To Save a Child - the RP

Part 6

*** *** ***

Sticks exited the apartment and with the skill born of an urban hunter, studied the environment. After checking the stairs in the building, both up and down, he stalked through the shadows in the street like a true child of the city. He recognized the graffiti scrawl for the dominant gang in the neighborhood, found the signs for a black market chip/drug dealer and another for a dealer in weapons.

The teenager found himself smiling as he wondered if Jess were even aware of the services available in this neighborhood. "Probably" he thought to himself, "I do not think there is much that she would miss". The teenager's smile grew as he thought about his attractive teammate until he suddenly pulled himself up short. "Oh, Pendehjo, you are now suddenly so wise that you judge others?" he thought. "Perhaps you should concentrate more on your responsibilities and less on your fantasies. There is a small scared child out there somewhere and his family trust you to do whatever it takes to get him back. You cannot do that if you fill your head with thoughts of a woman. Do your job!"

Having made a circuit of the block, examining hiding places, ambush sites and escape routes without being noted by the locals, Sticks made his way up to the roof. In spite of his resolve, as he established his hidden watch post, the teenager again found himself smiling as he thought about Jess. As he marveled at how her quiet competence reminded him of the other significant female figure in his life, his mother, it began to rain.

"There!" He thought, "That should keep you awake, Pendejho. Now try to let warm feelings overwhelm your good sense, you foolish amateur!" He put up his hood and watched in silence.

Sticks sat calmly, relishing the distraction that the rain was causing. Relishing anything that kept his mind on task. Keeping with his rituals, he continually swept the roof and what he could see of the surroundings below in broken patterns. In this fashion, he kept his mind and eyes from becoming too comfortable with what they were seeing.

In addition, his sense of sound methodically stored the noise patterns the rain made...the better to notice anything out of the ordi...


The Filipino ceased all motion, even the sound of his beating heart moved to the background. He filtered out the rain in his mind...something he had learned to do so long ago, straining to listen.


The sound seemed to be coming from the alley to his right...


...a little louder. Coming closer? Straight up the wall? his mind offered incredulously.


Closer still. He was in a safe, observational position...but what if he needed to do something more than observe?


In his mind Sticks relived the exercise with his father. He remembered with pride how, despite the silence of his teacher's approach, he had suddenly sensed the correct instant and had immediately flowed from sitting flat on the floor into a rolling reverse leg sweep and overhand single stick strike, stopping the blow an inch from his father's nose. The master had smiled and risen saying "Very good. You must be at peace to experience the world, to know, really know what is around you. But you must be able, in a single instant, to act. Your action is explosive but it can only be successful if you have opened yourself before you start."

As the memory echoed through his mind, Stick stopped straining and relaxed. He was completely quiet and at peace as he absorbed the details of the approaching noise.


The Escrimador sought the peace within himself, opening his senses to the world around him. The recurring noise came into sharp focus. It was coming from a position to his left now, closer than before...

There was a sharp odor in the air...oily. The young man's mind raced...gun oil, extra heavy for the rainy conditions...


The sound of metal against concrete...*plink-plunk* moved in rhythm to the falling rain. Silent to all but the most perceptive of beings...

Sticks methodically began running down a list of sounds that he could match to the approaching noise. Something that climbed up walls, not using the fire escape...


Climbing claws of some sort... Judging by the proximity of the sound, Sticks had about 30 seconds to react. He moved...

....not at all. Emptying his mind of all extraneous thoughts he sat peacefully waiting. The last thought before he emptied his mind was not of how to disarm/disable his opponent, but the recognition that the climber might not have anything to do with he or the Gillians and that only by being patient would he avoid making a costly error.

A shadow cleared the edge of the roof, small and slender. It moved with a cat-like grace that only helped the figure to blend in with the shadows. Creeping along in slow, measured movements, the figure moved towards a the triangular shaped skylights that were across from where Sticks maintained his position. Sticks focused harder on the figure, trying to make out any distinct features. The only thing evident, was the outfitting, and the katana across its back. The clothing seemed to resemble some form of loose fitting gi.

If memory served, and since Sticks had made a point of knowing his surroundings, he knew that skylight the figure approached led to the hallway on Jess' level. In a matter of seconds, the figure had the skylight lock opened, and after applying something to the hinge it prepared to slide into the opening.

Without any intermediary steps, the escrimador moved from complete stillness into blurring action. In a single fluid move he side-armed the collapsed asp baton from his pocket across the roof and into the side of the dark figure's head. The *thunk* of the weighted tube as it struck the figure covered any sound the teenager might have made as he aimed at the dark form with his predator while moving quickly to new cover on the roof.

The strike hit hard, and hit true. Sticks had no sooner regained cover, then the figure had hit the roof. It rolled towards the open skylight, throwing an arm out to catch the edge before the final spill into the opening.

In smooth grace that was reminiscent of water, Sticks' Predator cleared its holster, drawing a bead on his target. The figure lay on its side, lithe body on its side with back facing the Escrimador.

The next moment would have been a blur, but for Sticks' unerring perception. One instant the dark figure clad in what seemed to be a traditional hwarangdo -gi rotated quickly through the open skylight. Replacing the form was a small box.

Stick immediately dove behind cover and sprinted toward the stairway door.

Sticks darted into the stairway door, closing it behind him. There he waited.


The Escrimador frowned at himself, his mind darting from one theory to another faster than the speed of light. There was only one way to find out. Looking at the hinges on the stairway door for any signs of rust, Sticks cracked the door.

Outside, the rain still came down. And nothing else had changed. On the roof, just outside the skylight, was the small box.

As curious as he was about the box, Sticks first priority was his teammates. Abandoning his curiosity, he darted down the stairs to see where the dark figure had vanished.

Sticks moved quickly, but quietly to the door below. And with as much subterfuge he could manage, he cracked the door to the hallway on Jess' level. Down the hall, roughly where the skylight was high above, lay a somewhat more lighted figure.

The Escrimador's sharp eyes quickly picked up the trickle of blood coming from his right ear. And it did seem like a male, human from the looks of the ear itself. Must have been barely balanced on the roof above and fallen. the young warrior ventured.

The man, dressed in a Hwarangdo-gi, had the steady breathing of the unconscious...but Sticks didn't want to take any chances with the fellow.

*** *** ***

Jess noticed that the rain outside her window had gained intensity. Sighing to herself, she wondered how the young warrior upstairs was fairing. The erstwhile paramedic was actually about to voice another concern to Tal when they heard a loud ::clump:: outside her door. It sounded like a sack of potatoes hitting the shag carpet in the hall.

Jess tensed as she looked at Tal. Alert now she signaled for him to check on the Gilians while she pulled her pistol and headed for the door.

Once in the kitchen she activated the security camera the boys had rigged outside the door, trying to see what was out there.

Jess studied the camera, jigging the control back and forth to get all angles. There.. she thought to herself. On the floor, roughly below where the skylight to was, a figure lay prone on the floor. And if the resolution wasn't misinterpreting, there was a line of something coming from his upturned ear. He was clad in some form of loose fitting garb, and his hands looked to be empty.

Steadying the rising flow of adrenaline in her system, Jess moved the camera towards the roof access door at the end of the hall. Zooming in a bit, she saw that the door there was cracked, allowing for an eyes to show through.

Sticks? she wondered.

Tal quickly summoned a watcher spirit and ordered it to keep an eye (secretly) on the Gillians and to scream loudly if anyone other than he, Sticks, or Jess attempted to enter the room. That done, he slumped in the nearest chair and sent his astral form out into the hallway to take stock of the situation.

Tal plunged into astral space, sending his form into the hall to gain a bearing on the situation. On instinct, looked right, at the end of the hall was the doorway to the roof. There, in the doorway, was the Sticks' familiar now aura. Reading it quickly, he sensed the build up of tension, with a hint of the wary to add into the mix.

Alright, the lad's on guard for something... Tal cast about, searching the hall and the surrounding astral space for any threats. Noting nothing on the spirit level, he did come across the aura of a man on the floor of the hallway. By the color, the figure was unconscious. The funny thing, was the sense of worry surrounding the figure, like an astral resonance that was echoing through the area as the figures mind had plunged into unconsciousness.

Sticks kept both hands free as he moved quickly into the hall were the figure lay sprawled. "Unconscious", the teenager thought as he began a quick pat down for weapons. Without shifting his attention he noted the sound of the door to Jess' apartment opening.

With one final look to make sure that the Gillians were still all right, Tal returned to his physical body and headed for the door, convinced now that the unconscious figure did not constitute an immediate threat. His curiosity aroused, he wanted to find out who the figure was, why he was unconscious, and what he was doing here.

Meeting Jess at the door, he said quietly, "Doesn't seem to be dangerous. That's Sticks behind the door there."

Jess looked at Tal and nodded. Taking a deep breath she opened the door, her gun carefully aimed at the ground.

*** *** ***

Sticks gave the body a once over, sifting through folds and pockets of the man's outfit. He was short, for a human. Maybe around 5'6" or so. Within his outfit, Sticks uncovered a pair of rigs containing flight daggers, climbing claws, a Waksashi blade, and finally a silenced Glock-9 in a concealable holster, a pair of spare clips of what looked to be a strange form of ammunition...No casings? the Escrimador questioned. All the weaponry culminated in the katana strapped across his back.

One thing of notice, was the man's hands. Apparently he had undergone some form of plastic surgery to remove his finger prints. Acting on a hunch, Sticks lifted one of the eyelids on the Oriental man, cyber-eyes.

Sticks collected the man's weapons and removing the silken scarf which covered the man's features, used it to tie the invader's left hand to his right ankle. He then took the cord which had secured the Katana's scabbard across the Asian male's back, threw a loop over the unconscious figure's head and tied it to the right wrist. This made the figure look as if he were simultaneously attempting a one handed shoe tie while scratching an itch impossibly high in the middle of his back. As a crowning touch the teenager removed the unconscious figure's soft black shoes.

Moving quickly and efficiently, Sticks lifted the bound form and made his way towards Jess's door.

Jess shook her head as Sticks carried the man in. Closing and locking the door behind him, she waited until he'd deposited his captive. Once she was sure the area was secure, she handed her gun to Sticks and started her job. Carefully assessing the man's injuries, she began plying her trade.

Tal, too, began checking the man out. Moving back so as not to impede Jess' efforts, he examined the figure more carefully on an astral level, trying to discover anything useful in his aura.

Tal took his time giving the tied up norm a once over. The Asian's aura still seemed to have that shading of worry radiating.

Looking further, the elven magic-user noticed the tell-tale hints of cyber replacements on the forearms and the palms of the hands.

When he finished, he looked across at Sticks with a small smile. "Next time he'll learn not to sneak up on people, eh?"

"Yes," he agreed with Tal. "At least we hope he learns. If you will watch him, he left something behind when he uh, dropped in. I would like to see what it is and to retrieve the....pacifier I used. This is ok?"

As Tal took in this info the Escrimador handed him Jess's pistol. At the Welshman's look of confusion, Sticks explained "Too many guns. Mine, the Gillians', the Ninja's. Please hold this for Jess."

Tal nodded, accepting the offered gun. He stuck it in his belt, but that didn't feel right so he pulled it back out again and held onto it until he could give it to Jess. He didn't have a particular aversion to guns, but he didn't like carrying them if he didn't have to. "I wonder when our friend here is going to rejoin us. I'd very much like to know why he's dropping in on us at this hour."

Not knowing how long it would be before the mystery guest awakened, Sticks darted for the roof to retrieve the device. Once outside, the rain welcomed him as a spiteful mother. Scanning the roof top first to insure there were no more threats, the Escrimador moved to claim the little box.

It was light, with a plastic, contoured surface. He stashed the device in his coat pocket, then closed the skylight window. It was a source of concern that the lock wasn't working anymore. Frowning for a moment, Sticks slammed the jammed locking bolt into the housing. The window stayed.

*** *** ***

The group reunited, a pall of tension settled over the living room where they waited. Jess had checked the room where the Gillians were staying and found that they were still sleeping. Probably exhausted.

It wasn't more than a moment later that the Asian norm, tied up on the floor, began to stir.

He attempted to rub the side of his head, which seemed to be greying a bit at the temples. But he was met with the resistance of Sticks' restraints. ("What the devil hit me?") the figure murmured in Japanese. His eyes blinked open, revealing the chrome lenses Sticks had seen before. There was a moment where the figure tensed, prepared to act. But he recognized quickly the futility of his actions when he saw his situation.

If not for the chrome lenses, everyone in the room would have known where the man was looking. As it was, Sticks felt the scrutiny. ("Was it you, young one?") he asked with a hint of admiration.

Jess looked at the man as he started to move and then stop as he realized his predicament. She knew enough to recognize the language to recognize it as Japanese, but since she only knew two phrases in the language and neither was appropriate at the time, she decided to keep her comments to a minimum.

"Be nice, he's got a concussion," she informed Sticks, then she turned to their guest. "That goes double for you," she added. "nothing strenuous and well... I'd tell you more, but I can't really check your pupillary responses so I have to rely on what the equipment says. Just take it easy. No sudden moves, it doesn't sit well with a concussion..."

That said, Jess turned the questioning over to Sticks and Tal. Staying at the ready in case her skills were needed, she kept a tranq-patch handy.

Giving no indication of understanding anything the ninja said, Sticks stepped forward and faced his opponent. He crossed his arms and gestured at the bound figure with his chin, a demand for explanation explicit in the move

The Asian nodded his understanding. ("I am at a loss for explanations that would cause you to believe my plight.") he continued in Japanese. ("I've come to find the boy. And the reasons I cannot reveal until I can be assured of your group's intentions." )

He paused once more, wincing in pain. The moment of weakness was quick, but to Sticks trained eye, was deliberate. It was a way of showing respect to the one who had bested him. The Asian looked about the room as best he could, then seemed to come to some form of internal conclusion. ("I assume that they do follow you, young one. I am called Sanguri. I follow the path of the Hwarang. Your movements indicate training in the Polynesian arts.") he stopped.

Then noticing the lack of reaction, he took a breath and continued. Any show of weakness was gone.

("I will pledge on the names of my ancestors, that I mean no harm to the boy. But I will say that he is in danger.") Sanguri waited for the next question.

Sticks' face did not change as he listened to the bound figure. He did not understand Japanese, although his ability with Cityspeak allowed him to recognize the language and to catch certain words. Hwarang brought him up short as Hwarang-do, he knew, was one of the pre-cursors of both Tae Kwon do and Hapkido and was a Korean martial art. Recalling his father's numerous stories of the hatred and rivalry between the Japanese and Koreans he wondered about this

obviously Japanese man, dressed as a Ninja who seemed to be claiming to be a student of a Korean fighting form.

He also caught the word for Polynesian which made no sense. He heard "boy" but could not understand any of what followed. The last thing the man had said seemed very solemn and ended with the word for danger but the teenager could not decipher the meaning. With the same hard look of intensity Sticks answered the ninja's long statement with the word "English".

The Asian looked up at Sticks for a moment. It was a time where the Escrimador would have used the man's eyes to know what he was thinking. As it was, he had to wait for the man to make his next move.

The man smiled and nodded, obviously coming to some form of internal conclusion. "I am Sangri," he began anew, this time in flawless English. "I have come for the boy." Sangri paused for a moment, looking about the room for the group's reaction. Noting with satisfaction that there were none, he continued. "He is in danger in this place, I must return him to my circle for protection. I am also in need of his parents."

Tal stepped forward. Now that their guest was speaking English, he could participate in the conversation. "I'm afraid, my friend," he said softly, "that you'll be needing to tell us a great deal more than that about yourself and exactly what you're doing here before we can go much farther."

Sanguri looked to the elf, his expression was that of a stone. "I would be at a loss if I could not be guaranteed the boy's safety. If he is not, then all of my efforts are for not...and my life is forfeit."

It seemed that he paused to study his captures, gauging. "I would ask for your word that the child and his parents are unharmed. Only then will I divulge more information."

Tal watched the man, shifting to astral perception. The man *seemed* sincere in his concern for the boy and his parents, but Tal knew all too well how easy it was to fake such concern if need be. Perhaps a glimpse at the man's aura would give him insight into his motivation.

Tal studied the man's aura closely, examining the details of every subtle change and nuances of the man's appearance. There was truth to the man's words, but more importantly, Tal sensed a deep seeded conviction. To what, the elf could not

be sure.

Taking a deep breath, he did come to one definite conclusion. The man had no hidden parts to himself. Sanguri was being truthful.

Tal faced Jess and Sticks. "I sense truth in this man's words," he said. "It is an easy thing to lie with words, but far more difficult to lie in the aura. Whoever our friend here is, I don't believe he intends harm to us or to the boy."

He fell silent, waiting for his friends' input before revealing anything to the mysterious ninja.

Jess watched the exchange with interest. She had no way of gauging the man. She trusted Tal and Stick's judgement on the matter of truth. But as to the quality of the man, that she depended on Taco and Maxwell.

"Dangerous" Sticks said as if that word spoke volumes of warning about the interloper. Intuitively understanding that his team mates were not getting enough nuance from the single word, he elaborated.

"Warrior with contradictions. Knows too much and not enough, How? Wants data but gives no data, expects trust but offers none. Too many questions in this matter already. Even if truthful, he gives little reason for us to deal with him at all."

As the teenager was about to conclude his rejection, something in the bearing of the captive made him stop short. He found himself wondering what he might say were the positions reversed. After a moment's pause he arrived at a decision. Looking into the cybereyes he said with the intensity and conviction of the young, "My name is Angel Hidalgo Cabrales. I am called Sticks. I will not allow you to live to be a danger to my team or to our mission. Do you understand this?"

Receiving a slow nod from the Ninja, Sticks continued, "You will tell me why you are here. Now. Do not lie."

Tal raised an eyebrow as Sticks took charge of the questioning. Realizing that a fellow warrior might be more likely to draw relevant information from the ninja, he faded back and concentrated on watching the ninja's aura as he answered Sticks' question. He was determined that any falsehoods--if there were indeed any forthcoming--would be immediately caught.

Sanguri hid his reaction well. "I am Ryuko Eishin Omuri. We are well met, Angel Hidalgo Cabrales. And our debts are leveled." Considering his awkward position, Sticks could visualize the man standing at attention, then giving a bow of honored acquaintance.

The Escrimador bowed his head in answer. With that, the Asian continued. "I have been sent to retrieve the boy and his parents for my family." Tal and Jess raised eyebrows on the last. "By family, I mean my Household. Because of my extraordinary need in this situation, and the need for expedience, I will explain further."

Before he continued, Sticks bent down and untied Ryuko's bonds. A level stare into the Asian's eyes delivered all the warning needed. Ryuko stood slowly, allowing his cramped muscles to stretch and return to normal. Immediately, he dropped a deep bow to Sticks...maintaining eye contact at all times. The Asian's expression notified Sticks that he remembered the young warrior's oath all too well.

Settling into a lotus position on the floor, he slipped his sleeves up to his elbows revealing a line of tatoos that ran the length of his visible arm then up further under the gi. The designs ran from traditional Japanese symbololatry, all surrounding a base design of a katana on each arm. "We have been around for ages, doing our part as a group of the world. The child is special, something that our elders new from the day of his birth. Darren Allain Gillian is more important than anyone can imagine. His potential is such that any corp in this plex would pay quit a bit for his apprehension."

Ryuko turned his attention towards Tal. "I'm sure that you noticed this from the residue he exudes?"

Jess listened to the man as he spoke and realized something very important. The truth was as you saw it. Ryoku was telling them what he thought was best, what he believed. But he was talking about Darren as if he was a power, something to be held, not a child. It was time for her to clear the air.

"Excuse me," Jess stated as she took a deep breath. "I don't mean any disrespect to you, or to your house. I know nothing about them, but I have vowed to see the child where he belongs. And you're telling me that he belongs with your people. That is something only the Gillians can decide. And when I say the Gillians I mean Darren as well. He must have a say in where he goes."

Jess shook her head as she thought about everything that had happened. "My word! Everybody's talking about him as if he were an object to be possessed. He is a child!"

She looked at everyone, her eyes getting darker as she looked at their guest. "Don't get me wrong, I have no illusions that we can handle the danger that's headed our way. I know better. I haven't studied the way of the warrior like you or Sticks have, but I do have my own Bushido that I follow. "

"I have sworn an oath," she told him as she pointed to the caduceus on her jacket, "to protect life. And I face an enemy that I know all too well, because in the end he always wins. I'll do everything I can to stave off my enemy, but if the person I'm helping doesn't want my help, I must accept that and walk away."

"Can you do the same?" she asked as she studied him.

She opened her mouth as if to speak again and let her breath out slowly. She had to make very sure he understood her and she understood him. Looking at him she started again.

"I don't doubt that you want what you feel is best for the boy and his family, but if you are not willing to let them decide for themselves, then we have...words."

She smiled at him briefly, knowing full well that if he wanted to, he could mop the floor with her, but she had to make this very clear.

Again she looked at Ryuko, and then at Sticks and Tal. "That goes for anybody. This isn't about money, this isn't about a job. It never was and never will be. This is about a child and his path. Ours are set, but he's still young. He needs to have a chance to be young, and I will be damned before I let anybody take that from him."

"For me, this matter is not up for discussion," she added. "No amount of money, no amount of discussion can change that."

She could feel Ryuko studying her and knew he was trying to follow her, gauge her. Looking at him she added, "and if you think everybody has a price, when it comes to something like this, you're very wrong. I could care less about money. It can't give me what I want."

Again she paused as she tried to explain everything, then started again.

"There are only three things I want in this world and I wouldn't trade a child's life for them. I'll probably die long before I find what I'm looking for, but that is my path, not Darren's"

She looked at them again and nodded. "Just thought I'd clear the air," she added as she sat back down. Then talking a deep breath she locked eyes with Ryoku. "Are you willing to abide by the Gillian's decision?"

Ryuko stayed quiet for quite some time, his face an unreadable mask of stone. In the last, he bowed his head to till his brow brushed the floor. "I have offended you, and for this I do apologize...I am in your debt until such time as I can right this wrong. As I am in debt to Angel Hidalgo Cabrales for teaching me a valuable lesson of complacency." The Asian took a deep breath, raising back to an upright posture in his lotus position.

His face looked grimly from behind his mirrored lenses. "I am disheartened to say the least to know that Darren is not here with your group. For your credit, young lady, I have given the impression that my House seeks to rule the child. More to the point, the reason I seek both Darren Allain Gillian and his parents, is to inform them of Darren's unique gifts.

"To answer your question more directly, I intend to give Darren and his parents the option to come with me back to the group. And I intend to explain the entire situation to them so they are able to make a good decision. You speak of paths and the fact that Darren's is fresh and new." He paused and angled his head towards the floor. "Unfortunately, that is not true for all of us. There are those whose path is chosen early on in life, and that fate is something that can be avoided or

challenged head on." With a sigh, he returned his gaze towards Jess. "My house intends that they face their fates armed with the knowledge of who they are and their importance to the world. If they decide to avoid their path, it will be my privilege to protect them until I am unable."

Jess bowed her head at Ryuko's response and sighed. Again, it seemed that her temper and passion had given the wrong impression. Sighing she again looked into his eyes. "You haven't offended me," she told him. "And the only thing you owe me is what you have stated as your intentions, to inform and protect the Gillians."

"If you do that, then I am in your debt," she stated.

While the tension surged and ebbed between Jess and Sanguri, Sticks found himself focusing on Tal. Upon reflection, the escrimador felt self-conscious for having taken over the interrogation, particularly when he noticed the magic users' concentration and self possession. "Jess has fire" the teenager thought, "a spirit that lends her great force, but I must also learn to keep my own council like the magic man. He watches carefully, but draws no attention to himself. He has no need to demonstrate his power. I wish I were more like that."

Tal took a step forward. "Ryuko-san," he said softly, "Although it seems your intentions are honourable with regard to Darren and his parents, you must certainly understand that it would be ill-advised of us to reveal further details about them without a bit more information. Perhaps if you'd be willing to share with us exactly *why* Darren is so important to you and your household...?"

Ryuko bowed his head once more, his face a reflection of living rock. "I am afraid you have placed me in a difficult situation. There has been much that I have given you, information that not many at this point know. The less the better. To go further would be at the risk of the Gillian family."

His face rose from the floor and angled towards Tal, then towards everyone in the room. "In order for me to go further I would need to seek counsil with my elders, or the Gillians themselves. It is their fates we discuss, and it would only be just that they be included."

It was a long time before the Asian spoke again. There was a period where it seemed that he was lost in thought, his mind in a distant place. When he spoke again, Tal seemed to have a heightened awareness of the individual. "I have received permission, but I must gain the permission of the Gillian family in order to discuss this any further. They, above all else, must know their situation."

In the tense silence which followed, the Escrimador placed himself between Sanguri and the hallway to the Gillians' room. He then slowly drew the hardwood sticks from the concealed holsters on his back. He gradually crossed the sticks in front of his body parallel to the ground, while placing most of his weight on his forward most foot. The "patayan" or symbolic posture for a death match had for generations conveyed the seriousness of competition among the 1700 languages of the Philippine islands. Sticks hoped the deadly aspect of the gesture would not be lost on Sanguri. When the Hwarang warrior had studied the position for a moment, Sticks broke eye contact and looking at Tal and Jess, slowly nodded once. He hoped that they understood that he was willing to let Sanguri talk to the Gillians but that he would move with fatal swiftness if there was any treachery. He also hoped they agreed with his judgement. He closed his eyes, exhaled and became completely still. Having prepared his "anito" ([Tagalog]-spirit), the teenager focused so completely on Sanguri that their resperations matched.

Jess' eyes widened as she noted Stick's posture and expression. Suddenly she was very glad he was on their side. Swallowing she looked at Tal and nodded. If Sticks agreed to waking the Gillians and felt he could defend them, she could accept that.

Tal's gaze traveled back and forth between Sticks, Ryuko, and Jess, and then he too nodded. He was not familiar enough with Sticks' art to know the meaning of the gesture, but it was clear that the young man was prepared to defend the Gillians. He nodded toward the bedroom where the Gillians were, then headed slowly in that direction.

Ryuko stood slowly, moving in one fluid motion. Then, facing Sticks, bowed deeply while maintaining eye contact with the Escrimador. "I thank you. And swear not to betray the trust you have given. I am in your debt once more, Angel Hidalgo Cabrales." The Asian looked towards where Tal was heading for the bedroom. His black Hwarang-gi whispered as he resumed his lotus position on the floor. He would wait there for the Gillians, if they decided to talk with him.

Tal knocked quietly on the door to the Gillians' room. "It is Tal...may I come in?" When the Gillians replied, he opened the door, slipped inside, and closed it again behind him. "There is someone here who would like to speak with you. He claims to be very interested in the safety of yourselves and Darren; Sticks, Jess and I all feel that he is speaking truth when he says he means you no harm. However, it is up to you what you decide. If you don't wish to speak with him, we will tell him so and ask him to leave."

Part 7

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