Summary of prequel, Rock and Redemption

Rock and Redemption started three months after the end of the first OVA. Hiashi, fleeing his violent father, escaped into El-Hazard when Makoto rescued Ifurita. He gained the ability to use any Elemental Lamp within a hundred feet and to use Elemental power as healing. Soon after arriving Kazusa, the ghost of the last Priest of Rock, tried to kill him because he was a threat to his plans. Kazusa wanted to use his lost Lamp of Rock to create a stone replica of his body and infuse it with the Lamp and his soul.

But it was the Lamp who found Hiashi. Using the Lamp and his power, Hiashi defeated Kazusa. His victory made him the first man to become a Priest in the Elemental Church in centuries and opened the door for men to the Church as a whole. Also during his brief residence in El-Hazard, he won the heart of Shayla-Shayla. Thanks to some rediscovered laws, the two were allowed to marry while retaining their positions within the Church.

Chapter 1: Shinonome High

Takaai 'Gineu' Sawai and Ken 'Mecha' Fuse 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, cleaned afterward, and so forth. Each had a nickname reflecting which area of sci-fi they liked. Actually Gineu, with his love of dramatic posing, cheap melodrama, and overused cliches decided to give everyone their codenames. Since his older brother helped form the club years ago, the others generally accepted it. He showed a talent for picking out the best names since even the most reluctant grudgingly admitted they fit.

For example Mecha was fascinated by large robots and had won a science fair by converting a remote controlled car into a transforming action figure with rotating arms. He was a natural with mechanical and electronic devices. Drawings and technical plans of robots, powered armor, and star ships he created were becoming a regular feature in several sci-fi magazines.

The topic of conversation, as it had been for the past three days, was what happened to their president and sixth member, Uncle Sam a.k.a. Hiashi. His nickname had a double meaning. Primary it was because be preferred 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 tapes and books at school. All of it was available for anyone to borrow. He liked loaning parts of his collection, acting like a favorite uncle. Everyone knew he was made Student Council president after spearheading Jinnai's impeachment, but what happened after that was not as widely known.

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

"You didn't hear his mother died?" Hisa 'Voice' Nishidoin 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. Mecha remember his first name, Tampaku, from when they were younger, but he never gave his real last name. No one yet had the nerve to ask for it. Cyber was a borderline member of the club, and a borderline student of Shinonome High for that matter. He was part of a street 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 as long as he paid his dues on time, school by-laws prevented him from being kicked out. Also since he provides the occasional bootleg movie, and more importantly keeps his gang from assaulting club members, the others generally accept him. No one asked him why he comes early, even on the days there was nothing there to interest him, and he hasn't bothered to tell him. Rumors varied from avoiding truant officers to doing independent school work to keep him from being kicked out.

"And what did you police 'buddies' find out?" Mecha asked. The two never got along. Cyber's forgotten about it but when they were kids Cyber bullied Mecha occasionally. Mecha still fears him a bit and tries to banish it by knocking Cyber down.

Cyber, to his small credit, 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!" Gineu 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 eventually." Cyber finished.

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

Ishi 'Sugyosha' (student warrior) Noro grumbled. He never says very much or have much patience with anything. While only a freshman, he's been a member of every martial arts club at the school, if not the city. The problem was he usually got frustrated and impatient after a few weeks. They weren't teaching him what he wanted to know, entertainment-style fighting: power chi moves, super leaping, and taking enough damage to destroy a small 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 skullduggery 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 funeral. Despite, or because of, Gineu'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 cafeteria."

"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 up 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 terrifying. 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, wielding a butterfly 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.

Gineu was almost beside himself with excitement, muttering possible explanations taken from all the Grade B movies he's memorized. He was forming an idea from a government conspiracy, alien invaders, and a radiation accident. "Hey Gineu," Mecha said, saying the name sarcastically 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 part way down the stairs. The others ran down to help when they remembered where they were. They near the room where those bizarre ruins were found. The sound of dozens of footsteps encouraged the club members to hide inside the crack. Mecha, half-pushed through the crack, stumbled and fell down the rockpile and rolling across the floor. Beams of light shot from the design on the cracked floor, wrapping around Mecha's body as he tried to pick himself up. Sugyosha and Cyber tried to pull Mecha to safety. But they were unable to move him. The light beams bent towards them and pulled them away to different parts of the large rune.

The cylinder on the back wall rotated and hissed, releasing a small cloud of steam as it sank into the ground. Hidden behind the cylinder was a mirror of the blackest obsidian which began to glow with purple energy.

More footsteps startled Voice who slipped on some rocks. She grabbed Gineu for support, but wound up dragging him down also. The beams attacked them like tentacles, but doing no harm. In moments they were suspended several feet in the air like a mobile. "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 mirror behind them. It had changed from black to a blue-white and glowing brighter than before. This glow was softer though, you could look right at it without hurting your eyes. Mecha could swear he saw figures on the other side. It could have been panic, but he swore one of the figures was about to come through.

Chapter 2: Temple of Fire and Rock

The sun had set long ago behind the mountain range which housed the Temple of Fire and Rock. Hiashi had just finished writing in his log about his progress with the Lamp of Rock and any new applications of its power. As he had been doing ever since he was made Priest of Rock. Kazusa had left very few records of how to use the Lamp. Hiashi had been doing most of his research through experimentation and creative thinking. He felt as if he reached a plateau, that he had reached the limits of the Lamp's power and the rest depended on skill. After all the chaos Kazusa caused all those centuries ago, Hiashi would be satisfied if his superiors would simply let him develop his skill with what he currently knows and stop insisting he blaze forward with new ideas. Well, at least not satisfied for long. His love of science-fiction kept pushing him on, giving him new ideas and uses for his power. By combining his knowledge of hard science, what he could do with the Lamp frightened him. Water, wind, even fire would be ineffective against the potential of his powers. Responsibility for that power was fighting down the desire to explore.

What he really wanted was for the Church to give him limits, boundaries about what he would be allowed to do. Accepting their limits would be easier than following his own. He sighed as he closed the heavy book. A scribe would make a copy in the morning and send it to the Elemental Council. It was like being under a microscope. He was the first man in modern times to be an Elemental Priest. More, he was priest over the same element the last male priest held. The same priest which nearly destroyed the Church then, and nearly conquered El-Hazard less than a year ago. If he were in the Council's place, he wouldn't let him join. But the Grand Priestess had too much faith and trust in him. "You must have confidence in yourself." she said. It's hard to argue with a spiritual leader who also has the Eye of God on her side. Even the Eye felt Hiashi was the one to wear the Lamp, demonstrating its approval by restoring the drained Lamp and showing Hiashi the fate of his violent Father.

He walked into the bedroom quietly. His armor cat, Riho, was curled up at the foot of the bed and Shayla-Shayla was already asleep. "His wife." he thought to himself. Despite being married for nearly nine months, the concept still galvanized and amazed him. Sure there were problems in the beginning, as both adjusted to what it was like. In a way he was still adjusting. A happy home life had always been a dream to him until now. This wasn't how he first imagined it would be, but now he wouldn't have it any other way.

He sat down on the bed and stroked her red hair, smiling to himself. Today marked the first time he instantly answered to his name. No hesitation, no remembering "Hey, that's me now.", just instant acknowledgment to "Priest Shayla".

Shayla-Shayla was an orphan, found by a patrol who arrived too late to save a trading caravan from raiders. Her dying mother cradled her as they approached. "Please take care of Shayla-chan." were her last words.

Since they never learned her family name, the local authorities followed established procedures and used her first name as her last. They never discovered where she was from mostly because they didn't try very hard. The land were the caravan hailed from was too far away. So far away and their apparent route so long it was likely she was conceived after the caravan left. And without any surviving papers or other forms of identification apart from a few damaged maps, finding any relatives was virtually impossible.

Then when the old laws of the Theocracy were uncovered and men allowed to enter the Church, the rules about intra-Church marriage were evaluated. Hiashi never found out whether it was the way things were done in those times or if the Church was simply an exception due to some early precedent, but when a Priest and Priestess of the Church marry, it is the groom who takes the bride's family name and not the other way around. The Theocracy said it was merely to maintain tradition, but Hiashi suspected some of the more traditional members were upset about disrupting the status quo and wanted payback. It didn't really matter to him anyway. He was glad to abandon his family name. It was just one more painful aspect of his past he could finally bury. Still, it seemed almost silly to use the same name three times.

As he sat looking at her, he wondered if he would tell her. Probably not. If he did, she'd wonder why it took him so long to adjust. Best not to bring it up. He unfastened his Lamp of Rock and set it in its holder beside the bed and climbed in. Shayla cuddled closer, murmuring his name as she grabbed his arm in an almost vice-like grip as he fell asleep.

Hiashi found himself standing outside Shinonome in his school uniform. It was time for class. He checked the time on his watch to see which class he should go to. But instead of the usual display was the Cybertron insignia, a signal that he was dreaming. Even after Kazusa's defeat, Hiashi still suffered nightmares of his father's violence. The palace healers and councilers taught him a technique that would tell him when he was dreaming. The logic being, if you knew it was a dream, you can control it. He chose that signal because there was no chance of him ever seeing it in El-Hazard, thus it would stand out and be noticed. The signal only appeared during nightmares. Hiashi wondered why it appeared now. He hadn't suffered through one of them in weeks. When he did, they were always at home, never at the school.

His answer came swiftly as Bugrom punched their way from the ground. He had fought the Bugrom before. After becoming Priest, Jinnai tried several times to take the Lamp from him. Jinnai thought that if Hiashi could use the Lamp without the usual training, so could he. The Lamp of Rock appeared on his right forearm, but he didn't dare use it. His link with his or any Elemental Lamp existed whenever they were in range, even while asleep. A lesson learned when he fell asleep reading an old book and experienced a nightmare. He used the Lamp by instinct, accidently causing a quake in the waking world. Ever since he never used any Lamp when fighting his dreams.

The lead Bugrom charged. Hiashi pulled his fist back, mentally reshaping his arm into a robot's. Controlling the dream by reshaping his body had worked before and finally seemed to put the memories of Father at rest. When he threw the punch, he saw it didn't work now. His arm was still that of flesh and bone and had no effect on the insect.

While running inside the school he tried to create a jet pac to escape. That failed. He tried to sprout wings. Again, nothing. He grabbed a mop to morph it into a weapon, but all it did was get grabbed away and snapped in two by a purple fist. Hiashi fought the urge to use his powers. Even if they worked, he would be putting his wife at risk.

The Bugrom were catching up. All his usual fighting techniques didn't work. As a last resort, he grabbed a fire hose and pushed the advancing enemy away with a hard stream of water. Suddenly he lost control of the hose and it sprayed him in the face.

Hiashi sat up in bed, face wet from sweat and a glass of water Shayla-Shayla threw at him. She still held his hand looking at him with eyes filled with concern. "Are you all right?" she asked.

He wiped his face, mopping up most of the water. "Yes, thank you."

Riho moved closer putting his front paws on Hiashi's leg, "Bad dream?"

"I thought we were over this." she said.

"This one was different. I knew it was a dream, but I had no control. It was the Bugrom, not Father. Wait a moment, what time is it?" Hiashi asked noticing sunlight streaming in through a window.

"Ten in the morning."

"Impossible. I've never overslept, not like this."

"Hiashi, maybe you should go to the doctor about this."

"I'm not having a relapse, Shayla. It's something else." he said with more annoyance than he wanted.

They were interrupted by an attendant. "Excuse me. Priest Hiashi, Makoto sent a massager drone here. He wishes to speak with you immediately. He says it's important."

"Where is he?"

"At the Stairway to the Sky. Why would he be there? He know's it's forbidden."

"I'm sure he has a reason." Hiashi said grabbing some clothes then looked at the attendant until she took the hint and left.

"I'm not saying you're having a relapse. But the doctors said it might happen. Arugh. That bastard father of yours is dead. Kazusa's dead. Why can't you just let it go?"

Hiashi hurried to get dressed, determined not to let this argument escalate any further. "I have. This is the first time I've seen the Cybertron insignia in weeks. I had no control, and neither of them were there. This has to be something else. Please believe that. Maybe it was a vision."

Shayla paused before speaking, "Of the future? <pfft> Get real. What would you be doing back at that Earth school. That is unless you're planning on leaving me."

Hiashi knew when his wife was teasing. He also knew her joke was to cover-up her real concerns. This nightmare was unusual. They never lasted this long or took so much effort to escape. Shayla would have preferred the relapse instead of whatever caused this.

Makoto was pacing back and forth at the entrance to the Stairway to the Sky. Ifurita was leaning on her staff watching him. Makoto was muttering about Hiashi taking his time getting here. "Makoto, his temple is miles away. You can't just expect him to drop everything and rush here." Ifurita said.

"I know. But I said it was important. He knows I wouldn't do that just for a social call." he said pausing.

Before him, a stone spike erupted from the ground. It grew to twelve feet in height before it started melting revealing a nine foot coarsely carved statue of a Klingon warrior. The Klingon looked down at Makoto with an extremely displeased expression. "<errr> Who dares summon Priest Hiashi?" it said brandishing its weapon.

Makoto took a few steps back in surprise, "You-you're getting better at that. You can stop now." he stuttered.

The statue melted again, this time to a reasonable facsimile of Hiashi smirking proudly. "Thanks, I'm not planning on going any further though. Exact duplicates make people nervous. Now what is wrong?"

"Well I really wish we can talk in person."

The statue nodded in disagreement, "Sorry, I got my own problems."

"Trouble in paradise?"

"Ha ha," Hiashi said sarcastically, "Now what is it?"

"Last night I had a disturbing dream. I was back and Shinonome and the Bugrom were there. Fujisawa and Nanami said they had the same thing. They think it's because it's been one Earth year since we came to El-Hazard. But I know it's something else. It feels wrong. Oh I can't explain it."

Hiashi's statue changed expression to more serious. "How much do you remember?"

"Not much. Just that they were coming out of the ground and weren't too happy."

"Trouble waking up?"

"And how. All three of us overslept. Dr.Schtalembaugh was real upset that I was late."

"You're right. Something IS up. The same thing happened to me."

"Then you must let me into the Stairway to the Sky. It's our best link to the Eye of God so I can find out what's happening. Please, you have the authority." Makoto pleaded.

"I have the authority, but I may not be able to use it. They've been keeping me under a microscope, like if I screw-up once, I'm finished. Some of the Council have enough problems with a male priest. I can't add fuel to the fire by letting another guy in a forbidden area. I'll talk with Shayla and Afura then get back to you."

"What about Kuaul Taulus?"

"She's too new at this. If we bring her along some might see it as peer pressure or worse, corruption. On the other hand, if you spoke to her on your own, she could come of her own free will, independent of us." the statue said with a hand on the chin moving into the Thinker pose.

"All right. Hurry. I get a real bad feeling about this." Makoto trailed off as the statue returned to the ground leaving no trace of its existence.

At the Shrine, Hiashi came out of his trance. "It happened to Makoto, Nanami, and Fujisawa also. Makoto think's something's up and wants access to the Stairway." he said to Shayla who he knew had been there all along.

"<humph> Well at least it sounds like something we can take care of." she muttered.

"How was Afura doing on your visit yesterday?"

"A bit quieter than usual. Wanted to know how you were, how we were. The token conversation bits." she said a bit disgusted and saddened.

"I'd wish she'd stop blaming herself for what happened. I told her to forget about it. No one blames her for being possessed."

"And you think this might help?"

"I can't give him access because we're old friends. You can't grant access because we're married. Kuaul is too new and inexperienced. That leaves Afura. Afura is suppose to be a good judge of character. Maybe this would convince herself of it."

"I'll get her down there. You go on ahead and compare notes." Shayla-Shayla said.

They embraced briefly. Shayla touched the red stone in her husband's headband. The stone itself was enchanted to be part of the Elemental Lamp of Fire. Shayla wore several such stones on her uniform. This stone was made especially for Hiashi. It was a small battery for Elemental Fire magic. If necessary he could use his special power to use her flame for a brief period. More importantly it signified the bond between them.

Hiashi watched her leave. He visited Afura on many occasions. At first it was to help out with her recovery from being possessed. He never found out what the 'real' Afura was like. She always clammed up when he was around. She seemed nice enough, but Shayla said she lost some of her arrogance, that distinctive superior attitude she had wherever she went. He wanted to know the Afura Shayla wanted to get back. He wished for the best as Riho transformed around him then sank into the ground.

Chapter 3: Shrine of Wind

Afura watched the sky listening to the wind. She felt confident, secure, sure of herself. She had her books, she had her duty. What more was there? Wait, there was a speck on the horizon. Afura squinted for a closer look. Shayla? Why would she be coming back so soon? Didn't she gloat enough about her marriage and husband yesterday? Well, nothing she can do to stop it. The wind priestess felt her confidence plummet and bitterness rise with a hint of jealously. Still they were both Priestesses, Sisters. Professional courtesy demanded civil behavior.

It wasn't anyone's fault, not Shayla's, Hiashi's or hers. Afura knew when it started, at Miz's wedding. Shayla was still trying to coax Makoto from retreiving the Demon God and Hiashi hadn't even entered the picture. The first twinges of loneliness began as the couple said their vows and Shayla was plotting of a way to drag Makoto to the altar.

At Shayla's and Hiashi's wedding it got worse. Hiashi was a good friend, someone Afura could trust in a fight and to do the right thing. But she never felt anything romantic towards him. Hiashi read fiction to be entertained, Afura read history for knowledge. He liked to imagine and be creative while Afura kept her feet firmly planted in reality. Afura refined her powers to a high degree of control while trusting herself. Hiashi kept control over himself while trusting his abilities and using them in unique ways. Even if through some twist of fate Shayla was possessed instead of Afura, it wouldn't have changed anything. Afura was convinced it was destiny which brought Hiashi to Shayla. After all the two complimented each other well. Both tended to think with their heart, though Hiashi supplemented that strength with intelligence. No, Afura could never love Hiashi, not the way Shayla does. So why was she jealous of her and so bitter against him?

When she first began her training, her objective was knowledge. At her age, boys were still 'icky' and romance was the furthest thing from her mind. Now it was a different story. Her friends were getting married and starting new lives and it was having an effect on her. It wasn't restricted to Miz or Shayla, but some of her Shrine's own attendants were being replaced because the original ones were retiring to get married. It wasn't like she felt she needed a spouse to be complete. But it would have been nice to know someone would be there, the companionship, the support, the love. Official retirement was still years away, plenty of time to decide what she wants.

Nanami was a great help throughout this. She finally realized Makoto was out of reach when Ifurita returned. They felt like comrades in arms in the single's army, offering support when needed. She convinced Afura to wait and take her time in choosing what she wanted out of life. Not all people were destined to experience 'love at first sight'. There was a word for it in the El Hazard language, lal-daz-kin. Literally it meant 'discovery of soul mate'. While a frequent appearance in literature, it also happened outside the books' covers. Famous historical figures as well as the commoners experienced lal-daz-kin. It was a force that could not be denied.

Still, it didn't help as much as she'd expect when Shayla-Shayla dropped by, happier now than Afura ever remembered her being. Each time she saw her, Afura wondered if she'll ever get that kind of happiness for herself. Shayla was the closest thing Afura had to a sibling. Now that was no longer the case. Her marriage seemed to shatter that illusion. Afura refused to admit she resented Hiashi a little for inadvertently causing that. Her resentment was mostly countered by his friendship and comfort in knowing he would be good to Shayla. What remained was covered in a cast of coldness which only hid her positive feelings.

Afura was waiting at the landing pad when Shayla arrived. It was clear even before she landed, this was no social call. As her feet touched the ground Shayla said, "Afura, we've got a problem."

"What is it?" Afura asked coldly.

Shayla overlooked her tone, "All the Earthers, Hiashi, Makoto, the others, probably even Jinnai all had the same nightmare last night."

"This is the one year anniversary of them coming to El-Hazard. Most likely this is a side-effect of Ifurita's dimensional powers."

"Then why did Hiashi also have it? He's only been here about nine months."

"I'm surprised you don't know the exact days."


"--Nothing. I can see why you'd be concerned."

"Makoto wants permission to enter the Stairway to the Sky. We need an unbiased opinion. Makoto's going to talk with Taulus, but it would carry more weight if you gave your okay. Besides, he value's your opinion."

"So you want me to let Makoto poke around there like he did the Eye of God because of a bad dream?"

"Come on. You know he wouldn't ask if he wasn't absolutely sure it was necessary."

She got Afura there. Makoto would never deceive his friends about something like this. Afura remembered reading about a similar incident. After the Eye of God was first used in the Great Holy War the Phantom Tribe was pulled into El-Hazard. The Eye only eliminated the largest of Roshtaria's enemies, there were several others too small and scattered for the Eye to target. The devastating power of the Eye only united these smaller fractions into a larger force. With the help of the Phantom Tribe, they almost won. Those who created the Eye were able to refine the controls. The next time it was used, no more of the Phantom Tribe would be pulled from their world. The Eye would only attack predetermined enemies and lands, decreasing the actual damage while enhancing the fear of the weapon. For now it could be used more freely, to destroy cities, towns, even armies while leaving the surrounding land untouched. For some reason the Shadow Nation was immune to the Eye's attacks.

But one year after the Eye was used for the second time, the creators said to have strange, horrible dreams about the consequences of their actions. They interpreted their dreams as their conscience reminding them of the injustice done to the Phantom Tribe. Many blamed the Phantom Tribe for extending the war and were paranoid about their illusionary powers. Angry mobs forced them into the underground and a covert struggle between El-Hazard and the Phantom Nation began. Afura remembered what Galas said to Makoto, about the similarities between each other. Both were pulled into a strange land embroiled in a war by forces they did not understand. Both gained abilities through that journey. Afura feared that if Makoto's city, or even school was brought over that they would share the same fate as the Phantoms. If it was the Eye of God was calling the Earthers, like it might have done with its creators, it was Afura's holy duty to make sure that call was answered.

"All right. But I'm the one who's going to be watching him this time. You had your turn." Afura said.

"My turn? Since when have taken turns?" Shayla asked confused. But Afura had already left. Shayla tried to follow, but didn't have Afura's speed. She was out of shouting distance before Shayla could demand to know what she was referring to.

Interlude: Jinnai's Palace

Dozens of Bugrom scurried about in their underground base. Many of them carried huge crystals which they used to reenforce the walls. They were grown from samples taken from the Crystal Caves and had unexpected properties Jinnai found useful. He already knew they interfered with Elemental scrying since they were used to shield the Tomb of Izeria's Heroes from detection for thousands of years. But he learned they also disrupted large-scale Elemental magic.

That made them more valuable now than previously. After becoming Priest, Hiashi destroyed Jinnai's last headquarters by generating quakes and rock slides in the right areas. But that trick won't work again, oh no. Next time he showed his face, the Lamp of Rock would be useless and Jinnai's for the taking. Normally Jinnai would be laughing hysterically, but he had other concerns. His minions, Deva's palace had been banished to Earth. They called to him in his sleep. They pleaded for rescue and he promised them that he would. Both were working to find a way to reclaim it. Additionally Jinnai was also planning revenge on those who impeached him from office, the Science-fiction Club, the Computer Club, the Language Club, they all will pay.

"The answer is clearly in the Eye of God. That thing stole my children from me." Deva said as the two made plans over the often used map of Roshtaria.

"Of course my dear Deva. The trick is using it. My spies tell me Makoto's already there. No doubt he's going to try to save Shinonome. Well it's his fault they're there in the first place. We should let him go in first then WE follow and get our forces back. To top it all off, we close the door back stranding him there."

"A brilliant plan as usual, Master Jinnai. But how do we get a rescue force your Earth in the first place?"

"<chuckle> That's the beauty of my plan. We don't need a force. All the troops we need are already there. We go in alone and come out with an army already at Floristica's doorstep!" Jinnai said degrading into laughter.

End Interlude

Chapter 4: Stairway to the Sky

By the time Shayla arrived at the Stairway, the others were already there. It was more than she expected. Afura, Kuaul, Hiashi, Mr.Fujisawa, Makoto, Nanami, and Ifurita were present. So were Princess Rune, Persad (the new captain of the guards), even that bitch Fatora. The palace councilors decided that provided she never tried to take a new lover, she would be allowed to slowly resume her station. Shayla didn't like it, not after what Fatora did to poor Alliele. Well at least she's save back home with her family. Fatora had to be on her best behavior now and to start acting like an adult if she wanted to stay out of that psychiatric ward.

Who was that with them? A member of the Phantom Tribe?! The Phantom was a woman who looked a little familiar and was surrounded by several guards. If there was an illusions being cast, she wasn't effected by it ... yet. Shayla poured it on to find out what the heck was going on.

She landed next to her husband and demanded an explanation. "This is Gyronai, Duchess of the Shadow Nation. She had come to us under a flag of peace with some information you might find interesting." Rune announced.

"<pssst> Makoto," Nanami whispered, "is it me or have we seen her before?"

"What are you talking about?" Makoto whispered back.

"That woman at Arlamon. The one who tried to kill you or weren't you looking at her face at the time?"

Gyronai did look a lot like Kiriya, but there were minor differences. Makoto suspected the two were probably relatives. It was hard to tell since Gyronai was dressed in heavy clothes to protect her from the noon-day sun. Gyronai looked at them like she heard the exchange, but chose to ignore it. "Last night as we slept, the entire Shadow Nation received a vision. We saw the Bugrom attacking an alien structure. I understand your Earthers also had such a vision."

"Yes, what do you know about this?" Makoto said.

"According to legend, a year after we were ripped from our home the Shadow Nation had a similar vision. But then it was of our home city in ruins as others of our people looked for us."

"Do you know if that vision was true?"

"No, we have not seen our homeworld since the ancient El Hazardians took us from it." Gyronai said looking harshly at Princess Rune.

"If you did not come here to reopen old wounds, then why are you here?" Rune said in even tones.

"We want to know why we received this vision and what it means."

"Mizuhara, have you completely repaired the sabotage Galas did last year?" Rune asked.

"Well I haven't had the chance to work on it much. I was only allowed to go there when you were teaching me about how to use the Eye of God as a weapon. I believe so, but some of the things he did I didn't understand."

"That is the other reason why I came. We have recovered Galas's notes about the Eye. We believe he intended to send all of El-Hazard to our homeworld, to give you a taste of what we have suffered through all these centuries. But later information indicates he was forced to change these plans."

"If I may," Afura interrupted, "After the Shadow Nation was accidently pulled into our world, its creators worked to correct this mistake. They were able to prevent the Eye from going into that dimension again. Galas learned this so decided to send everyone into the void."

"Yes, the sabotage in that area was only half-completed. If his tampering interfered with the destination program of the Eye then that would mean...." Makoto said as he trailed off.

"Well what?" Mr.Fujisawa said.

"The Eye of God sent the Bugrom to Earth."

The other Earthers gasped in surprise and shock, "Earth? Japan? Shinonome?" Fujisawa said, his jaw dropped almost to the ground.

"That's where Ifurita's sleep chamber is. The Bugrom are probably scattered around that in proportion to where they were from the Eye." Makoto said.

"Whew. Then that means they're miles away. Plenty of time for our Self Defense Force to take care of them before they reach the city." Fujisawa said with relief.

"Well not exactly. The chamber is smaller and less powerful than the Eye. The distance between the Bugrom and the Eye is probably scaled down to the size of the chamber. And that doesn't even take into account mass or how much power the Bugrom fortress had when it was banished. They're probably under the school's foundation right now."

"Uh, Makoto" Hiashi interjected, "if you zapped the Bugrom shortly after you came here, then why didn't I see them?"

"Could be anything. Dimensional shock, digging their way to the surface, they could have even been sent there after I saved Ifurita."

"The question is, what are we going to do about it?" Nanami said.

"Leave them there. We can't put ourselves at risk." Fatora shouted forcefully.

"But ... you can't just leave them there to wreak havoc all over our home world." Makoto protested.

Gyronai looked crossly at Fatora, as if her one of her opinions had just been confirmed.

"Princess Rune, Earth is not prepared for an invasion. We haven't even encountered non-humans yet. They're going to cause massive panic." Hiashi said.

"Oh, so what do you plan on doing once you're there? Bring them back? Doesn't your Earth have pest control?" Fatora countered raising her fists. The two were becoming bitter enemies, ever since he helped Alliele stand-up for herself.

"We're going to finish the job you started and get rid of them. Throw them into the void or exterminate them, either way is fine with me. But we have to do something."

"Why should we? The biggest threat to El-Hazard is gone. We did our job. They're someone else's problem." Fatora said moving closer.

"Yea. My world's problem. Are you saying you're perfectly content to just dump your problems on a nation who did nothing to you?"

"You're part of that nation. I'd say that was reason enough." Fatora taunted. The two were inches apart. If it weren't for Hiashi's loathing of melee combat and Fatora's lack of fighting skills, the two would have had it out then and there.

"Fatora, that's enough." Rune commanded, "We sent the Bugrom to another world. It is our responsibility now. Mizuhara, you may make the necessary repairs and adjustments."

Gyronai looked at Rune, wondering briefly if she was had been wrong. She decided to wait to see how this drama would pan out.

Nanami clapped her hands together, "We're going back home? We're really going back? All right!" she cheered running back to her restaurant.

"Kid, how long do you think it will take?" Fujisawa asked.

"I'll let you know in two hours. That should be enough time to find out what needs to be done." Makoto said as he and Ifurita walked into the entrance to the Stairway to the Sky.

Chapter 5: Floristica (various locations)

Miz watch Machimichi practically ransack their home looking for his old sweats. Miz stretched, her arching back accented her middle and the child that grew within her. "Honestly, I don't know why you're looking for those things. What you have one is just fine." she said.

"No one dresses this way on Earth. The fewer questions we have to answer, the better." he replied with his head buried in a trunk.

"Oh like how you can be a dedicated bachelor one day then have a wife five months pregnant by week's end?" she teased.

Machimichi shuttered trying to decide what to say. "I am going aren't I?" Miz asked getting a little upset. Her husband kept shuttering. "Listen here, we still don't know how the Eye of God works. It could be decades, centuries later when you return." she said sternly. Her expression softened, "I, we, just want to be with you." she finished by placing his hand on her womb.

"But it will be dangerous. We're going there to fight, not sightsee."

"No reason why we can't do both. Or are you worried about me finding out what kind of person you were before coming to El-Hazard?" she finished tongue-in-cheek.

"Well there's that too."

"If I was worried about that. I wouldn't have married you in the first place."

"You didn't seen me then." he thought wondering just how many open bottles of booze he left lying around his old, small apartment. "It's more than that. Earth can be a very dangerous place if you're not used to it. Shinonome has tens of thousands of people living in only a few square miles. The streets, even sidewalks, are dangerous to cross. Morons on mopeds darting about as they damn well please, gangs, petty criminals, crowds. I'm telling you Miz, it can be a madhouse sometimes."

"We'll how much of a madhouse it is once I show them what I can do." she said raising her hand with the Secondary Lamp of Water on her finger. The true Lamp was passed on to the next Priestess, but the Theocracy gave her the Secondary Lamp for years of loyal service.

"And what makes you think that will work on Earth?" Machimichi questioned.

Miz paused, not knowing the answer. Mr.Fujisawa continued, "We don't even know if our powers will work. Going back could revert all us Earthers to normal. If all of us our powerless, I'd feel better knowing you were safe here."

"What about me? How do you think I'll feel not knowing if the father of my child is alive or dead? Or when he'll return to us? Each day wondering if he decided to stay, or couldn't come back, or was tossed around in time itself? I know the risks and accept them. We have to stay together now more than ever." she finished with tears in her eyes.

He hugged her close, as if he finally realized his responsibilities have increased tenfold when he became a husband and a hundredfold when he learned he would become a father. The job of Chief Palace Guard looked more and more attractive. "All right. Just promise me you'll be careful and don't do anything without knowing what will happen."

In another part of town Hiashi and Shayla were having lunch from a push-cart vendor. Hiashi ate silently leaning up against a lamp post while Shayla ordered another shish kebab. He tossed her the few coins it cost when payment was mentioned. She barely looked at him as she grabbed them from the air and paid the vendor as she began eating. To say Hiashi was in charge of their finances was misleading. He merely carried it, shelling out cash on demand. Originally it was to help curb her shopping habits. Between that and repairing the damage her outbursts did was starting to become a strain even for the Church's large reserves. It didn't help much. Now her shopping trips were limited to how far and how long she could drag Hiashi around. Considering Shayla's strong will and insistence, shopping actually took longer because now she had an extra set of arms to carry stuff. "<munch> So looking forward to going <chomp> back?" she asked between bites.

"Will be nice to see the old gang again. I'm just trying to remember only a few days have passed there as opposed to what, nine months here. Nothing new except I'll probably miss Movie Night. I think I got the club to show this Hollywood action movie."

"What's it about?"

"Trust me, you wouldn't like it. It doesn't exactly show fire in a positive light. Lots of big weapons being used indiscriminately, wanton swearing, blood and gore, and that's just the hero."

"Ugh, why did you watch that stuff?"

"Hey, it had good special effects, for a world without magic that is."

"Don't you ever watch anything that doesn't involve human bodies exploding? Sometimes I wonder about you. You watch stuff like that then you get sick after crushing those Bugrom."

The Rock Priest tried to push back that memory. "OK, so trying out Bigby's Crushing Hand was a bad idea.--"

"Oh no! The results were pretty spectacular." she joked. Shayla liked to tease her husband by reminding him when he destroyed a squad of Bugrom by creating giant stone hands that squeezed them into paste. While it turned the remaining Bugrom away, it also made everyone else nauseous, Hiashi more so than the rest. He wouldn't eat for two days after that. Fortunately time lessened the effect. The Elemental Council asked her to help get Hiashi to practice and improve the technique because of its obvious usefulness and the best way to do that was to get rid of him being squeamish about it.

"But I knew those movies were fake. There's difference between watching a movie and living it. Besides, I'm really sure I like those movies anymore." he continued.

"Tell ya what. When we get the chance we'll watch one of those movies together. If we don't like it, we won't bring it up again."

He looked skeptical. She pressed, "Ever since I've known you, hardly a day has gone by when you didn't mention some movie or book or something that I can never learn about. I want to know where you came from, experience some of the same things that were a good influence on you."

A slow smile spread over his face, "Shayla, you're the fire within my heart. I will be happy to show you what fires my imagination."

"Well right now the fire in your heart needs some more fuel. We got enough for dessert?"

Meanwhile at Nanami's Restaurant, The Lunch Box, Nanami was quickly trying to pack. Her apartment above the dining area looked like a disaster area as she tried to pick out the best things to bring back. Fancy dresses mingled with work clothes in piles around her room. Fishy banks were on a table, their contents spilled out into one big pile. Nanami was going home and she wanted to bring the best memories of El Hazard with her. Naturally that included money. At first, she wanted to bring all of it. But she realized it wouldn't be worth anything. At best it would be regarded as a curiousity. So reluctantly she took a little of each denomination of every form of currency she had and would leave the rest to her business.

My business, she thought the words many times. Going home meant leaving her successful restaurant forever. She'd have to go back to school to prepare for a more cut-throat world. Returning meant surrendering what could very well be the most successful venture of her life. And what would she get in return? Questioned and laughed at for her story. Even with the Bugrom as proof there would be many who wouldn't believe her. How can she compete against fast food? Lunch boxes to students were one thing on Earth, but making successful a whole restaurant was another. Here she was her own boss, there she'd probably have to answer to someone, someone who might think less of her because of her gender. Sexual discrimination in management was still a problem in Japan. On El Hazard, having a matriarchy put those things in balance. Nanami feared that no matter what she did back home, it wouldn't compare to her own little eatery in Floristica.

Her assistant manager knocked at the door. "So are you going away?" she asked timidly.

Nanami didn't answer at first, "I don't know. I have so much here, but so much I miss back home. My parents, my classmates, my stuff. I guess I never realized just how much I missed them until after Makoto brought Ifurita back. I missed my first chance to return. Oh, how can I look my parents in the eye and tell them I'm going away forever because the economic climate is better here?"

The assistant answered, "You taught me everything you know about business. I promise Nanami's Lunch Box will continue to be as good as it is today. The business is in safe hands with me."

"I know. But I still love running it. I'm happy here, you might even say content. Oh I can't decide. Wait a minute, the others don't plan on staying on Earth. Maybe there'll be a way back here. Yeah, that's it. I don't have to make my decision now. I'll go back and if I like it better here, I'll return. Boy won't everyone be jealous when they look at all the neat stuff I earned."

"Yeah, they'll be really impressed with the dirty apron." her friend teased.

Nanami threw it at her, "No, silly. I mean with this other stuff. I'll bring some menus along too. Dad will be so impressed at how professional they look. He's a graphics designer you know. Oh and Ryoko will just love this dress. It might need some alterations, but where can you find hand spun silk in Japan that doesn't cost an arm and a leg? Tell you what, help me bring all this to the Stairway to the Sky and send back something."

Nanami's friend looked resigned to her fate. Nanami had a way about getting others to do what she wanted. Her 'gift' would probably be nothing more than some candy. That is if Nanami remembered at all. If she did forget, then she'd dole out extra vacation days as an apology. She learned when she was first hired not to put too much stock in Nanami's promises. They often meant too much extra work for too little reward.

Makoto was practically swallowed into the machinery and circuits which made up the Stairway to the Sky. It was hard for him to tell what was sabotaged and what was original. The plans Gyronai provided were good, but incomplete. He had learned one thing. There was preexisting link between El Hazard and Earth. Between El Hazard and several other worlds in fact. And they were all linked up here, in the heart of the Stairway. The Eye of God had the primary function as a weapon, a means large scale transport where the condition of the cargo didn't matter. That was why everyone the Eye transported was also thrown through time, the original four Earthers, Ifurita, and the Bugrom. And that why it proved so difficult to get her back. A part of the Eye's programming shut down these other links until El Hazard 'caught up' with Earth time-wise. When Makoto was first transported to El Hazard, he and the others were also sent back one year. When the Eye was used against the Bugrom, they were sent to Earth the same number of days as was Makoto spent in El Hazard. But when Makoto rescued Ifurita and Hiashi hitched along for the ride, time was messed up again. Three months compressed into thirty-six hours. Only now, as time was being straightened out, it was conceivable there could be easy traveling between the two worlds, without the Eye of God.

During his first time here, his special power alerted him to another use for the Eye. As a secondary purpose, the Eye acted like massive radar dish, collecting and transmitting signals and energy. It might take some work, but Makoto had seen enough to suspect he could program the Eye to pick up Earth television and radio stations. He could only hear the natural static, but it was littered with words he recognized. This time there were more words, though there was still much static.

"Makoto, do you require assistance?" Ifurita mind-spoke as Makoto emerged from the wire jungle to a circular room lined with dull, full-length mirrors.

"I could use your opinion on something. Have you seen this room before?" he returned broadcasting what he saw to her.

"It looks like some kind of viewing location, but the glass is too large. Could it be the transport nexus?"

"Exactly what I was thinking. This could be the room we're looking for. Think you can clear some of these fallen circuit tubes?"

"I will try."

Makoto could hear Ifurita lifting and pushing aside the metal vines in an effort to form a path. The pattern of the floor was that of a regular hallway. Either by time or deliberately, pieces of the Stairway to the Sky had fallen here, hiding the path. The tubes were heavy, but no problem for a Demon God in her top form. Unfortunately, Ifurita was not as strong as she use to be. Ever since she returned, her powers were weakening. Wind-ups didn't last as long as before and were slowly growing more painful. She no longer had the endurance or raw power she used to have. Recently Ifurita cut herself on a broken piece of glass in Makoto's lab. She bled human blood. Somehow she was becoming human. Why it started and how far the transformation will go was not known.

Makoto suspected it had something to do with her long imprisonment in limbo. With her circuitry damaged, her repair mechanism did the only thing it could do, change the broken electronics into flesh. Ifurita knew of no such ability, but the evidence was obvious. It could be a hidden function or an ability granted by the Eye of God. But through it all, her power-key staff and her link to Makoto remained strong. There had to be answers, but where? Makoto hoped that he could find a clue in the Stairway.

While he was waiting for Ifurita to finish he walked to one of the mirrors. The wall between the mirrors was embedded with wires and controls. He felt drawn to this one for some reason. When he touched a panel, his power took over, revealing a vision or perhaps a memory.

He was suckling at his mother's breast. His eyes were closed, but it felt cold. He heard footsteps then his mother's voice. A deeper voice spoke back. He was unable to understand the words, but the tone of the voices took a turn for the worse. He looked up and started to cry. His mother's face looked down with a warm smile before she handed him to the other person. The man smiled reluctantly as he took Makoto. Somehow he knew the man was his father.

Father spoke and passed him back. Mother put him in a basket and tucked him in. The mirror started to glow. Makoto opened his eyes wide in awe, then squint them as the light became too bright to look at. Mother and Father spoke again in loud words. Then Mother screamed. Makoto tried to turn his small head to see Mother fall backwards into one of the glowing mirrors. Father tried to catch her, but wasn't fast enough. Mother vanished and the mirror went black. Father touched the wall in many spots as he wept.

Soon he gave up and picked up Makoto's basket. He looked down at his son and whispered something before passing him through the mirror. He felt as if he was falling then suddenly his basket was in grass. There were strange noises and unfamiliar trees around him. He cried because there was nothing else he could do.

A hand on his shoulder halted the vision. "Makoto, what is it? I lost contact with you for a minute."

"Thanks, Ifurita. I don't know what happened. I saw, no remembered something. I need my pencil and writing tablet. Now, before I forget." he said rummaging through his pac.

Quickly, before the memory faded he drew their faces. They came easier than the expected. Rough sketches became more detailed in minutes as the pencil etched out his biological parents. Satisfied he had captured all the details possible, he stared at the drawing. Who were they? He asked himself. Were they really his parents or was the memory he relived another's which was trapped in this place for who knows how long. The parents who raised him never said he was adopted, but he occasionally had some suspicions. His blood type, AB-, was very uncommon. It was one of the rarest of blood types. His parents were A+ and B- and while it was perfectly possible that the two could combine to be his, it was unlikely. Plus they were older than most parents. If he was not adopted, his mother would have to be in her late thirties when she gave birth to him. Part of him didn't care. Family and parental love does not depend on biology. On the other hand, he had a right to know his past and if he did have a legitimate link to El Hazard.

His thoughts were interrupted when an attendant came looking for him. "Time is almost up. Have you found what you were looking for?" he asked.

"One moment." and Makoto touched the area again. This time there was no vision, but he understood what the device was and how it worked. On his way out, he asked the attendant if he recognized the people in the drawing. He did not.

When he exited the Stairway to the Sky, everyone was in a group and looked at him expecting the answer they wanted to hear. Makoto was not one to disappoint. But when he spoke it sounded as if saving Earth from the Bugrom wasn't as important than it was before. He looked over his friends. Each tried to at least look like normal Earth people. It was easier for some. Fujisawa had his sweats, Makoto and Nanami had on their worn school uniforms, Hiashi wore a red and blue fire style shirt his wife gave him that could reasonably pass as an Earth t-shirt. The El Hazardians had a tougher time since they had no experience or first hand knowledge. No doubt about it. They were going to draw attention to themselves. Afura looked a bit nervous. She looked different than before to Makoto. She came the closest of the priestesses to wearing Earth-normal clothes, but there was something else. Nanami noticed it too and figured out what it was, "You're wearing make-up?" she said in disbelief.

Afura coughed in embarrassment, "Well isn't it normal for girls my age to wear it on your Earth?" she responded over-defensively.

Nanami said, "Well it is but- Wait! I got it. You're going to look for a boyfriend when you're there. Afura, shame on you." She teased Afura a little more trying to get her to admit it. The more Afura denied it, the more obvious her body language said otherwise. Finally Nanami turned away and sighed saying, "I should have known. Shinonome High School: meat market for the powerful women of El Hazard. Maybe we should introduce Rune to the vice-principal."

Fujisawa took the joke seriously, "Now wait, it was bad enough being employed by him as a teacher. But that is too much."

The banter lightened Makoto's mood somewhat as he explained the situation. "The Stairway to the Sky has stable links to Earth and other dimensions. Using the Eye of God has short-circuited these links until now. Once we activate the portal on our end, the corresponding one on Earth will activate. I believe there is a two way connection. If this end is shut down somehow, we should be able to turn it on from Earth."

"Should Makoto? You'd better make sure we can get back or you're going to have some very unhappy people wanting to barbecue your butt." Shayla said.

"Speaking of which, what about our powers? Our Lamps and abilities granted by the Eye?" Hiashi asked.

"They will work as well on Earth as they do here. Remember Ifurita used her power there to send us to El Hazard. The Stairway and the Eye are linked to multiple dimensions. Even though not all the links are active, we will be able to use our powers there. As for the abilities of us Earthers, the Eye of God transformed us. We'll have all our powers regardless of where we go, though some powers won't be as effective."

"So how did you come by this?" Miz asked curious.

Makoto thought before answering. He really didn't know where or how he learned this. He just knew it when Ifurita snapped him out of his vision. "Through my link to the devices of the ancient El Hazardians. Granting powers to unwitting dimensional travelers must have been a way to help them survive in a strange land."

"Have to admit ours came in handy." Fujisawa mumbled.

"Hey, does that mean we'll get powers from going to Earth?" Shayla said enthusiastically.

Makoto couldn't resist smiling at her hopeful expression. "Don't bet on it. We're not exactly unwitting this time. We know where we're going. The Eye only gives powers to anyone who came by accident. But you should be able to speak and read Japanese just as we were able to speak and read Hazardian when we crossed over."

"Then what are we waiting for?." Shayla said pulling Hiashi behind her. Ifurita led them to the chamber as Makoto approached Princess Rune.

"What is it, Makoto? You look perplexed. Do you have doubt's about your mission?" she asked with sincerity.

"It's not that, Princess. Do you know who these people are?" he said showing her the drawing he made.

Her eyes showed an instant of recognition, then her face took more sterner features. "How did you come by these people?" she demanded.

"Who are they?" he pressed avoiding her demand.

"It is none of your concern."

"How do you know that?"

"That was an unpleasant failure of a great man."

"Tell me. I have to know."

Since his arrival in El Hazard, Rune has come to rely heavily on Makoto for advice. Dr.Schtalubaugh had served the court for decades, but he felt his time to retire was coming. With Makoto's intelligence and unique perspective, Roshtaria had benefitted in several ways. She knew him well enough to know he would not let the matter drop. If she did not answer, he would find another and another until he learned the truth. She knew it would happen because he used the same tone of voice when he was working to rescue the Demon God. He would not ask unless he thought it was important.

"The man was once King of Roshtaria. He was Fatora's and my father. The woman was a powerful sorceress who came to Floristica nearly twenty years ago. The two were ... close. After a little more than a year, her public appearances became more and more infrequent before she vanished completely shortly after Fatora was born. I knew it bothered him, but was too young to understand why. Father wasn't the same after that for a while. There were rumors surrounding him at the time of the accident which took my parents' lives. Rumors about regret and anguish over that woman which might have caused a fatal moment of distraction. Now tell me, how did you come by this?" she finished with a harsh demand.

Makoto had to pause to digest what she said and what it could mean. "It was something I saw in the Stairway. The sorceress ... went into one of the portals and I saw your father there. I felt it was important to find out."

Rune detected the tone in his voice and narrowed her eyes, "You may have stumbled upon a dark secret of my beloved parents. Do not investigate further." she said with an uncharacteristic threatening tone in her voice.

"Yes, your Highness." he replied. It might have been something in his body language or a misinterpretation on Rune's part, but she was convinced he would indeed continue. The questions that remained was, "Are her suspicions correct?" and "If they are, what must I do?" She was still contemplating this when Makoto left to follow the others inside the Stairway to the Sky.

Everyone was already there by the time he arrived. The hidden hallway had been cleaned by attendants and looked more like it was meant to be there instead of a newly discovered secret. "This is it. Is everybody ready? Wait, where is Gyronai? I thought she would be coming with us." he asked focusing on the mission at hand.

"I don't know. She left after the meeting ended. Have you seen her Nanami?" Fujisawa asked.

"No, sorry. I'm just ready to go home!" Nanami said grabbing two of her many suitcases.

"Let's go kick some bug!" Shayla cheered.

"This is a bug hunt man, a bug hunt!" Hiashi followed.

Makoto's serious mood from earlier faded somewhat at Hiashi's joke. He noticed the change in his long-time friend. A bit of Shayla has infected him and it was a definite improvement from his earlier, quiet, introverted personality. Makoto placed his palm on the panel and the portal glowed a strong white. Bright, but not blindingly so. Nonetheless Fujisawa, who was standing directly in front of the portal, reflexively shielded his eyes and looked through. A nod signaled the portal's readiness and Fujisawa stepped through, returning to the world of his birth, returning to a world he could no longer call home.