THE RONIN - Catastrophe

Though Jonathon was the first to see him, Prysta's reaction of absolute terror came a split-second soooner.

This was largely due to the fact that Jon had no idea what had really taken place in the Seattle space needle, while Prysta

had known all too well and had foolishly tried to warn the ronin of it. She now thought that she should have known it was inevitable.

After all, everything in this and all worlds was solely reliant on the balance of power.

"Lend a hand then, you tardy son of a bitch! My vows are to God's work! Not yours!"

Jonathon cried out merrily as Prysta doused her walls of flame and shrank to his side.

"Oh fuck me and all the heavens besides...It's him!"

Prysta's shriek caught the priest off-guard, and caused him to lower Agnus in favor of puttting his arms around her.

"It's just our golden-boy ronin, lass. A little worse for time wasted but what does it really matter? Once the ronin appears, it's the devil's turn to quake."

Scudd picked up the slack and quickly ran the blade that was once a fellow demon through the remaining spellcasters with ease.

"No no, preacher man. You misunderstand your lady's words. It's HIM."

Scudd's dismay rang through to Kanor, who'd sensed it just a hair quicker than his sister and now barked orders at his wielder.

Get everyone inside the house! NOW!

Scudd understood in the same amount of time it took for Jon to piece the last few days together, and comprehend what was really marching

towards them without a care in the world. And it was not so much the realization of that, than the loss of all hope which finally broke Jonathon Stemhern.

"Christ on the kettle! Run lass!"

Jon instantaneously changed gears as Scudd leapt back towards the porch, and Prysta clung to Jon's arm for dear life as they retreated.

The figure now making his way towards them was at first glance none other than the ronin, but it's hair was bleached blond and it's eyes

were almost bulging from their sockets with a wicked stare as inhuman as day was light and night was black.

"Cyrn...Out in the open? This cannot be good..."

Scudd's tongue tripped over the human language as he paused in the doorway and watched two man-type creatures approach the house.

It's done then. The transformation has run it's course, and we're all dead.

Kanor naysayed from his position under Scudd's left arm, as Prysta begged Jon to come with her.

Jonathon's mind, for all intents and purposes, was gone. The image of Cyrn in a doppelganger body to the ronin's was only slightly less horrifying to him

than the idea of Cyrn imbued with the young man's abilities.

Any hope he'd been cligning to for victory hissed loudly inside his head like air let out of a balloon.

The rapture incarnate was walking down the street like a pimp with a fresh wad of bills, and he simply couldn't handle it.

"Where in the high-holy fuck is Ben?!"

Jon cried out in dismay, as he and Prysta switched roles and his arms clung to her waist like a toddler hiding underneath his mother's apron.

"He'll be here, he'll surely be here. He has to be, or we're all going to die."

Prysta cried softly, wrapping her arms around Jon's head as her eyes refused to turn away from the doom that was coming to end them.

"How can you know that?!"

Jon shouted hysterically, going back and forth between holding Agnus out to fight and backing further into the doorway of Ben's house.

"You're a clergy for fuck's sake. Have faith in him."

Scudd replied sharply, although even as he was at a loss for any stategy that could save them without the ronin showing up.

"It's about time! Where the hell's he been...Oh my dear God!"

Destiney had seen the duo approaching from inside the house, and took a lot less time than any of them had to ascertain that Cyrn had indeed gotten his wish.

She hid behind Scudd's hulking mass of a body on instinct, knowing that it would do her no good. Cyrn meant death, and the last time Ben had confronted him,

he'd lost his mind completely. She wished hard for Kanor to come back to them, to somehow revert back to his former self and protect her as he had when

the ronin had been taken by the holy order. She wasn't even sure that Kanor was a match for the lord of all demons, surely that was why he and Ben had gone

to face him together. What could be done now, she wondered as her hands rubbed a belly that was already starting to show her pregnancy.

Would she die? Would her baby die? Had everything she'd suffered only come to this?

"Hello hello! Friends all around I see!"

Cyrn taunted from the sidewalk as he and Astoc paused there to size up their quarry. The demon lord seemed happy as a jaybird, while his begrudged

tagalong wore an embittered face that suggested he wasn't about to let his master have all the fun. Each of the general's meaty shoulders

gave rest to an unusually thin kodachi sword like two enormous knitting needles.

From the edge of the one hung over his left side dangled something that made Destiney almost whimper McCoy's name,

then spill the bologna sandwiches she'd been eating all over the back of Scudd's khakis in one great heaving motion.

"What's this now? No ronin to bar our path? I must say that's disappointing..."

Asctoc commented as his left hand flung the kodachi blade at Jonathon's feet, causing McCoy's limp carcass to bounce with a sickening sound

that lay somwhere between liquid being dripped and a sack of garbage hitting the ground.

"Oh my God! You couldn't have! You monsters!!"

Destiney voiced her outrage inbetween gags as the small black cat's eyes seemed to gaze up at her. The smell indicated that he'd been dead

for several hours, yet Prysta was almost hoping the wound hadn't been fatal.

Ouuuuuuhhhhhh!!!

Kanor's voice cried out to Scudd from the sword, and even though he'd never met the funny feline himself, he felt an immense sadness

emmanate from the blade which told him all he needed to know about who the cat had been and what he'd meant to them all.

"So then, after all your preening and your boasting, you're going to pick us off like insects in the ronin's abscence?"

Scudd shouted to the ronin lookalike defiantly. He wasn't surprised one bit, but Cyrn had an ego the size of a football field

and right now that was the only angle Scudd had to use against him.

"Actually...No. As a matter of fact I'm just as surprised to see the ronin's gone off on his own as the rest of you sops."

Cyrn announced cheerfully in a manner that was both incredibly disrespectful and mockingly lackadasial.

"It's true, it's true. I was ever-so looking forward to dropping this meandering flea-ridden cur at the ronin's feet and watching the expression

on his face as he realized that I'd killed the last of his family. Disappointing, so disappointing. I believe I may cry, great master."

Astoc joined in, the grinning visgae of a man who is both tickled pink and mad as all hell never leaving his face as he taunted the group.

"Oh Jesus, oh sweet God...McCoy! Little McCoy!"

Prysta crooned as she ran from her place beside Jon, standing almost toe to toe with the demons as she picked up the cat's

limp form. She nuzzled it to her like a favored teddy bear and bawled openely over him, sinking to her knees as Scudd moved to defend her.

"Take me, you flithy stinking bastards! Take me, if that's what you want! Leave them alone and take me!"

Destiney shouted out to the demons, as Prysta dropped McCoy just as carelessly as a child would drop it's most precious toy before a temper tantrum.

"No more! It's me they want! I won't let anyone else die!"

Destiney sobbed chidishly as she clutched her tummy. Jon could see she was in delerium, not realizing the slighest bit that if one of the demons

struck out and ended her, the human world would perish.

"You get the the ever-loving, sod-all-holy shit away from that woman!"

Jonathon exclaimed in a rage as he left Scudd's side to strike Cyrn across the chest with his most trusted Agnus. The swing was true and the angle severe,

but Cyrn simply backed away from it's fatal arc and caught the tip (to the astoundment of all present) in his bare hand.

And with that one swift manuever, everything the group knew about demons and ronin and everything inbetween, grew wings and flew south for the winter.

"Back!"

Astoc growled angrily as Prysta stepped forward to save her lover. She was met at the tip of her throat by one of Astoc's blades,

and felt a very real feeling of self-preservation that was so new to her it felt like cowardice. She probably could have burned him alive before she died,

and at least have the grim satisfaction that she took one of the unholy behemoths with her as she fell. Instead, her body became petrified with fear,

and she could only watch as Cyrn lifted her would-have-been, should-have-been boyfriend up by the staff he still held, cleaved it twain with one arm

and tore Jon's left off at the elbow with it. The scream from the preacher's mouth was devasting to her, and so loud that she covered her hands

with her ears as Jonathon wriggled back and forth in agony. Scudd couldn't watch anymore, and launched himself feet-first at Cyrn hoping for the best.

Two gunshots rang out from somewhere across the street, amd what he got was somewhere inbetween the best and worst thing that could have happened.

"Leave the keeper be, Astoc. I sense the best of us within her. We're not such monsters as to abort our own salvation. We'll take my spited lover and be off."

Trick and Breema had arrived just as the priest was dismembered, and Trick's bravado had insisted on leaping headlong into the fray.

Because they were at all times a team, Breema's cold-hearted methodical approach had staved him off as she reached into the pocket of her

coat and attached a scope as long as Trick's whole hand to one of her desert eagles, which she called Muriel. The 50. caliber shells hadn't

so much bounced off Cyrn's body as passed through unmolested, and without any sort of damage to him.

Trick had immediately compensated by hefting his staff like a javelin and hurling it into the demon's back as they dashed to the rescue.

Jonathon was dropped to the pavement like an unwanted package, and hastily retrieved by Scudd as a wall of blue-green fire appeared between

his fold and Cyrn, who now had a fairly long and beautifully elaboratel carved iron monkey staff protruding from his sternum.

The demon lord's painful howls became a symphony with Jon's as Scudd carted him away and the ronin's comrades fled into his house.

Prysta watched them go fondly, and with a great sadness inside her as she allowed the flames to die down. It had been all she could do

for them to aide their escape, as Astoc's hands grasped her throat. He choked her until she lost consiciousness, hefting her dead weight

onto his back the two demons turned to leave.

"Hey there, motherfucker! You great wallowing jellybelly! Have at you!"

Trick's battlecry resounded like a dirge in Breema's ears as she hurried behind him, emptying both guns into the demons and hoping

that something would happen. Cyrn began to laugh as maniacaly as she had ever heard, withdrawing the staff from his new body and

tossing it aside without any concern. The donut-sized hole it left closed in a matter of moments, and Astoc desperately awaited

his master's consent to descent upon the two newcomers with all of the grief and rage his brother's death had inspired within him.

"Let us leave here, Astoc. The hopekeeper bears one of our own, I can smell it. "

Cyrn ordered nonchalantly as he patted his hands down along the front of himself. He was in utter hyseterics over his copy of the ronin's body,

his guffawing chuckles becoming an eerily similar phantom of Benjamin Maxwell at his demon-hunting worst.

Trick valinatly threw his entire body into the swing as he punched for Cyrn's jaw, missed completely and sprawled headlong onto the sidewalk

as Breema's guns fell empty. Astoc swept her ankles deftly with his heel, sending her tumbling to his master's feet as he held Trick fast.

One kodachi was now stretched across the man's neck, it's sharpened steel drawing a trickle of blood as the other kodachi

pointed towards his wife. Cyrn picked her up viciously by her hair, throwing her ass-over tea kettle onto his shoulder as he grinned

at Trick with sinister intent.

"Now then, don't I know you two? Hmm, let a body ponder....Oh that's right! You're the two that I was to spare once you'd killed the ronin!

Switching sides now are we? I do think you'll find that was very ill-advised. Yes indeed.."

Trick shut his eyes as hard as he could, and tried not to see the striking ressemblance Cyrn now bore to the ronin. Because that would mean

he'd been wrong, and his coersion of Breema to fight on Ben's side had only led her to death. And even in his premature regret of what was about to happen,

he couldn't blame the ronin. The world had begun to crumble, lines had been drawn and sides had been taken. Perhaps they were never meant to survive it.

Cyrn never made any kind of deal, or threat. He never asked Trick to go back and finish off the wounded ronin and his witch lover in exchange for his wife's

safe return. The bastard never even stopped laughing. That awful, eerie chuckle as he gripped Breema by her shoulders, planted a foot into her back

and pulled her into halves. For the rest of his life, Therman Crick never forgot the sound her spine had made when it gave way, or her screams.

The screams that would haunt the rest of his short life.

"Now you see, insolent human! Look well at your woman, and see what awaits all who oppose my master!"

Astoc testified as he let Trick go, slicing his neck ever so gently. It was a scratch really, it never even bled much.

But to Trick, it felt like a mortal wound. He fell face-down on the pavement, watching the stump where his wife's hips should have met her waist

as it jerked and sprayed red all over his face for what seemed like an eternity. His body was paralyzed with shock, he couldn't move at all.

And when he could again, the laughter of the monster who'd murdered his only link to the world was fading down the street, taunting him as

it bellowed a warning.

"Haha! what fun! What indescrible joy! I'll tell you what, widowed fool! The ronin must come and face me alone at the peak of Jonah's Hill by dusk tomorrow,

else I'll eviscerate this one and the rest of you lot!"

For the longest time, enough so that the moment Trick finally rose to his feet again felt like another life, he could only lay there and feel the pebbles

dig into his cheeks. He could only hear the laughter of the one known as Cyrn, as he cruelly left him there to wallow in agony.

He could only feel his fingernails chip, one from each pinky breaking off as he clawed the road and forced himself to get up.

And when he finally did, Trick saw two things. Firstly, he saw the two parts of a woman that was his sole reason for living,

and shouted gibberish aloud between hucks as he threw up. Secondly, after that was done, he saw the huddled mass of the ronin's crew.

The thin, tall blonde girl was still crying and sobbing her last.

The huskier, dark-eyed brunette had been taken, and the one-armed priest now cradled his bandaged elbow and cried her name.

The much larger, shaved-bald portly man with a sword on his back repeatedly put his hand to his face, raked his fingers down the length of it and started again.

His eyes were red, but not with tears. They glowed with the color that he and his wife were now bathed in, and Trick knew he was a demon.

He rose first to his knees, then to his feet, his hand reaching for the staff Ben had been so kind to claim for him.

He clutched this item tightly in his hands as if he were wringing a neck, and stepped towards them all, taking a moment to inhale deeply.

Trick felt inside every cell of his body how much he hated demons right then, and whispered a brief apology to the ronin before he struck.

He did this, because he understood the ronin, and in a very brotherly way, loved him. But he really, really hated demons now. And they would pay.