Chapter 6: Shinonome High

Fujisawa felt an instant of disorientation as he stepped through the portal. He felt a shade lighter since the gravity on El Hazard was about a twentieth greater than Earth's. It was like taking eleven steps up a ten step staircase. In the second it took his eyes to adjust he heard familiar voices say his name in surprise. Before him were the central members of the science fiction club. Every one of them was suspended above the central El Hazardian rune supported by beams of light. A purple Bugrom was trying to punch its way through the crack. Acting without thought to protect his students, the former history teacher leaped through the air. But he was thrown back when he hit the circumference of the rune. "Shit, what the hell was that?" he muttered.

"Sensei, get us out of here." Gineu pleaded.

"No, get rid of that monster first." corrected Voice since the Bugrom had just punched through the crack and was stepping through.

But before he could do anything bits of the rubble flew up at the Bugrom like a shotgun. The creature tried to shield its face as it retreated. "Nobody threatens my club and gets away with it." Hiashi said walking away from the portal. Shayla, Afura, Kuaul followed.

"<erugh> Good job Kid. See about getting them down while I look into the school's bug problem." Fujisawa said moving out of the room.

Hiashi reached out and touched the force field and it gave him a minor jolt. "What is this thing?" he asked to no one in particular. The space above the rune quickly became a column of light blocking out his friends. It lasted only a few seconds. Then he heard them drop to the ground with a collective "Ooof".

The light vanished as Makoto, Miz, and Ifurita came through. Hiashi helped pick Mecha up. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Fine Uncle Sam. Must have landed on my arm. It tingles a bit and feels a bit numb." he said rubbing his right arm. He was surprised at how much the club president had changed. Hiashi had a strange brass/gold device clamped over his right forearm. A black armband was partially hidden by the sleeve of his blue and red shirt. But the biggest surprised was the headband he wore and the opal-like red stone at the center. It could have been a trick of the light, but Mecha would swear there was something moving around inside the stone. But even discounting the change in clothes, he seemed different. He seemed happier, more confident and sure of himself. It looked like ten pounds were added to his previously frail frame. This new Hiashi was more alive than before and while Mecha was happy for him, he also wanted to know what could cause such a transformation.

Mecha wasn't the only one who noticed. Voice looked impressed and came over to them. "'Uncle Sam', that's a name I haven't been called in a long time." Hiashi said remembering forgetting himself for a second.

"Long time?" Voice said in surprise in a louder-than-usual voice, "But we just saw you a few days ago."

"It's a long story." Makoto said.

"Heads up!" came Nanami's voice from the portal giving everyone a split second warning before suitcases and packages began flying through. They came through one after another. Makoto and Hiashi managed to catch a few before effectively being buried under the luggage.

As Shayla and Cyber pulled Hiashi from the pile, Cyber asked, "Hey Sam, who's the babe?"

Shayla nearly dropped her husband in surprise. "The 'babe' is Fire Priestess Shayla Shayla and if you call me that again I'm going to torch your ass."

"Trust me, she'll do it too." commented Makoto as the remainder of the group came through the portal.

"Fire Priestess? Yeah right. So what's with the get-up and that funky arm band, Sam? Woah, is that a cat you're wearing? " Takaai asked excitedly.

"Like Makoto said, it's a long story. And I don't think we have much time for it right now."

"We have more time than we first thought, Kid." Fujisawa said coming back, "I can't find any of the bugs around here."

"Did you try the basement room where the sci-fi club holds their meetings?"

"Er.... I don't know where that is. One of you will have to check it out. Looks like the security cameras are still out so it looks like we're the only eye witnesses."

"And we're not exactly the most creditable. They'll probably think this was some sort of stunt." Voice commented.

"Look, why don't we just show 'em the portal and bring through. That outta convince them." Shayla suggested.

Everyone looked at her kind of funny, except Hiashi who put his head in his hands to hide his expression at the thought. "Shayla, we have to keep the portal a secret. It's the only way to protect it so it will still be here when we go back." he tried to explain.

"Hey, we can keep a secret." Gineu promised. "So what's on the other side?"

He took two steps and was stopped by Ifurita and Afura. "That is none of your concern." Ifurita stated simply.

Gineu backed off obviously disappointed. "Let's double check to be sure the Bugrom are gone and if there's any solid evidence." Makoto said. He placed his hand against the portal and the glow vanished. "I set it to only allow humans who are from El Hazard or those influenced by the Eye to activate it."

"So we don't have to worry about the Bugrom army coming through the Stairway. Good thinking, Makoto." Fujisawa complimented.

As the others began making their way to the hall, Voice tapped Hiashi on the shoulder, "Uncle Sam ... Hiashi, I just wanted to say it's nice to have you back. And ummm I was wondering if you were uhh busy this Sunday?" she said nervously.

If Shayla's ears could twitch, they would have. She charged right between Hiashi and Voice. Giving Voice her hardest look, Shayla shouted, "He's already spoken for!" with fangs barred. Without waiting for a reply, she grabbed Hiashi by the arm and yanked him away. Metaphorically speaking, Voice turned to stone and crumbled from shock.

"I can't believe she did that." Shayla grumbled, "And you! I saw how you looked at her. You were thinking about it!"

Hiashi couldn't help but smirk. "You're jealous."

"And why shouldn't I be?"

Hiashi took her hands and looked her straight in the eye, "Shayla, you're the only one for me. I love you more than anything. I admit that I was flattered because I once had a crush on Voice. 'Once', as in 'not any more'. Now smooth your angry brow, my love, or do I have to remind you about Makoto ... or Fatora."

Shayla turned away blushing, but still kept hold of his hands. He was right. He was never upset with Shayla for originally falling for Makoto, or when Fatora disguised herself as Makoto and kissed her. Still, Shayla remembered her old rivalry with Nanami and she wasn't going to risk losing Hiashi to one of his former classmates, even if she knew the chances of that were nil. "All right. But stay away from her."

Hiashi smiled and led her to the hallway. His wife always wanted the last word and he was willing to give it to her. Deep down he was more flattered by Shayla's jealously than anything. It meant she still cared and loved him. Shayla still had some trouble expressing her true feelings verbally. But Hiashi knew her well enough to see through whatever disguise she used to mask them and see how she really felt.

When everyone else reached the hall they began to the viewing room. The sci-fi club members preferring to stick with their friends, Nanami quietly asked Makoto how he planned to explain their disappearance to everyone? "I hadn't really thought about it. I guess it would be better if it was never necessary to explain."

Mecha led everyone back to the club room and the hole in the floor. "There." he said pointing, "That's where they started coming up."

Unfortunately the hole the Bugrom came from was pretty much filled in and could easily be mistaken for quake damage. Worse, the hole was only big enough for a few Bugrom contributing to the suspicion that this was just some stunt. Fujisawa knew it was true, but one teacher who had been missing for the better part of a week was not going to sway skeptical authorities. Gineu didn't really see the point in checking it out. Monsters rarely come back to the same place they were seen the first time and authorities never believe stories about creatures until it was too late. Makoto was concerned this one time the cliche could be right.

"Oh thank goodness, they're still safe!" Hiashi said from a corner. A section of the wall panel was on the floor and the Rock Priest was crawling inside.

"What's still safe?" Afura asked with a mix of apathy and curiousity.

Hiashi pulled out of the hole cradling a box. It was packed with paperback books, manga, and magazines. Carefully he pulled each one out and inspected them. Shayla sat next to him to read over his shoulder. "What is that?" she asked.

"A treasure. A treasure that has helped me through the most difficult times of my life." he said with glazed eyes that welcomed the sight of star ships, lasers, aliens; the very things he considered to be the ultimate in human expression. Anyone could write about what exists or fictions rooted in reality. But to put dreams into words and pictures was the highest form of art. To dream of a reality so different from what you exist in requires a special something in a person, a spark of imagination that can be inspired. His time in El Hazard only reinforced that fact. What Hiashi collected was what he considered to be the best examples in printed form, Heinlein, Clarke, art books, fanzines for movies; all showed signs of use that seemed to enhance the effect.

Shayla caught a glimpse of a space ship gliding through the stars and was drawn closer. It was in English and the trip to Earth had not given her the ability to read it, but for now it was enough to see what before she thought was impossible. Afura was tempted to join them, but felt this was something best shared between husband and wife. The two looked content for a fleeting moment. Afura decided to wait before asking Shayla to see them.

"I hate to break up your bonding, but we got a bug infestation." Nanami said breaking the silence. Everyone else was checking for footprints or had left to search the rest of the school. Embarrassed, Hiashi carefully packed the box again and carried it with him as they left.

Unfortunately there wasn't a shell nor antenna of the Bugrom on school grounds. They didn't have much time to look because the remainder of the sci-fi club had called for help. The principal, a few teachers, and several policemen met Fujisawa and the others in the hall by chance. "Mr.Fujisawa, you have a lot of nerve showing your face here like this. Would you mind explaining just what you are doing here and where you've been for the past few days?"

Before Fujisawa could speak, the principal noticed Makoto and Nanami. "And what about you two? Did Kazuhiko threaten you? Why didn't you report it instead of hiding all week?"

Makoto and Nanami studdered a bit trying to best explain things but the principal didn't give them the chance because his eyes wandered to Hiashi, "You?! ... Listen, son, I've got some bad news. I don't know if you've heard, but the police say your father has been murdered. They believe he offended a member of the yakuza at some dive and was killed then and there. The police also say it was your father who ran over your mother. Now I don't know how much of it is true, but they wouldn't tell me unless they were sure."

Hiashi looked shocked, "Sir, you have as much tact as a Darth Vader."

"I know you must be upset so I'll overlook that comment. But remember, do NOT speak to me in that tone of voice." the principal said in an intimidating manner. Any other student would cringe or at least wince when he did that. Fujisawa, Makoto, and Nanami sure did even though he wasn't speaking at them, even Ifurita who only knew the principal through Makoto's memories. But like Shayla would have, Hiashi stood in unmoveable defiance and said nothing.

"Now what's this about 'monsters'?" the principal asked skeptically looking over the remainder of the sci-fi club.

Everyone tried to speak at once describing what happened. Each one concentrated on a different aspect of the Bugrom. Voice kept blabbering about how scary they were. She talked the loudest but incoherently. Geniu was getting excited again hypnotizing out loud about their origins. Cyber tried talking for a moment then shut up when he realized he was not going to be heard. Sugyosha and Mecha were the only ones actually describing what happened. Fortunately no one mentioned the ruins or the portal to El Hazard. This went on for a minute before the principal shouted for them to be quiet. Everyone shut up immediately. "Do you think I'm stupid?" he thundered, "Do you really think I'll buy that crap about monsters? As far as I'm concerned this was nothing more than a prank to scare your club members. Now get out of my sight before I expel the lot of you."

"Yes sir." everyone, Earther and Hazardian alike, said in unison and began charging up the stairs as fast as they can go.

"Just hold it right there!" he continued causing everyone to stop in their tracks.

"Would someone mind explaining to me just why the hell I have cats and non-Shininobe students in my basement?"

"We're sorry sir. We're leaving right now." Fujisawa said bowing repeatedly.

"You're still on the night shift you know."

"Night shift? But sir--"

"Shut up! Now I don't know where you've been this week and frankly, I don't care. You are this close to loosing your job. If your little trip embarrasses this institution, I'll throw you out onto the street myself!"

The principal and his troop walked behind Makoto and the others, silently hurrying them along until they, save Fujisawa, was safely outside school grounds. It was Shayla who spoke first, "What a fucking bastard."

"Is he always that bad?" Miz asked leaning against the gates as if her husband were locked away in prison.

"When he thinks it would be good for public relations, he's the nicest guy in the world. Bring shame, even imagined shame, on the school and he'll come down on you like a ton of bricks." Nanami explained.

"<humph> How did Fujisawa last that long?" Shayla muttered.

Nanami heard her, "Despite his habits he is still the best history teacher for a hundred miles and one of the top mountaineers in the country. Talent like that brings prestige to any school where he works. Our principal would like to keep him working here even if he's not happy about it. I think he wants to make our Royal Champion quit so he doesn't look like the tyrant really he is."

Everyone began to talk away from the campus to the nearby part to plan their next move. "Listen, this might be a little late to ask this, but what's going on?" Mecha asked still rubbing his arm. The stiffness was getting a little worse though he could feel no broken bones.

"That is none of your concern." Afura said coldly.

"Well I'm making it my concern. We've been chased by giant bugs, trapped above a rune, and now people we thought were missing are back again. We want to know." Mecha said again, this time with the rest of the sci-fi club.

Those from El Hazard, either by birth or fate, looked at each other nervously. "Well, I guess if anyone's going to believe us, it's them." Makoto said.

Chapter 7: Park Outside School

Under the shade of the park trees, Makoto began explaining to the club what happened. It was the ten minute explanation which concentrated on the time loop Ifurita created and how the Bugrom were sent to Earth. The trip to Aralmon, Makoto having to disguise himself as Fatora, Hiashi's fight with Kazusa, Miz's marriage, they were all left out. Anyone apart from Makoto and Ifurita were lucky to get mentioned twice by the time he finished. His story seemed to satisfy everyone, though some felt they were short changed. They could tell there was more to Makoto's tale. A lot more. But the juicy details weren't important. Telling them where the Bugrom came from and why they were at Shininome was.

The sound of cars braking silenced any questions before they could be asked. Parents shouted the names of their children. Cyber knew his parents wouldn't be here and faded back into the shadows and darkness with practiced ease. Makoto and Nanami were surprised at their arrival. Nanami held no reservations, "Mom! Dad! How did you know I was here?" she called out as she embraced both of them crying.

"We heard about the panic and were with the other parents when the principal just called us. But that's not important now. Where have you been and where's your brother?" her father asked.

"That pest? Who cares?!"

"Nanami, he's your brother. Don't you care about him?" her mother pleaded.

"Not one bit."

"How can you say that?" her mother said shocked.

"You don't know what he's been doing."

Meanwhile Makoto's reunion with his parents was silent. Words didn't need to be said. Solid hugs and tears spoke volumes. The other parents collected their sons and daughter and prepared to leave. Mecha paused to speak with Hiashi. He wanted to know more about what was going on, and if he could help any. The two agreed to meet the next day.

"Mom, Dad, Mr. and Mrs. Jinnai, our friends need a place to stay for the night. Would you mind...?" Makoto asked.

"I'm staying here until they let him out." Miz said defiantly.

"Oh no, we're not going to let you hang around a school at night. You're coming with us. Mr.Fujisawa will know where you are." Nanami said taking hold of her arm.

"Son, I think you should tell us exactly what's going on. How did you become ... involved with these young women?" Makoto's father said.

"Yes sir. But not here."

"We'll invite everyone to our house for dinner. I still have your favorite in the refrigerator." his mother suggested.

"Food? We're there." Shayla said enthusiastically grabbing Hiashi by the arm.

"Shayla, you just had lunch a few hours ago." Hiashi reminded her.

"So what? I thought afterwards you could show me around as we look for Bugs."

"So we're all agreed." Makoto's mother said happily.

Unfortunately eleven people and a penalty weight in luggage cannot fit into two small cars. Ultimately Nanami and her mother took one car. Knowing Hiashi's condition, how prolonged physical activity causes an excess amount of lactic acid which eats at his muscles and poisons his blood, he was offered a ride also. But to the parents' surprise, he refused. Miz and Ifurita went with Makoto's mother in the other. No one thought a pregnant woman should walk and Ifurita's appearance would draw too many stares. Interestingly enough Mrs.Mizuhara got along well with Miz, making small talk, asking about her pregnancy, but barely said two words to Ifurita. Ifurita simply sat in the back seat looking out the window in silence. She brought back Makoto's memories he gave her. Everything was exactly how he remembered even the storm damage to the old Hibiki place. Ifurita knew Mrs.Mizuhara was a nice woman, Ifurita felt like she knew her already. Her love for Makoto was extended to include his family. The silence of the woman before Ifurita saddened her.

The walk back was held in silence. Makoto and his father were out front. Both Shaylas were walking arm in arm a half-step behind. Followed by the other Priestesses then Mr.Jinnai to make sure no one got left behind. The Hazardians looked curiously at the cars and different style of architecture. Makoto decided on a more concealing route, along the side streets. It didn't take long for them to get sick of the smell of garbage and other trash. Fortunately by the time they decided to risk discovery by going along the residential streets, there was practically no traffic. At least it was dark enough so no one would pay attention to seven people, even if they were strangely dressed. Once Mr.Mizuhara asked if Hiashi needed a rest. They had walked over a mile and he wasn't even winded. "Thank you sir, but I can manage. I've gotten a bit better since we last met. I have a pretty good endurance now."

"I'll say." Shayla said bumping her hip against his once knowingly. Hiashi could only smile in embarrassment and a hit of pride.

Mr.Mizuhara's brow wrinkled and walked a little faster to pull ahead. Quietly he said, "Son, I haven't said anything yet, but that woman is being far too friendly with Hiashi. She just doesn't seem his type. What right does she have being so close to him?"

"Well, sir, I guess she has every right. You see, they're married." Makoto said knowing the reaction.

"Married?!" Mr.Mizuhara said in loud disbelief. Mr.Jinnai echoed the word and tone.

"Married!" Shayla and Hiashi repeated happily.

"Married." Afura muttered in jealousy. "I wonder if this is what Miz went through." she thought to herself.

Mr.Mizuhara was about to ask for more details, but something told him his son would explain it soon enough. He remembered Hiashi as a quiet, unassuming boy; to be married to such a loud and emotional woman was nearly unthinkable. Mr.Jinnai was equally stunned. They continued to walk in uneasy silence. If Shayla or Hiashi were aware of the shock the adults were in, they didn't show it. There weren't any bars or stores or anything interesting to look at, so they walked faster. Shayla hoped things would still be open after plans were finalized.

Chapter 8: Mizuhara's Residence

At the Mizuhara residence, dinner was prepared and the meal began in relative silence. Mrs.Mizuhara did manage to give Fujisawa a call simply to tell him where his wife was. Miz was amazed about the telephone and took to it naturally as she spent five minutes trying to get a definite length of time her husband would be trapped at school. She would have taken longer, but Fujisawa heard the principal coming and hung up. Poor Miz had no idea what to do. She tried to continue talking, then when it was clear that wasn't working, she tried pushing the buttons like Mrs.Mizuhara did and wound up talking to a fast food restaurant, a grumpy old man, and a eight year old boy in Germany before Nanami noticed her plight and tried to explain the concept behind the telephone system.

Dinner began right after everyone else arrived. The lack of chop sticks in El Hazard made eating slow. Each of the Hazardians adapted in a different way. Afura learned quickly from observation. Miz acted as if she was too nervous to eat and simply picked at her food. Kuaul tried, but couldn't get the hang of it. Finally Shayla, who was never one for table manners, simply lifted the plate to her mouth and used the shovel method. At least Ifurita knew proper etiquette from her link with Makoto. The adults were a bit surprised and a bit offended at some of their behavior, especially Shayla's. To her credit (or ignorance) she ignored it. Hiashi whispered to Nanami, "Believe it or not, she eats faster at home."

Makoto wanted to start his explanation before his friends embarrassed themselves. But, needless to say, it was a little late for that. Before he was really ready, Makoto began his story, the complete unabridged version. Well maybe not totally, complete version. He did leave out the part when Alliele crawled into his bed that first night. No one else but Fujisawa knew about that, and he wasn't here. He also wanted to skip over the little incident in the baths, but the Priestesses and Nanami wouldn't let him. He was red as he told the entire embarrassing incident of having to dress like a woman and went to a woman's only hot spring. "Just skip over that part." Shayla said when he got to the part where his disguise was compromised. After how she reacted to Voice, she didn't want another example of her tendency to overreact to go any further than necessary. Especially with her husband sitting right next to her. He knew generally what happened, but the fewer details he knew, the better.

From then on everyone took their own part in the tale. Interjecting, taking over, correcting, the occasional argument over who did what a year ago, it all took place. They covered the events up to the point Ifurita went into the Eye of God to save El hazard. After that they gave the highlights of what happened since then, Miz and Masamichi's wedding, Hiashi's arrival and marriage to Shayla, and several of Jinnai's covert attacks. It took over an hour, but when they were done, they had their parents slack-jawed and wanting to disbelieve but unable to find a way to deny it. Mr. and Mrs.Jinnai were almost in tears from learning what kind of monster their son had turned into. At first they were in denial, but Nanami ... well Nanami was Nanami. She knew for a long time her brother had delusions of grandeur. Unfortunately sometimes parents unconsciously see their children's faults as positive traits. Nanami was not much help in making them realize their son was a power-hungry dictator responsible for thousands of deaths.

"One of the first things he did when he got there was to conquer an entire country. Now what does that tell you?" she argued.

"Maybe they drugged him." her mother suggested.

"Mom, the only thing he was high on was power. Bugrom don't even have the brains to tie their shoes if they had them, much less something subtle like that. Would you want to follow someone you drugged?"

"Nanami, we just can't believe he turned out this badly." her father said in a tone that almost hid his sadness.

"Well I disowned him a long time ago. And I suggest you do too."

"No. Not until we talk to him ourselves. I want him to explain to me, to my face, why he did those things."

"Uhhh sir, we were hoping to keep the portal to El Hazard a secret. I don't think anyone who doesn't live there should use it." Makoto meekly said.

"I don't care! The Jinnai name is being disgraced by its last heir! I do not want to my family name to be this other world's new word for a warmonger!" he said slamming his hands against the table before breaking down. No one had the heart to tell him it was too late. Jinnai doesn't even respond to his given name anymore. Well except maybe when the Bugrom use it.

"Well perhaps something can be arranged." Makoto suggested. It was one of those suggestions which wouldn't happen but was said only to comfort.

"You mean that? Great! That means I can keep my restaurant!" Nanami said. Mentally Makoto was digging himself a grave.

The gateway between the two worlds simply cannot be kept open. It had nothing to do with the Bugrom or even the Eye of God. Makoto felt the two worlds were incompatible for such a free flow of people. A few people each way was fine, even good since it would enrich both cultures, but if the portal's existence became widely known it would be an object of desire ... or conquest. The secrets of El Hazard's floating transports would be enough for nations to kill each other for. The existence, traditions, and obvious power of the Elemental Church would offend and intimidate nearly every Earth religion. Makoto feared such knowledge could easily spark a jihad more terrible than the Great Holy War. Scientists around the world would unite to unlock the secret of the Eye, reproduce it, control it, and be able to give abilities to anyone.

The treat was not all from Earth either. People from one land would flood into and try to exploit the other. Trade would be nice, but such a profitable opportunity invites crime. If Earth invades, it would be enough to unite Roshtaria and the Bugrom. Makoto knew all his friends were loyal to Roshtaria, they would fight against their old homeworld to protect their new one. Hiashi especially warranted special concern. He told Makoto how he was sometimes intimidated by the power he wielded. It would be a simple matter for him to snap the power, gas, water, and sewage lines in a city to render it uninhabitable in days. If war happened, Hiashi alone could render any industrialized nation helpless within hours.

No one noticed Makoto's depressed mood as Nanami told her father about her restaurant. She said how successful it was and how she did it all by herself. His mood brightened as she showed her father the menus and advertisement flyers. At least he was able to take some satisfaction that one of his children is successful. Sure, he would have preferred she take a job closer to home, or at least in Japan. But in light of everything else, he had to take the good news where he could.

"So ... what are you going to do now?" Makoto was asked by his father.

Everyone started looking at each other. Not one of them had thought this far in advance. One by one, the faces turned to Makoto. "Well err I thought we'd start tomorrow by seeing if there were any more strange reports or sightings after what happened at Shininome."

Nanami and Hiashi rolled their eyes. The definition of 'strange' that was needed for the Bugrom only applied to supermarket check-out lines. "OK, maybe that isn't such a good idea."

"The Bugs are going to make a ruckus wherever they go. I say just head towards the shouting. They're too slow and disoriented without a leader. Won't do anything more than scare people." Shayla said simply, leaning back.

"And if not, dozens, maybe hundreds, of people will die. Shayla, this city is has more than twice people in it than Floristica. All in less space. Scared people will trample each other and the less said about the potential rioting, the better. We have to find them before they start a panic." Makoto countered.

Shayla turned to Hiashi who nodded once in agreement. "So where do we start looking? Even if the sewers had room, the city is not going to let us go down there on our word alone." Nanami said.

"They'll most likely be centered around the school. If we use Ifurita's sleep chamber as the origin of a graph and use the distances between that and the Bugrom Empire, Jinnai's, Kazuhiko's fortress, sorry, and the other points where the Eye of God was aimed, all scaled down to the appropriate level, we should have a pretty good idea where the Bugrom would appear next." Makoto said, a picture already forming in his mind.

"Well that should work, except how do you plan to orient the map?" Hiahsi pointed out.

Makoto's face fell. Without knowing how the directions translated, the best he could do is narrow things down to a circle around Ifurita's sleep chamber. At least until the first attack came. "Well I thought structures that large would be pretty easy to spot." Nanami said.

Makoto and Hiashi realized what that meant in the same instant. Bugrom fortresses were huge and were brought along with their occupants. Even if destroyed by the Eye, the remains should have been found by now. The only other possibility is that the Eye could only deposit so much mass at one time. The smaller groups of Bugrom would appear first, then their artillery legions, and finally their humongous fortresses. The process probably started when Makoto rescued Ifurita. The act gave the Eye a target. What came at first could went unnoticed. More would come, bigger groups all waiting to carry out Jinnai's last order to conquer and destroy.

Things moved to the living room. A map of the city was on the floor with Shininome highlighted. Probable locations for Bugrom sightings were likewise marked. "Tomorrow we'll start checking these locations. That should be enough to find a pattern for the bigger groups." Makoto instructed.

"Things will be so much easier if we had proof about the Bugrom before then." Nanami said.

"I just hope we can get this over with before our vacation. I just became a Priestess and I don't want to miss my first trip to Arlamon." Kuaul complained.

"Yeah," Hiashi said in a dreamy tone, "me too." Mentally counting down 3 ... 2 ... 1...

<Whap!!!> Shayla slammed the nearest pillow across her husband's face. He fell over backwards with a smirk on his lips.

Hiashi envied Shayla's ability to just let the world know what she's feeling through action. It was something he had problems doing. For most of his life, he feared he must keep total control over his emotions or else he would lash out in raw anger at the people he loved. Slowly, his wife was teaching by example how to better express himself with gestures instead of words. It took him a while to realize this though. When they were first married, Shayla's more aggressive nature caused a hidden rift between them. The friendly pats, jokes, insults even the playful games of chase around the shrine at night was starting to worry him. He would never tell Shayla, but those fears nearly destroyed their marriage.

He went on a week-long retreat to sort things out, to see if he could save his marriage from himself. After three straight days of meditation without sleep, food, or any more than the minimum water he made some realizations. The biggest was that he was overreacting, plain and simple. Shayla would never hurt him intentionally. What she did was as different from the violence of his father as night and day. Part of why he loved Shayla was because of how she acted, not despite it. Also when you can be saved from life-threatening injuries from absorbing Elemental magic, you have no right to complain if you spouse is a bit more vigor and energy than you are used to.

He returned home much happier and secure than before. It was then he started with the payback, occasionally joking with her to draw out her normal response. Oh, it wasn't really malicious, more like a compromise on his part. He was doing no more to her than what she does to him. It didn't take her long to figure out what was going on, but she liked it. They had an unspoken agreement, if he knew what was coming, anything goes. And he certainly knew this was coming. Unfortunately he wasn't in the right sitting position to accept the pillow with grace. She didn't mean to knock him over. Even before his back hit the ground she had already tossed the pillow aside (knocking over a tea cup in the process) and was trying to catch him. Her apologies only made him smile wider and tell her to forget about it. He wasn't hurt, just a little surprised.

Nanami grumbled a bit, "Hey you two, try to be serious for a change! We've got work to do."

Shayla pulled Hiashi to a sitting position. "Any chance the local news heard something?" Hiashi asked.

"Don't know. Let's find out." Makoto said. He picked up the remote and instantly the television turned on and switched to the right station. No one else noticed, just assuming Makoto was just an expert channel surfer. But Makoto nearly dropped the remote in surprise. He didn't push a single button, just touched the unit and it did what he wanted. It frightened him for some reason. He decided to keep quiet about it.

Chapter 9: Mizuhara's Residence and Neighborhood

The Hazardians, were too busy watching this technological miracle to notice. It was just a commercial, but the four women were entranced by the moving pictures. For a few seconds Shayla wondered if this was part of that 'sci-fi' of her husband's, but he wasn't even excited about it, so it wasn't. It made her all the more amazed. Something like this so common place it was taken for granted?! The commercial ended and another began, this one for detergent. Afura at the ease the blue power removed dirt. Lifted it right off the shirt. Earth may be advanced technologically, but she knew an exaggeration when she saw it. She has had enough. Kaluul was getting glassy eyed. If a few minutes of this can zombify a Great Priestess, what would a lifetime of it do to the average Earther? Afura shuddered at the thought. Still the Earthers she knew weren't too effected by it. Makoto even looked like he was ignoring the glowing box. His parents were staring at Afura and the other Hazardians, but tried not to.

When the news finally came back on all they found was a casual mention about aftershocks from the quake earlier that week when Ifurita's chamber was uncovered. It could have been emerging Bugrom or it really could be aftershocks. "Guess we'll have to stick around the school until we know more about when they're coming." Makoto concluded.

"Great. Why should I go? I already have a job. It's not like I plan to stay here." Hiashi complained. Afura noticed Shayla gave a brief sigh of relief. But she sharply inhaled again when the parents wanted to know why.

"Why would I want to stay here? I have no family. None that cares anyway. No income which means no way to support myself. Back home I have responsibilities, friends, a wife. I can't leave all that behind. I'm happy there." Hiashi explained unconsciously reaching out and holding Shayla's hand. His last sentence was in a tone that seemed to explain everything.

Mr.Jinnai grumbled something about losing another mind to foreign influences. He didn't know Afura, Priestess of the Wind and Air could hear him and was disgusted. Makoto continued. "Regardless that's where the Bugrom are most likely to occur. Besides, how do you expect to escape Mr.Uma?"

Hiashi shook slightly. Mr.Uma the truant officer. There were rumors he and the vice-principle take summer vacations to America and goad marines into fights. Mr.Uma had no martial arts training, but he was an expert brawler. Several years ago the Kendo club won the national championships and decided to play hooky the next day to celebrate. Mr.Uma thrashed them all and dragged each one by the scruff of their necks back to school. It was part of how the principal kept order and his reputation. "Forgot about him." he admitted.

"What about the rest of us? We're not students so why should we have to go to school?" Kuaul asked.

"Well Miz and Ifurita are obviously past the age limit for school. You could probably pass as Miz's cousin. But that will mean you'll have to stay at Fujisawa-sensei's place. But all of you are going to have to stay out of sight otherwise you'll draw too much attention to yourselves. Mr.Uba doesn't go after known problem students. If he thinks you're students of any school, he'll drag you in. I think he gets commission."

"Yeah, like a raw t-bone steak for each new student he recruits." Nanami added sarcastically.

"So what's the alternative? Pretend to be transfer students or something? You really think we can pull that off?" Shayla asked.

"You might have to." Makoto answered with a forced smile.

"Hey Hiashi. A twenty roshtals says your wife damages the school before third period." Nanami proposed. She liked betting on sure things.

"What?!" Shayla said getting angry.

"Don't count collateral damage done against the Bugs and you're on." Hiashi accepted as if Shayla wasn't there. They shook on the bet.

"Sucker." Nanami taunted. "Hey, any of you want in on this? Damage or safe?"

Shayla fumed at her so-called friends as they actually considered the bet. Ifurita spoke first, "Damage."

"Sorry Shayla. Damage" Makoto admitted.

"Well at least you're giving her a sporting chance, Nanami. I would have said fifth. Damage." Miz commented.

"I'm staying out of this." Kaual said moving away from the group, hands raised.

Afura thought to herself. While she doubted Shayla will keep a cool head, she couldn't bring herself to bet against her Sister. She betted in favor of Shayla for the same reason Hiashi did, they'd rather lose than win a wager against her. Maybe she could start accepting Hiashi as part of her family. Maybe she should have already.

"Well I guess this lets you know who you're friends are." Shayla humphed. "If you're done making wagers on me, we'll be going." Shayla said standing, pulling Hiashi with her.

"You know where I am and the phone number just in case right?" Makoto called as Shayla led the way into a city she barely knew.

"Yeah. You got mine. Your mom has everyone's number." Hiashi answered as he left.

"Can you believe them?" Shayla muttered to her husband once they were a safe distance away, "Haven't they been paying attention this past year? You've been helping me control my temper and I think it's starting to show."

She went on for a while, letting her frustrations out in words and the occasional brutal kick to any empty pop can she encountered on the sidewalk. Her husband kept silent and let her talk. He knew the unfortunate truth. When they were together, yes she did usually keep her famous fiery temper under control. He was around as a tragic reminder about what can happen when violent rages occur too often. More than once, he had to warn her when anger was about to take control of her actions. When they were apart, she had no real fail safes and in some ways her temper was worse. A fire can burn hotter when controlled and focused, but causes a wilder inferno when released.

About half way between Makoto's and Hiashi's homes, Shayla finally got tired of complaining. The fact they were passing through a shopping area had no small influence on things. But by then most of the stores were closed so they could only window shop. They did find one department store open. "We will need to get you a uniform if you're going to fit in." Hiashi admitted as they entered.

"Do they have them in red?" she asked as if no other color will do. Hiashi informed her about some of the unfair realities about school uniforms. Since he had only a few yen in cash, he had to use the in-store ATM to pay for it. Fortunately his card survived the past nine months in another universe. The purchase was necessary but he was still reluctant to do it. As they left, he waited for the question to be asked.

"If you can use that card to get money for the uniform, how about using it so we can go to a bar or something?"

First he tried to dodge the issue, "Well one, you don't have a government ID to say you're of legal age. Two, neither of us are of legal age for this city."

"You were still a little stingy back there. I thought that shirt would look good on you."

"I have a spare uniform at home. No need to get a new one."

"So how about something simple like one of those ice creams Nanami mentioned once? Or do we need an ID for that too?"

Hiashi was silent.

"I saw your receipt. It's not like you're in danger of running out anytime soon. Unless you plan to stay longer than necessary." Shayla said getting annoyed at his evasive answers.

He stopped suddenly, letting his wife pass him before she could react. "Do you know where that money came from?" he asked in a low voice.

She didn't and wondered why it mattered, then said so. "Mother and I worked hard for that money. We had to do it in secret because if Father found out, he'd ... hit us both and take it. What you saw was the result of years of blood, sweat, and tears. It was meant to support Mother and I when we left Father. We were just about to when ... when. Please don't." he closed his mouth in a failed attempt to keep what happened out of his memory.

Shayla looked down, ashamed about reviving bad memories. He rarely use that tone of voice. When he did, his position became as unmovable as the largest mountain in El Hazard. But money is meant to be used, if not today then in the future. What was the use of letting it sit idle? Unless ... unless he had plans for it, like staying. No, that couldn't be it. Could it? The money was just sentimental and symbolic. Wasn't it? But according to what Nanami told her about the banking system, the money existed in electronic form only. It had no physical substance, so what emotional value could it have?

Hiashi tried to understand that his wife couldn't know about what the account meant. He remembered helping Nanami in her lunch box business, paid tutoring, helping old women for a 25 yen coin, using whatever scant moments of spare time to help make his future a happy one. This was the result. All of it summed up in a small piece of paper. But using that money now, for frivolous spending, would be like saying all their work and suffering was in vain. His happy future happened without ever needing that money. Would that mean all the time they spent earning that was wasted? He already felt guilty for buying the school uniform. He rationalized it by telling himself that he would have needed to get a new one anyway so it really didn't matter who it was for. Still, he felt like he just gave his mother's memory a proverbial slap in the face.

They walked along the sidewalk in silence. Shayla continued to look at the closed stores. She wanted to take a closer look, but didn't want to revive the disagreement from earlier. Her mind still wandered back to it though as she tried to figure out why he was so attached to it. A cool fall breeze gusted along the street making Shayla shiver. Instinctively Hiashi put his arm around her and used some of the power from his headband jewel to keep her warm. The issue with money and shopping was forgotten, replaced by the remembering the reason why they got married. The thought warmed them better than any magic.

Chapter 10: Mizuhara Residence

Fujisawa knocking at the door nearly knocked it off its hinges. He was glad to be done with work, even more glad to be reunited with his wife. He was so happy he picked her up and spun around once. All he wanted right then was to go home and sleep. Unfortunately Miz was talking with Mrs.Jinnai about motherhood. There are some things men just don't want to know. Labor and childbirth is high on that list. Personally he wondered how much advice his wife should accept. After all, Mrs.Jinnai's firstborn is hardly a shining example of the joys of motherhood. "Any point in the storm." he muttered joining the rest.

Makoto filled him on the plans. Fujisawa heard nothing and the remainder of his night shift was mostly spent combing the basements for Bugrom. He found nothing but a few likely leads. Where the first wave went and where the next wave would appear was still anybody's guess. For better or worse, they would have to wait until tomorrow. His wife called to him, saying what a nice woman Mrs.Jinnai was and what a help she's been. They planned to go shopping together in the morning. Mrs.Mizuhara asked if she could join them. It was already late at night and Fujisawa was ready to turn in. His wife wasn't and needed some polite encouragement from the others to finally leave. The Jinnais offered to host Afura and Kaluul until their mission was done. Afura, at least, appeared to be good friends with Nanami and her father wanted to be sure she was hanging around with the right crowd.

Dishes were washed, guests departed and Makoto and Ifurita were alone to face their parents. In the short time that they had known her, his parents slowly started to accept her as one of the family. There was still some skittishness about her. Makoto hoped it was because of who she was or since they were so close in such a short period of time from his parents point of view. Acting from a mental request from Makoto, Ifurita found an excuse to leave him alone with his parents for a short period.

"She seems like a nice woman." His father said honesty, but with a hint of concern.

"Mother, Father, there's something important I need to ask you. Well was I ... was I adopted?" he finished quietly.

His parents put their arms around each other for mutual support. It gave their son the answer he needed, but it was still important for them to say the words. "Yes. We were planning to tell you. But you were so happy and adjusted we were scared how it would affect you." his father said.

"We found you in the park in a basket. Naturally we took you to the police to return you to your parents, but your footprints weren't on their file. No one knew where you came from. Rather than allow you to bounce around orphanages and foster homes, they allowed us to keep you. We gave you all the love any real parents could give their child. As far as we were concerned, you were our son." his mother said starting to become overwhelmed with emotion.

"When you disappeared we feared you found out and went out in search of your biological parents. But right now we're just happy that our son has come home." his father finished.

Makoto was speechless. He suspected the truth for years. It didn't matter then and it didn't matter now. These were the people who raised him. Nursed him when he was sick. Helped him when he was down. Made him the man he was that was today. What did it matter that there was no blood relation? He told them so then asked to see the basket.

It was kept all these years. Hidden only until Makoto was told of his origins. It was no surprise for Makoto that it was the same one he was placed in during his flashback at the Stairway to the Sky. "It's from El-Hazard. I'm from there. My father was the King. My mother was a sorceress. I was their illegitimate child. My biological father sent me to another dimension rather than let the public know he had an affair."

"Does this mean you're a prince?" his mother gasped.

"In a way. The royalty is a matriarchy. I don't even think it's possible for the Queens to have sons." Makoto said, then a realization happened, "This is why Fatora looked so much like me. I knew it was too much to be coincidence! She's my half-sister! So is Rune!"

"Whatever happens, I will stand by you." Ifurita mind-spoke.

She walked in and put her free hand on his shoulder. His parents hugged him. It was too much, returning home, discovering his origins, and two members of his family. What would he do? He couldn't stay on Earth, Ifurita would not fit in. Worse, what if her condition deteriorated? But if he went back to El-Hazard and his heritage was revealed, who knows what would happen. Princess Rune's tone of voice clearly conveyed a warning. Did she suspect too? He studied El-Hazard history and officially the King never strayed from the Queen. But he also knew there was too much unofficial history to ignore. Since it never became public, how did they keep it quiet when it happened? Was this an actual first? Considering so many of the Princesses marriages were arranged, Makoto found it unlikely every husband stayed true. Were the sons and daughters executed , banished, abandoned and left to die? Maybe what happened to him, happened to other babies, ejected into another dimension and left to chance.

So what happened when one of these children returned? Makoto held a position of no small importance in the Court. In a few short years he would replace Dr.Schtalubaugh when he retired. Plus he saved El-Hazard. If he were to disappear again, it would raise questions. Makoto may be naive when it comes to women, but with court intrigue he knew more than most. After using the Eye and Fatora's crimes against Alliele, the Royalty's popularity was at an all-time low. There was even some talk of revolution among some of the more angry nations. Makoto's, on the other hand, was growing he was becoming known as the Demon Tamer. Some nobles even hinted that if Makoto desired, they would support him into becoming the new King, independent of the old royal line. This could push things over the edge. Anyone who tried to harm him would not only have to fight Ifurita, but the Elemental Church. Makoto may have only been in El-Hazard a year, but his friends were the most powerful.

"Calm down, deal with one problem at a time." he told himself. His parents saw the conflict on his face and became worried. Their fear was coming true, their son could be leaving them forever.

Later in the kitchen, Ifurita helped with the dishes. Mrs.Mizuhara spoke quietly to her. "You love my son don't you?"

"Yes. He gave me my life. He gave me freedom. There is a bond between us. How could I not?" Ifurita responded in an equally hushed tone.

"Have you discussed marriage?"

Ifurita blushed, an ability she acquired a few months ago but rarely used. "Mrs.Mizuhara --"

"Call me 'Mom' dear."

Ifurita smiled, "Mom. Regardless of how I look, I am still a machine. I have waited ten thousand years in the void for your son and haven't changed at all. I will look like this until I am destroyed. But I would gladly give up my immortality to grow old with him. We want to get married, but I cannot be a good wife to him. I cannot even bear children." Ifurita hoped she wouldn't be asked how they learned that.

Mrs.Mizuhara was disappointed, but understood. "I'm sure you will be happy together and your wishes will be granted. A mother knows these things. Even an adopted mother."

Ifurita looked her straight in the eye, "No. You are his real mother. I've seen Makoto's heart and he will never consider you to be anything less."

There were still doubts about what would happen after the Bugrom have been taken care of. The only thing for certain was that life as they knew it would never be the same. Cliche as it sounded, it was true. Makoto was of two worlds and he would be forced to chose either the world of his birth or the world he still considered home.