Chapter 32: War Begins

Ryder and Blair fly out of the Slipknot's hanger, ready for the journey to Xena 2. Once the ship flies out of the atmosphere, Ryder activates mach-speed.

Looking at a map, Blair said, "According to the star charts, it will take us six hours to get there."

"Good," responded Ryder. "That will give us some time to train." Ryder rose from his seat and went back to the main hold. "Grab your sword and meet me in the training room."

Blair left the cockpit and did as he was instructed. He didn't see Ryder as a friend or even brother. Instead, Blair thought of Ryder as his master. The man that set him free from the chains that once bound his wrists. If it wasn't for Ryder, he would still be Khilor's mutt that did his dirty work.

Blair went to his room, grabbed his sword, then walked to the training room that was on the other side of the ship.

The two met face to face in the small room. Ryder's white hair and red eyes versus Blair's black hair and green eyes.

A while back, Katie reinforced the training room walls with a layer of a rare fabric that reduced the effect that one's aura would have on the surrounding. This allowed people to power up as much as they wanted to without the rest of the ship taking damage because of it.

Ryder and Blair began to power up. The pressure of both or their auras began to make other light materials in the room rise off the ground. Suddenly, in an instant the two began to spar.

Neither of them used any special abilities; they were only using the sword techniques that they knew. Naturally, Ryder had the upper hand in the fight since he was a master of all seven lightsaber forms, but he purposefully switched between them to keep Blair guessing.

Ryder jumped and twirled while Blair defended, countered, and even went on a strong offensive attack. Ryder easily used his smooth footwork to work around Blair's offensive attacks. His swings were strong and swift, but there wasn't emotion behind them. Something that was both bad and good.

As the fight continued, black smoke-like aura began to follow and surround Blair. Ryder could sense a power dramatically increasing with every swing. Each strike was heavier than the last. Ryder switch to form two which utilized the opponent's strength and momentum in order to counter the attacks.

Parrying the attacks to gauge how much farther Blair could go, Ryder used the Force to speed up his movements momentarily. He slid his back foot around so that the two were now back to back. Ryder swung his lightsaber around at chest height, and Blair simultaneously ducked to the ground. Quickly, Blair slid his foot around to knock Ryder's legs out from beneath him. Ryder jumped up and backwards in a stance that invited an attack.

Shaking from the Slipknot made Nero sit up in his bed. He checked his bedside clock which read, '12:03 pm.'

'Ten hours, huh,' he thought. 'Better get some more shut eye. Gotta be ready for the academy.'

Blair stood back up from taking a punch to the face. "Mixing punches with your attack, eh? Smart."

"I've had my fair share of battles. The more you mix; the more you're likely to catch the other guy off guard," explained Ryder.

Blair extended his palm out to Ryder and began to say, "Ye lord! Mask of flesh and bone, flutter of wings—,"

Ryder held up his hand to cut him off and said, "Blair! Not in he—,"

Before Ryder could finish his sentence, Blair used shunpo to quickly get behind Ryder while his incantation distracted him. Once behind him, Blair swung into Ryder's side and sent him crashing into the wall of the training room.

Thankfully for the special walls, nothing was damaged. Confidently, Blair walked over to Ryder with a smug look and held out his hand to help him up.

"Come on," said Blair as they grasped hand. "That was the back end of my blade too."

Ryder got up with the help of Blair. He twisted his back to stretch it then said to him laughing a bit, "That was cheap. I was over there thinking that you were gonna try to blow me away with Hado."

"I'm not that dumb. There is no way that the ship would be able to withstand that," said Blair. "Go again?" he suggested.

"Ha! No way. I gotta let my body rest. We've been at this for about five hours. Have to make sure we're prepared for whatever we find there," explained Ryder.

The two began to exit the training room. They followed the hallway that led to the main hold and the cockpit.

"What do you think is calling you there?" asked Blair.

"I don't know, honestly. It might be a person. It could be an artifact. I just know that I need to go there and that you had to come too."

Ryder walked into the cockpit with Blair following him. He looked at the star map, which gave an arrival estimation and showed the time. It read, 'Time: 3:17 am – Time until Arrival: Ten hours and thirteen minutes.'

Ryder turned to Blair and said, "We have ten hours until we get there. Let's get some sleep. We can eat when we both wake up. Our body needs the rest."

Blair nodded and said, "Right. I'll see ya then." He turned and walked to his bedroom while Ryder turned and sat in the pilot's chair.

He pulled out his flip-phone to see if either Katie or Nero had contacted him. Neither had done so. Sighing as he stood up, Ryder left the darkness of the cockpit and went to his room.

*Beep Beep Beep Beep*

Nero sat up in his bed with a jolt. Annoyed with the sound of his alarm clock, he smashed the whole thing with one of his kagunes. It wasn't like it would be important after today.

"Shit. I crushed it before see the time." He wiped his eyes to get rid of the sleep, and his head began to clear up. "Okay, it's eight-thirty right now. I had set one hour and a half before we were supposed to land."

Nero rolled out of bed then walked to his dresser. 'Time to bring out the battle clothes,' he thought. Going into his pants drawer, Nero grabbed a pair of black shorts and black compression pants. He then went into his shirt drawer and grabbed a compression, dri-fit long-sleeve shirt and a loose, short-sleeve, black hoodie.

Nero undressed then put on his black compression pants then his black shorts. After those, he put on black socks and black tennis shoes. Reaching out for his shirt, a knock came from his door.

"Come in," he said as he pulled his compression shirt over his head.

"Just making sure that you're up," said Murdoch opening the door. He was wearing a white shirt with a light pink scarf around his neck (symbolized his release and bankai). Grayish blue khaki pants covered his legs.

"I heard from a few guys that we are in the same squad. Can't let you start the day off bad if that's the case."

Now putting on his black hoodie, more like black, short-sleeve windbreaker, Nero asked him, "Who'd you hear that from?"

"Just from some guys in the hallway. Might not be true, but it'd be cool if it was. It would be to have someone out there with me who I have chemistry with," said Murdoch.

Looking Nero up and down, Murdoch noticed how everything was black. His 'hoodie' had a high collar with a gray zipper that extended down to his neck. It was the only thing he was wearing that wasn't black. Shoot, his hair was even brown enough to be considered black.

"Are you okay?" asked Murdoch with a smirk. "Are you trying to express something by the way that you're dressing?"

"Funny," said Nero as he walked to his nightstand and opened the drawer. "Rodan told me that I'll be with a group of two squads that is going to be attacking an academy at night." Nero grabbed a small black mask from his drawer and put it in his backpack. He then swung the backpack onto his back.

"Let's go get some food," he said walking out of the room. Murdoch followed and shut the door.

"So, you're going to an academy. Do you know where it is?" Murdoch asked.

"Not a clue. That's all I know. Is Liz joining us?" asked Nero.

"No, she's getting ready right now"

"Not enough time to do that last night?" Nero said jokingly.

"Not at all," Murdoch replied smiling while nodding.

"I… never mind," said Nero deciding to cut himself off.

The two arrived at the elevator with a large group of other students that were becoming soldiers today. All of them dressed ready for battle. The elevator doors opened, and everyone moved in making it crowded. About four different floor lights shone on the elevator panel. Luckily for Nero and Murdoch, the cafeteria floor was going to be the first stop. When the doors opened, about a quarter of them got out and made their way to where the food was.

Upon walking through the double doors of the cafeteria, Nero and Murdoch looked for the other Shadows. Over on one of the tables, Murdoch spotted Hunter in his black wife-beater tank-top and white scarf around his neck. Next to him sat Skibo, who was wearing a light green gi. To Skibo's right was Katie, who seemed to be left out of the conversation. "There they are," said Murdoch pointing to their table.

Nero and Murdoch went to the table and sat across from Katie since she seemed a little lonely at the moment. Murdoch couldn't help but notice how she was dressed. She was simply wearing daisy dukes with a mechanic's utility belt around her waist and a black crop top that left her stomach exposed. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail except for one strand that was left to hand down the side of her face. She was also carrying two pistols that were strapped into a cross-draw shoulder holster. The shirt showed off her great chest without exposing cleavage.

"Are you okay?" asked Nero.

"Yeah. Today is just a stressful day," she responded.

"With that belt around your waist, I'm assuming that you were told that you'd be staying on the ship?" asked Murdoch.

"Yeah. They want me aboard just in case we need a ship and it might be broken."

"Hey, Katie," said Skibo turning from Hunter. "Tell them about your power with pistols!"

Nero and Murdoch looked at her in curiosity. They knew that she was an alchemist, but they thought that she didn't have any other powers.

"Well, since Skibo has given them away," said Katie.

"Eh. We were already curious," replied Murdoch.

"Were you," she said with a facial expression that faintly implied that Murdoch had been checking her out. She turned to Nero and said, "I can fire my own energy from these guns. My energy is my ammunition. I can even charge up the shots. The best part is that these pistols are metal."

Eyebrows raising, Nero said, "That means that you can manipulate them with your alchemist ability. Like creating a bayonet on them!"

"Exactly," She said smiling and nodding. "Anyways, you two need to eat up. Especially you, Grim Reaper." She was eyeing Nero and his clothes.

Nero smiled and shook off the dig on him then started eating his food. After about twenty minutes, the intercom turned on.

*Everyone. Please either sit down or grab onto something stable to prepare for landing. If you have anything, that you would not like to fall on the ground, in front of you, please secure that object*

Everyone around the tables grabbed a hold of the food tray.

*Landing in 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… 0…*

At the end of the countdown, the ship began to shake a little bit as the landing gear emerged from the bottom and sides of the Slipknot. After a thud from hitting the ground stopped shaking the ship, the intercom came back on.

*Thank you for the smooth trip and landing. We are currently just south of St. Louis, Missouri in the Mark Twain National Forest. Once you are prepared to leave the ship please check your personal email or notification system to see your assigned squad. There are four groups: close range, mid-range, long range, and then communications. Once you know your group, please report to the corresponding tent outside. Thank you, and let's kick some ISIS ass! *

The intercom shut off and the entire roomed filled with the beeps from their phones or notification system. Once those stopped, there was no noise to follow. There wasn't another announcement. There was no conversation in the whole cafeteria. At that moment, the realization that war and death is upon them just sunk in.

Nero nodded to the other Shadows, and they all knew what he was thinking. With them really being the only ones in there with TRUE experience, they had to boost the morale.

Nero stood up from his seat along with the other Shadows and said, "It's about fuckin' time. I'm tired of beating up on you, Murdoch."

Murdoch laughed and continued saying, "I feel that. I'm ready to beat the shit out of those ISIS fucks."

"I've got fifty bucks saying that they don't have nearly the amount of trained and prepped soldiers as we do," said Katie banging her tray against the inside of the trash can.

Hunter put his hand over his head and said, "Are you joking? They have one thing going for them."

"What's that?" asked Skibo.

Hunter smiled and said, "They don't have to worry about what they want to eat in the next few days because it won't even matter."

All five of them walked out of the double doors of the cafeteria and headed towards the elevators.

"Did it work?" asked Skibo.

"Just give it a second—,"

Before Nero could finish his sentence, the whole cafeteria erupted in cheers and chants as all the soldiers began to clear their plates.

'Nice,' thought Skibo smiling and nodding.

The group got in the elevator and before they knew it, they had reached the hanger. About seven ships were scattered about, and there were people running all over. Following Nero and Katie, Skibo said, "Hey! Before we go outside, let's check our messages and see what group we're in."

Everyone nodded in agreement. They walked to the side and sat at a community table that had others constantly passing by.

"Hell yea," said Hunter looking down at the list of his squad. "Me and Nero are in the same clos- range squad. AND he's the captain."

"Ooooo," said Murdoch. "Mr. too good for us.

"Yeah. Get on my level, Murdoch," Nero replied. "We also have General Hall and Javier."

"Damnit," said Skibo. "I'm the only one of us in my mid-range squad. At least I have Luca."

"Wow," said Murdoch smiling. "My squad is stacks. It's Ziggy, Clayton, Tommy Shelby, ME, AND Liz."

"Someone is going to have to make sure that you two don't camp next to each other," said Katie.

"No rules out here, Katie. It's like we're in the wild-wild-west," said Murdoch.

"Well y'all already know where I am. I'll be helping here with mechanics and communications, so if y'all ever need anything let me know. I can't believe that I'm about to say this, but, even you too, Murdoch," said Katie taking a deep breath to relax.

"Ha ha very funny, Katie. Have fun fixing my walkie talkie."

"Okay," said Nero refocusing the group. "We all know our assignment, and we all know where we are supposed to meet. We can't let Ryder down. We better be kicking ass by the time he gets back. Now, let's get out there and show everyone what it means to be a Shadow of Hell."

Everyone smiled due to a sense of pride then followed Nero out into the dense forest of Missouri. Nero and Hunter looked around and saw a sign that said, 'Group 1 – Squad 1. Group 2 – Squad 4. Generals and Captains.'

Nero turned to Hunter and said, "Sorry, bud. Maybe next time." Nero turned back to the tent and walked in. Inside was Ziggy, General Hall, Clayton Rudd, and General Rodan.

Rodan looked up and saw Nero come in alone. "Okay," he said waving Nero to come look at the map on a table. "We are here," he said pointing to green dot in the middle of Missouri. "The mission for these two team is to reach this red 'X.' This X is ISIS academy. It is 5 miles away from a large ship manufacturing plant. We have intel that suggests that ISIS believes that we will be going for that shipyard; however, we will actually be launching a surprise attack on the academy. They have many strong opponents there, but we have strong men too plus a great strategy. Ideally, we want the attack to begin at eleven o'clock tonight. Once y'all defeat them, the academy group will rejoin the main group back in Colorado. Y'all are more than welcome to go to the shipyard and use something of theirs to travel. For now, that is it. Clayton has the detailed strategy on how the attack on the academy will happen. Y'all can talk about on the way over. Jerry can teleport y'all about ten hours away from Chicago, so y'all will have to walk the rest. To get there with enough time to plan, these two squads need to leave by twelve which is in an hour and a half. Are there any questions?"

"Yes," Nero said. "Do we have any intel on who is there?"

Rodan turned to Ziggy who said, "Yes. We know that Khilor, Slade, and Chilton are there. Besides those three, there are definitely more, but I just don't know who they are."

Nero nodded for the information.

"Well, if that's it, you're dismissed. Actually," said Rodan. "Meet back at the beginning of this tent with your whole group at twelve."

Everyone nodded then left.

Skibo walked into his tent with General Fox next to him. Upon entering, General Lance noticed that everyone of importance was there, so he began.

"Good morning everyone. I hope everyone got some good rest. This will be the largest group we have. We have one close-range group, one mid-range group, and the only long-range group. The other group will be attacking an academy in Chicago. Us; however, will be in the main battle. A more classical fight. We are going to travel to Colorado by foot. What will most likely happen is that ISIS will meet us somewhere in between. At that point, anyone with a long-range attack will fire their shot. Anyone with a defensive power will provide cover. Subtly, we will send a few who are really fast to their side to disrupt their forces. Then we charge. This will be the biggest battle that we fight in the war, and it is very important that we win. If we don't win, then could very well either fortify their main base or take out the Slipknot. Either way, it will mean a loss for us. When we get to that face off, Jackson, I want you to be the leader of the long-range combatants. Skibo, this will be a great time to use your full counter since it only reflects special attacks, so focus on the defense and not the attack. General Fox, use one or two Hido spells, then throw up Bakudo 81 for defense. Allow me to reemphasize the importance of this fight. If you feel like you have nothing left in the tank, surpass what you're capable of. Originally, we had Ryder and Blair with this group, but they had to attend to something else. We don't have reinforcements. This is a must win. If we lose, we lose the war. With all this said, are there any questions?"

No one said anything, so General Lance concluded saying, "Okay, good. We are going to leave here at three in the afternoon. Jerry will be teleporting us to Emporia, Kansas. It's a small town north east of Wichita. From there, we will march west until we meet Isis. Report back here at three."

All the generals and captains left the room talking to each other. "Do you think I'll have enough time to fire a Gallick Gun or something?" asked Skibo to Jackson.

"I wouldn't. Maybe a few chi blasts but look for a strong attack then reflect it. That way, it won't hurt us, but it could do a lot of damage to them."

"Ah, okay gotcha," said Skibo. "I'll see ya in a little bit." Skibo veered away from him and walked past some running soldiers and to a table where he saw Nero and Hunter were sitting.

Noticing Skibo walking over to them, Nero asked, "How did your meeting go?"

"Good, I guess. We are getting teleported to Kansas then marching to Colorado until we meet ISIS face to face. At that point, it's battle time. What about y'all?"

"We're going to an academy and surprise attacking them," responded Hunter.

"Oh wow. That sounds interesting."

Murdoch walked up and said, "Yeah. There are gonna be a lot of strong people there. I get to try out a few techniques I've been working on."

"Sucks for Katie though," said Nero. "I know she wants to be on the battlefield."

"Yeah, but I guess she's needed at the ship more," said Hunter.

The group went silent for a few seconds.

"Well, I guess this could be the last time all of us are together," said Skibo.

"Hell no," responded Murdoch. "Like what Ryder said, we're strong. We'll meet up again."

A random person walking by slyly said to the group, "Yeah. Maybe in the afterlife."

Nero stood up and said, "Hey! What's your name?"

The one that made the comment looked up to the sky and let out a breath. "I'm Josh. Josh Sanders," he said turning to face Nero with a straight, emotionless face.

"Look," began Nero. "If you think like that, there's no point. A positive outlook when going into battle is key for success."

"Sounds good coming from you. You're one of the strongest that we have. I'm over here just a common ninja. Fodder. You can hold your own against other strong soldiers. I can't!" said Josh obviously aggravated and gaining attention.

Nero put an arm on Josh's shoulder. "Everyone is scared, Josh. It's understandable; this is war. Right now, we are fighting for this planet against someone who is fully evil. The things that he has done are vile and extremely horrendous. Me, along with my friends behind me, know that he and his close subordinates are way stronger than us. But fighting against him so that the people of this planet can experience freedom in a real way seems worth it to me. I could very well die today, tomorrow, or the day after that, but I'm eventually going to die any ways. I'd rather die defending the defenseless rather than just being another number in a body count. So, come on, Josh. The whole army needs YOU. No matter what you think, there is a reason why you were chosen to do what you've been assigned to. Give it your all. That's all that anyone could ask of you," said Nero.

Josh sighed and said, "I just don't want to die."

"Then don't," said Nero. "If you do all that you can plus a tad more. You'll defeat any opponent that you face."

"Okay," said Josh. "At least I know that I'll be fighting with you at the academy."

"Then let's kick some ass before we eventually kick the bucket," said Nero with a smile.

"Hell yeah," Josh responded then walked away.

Suddenly the intercom turned on…

*All generals, please report to tent C. All generals, please report to tent C.*

General Rodan was feeling very anxious. He just witnessed Nero talk to Josh about, really the possibility of death in the upcoming battles. He was worried that the majority of the 'soldiers' felt the same way. He wondered if they thought they were just body bags.

Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Rodan. We've got work to do."

The sheer presence of the President really set him at ease. "Alright, Mr. President."

"I told you. Call me Kaiden. You seem uptight. What's going on?" asked the President.

"I'm just worried. A few days ago, everyone here was just a student. Now, they're soldiers who many think that they are going to die within the next few days."

The two walked into tent C. No one was in there. "I understand, and I hate that they had to change that much. I will make sure that everyone will have a choice as to if they want to fight or not."

The other generals walked into the tent and began to stand around the middle table. "Gentlemen," said the President. "It is now eleven o'clock. In an hour, we will deploy our first group. The ones that will attack the academy. I trust that y'all have gone over the strategy. It's important to go after that academy because we need to either destroy or capture the shipyard that is about five miles away. With those ships, they would not be afraid to bombard us with laser cannons or other weapons during the battle."

President Reed pointed to Kansas on a map that was placed on the table. "General Lance and Fox, the field battle is incredibly important. That will be the main battle. It will decide who has the advantage. IF they win, they will be able to march here and completely destroy the Slipknot. At that point we would be finished. However, WHEN WE win, we will be able to continue to the Rockies. ISIS would backed into a corner. Regardless if Ryder and Blair are back by then, plan to attack their base by 7:30 am."

"Understood," said General Lance. "General Fox and I have some last-minute details that need working out before we leave. Is it okay if we leave this meeting right now?"

"Yes," said the President. The two generals left the tent and went to formulate their strategy.

The President turned to General Hall and Rodan. "Okay. When the fight at the academy is over, I need you, Hall, and Ziggy to fly back here immediately. I have a feeling that you two will be needed in the field battle."

"I agree," Hall complied. "Who do you want me to put in charge for the rest of the people? Nero?"

Rodan butted in and said, "If you don't mind, sir."

The President nodded to let him speak.

"Personally and realistically, I believe that we should allow Nero AND Clayton to command the remaining troops. Nero has battle experience, and he is very capable. Clayton, on the other hand, is a master strategist. He has an incredibly high IQ."

"Okay. Let's do that. I believe that all that need to be discussed for now. So, you two are free to roam and talk before both teams depart," finished the President as he turned to the tent's opening leaving the two generals.

"How do you feeling about staying back for these two fights?" asked General Hall.

"Of course, I don't like it, but those are my orders. I can still be effective here. Whatever he wants me doing must outweigh the affect I would have in the field or else he wouldn't make me stay," said Rodan.

"I agree with that," said Hall walking outside the tent with Rodan. "Whatever it is; don't screw it up."

"I was going to say the same thing to you," said Rodan laughing.

Throughout the next forty-five minutes, soldiers sat anxiously waiting for their time to go. Some were practicing their fighting against the air, and others reclined back on the group as if it was just another day. Regardless of how they felt, nervous, excited, or even depressed, their time to become heroes for their country was about to arrive.

The intercom sounded with a loud screech. "Shit, we need to fix that. Everyone that is going to the academy, it is twelve o'clock. You are to be at the meeting point ASAP."

The Shadows gathered together.

"Well, this is it, for at least two days. Be safe out there, Skibo. And you, Katie. Don't do anything reckless here," said Nero.

"I should be telling that to you, Nero," she said with a smile.

All of them huddled together and placed their arms around another.

"I better see y'all," said Skibo.

"Same back at you," responded Murdoch.

"Here's to living," said Hunter.

"Here's to the Shadows of Hell," said Nero pulling out a bottle of whiskey.

Laughing, Murdoch said, "Where the hell did you get that?"

After taking a gulp, Nero said, "I know some people."

He passed the bottle around, and everyone did their share in taking a swig of the whiskey. When it got back to Nero, he put the bottle in his bag. "When we all meet up again, we'll finish it."

"NERO! Come on!" said a voice at the tent.

"Well guys, see y'all later. By the way Murdoch, I bet I'll get more kills than you," said Skibo.

"Ah, you're full of shit," replied Murdoch as he walked to the tent flicking off his fellow Shadow.

"Okay! It seems like everyone is here," said Jerry. "So, I can only teleport all of you about ten away from Chicago. You will end up in a town called, Gilman. It's a little less than ten hours so that breaks will available; just not many. Also, I'm sure that they would be able to notice a sudden surge in power if I got y'all closer. Now, I need everyone to touch someone that is touching me. There has to be a connection to me for you to get teleported."

Everyone began to get close together. Hand went on shoulders. Lovers held hands; that included Murdoch and Liz. They closed their eyes.

Within a few seconds, they heard, "Okay, we're here."

Liz opened her eyes and saw a very small town that had a main road with a rail-road track running through its middle. Along the main street were a row of small family buildings on each side. She looked around and saw a road sign. "Look at that," she said to Murdoch softly. "Were on the corner of Crescent Street and Elm Street. Pretty spooky right?"

"Or a bad omen," said someone else nearby. An old woman walked out of her store and stared at them. "I know what y'all are doing here. Those ISIS assholes are messing with every town that's near Chicago. All the pollution that's going on is ridiculous."

General Hall walked up to the lady and said, "Don't worry. We'll drive them out for all of you. Just wait a few days."

She shooed them away as she said, "Yeah. Just like how I've been waiting for the past few years." The old lady walked into her building and slammed the door.

Hall turned to all the troops with him and yelled out to them, "THAT! Is why we must end this war. ISIS is killing this country; dare I say this world. Now! On to Chicago!"

General Hall led all the troops down the main road in the direction of their enemy's academy and shipyard.

Ryder and Blair sat in the cockpit staring at a small, rocky planet that they were coming up upon. There was nothing green; just brown rocks surrounded by the blackness of space. He looked down at the clock; it read, '1:22 pm.'

"Can you sense where we need to go?" asked Blair.

Softly but confidently, Ryder replied "Yeah…"

The ship flew down past very few clouds and to the surface. Up ahead, in the direction that they were traveling, a large storm was resting above a town. Cracks of lightning appeared to be striking the town along with the land surrounding it. Rain fell putting out fires, but smoke billowed and rose back up to the storm clouds. The rising smoke resembled the townspeople's prayers that would hopefully calm the storm.

"We can't fly through that," said Blair.

"Right. The cave is on the other side, so we have to walk through the town and then to the cave," said Ryder.

"Is the cave on the other side?" asked Blair.

"Yes. It's on a mountain behind the town."

Ryder grabbed the steering controls and throttle. He lowered the ship down to the ground at a safe distance away from the storm. It didn't seem like it was moving in any direction.

"R2, stay here. Take the ship back into orbit when we leave," commanded Ryder.

The two grabbed their weapons and a cloak with hood to keep them dry through the storm. The loading ramp opened and the two walked off already feeling the strength of the winds of the storm.

"Damn, that's strong," noticed Blair.

The Rogue Shadow flew up to the sky when Ryder and Blair arrived at the edge of the city. Immediately they see an old man who stops to talk to them.

"Why in hell would you come to this town?! Bad things always happen when we get visitors!" said the man trying to speak above the sound of the storm.

"I'm going to the cave that sits on the mountain behind the city; there's someone I have to meet there!" yelled Ryder.

"We don't speak of him here! GET OUT OF HERE!" yelled the old man visibly scared. "Before he devours US ALL!"

"That's insane!" yelled back Blair.

"How would you know! You're just a visitor that doesn't know the stories of that man. No, DEMON! Anyone who goes up or near that mountain never comes back!" said the old man visibly distraught.

"You've never heard him," said the man placing his hands on his ears. "His voice still echoes even though he is not here. As if these storms were enough, this demon has a hunger for human flesh and bones!" The old man ran down the abandoned road and into his house that had been boarded with planks of wood.

As soon as the man left Blair and Ryder, a bolt of lightning struck a few meters away from him and Ryder sending rocks towards them. Instinctively, Ryder ignited both of his lightsabers and sliced through any rock large enough to harm either of them.

"Thanks, Ryder," said Blair. "Do you think that you could do anything about this storm?"

Thinking about it, Ryder said, "I think so. Give me a second."

Ryder walked to the center of the road then looked up to the storm clouds that flashed with light as lightning circled inside them. He closed his eyes then held his palm up to the storm. Feeling the Force flow through the area and into the clouds; the storm was angry. The Force was vicious and unforgiving.

Ryder calmed himself and grabbed a hold of the Force within the clouds then began to pull it apart, separating the storm in two in hoped of dispersing it. As Ryder tried to tear the storm apart, he opened his eyes to be suddenly struck by multiple bolts of lightning.

After a few bolts, Ryder dove to the side of the road smoking from the electricity that had coursed through his body. Blair ran over to him and placed his hand on his back.

"Ryder! Are you okay?!"

Slowly getting back up to his feet, Ryder looked back up at the clouds. "I'll be fine. Damnit, there's nothing I can do. That lightning is too strong for me to be able to focus enough to disperse the clouds."

"That makes sense. It's almost as if the storm got mad when you tried to disperse it."

Taking a deep breath to regain some strength, Ryder said to Blair as he looked up at the mountain, "Let's get to that cave."

The two began walking through the barren street of the town. All windows were closed and boarded up, and no door was left open. As they left the city, Ryder looked at his watch, which read, '1:34 pm.'

The journey to the mountain did not look easy. Large, fallen rocks created a barricade-like wall around the mountain's trail; rocks tall and wide enough to never be moved without a wrecking ball.

"Blair, if you would do the honors," requested Ryder.

Blair walked up and unsheathed his Zanpakuto. With one slash against the massive boulder, it shattered into thousands of pieces, clearing the path.

After walking the trail and climbing up the steepest side of the mountain for an hour, Ryder and Blair finally came upon a small cave. Ryder paused and reached out with the Force. Immediately, he knew that THIS was the cave that had been calling out to him.

They walked in the cave, and it was pitch black. Ryder ignited both his purple and red lightsabers, and the colors clashed for superiority until the lights emitted merged into magenta. After taking a few steps in, Ryder looked to his left and saw a skeleton laying against the wall of the cave.

"Do you think he ate that one?" asked Blair. "I mean isn't that blood on the wall next to it?"

A deep red color of the blood on the wall distinguished itself from the light from the lightsabers.

"He wasn't eaten. If he was, there would be gnaw marks on his bones and there aren't any. Plus, the blood must've been from a fight since it's spatter in that pattern on the wall," explained Ryder as he deduced the scene.

"That's some impressive detective work. You must have a high IQ," said a voice deeper in the cave.

Ryder and Blair slowly turned to where the voice came from. Ryder held up his lightsabers so that they could see who it was. An older man, maybe in his mid-fifties, sat on top of a rock. He was wearing white sneakers, khaki shorts, and a black hoodie that covered his black hair that now had a few gray streaks in it due to age.

"You must be the demon of the mountain," responded Ryder. "The one that terrorizes the villagers."

"I never thought that you'd care about that to be honest, and I only do it when I know that visitors have come in search of me. It's a pretty good deterrent. I see you tried to stop it," laughed the demon looking at the scorch marks on Ryder's clothes.

"So, you created it. Why don't you go ahead and disband it since we made it here?" asked Ryder sternly.

"No no no no, Ryder. That's your job. I mean you came here to get stronger, didn't you?" suggested the older man.

"It WAS you who called me here. Just who are you really?" asked Ryder

"You don't recognize your name sake? Well I guess you wouldn't since it's been so long. My name is Ryder, and I've been trying to call you here for some time now," said the old man smiling.