Chapter 11: Royal Palace

Shayla retreated to the basement kitchen, the one used for cold and chilled foods. She sat at an empty table nursing her third jug of wine. One sarcastic comment kept running through her mind, "That could have gone better."

The servants long ago learned to stay out of her way when she was in this sort of mood. She hadn't had this much to drink in months. Swirling the blue liquid in a goblet she then remembered Fujisawa talking about his encounter with Hiashi's father. She wasn't sure why. She reviewed it several times we as clear head as possible. Maybe there was a clue to help her patch things up. She tried again and again, throwing in her times with Hiashi for good measure. Silently someone else came down the steps. "Hope I am not disturbing your drinking." Nanami commented.

She was not exactly the first person Shayla wanted to see right then. "Don't you have better things to do than watch me feel sorry for myself?"

"Actually, the royal family requested a special dish for tomorrow and I needed some of the palace's spices."

"You could have sent a runner here you know."

"Perhaps, but a professional is always willing to do stuff like this herself for important clients." she looked at the empty jugs, "This is about Hiashi isn't it?"

"How did you know? He told you didn't he?"

"Doesn't take a genius to figure out something happened between you two. I saw how you looked at him yesterday at dinner." Nanami sat backwards in a chair, "Care to talk about it?" she prompted.

"That depends. Do you have your eyes on him too? I have enough problems with Rhyna without you trying to romance former schoolmates." Shayla asked suspiciously.

"Wouldn't dream of it." Nanami said raising a hand, "Sure he would occasionally help out with my business for pocket money, but that was it. Personally I thought he was a bit gloomy, like he had a chip on his shoulder the size of Mt.Fuji-san. Never imagined it really was that big."

"He's not gloomy!" Shayla-Shayla shouted, then continued a bit quieter, "He just didn't have much reason to be happy."

"All right. All right. What if I said he was a private person? Better?"

"Yes. And you're not going to gossip about this like you did when Miz confided in us how she got Fujisawa to propose. You almost ruined the wedding!"

Nanami turned bright red at the memory. So she mentioned to her second cook that Miz spiked Fuji's drink with the El-Hazard equivalent of schnapps. And giggled about how Fuji thought he was sober when he proposed. How was she to know there were eavesdroppers? At least Fuji wasn't too upset and calmed down after a few days. But he still married her after all. So Miz just hurried up the inevitable right? Nanami laughed nervously, "Of course not. Not a soul. Cross my heart and hope to die."

"Good, because if you do. I'll make sure you keep your promise." Shayla took a big gulp of wine and took a big breath before continuing, "First of all I didn't plan on it. I didn't get over Makoto to turn right back around and fall for someone else. But there he was, full of spirit and determination bursting forth like a whirlwind escaping its holding bottle. But he had self-control also, more than enough to tame and direct his energy. He saved my life twice you know. They were so close together, it was almost like one. When he used his own body to protect me, it happened."

Shayla smiled at the memory, absently circling her finger around the rim of the glass. "What happened?" Nanami asked, leaning forward so she won't miss a word.

"You know. The 'L' word. Don't make me say it." Shayla blushed "Then that stupid Rhyna came into the picture. She's almost as power hungry as your brother. In fact the only difference is the fact Rhyna wants personal power, not to total control over a large army. You saw how she treated Hiashi on the way back right? Trying to wear him down, acting concerned, just reeling in the poor guy like a fish. I had to show him how I feel, and in front of Rhyna too so she'd leave us alone."

"So what did you do?" Nanami asked as she poured more wine. She thought this was the weak stuff. Weak for Shayla anyway. It wouldn't be long before she came to her senses and clam up right before the good part.

"Just now we were watching the stars. I caught Rhyna spying on us so to show her, I kissed him. Caught him completely off guard. But I had to go and get all embarrassed and open my big mouth. Now he thinks I was just pretending to like him to drive Rhyna away. Oh I'm so stupid! Why can't I just come out and say it?"

Nanami looked at Shayla confused. The two were never close friends. They were barely civil to each other. But now she could see that Shayla was really hurting. Slowly she put her hand on the fire priestess's shoulder and said, "Because neither of you were ready. His world was turned upside down. Just like Makoto's was. Give him time to adjust. If your feelings for him are true, he'll come around. But in the meantime, you have to make sure he still likes you as a friend. You can't love someone who's not your friend first. Now I'll take care of damage control. That shouldn't be a problem."

Shayla smiled a tired smile and muttered her thanks before collapsing on the table. Nanami briefly wondered if Shayla couldn't take her alcohol as well as she used to. But then she found she misread the label. It was part of Fuji's secret supply. Well, it wasn't as if he was going to miss it any time soon. Nanami gathered her spices then hauled Shayla-Shayla to her room to sleep it off.

Few people welcomed the morning sun that day. Makoto, Dr.Schtalubaugh, and Fujisawa spent most of the night continuing to track the location of the tomb. Fujisawa was glad to finally have a task which required his historical reasoning skills instead of brute force. He attacked the problem with his usual gusto and made astounding progress until they reached the Great Holy War. After that, maps were lost and the terrain itself radically altered from the last use of the Eye of God. As time made the transition to late at night to early in the morning, everyone began to concede a temporary defeat. Even Makoto, who was used to long hours, began to make obvious mistakes. The doctor suggested they take a break before their mistakes caused even more work for them and they returned home when only insomniacs and exhausted guards were the only ones around.

For them, dawn came much too soon, and for others as well. Shayla was seriously hung over and refused to see anyone until she was modestly sober and was able to summon the courage to face Hiashi again. Hiashi himself did not sleep well. His words from the previous night haunted him. When Shayla got flustered after she kissed him, he got defensive out of reflex. It was an old habit he picked up to keep people from discovering his shame. Back home he kept his friends from school at arm's length. This was a new situation. Being alone was no longer an option. Sure, he could try but when Jinnai or Kazusa found out where he is, he would be dead.

Now his life depended on others. Alone he was useless. His special ability saw to that. Well, there were worse people he could be stuck with. Just then Nanami came to the door complete with breakfast for them. Riho didn't care for the chopped vegetable and bread scraps and graphically showed his displeasure by knocking the side of the bowl hard enough to shower Nanami with the contents. Then to add insult to injury, Riho began licking himself. Hiashi thought it was hilarious so Nanami couldn't say anything about it. Than she picked bits of foodstuff out of her hair she sputtering, "So how was last night with you and Shayla? She said she kissed ya." finishing with a wink.

Hiashi turned are bright red and nearly choked on his breakfast. "She told to that?" he exclaimed.

"Well she was a bit drunk at the time. But yes, I wormed the high points out of her. Can't say I blame her though. Starry sky, no one around, only a perceived rival watching, she is attracted to you ya know. I haven't seen her acted this way since Makoto."

"Shayla and Makoto?" Hiashi said surprised.

"Well I think it started when took a power blast for her. It was right after Ifurita was awakened, while she was under Jinnai's control. Fortunately he had Ura to protect him, but it was close. But by then he had already fallen for Ifurita and determined to free her. Besides, it was destiny and you can't fight that."

"What do you mean?"

"Why the four of us was sent here in the first place. Some kind of time travel loop or something. Makoto can explain it better, besides you both like that sort of thing."

Makoto was part of the science fiction club at Shinonome, but wasn't very active due to track practice or private research. Also the club was more into watching movies and anime than the books Makoto preferred. The two had a long-running debate over time travel. Makoto thought history was unalterable, that any changes you try to make wouldn't work. He said you wouldn't even be able to be seen or heard, even if you could travel into the past. Hiashi took the opposite position, that the action of going back in time created a parallel universe no longer connected to your own timeline. You could kill Hitler or convince your grandfather to go into the priesthood at an early age and never worry about a paradox. "Too bad both of us being in El-Hazard can't settle our debate." Hiashi thought, sipping his tea.

"I think I was a bit hard on her. But why did she mention Rhyna?"

"It was a convenient excuse. She's not good at showing her feelings. If there's a way for her to pass it of as something else, she'll do that instead of being honest. It's not really deception, more like a white lie to convince herself. Like how she volunteered to watch over Makoto as he researched the Eye of God. She wanted to see if they could ever be together or at least if he'd notice her. It didn't work, of course, but at least she did her job despite her feelings. Except this time her excuse is a bit more legit. Rhyna stopped in at the restaurant. She wasn't very polite and a lousy tipper. At least Fatora has her sister to keep her in line in public. Shayla had a right to be concerned. But she should have let you make her own choice."

"So what do I do now?"

"Now you're going to feed your cat the scraps I brought him. Then you're going to help me move a few things I left here back to my apartment. Then you make up with Shayla. And you're going to do all that before you think about tackling Kazusa."

"Well we can forget the first one. You can't make a cat eat something they don't like, right Riho?" he said.

"Yuk!" Riho responded. He then saw a bird in the tree outside the window and began stalking it. It was instinct, Riho was raised by humans and only had the need to chase prey. Rune mentioned male armor cats were known to do that when they weren't on duty. Hiashi left his chair slowly as to not make any noise. Nanami, however was still annoyed about Riho rejecting her food. As she stood from her chair, she clapped her hands scaring the bird away. Riho looked at Nanami and said, "You mean."

"You weren't going to catch it anyway, so why try?" she countered, not believing she was arguing with a cat.

"Forget about it. When we're done we'll see about getting you some fresh meat from the kitchen."

A short time later, Nanami was leading them to her restaurant. She only carried the boxes she brought to the tower. Hiashi, on the other hand, was panting from the weight of several heavy boxes. Nanami forgot he wasn't very strong despite his height and he didn't want to appear he was making excuses. "Just what do you have in here? I thought you barely used the place!" he gasped.

"Oh, just some old clothes. Winter is coming so I thought I'd store my summer wardrobe back there."

Even Riho was put to work. He was serving as a back brace for his master, allowing him to carry everything in one trip. His paws tried to help with the load, but was of questionable help. As they crossed the main courtyard separating the palace grounds from the city, Hiashi paused as if he heard something, but wasn't sure. He concentrated on the sensation, to make sure he was feeling what he was suppose to be feeling. Sure of what he felt, he tossed the packages aside and yelled, "Nanami, get everyone. We've got company!"

"What? Oooo" Nanami said just before the ground began shaking beneath them. "Oh yeah, I see what you mean."

Hiashi backed up as the ground began to give way. A sink hole quickly formed at his feet. He jumped back in time to keep it from swallowing him. A now familiar voice came up from the new hole, "I guess it was too much to ask that you stay put so you'll fall in is it?"

"Kazusa. Let me guess, this is a social call."

Afura/Kazusa rose out of the hole. "Actually, yes. I've decided to quit wasting my time and resources finding what is mine in favor of having you do it?"

"What makes you think we'll help you?" Hiashi said. He tried to stall the ghost until the others could arrive. So far, he had yet to sense Shayla, Rhyna, or Miz.

"Do you know what this is?" Kazusa asked holding a staff.

"That belongs to the Grand Priestess." Hiashi replied in shock. "How do we know she's still alive?"

"Clever aren't you. None of that 'what have you done with her' crap. That cliche is so worn out. Straight and to the point, I like that. Take a good look at the staff, Earther. Your friends will be able to tell I haven't killed her. When you find my Lamp of Rock, strike it against what's left of the Temple of Wind's central rune."

"So that's why you want me dead."

Kazusa smiled slightly, "That's right. I am the only one I'll allow to use my Lamp. Maybe if you ask really nicely I'll simply banish you to a deserted island where you can never use my powers. Maybe. But I know you'll help. You're too much of a hero to let someone else die like that."

"How long do you plan on giving us?"

"Oh I don't know. The Grand Priestess is locked away without food or water. You have as long as she lasts." Kazusa glanced to the sky and continued, "I'm not one to overstay my welcome. Do hurry, I'd hate to see someone like her die so horribly."

He laughed and sank back down, covering the hole just as Shayla and Rhyna arrived. "He's got the Grand Priestess. She's going to die from thirst unless we get Kazusa the Lamp." Hiashi said simply.

"Shit! And you did nothing to stop him?" Shayla demanded.

"What do you expect? He's the only one who knows where she is. If I did anything he would have killed her or worse." Hiashi defended.

"Shayla, he's right. Leave him alone." Rhyna said.

Shayla stepped back in surprise and chose her words carefully, "Well OK, I guess you're right. Let's get Makoto and get what that bastard wants."

Later Shayla, Hiashi, Ifurita, Miz, and Rhyna were pacing back and forth at the library entrance as the others worked quickly to find the tomb of Izeria's Heroes. Shayla was losing her patience fast. "Errr how long are we just going to stand here and wait? When do we get to do something?!"

"As soon as we know where to go of course." Hiashi said with some annoyance. He was leaning against a wall. The wait was taking its toll on all of them. It showed in the tone of his voice. Unfortunately Shayla mistook it for annoyance at her.

"Oh is that it? Call me stupid to my face." she said with a mix of anger and hurt. Then she moved in front of him, faces inches from each other. She looked at him hard and he returned her look with confusion.

"Where did that come from? All I meant was that when we know where to go, we'll go." he said first with confusion, then with defense.

Both began to slide into their respective habits of emotion suppression methods. Then just as simultaneously they realized what they were doing and tried to recover. They took a breath and paused. "I'm sorry. It's just that the wait's getting to me. I hate feeling so useless." Shayla said forcing her features to adopt a more understanding look.

"Humph, from what I've heard, you should be used to feeling like that. Well don't take your anger out on poor Hiashi." Rhyna commented coming to his unnecessary aid.

"Hey watch it!" Shayla started.

Rhyna grabbed Hiashi's arm and began pulling him away, "Come on. Let's find something else to do while we wait. I could teach you some wind magic."

Shayla took his other arm and held fast, "Oh no, we should all stay here in case Makoto finishes. The Grand Priestess's life depends on our swift action."

"We're not doing anyone any good just waiting around here. The more skilled Hiashi is, the better chance we have dealing with Kazusa. Besides, the Grand Priestess has had decades of training and discipline. She can survive longer than a normal person. She won't die because we were delayed a few minutes."

"Maybe I should just help Makoto and the others in the map room...." Hiashi suggested.

"Just take five. You don't know enough about El-Hazard or the library to be of any help anyway." Shayla explained accidently venting some of her frustration of Rhyna at Hiashi.

"Don't call him stupid! It's just that they don't need any more help. If they did, one of Dr.Schtalubaugh's assistants would do it." Rhyna snapped back.

"He knew what I meant. Quit twisting my words around." Shayla said, nearly yelled.

"Considering who we are up against, perhaps it would be best for Hiashi to broaden his abilities. I, more than anyone, can testify to the advantage of having a well varied arsenal." Ifurita said simply.

Shayla was stunned. She already stole Makoto from her, was she also trying to force Hiashi away too? Her grip went limp and Rhyna was successful in pulling Hiashi from her. "Thank you Demo...I mean Ifurita."

Hiashi was reluctant to go, but didn't seem to have much choice in the matter. He looked briefly at Shayla for a moment as if he wanted to stay, but wasn't sure why, before the door closed with a loud slam. Shayla looked at Ifurita, eyes coming close to tears, "How could you?! Again?!" she screamed running down a different corridor letting her tears flow freely.

"What did she mean? I only stated the obvious?" Ifurita said confused to Miz.

Miz shook her head sadly and said, "Ifurita, you have a lot to learn about love. Let's just hope your destroying days are over."

Ifurita was about to ask what she meant, but thought the better of it.

Chapter 12: Royal Palace

Shayla was running blindly, trying to find some place where she could be alone. She found a small corner in some forgotten room to sit in and began cursing Rhyna, Hiashi, and herself over what happened. Rhyna for taking him, Hiashi for going, and herself for not trying harder to keep him. Shayla wished she hadn't lost her bearings, otherwise she'd head straight for the wine cellar and drown her sorrows in alcohol. The thought was entertained for a moment then dismissed as Fujisawa's brief encounter with Hiashi's father was recalled. The realization hit her, nothing can be solved by just getting drunk. She had to find some way to fix her problems for the better. But she didn't know how. She burning her face in her hands, drew her knees against her chest and began sobbing in confusion. At least she was confronting the problem. It was a start.

Outside Rhyna's lesson reminded Hiashi of one of his school classes where the subject was insultingly simple, but the sensei found it fascinating enough to go into depth about each and every aspect. When it came right down to it, wind was basically movement. Pressure and currents were key aspects, true, but it was still just moving air. Rhyna's attempts to impress him seemed nothing more than parlor tricks. Each power just a variation on a theme. Though he had to admit, using the wind to carry a verbal message was a neat trick, but to someone who grew up with radio, television, and e-mail it was still just a trick.

His mind wandered to other uses. Even without watching the real Afura in battle, he had conceived the concept of her Badger's Slash and was contemplating its reverse, the wind forcing itself into a small area confined by a rigid container. The container would expand and then explode from the pressure like a balloon left on the helium tank too long. Of course he also realized it was another use for the wind's main theme of psychokinesis, save here the force radiated from a central point and expanded outwards. Then he wondered whether water would work better. It resisted being compacted far better than air. By the same token fire would be better too? The thought of a fireball exploding inside a target sounded cool. Hiashi wondered if Shayla ever tried it. Rhyna was shouting for him to pay attention again. What now? Oh joy, the wind can also exploit the natural fissures in a rock to cause it to shatter. Either Rhyna was completely in awe about all the obvious things wind can do, or she thought he was stupid enough to need teaching in every area. Neither thought was very comforting.

Suddenly the question popped in his mind. Where did it come from? It was clear to him that the wind came from the Lamp which moved the air molecules, but did it actually create the air? Probably not, but what about water? When Miz used her powers, was water created or brought in from another source? The former violated everything he was taught about science, but the latter raised the issue about where it came from. Perhaps in addition to controlling its element, it also opened a portal to a place where its element was common to provide the basic materials for the wielder's powers. Maybe it wasn't a place in El-Hazard. Instead it could be another plane like the fabled elemental planes of Earth. Was his power the ability to duplicate the Lamp's ability to move and manipulate these meta-elemental forces? Not exactly. If it were, why the range limitation? Then it dawned on him.

Afura was right, he did steal their powers. Instead of controlling the elements, he had the ability to use whatever mechanism the Lamps used to summon the elements and redirect it to his will. He remembered all the times he used his power. Never to manipulate existing elements, only things doable by summoning fresh ones and controlling them. If that were the case, the Lamps must be more powerful than he suspected, if the had enough juice to power multiple portals then maybe his arrival was a matter of destiny like Makoto.

Probably not. Hiashi's ego wasn't so big as to think these ancient powers were designed with someone from the far future taken into account. He toyed with the wind, making a ball of swirling wind as he tried to analyze how it felt and further contemplated. Yes, he could sense the wind coming from an invisible portal. He could trace two silvery cords from his hands to Rhyna's Lamp. One must have been for his flight, the other for the wind ball. "Hey Hiashi, keep watching. A well trained priestess can do up to six powers at once. Watch!" Rhyna shouted in pleasure of showing off, counting the individual aspects, "One, flight. Two, shield. Three whirlwind. Four, psychokinesis, Five, detect wind currents. Six...six...Dammit, I said SIX!!"

Hiashi briefly wondered why Rhyna had problems. She wasn't one to boast about something she couldn't do easily. Working on his theory that he stole some of the available power from a Lamp, its ability to make multiple portals, he dispelled his own mini-tornado he created. Rhyna was still trying, focusing on Hiashi, watching for even a hint of laughter or disapproval. He must have been making her nervous. She had to do it. She had to show him how powerful she was, but the energy for the last power wasn't there. When Hiashi's expression changed when he realized his power might be blocking her's, she took it to mean the very thing she hated, that he felt she failed as he expected. Well too bad. She'll do it just go prove him wrong. No one does that to her! "SIX, POWER BLAST!!" Rhyna cried out in frustration and determination.

The sixth power manifested itself suddenly, the instant Hiashi dropped the ball. Since it was Hiashi who she was focusing on, it was Hiashi who was the target. The blue-white bolt shot from her body straight into Hiashi's chest. The first time he was struck with raw elemental power it was when he was injured and needed the energy for healing. This time it was like overcharging a battery. Power crackled around him as he unleashed an almost inhuman scream as he fell from the sky. They were already some fifty in the air above an empty courtyard. Maybe Rhyna was feeling too satisfied that she was finally able to do it. Or maybe her anger at the though of Hiashi laughing at her difficulties clouded her vision. But in any case she didn't notice what happened until it was too late. Hiashi was thrown into a wall then crumpled down into the shrubbery below. The thunder of his impact caught Rhyna's attention, and that of Londs who was watching the whole thing. "Dear gods, what have you done woman?!" he shouted as he raced to Hiashi.

"Me? It wasn't my fault. Wasn't my fault." she whimpered, trying to deny what happened. Failing that she began to convince herself that it really wasn't her fault, that something about his powers that caused this.

Hiashi's breathing was shallow and labored. He was lucky, if you could call it that, that he landed face up and spread eagle, minimizing the dangers of moving him. Londs did a quick check then gave a hard look at Rhyna, "Well don't just float there, get help! This boy is dying thanks to your carelessness!"

Meanwhile still in that forgotten corner Shayla was trying to pull herself together. She still couldn't say, even to herself, how she felt about Hiashi no matter how clear it was to her. Couldn't he see how she felt? Didn't he feel the same way? She had to ask him these questions, but only after she could come to terms with her feelings. She noticed something nudging her let. Lifting her tear-streaked face, she saw Riho trying to comfort her. "Hey there boy, come to see me?" she whispered reaching out to scratch his head.

Riho accepted the gesture and asked for more. "Where's your master?" she asked. She had to do it. To tell him everything. She couldn't torture herself with this uncharacteristic doubt anymore.

"With wind lady." he said and her spirits sank, "He bored. Want to leave. Riho no like her either." Shayla's spirits rose again.

"Well then, we'll just have to get him." she said standing. She found a pool of water used as a reservoir for the outside fountains and wiped her face free of tears. As she was headed up the stairs to the outside she heard the impact. Part of her knew what it was and she ran as fast as she could outside. By the time she reached him, the healers were already there, preparing him to be moved to a stretcher. "How is he? What happened?" she asked Londs.

"He's been badly injured. The healers should be able to tell us more soon. Rhyna was showing off and struck him with an energy attack by accident when her latest stunt backfired. I thought his power would absorb it..." Londs trailed off as the healers moved him to a more comfortable place.

Shayla went with them, watching Hiashi's chest as it slowly moved up and down in time to his ragged breaths. She suspected the answer to Londs' question. His absorption power must only work when he's hurt. She wanted to use her own power to help him now, but worried that his absorption, already overwhelmed, would not be able to handle it. She tried to comfort him, holding his hand, telling him it would be all right. Hoarsely and with great effort and pain he whispered her name. "That's it. Come on Hiashi, you're going to make it." Shayla said, hoping her words were true.

Makoto announced they were finished when they got the news. Rhyna was nowhere to be found. She left after Londs told her to get help. Miz was furious. Rhyna was a disgrace to the Sisterhood. Whatever test the Grand Priestess meant for this to be, Rhyna failed miserably. Now someone else might die because of that. The prognoses was not good. Hiashi had quite a few broken bones, many more were fractured. His whole body showed signs of burns and electrical shock from the overloading of his absorption ability. Plus he had massive internal bleeding. "The critical point is coming soon. We have done all we can considering his allergy. I'm glad he had warned after the first time we treated him. But I doubt if it will do much good. If he can survive the next few minutes, then I'd say he's got, at most, a very slim chance." the lead healer told everyone outside his room.

Shayla couldn't take anymore. She forced her way into the room screaming. "Nooooo! Don't die." she threw herself on his chest, tears flowed freely again. She didn't care if everyone saw her, she had to say it, "Please don't die. Hiashi, I ... I love you." she finished in a whisper.

Her Lamp began to glow softly with energy. Miz saw it and realized what was happening. She closed the door so Shayla could say what she had to say in private. Shayla didn't notice as she continued, "I'm sorry I couldn't say it before. Maybe if I did, none of this would have happened. I wanted to tell you last night, but everything got screwed up. Thank God Riho helped convince me to go to the courtyard in time for me to tell you. Heh, it seems so easy now. I love you."

The glow became brighter and a faint hum grew audible. Shayla-Shayla became aware of it and looked. Her red-blue elemental powers flowed from her Lamp into Hiashi's body like water. She could feel his ribs knit and adjust themselves into their proper place. His breathing became easier. The ugly red scorch marks and bruises on his skin faded away. Slowly his hand came up and stroked her scarlet tresses. His lips turned into a smile as his strength steadily returned. " mean it?" he said weakly.

She took his hand in hers and moved up to whisper in his ear as she hugged him, "Of course I mean it, Dummy. I love you. Forever."

He managed to return the embrace, literally drawing strength from it. "I love you too, Shayla." he said the second word as if it was for the first time in his life.

The glow around Shayla's Lamp grew brighter as energy flowed freely from the Lamp, restoring Hiashi's health as his power returned the damaging energy from Rhyna's blast and even remnants of Afura's attempt at execution. Shayla and Hiashi weren't paying attention though. All they cared about was that they finally recognized what they had between each other.

"Well looks like all he needed was some TLC." Fuji, who also recognized the glow, commented.

"I don't get it, why would Shayla's Lamp work when Rhyna's overloaded that ability?" Makoto asked.

"Makoto ...," Miz said, "just accept it."

Fuji fidgeted for a moment. He was still thinking in terms of a sensei, nervous about one of his male students alone with a woman. Cautiously he knocked then slowly opened the door. He knew he was courting death. Shayla probably wouldn't like this interruption and if his wife was right, Hiashi would be back to normal. Fortunately they were ending their embrace knowing it wasn't the time or place for anything more. To break the silence, Fuji asked how he was doing. "Better than ever. I've figured out a few things about my powers." he answered.

Everyone else came in as Hiashi explained his theory about using the Lamp's powers to create up to seven portals to their elemental plane. "Wait, if it's seven, they why did Rhyna stop on six and not five?" Londs asked.

"Because number five used the other aspect of the Lamp, elemental manipulation, which I have no control over. She would have had problems with her fifth summoning regardless of what it was or in what order she did it." he explained.

"So if you can monopolize Kazusa's summoning power, he'll be weaker." Fuji suggested.

"Sorry, Sensei," Makoto said, "He seems to prefer to manipulate existing rock than summon more. He might not even notice."

"Which reminds me, if the Lamps can create portals to draw out their element; can the also create a reverse portal to draw it back in?"

The two remaining priestesses looked at each other in surprise. "I don't know. No one has ever tried. Who knows what the effects will be. Makoto does have a point. I did some of my own research last night with the books we brought back." Miz said, "Back in Kazusa's time, the Elemental church was not all that powerful. All the established techniques involved, as Makoto and Hiashi put it, elemental manipulation and not summoning. It wasn't until centuries after the Lamp of Rock was lost, with the construction of the Eye was the Priestesshood as it is today."

"I take it there's a connection." Hiashi said.

Miz nodded, "One passage states '... and the Fire Lamp was given the power of seven suns, the Wind of seven gales, and Water, seven tsunamis. Then the Elemental Staff,' the staff of the Grand Priestess, 'received the same blessing from the Eye of God. From then on, the keepers of the three Lamps shall be the only ones capable of opening the Eye.' The passage then goes on about the Shadow Nation as we already know. Interestingly enough, this passage was written shortly before the edict against outsiders using the Lamps was issued."

"So he's right. The Eye and our Lamps do open portals to other dimensions." Shayla said.

"Except for the Lamp of Rock. I have no power over that." Hiashi said sadly.

"So he's after you for nothing?" Makoto said in shock.

"But what about those times when you detected Kazusa?" Nanami asked.

"I just detected the Wind Lamp underground. Nothing more. So what do we do now?"

"You aren't doing anything. Do you think you can just court death again and again?" Fujisawa said.

"Well isn't that your job?" Hiashi returned.

"You're right, it is my job. Not yours."

"With Rhyna thankfully gone, you're shorthanded. I'm going."

"The only way I'm going is if he goes. I'm not letting him out of my sights again." Shayla stated, the second sentence was more of a whisper.

"Machimichi, they're right. We'll need his powers." Miz said.

"Well ya said you found the tomb. Where is it?" Nanami asked.

"Wait one second child. You're staying here. The tomb is nearby. You have no business going." Fujisawa said, determined not to loose this argument.

Nanami accepted his decision and left the room, head hung low. Riho nervously walked inside and jumped next to Hiashi. "Riho bad. Did not protect you again." he said ashamed.

Hiashi scratched his head, "No you're not bad. Shayla told me how you helped her go to the courtyard in time. You protected what's more important than my life, my heart."

Riho looked happy again and wrapped around Hiashi as he got up. Shayla was the last to leave. She looked out the window to the sky and asked silently, "Rhyna, where the hell are you now you bitch? I'm going to pay you back for what you did to him."

Chapter 13: Tomb of Izeria

Before they could leave, Fujisawa and Londs reviewed the reports of Bugrom sightings in that area. They suspected Jinnai was also after the lamp. Londs had already sent scouts into the area. So far all have returned with no news. Meanwhile Hiashi and Shayla were trying to sort out something between them. "... All you need is three: flight, shield, and attack. There's no need for you to take the majority when you can borrow Miz's powers too." Shayla argued.

"Oh and how often will she be with us? I don't want to presume too much, but if we're in this for the long haul, we're going to have to sort this out. I'm restricted to your Lamp's seven summonings. You can use those plus its other abilities. Look, it's your Lamp. You earned the right to use it. If you're dead set on allowing me three, I'll accept that. All I ask is a fourth for those times I get creative or in case of emergencies." Hiashi countered.

Shayla was impressed with how they acted. Their first real argument and neither of them showed one iota of anger. "Maybe it really was meant to be." Shayla thought. They already agreed if the other knows how many summonings were available, they could take what they need. The only question now was how many one could use without the consent or knowledge of the other. Thus how many powers they can they assume to be able to channel. Initially, Shayla saw nothing wrong with the bare necessities. But Hiashi's reasons reminded her of how quickly he has adapted to his new powers. He's used them in ways she's never considered. He was right, a fourth portal would give him the raw materials for almost anything specular he could dream up. Shayla didn't like losing any less than she liked admitting she was wrong. Sharing her powers would take some getting use to, but considering how much more she might wind up sharing (especially if Fujisawa and Miz were any indication), it seemed like a good start. "Oh all right, four. But don't even think about taking anymore without my permission." she said, trying to make sure she had the last word.

"Oooo Sister Shayla, there you are." came Alliele's voice from the darkness. She leaped out to give Shayla a big hug. Hiashi looked at the situation with amusement. Fujisawa told him what he knew about her after he got Riho. Later when talking with Makoto and Nanami, to catch up on events, he learned a bit more about her and Fatora. At first he suspected something, but as he listened to his friends he reconsidered. Nanami really didn't care for Alliele's ... affectionate ways towards other women. Knowing Shayla felt the same way kept him from feeling any jealously now. Besides, Alliele knew the others weren't "that way" so he thought that someone just needed to grow up a bit.

But Fatora, he didn't like her at all. She was arrogant, rude, bossy, and used to having her way. Hiashi felt that how a person treats animals is a good indication of how they treated people. Considering how she treated Riho, well right now he really hoped this was an exception. Shayla tried pushing Alliele away, but the young girl's protests sounded a bit more desperate than before. Some of Alliele's comments made Hiashi blush. Shayla had enough and told Hiashi to help her. He took her by the shoulder and gently pulled. Alliele winced and tried to squirm away. As a reflex, Hiashi tightened his grip getting a fist full of her dress. Alliele struggled harder causing the dress to tear. She gasped and let go trying to cover up her shoulder and back which was now exposed. It was only visible for a second, but more than long enough for Hiashi to see what it hid. Bruises, black and ugly along with a multitude of small cuts and red skin which looked like it was either ground into by a stiff brush or hit with the other side, and probably both. Shayla didn't see, "Little imp. How many times do I have to tell you I'm not interested?"

Alliele started crying. Shayla, thinking it was her fault, felt a little guilty. "I'm not trying to be mean. It's just that ... oh well I meant was that ..."

"Shayla, maybe you'd better see how preparations are going." Hiashi said in an even tone. Shayla reluctantly left.

"You saw didn't you?" Alliele said sadly.

"Yes. Fatora?"

"It was my fault. I try to do what she wants. But I can't seem to make her happy. Maybe I deserved it." she said sitting in the shadows.

"Never say that. No one deserves to be treated like that. I know it hurts more than anything now, but if you let it go on, it will only get worse."

"No! She'll get better. I know it! She only does this when she's really mad. It's only for a while." Alliele said more to convince herself than anyone.

Hiashi took her hand gently. "No it won't. Believe me."

Alliele pulled away, slightly indignant, "How would you know?"

Hiashi took a deep breath. He was hard for him to do this, but he couldn't stand by and let another suffer like he did. "My father beat me for years, as long as I can remember. He did it for any reason he could think of, I wasn't showing the proper respect, I couldn't work as hard as he wanted, I was smarter than him, I wasn't as strong or as tough as he felt I should be, he thought I was talking about him behind his back. He wanted someone he could bully. I kept hoping it would 'get better' too. Wishful thinking, that's all it was. The day before I came to El-Hazard he murdered my mother because we were going to do what he should have done long ago and leave him. If I didn't catch that portal, he probably would have killed me too."

"So Fatora's going to kill me too if I leave?" Alliele said terrified moving next to Hiashi.

He tried to comfort her, "I can't lie to you, Alliele. She might try. The only way you can help yourself is to have the courage to tell others. You've done that. You're not alone, Alliele. I'll do what I can to protect you, and I'm sure the others will help."

"Hiashi, I'll do anything you want. Just don't let her hurt me again." she said in desperation and obvious meaning.

Hiashi knew just how far her fear of Fatora had driven her by how much she was willing to do for comfort or the hope of protection. There had been times he felt as desperate as her. If someone knew his secret, he might have said those same words. But unlike her, he gave up on his tormentor long ago. By falling into another world, he felt free of him forever. But poor Alliele, she still loved Fatora. Where could she go which would be out of a Princess's reach?

He pitied her and felt his rage building against Fatora until it rivaled his anger towards Rhyna. He could deal with someone who nearly killed him due to carelessness, but this ... this! He looked straight into her eyes and said, "You don't have to do anything for me. I know what you're going through and I'll help you."

"Thank you!" she cried into his chest.

He let her continue for a moment, giving her the time to realize that it's over, that someone is helping her. "We have to tell Rune. She's the only one who can do anything permanently." he said gently.

"No, I'm not ready. I can't face her just yet. What if she doesn't believe me?"

"It has to be soon. In a few days those bruises will vanish. The only way to convince her is to show her the injuries." he heard Shayla call him, they were ready to go, "Come with us. Fujisawa Sensei can help you like he tried to help me. We'll just tell him and no one else until you're ready. Deal? Just lay off Shayla, OK?"

Alliele seemed happy. She knew she could trust Fujisawa, that he would have helped her long ago if she hadn't avoided him. The future seemed brighter now. She found a friend who knew what she was going through and would help, a friend which helped her see that she had other friends who'd help just as much. "Thank you." she said again.

Fujisawa reacted the way they expected. He was furious Fatora would do that, and mad at himself for not noticing. He had hoped such things didn't happen here, that this problem was just on Earth. He saw the injuries and agreed Rune was the only one who could do anything. "Who rules the rulers?" was the question he was asking himself.

Unwilling to leave her at the palace alone, he brought Alliele along as a guide. Shayla, who still didn't know why she was here, began grumbling. She didn't want Alliele groping her again, but she wanted to walk with Hiashi. Problem was Alliele was walking with him, holding his hand for dear life. Shayla knew Alliele couldn't be turned that quickly, she also saw Alliele didn't look at him the same way she did. So if it wasn't romance, then what was it?

Hiashi's and Shayla's eyes met and he waved her next to him. During a break, she caught him alone. "Hiashi, I'm trying not to be jealous, but what is up with you and Alliele? You know I'm not to fond of her. I don't understand."

He took her hand his and kissed her cheek. "I pray you never do. She's promised to behave, so please walk with us. She needs all the friends she can get right now."

Shayla was concerned about his first sentence, what was he trying to protect her from? What dark secret did they share? She accepted the rest of it and reluctantly agreed. True to her word, Alliele didn't try anything and she seemed a bit more happy and secure even though they knew Jinnai and his bugs could attack at any moment.

The tomb was where Hiashi suspected, where he landed in El-Hazard. It turned out to be near where Makoto and Fujisawa landed too. Makoto was holding the map looking for a cave entrance. "Legend says the Tomb was lined with crystals from the Crystal Caves I don't suppose anyone can detect them?"

"No, those crystals are not only for defense, but they are also proof against our scrying abilities." Miz said.

"All the more reason to hope it has what we're looking for." Fuji encouraged.

Then that purple penguin/killer-whale animal with the orange mohawk hobbled out across the clearing then bounded back into the brush. Riho started chasing it vanishing into the tall grass. Hiashi, Shayla, and Alliele started chasing after him. "Come on Riho. We don't have time for this!" Shayla-Shayla called out.

She heard his yowl, but there was an echo and it sounded distant. "Heh, what's this?"

"Help Riho. Riho trapped with glowing rocks." his voice came from a hole in the ground.

"Sounds like he found the crystals. Sensei, a hand please!" Hiashi called.

Fujisawa grabbed a shovel and began digging like a madman. He knew what happens when you go for a walk in the Crystal Caves. Fortunately since this wasn't the real cave, Riho was in no danger. In a matter of moments everyone was inside the underground corridor. "Woah, I think we're the first ones to see this in centuries." Makoto said.

Fujisawa whistled and compared it to the early gothic cathedrals of Europe. "As if things weren't already spooky enough." Makoto commented.

"What's the matter, don't like gargoyles and those vivid carvings of hell and divine punishment?" Fuji teased to lighten the mood.

Makoto took a nervous step away, "Well, no not really." he stammered, "This reminds me of the time Nanami made me go down this dark path in some woods then tried to scare me with a mask."

"How successful was she?" Hiashi asked.

"Errr I think the tomb is down this way." Makoto said marching down into the darkness. Ifurita quickly caught up with him using the Power Key Staff for light. Shayla created her own light source and the rest followed.

"Ms.Shayla, Mr.Hiashi, this place is really spooky." Alliele said holding their hands tighter.

"It's all right. Nothing's down here but us." Hiashi said.

"Oh I'm a bit more than nothing!" came Jinnai's voice from behind.

"Oh great. I was wondering when that bastard would show up." Shayla grumbled. A look and a nod to Hiashi and they both turned around at the same time.

Jinnai stood there in his new armor with some of his friends behind him. Hiashi noticed everyone else's attention was focused on Jinnai. While he would admit they've dealt with him longer, Hiashi doubted Jinnai would just stand there and let himself be a target. The light was very faint, but he could just make out the edge of the hole the Bugrom dug in the floor. Testing the hall floor he thought it felt a bit weak, as if he was standing in a second story room of an old house instead of solid stone. "Get back it's a trap!" he warned.

His warning came just in time. Everyone managed to get back as the floor weakened and gave way to a pair of the larger Bugrom. Shayla was about to fireball them when Makoto warned about this being an enclosed are, "Stop! You'll fry us all!" he shouted.

"Shit, well we'll just have to do it the hard way." she said doing a flying kick to send one of the Bugrom back into the hole. Unfortunately the hole wasn't that deep so they were able to jump back into the fight quickly. Fujisawa knocked another into the first as it came back up. Shayla was engaged in fighting two of them. Hiashi tried to think of a way to help. Miz's water blast was too dangerous for similar reasons. Water could easily wear away the aged stones and walls and cause a cave in. What he needed was something finer, like a laser. Laser: light, heat, fire! If he could concentrate hard enough and control his own flame ....

He started by forming a small ball, feeding it while maintaining its size. He willed the light to stay confined and the ball darkened. Focusing, the light collected inside the ball, moving in a straight path. Bright spots started to appear on the globe where the beam reflected on the inside. Suddenly one of the Bugrom jumped in front of him. He reacted by unleashing his attack.

The Bugrom was thrown back, almost colliding with Jinnai as it crackled with energy. Hiashi was already forming another ball. Ifurita got the idea and began using low-powered blasts to drive the Bugrom back as the rest retreated away from the tomb. "Shit, we're headed in the wrong direction." Fuji declared.

"Any suggestions Royal Champion?" returned Shayla.

"How about this, hit them hard and hit them fast." Miz said using focused waves of water to send the Bugrom back into their hole then flush them away.

"Effective." Fuji complimented.

"Now the floor might be too weak to support us." Makoto said.


"Shayla, Hiashi, Ifurita, you can fly. Stop Jinnai." Makoto said. The three nodded and left as the others tried to figure out how to cross the hole and follow them without falling through into a bunch of angry wet Bugrom.

Meanwhile Jinnai was carried into the tomb by his followers. It was a good sized room using crystals from the caves as floor, ceiling, and walls. They give off an eerie glow which was barely enough to illuminate the tomb. Passages along the walls led to other rooms detailing their adventures and displaying the many trophies they've earned. Seven shrines, six for the heroes and one for the group and patron goddess Izeria, were decorated with treasures and items too celebrate their heroics. "Humph, bunch of worthless trinkets. Let's just find my Lamp and get out of here." Jinnai said jumping from his platform.

Jinnai started looking at some of the graves trying to figure out which one would have the Lamp of Rock. Of course it would have helped if he knew what it looked like. His first glance revealed nothing. The primary decoration of each shrine was the hero's weapon. Age had not dulled the blades of the swords, axes, and daggers. Nor had it tarnished the decorated armor, weapons, and other treasures. Jinnai noticed one of the swords looked strangely like an ancient Egyptian khopesh. He dismissed it as coincidence. Then he started checking for unusual accessories. The Lamp of Fire and Wind stuck out like a sore thumb on Shayla and Afura, so too could the Lamp of Rock. He started tossing objects around carelessly figuring the Lamp of Rock would make itself be known once he touched it. As he moved from shrine to shrine without success, an unnatural breeze started blowing. Between the third and fourth shrine, he began to notice. "Hey Groucho, find that draft and plug it!" he shouted.

Then he saw the faces forming in the mist. Their features were indistinct and flowed in and out of existence as they spoke as one, "What evil dares penetrate the Tomb of Izeria's Heroes and disturbs our rest? Tremble before us skellum and explain your actions!"

Jinnai acted indignant and stood defiantly, "It'll take a lot more than you shifting specters to scare me! I am looking for the Lamp of Rock which is destined to be mine. So you spooks better tell me where it is or else."

"Or else what Jinnai?" Hiashi asked from the door.

The spirits looked at Hiashi as if they somehow recognized him before dissipating. Jinnai looked back and forth between Hiashi and where the spirits used to be. "Well I see you decided to change sides. I knew you'd come around. Busting those ghosts was merely your way of saying sorry for getting me impeached. Well you'll have to do a bit more than that for my forgiveness. But it's a good start."

Hiashi rolled his eyes, "I don't know where you get your delusions. I mean what made you think that such a powerful item will just by lying around protected only by ghosts? No trials of worthiness or feats of courage. Were you really under the impression that you could just get Larry, Moe, and Curly to dig you a tunnel so you could just take it?"

Jinnai's expression revealed that's just what he thought. Stuttering for a moment he followed with, "Well I'm not the one who challenged me alone."

"He's not alone, loser!" Shayla cried torching a few bugs as she jumped from one of the passages.

Jinnai panicked and tried running down another passage, only to fly out a second later courtesy of Ifurita's fist. His stooges came to his aid, "Goop them! Goop them all!"

Hiashi was the first hit, having no real combat skills, and was knocked down into a corner. Fortunately, it had no effect as he returned fire. "Harpo, Groucho! Go after Shayla. The rest of you switch to secondary ammunition." Jinnai commanded.

"Secondary ammunition?" Shayla wondered using a shrine for cover.

"Shayla watch out! If that goop hits you, we're both cooked." Hiashi called as he tried to get up. The problem was while the goop didn't prevent him from using his powers, it was rather slippery. He tried moving away from the approaching pair of Bugrom, but just wound up making a bigger mess. What few laser shots he could manage were pitiably aimed, only knocking more of Izeria's Heroes' artifacts from their places. The Bugrom fired at point blank range covering him in a blue sticky mess. He struggled, but it only made things worse. The best he managed to do was keep half his face uncovered. He felt like he was trapped in a freshly chewed wad of gum stuck under the seats of a movie theater.

Shayla screamed his name and threw a flying kick to the two Bugrom, sending them into the hallway. During that moment of distraction, she was struck in the back by Harpo and Groucho. Rendered powerless and stunned, the first two shoved Shayla into Hiashi's blob and reapplied their sticky liquid.

Ifurita was not fairing much better. Her force shield protected her from the Bugrom attacks, but that was all. She was unable to learn from physical attacks like energy ones. Attempting to return a shot would mean dropping her shield and creating an opportunity. Her mind reached out to Makoto, hoping he might have a solution. "Try condensing your force field around your body, then attack physically." he mindspoke.

The idea worked. The normally bubble-like shield retracted to more of an aura while maintaining effectiveness. When she destroyed their guns, the blue glue exploded, entrapping them. Desperate Jinnai grabbed a fallen glue gun and pointed it at Shayla and Hiashi. "Hey, Demon Bitch! Surrender now or I'll suffocate your friends." he threatened.

Shayla and Hiashi were unaware of the threat. Both were concentrating on staying alive. Shayla was barely strong enough to move slightly, but dared not. Her head was almost fastened, looking at Hiashi's one uncovered nostril. She could feel his breath against her cheek as he tried to keep breathing. Only part of his left had remained unstuck. Above his head Shayla saw a large pool of glue, still uncongealed, threatening to cover his face at the slightest disturbance. "We should have stayed in bed." she thought.

Ifurita was forced to stop her fighting. The remaining Bugrom surrounded her. "You know," Jinnai said, "It just occurred to me that you might know which one of these trinkets the Lamp of Rock is."

"Forget it. Even if I knew, I would never tell you." Ifurita returned. She sent a mental message to Makoto to hurry. Contracting her forcefield and the fighting were draining her powers faster than expected. Shortly she would have to turn it off.

"Oh are you still mad I made you blow up a few cities? Well it's a drop in the bucket if you don't cooperate! Tell me!"

"What you seek is not here." the ghostly voices spoke. This time their features were more distinct. Each of the Heroes looked at Jinnai with angry eyes. The Bugrom left Ifurita alone to cower around their leader. Jinnai tried to grab the khopesh but protective sparks forced his hand back. The voices continued, "You have brought evil and destruction to our final resting place. We, who have served El-Hazard for years, are angered by your presence."

One of the Heroes separated from the others. It was the one who protected the khopesh. Jinnai noticed the hawkish nose and other facial features reminding him of ... "My God, you you're from Earth too." he stammered.

The Hero smiled slightly, only slightly. "Yes, I am ashamed to admit we are from the same heavenly orb. Don't look so surprised Evil One, you have the stench of Earth all around you. Tell me, have our people matured in the thousands of years since I have left?"

Another Hero spoke, "Old friend, do you mean that you and this one hail from the same land?"

"I fear so, but our place and time of origin are separated by almost as many miles as years. His land is as alien to me as El-Hazard was when I first arrived on its sun-blessed shores."

"And the others? I sense the trapped woman carries the Lamp of Fire, but it had been changed. I can tell almost nothing of the other woman except she is stuck halfway between machine and flesh."

The Hero from Earth floated to the blue mass. "Yeah yeah, he's from Earth too. Damn fool deposed me." Jinnai said equally relieved and insulted the Heroes' focus had been taken away from him.

"Old friend, I know you are loathe to admit it, you are from the same world as these two. You have the clearest vision into their souls. The intent of this one is clear even to the blind. What of the other?" a third Hero spoke.

"I sense a past filled with pain and a present of hope. He has the nobility, courage, and motivation to strive for an imagined need for redemption. Such a need will move him to help others and improve himself. In fact he already has preformed good deeds and has continued to do so even though one act later nearly caused his death. This one has the potential to bring back what was lost. Others approach. You two, do not tell him any of what I have said. The best way to shatter his destiny is to let him become aware of it." the spirit said fading from view. The other Heroes followed suit finally vanishing as Fujisawa, Makoto, and Alliele charged in.

"Where's Jinnai?" Makoto asked. Jinnai and his troop managed to slip out one of the side passages as the Earth Hero spoke. If the other Heroes were aware of his escape, they did not acknowledge it. He spotted Shayla and Hiashi trapped and started to run to help them, but Ifurita held him back. "If you try to free them, you'll only become stuck too." she warned.

"How do we get them out?" asked Fuji.

"I do not know. I have never encountered something like this before so my program cannot derive a way to undo it." Ifurita answered.

"But we have to do something."

"Yeah, and would you mind hurrying it up before this glop drowns us?" Shayla yelled.

Suddenly Fuji took on the look of instant inspiration. He took the khopesh (Ifurita noted there were no protective wards this time) and used the point to cut away the glue. The ooze melted away at the touch of the ancient sword, forming a harmless puddle at Fujisawa's feet. Shayla was freed first as Miz entered. She had been busy flushing out the tunnels to prevent Jinnai's return and catching sediment to repair the damage to the Tomb. The melting glue took the power-neutralizing goop with it. Shayla recovered as Hiashi was also freed.

He was barely conscious from lack of fresh air. But managed to ask Fujisawa what made him think of using the sword. "I don't know. I didn't even know it existed until I had that idea."

"Perhaps that Earth ghost told you?" Ifurita suggested.

"What Earth ghost?" everyone else asked in near unison.

"Well he said he was from Earth long ago and a long way from ... Japan." Shayla tried to remember the word, "Apparently he was one of Izeria's Heroes."

"Ancient Egypt, early Bronze age if these hieroglyphics are right." Fujisawa said taking a good look at the sword.

"Can you translate?" Makoto asked.

"Not even the Rosetta Stone can help. It's too old. I can't even guess at what they mean."

"I thought I heard him speak, but I couldn't hear anything clearly. What did he say?" Hiashi asked.

Shayla and Ifurita looked at the Earth Hero's shrine, then at each other. "Well he told Jinnai that he was from Earth too and that the Lamp of Rock was not here. He also said what we all know, that you're a great guy with a big heart." Shayla said finishing by swinging one arm around his shoulders and playfully grinding her fist into his side to change the subject.

"So we still don't know where the Lamp is. Guess this trip was a washout." Alliele said hunched over in the corner.

"There still might be a clue here." Makoto encouraged.

"Well first we'd better clean up. If only out of professional courtesy. Right 'Royal Champion'?" Hiashi said.

"Errrr yeah. I wasn't planning on keeping it." Fujisawa called out in case the Earth Hero was listening.

The next hour was spent trying to put things back in order. These six heroes saved El-Hazard many times and deserved to be treated with respect. Surprisingly despite the mess Jinnai and the fight left, it was easy to return the items to their proper spot. Makoto suspected the ghosts were telepathically telling them which treasures went where. Considering their current problems with Kazusa, it was not a comforting thought. The looked over the job they did in a silent remembrance of the deeds done long ago. "I do not wish to disturb them any more than necessary, but we need to find where they hid the Lamp of Rock." Miz said breaking the silence.

"I don't think they want to tell us. It was Kazusa they were hiding it from. Why, after all this time, would they want to let him get it back?" Makoto said.

"But if we can't find it, the Grand Priestess is doomed." she said.

A slight breeze blew across them to the center shrine. The images on its face looked like the were shifting, altering themselves. "It's a map." Makoto said. He immediately got down on one knee and began copying it but Ifurita put her hand on his shoulder. "There is no need for that. I recognize where the map leads. The Demon Isle, the place where I was entombed."

Chapter 14: Unknown

The rooms were lit only with a few torches. It was part of an old, forgotten complex Kazusa found in his first search for his Lamp. Originally it was one of the libraries of the Elemental Church, carved from granite for protection. It was meant to save records from the ancient days for all time. Over the centuries it was built over then covered by landslides before its location was lost or considered destroyed. The books and scrolls along the walls were still perfectly preserved, waiting for someone to read them. The Grand Priestess was locked in one of the larger rooms, her Elemental Staff safely locked away on the other side of the complex. She still had enough of her powers to keep thirst and hunger at bay, for now anyway. In the hours since her capture and imprisonment she had begun researching the old laws, looking for any clues behind Kazusa's motive and exploring the Church's lost past. A small hovering device followed her as she moved through the rows of shelves. It was one of the ancient devices, a private reading light. "When this is over," she thought, "I must have the boy, Makoto, examine this. It's rather handy to have around."

There was a short buzz over the barely working PA system. "I hope you are enjoying your stay, Grand Priestess. With luck it won't be long." Kazusa said.

"You wish me to live? Then release me." she calmly responded.

"<chuckle> Sorry, I can't do that. You see, you are here to provide motivation to Makoto and his bunch to return to me what is mine. If I let you go, they'd stop and I'd have to do it myself. Personally I'd rather spend time finalizing my own plans. Don't worry though, Afura has a high opinion of their capabilities and I've come to respect her intelligence and skill at observation. That's why you're here, to force them to do my bidding. Why let good talent go to waste?" he asked.

"And if they give you the Lamp of Rock?"

"Once I know there are no tricks, you will be freed. Provided you are still alive, of course. Believe it or not, I do have some respect for the Theocracy. It is a fine idea which, fortunately, was not implemented in my first life."

"Then would you do a Grand Priestess the courtesy of explaining your purpose in doing all this so I may understand why I am here?"

"Oh I get it. This is where the 'villain' reveals his plans so the 'good guys' can figure out a way to ruin them. With all due respect, Grand Priestess, that was old even in my own time. My plans shall remain private. But my motivation should be clear to you if you have been using your time wisely. I'm holding you in this room for a reason, you realize."

The Grand Priestess smiled with slight amusement. She has indeed been using her time wisely, reading the ancient records from Kazusa's time. Back then the priests and priestesses of the Elemental Church did not have terms of service like today. Each year a council of the bishops of each element did a performance review of both the current and potential wielders to decide if the current wielder would retain that position or retire. The decision process weighed experience and behavior against the potential of new blood. Kazusa held his position for an unheard of 38 years, encompassing an multiple generations of Council of Rock members. For his first twelve years, Kazusa managed to keep his title, albeit by narrower margins with the past four. Then, as Bishops retired and replaced, his victories became greater until by year twenty it was unanimous. Since Kazusa did his job admirable, few complained. But in the last five years of service, he was getting sloppy. He started acting like he would hold position forever as if he owned it. Prominent clerics of his element turned up missing or suffered horrible accidents. He began developing uses for his Lamp which skirted with the limits of what the Church allowed. Rumors began circling about blackmail of the Council of Rock and worse. Since the members of the Council were effectively hermits, studying the ways of the Elements in private shrines and forbidding anyone from disturbing them, these rumors could not be confirmed or denied.

Then, in his last year, a young girl who was recently accepted into the School of Rock made a shocking discovery. In an effort to get the jump on her classmates, she broke Church rules and visited one of the Bishops. She never meant to disturb him, only spend time with him to learn the ways of Rock. When she sat next to him, she sensed something in her trainer's lamp. At first she dismissed it since she just got the lamp. But when she noticed the Bishop was sitting too still, she reconsidered. The Bishop never blinked or breathed. The veins and arteries in his neck did not pulse in time to his heartbeat that wasn't there. She discovered he was a statue.

Rock is strong, unveiling, unmovable, the physical manifestation of eternity, but when it is severely disturbed, it comes crashing down with such magnitude that all pause and take notice. News that Kazusa has been animating statues of Bishops to secure his power brought an instant reaction from the other Elements. Kazusa raged a one-man civil war against the Church. He used abilities previously unknown or forbidden to the Church. But thanks to the actions of groups like Izeria's heroes, he was eventually defeated. The record of his final battle reported that in his last words he vowed revenge and that he would regain his power and complete his work. But his notes were destroyed or hidden, the ultimate goal unknown.

The following years were known as the First Reformation. The Church underwent massive change and reorganization. A unifying Theocracy was founded along with the position of Grand Priestess. Each wielder of a Lamp of Power had a fixed term which varied under only very unusual circumstances. Further records the Grand Priestess only skimmed because she was already familiar with that part of history. She did notice the role of men since Kazusa's demise sharply diminished. Some chose to retire early, fewer and fewer were elected to any positions of importance, until the last man left under ridicule feeling the final sting of Kazusa's actions.

The Church history generally taught started with the First Reformation by renaming it The Beginning. Kazusa was effectively wiped from history and the Lamp of Rock was but a legend. The complete truth was known only to the Theocracy and the Grand Priestess. She sighed inwardly. In the past few years there was some talk within the Theocracy of letting men back into the Church, a proposal she supported. But there was heavy resistance. Those against did not want to break with a tradition established thousands of years ago. But even the firmest opponent conceded the initial expelling of men was unjustified. She finished by promising support if a man were to redeem his gender both in the eyes of the Church and the Eye of God.

"Yes," she said after a pause, "I know why you're doing this. You want to regain your full power to complete whatever mad scheme you started all those centuries ago."

"Mad? Why I'd hardly call ... you almost got me. Baiting me won't work. I told you my plans are private. So do not try to trick me into revealing them. There are other things I must do now. Do stay strong." he finished, shutting off the PA with a loud click.

Kazusa left the Grand Priestess further examine his new base. It was tough, but he decided it would be best if he temporarily abandoned his Shrine. It was exposed now and it would only be a matter of time before it was discovered. His statue of himself stood proud near at the edge of the complex were the foundation was exposed. Each time Kazusa passed it, he made a quick inspection to insure it was exactly as he wanted it, an exact replica of himself when he was young and handsome. With each examination he found another thing which needed improvement, muscles enhanced, nose improved, an extra bit of height until it was more of an idealized version of himself than a true representation. Satisfied, for now, with his statue he proceeded up a staircase to the 'new' addition.

Decades after his death the seeds for the Great Holy War was planted. This laboratory was used to create the basis for the Eye of God. After it was completed and the Eye used, the area was buried in a landslide caused by the destruction of a mountain range. Afura's knowledge of the Eye was limited. Kazusa briefly wished she possessed Shayla-Shayla instead. He examined some of the workstations and discovered they were still active, maintaining a link to the Eye. Originally it was meant to control the Eye, but during an enemy raid in the moments before the landslide it was abandoned. Its loss required the construction to the Stairway to the Sky. In the confusion generated by the raid, no one thought to turn everything off. The log file showing how and when the Eye was used was still on one screen. "So, that his how Hiashi came to El-Hazard. That boy can use the power of the Lamps. I cannot allow that to happen. I am the only one who may use the powers of the Lamp of Rock. It is mine." he muttered to himself accenting his thoughts by a single pound on the workstation.

The ancient computers beeped for a moment and the menu detailing the last use of the Eye appeared. The three options under "Travelers" were Makoto, Ifurita, and Hiashi. Curious Kazusa selected Hiashi. Hiashi's profile and base statics such as height, weight appeared. Kazusa smiled as he read about Hiashi's range limitation. There was a reason behind his power, but Kazusa was unable to access it. Frustrated he instead chose "Recent, pre-Eye history" and the Eye looked out over time and space and relayed what it saw to Kazusa.

Kazusa saw Hiashi's house that last night and witnessed the final, brutal exchange between father and son. "This might be useful. I wonder if I can bring that lout here. He doesn't look like he'd be that tough to control." Kazusa used the power of the Eye to track Hiashi's father, following him as he drove around and walked into the bar to meet with destiny. As he looked over the body and watch it get dragged away, Kazusa shook his head. "Now why did you have to go and do that? Not that I care, mind you. I do admit to a sense of poetic justice to your death." he said.

Then inspiration hit. Hiashi might now be able to handle his father, especially with his new powers. But there were alternatives, other ways to get to him. He rolled the idea over in his mind growing more and more satisfied that it would do the job better than the real thing.

A signal pulsed through his Lamp. It had arrived, a device he kept safe for thousands of years. It was the key to his plan. Built by the ancient El-Hazardians and later modified by Kazusa, it was an energy transference array. His modifications altered the kind of energy it moved. Originally meant for consolidating large battery cells of different types, it was now capable of transferring his soul and the power of his Lamp into one solid form. Without the limitations of a biological body or those imposed on the Lamp, his power would be unstoppable. He needed the true Lamp of Rock not only to prevent anyone from having more power than himself, but once an Elemental Lamp is rendered powerless, the training and any other lesser Lamps follow suit. When his plans succeed, no one at all will ever again control his element.

But until then, the Earthers Hiashi and Makoto were a threat. Makoto was harmless unless he discovered Kazusa's machine. All he could do is control how it worked. He could not alter its function. Kazusa had already hardwired the device to his plans. It would be easier to keep to deceive than to destroy him. Hiashi was another matter. He could conceivably control or drain his Lamp, or anyone's Lamp. This potential ability to merge the effects of the other three Lamps made him far more dangerous than anyone else, he was the only rival to his power.

Hours were spent testing, repairing, and improving his device with the technology which would later make the Eye of God. Testing proved to me more difficult than originally thought. He had no spare souls to use. Afura and the Grand Priestess were still needed, not that it mattered. A soul could only be transferred willingly. That half of the equation would have to go through a trial by fire. Testing the ability to transfer power from the Lamp of Wind and the lesser Lamp of Rock proved to be equally difficult, but for a different reason. There was no way to confirm the results without also sending a soul along. The instruments told him, the process worked perfectly. But those readings were only as good as the instruments. Kazusa has done all he could.

A warning light flashed on one of the consoles. It was part of the security system. Someone was inside the Eye of God. He checked the screen. It was Rhyna. What was she doing here. Kazusa flicked on a microphone and spoke into it, "Well now Wind Priestess, are you here looking for answers?"

"Afura ... Kazusa? Where are you? What are you doing here?"

"<chuckle> That's my line. I'm not the one intruding in forbidden zones. What made you break your vow to the Theocracy?"

"The Theocracy is filled with fools!" she shouted, "They don't know real talent when they see it. All they want are those who'll give them blind obedience and follow their stupid edicts."

Kazusa grinned to himself. Maybe there was a way to test his device after all. "And what made you realize what I knew for centuries?"

"They knew I was getting to powerful for them to handle. So they sent that stupid Hiashi to try and seduce me back under their control. They said to watch over him. What they really wanted was someone they could use to help maintain their power. But I saw through their deception and they sent that bitch Shayla to take him away. So I blasted him."

"He's dead?"

"Yes! He was already their pawn. When he learned how to use MY power, he was willing to cast me aside. No one does that to me! No one!" Rhyna said with a conviction only possible through self-deception and an inflated sense of self-importance. Kazusa knew it when he saw it.

So Rhyna killed the greatest threat to his power by accident or out of jealousy and is now probably seeking protection by hiding in the Eye. Kazusa mused silently to himself, plotting on how to turn this to his own advantage. "We have both been unfairly punished by the Elemental Church. They feared our power, what we could do if allowed enough time to learn. Even Afura was intimidated by your superior skill and was able to surpass you only through sabotage. It is time for us to put aside our past misunderstandings and join forces. Come to me and together we will crush the Theocracy, then conquer El-Hazard itself!"

"Crush the ...? How? I mean why?"

"It is the only way. They seek to impede our growth, the way they slow down anyone who might be more powerful than themselves. We have the power given to us by destiny. A power the Theocracy was unable to use as well as us. They are jealous at our skill. We must strike first. Join me and I will give you the true Lamp of Wind as fate wanted you to have."

That was all which needed to be said. Rhyna's eyes lit up and the possibility, no certainty, of gaining the power she's dreamed of for years. Kazusa directed her to a telephone-like device she could take as he told her how to get to their new base. The flight skirted past the shore where she saw two boats. "Kazusa." she said, still unsure if the device worked, "I think Makoto and his minions are going to the Isle of the Demon God. That must be where your Lamp is."

Kazusa dug into Afura's memories to learn about the Demon Isle. It was called something else in his time. A remote island which weather and hidden rocks made a danger for regular ships to approach. If someone purposely hid his Lamp anywhere in El-Hazard, that would be a prime area. Yes, it was indeed useful to have an assistant, for now anyway. "Follow them from a safe distance. I will be with you shortly."

Chapter 15: Isle of the Demon God

Makoto felt a strange sense of deja vu as the airboat races over the ocean. It was a fast trip back to the palace and prepare for the emergency trip. Londs insisted he come along with several guards in a second airboat. The sun had set long ago and they were taking shifts at the wheel. It gave everyone a chance to clear their minds. Makoto pondered just how many other people from Earth had come to El-Hazard and how they came here. There seemed to be no steady rate at which time passed. While Makoto and the other original Earthers has been here for months, only about a day and a half passed on Earth. Would the next one to come here be from a week, a month, or even a generation in Earth's future? He might never know. It was even possible the 'next' visitor arrived years ago. What a way to explain all the mysteries of El-Hazard, Earther time travelers.

He and Hiashi relived fond memories from the science fiction club by resuming their debate about time travel. Personal experience made Makoto's position of an unalterable past stronger. After all, Ifurita had told him of his destiny that first night in Shinonome and he fulfilled it just as he gave her the memory of what she will do. Hiashi countered by insisting this one example could not represent all the possibilities. It wasn't a strong argument. At least until Shayla took it upon herself to join in. She was on Hiashi's side of course. She told them what she discovered in the Eye, about how it erased history when a paradox occurred. Unfortunately it only put the two on equal footing again. History was apparently alterable, but it also seemed to follow its original path. Like a dozen times before they said "I hate temporal mechanics." in unison, an unspoken agreement that the debate was over for now.

Shayla's arrival also signaled the end of one shift and the start of hers and one of the guards. Londs made it a personal policy to separate couples on guard duty. Shayla thought it was pure sadism and jealousy on his part, but she knew better than to speak her opinion out loud. After Hiashi left Makoto asked her, "In all those erased timelines ... how different were they? Did we ...?"

Shayla wished he wouldn't bring it up. As much as she loved Hiashi, there were still a few heartstrings left for Makoto. "No, 'we' didn't. At least in the one's I've seen. Why?"

"I know I've been blind to a lot of things. I just don't want to hurt anyone because of it."

"A bit late for that don't you think?"

Makoto was at a loss for words, "I'm sorry."

Shayla couldn't resist smiling, "Hey, that's life. You live. You learn. You get better or you get weighted down in regret. You're a sweet guy, Makoto. Don't ever change and never apologize for it. Now get below decks and go to sleep. We got a lot to do tomorrow."

"Uh yes ma'am." he said half-running half-stumbling down the stairs leaving Shayla to think about what she lost and what she gained with only the stars and a stranger who knew better than to ask as company.

The Demon Isle hadn't changed too much since their last visit. Sure there were marks of battle, but when someplace is already a wasteland it's hard to make it worse. Unfortunately, Ifurita had no idea where the Lamp might be. All they knew was that it was buried far away from where her tomb once was. The whole island was protected from Elemental searches, which is why she was imprisoned there in the first place. How many other powerful artifacts were here, waiting to be discovered?

"It just occurred to me," Fujisawa said, "what do we do if the thing is buried or cut off from the outside?"

"That's why you're here." answered Makoto, "Hiashi, I don't suppose we'd be lucky enough that you'd be able to detect the Lamp?"

"I'll try." Hiashi stopped, closed his eyes, and reached out with his mind. He 'saw' the dim red energies of the Lamp of Fire and an even dimmer outline of Shayla. He felt the dull silver cord from her inactive Lamp to his left wrist. Miz, who just debarked from the boat, just came into his limit. He felt her Lamp transmit the same cord to his ring finger. Her Lamp had a blue glow, but Miz had a stronger outline because she had used it longer. He tried to reach further, but it was like being locked in a thick fog with only the Lamps and Priestesses as illumination. Nothing he tried could break through the barrier, even just for detection. "Sorry, either it's out of range or I can't detect it. I can sense inactive Lamps, or at least ones which have elemental summoning abilities. It might be ten feet away or a mile."

"So where could it be? Mountains wear down over time. And they'd be foolish to hide it underground, I don't care how well protected it would be from Kazusa. They knew this island may later be used to dispose of other objects of great power, no offense Ifurita, and whoever did the disposing would probably use the base of the mountain. So what's left?" Shayla asked.

Makoto scanned the horizon of the island. "There." he said pointing half-way up the second tallest mountain on the island.

"Why not the tallest?" Hiashi asked.

"Like Shayla said, they knew this island would be used later and the tallest mountain would probably get used first. By avoiding the obvious, Izeria's Heroes probably kept it from being discovered all this time. It also appears fits the location on the map they showed us."

"Let's hope you're right. The Grand Priestess doesn't have much time left."

Above them, concealed by a large stone outcropping, Rhyna and Kazusa hovered. "You should have done a better job." Kazusa said sarcastically.

"Well sorry I took a few hours to sleep. I used my power to make sure I stayed on course. Those among the living need to sleep every now and then."

"I wasn't talking about that. I was talking about HIM." he said pointing down.

Rhyna squinted and saw Hiashi and Shayla walking arm in arm over the broken terrain. "That ... that man. Why won't he stay dead?"

"Perhaps his healing abilities?" Kazusa taunted.

"Impossible. He was uninjured when I got him. I overpowered it. I saw him fry then get slammed into the wall. No one could survive that! Well I'll finish the job." she said preparing to attack

"Oh give it up. That boy is tough, we don't have time. Let them do our dirty work for us. Then we kill them. Just wait."

"<growl> I hate waiting."

Kazusa restrained himself in reminding her just how long HE waited. Rhyna was starting to become uncontrollable, requiring he be more careful in manipulating her. Best to make sure she remembers their ultimate plan, to become their elements instead of just being priest and priestess over them. "Don't tell me you're still carrying a torch for him. I don't think attempted murder improved his opinion of you. Be patient. This island is littered with pockets of crystal that block our scans. Instead of us checking them all, we let them do it. Let them think they've won then strike. It is so much better to bring down the enemy when they think victory is close."

Rhyna said nothing, but obeyed his words. Kazusa could almost hear the gears turning in her mind as she visualized how she was going to pay Hiashi back for everything. With the right suggestions, she could probably be convinced the Bugrom are destined to rule. Speaking of which ...

"Sir Londs! The Bugrom are approaching! At least six boats!" a guard shouted.

"Oh shit. Why does that little pipsqueak have to arrive?" Shayla muttered.

"Ifurita. Take Makoto, Alliele, and Hiashi to that second mountain." Fuji ordered.

"No. I'm not leaving Shayla behind." Hiashi protested.

"Sorry pal, he's right. I'm betting you can detect the Lamp. We'll keep Jinnai away until you find it. Ifurita, you just make sure he comes back in one piece or else." Shayla said.

Hiashi resisted for a moment, but ultimately accepted the reasoning as the Bugrom charged their position. "You see how much fun it can be to wait? While the main group is distracted, we can move closer to our objective." Kazusa lectured leading Rhyna from mesa to mesa as the battle below unfolded.

Fujisawa led the counter-charge, of course, to give the guards a chance to escape. Shayla attacked from above while Miz provided a line of defense. Not bad strategy considering it wasn't planned. Jinnai tried using the main fight as a distraction as he circled around. Unfortunately Kazusa noticed and covertly used his wind and rock abilities to blow Jinnai's cover.

"Why did you do that?" Rhyna whispered.

"This battle is merely a distraction for us. It suits our interest to keep in going. If Jinnai got past them, he'd call the bugs off and then where would we be? Part of a three-way race for my Lamp instead of a two way race and a two way struggle."

Rhyna was amazed at his manipulating skills. It never occurred to her to use the Bugrom to delay the other rival. Maybe she should start listening to his advice.

Ifurita flew with amazing speed towards the target. Makoto knew why. She was trapped here for centuries. It made her uncomfortable, as if she might not leave again. Once inside the mountain, she took the lead. Makoto and Hiashi followed behind. Hiashi periodically checked for the Lamp, but didn't find anything. "Does any of this look familiar, Ifurita?" Makoto asked.

"I wish I could say for sure. All these passages look alike."

"I can't shake the feeling this is booby trapped. If they were smart enough to try to second guess future generations, who knows what other tricks they planned."

"You worry too much, Hiashi. If they told us where the Lamp was, they would have mentioned any traps. Besides, Ifurita can handle them. I know she can." Makoto encourage.

Ifurita was happy Makoto had that much faith in her abilities and hoped she would be worthy of it. "There's a room up ahead." she said.

The room was carved from the rock long ago. It had a domed seamless roof, a plain stone floor, and no carvings on the walls. Completely unremarkable save for the white six-pointed star in the center. The group looked at the star. "Rather obvious isn't it?" Alliele commented.

"No notches for arrows or hidden doors in the ceiling for dropping rocks or any other trap. I think this is just their way of saying, 'we could have lain traps, so don't make us regret making it so easy'. Either that or they found a way to deactivate them from their tomb." Makoto suggested.

"Who cares. Let's just get the thing and get out of here. Sister Shayla should have those bugs fried by now, right Hiashi?" Alliele said starting forward.

Hiashi gently restrained her. "Don't get overconfident. They might have wanted to lull intruders into a false sense of security. Then when they think they got the prize. Pow, crash, boom, bam. Splat goes the bad man."

Makoto took a moment to give a long hard 'I can't believe you said that' stare at his friend. He knew the sci-fi club president liked using lines from TV and movies as jokes, but he didn't do it too often outside the club. At other times he was quiet, depressed, and kept to himself. Anyone who upset him was more likely to receive a biting insult than anything. More than once his words provoked a confrontation with some of the high school's less likeable students. Outside of classes or his club, Hiashi seemed not to care about anything, until now.

Ifurita reached out with her staff, scanning the room. She said apart from the obvious pit at the center, the room was safe. They gave the star a wide girth and proceeded into the next hallway. Rhyna was well behind them, using the wind currents to carry Makoto's conversation to them and to let her know where to go in the dark. "This is too easy. My Lamp is almost within reach." Kazusa muttered.

"Don't complain. The sooner we get it, the sooner we can get out of here. I hate this place." Rhyna returned.

Up ahead the group was proceeding cautiously. The next passage was short, only taking a sharp turn left. On a pedestal, in the center of the room was the Lamp of Rock. Light from an unidentified source shown like a pillar around it. It looked much like Kazusa's Lamp, but was more detailed. Circuitry patters decorated the outside, dancing around a myriad of bumps, indicators and a noticeable circular knob. The brace was open and rotated slowly in the column of light as if waiting for someone. Everyone stared at it for a moment, in complete awe of their discovery. The fabled and nearly forgotten Lamp of Rock. Stolen from the Elemental Church by Kazusa, liberated from him by Izeria's Heroes, who in turn hid it from the rest of the world until the Church can reform itself.

"I'm not getting anything from it. Either I have no power over that Lamp or it needs a human user first. Wait, I'm getting something-<oomph>" Hiashi was cut off by a concentrated gust of wind which sent him into the wall.

"That Lamp is MINE!" Kazusa yelled charging into the small room. Wind was not as effective in closed spaces, but enough to scatter the group.

Hiashi tried to get up but found Rhyna standing over him with anger and hatred in her eyes. "You'll pay for playing with my emotions like that." she said preparing her power blast.

Thinking fast, he managed a sweeping kick sending Rhyna down. Her half-made ball flew in the wrong direction, impacting on the pedestal. The light and the Lamp vanished leaving only an aged scrap of paper floating around. Kazusa grabbed it and read out loud, "You really didn't think we'd make it easy for you, Kazusa?"

He growled and crumpled the paper in a fit of fury, "If they weren't already dead. I would kill them! You five are going to take their place. Rhyna, destroy them!"

Hiashi, who was knocked behind Kazusa, sprang up and knocked Kazusa forward into the pedestal with some help from a blow from Ifurita's well-aimed staff. "We need more fighting room. Let's get out of here!" she said.

They managed to get to the first room before the two recovered. Forgetting the star, they were lucky enough to step around it as they retreated. Except for Hiashi who managed to plant a foot square in the middle. Instantly the star vanished. Makoto and Ifurita made a lunge to save him as he fell, but Rhyna kept them away. Riho was able to protect Hiashi from the force of the impact when he landed."Keep going! I'll find a way out." Hiashi called from the pit.

Rhyna was about to jump in the pit after him, but was blown away by a column of air Ifurita generated. The pit was not wide enough for him to fly, even if he was within range to use her abilities. He couldn't sense the link to her Wind Lamp, but there was something else. Rhyna didn't seem to care as she tried again. Kazusa stopped her, "You already tried to kill him twice and failed. Go after the others. I'll be with you as soon as I get the job done." Kazusa ordered as he focused his rock abilities below.

When Hiashi landed, torches lit themselves bathing the area in a soft purple-yellow glow. The ceiling had to be about twenty feet above him, the other room at least a hundred thirty above that. For an instant Hiashi thought he saw a bronze glint at one end, but his attention was yanked away by a voice he thought he left behind calling his name, "Hiashi ..."

Father! Impossible! How did he get to the Demon Isle? Or El-Hazard for that matter? Nonetheless there he was. No, two of him? One came into the torchlight. His face was the same color as stone. It wasn't his father, but a statue, a living statue of his father. "It-it won't work Kazusa. I don't know how you found out about him, but it won't work." Hiashi said with obviously false courage.

"You killed me, Hiashi. I was murdered when I was looking for you. After all I did for you, this is how you repay me. I'm going to teach you one last lesson, 'son'." the lead statue said giving Hiashi a vicious backhand.

More statues began to take shape from the floors and walls, each one chanting either his name or an insult as they advanced slowly. Another one formed from the stone below him and delivered several punches before Hiashi was able to get away. Riho was able to absorb some of the punches and even tried taking a swipe back raking one statue along the arm. Unfortunately, just as many punches got through. There was only so much punishment an armor cat can take before their owners feel it. Kazusa watched Hiashi's torment from above. Through his created minions, he could see part of the room. Interference from the scattered protected areas kept him from seeing a perfect image of Hiashi's terror. He kept the automatons simple. Since he couldn't and wouldn't bring the spirit of Hiashi's father through the Eye, Kazusa was forced to base the statues on what little he witnessed. The simple, ghostly messages they chanted were even better than a more detailed replica.

Hiashi found himself backing up against the wall. There had to be at least a dozen statues slowly moving towards him, calling him vicious things. "Pathetic wimp." "Completely useless." "Ungrateful." "Lazy." "Worthless piece of shit." The words echoed in his mind again and again joining the chorus. A kick in his stomach sent him in the direction of the forgotten glint. This time he tried to get up muttering, "You're not real. It's impossible. You can't be here."

"Quite denying it you goddamn brat. I spent my life trying to make a real man out of you and look where it got us. You have no future in El-Hazard and since I'm dead, I'll just have to spend my afterlife putting you in your place. Even if it kills you, which isn't that bad. You'll know in a moment." the lead statue said reaching out.

Hiashi backed away in a panic. Shayla's face flashed in his mind. "No, I do have a future. I do have a power." he defended.

"Oh right. You'll be stuck depending on women for your life. Especially that slut, Shayla." it said moving closer.

Like that night which now seems so long ago, Hiashi stuck back. A fist versus stone only results in a bruised fist. But at least Hiashi was able to push the lead statue back into the others. Kazusa's creations were strong and tough, but had the dexterity of a beached whale. The push was enough to send it off balance, knocking the others down like dominos. "I did it." he said to himself then again louder as the realization sunk in.

"You fucking punk. I'll kill you for that." a voice came from the pile of cracked statues. Other voices echoed in agreement.

The sound of stone striking stone surged as the remnants of the automatons picked themselves up and proceeded again to their target. Now they had cracks all over. Some had an arm missing. A few hobbled on one leg, using another as support. The leader was holding his stone head in his hand. "You won't stop us. You'll get what you deserve." the head shouted.

Hiashi tried to kick the head away, but missed completely. The statues again started their chanting mixing in forbidding promises of how he will never escape and the pain he will receive. The boy's eyes were of complete fear. He couldn't run or hide. He couldn't even fight back. Whatever he did, they would just keep coming. If ... when they reached him, it would begin again. The attacks, the pain, save that now there would be no haven to escape to, no shelter for protection. Even Riho would be beaten until he was forced to revert into his cat form. Then he too will suffer. Nothing except the hope his suffering would be brief. He continued to move back in an attempt to delay the inevitable. He was now backed up along the wall vowing to himself that it will not happen again, but knowing it would. He never removed his eyes from the phalanx of tormentors as he moved down along one wall using his hands to guide him in the dim light. His right hand leading him passed through part of the solid wall. Something grabbed it and he felt something familiar yet different which was entirely welcome.

Above Rhyna was not doing well. Within the cramped spaces of the passage, Ifurita had the advantage. Alliele was sent back for help. Makoto provided a second pair of eyes and tried to loan his strength to his beloved through their psychic link. Rhyna made a mistake in ignoring Makoto. His vantage point gave Ifurita the knowledge to find a weak point in Rhyna's shield. A ricocheted power blast knocked Rhyna into a wall rendering her unconscious. Ifurita stood above her ready to deliver the final blow. Kazusa's laughter at Hiashi's plight distracted the Demon for an instant and caused her to reexamine her priorities.

Ifurita slammed into Kazusa as fast as she was able. During her earlier attack and in her fight against the real Afura, she learned physical, hand to hand combat was the best way to deal with wind powers. Unfortunately Kazusa's mastery over rock, even in this stolen form, served to protect him. But it was enough for something else. Inside Kazusa's mind, Afura was partially freed. She had been trapped, forced to watch her body and powers get used, unable to act or stop it. Now she was no longer completely helpless. Mentally they fought for control of the body. The native user against a powerful ghost. Without a controller, the body was motionless save for only the most basic of functions. Makoto and Ifurita watched carefully for signs of a victor.

"Just give up. You'll never win." Kazusa shouted in the psychic plane.

"I will no longer yield. Better to die now than to let you use me for any more of your crimes." Afura returned.

The two fought each other in a way impossible to comprehend in physical terms. In earlier attempts to continue his plans, Kazusa possessed the minds of animals, even a passing Bugrom. He knew how to fight for domination of the mind. Afura, already weak from days of possession and still not completely free from Kazusa's control, could only fight with determination which in this case was a powerful weapon indeed. Kazusa struck first reenforcing what part of her he still possessed and even managed to expand it a little. Afura struggled to reject that control. Kazusa fought harder, sending more of his energy into that spot. When her attention was completely focused there, he instantly changed tactics and asserted control over a different area. Fighting on two fronts and inexperienced in mental combat, Afura knew her defeat was imminent.

In one last, desperate gamble Afura managed to send a command to her Lamp. The body took off, flying at top speed, haphazardly knocking into walls as it made its way out of the passage and back towards Roshtaria. In her wake, Ifurita and Makoto were thrown back into the wall. She put the last of her strength in continuing that command as Kazusa finally was able to put her back into her mental prison. Rhyna, who had recovered seconds earlier, finally caught up with him. "What happened? Why are we retreating."

"Afura decided to question my authority again."

"Looks like she did a good job. We're miles from the island. Should we go back?"

"Watch your tongue, whelp. No, we don't go back. We're both injured and exhausted. Besides, they'll be ready for us now. They know we have the Grand Priestess hostage. They won't fail her."

Ifurita and Makoto were about to go down the pit after Hiashi when they heard a small explosion. "Oh my God! Hiashi!" Makoto shouted.

Ifurita was quick to respond, bringing Makoto with her down the pit into the room below. Hiashi stood there in a state of shock surrounded by rubble, the shattered remains of the statues. He muttered to himself, "Never again. It won't happen again." Kazusa gave the statues enough energy to continue for a while even if he was out of range to control them. Afura's struggle and forcing the body flee moments before, broke Kazusa's concentration. The ghost was unaware of what Hiashi found and how he destroyed Kazusa's creations. Makoto and Ifurita stared at Hiashi's arm and the Lamp of Rock it now wore.

Section 4: (Parts 11-18, Epiloge, The Return: Part 1)