The morning found them racing across a desert. Shayla squinted her eyes hoping to catch a glimpse of Regia Hot Springs. "There!" she shouted pointing, "That's where the Priesthood takes their vacation once a year."
Hiashi squinted and tried to see it. There was a fuzzy patch of blue-green, but he was willing to consider it a mirage. Afura said, "No Shayla, it's in the other direction. Honestly I don't know why you're bothering to show him the sights."
Hiashi gave the wind priestess an angry look. "I'm not dead yet. So kindly stop with the doom and gloom."
"He's right Afura. Even if the law is against him, sentence can only be passed by the Theocracy. He will have the chance to defend himself. Our laws are not inflexible. I'm sure at most they will forbid him from approaching any elemental priestesses." Miz interjected from the shade of the sail.
"So why don't we just go straight to them? Hiashi's special ability warrants it. He can steal our sacred powers! Doesn't that bother you?" Afura said turning to Miz.
"Don't speak to me as if I'm not here!" Hiashi said, a little angrier. "And I don't steal your powers, I only copy them using my own energy. I don't know or care about your fancy secrets or ancient knowledge. Quite frankly, I don't see why you're so bent on killing me! So what if I can use your abilities? Am I the kind of person your law wants killed?"
Afura shot Hiashi a deadly look, "That remains to be seen." Saying nothing more she activated her powers and flew off the boat at top speed. "Give me an answer!" Hiashi screamed and tried to take off after her.
When he jumped off the front of the boat, he fell straight into the sand. He was still moaning as the boat flew over him. "Wha wha happened?" he sputtered as Fuji picked him up.
"Can we consciously stop your powers?" Shayla asked.
"Let's try it."
Shayla powered up, "OK I'm denying you power, denying you power, denying you power..."
Hiashi activated his fire wings, "As easy as before. Maybe Afura was out of range?"
Shayla gave a quick nod and flew off, pausing every ten feet. At one hundred feet, Hiashi's fire shield vanished. "So we now know I have a limitation."
"Don't feel bad, kid. I have one too. I have to stay sober."
"How did you survive this long?"
"Humph. Well at the worst they can do is put a restraining order to stay away from elemental magic users. That's not so bad right?"
"Right..." Hiashi said unconvinced.
The library was in ruins. Books blown about, attendants nursing bruises and other minor injuries. "My God, what happened here?" Miz asked as the went inside.
"It was Afura Mann." a librarian answered, "She was looking for one of the old law books then suddenly she went crazy, using her wind powers to try to destroy the library."
"Where is she now?" Fujisawa asked.
"She flew off to the northern mountains."
"What book was she looking for?" Makoto asked.
"We weren't watching her. She comes in so often we didn't pay attention."
"I know what she was looking at." came a voice from the shadows.
She stepped out revealing who she was. Dressed in a long, brightly colored hood and cape. It covered her entire body save for her hands and feet. Wrinkled, but strong, hands held a staff decorated with the elements of the Priesthood, fire, air, water, and rock. The two remaining priestesses gasped and kneeled. Miz tugged at her husband's sleeve and he kneeled also. Makoto and the rest hesitated but followed suit. "Grand Priestess, what are you doing here?" Miz asked.
"One of my priestesses is in grave danger. So finally I meet the great heroes of Earth, the legendary Demon Goddess, and the man who can use the powers of the Elemental Priestesses. I should be honored to be in such company." she said simply.
"Grand Priestess, it is us who are honored by your presence. But how did you know of our trouble?" Shayla asked.
"You have traveled far and have many questions. Come I will explain over lunch." she said turning around and leading them deeper into the library.
As Nanami and Makoto carried in the boxes she asked, "Hey I thought you weren't suppose to eat in a library."
"If the Grand Priestess says it's OK, we can use the old scrolls as napkins." Shayla answered.
The meal started silently with only polite conversation appearing later. Finally Hiashi spoke, "Grand Priestess, we came here to research--"
She silenced him with a gesture, "You are wondering if you are to be executed. Afura Mann has committed great crimes in the past day. Anyone accused of using our powers in defiance of our ancient laws are to be brought to me, not summarily executed. You needn't have worried. That law was not to monopolize elemental magic nor to protect our secrets, but to warn others of the danger of our Lamps. The holy objects used to harness our powers require years of training and discipline. Without it, the Lamps will be uncontrollable, lashing out wildly like nature herself. The user will not be able to survive. Afura discovered this and was enraged.
"As of late, we have kept the secrets of elemental magic to ourselves. Not only to prevent the knowledge from being lost, but to keep it away from evil minds. Anyone is welcome to learn our magic, but only the Great Priestesses are allowed to use the talismans. Everyone else merely becomes subject to our code of conduct. Use them well and you will be an honored hero to the Theocracy, Hiashi. Use them poorly and suffer our wrath."
Hiashi was relieved and assured the Grand Priestess he would do his best. "Now that that's out of the way, what about Afura?" Shayla-Shayla asked.
"While seeking lore about our lost Lamp of Rock, I fear she has become possessed by the ghost of its thief, Kazusa. Eons ago, while the Eye of God was far from completed, even before the Demon God was created, Kazusa was the High Priest of Rock. He was one of the few men to ever earn the right to be a High Priest. But something happened. He looked into the forces which power Lamp and tried to go beyond the established limits. Some say the power corrupted him. Others maintain he was always evil and achieved his position in a time the rules were more permissive. But the result was the same. When it came time for him to pass the Lamp of Rock to his successor, he fled. The priesthood used all our resources and searched all of El-Hazard for him, but without success. Finally a troop of Elemental mages confronted him in a deep cavern. The sole survivor said Kazusa flung the Lamp far away where none save he would find it. Many adventurers spent their entire lives searching for the Lamp, none succeeded. Since then, no man has ever become a High Priest. While this might have been unfair, the betrayal of Kazusa was remembered for centuries. By the time most had forgotten, all of El-Hazard accepted the fact the Priesthood was for women only.
"Nearly three weeks ago, Afura came upon Kazusa's last stand while on patrol for the Bugrom. It was there his ghost latched onto her body. But his powers were weak after so long. Slowly he was asserting himself over her will, his control growing by the day. He plans on using Afura's body to recover the Lamp of Rock and continue whatever mad scheme he started way back when."
Everyone was amazed at the story. Hiashi commented that now he knew why Kazusa wanted him dead. "So what do we do now? Kazusa is the only one who knows where the Lamp is." Fujisawa asked.
"Fujisawa, when you throw a boulder with all of your strength, do you know exactly where it will land?" the Grand Priestess asked.
"Errrrr not exactly."
"Then you see my point. Kazusa was under a spell of confusion when he threw the Lamp. It could literally be anywhere in El-Hazard. He only thinks he knows where it went. Unfortunately for us the survivor had a very poor sense of direction and wasn't sure which way it was thrown. My ancient predessor tried to take him back to the battleground, but cave-ins blocked the way."
On the ceiling, hidden from view was a group of seven bugs. Six smaller ones were held together by a central one, making the group resemble a six-pointed star. Each one was a different color. They buzzed quietly amongst themselves before taking flight.
Later the bugs, still in their formation, landed into Jinnai's hidden throne room. Jinnai was burning his school uniform. In its place he wore Bugrom-like red armor. They waited patiently for him to finish. Each smaller bug took a role in reciting the conversation in the library. Jinnai looked intently at his spies, a smile growing on his lips. "So that is the background of my treasure. Those priestesses thought they were smart in looking for their lost little lamp. Too bad they never thought to ask the Bugrom right Deva?" he asked finishing with his trademark laugh.
"Jinnai, haven't you learned anything from Ifurita? The ancient powers were not meant to be uncovered."
"Nonsense, Ifurita wanted to be an individual. The Lamp has no such desire. Once it is in my possession, El-Hazard itself will bow to my will!"
"But the warnings...the training to use a Lamp?"
"If that hot-head Shayla-Shayla and that traitor Hiashi can use elemental magic, how hard can it be? I will be the one wielding the power."
"And what of Afura and the ghost which possesses her?"
"Don't worry, I've already took that into account." Jinnai finished breaking into maniacal laughter.
Outside the library, everyone was preparing to return to Floristica to plan their next move. "Grand Priestess, will you be returning with us?" Miz asked.
"No, I must return to my temple where I can conduct my own search and attempt to free Afura from the evil which controls her. I will contact you when the time is right. In the meantime, you and Shayla-Shayla are to train Hiashi in the use of his powers. When you return to Floristica, you will find another ally." with that final note, her staff glowed for a moment and she vanished in a spectacular display of light and color.
"Not bad..." Fujisawa said shielding his eyes.
"Just 'not bad'? 'Michi, that was one of the most powerful and reclusive people in all El-Hazard. I think 'not bad' doesn't begin to cover it." Miz complained.
"How about 'cool'?" Nanami commented.
"Errrrr are all you Earthers so hard to impress? Makoto, Hiashi, you appreciate the honor we had?" Shayla-Shayla pleaded.
"We ... had lunch with your boss?" Makoto suggested.
Shayla threw up her hands in disgust. Hiashi remained silent, thinking to himself. Shayla grabbed his arm and said "You're the last one to redeem your people."
He chose his words carefully, "One of the wisest and influential people in the world spared me, gave us a mission, and brought me into her religion."
Shayla and Miz were let down by the Earthers' lack of awe of the Grand Priestess. Shayla tried to understand Hiashi was a bit more concerned with finding about his execution to properly appreciate what happened. But at least he tried.
As everyone was loading the boat for the return trip, Miz nudged Shayla. "You know there's not much water here. Maybe you should take him back yourself."
"Don't play dumb with me Shayla. You fall for every Earther who saves your life. Better get him before some demon goddess does." she finished with a wink.
Shayla grumbled a bit. Who was she to give advice about men? But she recovered when Hiashi came around. He and the others where helping the librarians clean up the mess. He didn't even notice her as he carried an arm load of books into the boat. "Yo ahhh Dude. What are ya carrying?"
"Afura blew a hole through the ceiling and they say the rainy season is coming. The library needs a safe place to store these books."
"Let Fuji handle it. He likes to show off his strength." she activated her powers, "We're going back to Floristica in style. You can...consider it part of your training."
Hiashi added the books to a growing pile and took to the sky. Miz watched them go. Fuji walked up behind her carrying the rest of the books. "So you just let them go?"
"They both needed it. Shayla's now that last active Great Priestess. And Hiashi, well he looks like it's been too long since he's really been happy."
"Still, they should have a chaperone."
"Royal Champion Masamichi Fujisawa, you get back in there and make sure you've got everything." Miz said pushing her reluctant husband back inside.
Chapter 7: Shrine of Rock
Miles to the north Afura searched the rubble. She had been looking for hours, using her powers to cast aside rubble from the Eye of God and rockslides centuries ago. But it was without any success. She spoke with Kazusa's voice, "Where is it? It has to be around here somewhere!"
He used her wind power to blow away the rubble of thousands of years. "Yes, yes yes....there it is! My temple!"
Stray rocks were widely scattered about the site, but that barely detracted from what he had uncovered. A solid-grey temple out of Greek myth stood partially buried in the mountain. Where there was once statues, now only their damaged bases stood. He looked down and picked up a remnant of one of the statues. It was a forearm, elegantly carved with the skill of experts. He took a closer look to admire the detail. The knuckles, veins, even a small scar from a long forgotten scratch were there. "Afura, I made this when I first became Priest. It took over a month, I became one with the stone. I spent hours getting this statue to be absolute perfection. Then I realized I was destined for great things. This statue was to stand for all time for people to admire." he thought.
"And like your body, it is gone, forgotten and righteously so." she returned.
"Now now my puppet. Resist me and you will never be free. Obey me and you might one day be free. Otherwise ...." He controlled Afura's own hand, forcing her to squeeze her own breast.
"You disgusting pervert! Let go of me!"
"I believe there is a military outpost near by ... one full of lonely old men." he said as an obvious threat.
Afura stayed silent. "I thought so. Now, I wish to return to my home." Kazusa said as he walked up the steps.
"So you like controlling a woman's body? How pathetic of you." Jinnai yelled from above.
"Impudent whelp! Leave me to my task."
"Sorry, but you threw away your treasure so it's mine now. I plan to get it without your interference. Now my followers!"
On cue, dozens of Bugrom leaped from their hiding places and formed a tight circle around Afura/Kazusa. Each one carried a makeshift wooden cross which they held in front of them. Margaret crossed itself and began chanting in Latin, at least as close as it could, while holding a book. "Time for your daily exorcize routine." Jinnai taunted, laughing.
As one would expect, nothing happened. Margaret was a far cry from a priest despite its outfit and any religious symbols are useless without belief. Afura/Kazusa looked around them unimpressed. Ever since he possessed her body, she had fought him constantly. But now, the Bugrom's 'attack' made them agree for a moment. Kazusa used that moment to strengthen his old on her, to further control her mind as well as her body. He let Afura just enough independence to wipe out the Bugrom's pitiful attempt to exorcize him.
Jinnai panicked when he started seeing his loyal followers being tossed around like leaves in a hurricane. He really thought the exorcism would work like in the movie. "Shit, next time I try Shinto."
Just then Afura floated up above him. She looked down with glowing eyes laughing softly. "I probably should thank you Jinnai. You're little assault put Afura and myself on the same side. In that moment of agreement, I stole complete control over her mind, body, and soul. Unfortunately for you, I do not believe in showing my gratitude."
Jinnai's armor protected him somewhat against Kazusa wind blast. But he was still blown back over a hundred feet. "Retreat! Retreat!" he called out climbing on Zemo.
"I can't believe these insects gave you so much trouble Afura." Kazusa said returning to the steps of his temple. Afura could do, say, or think nothing to the contrary.
His good mood was spoiled when he entered. There, where he thought he cast his Lamp or Rock was merely its stand. Was it stolen? Or in some inconceivable way did he miscalculate and his prize was elsewhere? "Fortunately this is only a minor setback. As wise man, I had prepared for such things."
He walked into one of the back rooms, his quarters. Time and the natural forces reduced his furniture to brittle shells which crumbled at Afura's touch. Piles of notes and calculations were lost forever, distingrating in the slight breeze which was the only symbol of Afura's resistance. "<sigh> It would appear that you indeed cannot go home again. I spent many nights here dreaming of what I could do with the Lamp if only I had more time to master it. You priestesses really do not have enough time to enjoy your powers. Fortunately I was smart enough not to put my notes on such fragile things like paper or books."
A hidden panel and lever revealed the way to a hidden room. "Oh my dear, I fear I cannot let you read my tablets." he thought before throwing her mind so deep into her subconscious it was comparable to being tossed into a bottomless pit.
Sitting at the center of the symbol of the Lamp of Rock Kazusa began his mediation, attuning his spirit to the elemental power. Over the next few hours he relearned his techniques, ways to shape and manipulate stone, to bend it to his will and call upon its voice to do his bidding. He could feel his power grow within his stolen body. For was not Rock the mightiest and most vital of the elements? It supported cities, provided them stone for buildings, allowed plants to grow in its soil, and was the basis for the world itself. He was secure in his hidden cave, surrounded by hard, unyielding stone. Untold hours later he stood and stretched his young muscles. Adjusting the Lamp of Wind around his waist he returned Afura to consciousness, or at least to being aware since she could do nothing without his direction. A breeze from Kazusa's hand opened a stone chest and retrieved the object inside.
It was a silver armband, adorned with a mixture of gems and technological displays. "If you could think, you would wonder what this trinket was." he mindspoke, "This is like a trainer's Lamp, handed to potential priests and priestesses in ages past. However I created this one for myself as a way to keep my power if I ever became separated from the true Lamp. While it is not as powerful as the real thing, it is far mightier than anything like it in El-Hazard."
The Lamp slide on his arm and contracted to a woman's smaller size. He admired it, taking confidence in feeling its weight. He had the knowledge while Afura provided the talent. As he arrogantly strode from his alcove, all it took was a thought to the Lamp to seal the door again. Outside he set about reforming his statue. The details of his original body etched in his mind. Fragments of the statue pulled themselves away from piles of rock and began to reassemble themselves, fusing piece to piece seamlessly. However there were many pieces ground to dust or worn away by erosion. After straining his returned powers to the limit, only 80% of the statue had returned. Not satisfied he shaped the missing parts from stray rocks. He levitated them, had them spin around the statue like electrons with Afura's power as the Lamp of Rock whittled away at them. One by one the gaps were filled until it was once again the most accurate statue of all time. He paused to examine his handiwork. Another command homogenized the mixture of stone. One would swear the statue was a person, frozen in time. It was a piece of art worthy of only the finest museums. A final command sent the statue into the stone where it would be protected until he was ready to take it as his real body. His trainer's lamp was powerful, but not enough to send his spirit into and animate pure stone. Only the real Lamp can do that.
Returning to the temple, he stretched out with his senses searching the rock of El-Hazard for his Lamp. His mind looked out for thousands of miles for a secluded cave, undiscovered caverns, in the sands of deserts, any place where the Lamp might have landed. But he found nothing, not even a trace of it's power. He knew it could not have been destroyed. When he created his lesser Lamp, it was designed to be the successor if the true lamp was destroyed. He ended his search and watch glowing outline of the Lamp of Rock's symbol on the temple floor fade. Inspiration hit. He could only search his element like this from his temple. At the other temples, he could search the oceans, atmosphere, and molten core of El-Hazard. But that would require acquiring the other talismans perhaps even the priestesses themselves. Well he already had one of them within his firm grip. The others will come in due time. Wind began circling around his captured body lifting him above the ground, out the temple, and into the sky.
Chapter 8: Roshtaria
Back at the castle Miz approached Shayla-Shayla in the court yard. "How did the training go?" she asked implying the obvious.
"Humph, I'll have you know he is a serious student. He might not be as powerful as a real Priestess, he is pretty creative in the use of our powers. He handles them with a certain flaire and finesse the Academy has never seen." her voice was tinted with respect and attraction.
She was right. Above both of them Hiashi was concentrating on a new trick. Warping tight bands of elemental flame around his body, he managed to shape it into a suit of armor which looked like a cross between a comic book superhero and a mecha. Red and blue streams flowed over its surface. While it didn't maintain a constant color, the shape was sharp and looked as solid as a wall. A gun of fire formed in his hands. Glancing at a row of targets at the archery range, he shot a rapid series of firebolts. Each one left a smoking mark in a bull's eye. Unfortunately, the hay supporting the targets was drier than expected and more than one caught on fire. Miz activated her powers and was about to put the fire out when Hiashi's flame gun shot a continuous stream of cold water, ending the problem before it could get worse. "Like I said, an excellent student." Shayla commented.
Annoyed, Miz called out to Hiashi, "Hey! Be more careful! What if I wasn't here?"
Hiashi landed and dispelled his armor, "Then I wouldn't have done it in the first place." he said with a smirk.
This only annoyed her further, "Don't let those powers go to your head. Remember, unless one of us is close by then you're helpless."
"Believe me, I know." he said rubbing his shoulder.
"I ahhh got too far ahead on the way back and he kind of...." Shayla started as she fidgeted.
"Did a swan dive into a sand dune. I still think I got sand in my underwear." he finished.
Riho was sitting next to Shayla and said, "Why no bring Riho? Riho want come. 'Ashi no like Riho?"
Hiashi picked the cat up and began petting it. "Sorry, I didn't think I'd need your protection. I don't want you to feel like you have to always have to be there protect me 24 hours a day."
"It's my job." Riho said quickly rubbing up against Hiashi's scratching hand.
Miz's expression softened a bit. "Everyone is in the Royal Hall explaining what has happened to the princesses."
Fuji and the others had finished their report as Miz, Shayla, and Hiashi entered. Fatora gave Hiashi and Riho an evil look. Hiashi tried to return the look while Riho sought safety between Hiashi's feet. Rune stood, "Clearly Kazusa must be stopped at all cost. Any elemental Lamp must be kept out of evil hands. Miz Fujisawa, Shayla-Shayla you know what this may mean." The two priestesses nodded solemnly. "Makoto Mizuhara," she continued, "Your intelligence has been a great asset to El-Hazard. Your thoughts."
"Well...I don't think the Lamp was completely lost." he started.
"Makoto, you are not implying the Grand Priestess was wrong are you?" Miz asked in shock.
"Not wrong, just mistaken. With all the search efforts by representatives of the Priesthood, I find it hard to believe not one of them was successful. Kazusa and his successor weren't the only ones who knew Rock magic."
"But Kazusa put a cloaking spell around the Lamp to keep others from finding it." Miz countered.
"People like him tend to be overconfident. Even with that spell, someone else had to have found it and I have an idea who." Makoto said opening an ancient text. Referring to a picture of a group of adventurers he said, "They called themselves Izeria's Heroes. As a group or individually they were famous for doing good deeds in those days. Not much has survived. Most of it was contained in some of the books we brought over from the library. They seem to be very powerful and skilled. Their search for the Lamp seems to be their only failure. Details on this adventure were intentionally omitted in favor of their other exploits."
"Go on." Rune prompted.
"I believe Izeria's Heroes were successful in finding the Lamp. But for some reason decided to keep it's discovery a secret. Perhaps they feared corruption in the Priesthood or that the Lamp was too dangerous to be uncovered. So for the greater good, they moved the lamp somewhere else. Someplace they were sure it would be safe."
"Hey, I remember them from a tutor. They were pretty independent. Didn't answer to nobody like mercenaries." Fatora interjected.
Everyone looked at her in surprise. She looked offended at their shock, "I know stuff too!" she said defending herself.
"So, Makoto, what makes you think they found it?" asked Shayla.
"Their quest for the Lamp ended suddenly after a search of a cave to the south. After that, they temporarily disbanded. The group's elemental mage vanished for several weeks. When he returned, they reunited and continued looking for the Lamp. But from these records, it would appear they did it half-heartedly, without the passion and drive they usually show. They were also the first to suggest the Lamp was permanently lost and all efforts should be abandoned."
"Sounds like a coverup to me." Fuji commented.
"Exactly! Back then their word was unquestioned. The Lamp was considered lost until it was virtually forgotten about. By that time Izeria's Heroes were long dead and the stuff of legends. I suspect there is a clue to the Lamp's location in their tomb."
"So where's the tomb?" Nanami asked.
"Details are sketchy and were written thousands of years ago, but they seem to point to a cave under the forests east of here."
Hiashi gasped, "That's where I landed and I think Jinnai said something about looking for something in that area."
"Then that's the spot we should check out first."
A guard ran into the throne room. Londs asked what was wrong. "Priestess Afura has attacked the Shrine of Wind. Everyone has been driven away and the whole thing is surrounded by an enormous whirlwind!"
"Miz, Shayla, can you think of any reason Kazusa would go there?"
"Maybe he's after her library, looking for a clue." Shayla said.
"We'll figure it out later. Now let's move." Fujisawa said already running towards the hanger.
Chapter 9: Shrine of Wind
Moments later their schooner was racing over plains and forests to the mountains which host the Shrine of Wind. Fujisawa stood on the bow and scanned the mountains surrounding the Shrine. While there were still too far away to see any details, he did see the whirlwind reaching up to the clouds above. "How much longer before we get there?" he called out.
"About half an hour before we reach the base of the mountain. Then another half hour for us to navigate our way up to the shrine." Londs returned.
"Shit! By the time we get there, he'll be gone." Shayla said as she stomped around the deck.
"Any way we can get some more lift out of this?" asked Hiashi.
"Perhaps I can help. I still remember Afura's wind powers." volunteered Ifurita. Her powerstaff began to glow. The schooner became wrapped in its own whirlwind. This one was not as powerful as the one around the Shrine, it wasn't meant to be. The high winds pushed on the schooner, lifting it up and accelerating it forward. Ifurita's face betrayed absolute concentration as if any disturbance would disrupt her powers and send them crashing into the ground.
"Makoto..." said Miz.
"Her powers were meant for combat, not for something like this. Unless she maintains absolute control, this wind will instantly transform into an attack." he explained.
"Well aren't you suppose to have a connection with her? Help her out!" Hiashi suggested.
Makoto nodded and entered into a trance. It was a technique he became aware of as he and Ifurita returned to El-Hazard only yesterday. He could see what she was doing and used his own will to help, subtly at first, just enough for her to notice without losing control. Then together the tornado attack became tamed. Ifurita's learning program memorized this power. Next time it would be easier.
The schooner shot forward and up so quickly, several of them stumbled and fell. Hiashi pulled himself to the bow and squinted at the shrine. They were approaching fast. He could see the road leading to the mesa and some of the area around the shrine. Then he saw something flying out of the whirlwind. "Look!" he said pointing to it.
The object was cast out without direction, like it was garbage thrown away. "It's a person!" he shouted. Shayla activated her powers and jumped off the boat. Hiashi followed her. The wind was getting worse. He could feel his descent was being effected. He remembered the few times he went sky diving at school and tried to steer toward the person. He was a natural sky diver, almost instinctively knowing how to act in free fall. Fire powers, he felt, would only interfere so he chose to wait until he caught the person to activate them. But Shayla was blown off course by a sudden gust of wind. The howling gale was too loud for Hiashi to hear her warning that he was well past the 100 foot limit.
He was approaching fast. Now he could tell the person was a woman dressed in blue. She was barely conscious. The rocks at the foot of the mountain grew bigger with each second. He reached out and managed to grab her around the waist. His mind summoned his fire wings for maximum speed but nothing happened. Looking up, he saw Shayla racing down. But he knew she would not make it in time. Not even Riho can save the three of them from being impaled on the rocks below. He was in the middle of
apologizing to Riho when he became aware of something else, another power. He felt it before when Afura was on the boat. With only seconds to spare, he put everything on one desperate gamble. He willed the wind itself to lift them up, to save them from a fatal crash. The wind responded, slowing them down and finally stopping them about twenty feet above some very sharp rocks. Then he made it take them back up into the air and to the schooner.
Shayla-Shayla, still at full speed, swooped down to meet them. She looked at the woman and said, "Hey she's Rhyna Dura. I think she was runner-up for Afura's position. Bet this is who the Grand Priestess said would meet us at the castle."
Rhyna moaned once then realizing she was save, let herself fall into unconsciousness. The two fell for an instant before Hiashi managed to activate his fire wings. As they raced back up to the boat Shayla said, "That was a pretty brave thing you did. But be more careful next time. Don't get too far away from me...I mean a Priestess."
"I will. It took me a moment before I realized she had active elemental magic. Wind feels different than Fire."
"What do you mean?"
"Well I sampled Water, Wind, and Fire so far. Each one has a different taste. I can't explain it. But I do think I should try to broaden my palliate sort to speak. Familiarize myself with all the different schools so I'll know when and what magic I can use."
Part of Shayla understood, but another wanted to say, "No, stick with fire...with me." The former won out, if only because she didn't want her feelings known. "Ahhhh good idea."
Rhyna awoke as the schooner landed at the edge of the shrine grounds. "What happened?" Fujisawa asked as the others disembarked.
"Afura...Kazusa came in like a storm, most of the clergy was able to escape without serious injury. She went straight for the focal point of power and created the whirlwind. I tried to dissipate it, but...she...the wind...", she said growing ever more nervous.
"That's all right. Kazusa has more power than you and he was at a center of your magic. There's nothing to be ashamed of." Fuji said soothingly.
"How can Afura let herself be used in that matter?" she said standing then half-stumbling down the gangplank.
"She obviously has no choice. Do you think she'd do this willingly?" Shayla-Shayla said.
"Humph! We'll see about that."
"Miss Rhyna, what is Kazusa doing? What is he using the whirlwind to hide or protect?" Makoto asked.
"She's using the central rune to search the wind for something. If it is touched by the wind, she can find out where it is."
"The Lamp of Rock."
"Do you think he'll be successful?" asked Fuji.
"Don't ask me why, but I don't think so. Izeria's Heroes had reason do doubt the Theocracy. My guess is that they tried to hide it someplace where these types of searches cannot reach."
"But he doesn't know that, so let's try to keep him in the dark. Hiashi, let's cook this phantom!" Shayla called out, practically pulling Hiashi with her.
The whirlwind was amazingly tight, closer to resembling a wall. Less than a centimeter separated this gale force from a normal strong wind. Makoto yelled to make himself heard. "Hiashi, fill the whirlwind with fire! Shayla, see if you can try to control it, get us a doorway or tunnel or something!"
Hiashi allowed the fire to build within himself, meditating on what it was, trying to understand it. Fire, not a substance, but a release of energy, heat and light suspended in an aura of glowing, volatile vapors. Hydrogen and oxygen could feed a fire, albeit in different ways. He reached out with his mind and tapped fire's potential in the whirlwind. The high speed distributed the energy too quickly, but it was still there. He and Shayla could feel the air around them grow warmer. A mental command tried to contain the heat as he summoned the fire to feed on the whirlwind. For an instant, the target flickered into a firestorm. A moment later it happened again, but longer this time. He could do it, almost there...
Whoosh! The whirlwind transformed into a funnel of fire, almost as bright as the sun. Hiashi directed it to draw oxygen in from the center, forcing it to use the fuel Kazusa was breathing. Shayla formed a tunnel, small at first, barely big enough to see through. Afura stood there, sweating, struggling to remain conscious and continue the search. The strained proved to be too much for even her young body and there was nothing the phantom possessing her could do to keep her from falling.
The flaming whirlwind vanished with a pop as fresh air filled the void it had left. Hiashi, Miz, Fuji, Ifurita, Shayla and Rhyna surrounded Kazusa, ready to strike if anything happened. He was on his hands and knees. At first everyone thought he was gasping for air, but in a few seconds it was clear he was laughing at them. "Rather cleaver of you, using my own vortex to foul my air. Who's idea was it? Makoto? Hiashi? Certainly not that fool Shayla."
"Watch who you're calling a fool, Phantom!" challenged Shayla who took a step forward.
"How do you know about us?" asked Makoto from the rear.
"It's simple. He and Afura are working together. What she know, he knows." Rhyna stated.
"Oh it's no wonder why you came in second, Rhyna. I've always thought you would have done better in the school of fire. You have such a temper. But then wind can switch from calm to violent quickly and can go around in circles. When it blows it does so with broad strokes. Much like you. Your friend Afura is mine to control, mind, body, and soul. My grip on her is so complete, she cannot even THINK about resisting me." Kazusa provoked.
"What are you waiting for. Either fight or surrender Afura's body!" said Fuji.
"So what makes you think I'll do either, alkie?" he returned summoning a quake around the search rune sending everyone off balance.
Before anyone could recover, walls of hard stone rose up and protected Kazusa. Fuji was the first to regain his footing and pounded at the walls, shattering them after the third blow. There was a circular depression. Some of the search runes were still visible, but most had been lost. "Forget it Sensei," said Hiashi, "he's long gone. I can't detect his power."
"Shit! I can't believe he got away like that!" Shayla-Shayla said stomping around.
"Where do you think he'll go next?" asked Makoto.
"That depends on if her search was successful." Rhyna said.
"It wasn't. Bastard didn't boast enough." Shayla-Shayla said.
"He can't access the other temples without our Lamps." said Miz, "Do you think he might come after us next? Oh Machimichi protect me."
She hugged her husband tightly as she was known to do under any excuse. He returned the embrace slightly and wondered if she just might be right.
"Well this trip was a waste of time. Kazusa got away, half of us are exhausted, and Hiashi was almost killed." muttered Shayla.
Rhyna humphed and said as she walked over to Hiashi and Shayla, "He risked his life to save mine. If you didn't come, I'd be dead. So I wouldn't call this a total waste."
With that she kissed Hiashi lightly on the cheek as thanks. Shayla was furious, barely able to contain her anger. Hiashi himself was too surprised to resist or notice Shayla. Shayla grabbed his hand and half-dragged him to the boat saying, "Let's just go home."
Chapter 10: Floristica Palace Grounds
Almost no one spoke during the return trip. Rhyna tried to sit between Hiashi and Shayla and start a conversation, asking him about his home and school. The questions inadvertently brought up bad memories of Father. He answered in monotone phrases as short as possible. But she keep asking for more details, acting very interested in Hiashi's life. Shayla was at first angry and jealous, of course. But as she heard Hiashi's tone and saw his expression, she became more concerned than jealous. After a while it became clear Hiashi was just answering to be polite and Rhyna was not going to take the hint and shut up. Shayla interrupted, "Rhyna, what did the Grand Priestess have to say about Kazusa before you went to the Shrine?"
"Oh," she said casually, "that he was a former priest who turned to evil long ago, stole the Lamp of Rock, and possessed Afura"
"So if you know that Afura is possessed, then why do you keep saying they are working together? Possession in this sense meant that he took control by force of will."
"You haven't been there in the School of Wind. She was obsessed with learning about control and power. Power for it's own sake. At night I'd watch her read over books. During the day she'd show off during the lessons, demonstrating just how much control over the wind she had."
"And for that you think she allowed herself to become possessed." Shayla countered.
"It's just an act. As soon as she learned all she can from him, she'll just cast him aside. She'd do anything for more power and this is the best way for her since she became the High Priestess!"
Makoto whispered to Fuji, "Sounds like she's a bit jealous."
Fuji nodded and said, "Makoto, do you know where that tomb is? Maybe we can go straight there."
"I wish I did. But I'll have to go over some more records to be sure of its exact location. If we're lucky, we'll be ready well before nightfall."
They weren't. Maps from centuries ago were very outdated. Forests, hills, streams, all natural landmarks had been changed one way for another. Structures fell. Cities died out, changed their name, or became absorbed into a larger neighbor, to make tracking names unreliable. Dr.Schtalubaugh and Fujisawa joining him when he realized just how big of a project this was. Even with their expertise, they would be working will into the night.
Hiashi was spending the evening playing with Riho, trying to relive the good times on Earth or maybe creating happy memories in El-Hazard. Regardless, Riho loved the attention. It was part of his nature to protect his master, but Hiashi wanted more than that. He wanted Riho to stay with him because Riho wanted to, not because of duty or instinct.
In the courtyard, luminated by a few lanterns and the setting sun Rhyna was pacing back and forth under Hiashi's tower window. The tower itself was originally dedicated to the Earth heroes, but had seen little use. Fuji stayed in it until he got married and moved to the official Royal Champion's quarters. Nanami was given a room, but barely used it in favor of her apartment above her restaurant. She surrendered it to Hiashi the night he arrived. More often than not, Makoto slept in the Eye of God or the Library (by accident) using his own quarters when half-dragged by Shayla or someone else for the sake of his own health. Now that Ifurita was back, he was getting reacquainted with his assigned floor. Hiashi was two floors above him (the intervening floor was for storage) and basically took over the rest of the tower. 'Took over' was a bit strong since he didn't yet have any possessions to put in the remaining three floors. Spare furniture from that and other towers took up most of the space. He had yet to look all of it over. Riho seemed to like it for the hour or so they played hide and seek. The extra space gave him comfort. The silence reminded him Father was gone from his life.
Rhyna, meanwhile, was going over what she was going to say to Hiashi. The Grand Priestess told her about Hiashi's ability and limitation. There was something about the Earther she liked. He had power and control, but wasn't obsessed with it. He had the courage to risk his life her never implied a reward. Best of all, he was someone Afura didn't have. She entertained the thought of attacking Afura/Kazusa with Hiashi at her side. She provided the power, he the skill and Kazusa would be forced from Afura's body. Once free either she'd admit her plans or bow before Rhyna admitting she was the better priestess and abdicate her position. Finally she'd get the things she deserved, the promotion, the prestige, and the boyfriend. After all he was helpless without a priestess nearby. It was like how Makoto depended on Ifurita. Without her or his friends, that Jinnai character would have killed him by now. Hiashi would see the logic of sticking with a priestess and Rhyna was the perfect match. It was so good, the gods must be smiling on her. Just then a voice from the shadows said, "So who are you stalking tonight?"
It was Shayla. She had been busy too. She spoke with the representative of the Elemental School about Rhyna. Normally a priestess's history at the school was classified. But since Shayla was the only active priestess and Rhyna would most likely be the next Wind Priestess she was able to look over Rhyna's file. She remembered her conversation with the representative. It didn't go smoothly and several times she nearly lost her temper. Then she remembered what Hiashi said about control and saw what constantly losing your temper does to others, especially the ones you're suppose to love. She took a breath and calmly explained that if Rhyna was going to be the next High Priestess, it would behoove Shayla that she know more about her.
The file had been interesting reading. Contrary to Rhyna's claims, she did not loose becoming the High Priestess due to Afura's superior skills. Afura's abilities just made it easier to explain why she lost, it became an excuse for Rhyna. Rhyna had a natural affinity to wind and had more innate ability for wind magic than Afura. In fact when it came to raw power, Rhyna was better. She just lacked the self control needed to get ahead. When she read that part, Shayla felt a twinge of sympathy for her. While her personality fit that of the School of Fire, her natural ability was with wind. It was like how someone was skilled with a sword, but pathetic with a bow.
Shayla also learned Rhyna had a bit of megalomania. When they were learning administrative skills for when they were at their own shrine or temple, Rhyna was noted for being a bit bossy. If she failed a test or made any kind of mistake, it was always someone else's fault. Even for the tiniest mix-up, she found some excuse. She only took responsibility when she felt it would make her look more mature and wiser to her instructors. Too bad she wasn't a better actress or she might have pulled it off. Shayla might have had a temper and blamed others when she really messed up, but that was only when it really happened and was done intentionally. Early in her training, she was the butt of several jokes because the others knew that she'd respond. Her instructors knew that. It might not have taken much to provoke her, but at least she admitted when she made a mistake. The last part of the file recommended putting her in a secondary position until she learns some responsibility. The Grand Priestess was hoping the current crisis would do the job. Shayla had doubts. Not that the Grand Priestess was wrong of course, but Shayla felt it would take more than Kazusa to teach Rhyna to grow up.
"I'm not stalking. I'm courting. I just happen to like Hiashi and want to see if he feels the same way." Rhyna answered as if it was none of Shayla's business.
"Hiashi's had a rough two days. He fell into El-Hazard, discovered his power, nearly got squashed by the Bugrom, was almost killed by Afura, was assimilated into the Priesthood as an Elemental Champion, and came this close to getting impaled while saving you. Don't you think he deserves a break?"
"From what I've heard, you are responsible for part of it. What he needs is a bit of socializing with his new comrades in arms. He's going to be stuck with us for a while so he might as well get used to it."
Shayla was embarrassed by the first part. What kept her anger down was the fact that she was also thinking the second part. Even without Rhyna's file, she didn't like her. Getting too close to Hiashi that quickly. How could he let her kiss him when he should have known how Shayla felt? Makoto was barely aware of her feelings, Miz practically had to drag Fuji to the altar, were all Earth men so thick skinned? "Don't get ahead of yourself. When this is over and they decide whether Afura stays or goes, they you might be able to ... court," she spit the word out, "Hiashi. Until then keep away!"
"Why? Do you have designs on him yourself? What makes you so special?"
"Listen, I'm a full-fledged High Priestess, you're just an acting one. I have seniority!"
"You're also of a different school and have no authority over me. Really, what do you think he sees in a hot-head like you? I am much more refined."
Where the hell did she get that idea? "What the hell are you talking about? At least I'm not power hungry. I know what you're up to. You just want to use him. String him along for your ends. Get him to help you usurp Afura. Then what? A seat on the Elemental Council? Grand Priestess maybe? Well you don't have what it takes."
"Shayla? Is that you? Come on up. It's a beautiful sunset tonight." Hiashi called from above.
Shayla smirked and flipped Rhyna the bird as she flew up while Rhyna could only stew in anger.
"I thought that was you yelling down there. What was happening?" Hiashi asked.
"Oh Rhyna...she still thinks Afura is going along with Kazusa willingly."
"You know her better than I do. First time I saw her she wanted to kill me. That doesn't inspire me with confidence and friendship towards her. Did Kazusa change her that much?"
"Well Afura was always a bit anal retentive about the rules. I think Kazusa used that to his advantage, misinterpreting that old law to get you out of the way. Of course God knows how much control he had over her then."
Hiashi turned his back to the window. The sun had just vanished behind the horizon. "How do you think this will turn out? What's going to happen to Afura if you're right and she was just an innocent victim?"
"<humph> If I know her, she'll be harder on herself than anyone. I just hope we won't be stuck with Rhyna." Shayla just realized what she said and hoped he wouldn't detect the jealousy in her voice.
"I don't know about her. During the ride back, I got the impression she was a bit self centered. I don't think she noticed how her perpetual questions made me feel. But still..." he blushed and touched the spot where she kissed him.
"Ahh forget about her. Let's watch the stars." Shayla coaxed Hiashi to the top of the tower and out onto the roof.
Hiashi seemed surer of himself out here in the wide open spaces watching the stars twinkle into existence. "I wonder what's out there." he whispered to himself.
"What do you mean? The stars are where the fates watch over us. Each one in turn pass over El-Hazard to view how content we are. The stars remind us that beauty is eternal as are they."
Hiashi resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. This was a different world. Stars may not be the cosmic atomic furnaces they were back home. Heck, that crystal sphere idea dreamed up in the ancient Greece might be true here. He pondered it for a moment. Probably not. In any case, why ruin the moment with science? He'll just ask Makoto tomorrow. Stretching out on the roof he asked about constellations as he began looking for any obvious ones himself. "Nope, the gods and objects our ancient constellations represented were destroyed long ago. They're just symbols, home to no El-Hazardian, god or mortal." she answered.
Then she noticed something in the shadows. The shape darted into the light to a better position closer to the tower. It was Rhyna and she was watching them. Shayla knew that if she wanted to eliminate Rhyna as a rival, she had to show her something convincing. Hiashi was still watching the stars half-asleep, unaware of Rhyna. Shayla looked at him. He lay there prone, blind to the world, eyelids closing as he was lost in thought, mouth barely open. Shayla had an idea. It made her nervous as hell. Summoning her courage she leaned over and half-fell on Hiashi kissing him on the lips.
Hiashi was taken totally by surprised. He tried to get up, but couldn't. Looking through the corner of her eye, Shayla saw Rhyna turn away and leave. Suddenly she got up. Both their faces were red. Shayla spoke first, "What do you think you were ... I mean how could you ... I mean ahh forget it."
"What are you talking about? You kissed me."
"Well I had to. Rhyna--"
"What does she have to do with this?"
"She has designs on you, Dummy. She was going to use you for her own ends. I wanted...I wanted to keep her away from you." Shayla said, at first she was indignant, feeling totally justified, but as she finished she realized she was about to express how she really felt. And she wasn't ready for that.
Hiashi hesitated before answering, "So you were trying to protect me. You're pretending you like me to foil Rhyna's plans. Ever thought about how I might feel? I liked you. I was starting to hope it might be more..."
Now it was Shayla turn to pause. She stared blankly at him, "B-but I do... I mean...I just want...Rhyna doesn't care about you."
"And you do?"
"Well ..." Shayla trailed off. She wanted to tell him, she really did. But nothing was coming out right.
"Just go." Hiashi said turning his back to her.
She began to reach out for him, but changed her mind. Instead she turned away and flew off to her own quarters. Hiashi sighed as he felt her power move away, waiting until she was past his limit to detect before going back inside. Riho was waiting for him. He saw everything and his eyes were filled with sympathy. "Shayla no pretend." he said following Hiashi down the steps.
"I hope so, Riho. I hope so."
Section 3: (Parts 11-15)