Part 16: Roshtaria

Shayla was the first one down into the room quickly followed by the others. Hiashi was still mumbling and didn't move. Riho was exhausted from the fight and sat at his feet, concerned about his master. Shayla ran over and embraced him. "I'm sorry. I should have went with you." she whispered.

If Hiashi was aware of her, he didn't acknowledge it. He just stared blankly forward repeating the same sentences. Shayla tried feeding his healing ability with her own power. The instant she started, sparks flew. She was forced back and fell over in surprise. "What happened?" she said.

"Bad stone men hurt 'ashi. Riho try to do best." Riho said.

"Bad stone men?" Shayla repeated. She pick up a piece of the statues, a face somewhat undamaged. She handed it to Fuji acting on a hunch.

"Yep, it's that bastard of a father. Kazusa must have made these statues to get him. But how did Kazusa find out about his father?"

"I'll ask him after I eject him from Afura." Shayla said getting up. Again she tried to feed Hiashi's healing ability, and again sparks flew. He responded this time, slightly, looking at the spot she touched wondering why it didn't work. Bringing his right arm up, he examined the Lamp. Power flowed along the circuitry, a glowing indicator vertically grew and shrank like a heartbeat. With a turn of a knob at the back of the bracelet, the Lamp turned off. He offered a hand to Shayla and looked at her as if he barely recognized who she was. She took his hand and his injuries were healed.

"So wearing an active Lamp interferes with his power. Guess it's to keep him from healing himself." Makoto said.

"Hiashi, let's go home." Shayla suggested tugging him along.

The trip back seemed longer than before. Jinnai and his followers retreated, but Londs insisted on keeping watch. Most of the group was on the deck. Alliele was piloting the ship. Shayla walked up from below looking defeated. "No change?" Miz asked answering her own question.

"He just sits there. Acting as if no one else is around. All he ever says is 'I killed him, again' and 'never again'. I can't snap him out of it." she said frustrated throwing her hands up.

"Think about what he's been through. He was forced to face his worst fear. Confront the past he thought he left behind." Fujisawa said.

"Exactly! He blasted those statues to rubble with the Lamp of Rock. No training or instructions, just boom. I'd say that counts as a win on his part."

"Win or lose, it doesn't matter in some cases. Even the act can be painful. It's not his Father, but his conscience." Ifurita said, "Through the endless nights I also tortured myself over what I had been forced to do. No matter how I tried to justify what I did, to convince myself someone else made me cause mass destruction, nothing worked. I still felt guilty. That's how he feels now. He feels the blame of having to destroy Kazusa's recreations of his father. Now it is compounded by their attacks which have multiplied his feeling of helplessness and shame."

"Sister Shayla," Alliele began nervously, "I think it might kinda help if I went down with you to sorta talk to him again."

"All right kiddo. Grab a flask and let's go." Shayla said hefting a wine jug.

"You're not going to get him drunk are you? He's underage!" Fujisawa said.

"Will you lay off? This ain't Japan you know. I'm only going to use it to loosen his tongue and talk to me. Like the old saying goes, 'flowing wine helps the truth to flow likewise' or something like that." she said going back down with a plan and a helper.

"He buddy, just went top side for some drinks. Thought you must be thirsty." Shayla said pouring a cup for Hiashi then herself then Alliele.

"Thanks." Hiashi said in a monotone voice. He sniffed it. "Wine."

"Yep. Some of the best the palace has to offer. Drink up." Shayla returned swallowing some herself.

"Father drank. A lot." he said staring at his reflection in the goblet.

"Ahhh we won't let you get too drunk. Right Alliele?"

Alliele nodded. "He was really bad wasn't he?" she asked.

"Yes. And I killed him. Twice."

"Hey, woah, time out. You said that before, but you never told me how you think you killed him. The first time I mean."

"He said someone murdered him when he was looking for me."

"So why was he looking for you?" Shayla coaxed.

"He wanted to ... kill me."

"And you feel bad because of that?! The bastard probably just pissed off some nut and got himself killed. Or got stinking drunk and waltzed in front of an airbarge or whatever you have in Japan. It doesn't make sense. If his ghost followed you here, why did he make himself known now? Think about it, Hiashi. Kazusa has power over rock. Statues of your father attacked you. Put two and two together. You are not responsible. You can't kill something that's not alive. Kazusa used those statues to get to you. Don't let him win." Shayla pleaded holding his free hand.

Hiashi looked at his goblet and drained it at once. He held it out for more which Shayla was happy to fill. The gloom was still there, but he didn't look as depressed. "Does it ever end? Will what happened to you happen to me whenever Fatora shows up?" Alliele whispered.

The whisper was heard and the other two stiffened in response. This was the secret Hiashi was keeping from me, Shayla realized. She felt pity for Alliele and understanding of Hiashi's secrecy. He had a different reason. She reminded him he had a duty, a promise to protect her from her tormentor. He searched for the right words. "Yesterday, I would have said, yes definitely, it would end. But now I can only hope it will."

Hiashi and Alliele raised their goblets in unison in cheers and emptied them. "Why don't you move back to your folks? If we let Rune know what's going on, she'll keep a tight reign on Fatora." Shayla suggested.

"I don't know if I'm ready to leave."

"I wasn't ready to leave either. When I did I was so desperate I didn't care where I went." Hiashi half-said, half-remembered. He looked at Alliele and said, "If you stay with her, you WILL end up like me. Don't let her win."

Shayla smiled inwardly knowing she helped him. Hiashi seemed almost back to normal. There was still something off, not quite right. Alliele was definitely better and went off to take her station leaving Shayla and Hiashi alone. She moved closer and said, "I'm sorry I wasn't there when you really needed me."

"There was nothing you could have done." he replied. His tone was meant to comfort, but sounded defeated.

She decided not to argue the point. She tried to change the subject, telling him about some of the places El-Hazard had to offer. Then she went on about her childhood in the Elemental schools and her rivalry with Afura. Shayla described at length about who Afura really was. "When this is all over, I don't want you being paranoid about her." she justified.

For the most part, Hiashi didn't talk much. Mostly he gave his opinions about the places Shayla described where he generally said either 'sounds like a tourist trap' or 'we'll have to go there sometime'. Usually he just sat there and listened and occasionally refilled their goblets, hers more often than his. Then she did something he didn't expect, she refused more of the wine. "I know my limits. Any more and I'll embarrass myself."

Hiashi was amazed. He knew she liked to drink, it was the one thing he didn't like about her. But knowing and respecting your limits put things in a whole new perspective. She had control over herself, didn't let it take over. Maybe he could find some of that for himself so he won't have to worry about losing control like Father. "So you've traveled a lot? I wasn't able to do much. School trips, the occasional outing with the sci-fi club, those six sky diving lessons I won last year. Father was firm against us traveling as if we were serfs. I think I've seen more of El-Hazard than of Japan." he said as the alcohol began to take effect.

Shayla gave him one last glass to empty. This was the part she was waiting for, when he'd open up to her and hopefully also feel better for it. "I felt like Father denied myself so much. He rarely let me go outside of Shinonome because he didn't want me running off with people outside my 'social class'. He didn't like history, just lived it, his version of it. Everything was set in stone for all time. On those few days we had meals together, it was the same thing for that day of the week. He actually believed being in a rut was things were meant to be. So when I was moved out of that, by choice or otherwise, he'd get violent. If he ever found out about my being president of the sci-fi club I bet his head would explode. Not only was it new and intellectual, by his standards anyway, but I also had a position which put me far above where a lowly peasant's son should be. Mom and I had to intercept his mail and calls to keep him from finding out. Once the club was going down to Tokyo for a film festival and convention, but I couldn't go. He found out and thought the club invited me along and gave me such a thrashing I couldn't show my face to anyone for a week. He's why I started reading science fiction in the first place.

"You know the first real novel I read, When Worlds Collide. Earth gets destroyed by a passing planet. For weeks I dreamed about being on the ship which escaped. Watching as Father gets obliterated from the universe. Every book or show was another dream without him, another way to freedom. Sneaking onboard an alien starcraft. A masked hero catching Father in the act. Some giant monster squashes the factory Father works at burying him under tons of rubble. Those hopes haunted my dreams and wouldn't let me give up. Well the dream has come true and he's still here.

"What I did in the cave was only the first step. He'll come again and again. But I'll stop him and I'll keep stopping him until he's gone forever." he finished, running his fingers along the Lamp of Rock.

"But you know Kazusa made those things. Somehow he found out about your Father and he's trying to get to you." Shayla insisted.

"One ghost can more easily find another. They're working together. Kazusa provides the means, Father provides the drive."

"Rhyna thought Afura and Kazusa were working together too. Do you believe that?" she challenged.

"No, but a ghost can't possess another ghost. Both hate me. It makes perfect sense that they work together."

"Don't get paranoid. I'm sure there's a logical explanation for it. Doesn't that sci-fi of yours give you any other ideas?"

"All I can think of are those American Twilight Zone episodes where a person who's running from his mistakes winds up being haunted by them forever. There's one where this guy in serious debt goes to another dimension and gets far worse problems. Oh what have I done to myself? I shouldn't have jumped into that portal." he finished drawing his knees to his chest.

"Hey, what about me? What about us? Look me in the eye and say you regret us meeting. Or poor Alliele. What do you think would have happened to her without you? All right, so you got a psycho ghost after you. At least now you've got friends who will help. Did you have that back home? The rest of us faced worse things and lived and we'll live through this one too. What if you didn't come here? If you're right, then your father would have found you sooner and people would think you're crazy. At least here with me you have a chance."

"Thank you, Shayla." he said smiling slightly. "Sometimes I forget what I have sometimes. I do have to admit these problems are a bit more interesting than before. At least they're easier to talk about in public. <ha>"

Londs cautiously walked down the short flight of stairs, "Excuse me. We are about to reach Floristica. Lady Alliele has requested you go with her when she talks with Princess Rune. Priestess Shayla, it has been an honor to fight along side of you. I hope you and Hiashi will be happy together."

"You sound like you're leaving Londs." Hiashi observed.

"... I am. Alliele told me about her situation. She did not want you to feel that you had to constantly protect with her, not with your own life. She has decided to return home and I will go with her to return to my previous job as captain of the guard at Castle Relryle. Hopefully this will ease the diplomatic tension."

"Diplomatic tension?"

"Alliele is part of the Relryle family. They rule a good-sized country on Roshtaria's southeast border. Roshtaria and Relryle have been close allies for decades. Alliele and Fatora getting together was something like a diplomatic marriage, a way to strengthen the bond between the two countries. But Fatora's treatment and Alliele returning home, well that's obviously not going to go over well with her parents. Something big's going to happen because of this." Shayla explained.

"So what's going to happen to Fatora?" Hiashi asked.

"I fear there is very little we can do legally. She is of royal birth. At least she has no legal power to keep Alliele her. Fatora's fate will be in Rune's hands. The situation is a bit more complex since it takes two Princesses to control the Eye of God." said Londs.

"So we gotta keep the little bitch happy or she won't cooperate the next time we need the Eye." Shayla muttered.

"Well Nanami said you supervised Makoto when he was in the Eye. Could he fix it so only one Princess is needed? Maybe he can take Fatora's place with his power?"

"He never looked into that. He did manage to repair the controls. Those blue bastards really did a number on it. At first Makoto thought it was permanently damaged. It might not be able to fire again anyway." Shayla said.

"I spoke with the boy about the Eye. He said it is repaired. It was a necessary part of returning Ifurita here. Having two Princesses was apparently a safety device to keep one Princess from going mad with power. But he said with his power, he should be able to replace Fatora if need be."

"Bet he wasn't too happy about that. He hated it enough having to impersonate Fatora once." Shayla snickered.

One of the guards called Londs topside as they entered port. The meeting with Rune went pretty much as expected. She heard from Alliele first. Then from Fujisawa, whose teacher training included things like this. Finally from Hiashi who had to relive some of his own horrors as he tried to put into words about how it affects a person and agreed with Alliele the best thing for her would be to return home. Rune then heard Fatora's side of things. Fatora was her usual self, royally pissed about the charges against her. Her defense and behavior only strengthened the case against her.

While Rune was deciding a verdict, she met with her advisors and Makoto about the possible consequences. Makoto was there mostly to inform her about the Eye of God and what could be done if it was needed again. Realizing the greater good, Makoto swallowed his pride and promised he would take Fatora's place if necessary. He was certain he could do it considering he had already generated one portal by himself.

Still it was not easy for Rune to give a judgement against her own flesh and blood. But it had to be done. She reminded Fatora of her royal obligations and how she failed to live up to them. Rune was in tears when she recited her verdict. Alliele would be allowed to go home with a formal apology from Roshtaria. Fatora would be denied any contact with her or any of Alliele's family for as long as Alliele saw fit. Also Fatora was to be under the care of Floristica's medical psychologists and subject to their recommendations. Until she was declared sane and no longer a threat to anyone, Fatora was stripped of her rank and position.

Alliele and Londs left soon after the verdict was released and Fatora taken away. Fatora fought against the guards with every step. Alliele herself was scared, worried, and confused. It wasn't just because of Fatora, she was worried about her future. Leaving Fatora also meant leaving her other friends. Sure, they promised to visit but it wouldn't be the same. Still her spirits rose somewhat before she climbed into the aircar and left. Hiashi managed to smuggle a short note in her bag before she left. She discovered it after returning to her old bedroom back home. "Remember, with real friends you'll never be alone. Siblings forever. Hiashi."

Shayla dragged Hiashi into a private minor celebration that night. He managed to lose some of his fear and aversion to alcohol. He still didn't drink as much as Shayla, but she knew how to handle it better. She tried to teach him patan, but he wasn't very impressed by it. He said it seemed too simple. Throw a card, turn the other one over. Worst part about it, he was right. She got him to play a set of ten rounds just to try it out and he won eight. His card throwing technique was unorthodox, learned from countless collectable card games. The psychological effect of blowing opposing cards away helped his game a lot. He tried to teach it to her but the skill was self taught and the flask of wine didn't help either. After only an hour of light drinking, talking, and patan, Hiashi had enough. Shayla half-led, half-dragged Hiashi to his room and dumped him in his bed.

He fell asleep instantly. Shayla collapsed in a chair and watched him for a moment before falling asleep herself. Shortly before dawn, the night chill stirred her from her sleep. Tired eyes were drawn to the bed where Hiashi was fighting his mind. He was in the middle of a nightmare, tossing in bed muttering feeble protests and soft cries for help from an imagined attack from his father and Kazusa. Shayla said his name trying to wake him. Instead they only modified his dream. Now Shayla was also being threatened in the dream. His mumblings turned to attempts to protect her. Shayla was touched. Again she tried to disrupt the dream, shouting his name, clapping near his ears, anything short of physically striking him. But all it did was make the nightmare worse. Claps became thunder in a terrible storm. A gentle shake transformed into a violent thrashing. A chilled wine flask against the cheek was a cold winter gale. Even trying to utilize his healing ability failed. Changing tactics, she kissed his forehead. The nightmare stopped, the mind was at peace.

Now Shayla was the one who was angry. Despite his brave front, the man she loved lived in terror of Kazusa. She was convinced somehow Kazusa was completely responsible for Hiashi's Father's appearance. Destroy him and Hiashi's nightmare will end. She wrote him a short note, grabbed her tracker and left as the first streaks of dawn appeared on the horizon.

Part 17: Kazusa's Lair

Shayla raced across the desert as fast as her wings could carry her. In her hand she held the tracking device. Cursing for not thinking of it before, she tried tuning it to energy signatures instead of divining matter. The display was difficult to understand. The readings indicated sources of powerful energy. Further adjusting filtered out nearly all other sources save Elemental Lamps. For some reason, the Eye of God could not be ignored by the device no matter what she tried. Once Lamp energies were detected, it was a simple matter of determining which sources were which until Kazusa was left. The Priestesshood school, her own Lamp, the Lamp of Rock, Miz's Lamp, the shrines, Shayla knew where they were which left a strong source off to the west. Strangly the device indicated two strong Lamps of Wind, a Lamp of Rock, and the Elemental Staff inside a structure radiating Eye of God energy all below an abandoned library converted to a decaying military outpost. If Kazusa wanted a good hiding place, he couldn't have picked better.

Rays from a late morning sun woke a grumpy Hiashi. His head pounded with each heartbeat. His stomach felt empty yet ill. For a few moments it felt like he was thinking through cotton. His first coherent thought was what happened the previous night. He remembered Alliele leaving, then he and Shayla spending some time together, patan, some wine. Ugh, the very thought of wine made his stomach lurch. He couldn't remember too much after that, just the two of them talking. He tried to tell her about his favorite movie, but he couldn't quite convey concepts like starships. Did he then do something stupid? Something which he could never forgive himself? Shayla might know. Wait, what if he did something to her? He put his face in his hands, fearing the worst. Then, he noticed a note. With shaky hands he reached over and read it.

"Hiashi, you're not going to be any fun unless you learn to handle your wine better. Ten mugs and you're out like a light. I don't know why you worry so much. One moment you have a good buzz, the next you're crawling for bed. No transistion. Guess it's a blessing, I mean at least you don't have to worry about staggering around mumbling like an idiot like Fuji used to do. I only wish I could help you with the hangover you're going to get. Just dunk your head in cold water. Remember to pull it out.

"I saw you have a nightmare, Hiashi. You probably don't remember it, but you were terrified. It hurt me to watch you like that and not be able to help. So I'm going to get that bastard for you so your nightmares will end. You mean too much to me. I love you. Shayla."

Hiashi read the note again and again making sure it got through his clouded mind. He didn't remember the details of the nightmare, just being scared then it ended instantly, replaced with something soothing. But Shayla was going out to face Kazusa alone. He had to help. He tried to jump out of bed, but nearly fell over. With a determined will he forced himself to stand and don the Lamp of Rock. While inactive, he could feel its potential. It made him feel more confident, more determined to go on. Now all he had to do is find her. He knew Shayla was well out of range of his detection power, but he had to try. Closing his eyes he concentrated on Shayla and her Lamp. He felt the cool blue tinge of Miz and forced it away. It was as if the fog limiting his sences was lifting. He could feel it expand to a mile, two miles. Now he could 'see' the Eye of God. It wouldn't leave his mind. Miz's words about how the Eye gave the Lamps their modern abilities were recalled. His abilities were stretched to the limit so he made one last gamble and focused on the Eye. He used it like a signal booster. Instantly his mind covered all the lands of El-Hazard. He knew where the Elemental Temples were, the schools, the Theocracy, even were acolytes practiced their craft. Not only of fire but of all the Elements. Shayla's lamp shown like a becon headed straight for Kazusa's base. Even if he knew how to use the Lamp to travel, he wouldn't be able to reach her before she arrived. As much as he wanted to, he knew he couldn't go alone like she did. Hiashi memorized where Kazusa was then returned his mind back to reality to get the others.

Kazusa was close if the scanner was accurate. Throughout the trip Shayla's mind was plaqued with memories of her and Hiashi together. From the start when she threw a fireball at him, to those first lessons on using Elemental Flame, their first kiss, the time he almost died, the trip to and from the Demon Isle, the good times and the bad all wrapping up to seeing him in the grips of a nightmare. At that moment she had a better understanding of what love meant. About taking another's pain as your own, to share the joys of life, and to join in their struggles. She wanted to spare him more pain, hoping that if she defeated Kazusa his ... their pain will end.

The blip was right below her now. All she saw was a small outpost abandoned when the Bugrom made their last attack on Roshtaria. She ventured into the cellar and began looking for a door amongst the broken wine bottles and discarded weapons. A forgotten tunnel closed with decaying boards led Shayla further into the ground. The dirt path began to take the shape of a staircase, then to one made of metal. The glow of machines could be seen from round the corner. The style of the walls reminded Shayla of the Eye of God. She peaked around at the consoles and workstations. Even with her experience with the Eye, the fuction of the computers was beyond her. It didn't matter to her though. She was here to take care of Kazusa and Rhyna.

Outside the room Shayla found Kazusa's machine. He stood at the controls making more adjustments. Rhyna was lying on a table next to the machine wearing some sort of headgear. It looked like her head was covered with wires all weaving together into one thick cord going into the machine. She held her Lamp in her hands instead of on her wrist. Despite that and similiar wires connecting it to the machine, it glowed with power. On the other side was a large glass container was attached. The top and bottom were sealed with metal and conductors to move power from the machine to the container. Kazusa was coaching her about what to do. "Fill the receptacle with your power through the transfer conduits. Let my creation learn about your power before making you one with it."

Buttons all over the machine began to come alive. The wires connected to her head and lamp throbed like a pulse. "I can feel it. It's like the winds I create, except it's more. I can't describe it."

"Yes ... good. I'm boosting power. Say good-bye to your moral body and hello to immortality." Kazusa smiled preparing for the transfer.

"My God! Rhyna? What do you think you are doing?!" Shayla shouted. She still hated Rhyna for what she did, but this was just plain crazy.

The two turned around. Rhyna got into a sitting position. "I'm finally getting the power I deserve. Kazusa is going to merge my mind and my Lamp into a body of wind. I won't be bound by the stupid Church rules. Absoulte control over the air will be mine! Do it!"

Kazusa pushed a final button as Shayla stood in shock. She turned on her Lamp and prepared to attack, but a large stone hand formed from a wall and grabbed her. The machine made a loud whirling noise and glowed with shifting colors. Rings of energy traveled along the cord from Rhyna's head to the machine. Her body convulsed violently forcing Kazusa to create a restraining arm. Then just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Rhyna's body went limp as the restraining arm sank back into the ground.

For one long moment nothing happened. Then the air inside the cylinder began to take shape. A pale outline of Rhyna's face formed. "It worked!" she said in an echoing voice.

"How do you feel?" Kazusa asked.

"Like I can do anything. But I don't have a body anymore. I can't touch anything. Let me out!"

"Rhyna, go back to your real body now before it's too late!" Shyala warned.

Kazusa opened the lid and the ghostly form flowed out. Shayla felt a breeze as Rhyna gathered the wind to her. A white replica of her nude body slowly faded into clarity. Her 'hair' now floated freely around her head. "Yes, much better. Look at me Shayla. I have become the Mistress of Wind. It obeys my every thought. For instance ..."

Rhyna gestured and Shayla felt a pressure inside her lungs forcing her to exhale. She tried to stop, but the air would not stay in her lungs. She began to gasp, her chest was burning, darkness crept into her vision. "Stop, Rhyna. You proved her point. We need her alive." Kazusa said sternly

"Why? We don't need her. Besides, I was only toying with her. It's not my fault she has a weak body." Rhyna returned floating to him, her eyes locked on her previous body. "Weak like that one. It couldn't handle the power I wanted. I'm glad I'm rid of it."

"Don't get overconfident. We need to know if she came her alone. Even if she did you can bet her friends will be out looking for her. We have to find out how she found us."

"Who cares how? Just show me how to work the controls and merge with your statue. That was your plan after all."

"I need the true Lamp. Using this facsimile would make me vulnerable."

"What a minute. I didn't use the true Lamp of Wind and I came through all right."

Kazusa smiled. "So you have. Thank you for testing my machine. I wasn't sure if it would work. You were the perfect test subject."

"You mean you didn't know if it would work? You ..." Rhyna tried to form her power blast but was unable.

"You see what I mean about being vulnerable? I still have the true Lamp of Wind. That means you are still under it's influence. For instance if I wished to I could ..." Kazusa let his sentence trail off as the wind picked up in the large room. Rhyna tried to fight it, but felt herself being ripped apart by the winds. Her feet and hair vanished first. Then the process accelerated, working up her body until just her head was left. She shouted in defiance as the last of her new form was swept away and sucked through an old ventilation duct and into the open sky. Kazusa continued his power, swirling Rhyna around until it was spread over many square miles. Like dissolving a pinch of salt in an olympic pool, her soul was scattered beyond recovery.

"There, she is sufficiently dissipated to prevent her mind from reforming. The poor gullible girl. I almost feel sorry for her." he said without an ounce of pity or regret.

"You bastard. I can't believe you did that."

"Oh I'm sorry, Shayla. Did YOU want to kill her? After all, she nearly killed your boyfriend. How is he by the way? I take it he liked my little surprise."

Shayla remained silent. Her anger was manifesting as visible red aura.

"Well you do realize I had to do it, to both of them I mean. Now that I have made sure my machine worked, I will send my mind and my power to a new body and become the strongest in El-Hazard. I want no rivals. That's why I'm glad you came. You'll make such a better hostage. I take it he's still alive." he continued.

"You're sick! Don't you know what you did to him?"

"Gave him one last bout with his father? Sparked nightmares for years to come? Scared him into staying away from me and my power? I sure hope so. I don't want to kill the boy, not unless I have to. I'd rather he'd just forget about challenging my power. Oh sure, once I did try to kill him. But that was when I thought it would be simpler for the sake of my plans. A mistake, I admit it. Once the Lamp is mine again, I will drain it completely thus preventing him from using it. He would make a very useful pawn after that. Once I've broken his spirit of course. If you're really good and help me, I may let you have him. I need someone to keep him in check, make sure he doesn't get any big ideas."

Shayla stuggled violently against her bonds. "No, I didn't think so. Then perhaps you'll tell me if your cohorts were successful? They were on the Isle longer. Won't talk? Let me guess? Makoto? Alliele? Fujisawa? Miz? Londs? Hiashi?" he taunted watching her reaction to each name. She didn't disappoint him. "You can be predictable. Somehow I knew he would find it. Call it woman's intuition. <laugh> You are so emotional. I bet that's why he loves you. Well my fiery priestess, enjoy your new role as bargining chip."

He turned around and resumed his work as the Shayla was pulled back to the wall. Her Lamp was cemented to her arm. Trying to use it would only burn her. "I must ask you, Shayla. How did you find me in the first place?"

The stone surrounded her like a mold. It wedged away her tracking device and gave it to him. Kazusa examined the device. "Well well well. Looks like your knight in shining armor is coming to save you. We must prepare ...."

Above the airboat landed inside the complex. "Where are they, Haishi? Can you detect them?" Makoto asked.

He concentrated a moment. "Yes. In that direction. I can see the Wind and Rock Lamp together. The Fire Lamp is inactive nearby. That means Shayla is ... Shayla!" he sprinted foward and down the stairs before anyone could stop him. Riho had almost caught up with him when he entered the doorway. As soon as he passed the doorway, a solid stone wall shot up from the ground throwing Riho back. Fujisawa tried to punch it down, but every hole he made was repaired almost instantly. Hiashi tried to force it down with his Lamp, but he didn't have the skill to undo the spell.

"Be careful. We'll find another way in." Makoto called.

A dim light from below provided Hiashi with enough of an outline of the path to follow. He passed by the banks of computers strangly taking comfort in being around quasi-familiar technology. The writing was alien to him, but he saw enough to deduce this was a relay station to the Eye. He could almost feel how his special sence could connect to the workstations then to the Eye. If only he could use it somehow like Makoto, but all he could do was monitor Elemental magic like a man watching a radar screen. He heard the sound of stone grinding against stone and watch Kazusa emerge from the darkness. "Where are they?" Hiashi asked.

"Still straightfoward. Good. You came in time, Hero. The Grand Priestess is still alive. I have permitted your friends to find her while we take care of business."

"I want proof."

"You are not in the best position to demand anything, boy. Remember who else I have hostage." The sound of stone on stone started again. Now Shayla came into the dim light. Her limbs were encased in stone casts. The brief experience had worn her clothes thin, almost to the point of indecency. Her mouth was moving, but no sounds were coming out.

"What have you done to her?!" Hiashi demanded taking steps to free her. Kazusa stopped him with a gesture. Hiashi felt strange, weak, tired.

Kazusa's voice seemed to be coming all around Hiashi. "I have encased your heads in still air. I control how much fresh air gets in to keep you alive. Don't try to use the Wind to free yourself unless you think you're good enough to save her as well. Now give me my Lamp."

"Get it yourself." Hiashi resisted, raising his arm to make an obscene gesture at Kazusa.

"Lamps cannot be removed by anyone else besides the wearer. While they're alive that is. Besides, this is more fun. I'm giving you and Shayla a chance to live. If you don't value your own life. What about hers?"

Shayla's head was swimming. Like when Rhyna used her power, she felt dizzy and on the verge of loosing consciousness. Have to stay awake. "Hiashi, don't." she tried to say, but could only manage a soft whsiper.

Reluctantly Hiashi unfastened the Lamp from his arm. A gust of wind carried it to Kazusa's waiting hand as it purified the air around Hiashi's and Shayla's heads. "You ... you shouldn't have done that for me, Hiashi." Shayla panted.

"Quit being so noble. Shayla. If you weren't here to threaten, I would have had to kill him to get my Lamp. It's all the same to me." Kazusa snarled releasing Shayla from her bonds, save for the one enveloping her Lamp.

"All right. <gasp> You have your stupid lamp. <wheeze> What do you want from us now?" Hiashi said supporting himself on a console.

"As I promised, you are free to go. Provided you do not try to interfere with my plans or challenge me again. But I prefer you to stay and watch me in my moment of glory."

"How thrilling. Thank you so much." Hiashi said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

"I'll also need you to dump the garbage when I'm done." Kazusa returned in the same tone.

"Garbage?" Shayla wondered picking herself up.

"He means Afura. Will she have her body back now that you're through with it?" Haishi answered.

"Perhaps." Kazusa said uncaringly as he used his powers to move his statue into position. Giving it one last look, he went to the table and strapped himself in. He used the Wind to start the machine before tossing that Lamp aside. Now he gripped the Lamp of Rock as the machine merged its power with his soul. Sparks of energy from the anceint and powerful Lamp flew in multiple direction. A small purple vortex began to form around the machine and expanded to include statue and subject.

Hiashi helped Shayla up as the energy storm got worse. Trying to channel a strong spirit and a powerful holy object was putting a greater strain on things than expected. They ducked behind a computer and tried to remove the cast around Shayla's left forearm. Unfortunately it held firm, showing no sign of weakness as they tried to shatter it.

"Oh give it up. We'll have to get Fujisawa to break if off or something. Stop Kazusa!" Shayla said fustrated.

"Are we lucky enough that your Lamp already activated?"


"Of course. Well let's just hope Kazusa got transfered faster than the Lamp." Hiashi said vaulting over the line of computers and sprinted to Afura's prone body. Braving the arcs of power, he reached out and took hold of the Lamp of Rock. The forces flying around the machine resisted. He could feel the energy burn his arms and shread his sleeves as he pulled. He could feel Kazusa/Afura's grip weaken. Hiashi gritted his teeth and pulled harder. Almost there ....

Suddenly there was a flash of light. Hiashi was thrown back over the computers and into a decaying wall. Aging plaster and brittle bricks crumbled, practically burying him. He moaned for a second then lost consciousness. Shayla started toward the pile to dig him out when she heard a new voice chuckle behind her. She turned and saw Kazusa's statue move. Its arms stretched as it examined itself. "Finally! After uncountable centuries, it is done! I have become one with my Lamp and element. Now all shall tremble under my rule!! Gods, I've always wanted to say that." Kazusa shouted in his original, male voice.

Tears forming in her eyes Shayla said, "I'll put that on your gravestone."

Kazusa smirked and Shayla felt the stone cast around her Lamp contract sharply. She fell to her knees in pain and tried again to get it off. "Pathetic." he spat.

Then the cast began to form cracks. A second later it vanished in an explosion of gravel. "Not really." Afura commented pulling herself up to a sitting position.

Shayla activated her powers and was ready to charge when the opposing wall shattered and Fujisawa walked in. "We're too late." Makoto said, "He's already transformed."

"Then we'll just have to transform him again into pebbles." Fujisawa returned cracking his knuckles. Behind him was his wife and Ifurita with the same sentiment. Makoto and Nanami supported the Grand Priestess. No one remembers asking Nanami to come along, but no one said she couldn't either.

The Grand Priestess was strangely unguarded in a secure part of the library. Makoto's ability allowed the rescue to succeed without having to break any doors or walls. A fact Makoto was glad about since the alternative could mean destroying the wealth of information which should be returned to the Theoracy. "I suppose there's no chance of you surrendering when you realize how outmatched you are."

"None." Ifurita said firing a shot. Kazusa didn't try to dodge and accepted the attack, counting on his new power to protect him. Instead he screamed in pain as he was knocked down. When the dust cleared, he noticed a crater in his chest the size of a large order of noodles. This was not suppose to happen. He was suppose to be invulnerable, immortal. He wanted the damage to be healed and it was. Bits of dust still in the air and a few chucks of stone on the tile floor he was touched were absorbed into his new body and filled the hole in a matter of seconds as his opponents watched in stunned silence.

Riho moved stealthily in the shadows and behind the anceint computers to the pile of rubble Hiashi was buried under. Hiashi's face was exposed, but the rocks were too big and heavy for him nor Riho to push away. Riho tried to get Hiashi to wake up, but with no luck. He looked at the battle. Afura was slowly recovering from being used as a meat puppet. But Shayla was approaching exaustion and injured from being held as Kazusa's captive. Kazusa was reshaping his arm into a pike and threw it at Shayla. Riho raced foward and transformed around Shayla in time to deflect the stone blade. "Thanks little guy. Where's Hiashi?" she asked.

"Under rocks. Not dead. Asleep. No wake up."

Shayla dodged another pike as Kazusa moved slowly to the stone floors of another part of the complex. "Shit! And we can't dig him out now." she said throwing fire at the recoiling pike, making it so brittle it fell apart before Kazusa could absorb it.

Unfortunately it didn't matter as Kazusa reached a stone floor the instant Fujisawa charged into his back. More bits of rock flew from Kazusa as he was thrown into the hallway. "Keep hitting him. We have to wear him down faster than he can reform." he shouted moving in for another attack.

A stone fist appeard from a wall and took Fujisawa by surprise. The Royal Champion managed to grab the fist before it could return into the wall and crushed it. Kazusa howled and pulled a stump of an arm from the rock as he concentrated on restoring it. Afura came next. She tried to lift Kazusa off the floor. But he grabbed on, sinking his other hand into the stone and hanging on as a tiny fist took shape in the stump of his other arm. Miz and Shayla applied their powers with varying degrees of success. Kazusa discovered to how to continuously recycle his body, restoring minor damage bits even as they were being wounded. A close observer would see bits of rock flowing back and forth like the circulatory system in a person.

Fujisawa tried doing a greater amount of damage at once by wrapping his arms around one of Kazusa's legs and squeezing it off. Kazusa screamed again and took a swing with a half-reformed arm. Fujisawa shattered that one also. "Looks like you weren't as tough as you thought. You rocky horror." he said.

"Errrrr I'm just now seeing the whole picture. Let me show you." Kazusa returned. Instantly his body fell apart like cheap plaster.

"Where did he go?!" Afura said.

They heard a distant rumbling. "My God. The airboat!" Miz realized and all of them ran back the way they came to the surface.

Meanwhile Makoto and Nanami were trying to dig Hiashi out of the rubble. "We've almost got him." Makoto said optimistically.

They managed to push some of the smaller rocks away and make sure he was in no immediate danger. But they'd need Fujisawa, or at least Afura, to lift the remaining stones away. "There is nothing more you can do, children." the Grand Priestess said, "You can best help all of us by finding my Elemental Staff."

"But we can't leave him like this." Nanami protested.

The Grand Priestess shot her a hard look. She was not used to being questioned. "Even if we could free him, he will still be unconscious until he is healed. My staff controls all the elements. With it not only could I remove the rubble, but perhaps even use it to activate his healing power. Besides, unless we find it and defeat Kazusa, it won't matter if he's free or not."

"Uhhh right." Nanami said as she and Makoto ran off to look for the Staff.

The Grand Priestess took one last look at Hiashi and considered something for a moment. She walked over to him and placed her fingertips on his forehead and softly spoke an ancient blessing for Elemental Champions. He certainly deserved it, but she was unsure if he would hear or understand what the blessing meant. There was no way he could have learned the symbolism of what she did, not in the short time he has been in El-Hazard. But if he was aware of receiving it, the understanding was not as important. She could feel him stir for the moment after the blessing. She smiled knowing that she had reached his mind.

Part 18: Ground above Kazusa's Lair

By the time Fuji and the others reached the surface it was too late. Kazusa managed to recreate his entire body out of the rock near their airboat. This time he exchanged detail for size. His new body was over four meters tall and looked like a rough-cut statue than earlier. Before, the body was a labor of love, akin to a work of art. Now he needed power, appearance be damned.

But it cost him in other areas. To move he had to constantly reshape his body. Each action was closer to an bad, computer-animated morph under a strobe light than a movement. He cracked the pontoons of the airboat by enlarging his hands then dropping them down. Miz formed a quick river to move what was left of the airboat to relative saftey. The resulting mud made unsure footing for both sides. Mud and dirt skirted the defination of rock. For the time being, it was out of bounds when it came to his powers. Kazusa managed to collect enough loose stones from the mud to transform his left hand into a shield and right hand into a scoop. As Fujisawa charged, Kazusa began a mud slinging attack worthy of any politician.

Afura and Shayla attacked from above. Afura tried to divert Kazusa's mud balls with her wind as Fujisawa made another charge. For a moment, Shayla did not act. Fire would dry the mud and make it easier for him to find real stone for his use. If she was going to do something, it would have to be soon. Kazusa's body was evolving. In a matter of minutes, his body would be capable of real movement. She thought back to the conversation with Hiashi when he tried to explain some of the things in sci-fi. Part of it involved his laster and how he demostrated it by lighting a candle with a beam of fire bounced off a series of three mirrors. "If he could do it, so can I." she thought.

She reshaped her fireballs into something finer, something with a point and an edge, something meant for cutting instead of frying. The result was an attack the size of a sheet of paper including thickness. It cut away half his shoulder and went on into the mud, flash drying a small amount. Kazusa tried to take a swing at her, but the effort cracked what was left of his shoulder causing his arm to fall off. He managed to catch it as it fell and tried to reattach it to his shoulder.

Shayla tried to keep that from happening by throwing more fire sheets. Some attacks cut away more of Kazusa's body. Afura lifted those pieces away from his influence. Others, which struck his chest or thighs, cut right through doing little damage. Kazusa shrank his body shooting the excess like a vulcan cannon at his opponents. Afura and Shayla managed to dodge the desperate attack as Ifurita erected a foce screen to protect the rest.

Kazusa, fully enraged, reached out with his powers. Small boulders appeared to come to life and rolled through the mud, crashing into him. The rocks began piling up. Fujisawa tried to stop one, but was only run over, pressed into the mud. Then he tried smashing them as they passed. But he only succeeded into creating more pieces for Kazusa to work with. Even before that last stone collided with the mass, a shape began to rise.

For a few tense seconds it was just a blob, a collection of stones like a magnified anthill. The boulders broke down into stones, then into pebbles, then into finer pieces the others couldn't see. Kazusa willed the stone into a new body, an even larger one. This time he would not be slowed by a poor design or pained by shattered limbs. Now he was a ghost in a shell of rock, his true body buried at the center of the head of a secondary body twenty meters tall that he controlled through will alone.

Miles away the Eye of God, satisfied the criteria given to it was fulfilled, activated an anceint program. Power flowed within, working its way around the myraid of computers and technology. From the outside it looked no different than before. Only the sharpest of eyes could tell it was rotating slightly. Inside the power acculumated and seven invisible pulses were sent to a unique receiver.

Below the battle Hiashi began to regain consciousness. It was a slow process. At first he became aware of his existence. Then the memory prior to his blacking out resurfaced. But he still lacked the strength to move. For one second he considered returning to that sleep-like state, but the noise from the fight changed his mind. The battle could accidently cause a cave in. More importantly the battle meant he had failed and Kazusa got his new body. No. He could not fail like this. It was his fault Kazusa got the Lamp in the first place. Hiashi knew Kazusa would have gotten his hands on the Lamp no matter what Hiashi did. But Hiashi still felt guilty, as if the Lamp was his responsibility. He realized that he had felt that way since it was first clamped onto his arm yesterday morning. Choosing between Shayla and the Lamp was one of the hardest things he had to do since he came to El-Hazard. Shayla ... no the choice was obvious, but difficult. He could only hope she was all right and could succeed where he could not.

Thinking about the Lamp of Rock made him aware that it was now on his arm like before. He didn't remember putting it on, only yanking it away from Afura's body as Kazusa's spirit left and the Lamp's power drained. It felt dead now, no more than a piece of jewerly. Then he could feel a warm sensation pulse through the Lamp. Then another, and another. Each one felt stronger than before. The seventh one also went through his mind, giving him understanding.

He had a vision of the Eye of God saw the last time someone used it to gaze across diminsions. It was of how Kazusa spied on him in the hours before coming to El-Hazard. Hiashi saw himself, at home, with father using the belt on him. His body went limp as he relived that last night through the eyes of an outsider. He saw himself as his will was nearly broken then turn around and strengthen with resolve. He saw how indignation as well as desperation spurned him to action. He saw how it compared to Father's creulty, bordering on sadism. The events moved amazingly fast, how it skipped foward in time like a badly edited movie. He watched his father go into the bar as if he didn't really care if he found his son. The Eye of God replayed the murder and revealed the faces of those responsible as well as their nonchalant attitude over what happened. "<ha> He's right. That one won't be missed." Hiashi said feeling the self-inflicted guilt lift off his shoulders.

The rubble was blown away with a clap of thunder. Any dust generated was quickly forced to settle. There Hiashi stood. Tan streams of energy flowed from the Lamp and around him in a compat helix. A pillar of rock rose under his feet and lifted him up. The ceiling parted at his approach, forming a tunnel through the dirt and stone to the surface.

Above the battle was not going well. Any attacks successful in damaging the monstrosity were ignored for the most part. Only when the bits of damaged acculumated to become a nuance did Kazusa pause to concentrate on repair. Without this regeneration ability, Kazusa would have fallen several times over. Limbs have been practically shattered only to be drawn into the torso and emerge undamaged. For his part Kazusa was enjoying the battle. It was somewhat exhausting, but also exilerating. He was at the limits of how much rock he could presently control. But right now he was doing things he could only dream of in his former life. He remebered the fights with adventurers after causing the schism in the Elemental Church. While he could not presently cause quakes or rock slides, he did have unprecedented control over his rock body and this second body.

Makoto, Nanami, and the Grand Priestess came from a tunnel. The Elemental Staff displayed his power in a spiraling blast of the combined elements. But the strain was proving too much for a body weakened by a lack of sustenance. Kazusa countered by shooting a stone spear at her. Makoto threw her down, saving her life. But her grip over the Staff was lost. The spear missed Makoto by an inch, but shattered the staff. The detached tip spit multi-colored sparks as Kazusa laughed in triumph. "Is it repairable?" Makoto asked unsure.

"Yes, but it will take time. Time we don't have." the Grand Priestess answered.

"Makoto, get the pieces and the Priestess out of here. We'll hold off this thing." Fujisawa shouted.

Shayla tried blinding him with a fiery fog as the others attacked again. The Fujisawas managed to disable one leg each as Ifurita and Afura destroyed both arms. Kazusa could feel himself falling over from within the head, closest to the fire. He almost shed his stony giant and continue the fight at their size, but that would have been too dangerous. For the first time Kazusa considered the possibility of defeat. Using what little he had left of his limbs, he again reformed his body. A bit smaller but still huge by human standards. A still forming hand reached out and grabbed Shayla-Shayla. Kazusa took delight in her fear as he slowly began to crush her. Riho expanded to protect her, but he couldn't last long.

A rumbling from below distracted Kazusa from murdering Shayla, but he still kept his tight grip on her. Something erupted from the dirt in a cloud of dust. Makoto squited as the outline formed. It was humanlike with sharp high-tech lines and larger than Kazusa. Even before it emerged from the dust, Makoto recognized it. "I don't believe it. Hiashi created Fortress Maximus."

"Are you sure it's him?" Nanami asked nervously.

"Can you think of anyone else who'd know about Cybertrons?"

"Humph, you two are probably the only ones at Shinonome who still remember that old show."

"Can't argue with the results though." Fujisawa commented shielding his eyes from the sun.

With a determined stride, Hiashi marched the robotic statue foward. As it came from the settling dust cloud, Makoto noted the colors were wrong. Instead of the blues, reds, and other colors, this was only stone tan and grey. It didn't diminish the effect of its presence. "Let her GO!" Hiashi shouted firing the primary weapon.

With only rock and stone to work with, the weapon fired a cluster of pebbles like a shotgun. Kazusa's arm was cracked and weakened enough by the blast to let Shayla-Shayla free herself. For a second she debated between joining Hiashi and flying for cover. But when Kazusa charged Hiashi, she knew it was strictly a one-on-one battle.

Kazusa moved in as fast as he was able. Hiashi stayed his ground firing his weapon two more times before being forced to abandon it. They attacked each other using anything they could dream up or remember. Kazusa employed the anceint swords and similiar weapons by crafting them from the gun Hiashi dropped. Hiashi preferred using his robotic fists and the body contortions only a construct can preform.

His fighting style was nothing more than those observed by others. Makoto could pick out elements from movies, video games, even the Three Stooges. Hiashi was using them effectively, taking several oppertunities to shot Kazusa at point blank range with hidden weapons mounted on the Cybertron replica.

At first it was obvious the two were too evenly matched. Cracked stone could be repaired with a thought and Kazusa was absorbing parts of Hiashi's construct as he knocked bits away. Whether it was superior skill, luck, the right attitude, or noble cause, Hiashi was starting to come out ahead. Kazusa's construct mirrored its creator in facial expressions and movement while Hiashi's remained unemotionless. There wasn't even the look of satisfaction on its face as Hiashi made it pound Kazusa again and again.

It was only on the outside however. Inside the stone Cybertron's head Hiashi fought with passion. This was the man who tried to kill him several times, who almost killed Shayla by crushing her, the one who tortured him with his father, who used an innocent person's body as a vessel for his spirit. Hiashi no longer considered Kazusa to be human. He lost that distinction when he abandoned Afura's body for an unfeeling statue. Unless stopped, Hiashi feared Kazusa would forget the value of life and destroy and murder without regret. Relentlessly he pounded at the controls. He had a plan, but it would take time and work to complete.

His controls were simple. Buttons, switches, pedals, and joysticks appeared and functioned as Hiashi willed it. But all of that was only to focus his actions, a way to better translate thought into deed without merging mind to the stone. Kazusa's strength was a liability since now he felt an echo each blow to his vehicle while Hiashi only felt a shake and sence the existence of damage. He saw only through his new senses. The Lamp of Rock senced the stone around him. Through that he knew where he was, Kazusa's location, and the terrian around them. His power told him where Shayla, Miz, and Afura were. But he was ignorant about where other people were. He hoped the others had the common sence to stay away from the fight.

The tide dramatically turned in Hiashi's favor. With a powerful left hook, Hiashi sent Kazusa down. Shayla-Shayla approached causciously, wondering what would happen next. Unwilling to admit defeat, Kazusa threw himself on Fortress Maximus and began absorbing it. Hiashi could feel control over his vehicle slipping. He ejected the head as he willed the body and all his bits of stone Kazusa absorbed to explode. Their stone shells protected them from most of the damage. Hiashi shattered his beheaded cocoon and formed fire wings as Shayla flew within range.

Kazusa was thrown from the head of the giant and into the ground, bouncing several times. The battle had visibly weakened him. All over his body were cracks. He looked like he was on the verge of falling apart. Old habits from having a living body made him 'breathe' heavily in exhaustion. His opponents circled around him again. Afura created a wind focused enough to lift Kazusa from the ground to prevent escape. He looked hard at Hiashi with eyes full of hate as he landed. "How did you do it? The Lamp was drained. Worthless!"

"The Eye of God restored it ... and more. Now, like the other Lamps, it can now create its element instead of merely manipulating it." Hiashi explained.

"The your giant-" Kazusa started.

"Created entirely by MY Lamp. I had complete control, even over the parts you absorbed. It's over, Kazusa. Surrender now while you can."

"Never!!" Kazusa shouted and channeled some of the last bit of power he had into the ground.

The earth shook as figures rose like zombies in a Grade B horror movie. Kazusa gambled that subjecting Hiashi to statues of his father would distract him enough for Kazusa to escape. Fujisawa and the others attacked every statue in reach. Even though they crumbled easily, they kept coming. Hiashi stood unmoving and unimpressed. "It won't work this time. The Eye showed me the truth. <heh> I ain't 'fraid of no ghost."

Makoto rolled his eyes. "You just had to say that. Didn't you?"

"Yep. 'Cause I'm going to do this." Hiashi focused the power of the Lamps in his hands. In his left were the elements of the other Lamps. Water was super-heated by fire past steam and ionization into plasma. Wind shaped the result into a barely controled winding stream of energized elemental particles which ripped through the statues before convering on Kazusa.

His arms and legs were distingtated first. Then his torso. As the steams of energy worked their way to his neck he shouted, "I'll be back. You can turn me to dust, but as long as I'm on El-Hazard, I'll be back."

"Then I'll just have to remove you from my new home. You wanted control over Rock? Well let me return you to where there is nothing but Rock." Hiashi finished by unleashing the power building in his other hand.

Kazusa's head glowed bright yellow then faded from existence leaving a white hot spark. The spark streaked across the horizon and into the Eye of God. From there it was thrown across time and space to the dimensions where the Elemental Lamps drew their power. Abandoned in a lifeless universe of rock and stone and the only way out permently blocked by the Eye. Kazusa could do nothing but hope his soul faded away before madness and insanity took over.

Epilogue: Floristica

The trip back home was quiet. Everyone was too tired to speak save for the odd inquiry about the status of the airboat or if it was really over. Afura stayed away from everyone else and refused to look or talk to anyone, even the Grand Priestess. The Grand Priestess decided to wait before trying again and set herself the task of repairing her Elemental Staff and mentally preparing her report to the Theoracy.

Hiashi and Shayla sat close to each other. They faced neither towards nor away from each other. Both looked like they wanted to say something, but neither dared. All they could do for now was hold hands behind a coil of rope. They couldn't see, but anyone looking at them could tell what was between them and knew the next step was their's and their's alone.

When they reached the Palace, the mood lightened. It was as if the reality of their victory was realized by the magnificent domes of the Jewel of Floristica. Nanami immediately began working on a victory celebration as the others attended to more urgent matters. Wounds were attended to, dirt and grime washed away, and fresh clothes helped everyone return to their normal selves.

During the day there has been some changes in the royal court. Fatora's removal had been seen by some as a chance to 'clean house' and reorganize. With Londs gone, there was a scramble for who would be the next captian of the guards. The various politicians and officials attempted to have one of their people fill the position. But the choice was ultimately Rune's. Before leaving Londs had already spoken to the Princess about a successor. Fujisawa was a popular choice, but he was still new to El-Hazard and was still learning the lands customs and laws. He didn't know what it meant to be a guard and still enjoyed his freedom as a Royal Champion. Ultimately, Lond's second, Persad, was promoted and Fujisawa faced the rather dull prospect of slowly being integrated into the castle guards.

Dr.Schtalembaugh was also looking for a successor. While he was far from retiring, he knew it was past time to begin training the next Royal Libarian. All his assistants had plans of their own, some wanted to further their own knowledge at universities, others sought jobs applying what they know in pure research and experimentation. The secret truth is that when it comes to scholars, being the Royal Libarian was pretty low on the preference scale. His peers sometimes saw him as a sell out, someone who was a scholar for the money or fame and not for the prusuit of knowledge. Like most preconceptions, this one was off a bit. The Doctor was more interested in serving and aiding the Royality. His role, however minor, the last time the Eye of God was used was a prime example of his choice in becoming Royal Libaraian. Soon, in a few years, he can comfortably retire. But first he wanted to be sure his position would be in capable hands.

Makoto was the perfect choice. Now that Makoto had found his love, he needed a new direction in life. His educational background formed the basis of the skills and habits a Royal Libarian would need. Plus, learning how part of the Eye of God worked gave him a taste of what the job was like. Now that Makoto was in some ways Fatora's replacement he was effectively confined to Roshtaria like Princess Rune. That fact didn't hurt either.

Dr.Schtalembaugh used Makoto's love of Ifurita in his argument. What would happen if Ifurita was severely damaged or needed help understanding herself? Being the Royal Libarian was the best way to gain the trust of the people of El-Hazard. If they trust him, they will trust her as well. But they were unnecessary. Makoto had already planned on studing under the Doctor, but was just waiting for the best oppertunity to ask.

Nanami was already back at her restaurant and in ten minutes was already acting as if everything was back to normal. She barely talked about what happened to the staff apart from what to prepare for the celebration. If they ask where she was at opening, Nanami just shrugged her shoulders and said something about helping her friends. Then she'd tell the questioner to lay off and get back to work. So it seemed that every one of the Earthers had found their place in El-Hazard and felt confident about what the future would bring.

Almost everyone. Hiashi was pacing back and forth in his apartment. Riho was curled up in a ball in a chair, asleep. "What was keeping her?" he wondered looking at the clock for the eighth time in ten minutes. She said she'd come over as soon as the healers made sure her arm suffered no internal injuries while in the cast.

Riho's antenna twitched then there was a knock at the door. Nervously, Hiashi opened it and let Shayla inside. They embraced they way they were unable to when he saved her from Kazusa. For a tender moment neither spoke. Shayla took a breath and whispered, "Thanks."

"For what?"
"For saving me. For saving all of us. You were willing to give up your Lamp for me."
"I had to.... I love you."
She hugged him tighter, "Love you too. Will you ... well, errr."

They blushed and nervously stuttered as they spoke in half-words trying to say the same thing. They started to laugh at their own hesitation. Tension dispursed, they said together, "Wanna get married? Yes."

They kissed a tender kiss, full of promise and hope for a future together. It stopped when they heard footsteps coming up the stairs. They stood side by side to greet the visitor. It was the Grand Priestess. Both bowed respectfully then Shayla spoke, "Grand Priestess, ... I'd like to retire. I want. Well Hiashi and I wish to be.... We're going to get married. So I guess I'll have to quit."

"Shayla, you mean you have to give up your job? I can't ask you to do that." Hiashi said stunned.

Shayla pulled back, "Hey you went and gave the Lamp of Rock to Kazusa for me. You think you're the only one allowed to compromise?"

"No, Shayla, I cannot let you do that." the Grand Priestess stated.

"What?! I mean why not? Not that I'm doubting your wisdom or anything." Shayla hastily ammended. If Shayla-Shayla was going to change her mind, she had to be polite.

"I have spoken to Afura Mann. She feels her ordeal has left her unclean thus unsuitable for her position until she has purified herself. Her Lamp of Wind has been returned to me while she takes a leave of absence for medatation. That leaves you, Shayla-Shayla, the last Priestess for the foreseeable future."

"Well I guess I can understand that. But how soon-"

"Hiashi. You have recovered the Lamp of Rock. The Eye of God has deemed you worthy by revitalizing it. Also you have saved El-Hazard and two of my three Priestesses. By doing so, you have corrected an ancient mistake. It is the will of the Elemental Council that you be ordained as the first Priest of Rock of the Theoracy. From this day forth, males, as well as females, will be allowed to enter the Elemental schools.

"Fire Priestess Shayla-Shayla, it will be your duty to instruct Hiashi in the laws and ways of the Church." the Grand Priestess finished.

Hiashi took Shayla's hands, "At least we can be together." he said with a forced smile to hide his dissappointment.

The Grand Priestess smirked to herself, "He is right Shayla. During my incarceration, I have uncovered many of the old laws from Kazusa's time. Some of these have been restored. The dictate against a Priestess marrying was from an earlier one stating that any marriages must be between the Elemental schools. After men were cast from the Church, Priestesses had no one to wed without first retiring. But now since that mistake has been rectified...."

"We can get married?!"

"That is why you must stay Shayla-Shayla. Hiashi is the only one alive who has any knowledge of how to use the Lamp of Rock. We cannot lose him without again losing the Lamp. If you and he are to be wed, you must also stay in your role as Priestess of Fire. However your wedding must be delayed a short while. Some members of the Council are still uneasy about men joining the Church, much less as the husband of a Priestess. But I will change their minds. They just need time to get used to the idea. It won't take long, not after I present them with our lost code of laws. Some of our most powerful members in those times were wife-husband teams. Besides, it will give us the time needed to build a proper Temple of Rock. Welcome to the Elemental Church, Hiashi Priest of Rock."

The Return, Chapter 1: Shinonome High

'Ginew' and 'Mecha' were on opposite sides of the projector trying to adjust it for the night's movie. They and four others formed the unofficial core of the Science Fiction club. They were the ones who showed up early for set up, planned the events, and the like. Each had a nickname reflecting which area of sci-fi they liked. Actually Ginew, with his love of dramatic posing, cheap melodrama, and overused cliches decided to give everyone their codenames. Since his elder brother helped found the club years ago, the others generally accepted it. He showed a talent for picking out the best names since even the most reluctent grudgingly admitted they fit their personality.

For example Mecha was fasinated by large robots and had won a science fair by converting a remote controlled car into a transforming action figure with rotating arms.

The topic of conversation, as it had been for the past three days, was what happened to their president, Uncle Sam aka Hiashi. His nickname had a double meaning. Primary it was because be prefered American science fiction, from television shows, to movies, to novels, even games. He is the first student at Shinonome High to completely loose his Japanese accent when speaking English. The second meaning was because he kept his collection of tames and books at school and was pretty free with it. It was all available for anyone to borrow. He liked loaning parts of his collection, acting like a favorite uncle.

"So where is Uncle Sam tonight? I haven't since he became student president." Mecha asked.

"You didn't hear his mother died?" Voice returned.


"Fraid so. Hit and run driver. His dad too." she explained. Voice originally joined the club to learn more about anime and narration to help in becoming a voice actress. Already she did a bit on public access and was a member of the broadcast club. She also had the dubious distinction of being the only one who could say "It is up to me to save the world!" believably.

"That's not quite right. Remember, his dad took him home after he got the news." came a new voice from the back. The speaker reeked of cigarettes and trace amounts of sake. The club called him Cyber in reference to the cyberpunk subgenre. Cyber was a borderline member of the club, and a borderline student of Shinonome High for that matter. He was part of a gang that hung around a neighborhood north of the school. Cyber comes to the meetings to enhance his own attitude and style by copying those he watches.

He wasn't very popular in the club. But he paid his dues on time, school by-laws prevent him from being kicked out. Also since he provides the occasional black-market, pirated movie and more importantly keeps his gang from assulting club members, the others generally accept him.

"And what did you police 'buddies' find out?" Mecha asked.

Cyber ignored the remark, "They found his dad's body in the river. Single knife wound. His truck was parked outside some yakusa dive. No one's asking a lot of questions. And get this, a witness says it was the same type of truck that ran down his mom."

Mummers of disbelief were passed among the others. Cyber continued, "Hey, I'm just repeating what I heard. But since the truck has a good-sized dent in the grill, it's not hard to figure out what happened."

"So Hiashi's probably hiding from his dad and doesn't even know he's dead!" Ginew concluded with a bit of excitement.

"This isn't one of your shows. He might be in real danger. We should do something." Voice added.

"What do you suggest? He knows where we are. If he hasn't come to us then he doesn't want us involved. I told my friends what he looks like and they're keeping an eye out for him. He'll turn up." Cyber finished.

"Until then we can watch decent Godzillia movies for a change!" Ginew proclaimed to lighten the mood.

Sugyosha (student warrior) grumbled. He never says very much or have much patience with anything. Still only a junior, he's been a member of every martial arts club at the school, if not the city. The problem was he usually got fustrated and impatient after a few weeks. They weren't teaching him what he wanted to know, entertainment style fighting: chi power moves, super leaping, and taking enough damage to destroy a building. The only exception was karate which his parents forced him to stick with. After he quit each club, he'd challenge Cyber to a sparing match. He never won. But from all the martial arts he began but never finished, he's developing a new style of karate made from the basics other martial arts and large amounts of skulldruggery he learned from Cyber and action movies.

The other members started coming in so nothing more was said. Anyone who asked about Hiashi were told he was attending his mother's funural. Despite, or because of, Ginew's statement, they watched a direct-to-video live action movie followed by some homemade music videos by Mecha and Voice.

The last video was interrupted by a large grumble. Someone shouted, "Oh gross! I thought they canceled Cabbage Day at the cafteria."

"They did. That noise came from below." another said.

The grumble came again, louder this time rattling the folding chairs. Suddenly three-fingered hands shot through the floor, pulling a monster from the depths. It resembled a giant purple ant and spoke with staccato chirps as the students scattered. A second monster appeared, then a third. This one was smaller and orange with black, but just as terrifing. It raised its fist to strike Sugyosha who reflexively blocked the attack and countered with a swift kick between the legs.

Not being a mammal, the kick didn't have as great effect as hoped. But it was enough to knock it down. Cyber, weilding a knife, was keeping one of the big ones at bay with desperate swings. Both held the monsters at bay until everyone else escaped. They ran down the hallway as more tremors shook the building.

The group met at a corner to catch their breath. "What are those things?" Voice asked breathless.

Ginew was almost beside himself with excitement, muttering possible explinations taken from all the Grade B movies he's memorized. He was forming an idea from a government conspiracy, alien invaders, and an radiation accident. "Hey Ginew," Mecha said, saying the name scarastically as he leaned against the railing of a stairwell, "let's get out of here first, then worry about where the monsters came from. All right?"

Suddenly the railing, already twisted and damaged from the quake five days earlier, gave way and Mecha fell into the room below. The others ran down to help when they remembered where they were. They were in the room where those bizarre ruins were found. Beams of light shot from the design on the cracked floor, wrapping around Mecha's body as he tried to pick himself up. The cylinder on the back wall rotated and hissed, releasing a small cloud of steam. Sugyosha and Cyber pulling Mecha to saftey.

The stairway collasped and all five members slid into the light. The beams attacked them like tentacles, but doing no harm. "Oh my God! They're coming in here!" Voice shrieked as the insect monsters took notice of them and looked for a way they can get down into the room safely.

"Look!" Mecha shouted pointing to the cylinder which began to open.

El Hazard Fan Fiction