an empty stomach. He looked back the way they'd come, at the rocky slopes and crevices they'd passed to put distance between themselves and the army of dragonmen. He hated the flight. Hated leaving that threat unconfronted at their backs. Hated thinking there might be innocent humans held hostage within the bowels of that vast camp.

The fact that they were running from it made his stomach curl. It would have made him mad whether or not there was tension in the air between him and Seiji.

"What are we supposed to do now? Keep running?" He asked in none too diplomatic a voice.

Seiji glanced up at him from under the over long sweep of his hair, the one clearly visible eye narrowing a bit at the tone. "Is that a question, Ryo, or a complaint?"

His voice was perfectly neutral. Perfectly reasonable, which pissed Ryo off, considering the phrasing of the response. Seiji didn't have to yell or curse or be overtly sarcastic to demean a person. Seiji could do that with a simple stare.

"Well, you're the one that wanted to run. What are we supposed to do now that we're up in the damn mountains?"

"We find Rowan and Sai and Kento."

Ryo stared at him, blinking. "Yeah? How? How do we know they're even alive?"

Seiji gave him a look. A patently Seiji 'you're being an idiot' look that generally made Ryo feel like one, but at the moment just raised the hackles on the back of his neck.

"Don't - -" he clenched his fists, angry - - irrationally angry. "- - treat me like a fool, Seiji."

"Then don't act like one. If you're not going to use your head - - use your soul. Feel them. They're here and they're alive."

Ryo stood there, trying to feel something other than the need to slap Seiji into the ground - - and eventually realized that the void that had been present for days was no longer there. It had been filled again. Maybe since the first moment they'd crossed over into this place. It took a weight off his heart that had been dragging him down for some time. It made him almost smile - - made his eyes water just a bit. He turned away quickly, so Seiji wouldn't see, staring at the terrain before them. Mountains and rocks and trees. More harsh travel, which didn't bother him half so much as the impatience of knowing what was on the other side. There had to be something beyond this.

"Okay, lets see what's this way." He pointed towards a tree covered slope in the distance. Seiji shrugged and armored up.

He hadn't known what to expect really - - concerning Ryo. He hadn't really been aware - - truly aware of what had been going on at the house before he'd fled - - oh, weeks and weeks ago - - to the dubious sanctuary of his ancestral home. It was like he'd been encased behind some thick, hazy shield looking out at the world those weeks after Egypt. Very little had mattered, save for his own concerns, his own hateful cravings, his own weaknesses that he had been damned and determined to shake. He'd seen a great deal of Sai, who was intrusive and overbearing at the best of times when he thought there was a need, and a fair amount of Rowan and Kento, who were not so much - - and very little of Ryo. He wasn't quite certain if Ryo had spoken to him at all that first week. Maybe Ryo hadn't even been there at all - - had Sai mentioned once that Ryo and White Blaze had taken off into the woods with fishing pole and camping gear and hadn't been seen for days? Sai might have. Seiji couldn't recall. He hadn't really cared at the time. It had been easier not to think about Ryo - - just as he supposed it had been easier for Ryo to take off into the sheltering woods rather than stand his presence.

Understandable. Entirely justifiable. Ryo had shown good sense for once - - Ryo had placed blame where blame belonged instead of simply shrugging it off and forgiving. He'd always told Ryo he was too charitable. He supposed that it had taken one too many harsh lessons to get the notion through his head.

He just hadn't expected that look in Ryo's eyes. The one that Ryo reserved for enemies that had proven themselves unredeemable - - directed at him. In all the time they'd known each other - - in all the time they'd been sleeping together - - all the arguments and fights and nasty things said - - the bulk of the latter most definitely issuing from him - - he'd never gotten that look from Ryo. He hadn't gotten it directly after they'd gotten home from Egypt and he hadn't gotten it while he had been under the influence of that long dead bitch - - at least that he was aware of - - so it was surprising to get it now.

Surprising that Ryo was holding onto the grudge. Surprising that it hurt despite the fact that deep down, he felt it merited no matter what Rowan kept trying to impress upon him.

The answer of course, was to ignore it. To form a thick enough shell so that it slide off harmlessly - - to create a distance between himself and the unwanted emotion. He used to be good at it. Used to be able to do it in an instant - - form that protective layer and let nothing and no one though. It was hard coming now, despite going home to the place where he'd learned to erect it in the first place. A few weeks of enduring family hadn't gone far enough to resurrecting those vital defenses. All it had done was make him tired and world weary and brought to the fore the stark realization of how glad he was to have escaped the life he could have had there. Of how much more agreeable his surrogate family - - no matter their quarks - - was, over the real thing.

The best he could do was form his face into lines of indifference in response to Ryo's hostility and retort to the anger in Ryo's voice as calmly and coolly as he was able. An act which would annoy Ryo to no ends, Ryo being notoriously hot tempered when he got his dander up and hating - - just hating - - having his vigorous emotion met by cool indifference. Of course, whether pissing off Ryo was the best course of action or not, Seiji wasn't quite sure, but it was the only course his ego would presently allow him to take, groveling not being an option.

So they headed in a direction he thought might have been east, despite how badly Ryo wanted to go back and stir up trouble with the army at the foot of the dragon statue. Using a route that they never could have traveled if not for the armors. Two hours into the day they came to what looked like a trail. A real, honest to goodness trail that normal people might have traversed. Had traversed, it looked like from the ruts in the road. They stood and stared down the winding length of that trail as it disappeared around the mountain and wondered what it led to. More of the monsters that had attacked the island - - or something different.

It was mutually agreeable to follow it. They came to that conclusion without a word spoken. It was about three hundred yards down this trail that the tree assaulted Ryo. It came out of nowhere, a great, mammoth trunk that swung - - ragged end first - - out of the thickly forested slope on the high side of the trail and crashed with bone splintering force into Ryo. It might have been avoided if Ryo had been paying attention to where he was walking instead of staring out over the admittedly impressive view of the distant, tree shrouded valley below. Seiji saw it. Or at least the tail end of it as it flashed by his nose and smashed unerringly into Ryo with a sickening crack, sending him sailing off the side of the trail and over the steep slope below.

When the tree came back, threatening to take Seiji with it on the backwards arc - - he figured it was more than a freak accident. There were ropes attached to the thick trunk and since neither he nor Ryo had tripped any trap to release it - - it meant somebody had let it go when they passed. Which meant that looking over the edge for Ryo suddenly took second seat to protecting his own back against attack from upslope.

It came swiftly enough. The forest above the trail suddenly came to life with shrieking, sword wielding animal incarnations. Human shaped bodies sporting animal heads with spiky antlers and snarling, furred feline and canine faces. He had his sword out before the first wave of them got to him. Swiped two of them off their feet and down the slope the way Ryo had gone before he realized the animal heads were elaborate masks and that these were nothing more than mere humans attacking him and he really ought to think twice before slicing them into tiny pieces. At least not until he found out what they were attacking them for - - and if Ryo was okay. He didn't really have serious doubts about the latter. Ryo had taken worse hits - - the business end of a tree wasn't likely to kill him when he was armored up.

He blocked a sword with his armored forearm and spun around to wrench the blade from the hand of its wielder. He sent it and the man that had held it sailing down the slope. Kicked the legs out from under another one that was screaming in a vaguely recognizable tongue at him - - and sheared the blade in half of yet another who tried to ram his sword past Seiji's helm and into his eyes.

He caught that man by the tunic and yanked him forward to demand in very clear, very precise words.

"Why - - are - - you - - attacking - - me?"

The man blinked, staring into the slice of Seiji's face visible past the helm.

"Hun'ra!" the man exclaimed, shocked, then again, louder. "Hun'ra. Hun'ra!!"

Seiji wasn't sure what that meant, but the others hesitated in their continued assault of him, whispering that word amongst themselves.

"Hun'ra? Human?" Seiji made a wild leap in logic. He let the man go, since the fight had seemed to evaporate out of him. He swung his sword around just to let the others know he wasn't playing games - - then went to the edge of the ledge and looked down for sign of Ryo.

One of the men behind him screamed. The others cried out a moment later, even as the splintering sound of trees being wrenched out of the earth preceded something very large and very intent on getting down the slope towards them. Seiji looked up and saw the tops of the trees shaking. Saw the path being cleaved through them by something larger than a good sized house and above that, smaller shapes of flying reptilian figures. Familiar forms.

He hissed under his breath, even as the men around him were taking up defensive positions in the trees.

"I'm assuming," he said, disgusted. "That the trap was for that."

The flying dragonmen got to them first and with the alacrity of striking snakes swooped down and started tearing into the humans who were considerably smaller than them. The men fought back with swords but normal blades were next to useless against tough reptilian hide.

Seiji's was better. Seiji's drew blood and sliced through flesh, though it didn't slow the monsters down unless he got in a decent head shot. The things seemed to know no pain. The only thing that really got them was serious head injury.

"What the hell is that?"

Seiji half turned to see Ryo, with a few errant twigs sticking out of his armor, appear back at the top of the slope. Ryo was staring up at the beast that had just breached the line of trees over the trail. Seiji spared a moment to look himself and had to blink in astonishment. It might have been as tall as a house, but it was longer by far. A ferocious dragon out of myth come to life, with a head the size of a ATV and a long, thick neck connected to a body that hung low to the ground. A long, twining tail with a spiked end trailed behind it, thrashing restlessly against trees. Its mouth was like something out of a Clive Barker movie, filled with so many deadly, spiky teeth that they bristled past its jaws and pierced both the top of its lips and the bottom as the thing chomped its jaws, making blood mix with the saliva dripping down its neck.

A man screamed as a dragonman grabbed hold of him and literally ripped his head from his shoulders. The elaborate mask flew off, revealing a shocked, Asiatic face and dark hair. The Dragonmen were fast on their way to slaughtering this band of human men.

"You take them," Ryo waved a hand towards the attacking dragonmen. "I got that thing." He said it like it was a challenge he was looking forward to and didn't give Seiji the chance to argue with the logic, before he drew both his swords and bounded forward with a yell.

Seiji swore and spun to take on the nearest dragonman. Slice. Swipe. Schreech of claws off his armor. The spatter of blood that only marginally missed his face. Droplets of it seared his skin. It was hot. Quite, quite hot, negating the whole cold-blooded reptile motif. Seiji hissed and barely restrained the urge the wipe it away. He took the wing off one of the monsters in the process of ripping the guts out of a human man. The thing turned on him, shrieking and clawed its way past his guard to drive him backwards with its weight. Even with the armor it outweighed him. It was strong. The flare of fire made it hesitate, looking away from him for long enough for him to get a knee between them and shove it backwards.

Don't look at what Ryo was doing, because despite the fact that Ryo was dealing with the bigger opponent, Seiji had a dozen and those dozen were coming to the realization that the humans in their animal masks were not nearly the threat he was and were all beginning to focus on him.

Weight hit his back, claws trying to get past his helm to rip his eyes out, he got a handhold and enough leverage to throw it over his shoulder into the face of on of its fellows. Got distracted despite telling himself not to by the tingling gathering of familiar energy that meant Ryo was about to let loose with a big attack.

The flare of it came sure enough, and with it a great deafening cry of outrage from the thing Ryo had directed the strike at. The earth groaned as well, the slope which had absorbed the aftershocks of the fire strike trembling and loosing stability. Burning trees sending ash and smoke into the air even as their roots lost purchase and began a slide, along with a great deal of rock and earth down towards the trail.

Wonderful. Not only did he have to deal with the annoying Dragonmen, now he had a possible forest fire and a definite landslide to contend with.

A burning tree sailed past him, raking him with its tangled roots, torn loose from the earth by an enraged sweep of the big dragon's tail as it whipped around to try and catch Ryo with its jaws. Seiji caught a glimpse of Ryo rebounding off its sloping shoulder and onto its flat head, digging both katana's into the skull as he landed, then launching himself off and away before the thing could shake him loose. It must have had a brain the size of a pea for those blades to miss the mark. From the blood on it, it looked as if Ryo had hit it quite a few time in what should have been vital areas.

Seiji didn't have the time to look closely, for the earth was against him now, and he had to leap over a sliding mass of rock and timber that crashed down to obscure the trail. He caught up a wounded human warrior as he did, tossing the man into the arms of his fellows as he spun to face the dragonmen who were on his tail.

A roundhouse swipe that held nothing of artistry and everything of last ditch desperation sheered through shielding arm, wingtip and the top of a dragonman's skull. That one went down in a satisfying, bloody heap. The others were scattered enough and canny enough not to give him such easy targets. If any of them would have grouped together, he'd have used his own high powered energy attack, but it would be a waste for a single one of them and it was time consuming to summon as well. He had no desire to be a standing target gathering energy to take down one, while four others jumped on his back. Easier to take the occasional damage - - which really wasn't life threatening with the armor to blunt it - - and take them out one by one the old fashioned way. It was bloody and dirty - - but it worked.

Ryo let out a yell and ducked under the crashing impact of dragon jaws, coming up under the head of the thing to drive one of his swords up into the hollow of the things chin. It had skin like concrete. Which didn't mean it was unbreachable, it just meant he had to put some effort into it. It wasn't that fast a monster, really. He was by far quicker than it was, it was just damned and determined not to die, despite his best efforts. It was bleeding all over the place from the fire blast he'd sent down into its chest. There was a ragged, blackened gaping hole of flesh that was just nauseating to look at where the strike had hit. It wasn't slowing the thing down. It had maybe gotten one good hit in on him and that was a blind sided swipe of its tail that he hadn't seen coming and it had hurt less than the tree slamming into him and knocking him off the side of the trail. It had just pissed him off and made him more determined to slice the thing up. He hardly noticed the trees burning around him. The heat didn't bother him and it didn't seem to bother the dragon. The thing just kept trying to catch him with its snarly jaws or smash him into the earth with it Volkswagen sized feet. He kept jumping around avoiding it until the thing was frothing with frustration.

Finally out of sheer annoyance, Ryo decided to try something a little daring and planted his feet firmly on the ground, standing there letting the power churn up inside him while the dragon opened its maw and swooped down to snatch him up. The jaws closed around him and teeth glanced off armor plating for the most part, a few shattering, a few hitting just the right spots to make him cry out in hurt. But he had an arm with a sword inside the wet interior of that mouth and he had enough power churning inside him to mark a fiery path up his arm and down the length of that sword and come ripping out the other side of the dragon's big skull.

The thick bone of the monster's head encapsulated the explosion to a certain degree, sending a rolling wave of heat/energy back into Ryo's face and sending him sailing one way while pieces of the dragons' head sailed the other. It was a damned bloody, ichy way to go and Ryo sprawled in the embrace of the raging fire he'd made of the underbrush and trees around the battle and let it eat up the oozing mess on his armor and mend the deep aching hurts under the armor. It wasn't as good as the molten heat of a volcano to chase away his injuries, but it was better than nothing.

He got up, finally, and looked down the hill, feeling guilty for forgetting that there were more enemies than just the big toothy one to deal with. But there was nothing down the slope but a great deal of dislodged earth and stone and timber, a bloody collection of winged corpses and a motley group of wounded, harassed looking human beings.

"Are you going to let the forest burn down?" Seiji was up the slope, with the majority of the fire between him and Ryo, a particularly annoyed look on the portion of his face that Ryo could see behind the helm.

Well, quite honestly he hadn't been giving it a tremendous amount of thought, having other distractions - - but he supposed Seiji had a point. He stepped back into the line of fire, the sword tips hovering near the burning ground and concentrated. It took a more delicate touch to call the fire back, than it did to release it. It wasn't a skill he used a great deal, so he had to work at it. Make a void that the flame could fill, pull it in like sucking soda through a straw - - for a moment it blinded him, as the living flame suddenly found a focus and rushed at him, drawn to the tips of the swords and into that realm where the energy dwelled. He rocked back on his heels and blinked sweat out of his eyes and took a moment to collect himself.

Seiji was still standing there, still looking pissed off.

"That was a idiotic move." He hissed under his breath, which explained the pissed off look. Seiji hated stunts like that. Seiji hated taking unreliable risks.

"It worked, didn't it?" Ryo snapped and strode down the rubble strewn slope past him. Seiji followed him down. A very obviously unhappy Seiji who picked his way around bits and pieces of dragon skull and brain.

There were about six or eight guys down there, half of them in primitive animal masks, half of them bare headed and staring with awe up the slope at him.

He would have asked who they were, but that meant initiating conversation with Seiji and he wasn't ready for that after Seiji had just finished censuring him. When he got to the bottom, one sword sheathed the other one still in his hand, they all sort of started whispering and gesturing at him, then one of them feel to his knees and started bowing and the others followed suit in a most embarrassing manner.

Ryo blinked and took a step backwards. They were talking - - maybe to him, maybe to each other - - in a rapid speech that he couldn't quite get a handle on. He wanted them up and off their feet badly.

"Dudes - -stop that." He waved a helpless hand at them, and tossed aside his annoyance with Seiji long enough to cast him a desperate glance. "What are they doing?"

"Showing you respect." Seiji said dryly, somewhat disgustedly. "Obviously taking out the big monster was a considerably greater achievement than wiping up all the little ones - - and saving their lives." He added in an undertone.

"Can you understand what they're saying?"

"A little - - the accent is so strange - - it's difficult. Concentrate and you'll pick out words."

"I can't - - " He pulled off his helmet in frustration and stalked forward to pull the closest man up by the arm. "Get up. You don't need to bow down to us."

The man gestured up the slope to the cooling body of the dragon and the blackened area of forest. He said something that Ryo thought might have to do with the fire and the slaying of the beast. He wasn't sure. The man pointed to him and said. "Kan'tara."

He glanced back to Seiji, who shrugged and swept his own helm off, wiping a hand through sweat dampened sun gold hair. They might not have been paying Seiji much heed before that, but they did then, pointing and exclaiming.

"Shak'nor. Shak'nor." They whispered, then conversed amongst themselves, very agitated.

"What's a Shak'nor?" Ryo wanted to know.

"I don't know." Seiji touched a lock of his hair and made a guess. "A foreigner, perhaps. They seem to be somewhat aghast at the sight of me. They didn't have a problem with you."

"What? They've never seen a blonde?"

"Look at them, Ryo. Dark skinned, dark eyed. Speaking what might be a very old Asiatic dialogue from the sound of it. I'm doubting they've seen many people with my coloring. What is apparent is that they're enemies with the same creatures we're enemies with. That seems to put us on the same side."

"You think they'll help us?"

Seiji shrugged.

Ryo sheathed the second sword, and held out his hands in a gesture of peace. "Have you guys seen anybody that looks like us - - with like armor and helms like this?" he held up his helm hopefully. "There'd be like three of them - - We really need to find them."

They stared at him intently, brows furrowed. Finally one of them stepped forward, cast a wary look at Seiji, then said very slowly, and very carefully to Ryo. If Ryo concentrated really hard, he could pick out the words past the accent.

"You are hun'ra? A great Kan'tara to kill such a beast."

"Ummm. What's a hun'ra?"

The man thumped his chest. "The people. Hun'ra are the people."

"Oh. Like humans. Yeah, I guess we're hun'ra."

"Not him." The man sneered at Seiji. "He's not of the hun'ra. He is shak'nor. Is he your shak'natari?"

"Ummm - - -" Ryo really didn't know how to answer that.

"Yes." Seiji said dryly, standing there with his helm under his arm and a disgusted look on his face. That seemed to satisfy them a little. At least they stopped glaring so obviously at Seiji and proceeded to ignore him in favor of clustering around Ryo.

"Are you a conjurer to summon fire so?" they wanted to know. "The great dragon bit you yet you are unscathed - - you are a mighty kan'tara, indeed."

They were all talking at once, not quite so bold as to touch him, but very much wanting to, he could see it in their eyes. They made him nervous as hell, if he hadn't needed a bit of imput from the natives he might have fled the scene.

"Listen, about our friends - - three guys with armor like ours - - we really need help finding them --"

"Come. Come." The boldest of the men dared to take Ryo's arm and urge him along the path. He figured Seiji was following even though no one bothered to invite him as energetically as they did Ryo.

It was a long walk, taken at the pace of regular, mortal men. Up and down and around winding mountain trails. It was no hardship, armored up as he was, but it was tedious and wearing the armor was laborious, but a body hardly felt comfortable enough to armor down what with dragons likely to come crashing down out of the hills or trees to come sailing out like the hand of god ready hand out justice.

But the walk gave Ryo the chance to begin to get a hang of the heavily accented dialogue these native men used. He had never had the greatest skills at picking up languages. He knew English and he knew Japanese. He knew about four words of French, which Seiji spoke fluently and Sai spoke passably well. Rowan liked Italian westerns, and would sit there and laugh at the dialogue like he was an old hand at it, while Ryo would wonder at the plot and settle for enjoying the gunfights.

It was sort of like that now. He got the gist of what they were saying, and sort of rolled along with the rest. Seiji, who might have comprehended more, they weren't talking to. Which was okay, Ryo supposed, since he'd have hated to admit to Seiji that he needed a bit of help figuring out everything these guys were saying. Seiji wasn't talking to him, Seiji wasn't walking with him. Seiji was just a presence at his back - - a sure footed, silent armored presence that he didn't even really have to look over his shoulder to know was there.

Eventually, after what seemed forever, they encountered more of the natives. A group of them just sort of melted out of the rocky, tree dotted slope ahead and approached warily, swords and spears in hand. There was an exchange and apparently an explanation of who they were and what they had done, then the two groups merged and they were guided off the trail and up into the slopes. The trees were not as thick on this side of the mountain. The earth was rocky and harsh. A half hour off the trail and they came to a camp. A series of small tents around which another ten or fifteen men clustered. It looked like a temporary camp at best, and from the look of the men around it, it was a war party. There were no women in sight. There was quiet interest at their arrival. Men rose cautiously, staring at them.

"So, are you guys out here fighting those dragon things?" Ryo asked. "Or what?"

A few of them looked at him, either contemplating an answer or trying to figure out what he was asking. It must have been as hard for them to discern his speech as it was for him to figure out theirs.

"That would seem like the rational explanation - - but it's not quite that simple. Hey guys, long time, no see." A familiar voice. A very familiar voice.

Ryo spun, almost smashing into Seiji in the process, just in time to see Rowan emerge from behind the flaps of one of the tents. Rowan sans armor in khaki shorts and a ripped T-shirt. A Rowan who got jostled rather roughly to the side as Kento surged out of the tent from behind him, a smile splitting his face as he made a rush for Ryo and Seiji.

"You guys are here!!" was the exclamation as he wrapped unarmored arms around Ryo's armored form and winced at the prickly edges that jabbed into him from his blind enthusiasm. "Ow."

Kento rubbed at his shoulder and Ryo blinked and apologized and searched out Sai, who had stepped out of the tent last and was approaching at a more reasonable pace, considering.

"I - - thought you guys were dead." Ryo stammered, feeling his throat tighten up. "It felt like - - like you died. What happened?"

"Isn't it obvious what happened?" Seiji said dryly.

Ryo drew his brows and cast a dark look over his shoulder.

"Yeah," Rowan said, a lot less obnoxiously. "Since you're here, I guess you've already figured out the gist of it. At least the part that was happening on our end of the gate. I'll tell you the rest, but first, for god's sake, armor down and come let these guys feed you - - the food's not bad for trail rations - - and let me introduce you to our hosts."



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