THE RONIN Chapter 1- Fated

A booming volley of thunder whipcracked across the sky, shaking the walls of PJ's Gas 'N Go.

The young girl watched through fogged windows, parting her lips in silent breath as she anticipated the lightning.

It came as soon as she'd wished it, zig-zagging across the navy blue sky of October dusk, as if by her command.

The elderly woman in line ahead of her was a tall, wiry thing with wavy curls of hair dyed orangeish brown.

The unofficial color of Halloween, she thought, smiling slightly from the corners of her mouth as she wondered

who the old lady was hoping to acomplish with hair like that. The woman in front of her wore old style khakis

that clung loosely to her waist and hung down to her ankles like curtains, draping over faded pink Nikes

that seemed to be at the end of their lifespan. This was complemented by a yarned sweater of bright red,

which peeked out through a grayish, unbuttoned coat that clung lazily to the old woman's sides

as she bent over to take her bags in hand.

"Well come on, grab what you can."

She asked tiredly of the three children surrounding her.

"Nothing's free in this life, kids."

She imparted to them when they began to protest.

The younger two, a boy and girl around seven years of age and most likely twins, obliged happily enough.

The older girl, perhaps just shy of twelve and looking rather disgruntled, stuck her middle finger out to the poor lady

and ran out of the store on her own, laughing with the glee of defying elders.

"Rosemary! Don't dare you go running out in that hellish storm by yourself! You'll be struck by lightning for sure!"

The preteen rebel paid no attention, and the young lady behind her caught the elderly one muttering under her breath

that it would serve the bitch right, blaming her daughter's halfassed raising of the child for her behavior.

The young woman behind her felt somewhat sorry for the old Grandma, obviously stuck with her children's children

on Devil's night, so that her irresponsible daughter would be free to do whatever she was doing instead of minding her

own kids. She'd never been like that, even at the preteen age when children are expected to be nothing but trouble.

Her mother had been her best friend until the very day she had died. And aside from hating every boy she'd ever dated,

a number she could count on one hand, they'd never had reason to fight. And of course, she'd never had children.

She was only just turned twenty-three, and had much left to accomplish as a single working woman before settling down.

"Can I help you?"

The tattooed cashier's nasaly voice stirred her from her thoughts, and upon redirecting her attention to him, she caught sight of

the wall behind him. That marvelous wall, teeming with tobacco of every kind, her one and only vice ever since college.

Ah yes, she recalled fondly, eyeing her brand of death as most would eye their lover.

Yes indeed, the long wait and irritating strangers had been well worth the end.

"Camels, please?"

She requested politely, staring at the tattoo across the back of the cashier's neck as he turned to fill her order.

'Trisha' was inked there in a rainbow arc, with barbed wire surrounding the letters. She immediately disaproved,

and wanted to ask him what he would do when 'Trisha' decided to move on to greener pastures.

The cashier turned back around with her cigarettes, sizing her up momentarily and placing the pack on top of his register.

"Got ID?"

He asked suspiciously, rasing an eyebrow at her in distrust. His eyes, and his whole face with it, looked tired.

It was early yet, just creeping past ten pm, but looking at him she'd bet he'd been there to see the sun rise.

His eyes were sinking in pools of darkened skin, bright blue, but faded as if the fire behind them had long since died out.

She wouldn't have guessed him any older than herself, and imagined it was probably the mileage as oppsoed to the years.

Perhaps 'Trish' was more of a mainstay in his life, much to his dismay, then he'd ever intended.

His nametag proclaimed him as 'Karl' in big capital lettering. Just underneath, in smaller print it was declared that he had been working

at PJ's Gas 'N Go for three years. And again, looking at him, she'd bet it felt like a lifetime to Karl.

She noticed all these little details while reaching to the back of her jeans for her wallet, never being the kind of girl that feels great need

for a purse in her day to day life. She carried a lighter, keys, cigarettes and her wallet at all times, as well as a small switchblade for

'incidentals'.

And pants pockets fufilled all her carrying needs quite nicely. She withdrew her license and handed it over to Karl, who studied it

carefully

and tilted it in the light to check for signs of a fake. She looked around the store while Karl did his thing, remarking at how many shelves

of crap they had managed to fit inside such a small building. You couldn't even buy cereal at the Gas 'N Go unless you settled for those

little single serving variety packs, where one box could hardly be considered a serving. Yet from front to back, the store was ripe

with kid's toys and gadgets, novelty pens and doodads that she couldn't imagine being something anyone ever actually needed.

But, they did have cigarettes. And that was the sole purpose she ever had to come into a place like this. She ate meals on the go

with very few exceptions, either driving to or from the office, and relied on prepared food from Kip's Bakery for her lunch breaks.

And today she'd lost that particular benefit, correcting paperwork her boss was too lazy to finish. She'd looked him dead in the eye

when he'd asked that of her, and informed him that she was a fucking graphic designer, not a fucking seceratary. And if he wanted

her to act as such, he better Goddamn well give her the raise she'd been owed for the last three months.

Karl was still looking her photo over, taking quick glances at her for comparison. She was getting annoyed with him.

She wanted to get out of his humble store and into a hot shower as quickly as possible, and he was taking much too long.

She looked good for twenty-three, she thought. Her strawberry blonde hair hanging just above shoulder length, and cropped

for extra bounce. Her job afforded her a lot of creative clothing options, and today she was sporting a tank top underneath a

tightly fitting burgandy collar shirt, and simple blue jeans that were snug yet comfortable. Her jet black pumps were the only

indicator that she had been working in an office all day long, lest Karl or some passerby mistake her for a girl who was all work

and no play. Her cobalt eyes stared daggers at Karl, her arms crossed impatiently as his eyes met hers. Satisfied that he wasn't about

to send a minor home with a pack of cancer sticks, Karl handed the license back to her and cocked his head to the side curiously.

"Your name's really Destiney?"

He asked innocently, causing her to roll her eyes. As if she hadn't had this converastion

a hundred times before, and hadn't grown tired of it after the first two or three.

"That's what it says."

She replied shortly, slipping the card back into her wallet. Karl was riding her last nerve for the day,

even though he was much more likely to just be curious and not at all flirting with her.

"Ever have a guy ask you to be his Destiney?"

Karl grinned as he said it, a fine joke to be sure.

"No, never."

She shot back sarcastically without looking at him, tossing a five dollar bill on his counter and snatching up her pack.

She was not only annoyed, but now disapointed too. He was clearly flirting, the jerk. Destiney wondered what 'Trish' might have to say

about that.

"Keep the change."

Destiney waved a hand to Karl as she went through the door, thinking that a dime of change was well worth not having

to breathe the same air as him for another second. She'd made some truly bad calls when it came to relationships, and wasn't about to

make another one

with a guy like a Karl. A guy who, on his best day, was no match for whatever romance novel she happened to be reading that week.

Destiney lit up right away, taking a long slow drag as she stepped out from under the protection of the Gas 'N Go's ceiling.

The rain was cool, not cold. She liked it best that way, and let it pour down on her with a faint sigh of relief.

The faint rumbling of thunder was a comfort to her, as if it were assuring her that even though the storm was reaching it's end, it had not

left her.

Where was the man, she pondered, that could give her the same assurance? A simple promise that, if she slipped a little bit,

wasn't always there for him one hundred percent or didn't feel like letting him inside of her every single day, he wouldn't be gone in the

morning.

She didn't believe her standards to be so high, any decent-looking guy that could fit in her bed without pushing her out,

that wouldn't fuck around and was happy to put up with her, stood a good chance.

The instant she thought of them, her requirements shaped a mental picture for her and she had a flash of honest-to-God deja vu.

A unshakable knowledge that she'd had those exact thoughts, and her mind had presented her with that same mental image, not just once

but several times

before in her dreams. And as sad as it made her feel, even a little hopeless, the only man fitting of the bill was someone she knew very

little, and

only assumed he was really that way it all. A line of text inside a computer window, a periodic email, a voice every so often, when he was

around to

call her. 'The phantom' she thought of him as, a playful nickname that she'd bestowed and he'd accepted without any complaints, even

grown accustomed to

and made jokes about to cheer her up, on days where being a graphic designer with a nice car and a place all to herself was not enough

to keep her spirits high.

He was a friend, definetely. A good friend. Always willing to talk about her problems, never shy about coming forth with his. Sensitive

and caring.

Not too bad looking at all on the flesh side of things. A house to call his own, if not by way of family misfortune. But he had issues. The

kind of issues

that could make someone turn into a total jackass at any moment. As far as she knew, he was a psycopathic killer that would bring her

flowers one day

and throw her through a window the next. But that also drew her to him in a very masochistic way. She was a healer, by nature.

She wanted someone with issues, someone she could help along as he helped her. She longed for that sort of connection with someone,

anyone.

A mutal nuturing, of sorts.

But Destiney was very intuitive as well, and knew for sure her mystery man was hiding something from her.

Something big. Not a trivial matter, like bad blood between family if the poor guy had any left, or a bitter ex-girlfriend who would seek

and

destroy anyone trying to horn in on her old flame. No, this phantom of hers had a major, world class secret. And she hated secrets more

than anything.

At his age, especially, six years her elder, a secret that large was something he'd have to come out from under if he really wanted her.

Destiney wished for that, in spite of herself as she walked around the corner, surveying the parking lot for her car.

In a place like Seatlle, Washington, that had been put on the global map by things like grunge rock, you had to make an impression

somehow.

And her cherry red, bucket-seated GTO Cobra was just about the best impression anyone could make.

She had some mechanical knowhow, her father had taught her from an early age, and she took pride in mantaining

and repairing the sweet machine all by herself.

It was, as she always introduced it, her 'baby'. Her father's last gift to her, salvaged from the junkyard he owned

and brought back to life by the both of them.

And as such, Destiney reacted the way anyone reacts, when their baby turns up missing.

Her steps faltered, her left hand fishing desperately for her keys as the right held her Camel, supplying much needed nicotine.

She held the keyring out in front of her like a weapon, panicking severly and whimpering as she pressed the button over and over again.

She waited for the reassuring beep, the sound she'd heard a thousand times day in and day out,

the sound that meant her car was still here, and not forever lost. The sound that every man, woman and child behind the wheel of a vehicle

takes pride in hearing, when the doors unlock for them from up to a hundred feet away, and they enter into the american dream called a car.

Climb in, and blast off to wherever you desire. But there was no such bliss for Destiney Alman tonight.

She knew it had been here, right here in the very spot she now stood bawling on. The space between a lime green station wagon

with rust around the rims and the shit brown Toyota pick-up with hunting gear filling up the back.

She fell to her knees, asking for it to be some sort of nightmare. She couldn't really be here, mourning on her knees while tracks

of peeled rubber mocked her from the pavement. She couldn't be here, crying her eyes out in the rain,

her gaze unable to shift from the broken Alanis album, laying like a murder victim on the ground with a wide

gash along one side of it. The killing stroke, to be sure. The 'angry woman on her own' she'd been in love with since high school.

Her solace, from the men of the world. Her loyal confidant, whenever a boyfriend would leave her, or she'd think too much on her mother.

One of many cd's she'd kept handy in her cherry red beauty, her precious stick-shift baby. The costly Marshall sound system, that made every

note and word sound just like heaven. Someone had taken it, stolen it from her. She cried more, holding the discarded cd in her hands as

if she were praying to God that He come and make it right again. And oddly, she thought again of her phantom interest.

The man she'd read so much poetry from, trading her own with his and feeling safe, for once in her life. Feeling normal.

She wanted him to come, to show up right now with fists full of money and fix everything. He'd help her, she imagined.

He'd track down the bastards that had taken her GTO, and put them in the hospital. She knew he would, believed he would.

Or else, she wanted to wake up from this horrible dream. She wanted to wake up in her bed with her baby still in the garage,

as safe and warm as she was. She wanted him to call, to wake her up, just to hear his voice telling her it was ok.

That this was all just a bad dream and it was all ok now.

"Fucking Devil's night...You better hope to the Devil I don't find you! Bastards!"

Destiney shouted out loud, throwing the cd away in a rage, almost enjoying the small cuts it left on her hand. She was pissed, she was tired,

soaking wet and wanting nothing but to curl up on her bed and mourn her losses privately. Regaining composure, she swept her damp hair

away from her face, rising to her feet. Her condo was a short few blocks in the other direction, but to her it seemed like miles.

She didn't want to walk, but had no choice. She didn't believe in cellphones and would have to walk twice as far away as she lived just to

call a taxi.

Destiney lit up again, the cigarette warming her slightly as she shivered. She was cold, and her denim jacket had been tastefully

draped over the passenger seat of her car. Of her baby. It would be all right enough, she told herself.

She would file a report as soon as she was home. Her car was fairly original, and would be spotted easily if the police were at all doing their job.

"That's a mighty big 'IF'".

She reminded herself, knowing the cops would already have their hands full

the night before Halloween. But she was a good person, who'd never done anything wrong in her life, a victim.

And the police could damn well protect and serve, for once. As Destiney walked, and smoked, and plotted revenge of the highest order,

she passed an alleyway on her right. A shrill screaming froze her in her tracks, her free hand finding the switchblade's hilt in her back pocket on reflex.

She turned sharply towards it, eyes wide. She tensed up, flinching as she heard it again. It sounded like a woman was being raped,

or hurt, or possibly even both. It was Devil's night, after all. The worst of the street gangs were out in force, the authorities helpless to

stop them all at once. Her logical brain told her to get moving, that if someone was being accosted in that dark, incredibly foreboding

alley, it was all the more reason for her to not be here when ther attackers came back out, hungry for more.

She started to walk past in a hurry, almost running in fear that the night still had more to put her through before it ended.

The scream again, this time louder and even more frantic, as if the first had been at the sight of a knife, and this was the scream

as it found it's mark. You're a victim too, don't forget that. Her logic turned on her, as she took a reluctant step back.

If someone had been there, you'd still have your baby, your beautiful red love machine that your father built with you.

Now someone's down there, in that alley. If you leave them to their fate, you're no better than the cops, turning a blind eye.

She hated that it felt so right, so true. The alley seemed huge to her, tall and looming, with power lines strung high across.

The rainwater bled down the brick walls of it, creating a kind of miniature waterfall. And that scream, was not from some crazy

homeless person, or someome who'd just found their car stolen. No, that scream, was from someone being hurt, and badly.

Would she really be ok, when she read the paper tomorrow morning and found the headline about a girl stabbed to death

or raped and left for dead in that alley. Would she be able to bitch still, about her cherry red GTO, and work her job,

live in her spacious condo, would she be able to go about her life as if nothing had happened, if she read about this in the paper

tomorrow? Of course not, you silly-billy. Her mother's words from her own mind, counseling her from beyond the grave.

And before she had a chance to think, or lose her nerve, Destiney began to creep down the alley. She listened to every sound.

The pitter-patter of rain as it fell on the cement, the slight wind when it blew cold against her face. The sharp, dangerous

Shikt! as she opened the switchblade, holding it hidden behind her, yet ready to strike at a moment's notice.

She thought to call out, to let whoever it was being victimized just like her, know that help was on it's way.

Another flash of deja vu slammed into her, splitting the world into halves for a moment, as if everything in front of her had

been a reflection and the mirror had been cleaved down the middle. She'd been here before, done this before, she was sure of it.

Destiney shook her head, trying to make the feeling go away, as if she were in two places, the same thing happening once,

and then again right afterwards. She'd been in this alley, this very same one, walking just as she did now, crouched like a modern

day ninja, stalking evil in the underbelly of Seattle. The switchblade held exactly as she held it now, only then, whenever it had been,

she'd been attacked as she reached the end of the alleyway. Attacked and then...She shook her head again, God, she hated that feeling

more than anything. Since childhood she'd been dreaming of things that later came true, her mother told her a number of things to explain it

over the years, none she really believed. Things like that weren't a part of reality, they happened in your head and only in your head.

At least that's what Destiney told herself, reaching the end of the alley to find a crumpled figure screaming, much louder now that

she was right in front of the poor soul. At first, Destiney thought she'd been burned alive, the woman was completely black.

No smoke rose from the body, but with the rain, that only meant she had come too late. The important thing now was to get her

to a hospital as quick as she could, if she was still alive to scream, she might be ok. The burns might not be so bad or...

Destiney fell back, screaming in tandem with the woman's voice. The woman who was not a woman at all, but something

she could neither describe or even believe. She remembered the dream now, the black figure that had her stiff with fear

long after she'd woken up. The thing, the monster that had yellow eyes you'd expect to see on a werewolf, perhaps, if such

things existed. The wide, impossibly deep mouth filled from end to end with teeth that looked metallic, and sharper than any knife

she'd ever gotten her hands on. It's body that seemed to shift like mist, holding only the most basic of shapes. The fingers that seemed

all nail, blood red as they reached out to her. The screaming that turned to manaical laughter as the figure rose, and advanced on her.

She remembered trying to crabwalk backwards in a panic, a white knuckle grip on the switchblade as it came for her, and it did.

She remembered her back hitting solid wall, as just then she found herself up against brick. She remembered slashing at the horrid thing,

slashing through it, and the laugh it gave, when her blade did nothing to it at all. Just as she'd dreamed, it happened.

Her worst nightmare in years, playing out now in reality before her very eyes. Only this time she would not wake up, she thought to herself.

This time, girl, you're dead.

The deja vu melted reality back into a singular whole, fading as the slashed her shirt open, grabbing her around the throat

with those sickly long fingers, that looked like they were all nail from tip to stem. In her dream, it had done this, then turned slightly.

It's attention caught by something else as it tore her in half. One long stroke, from her nose to her crotch. She had fallen limp,

dying, and seen the grim reaper, death as he was so often portrayed. Clad in black, bradishing his steel sickle, long and vicious.

As she fell limp, dying, just as it had been in her dreams, she caught sight of him. Death, in all his glory.

And from that point, that very second, everything about Destiney Alman's life came straight out of the twilight zone.

As in her dream, she noticed a bright red mark on the back of the grim reaper's gloved hand. A mobius strip, like a figure eight laying on it's side.

When she had awoken, she assumed it to be symbolic, the sign for inifinty. Endless, like death.

But now, seeing it for real, seeing him stand over her, almost protectively, she saw it for what it was.

Years back, when she'd had nightmares so frightening that she couldn't get back to sleep again, her dear mother had told her stories.

On those nights, she would sit on her mother's lap, as she told Destiney of her birthright, her purpose in this life.

She would tell her of demons, walking amongst humans in their own world, behind every shadow, beneath every

sewer. Dark beings that were evil itself, in it's purest form. She would hold a disbelieveing ten year old girl in her arms, and tell her

that someday, she would meet a man with that mark. A man claiming to be something she had never accepted as truth,

until she found herself in that alleyway, gazing up at him from the wall. Her mother used to tell her, when that day came, her life would change.

She would become A keeper of hope, something her mother claimed to be as well. She would tell little Destiney, how she would have to fight,

and stay always by that man's side. That the fate of the world would depend on it, that if she, a ten year old girl whose dreams came true,

didn't do her best, the demons would take hold of the world, and swallow it whole. Eradicate the human species down to the last little babe,

and claimthat empty, lifeless world for their own.

"And darkness, will suffocate all life.."

Destiney recited without meaning to, her breathless voice reaching the man who stood over her.

Supossedly, the Ronin. He wore nothing but black. Black boots, black gloves and pants that seemed leathery in a way, a black shirt underneath

a black trenchcoat, which stopped at and whipped at his calves. On everything he wore, that mobius strip symbol shined a bright red.

It didn't glow, but shined like glass, or metal when held to light. In his right hand, he held a long, sheathed katana , held it in a way that made her

believe he could use it quite well. His left hand was buried in his coat pocket, replacing the lighter he'd just used. A cigarette jutted out proudly

from his lips, held firmly in place by the man's grinning teeth. He seemed, a little crazy. That was her first thought of him. Dark, rather handsome,

shorter than even herself at five foot seven, and completely out of his mind. On his left shoulder, a black cat was perched calmly, as if the

terrifying thing that was about to tear her to shreds was as common as a mouse. And all at once, she recognized him. As surely as if she'd

seen her own mother again. Her phantom interest, her mystery man, had indeed come to her aide. And she realized right away,

what it was that he'd been hiding all this time. It wouldn't do at all to for him to have suddenly called her up one day,

smiling nervously as he broke the news.

"Say Destiney? I'm the Ronin, just so you know. I can't help but think this might complicate our relationship."

He seemed to have the shadowy figure's full attention, and Destiney thought it was a prime time to run away.

"Hey don't!..Bullocks."

The man cursed, his voice carrying a faint english accent, as the cat leapt from his shoulder.

"I got it covered."

The cat assured him, it's accent much thicker than his. It darted after the fleeing girl, as the man put out his cigg.

"Whatever would I do without you?"

He called dryly after the cat, as the shadowy demon shrieked and lunged for him.

The man drew, cut once down, once up, and sheathed his sword again in the blink of an eye. The monster dissapated into smokey vapors,

which the man dashed through indifferently as he chased after his cat.

Destiney could see the start of the alley, could almost taste the streets and traffic, when the black cat caught up to her at last.

"Wait! Halt! Goddamn it, I said STOP!"

The cat pleaded with her, getting ahead of her and blocking her path.

Destiney almost fainted, as the cat began talking to her. She held her head in both hands, shaking it violently and begging to be woken up.

Her mother, in all the crazy, farfetched and totally implausible tales she'd told Destiney through the years, had said nothing at all about

talking felines.

"Cats don't talk! They don't!"

She screamed at the furry black animal, kicking at it as she ran past.

"I beg your pardon?!"

The cat argued, grabbing her jeans by the ankle and holding her fast. Somehow, the little thing was stronger than her.

"You will wait! And calm down while you're at it, for fuck's sake."

The cat insisted, holding her leg steady as Destiney

tried to get a grip on herself. Logically, if logic fit anywhere between murderous shadows and talking cats,

her mother's old stories being true opened up the doors to things much stranger and fantastic than this cat,

who seemed to mean her no harm.

"What are we waiting for, exactly?!"

She shouted at last, not wanting to hear the cat talk again in reply.

She felt as if her head would explode if it did.

"Backup, there's more of them afoot, dear."

The cat warned, looking around them cautiously.

"More? Of those killer shadow things?"

Destiney was alarmed, not comprehending why they'd wait around for more to show up.

"Oh worse, dearie. That was just the opening act. The real nasties come later, if the small fries can't get the job done."

The cat seemed as if he were reading to her out of a manual, very by the book and not at all bothered by their situation.

"So you, and him, do this sort of thing a lot?"

She asked stupidly. Of course, if he really was the Ronin and this cat was some sort of sidekick,

this was about all they ever did do. She couldn't quite come to terms with all that yet, but if the little cat's master would hurry along and kill

whatever demonic things still remained, she would be willing to try.

"Oh, seems like forever already.

. "But this night promises to be a little more fun, it does. They know what you are now, they meant to get you before we did.

Now that you're with us, they'll spare nothing to kill all three.."

The cat answered her, checking behind them

"And I'm supossed to feel safe here?"

Destiney replied in a panic, trying a final time to run.

The cat held her fast, and pulled back extra to show he meant buisiness.

"Oh, I know he doesn't look like much. But he'll get them, one and all. You can bet the farm on that."

As if to illustrate the point, three things that looked like gorillas wearing knit caps, came barreling down the alley in single file.

They muttered loudly in archaic speech that scared the hell out of Destiney. They sounded like the kind of things you'd find

in horror movies about the dead walking the earth. The cat pushed her forcefully against the wall, following behind her.

The gorillas, or whatever they were, if they even had names, were close enough to smell, and smelled worse than they looked.

Yellow eyes, just like the other thing had, and razor sharp teeth filling their mouths which seemed to stretch far beyond what physics allowed.

There was a flash, followed by two more, and all of a sudden the three gorillas were toppling over each other. The man she'd

seen before, someone she only knew through internet and phone conversations, came sailing over the fallen monsters.

In the faint light of the city streets, she could see he had not one, but three swords. One hanging samurai-style from either side of him,

and a third strapped to his back. A daikatana, perhaps even longer. She had seen none of them move from their sheaths at all, and yet

to cut three huge demons down so quickly, he must have used all of them. Was that even possible? Was he even human?

Destiney recalled that her mother never mentioned that, either. The Ronin were the Ronin, her mother never went into more detail with her

on the subject than that. But watching him go, she could see what the little cat had been talking about. The thing she should do now,

was to stay out of the way, as the cat seemed so used to doing. She stuck close to it, holding it's back paw in an attempt to be less

terrfied. The cat seemed to understand, and let her hold on as he watched his friend work.

The three gorillas were down, but still lethal. They took falling swipes at the Ronin, as he danced around them, cutting them to pieces slowly.

"Why's he talking so long?"

She asked the cat, wanting to get the ever-loving Christ out of this alley and somewhere well-lit

so she could chain smoke and have all this explained to her..

"It's a personal thing, sweetie."

The cat responded, rubbing his chin approvingly. If she hadn't known better, Destiney

would have sworn the cat was actually enjoying himself.

"He hates them, every bit as much as they hate us. They took his family away, you see. His whole life, really."

Destiney's mouth hung open, but she had no words. She felt so much more sorry for him now than she had when she'd heard

his parents had both died, and both the same day. Shit happened to people, that was unavoidable. But to lose them to

demons, for them to be killed. You'd be a little crazy after that too, Destiney reminded herself.

"Oh, Ben.."

She whispered sadly, frowning sympathetically as she watched him sadistically finish the monsters.

The three gorillas were in pieces now, still twitching but harmless. The Ronin began some sort of kata, or maybe a dance.

Destiney didn't know for sure, but the cat seemed to watch his every move carefully.

"He's been practicing, good then."

The cat mused, backing her up a little.

"Wha?"

She questioned, as the cat seemed truly wary for the first time since they'd come to her rescue.

"You need to stand back when he goes for that, dear. And shield your eyes, unless you want to go blind for a week."

Destiney didn't quite understand, but did as she was told. Ben seemed to be finished with whatever he was doing, and now

drew a sword in each hand, holding them to make an L-shape.

"Return to the darkness."

He said simply, spinning once on his heel. The swords glowed bright blue for just an instant,

and then the entire aley was bathed in blue light as well. Destiney heard a scream, so low and gutteral that she thought it could have come

from one of those things as easily as the Ronin. There was a scent like sulfer, or pitch, and when she took her hands away from her eyes,

The Ronin stood alone in the alleyway. His head was tilted towards the sky as if he'd just seen God, and just before the light faded

to blackness again, she saw tears in his eyes. She understood that much, four less demons. Four less of the things that had taken his

parents away. She felt for him, in a large way, and disliked herself for being so suspicious of him before. She was a part of it too, after all.

She saw that she always had been, that her mother had been doing more than telling her stories to help her sleep. She'd been preparing her.

The Ronin's head slowly titled, until he was staring at the ground. His gaze picked up after a moment, meeting her awestruck eyes

with his own. They were speheres, she thought. Orbs, even. Sparking green-gray with sadness, as his brown curls fell wet around them.

His hair grew upwards, coiling in all sorts of ways at the top of his head, and drooping down on his face from the heavy rain.

He stared at her for a moment, his intensity softening into a warm, wordless greeting, a smile curving ever so slightly from his thin lips.

Then he turned quickly, baring the large red mobius strip on the back of his coat to her. It really did shine, even in absolute darkness.

Destiney supossed that was symbolic, and decided she liked it. It was cool, like a superhero or something.

The Ronin seemed to have a pain, his hand going briefly to his chest, as he inhaled deeply.

"More?"

The cat called to him, trotting over to reclaim his perch. Ben held his palm out to his furry pal, raising his index finger

He seemed to almost sniff the air, as if he could sense them.

"It's a big one."

He said at last, stepping carefully back down the alleyway.

"Shadow master?"

The cat asked urgently, wanting to know what they were up against.

"Fear eater."

The Ronin replied after sampling the air again, drawing a sword. A second later, just as Destiney saw his form all but lost

to the dark alley, Ben was propelled backwards with such a strength that he almost landed on Destiney.

She stepped clumsily aside, looking down in confusion at the man now laying at her feet.

"You ok?"

She asked, as the cat pulled her further away.

"Ow."

Ben muttered, as if it hurt but meant nothing else to him. He rose, drawing a second sword as the darkness seemed to move.

"Oh lord, stay behind me girl!"

The cat demanded, standing protectively in front of Destiney as she saw, what looked to her like

the skeleton of a dog standing on it's hind legs, move towards the Ronin.

"That's a...?"

She tried to remember what he'd said, but her brain wouldn't work. She was terrified all over again.

"Fear eater, remember it. They're not to be trifled with."

The cat explained, again sounding as if he were reading from a handbook.

She couldn't even imagine handbooks existing for this kind of thing.

Without a word, the Ronin and the Fear eater began to fight. Destiney thought Ben clearly had the advantage, slahsing the demon's leg

and torso in three places before he was tackled brutally and hit the alley wall. The fear eater seemed pissed off about his friends being slain,

and lunged for a bite of the Ronin's face. He moved, quick as a whip, and ducked away from the attack. His hand came up and ran the

demon's head through from the back, pinning it to the wall. His other hand planted a sword in same fashion, this one passing through

the fear eater's midsection and holding it fast. Ben took a second to breathe, cracking his knuckles soundly as he grinned.

What followed was a barrage of kicks and strikes, dealt so switfly that Destiney saw it all as a blur during which the Ronin seemed

to be everywhere at once. He paused, his leg rasied for a kick, and brought his heel down hard on the demon's back.

Destiney wanted to ask, at some point, why her knife had gone right through a lesser thing while Ben's swords seemed to

cause this monster agony. The Ronin took his swords back, keeping them unsheathed and drawing the one from his back as well.

"Checkmate."

He taunted, crouching down to the demon's face as he said it. He threw all three blades high into the air,

so that Destiney lost sight of them completely. Ben touched the ground with one hand, the other tucked behind his back

as he closed his eyes.

"Oh boy, eyes! Cover your eyes!"

The cat announced, turning his whiskered face to the wall.

There was a low humming that seemed to come from everywhere all at once, as all three of Ben's swords fell back to Earth.

They formed a perfect triangle, waves of energy just barely visible between them as The Ronin took his hand from the wet

ground and raised it the sky. He pasued again, cocking his head to the side as he regarded his opponent, grinning madly.

His naturally fanged teeth making him seem as evil to Destiney as any demon she'd seen that night.

"To the abyss."

Ben said coldly, putting emphasis on his last word as if to say the demon would not be coming back again.

"You...Will..Perish boy!"

The demon shouted back, as the blue light reemerged, drowning everything in sight.

Although she couldn't see, she could hear Ben's stout reply.

"You first."

As before, when Destiney could see again, The Ronin stood alone. His eyes on the dark clouds above him, the vanishing blue

light showing his teared eyes for one brief moment. Then, without a word. He began to walk away.

"McCoy."

He called sharply, just as the cat was trotting up to match his stride.

"It's going to be hell, from here on out."

The cat stated, stopping and looking back at Destiney when she didn't follow behind.

"Come along, dear. There'll be more on the way, shortly. We need be gone by then."

Destiney didn't like how that sounded. It sounded too much like running away. How could you possibly run away from creatures like that?

"Can't you just, kill them?"

She asked in spite of herself, lighting a cigarette.

"You're the Ronin right? Isn't that what you do?"

Ben stopped on his heel, turning just enough to show his face. Those eyes, she couldn't get over how far down they saw, as if he were

looking right through her. He really was insane, she could tell. But so was everything else going on around her, at least with him she'd be safe.

"That's not how it works, Des."

Ben informed her, turning and walking away again. He lit a cigarette, passing it to the cat whose name

was apparently McCoy, when he perched on the Ronin's shoulder again.

"Cats don't smoke..."

She said in utter disbelief, taking a long drag of her own Camel. How was that possible? How was any of this possible?

"Cats don't talk, either. Do they love?"

McCoy commented from Ben's shoulder, holding the cigarette between his teeth and grinning at her.

The Chesire cat, he remined her of the Chesire cat from Alice In Wonderland. Almost to the detail.

"Then how does it work?"

Destiney called after them, running to catch up.

"If you come with us, you'll find out."

Ben answered her without turning around. She was offended by him, all of a sudden.

He wasn't very dashing, or very nice, from what she could tell. It wasn't at all like talking to him before had been. But then, things

had considerably changed.

"We'll stop for some more cigarettes. You're going to need them for this yarn, girl."

McCoy offered in a friendly tone.

Destiney didn't doubt it, not one little bit. She wrapped what was left of her shirt around her, and followed the duo out of the alley.

Anyways, it was probably all just another dream.