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Reality Based


"...And Good Tidings to All."
by Wilfredo Martinez


…Weiila sat at her desk, busily trying to finish all her paperwork- and trying to pay no mind to all the purpleness around her.

Then the (purple) phone rang.
She picked it up, and spoke to it:
-“Yes?” she said, in a neutral, professional tone.
“Who is this?”
“Oh, Percival!” she said, changing to a happier tone. “It’s good to hear from- yes, it’s Weiila. Is something-?”
She listened intently for a moment, her expression slowly turning serious.
Then she suddenly stood up, her face showing shock, and shouted, “WHAT?? Are you sure it’s him??”
She listened a little more. “Ukko’s Wings!!” she swore, then said, “No, I have no idea when they’ll be back! Do we wait or-”
“You’re right. But finding them in the multiverse might be like looking for a needle in an infinite haystack… Yeah, I guess we might find them there. Where are you right now? I’ll go get you!”
“OK. I’ll teleport there in a moment, I’m going to go get Galloway! Wait for us!!”
She then slammed the phone, then ran down the (purple) corridors.

After a few minutes, she found Galloway, standing guard at the entrance. “GALLO!” she shouted.
-“Weiila? What??” was his surprised reaction.
-“I need you to come with me! NOW!”
-“Eh? But, the Headquarters- ”
-“Will be OK while we’re gone! Now come!!” she commanded, and yanked the Saiyan by one arm. Then she began to sing a spellsong. With a (fittingly) angelic voice.
From under the young goddess’ feet, a blue, star-filled mist -like a piece of the evening sky- suddenly appeared, and began swirling around Galloway and her.
It quickly picked up pace, along with her song. In a moment, it had become like a miniature tornado, that swallowed them both. Just as quickly, however, it disappeared-
-and so had Galloway and Weiila.

And, inside a familiar van nearby, PC Glenton, who had listened to the whole scene, smiled in satisfaction…

* * * * * * * * *


The Hopper found itself amid something unusual: what appeared to be an asteroid belt, floating amidst the blue infinity of the Void.
-“What’s this supposed to be, Video?” Wil asked.
-“Hmm… I have no idea. Usually the Void is- well, a void. However, the Academy scientists told me that, occasionally, when there are super-explosions within a physical universe, like novas and such, the fabric of space-time gets torn and all sort of debris gets hurled into here.
-“So… this could be the remains of a destroyed world?”
-“Possibly. However, I can detect no energy residues” Video said, looking at his side of the control panel. “If there was an explosion here, it was a long time ago.”
-“Still, I don’t think hanging around here is a good idea” Wil said, worried, as he watched the gigantic hunks of rock drift besides them. “I don’t think it would be safe to warp with these things floating around. The vortex suction might pull one on top of us.”
-“Don’t worry. The Hopper has proximity sensors. Not to mention, those giant cicada legs outside aren’t just for show” the Videan explained confidently.
Indeed, as he spoke, he used the Hopper’s legs to kick off one “asteroid” into another.
-“See? We’ll soon be out of this mess. Then we’ll be able to warp our way into the next universe.”
-“Let’s hope so,” Wil said. “Ok, I’ll let you pilot us out of here. I’ll check what’s next in our list.”

Wil then focused his attention on the unfurled paper in his lap. They were making excellent progress; they already had obtained many of the requested items. Some, like the Gunblade or the magical longsword, were as easy to get as visiting the right World and buying them at the right shop. Others, like the Rainbow Shell, took a little more effort to get, but nothing experienced adventurers like them couldn’t handle. Others were more of a challenge. He still had no idea what to do about Genericangstyguy’s girlfriend, for example. But he was sure he would think of something.

But that was not what was really bothering him.

-*I’ve done well so far* he thought. *It looks like I’m not going to need them. At least not yet… God, how could I have been stupid enough to leave them behind?? No, no point in being angry at myself… These are simple missions. Soon we’ll be done, and I’ll be back home, and then everything will be all right. I just need to hold on… just a little longer… *

As Wil and Video concentrated on their duties, Omega and Makko were having a conversation on the second row of seats:
-“So, Makko, how did you like your first adventure with RPGC?”
-“Ohh, it was so- scary!!” the girl said, shivering. “Nobody told me we were going to go into DRACULA’S castle!!”
-“Oh, I TOLD you already, Makko: Dracula’s DEAD. Somebody named Belmont got to him long before us, leaving his castle open for anybody to plunder” Omega explained again. “Just look at this whip!” he continued, as he inspected the leather weapon in his hands. “Mabbatsekker will love it!”
-“Yeah, but there were still plenty of monsters in there!” Makko protested.
-“Uh, we’re adventurers, we FIGHT monsters all the time, didn’t you know that?” Omega responded.
-“I KNOW that!” Makko retorted. “I’m NOT afraid of monsters! It’s just that- some of them were REALLY creepy! Brrr!”
-“Yeah, like all the Bats!! Weren’t they cool?” Kiro, again leaning forward and butting into their conversation, said, excitedly. “And how about that GIANT flying medusa head, eh??”
-“EWW!! Don’t remind me!!” Makko said, disgusted.
-“Kiro, could you try not to be so-” Omega began to snap, but then remembered Wil’s warning, and instead said, “…YOU?”
Kiro giggled at him, which made him madder.

And, in the fourth row, Valkyrie and Hunter, mostly sat in humorless silence.

She had already tried to talk alone to Wil several times- but he always found himself busy, or quickly moved away from her. He WAS hiding something, she was sure of that. And it couldn’t be anything good. Otherwise, he would’ve already told them about it.

If there was something that bound the two of them together, despite being such (apparently) differently people, it was loyalty. Wil had stayed by her side when many others deserted her. Likewise, she had fought by his side against many terrible foes, and would challenge the spawn of Niffleheim itself for him as well.

But how to handle something like this? She was a warrior. She wasn’t used to solving things with words. That was Wil’s territory. She usually let her fists speak for her.

Something within her soul told her, that he needed her and the others, now more than ever- but he kept silent, pushing them away.

Her patience was running out. If Wil didn’t decide to talk to her soon, then he was going to confront him in public, and let the chips fall where they might.

And then-

-“Uh, Wil?” Video suddenly asked.
-“Yes?” Wil said, without looking up from the list.
-“…Uh, could you check the radar screen, to your right?”
-“Hmm? What for?”
-“I’m getting some REALLY big energy readings all of a sudden” the Ethereal Warrior said.
-“Eh?” Wil said, suddenly snapping to attention. He checked the radar screen-

-and then gasped.
-“What!? Something HUGE is approaching us- from behind!!”
His shout caught the attention of everyone onboard.
-“How huge?” Video demanded.
-“About the size of an aircraft carrier!!”
-“Is that all?” the videan remarked. “Back at the Academy, we have ships the size of-”
But Wil interrupted him. “Somebody check the rear windows!!” he shouted.
Hunter and Val quickly rushed to do so.

And then gasped.

A starship, in the shape of a black manta ray, was now visible, looming over the larger asteroids, the smaller ones smashing harmlessly against its hull like snowballs.
Val recognized it immediately.
-“WIL!!” she shouted, “It’s the BLACK RAY!!”
-“The what?” Makko asked.
-“The mobile fortress of the interdimensional criminal organization, Black X!” Omega quickly explained. “But didn’t you once say that it had been destroyed, Wil?”
-“Yeah, by the superhero Alkaizer! I know that for a fact, I was there!!”
-“Well, looks like somebody rebuilt it!” Hunter said, “And it’s coming closer!!”
-“What do they want from us??” a very scared Kiro asked.
-“Revenge, most likely!” Omega told her.
-“Video! Does this thing have any shields or weapons??” Wil quickly asked.
-“Are you kidding? This is an EXPERIMENTAL EXPLORATORY SHIP!”
-“Then you’d damn better GET US OUT OF HERE!!” Wil screamed.
-“We can’t warp here, remember??”
-“Oh DAMN” Wil cursed, “I see two small things coming out of it! Three guesses what they are!”
-“No need to guess!” Video responded, “I’m reading HUGE energy signals from them! Must be plasma missiles!!”
Video suddenly grasped the Hopper’s controls with both hands, and shouted, “HOLD ON, EVERYONE!”
Then, The Hopper jumped off the asteroid it was on, just as the missiles collided with it-


-and blasted it into dust.

The Hopper landed on another huge boulder.

-“Wil, I’m going to need you to tell me where the missiles are coming from so I can try to avoid them!! Let’s hope they run out of missiles before we run out of asteroids!!
-“ANOTHER VOLLEY!!” Wil screamed.
-“From where??” Video demanded.
-“The RIGHT!!” Wil shouted.
Video made the Hopper jump left.


Another asteroid destroyed.
The Black Ray fired another volley.
-“UP!!” Wil shouted.
Video took The Hopper down.
-“DOWN!!” again Wil shouted. Again Video dodged it.
And then-

Wil fell silent.

-“Wil? Any more?” Video asked.

There was no response.

-“Wil?” the videan asked, then looked at him…
…And saw that Wil was now TOTALLY MOTIONLESS!
-“WIL! WHAT??” he questioned.
-“UNCLE!! NOO!!” Makko suddenly screamed, a pain-filled scream.
-“Wil! Snap out of it! I detect more missile energy readings! I need to know where to turn! WIL!!

No response. Wil was as still as a wooden dummy.

Unsure where to go, and deciding he had no time to reach over to Wil’s side to check the radar, Video took the ship down-

…when he should’ve taken it up.




* * * * * * *


A tall figure, wearing white armor, stood in the yard.


His armor appeared medieval, except for his helmet, which was strangely futuristic. The visor was black, and on his shoulders, a red cape fluttered in the wind.

He continued to gaze silently at the building, for several minutes.

Why did he keep coming back here? He asked himself. He was a paladin; his fate was to wander the world, fulfilling quests. Staying in any place, only long enough to get the job done, then moving on.

RPGC was a noble organization, at least in theory. Certainly, it included powerful people who helped protect the World from the many evils that plagued it. Here he could find help if he needed it. But that was all; he felt no need to use it as a place to repose, and certainly, it was not a place where he felt he could commune with like-minded people.

So why, every time he was in the area, did he felt compelled to visit?

No, he finally decided: this was a waste of time. He should be looking for evil to vanquish, not standing around trying to sort his feelings. It just wasn’t- practical.

So he began to turn away-
-when a scream stopped him on the spot.
Quickly, he turned around-
-and saw a teenage girl, with brown hair and blue eyes, wearing black clothing and some chest armor, running out of the building towards him!
-“Chris-Chris?” Manus gasped.

Chris-Chris ran up to him, and tackle-hugged him on the spot!!
(Causing him to blush a little inside his armor.)
-“Big brother!! I hadn’t seen you around!! How long have you been here??” she said merrily.
-“Err… I just arrived.”
-“Great!! That means I can show you all the cool new things they’ve done to the place!!” Chrissy continue to chirp, as she freed Manus from her hug, grabbed him by a hand, and dragged him towards the building.
-“But, I…” he tried to protest.
But he found himself unwilling to deflate her joyful attitude.
-“Wait until you see the WONDERFUL new color scheme they have given the place!” she continued to say, as they went inside.

* * * * * * *


…The Hopper laid on its right side, at the foot of a small dune. Smoke and sparks were coming out of it, and a huge gaping hole had opened on its left side.

Inside, our heroes were all unconscious, hanging to their seats by their safety belts. There were even more sparks sizzling all around, and the smoke was getting heavier.

Videospirit was the first to awaken.
-“…Eh? What… THE EXPLOSION!” he burst out. Then realized his situation.
-“What? What happened, where are w- MY SHIP!!!” he screamed.
The shout woke up the rest.
-“Umm… are we alive, or in Valhalla?” Val mumbled.
-“We seem to be fine” Hunter, hanging next to her, said, as he checked the two of them for wounds.
-“Ooh my head” Omega said painfully, rubbing his temples.
-“Uhh… is everyone Ok?” Kiro asked.
-“UNCLE!!” Makko gasped, as soon as she opened her eyes.
This caused the others to look at Wil, who was still frozen in the exact same position he had been before. His eyes were open, but staring at nothing.
Video reached over to him, felt for a pulse. “He’s alive ” he announced.
-“The Hopper- Video, what happened?” Omega asked.
-“Hey, I just woke up too!” the Ethereal Warrior grumbled. “Dammit, the Hopper’s a MESS!!”
Makko tried to unlock her seatbelt but couldn’t. “Omega, help me!!” she cried.
-“Easy, easy!” the young man answered, and helped free her. All the others (except Wil) where also trying to escape their restraints.

Video stood up (walking on the Hopper’s right wall) and went to check the damage. He then said a lot of strange, shrill words, that the others easily guessed to be Videan swear words. “Look at this!! The mana conductors are broken!! And the engines! OHH!!”

As soon as she was free, Makko ran to where her uncle was, still tied to his seat. “Uncle? Are you OK? Someone help me free him!!” Omega moved to help her.
-“Video, where are we?” Hunter asked, noticing the fresh air and sunlight coming in thru the hole above them.
-“I have NO idea!” the Videan snapped, still mad about the damage his vehicle had suffered. “Last thing I remember, we were in the Void! Looks like we’re in a planet, now.”
-“Then let’s get outside! The Hopper might explode!” Omega said, as he helped Makko remove the stiff Wil out of his seat.
-“It’s NOT going to explode! Its systems don’t work that way! Don’t you remember my explanations!?” Video snapped.
-“In any case, we have to find where we are” Val said, in a take-charge kind of tone. “Hunter, help me up.”
The red-armored warrior helped prop her up, and in a moment, Val stood over The Hopper, on its left side, waving the smoke away, and inspected her surroundings.

There was nothing but sand in every direction she could see. Above, a cloudless blue sky was equally empty, except for a fierce yellow sun.
-“We are in a desert ” Val shouted to the others. “Looks like those on Earth. Video, you have any idea how we got here?”
Video, now more calmed, responded. “No. Unless that blast interacted with the Hopper’s warp system, tearing a hole in the Void and dropping us in another dimension.”
-“My goodness, when that explosion happened- I thought we were going to die!” Kiro said, nervously.
-“Yeah” Hunter said, with a confused expression on his face. “I could’ve sworn we were hit directly. How come we were not atomized?”
-“You know, now that you say it, I wonder about that myself ” Video answered.
-“Would you *PLEASE* stop talking and help us get my Uncle out of here? We’re gonna choke in all this smoke!!” Makko snapped.
The others were a bit surprised to hear her speak like that, but felt it was understandable. Hunter easily picked the unconscious Wil off Omega’s arms, threw him over his shoulder, then proceeded to climb outside the Hopper.

Omega also climbed out.
-“Hey! Could someone help me? I’m stuck too!” Kiro shouted.
-“Couldn’t we leave her inside?” Omega said with a cruel smile.
-“I HEARD THAT!” Kiro screamed angrily.
Video helped the catgirl to get free, then propped her up, and climbed out himself.

Once outside, the group stood on the Hopper, looking around in all directions. Hunter was still holding the stiff Wil with a teary-eyed Makko trying to snap him out of his trance.
-“What’s wrong with him?” Val demanded.
Makko tried to ignore her.
-“NELIMAR!” the Valkyrie snapped, using Makko’s real name. “This is NOT a game anymore! Your Uncle is clearly sick, and we’re in a VERY bad situation! Now tell us what’s wrong with him!!”
-“I…I…” Makko mumbled.
But before she could say anything, Wil suddenly snapped back to life:
-“DOWN!” he shouted, so loud that it scared the others.
-“Eh? What??” he then said, as Hunter allowed him to stand on his own.
It took him a second to realize what had happened.
-“…Oh no.” he cursed.
Everybody else was staring at him. Particularly Valkyrie, whose gaze was almost deadly. –“Where are we?” he asked.
-“We have no idea ” Val angrily answered. “We got hit by a plasma missile- because YOU froze up, all of a sudden.”
-“We got hit !? How can we be alive?”
-“We don’t know that either! The only thing we know is that we’re stuck in a desert somewhere! Now tell us what happened to you!!” she demanded.
-“Um. I don’t know.” He said.
Val stared at him even harder.
Wil turned around. “Video, is it possible that the explosion might have interacted with-“
-“OH NO YOU DON’T!” Val screamed, reaching over to Wil and forcing him to face her. “You are NOT going to avoid me anymore! You’re going to tell me what the hell is wrong with you, NOW!”
Wil pushed her off “I don’t HAVE to tell you anything!” he shouted back.
-“DAMMIT, Wil, whatever is happening to you ALMOST got us killed! Now tell us!!”

Wil actually hesitated for a moment, the truth of that statement sinking in. But then he said, “I DON’T know! Maybe I was mentally attacked by someone-”
-“That’s a lie!!” Makko suddenly screamed.
Everybody looked at her.
She was crying!
Everybody was stunned.
-“You KNOW what is wrong with you!!”
-“NELIMAR! SHUT UP!!” Wil screamed.
-“NO!!” she shouted back. “I thought I was going to lose you!” she cried. “Val is right!! They deserve to know! And if you don’t tell them, I WILL!!”

Wil looked at Makko in shock. He just couldn’t believe she was defying him.

Then, his expression turned grim. He turned away, then said:
-“I… am not SURE what is happening to me” he began. He took a deep breath.
“For the last few months, I’ve been having… occasional freeze-ups. Even… seizures.

The others listened intently.

“I have had a few tests done. I haven’t received the results yet…”

Then he was silent for a moment.

And after taking a deep, painful breath, he finally said:

-“It might be… a brain tumor.”

A stunned silence fell over the group.

* * * * * * * *


Glenton sat on a stool, still listening to the events inside the building. Cala, Kamikaze, Darkness, Rommiel and Heaven’s Soldier were also inside, trying to make themselves comfortable in the cramped van.

-“Why haven’t we acted yet?” a fidgeting Heaven’s Soldier asked.
-“Yeah! We should’ve acted when Weiila and Galloway left!” Darkness Beckons complained.

Glenton grunted. This was why he didn’t like working with others: alone, he didn’t need to explain himself, or worry about their committing an error. But he was aware that infiltrating RPGC HQ was too much of a risk for him to take alone.
The RPGCers had dangerous powers –especially magic. He needed the others to handle them.

Or at the very least, to serve as a diversion.

-“I have no idea when they will be back from this ‘crisis’ they went off to handle” Glenton explained. “I had to make sure they wouldn’t just pop back right away. Besides, I was hoping that the interdimensional vehicle would’ve appeared by now.”

“However, we’ve waited too long. I suggest we move into plan B: instead of storming the place while the vehicle arrives, we’ll infiltrate the building NOW, incapacitate anyone inside, and set up an ambush for when they arrive.”
-"Sounds good to me” Nagumo said, smiling his usual, devilish smile. “Let’s go for it.”

Before anyone could even move, however, the van’s back doors clanked, then flung open!!
A caped figure was standing there!
Experienced mercenaries all, Nagumo and his agents immediately adopted attack positions!
But then, Nagumo shouted, “HOLD!”
Everyone froze in position, confused but wary, staring at the strange intruder.
A man with long, dark hair, wearing glasses, a dark robe, and a black katana, stood there, staring angrily at them.
-“Nagumo!!” the man screamed, “Did you really think you could act on your nefarious scheme without my finding about it??”
-“Lord Zhou Yu??” Heaven’s Soldier gasped.
-“That is no longer my name!!” the man continued to shout. “I have achieved a new state of awareness, and with it, a new name!!”
But before the man could finish identifying himself, Rommiel suddenly blurted, “Hey, I know you! You’re that stupid villain from that cartoon, Excel Saga! El Payaso, or something!”
-“That’s IL PALAZZO, you ignorant commoner!!” the newcomer snapped.
-“Eh? You renamed yourself after a cartoon villain?” Darkness asked incredulously.
-“Eh?? NO! I was just correcting this moron’s lack of anime knowledge!”
-“WHAT! Who are you calling a moron, you pajama-wearing- ”
-“ENOUGH!” Nagumo shouted, breaking his usually even-tempered stance, and causing everyone to focus on him. Then he took a deep breath, and his evil smile returned. “So, how should we address you, Sir?”
-“You may refer to me as- Sairan!”
Glenton, who had also stood and pulled out his guns, grunted again. “What do you want?”
-“You’ re RUINING my plans!!” Sairan again snapped. “For months now, I’ve been planning to strike at RPGC! I was going to show them, that I was not only a true villain, but their superior!! And just when I’m about to strike, I find out about your little operation!”
-“HOW did you find out??” Glenton said, menacingly.
-“I have my means! Surely you don’t expect me to reveal them?”
Cala laughed, a small, knowing giggle, one whose meaning was immediately realized by Glenton and Nagumo.
The thief was furious, but the Samurai suddenly spoke: “Well, it seems we have a common enemy, Lord Sairan. What do you say, that instead of attacking each other, we join forces, so that we may both obtain what we want?
-*Eh? Is Nagumo serious?? * Glenton thought, surprised.

Sairan thought about it for a moment.

-“Hmm… very well… you can keep the base’s technology. But I keep the RPGC members!” Sairan said.
-“It is a deal, then.” Nagumo said, smiling more evilly than ever.
-“HEY! You said nobody would get hurt!” Heaven’s Soldier snapped.
-“I have no plans to hurt anyone!” Sairan explained. “I have no need for pointless bloodletting. Once I have proven my superiority over them, I shall let them go.”

HS didn’t like the situation, although he remembered Zhou Yu not being as bad as he claimed to be. Perhaps this was for the better after all…

Glenton, on the other hand, hated the development. Nagumo was treating this as a game! Maybe joining forces with him had been a bad idea. No point in arguing about it now, he realized. He would just have to roll with the events, and look for a chance to either get what he came here for, or bail out.

* * * * * * * *


Wil’s friends continued to stand on top of the fallen Hopper, their minds still stunned by the revelation he had just made. Val, in particular, looked like she had just been slapped in the face. Makko continued to cry softly.

-“W-Wil” Omega was finally able to say, “You… have a brain tumor!?”
- “I said I MIGHT have one!” Wil said harshly, turning around to face them. “Don’t start writing your speeches for my funeral yet!!” He looked furious.
-“Hey, sorry! I didn’t mean-” the young mage said, reeling.
Wil started walking past all of them, and next to the smoking hole in the Hopper’s side, where he began to inspect the damage.
Everyone followed him with their stares as he passed by them- except Valkyrie.

-“But, but- why didn’t you tell us about your problems?” Omega couldn’t help asking.
-“My problems are NONE of your business!” he said angrily.
-“Wil!” Hunter said, infuriated by his tone. “There’s no need for that attitude! Omega was just worried about you!”

-“That explains it…” Val began to say. “That explains everything.”
Everyone turned to look at her.

-“THAT is the reason why you’re so obsessed with Christmas this year, isn’t it?” she asked, her tone softer than it was previously. “You’re afraid you DO have a tumor. You’re afraid this might well be, the very LAST Christmas you spend with us.” She slowly turned around; her stare was softer as well. “This is your way of saying… goodbye.”
The others turned to look at Wil. He was staring at Val, still grim. But he said nothing.

-“And… that is why you didn’t want to involve Nicolas ” she said, referring to the magical being known better as Santa Claus. “You KNOW he would see right thru you, and that you couldn’t lie to him!”
Still Wil said nothing, but stared angrily at Val.

-“…And THAT is why you brought Nelimar to RPGC, isn’t it?” Val suddenly realized. “You were afraid that you would soon not be there for her, and you wanted her to be among people who would help her develop her talents- and take good care of her!”
-“Uncle?” Nelimar said, somewhat surprised. “Is that true?”

Wil continued to stare angrily for a moment. Then he said:
-“Are we going to continue talking about me, or are we going to attend to the matter at hand?”
Everybody was still stunned, not just by these revelations, but by Wil’s attitude.
-“Video, I assume you can’t fix the Hopper here, do you?” he asked.
-“No way. None of the systems work, and I don’t have enough materials at hand. We’ll have to take it back to the Academy.”
-“Well, then, let’s not waste any more time here! I’ll planeshift all of us back home. Link hands.”
Everybody stared at Wil, a little unsure.
-“WHAT? I’m not going to make the stupid cumbaya joke over again. Or do you want to stay here?” he said gruffly.

Slowly, everybody reformed the circle they had made when Wil teleported them before. As they linked hands, Makko stood next to Wil. “You and I, are going to have a conversation later, young lady” he said gruffly to her.
Makko recoiled a little, obviously hurt by his comment.
-“HEY! Stop being mean to Nel! She did the right thing, and you know it!” Val snapped.
-“STAY OUT of my business!” Wil yelled at her.
For a moment, it looked like a fight might break out between Wil, Val and Hunter, but Video suddenly yelled, “HEY! Save it for later. I want to get off this godforsaken place!”
That caused them to stop, and grudgingly reform the circle.

-“Planeshift” Wil said.

Nothing happened.

Everybody stared at Wil.

-“Eh?” he said. “Planeshift!”


-“Planeshift, dammit!”


-“Quick!” he suddenly said, “Everyone check your magical abilities!”

Everybody focused, using their inner magical awareness to check the presence of mana within their selves.

-“I feel nothing wrong” Omega said after a moment.
-“Nor I” Kiro said.
Makko, Video, Val and Hunter said the same.
-“I don’t either” Wil added. He let go of Makko’s and Omega’s hands, and pointed at a spot in the nearby sands. The others untangled as well. "{Fire!}" he said, casting a simple attack spell. A beam of flames shot from his hand, burning the spot it hit.

-“Magic seems to work fine” he said, mystified.
-“Um, maybe it’s got something to do with your-” Omega tried to say, but Wil gave him such a harsh stare, he stopped!
Suddenly, Val began to sing in German. She was, obviously casting a priestly spell.

After a moment, she stopped. “I can’t make contact with Valhalla ” she said, in a concerned tone.
-“Oh no” Video suddenly said.
-“What?” Wil asked.
-“What if this is a Trap World?”
-“A what?” Val asked.
-“Um, they are just a theory” Video explained. “The scientists at the Academy theorized that certain planes must exist whose physical laws would allow people to phase in but- not out. As far as I know, no one has ever encountered one… of course, maybe they have, and just were never able to return to talk about it.”

The group was stunned again- this time by the realization of what that possibility meant.

It was Kiro who first said it aloud.

“You mean… we might be trapped here… FOREVER??”
-“Uncle, is that true?” Makko asked, scared.

Wil couldn’t answer her. He looked absolutely stunned.

-“Man, this REALLY sucks!” Video cursed. “I should’ve known better than to go around the multiverse in an untested ship!”
-“SAY IT!” Wil suddenly exploded. “This is all MY fault, isn’t it??”
Video, angered by his reaction, responded, “Well, YEAH! It was YOUR idea to use the Hopper! And if YOU had told us about your problems, I wouldn’t have let you be my co-pilot, and we wouldn’t be in this mess NOW!”
Wil looked so angry, his face turned red, and looked as if he were going to blow up. “THAT is what you all think, don’t you?? ADMIT IT!!!”
Everybody stared harshly at him.
-“Well FINE then! Get yourselves out of here WITHOUT my help!! {WARP!!} "
Wil exploded into a million green sparks!
-“Uncle?? UNCLE!!” Makko screamed.

But the sparks vanished, and Wil along with them.

Leaving the group standing silently above The Hopper, only the wind making any sound…

* * * * * * * *


Amid a burst of green sparks, Wilfredo reappeared, amid the desert sands.

There was nothing around him, but sand.

For miles, in every direction, unto the horizon.

-*Ooh, dammit* Wil mentally cursed. He sighed, and forced himself to calm down, to think better. *Well, I guess this proves we are NOT in Earth’s dimension… my Warp spell would’ve taken me home. I’m probably still in the same desert. *

He considered his options, and realized that the only thing he could do, was teleport back to the only place he knew here- The Hopper’s crash site.

And face… them.

His friends.

It was then that he began to realize it.

What a jerk he had been.

-*Eh? Did I… Did I really yell at everybody!?*

*And I… I made Nel- cry?? *

*WHY!? *

* * * * * * *


Makko was crying onto the palms of her hands. Kiro stood by her, giving silent support.

Val approached her, and gently placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders.
-“Why, Valky?” she sobbed. “Why is Uncle acting like this!?”
-“…I don’t know” Was her soft-spoken response. “I’ve never seen Wil act in this manner.”

-“There… there MUST be some explanation!” Omega said, still shocked by what had just happened. “Wil would never treat us this way on his own! He MUST have a brain tumor, or something similar, affecting his mind!!”
-“Or maybe your Great Hero isn’t so great after all” Video said, still angry at the Way Wil had spoken to him.
Omega turned angrily at him. “You’re one to talk!” the young mage snapped at the Videan warrior. “You act like you don’t have any blame on this! Who was it who couldn’t spare a DECENT ship for us, and gave us this jalopy with legs instead!?”
-“Why, you little- How dare you talk to me like that!!”
-ENOUGH!” Hunter suddenly snapped, causing both young mystics to freeze. “We’ll get nowhere if we argue amongst ourselves! Let’s decide what to next instead!”

Val let go of Makko, then walked to the others, and assumed her typical take-charge attitude:
-“Omega, don’t you possess planeshifting magic as well?”
-“Yes, but I need to meditate to get it to work.”
-“Try it. Hopefully, we are NOT on a Trap World, and it’s something else that it’s blocking our spells. Maybe yours will work.”
The young mage nodded, then walked to the edge of the overturned Hopper, sat on one of the ‘legs’, closed his eyes, and began to concentrate.

After a few minutes, however, he opened his eyes, and shook his head. “Sorry, Val. It doesn’t work either.”

She nodded to Omega, then turned to Videospirit.
-“Video, did our adventuring supplies survive the attack?”
-“Yeah, I think so” he answered. “But we have only enough provisions for about a week, tops.”
-“Then we’d better start walking. Our only chance is to find someone or something in this planet that can help us, hopefully to return home, but if not, at least to survive.”

* * * * * * * *


Wil felt disoriented. He had a very methodical mind; thought he often sounded irreverent to others, in truth he carefully judged everything and everyone- including himself. He always tried to let logic decide his course of action.

But right now, he could not understand how he arrived at his present situation.

He decided to sit on the sand, while he tried to put things together.

Val had been right about her assumptions. He had brought Nel to RPGC, not just to help her training, but also so she could meet people who would help her deal with Life and her place on it, should he die soon. He had decided not to tell his friends about his health problems because he didn’t want them to worry about him. He had avoided Nicolas because he was afraid the old mystic would guess his secret and decide that his friends deserved to know. And he had indeed wanted to make sure that everyone in RPGC would have something to remember him by after he was gone.

So why had he been so short-tempered today? Sure, he was angry at Nel for breaking her promise, but he should’ve just accepted the facts and dealt with them. Instead he had acted as if everybody were his enemy.

Could it be… another effect of his condition?

Could it be, that he DID have a tumor, and it was affecting, even his ability to think!?

The thought sent shivers down his body. Wil was afraid of few things; even death held no terror for him. After all, he knew for a fact that there was Life after Death, and was pretty confident that his soul was bound for more pleasant parts after leaving the material world.

But losing the ability to think… that REALLY scared him. What was he, without his mind? The thought of losing his perception of reality… of going MAD… truly frightened him. What if insanity was eternal? Would he be condemned to mental chaos, even after death?

He shook his head. What the Hell was he thinking? He would NOT be ruled by fear! As long as he still had a shred of logic in his mind, he would fight any confusion, strive with every last piece of his soul, to find Truth and Order again!

The first thing he had to do, he realized, was to return to his friends. To ask for forgiveness, to earn their trust again if necessary. To work together to survive, and to get out of this world. There HAD to be a way to get out, and they WOULD find it, dammit!

His choice made, Wil stood up, dusted himself off, and cast his teleportation spell again:
-“< WARP! >”
*FAASH!! *
Again, Wil disappeared in a burst of sparks, and again he rematerialized elsewhere.

Still surrounded by sand.

But no Hopper.

-“EH?” he asked aloud. “Oh, no, don’t tell me-”

He tried again.
-“< WARP! >”
* *

Again he teleported.

And again he appeared- somewhere else in the same desert.

In fact, the only reason hecould tell he had not teleported back to the same spot, was due to the different shape of the dunes between the places he warped to.

Again he cursed. It seemed that something was messing with his usually-infallible teleporting ability, as well.

Which meant, he had NO way of finding the Hopper now, since none of his scrying spells worked well.

He would have to try to find his way around on foot…

…and without his provisions, which he had left at the Hopper.

* * * * * * * * *


Manus Dei was still being dragged around the (purple) halls by the eternally-cheerful Chris-Chris.
-“So how do you like all the new improvements?” she asked.
-“Err… they are certainly…different” he mumbled. “Is… Is Weiila here?” he added.
-“No, sorry, she was, but she left in a hurry, I don’t know why” CC explained. “But I’m sure she’ll return soon, you know her, can never stay far from her office!”

Hearing that disheartened Manus even more. Weiila was one of the few people who helped him feel less uneasy when he visited the Headquarters, because of her kind personality.

CC continued to drag him until they reached the cafeteria.

-“Sit here while I get some snacks!” CC then said. She pushed Manus down onto a (purple) sofa, then ran off into the nearby (purple) kitchen.

Manus sighed, then resigned himself, and tried to relax.

He looked around. The purple-on-purple color scheme made the place feel more unwelcoming, in his opinion.

He looked at the other people in the cafeteria. He recognized some, but not others.

Sitting near him to his left, was Sonicbomber, a dark-haired, green-eyed kid, wearing mostly normal clothes, except for some type of cloth he was covering himself with. Bomber looked back at him, but said nothing. To his right, sat Demigod, who was even more silent and quiet.

Over in the kitchen, he could see GG Crono, stuffing himself with pizza, as usual. He was talking to Mabatsekker, who had just arrived from Finland. Not far from them, Pink Lugia was drinking himself- herself- ITSELF silly, also as usual.

There was a couple he didn’t recognize (Lex and Generic Anonymity) talking by a corner of the room.

A little boy came out of the kitchen, drinking from a soda can with a straw. He was looking at the other wall, so manus didn't see his face until he was walking right next to him.

And he- had the face of a DOG!?!

Manus was startled, but the dog-boy merely gave him a bored look, then continued to walk out of the cafeteria.

Manus had seen some strange things in this place before, but THAT was certainly unusual!

Nobody seemed to pay the dog-boy any attention, so Manus decided not to do so either.

He decided to simply sit quietly. While he was uncomfortable here, he didn’t want to hurt CC’s feelings by just getting up and leaving. He would wait until after they had eaten the snacks, maybe talked a little, then he would look for an excuse to leave.
-“Uncomfortable, Manus?” Demigod suddenly said.
Manus was so surprised, he actually turned around to look at the supposed ex-deity. His face was obscured by his cloak; Manus could only see his lower face- and a strange, knowing smile on it.

This was really startling. If there was someone even more antisocial than him in RPGC, it was Demigod. And now, all of a sudden, he was talking- to HIM?

-“You know what the problem is with immortality, Manus?” the blue-furred being continued. “That it’s only good if all your loved ones are also immortal.”

Manus blinked. What did THAT have to do with anything?

-“Otherwise, you can’t afford to have friends. You’ll only watch them grow old, and die, while you go on in this world… forever and ever…”

Was he talking about himself?

-“You mortals don’t realize how lucky you are” Demigod continued. “Yes, your lives are finite, but in that stretch of time, you get to live, more passionate than the gods get to. Precisely because you know your time is limited. Most gods I’ve known, wasted their existence, doing the same things, over and over, thru the millennia.”

“But of course, not ALL mortals realize this. Many act as if they had forever to deal with their problems. Some actually keep others away, because they are afraid that, if they care for them, they will be hurt, if they were ever betrayed by them, or lose them.”
*Is he talking about ME now? * the paladin thought, shocked.

-“They don’t realize, that in Life, everything’s a gamble. Nothing’s completely sure or safe. To gain happiness, one must take risks, with friendship… with love.”

For a moment, Demigod was silent. Manus said nothing, either. Then finally, the former deity said, “Yes. Lucky mortals…” and he slowly stood up, and walked out of the room.

Manus watched him leave, but said nothing.

In fact, he felt angry. Was Demigod talking about him? What did he mean? Who is he to tell him such things?? Certainly, a paladin has no reason to listen to the words of a pagan ‘deity’. He felt so annoyed, he found himself standing up before he realized it. He was now unsure, whether to stay in the building, or leave, even if it would sadden CC.

But before he could make up his mind, he heard a voice say: “Manus?”
He turned around, and saw a girl standing behind him. A girl with bluish, shoulder-length hair, and eyes of a darker shade of blue. She was wearing a pink t-shirt with a cute dagon iron-on on it, and cargo pants. A girl he recognized!
-“Zimmie?” he asked, surprised.
-“You remember me!” she said cheerfully. “I hadn’t seen you since last Xmas. Are you about to leave?”
-“Ah…” the paladin thought for a moment, then said. “No.”
-“Great!” she said, smiling. “I was hoping I could talk to you again.”

They sat down on the sofa, and started chatting.

Neither they, nor anybody else in the room, noticed the shadow that was slowly moving by itself…

* * * * * * * *


Wil hated deserts. Almost as much as he hated jungles.

In his years as an adventurer, he had traversed all kinds of terrain. From snow-bound mountains to fierce, hot wastelands. And definitely, walking under a burning sun, dragging your feet on the hot sand, and having the wind throwing dust on your face, were terrible things. But at least there were no poisonous plants, no hidden beasts, no quicksand, and no diseases to worry about in deserts.


Of course, the one advantage that jungles had over deserts was that there was PLENTY of water to be found there.

-*Damn, must NOT think about water! * he mentally castigated himself.

He was starting to get thirsty, and tired. He had spells that could provide him with water and heat protection, but those spells cost mana, and he had no idea if he could restore his energy reserves if he depleted them in this world. So he had decided to tough it out, for as long as he could. Hopefully, he would find someone, or something, that could help him, if he kept walking.

It was his only hope.

For the 11th time that day, Wil mentally cursed himself. Not just about having argued with the others, but about having left his medication back home.

-*How could I have been SO stupid? * he thought. *I was SURE that I put the pill case in my pants this morning… did I drop it somewhere along the way?*

But the thought that REALLY haunted him, as he walked thru the endless dunes, was the fact that what Video said had been true.

It was all his fault.

It was HE who had lost the pills. It was HE who had decided not to tell his friends about his condition. It was HE who had allowed them to come along on this journey. And it was HE who had agreed to copilot the Hopper, despite knowing he might seize or freeze at any moment.

-*Gahh, gotta stop thinking about that, I’m just making myself miserable* he thought. *I’ll deal with the consequences of my acts when I get back… right now, I need to focus on getting out of this desert alive! *

It was then he heard them.
Coming from the other side of the dune he was climbing!

He quickly ran up to the top of the sandy hill, but peeked carefully over the top; no telling who or what might be on the other side. Could be a desert monster looking for a snack.

But whatever it was that Wilfredo was expecting to see, he would NEVER have guessed what it was he actually saw:

A fat guy, wearing nothing but a T-shirt (that fortunately was long enough to cover him down to his knees!) prancing around the dune!
-“What the-!?” Wil couldn’t help gasping aloud.
The figure heard him, turned around, saw him, and smiled.
-“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!” he said cheerfully.
-“Er… hi” Wil said, still a little stunned.
-“Who are you?” the young man asked.
-“…My name is Wilfredo” Wil answered, deciding that being polite was the best thing to do. He began walking down the dune to where the stranger was standing.

But when he got close to him, the guy suddenly jumped back, and cried, “Stay back!! Or I’ll stab you!!” while making motions with his right hand, as if he were holding a sword in it.
Except there was nothing in it.
-*Oh great, looks like I found the one that flew over the cuckoo’s nest” Wil mentally cursed. *Just my luck. *
Still, it was the only person he’d found so far. And crazy or not, it was his only hope of finding his way back to civilization.
-“Easy! I’m not going to hurt you!” Wil explained, in a calm voice.
-“Oh” the stranger said, suddenly shifting from angry back to friendly. “I’m Him.”
-“Who?” Wil asked.
-“No! Not Who, HIM!” the crazy guy angrily corrected him.
-“Ok, ok!” Wil said, trying to accommodate him. “Can you tell me where we are?”
-“We’re here” Him said matter-of-factly.
Wil snorted. This was frustrating.
-“Yes, yes. But do you know where here is?”
-“Well, no. But at least I know we’re not on the Moon, because the moon doesn’t exist.”

Really frustrating.

But he couldn’t give up. This Monty Python refugee might only have a slim hold on reality, but if he kept asking, sooner or later he had to obtain some useful clue out of him!

Wil hoped.

He decided to try for something more urgent. “Do you know where we can find water? You know, that wet stuff that falls from the sky?”

-“Water? Sure! I got some right here!” Him said, then pulled a thermos- out of thin air!
-*Whoa! This guy has magical powers too!* Wil realized. He wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing, thought.

Him opened the thermos- and poured its content –which was indeed water- into the sand!
-“NO!!” Wil screamed, then snatched the thermos off Him’s hands. But it was too late; the water was now a quickly-draining puddle at his feet.
Then, Him quickly stuck his right hand into the puddle-
-and suddenly, pulled out a chainsaw out of it!!
VOOOMM!! the thing roared!
-“WHOA!” Wil gasped.
-“See? Perfect for making kitties!”
Deciding the thing was too dangerous for this nut to wield, Wil dropped the thermos and struggled with Him for possession of the buzzing weapon.

After a moment, Wil was able to wrest it out of his hands. The moment Him let go, however, the thing reverted into water, falling off from Wil’s hands- and into the sand.
-“Stand back!!” Him said once again, “Or I’ll stab you!”

Wil decided that Him was too dangerous to deal with. Not wanting to waste mana blasting him with a spell, he decided to try to punch him out instead.
But as he closed in to strike, Him reached over with his ‘imaginary’ sword- and drew blood!!
-“YEARGH!” Wil yelped, in pain and surprise.
Holding his bleeding side with his left hand, Wil finished throwing his punch with his right one, and slammed Him across the face, sending him reeling away.
Instead of counterattacking, Him stopped, smiled, said, “Bye-bye!” and reached into his left shin, were Wil only now noticed he had some sort of button implanted. He touched it and then-
-suddenly EXPLODED!
Or rather, IMploded, as instead of a shockwave, there was a monstrous suction, like someone had opened a door into outer space!
Him’s body twisted like taffy, as it was sucked into the hole in the blink of an eye!

As Wil watched, even more dumbfounded, the hole closed after sucking some wind and sand in as well. In another moment, the desert was as quiet as ever.

Him was gone.

Or was he ever there? Wil wondered.

-*Oh God* he mentally gasped, *Was that real? *
Except his left side still hurt and bled.

Or was that a hallucination, too?

-* Have I… TRULY gone- MAD?? * Wil thought horrified.

And above him, the sun was getting hotter and hotter…

* * * * * * * *


Kamikaze, Glenton, Heaven’s Soldier, Cala, Rommiel, Sairan, and a man with spiky black hair, shades, a goatee, and a black suit were all standing around the van, hidden behind the trees. They were all being careful not to be seen; at the same time, they were obviously anxiously waiting for something.

They didn’t have to wait long. Darkness emerged from the trees’ shadows.
-“Did you disable the defense systems?” Glenton asked.
The Dark Warrior nodded.
Noticing the newcomer, he then said, “Hey! Who is that?”
-“This is my partner, Morpheus” Sairan explained.
-“What? We added ANOTHER ally?” Darkness said, shocked.
-“Silence! Morpheus was in on this from the start! It’s YOU people who interrupted MY plan!”
Glenton said nothing, but looked furious.
Kamikaze and Cala laughed at Darkness reaction. Soldier and Rommiel said nothing.
-“Great, another ‘Matrix’ freak!” Darkness said, after checking out Morpheus.
-“You should talk, you Skeleton Warriors reject!” Morpheus snapped.

-“Enough!” Kamikaze commanded. “We came here to do a job. Let’s get to it!”

PC Glenton then stepped forward, pulled out a paper list he’d made before, and read from it aloud:”
-“Here’s the list of people currently inside the RPGC Headquarters: Sonicbomber, GG Crono, Chris-Chris, Mabatsekker, Demigod, Manus Dei, Pink Lugia, Zimmie, Lex, Generic Anonymity, Kostel, and Pokefreak.”
-“Huh” Rommiel commented, “They outnumber us.”
-“Not really” Glenton added. “Most of them are inexperienced in combat- some are even children. Only a handful would prove a threat.”
Kamikaze nodded, then said: “Soldier, I believe you’ve had experience with this people?”

Heaven’s Soldier hesitated a little. The people of RPGC had treated him well; it didn’t feel right to do this to them. On the other hand, Kamikaze was right- to survive as a mercenary; he had to think like a mercenary. Not to mention, he was in too deep now- he had no doubt that the others would kill him if he tried to get out of the operation now.

Finally, he said: “Glenton is right is his assessments. Sonicbomber, Chris-Chris, Demigod, Zimmie and Pokefreak are no real threat. Lex, Animosity and Kostel, I know nothing about, however.”
-“My investigations have turned out nothing impressive about any of them ” Glenton said. “My conclusion is that the only ones we need to worry about are Crono, Mabatsekker, Manus and Lugia.”
-“I doubt Lugia will be a problem” Kamikaze said confidently. She- or I should say, it- is a mercenary like us. If it feels tempted to interfere, I’ll just buy off its attention” he said smugly, while flashing a handful of high-denomination bills.
-“And Crono is MINE!” Sairan said abruptly. “You can have the others!”
-“Very well” Kamikaze nodded. “We’ll take care of the rest. Well? Is everyone ready?”

Nobody said anything, which appeared to indicate that they were.

Then Kamikaze added, “Well, then. Darkness, if you please?”
Darkness nodded, then gestured.
Dark magical energies began to circle his hands. Suddenly, his shadow stood up, off the ground, looking now like the entrance of a dark tunnel, except one that stood in thin air.

Sairan immediately stepped thru it, followed by Morpheus. Next went Rommiel and Cala.

Before stepping thru the Shadow Portal, Glenton approached Nagumo, and whispered to him: “ Are you SURE we can trust Sairan?”
-“Most definitely not” Nagumo said, smiling. “But we don’t have much choice- if we fight him, the RPGCers are sure to notice. Besides, he might actually prove useful” the dark samurai answered. Then he stepped thru the portal.

Glenton still looked unhappy, but also stepped thru.

Before stepping thru the portal, Heaven’s Soldier approached Darkness and asked, “Are you happy with this arrangement?”

Beckons hesitated before answering. “Maybe, maybe not. But, we all must make our choices at the right moment” the Shadow Mage answered.

HS grunted, then walked into the shadow.

Darkness then followed him, and the shadow then disappeared, leaving the place in silent stillness.

* * * * * * * *

A lone figure approached the entrance of RPGC Headquarters.
He had black hair, black eyes, and wore a blue-and-white samurai outfit, with a red cape.

When he reached the door, he pushed against it- and found it closed.
-”Eh?” he wondered. Did the defense systems fail to recognize him?
He reached over to the small touch-button pad on the side of the door, and typed a code number.
Mystified, the young man stepped back and began to consider what to do next…

Inside, at the cafeteria, most of the RPGCers were still hanging around.

CC came out of the kitchen, beaming proudly, as she carried a tray of just-baked, delicious-smelling cookies.
All of which were, unfortunately, purple.

She walked all the way over to Manus. Zimmie was still sitting by his side.
-”Okay, dig in!” she said cheerfully.
Zimmie quickly picked one, and began nibbling on it. Manus, however, didn’t.
-“What’s the matter, Manus?” CC asked, puzzled.
-“Ah… I can’t eat here, CC.”
-“Eh? Why not?” she asked.
-“I would have to take my helmet off” he explained, in a low voice.
-“CC, please… You know I don’t want others to see my face.”
-“Why’s that?” Zimmie suddenly asked. “Are you disfigured?”
-“Oh, no!” CC laughed. “In fact, he’s quite cute! I have seen his face!”
Manus felt himself blush under his helmet.
-“Please, CC. Couldn’t we move to an empty room? I’ll eat your cookies there!”
-“Well, excuse me for saying this, but I think that’s silly” Zimmie suddenly said. “A brave warrior like you shouldn’t be afraid of showing his face in public!”
Manus turned towards her. Zimmie couldn’t see his face, but felt that he had been hurt by her bluntness.
-“Sorry- I didn’t mean-”
But she never finished her apology.
For suddenly, a huge, dark shadow appeared on the wall.
-“What’s that!?” Generic Anonymity cried out, pointing at it.
Then, out of the darkness, stepped- Sairan!
-“NOBODY MOVE!” He screamed, as he pulled out his black katana, Mysteltain. “This building is now under the power of Sairan the Magnificent! Surrender, and you won’t be hurt!” Behind him, Morpheus also stepped out of the darkness.
-“Zhou Yu??” GG Crono, who had just ran into the room from the kitchen, said, surprised.
-“My name is now Sairan!” the would-be tyrant countered. “And you, Crono, will now pay for all the times you’ve made fun of me!!”
-“Hah! Bring it on, Ilpalazzo!” the purple-haired warrior said, as he pulled out his own katana, Starcleaver. The two warriors lunged at each other, and their swords clanged loudly against each other.

Behind them, Cala stepped out of the shadow.
Everyone else in the room stood up. Before anybody else could do anything, Kostel, who had been sitting on a chair eating ice cream, suddenly took off:


Everyone, even GG and Sairan, were momentarily surprised by the mini-sonic boom, but then the two warriors resumed their clash.
-“Oh my God, what have you DONE to the place!?” Cala suddenly said, disgusted.
-“Yeah, it looks like a drunk threw up in here, doesn’t it?” Morpheus laughed. Behind him, Rommiel stepped out of the shadow.
Generic Anonymity suddenly bolted out of the room, surprising Lex. But then he grabbed his staff, and assumed a defensive stance.
-“Cala!?” Manus said, surprised.
-“Hi, Manus” she said, smiling wickedly.
-“What are you doing with these men!? I thought you said-”
-“That I’d reformed?” she said, smiling wickedly. “Well, kinda. I’m no longer in the assassination business… but there’s still a bit of money to make as a mercenary!” she laughed.
Manus felt himself growing angry. Then, Demigod’s words returned to his mind:
*Some actually keep others away, because they are afraid that, if they care for them, they would be hurt, if they were ever betrayed by them.*
Manus shook his head. The LAST thing he needed right now was to remember that pagan’s words. He then unsheathed Lightcaster, a brightly shining longsword, and said, “Well, you won’t be doing your ‘work’ here!”
-“Ohh, you wouldn’t hurt a lady, now would you?” Cala said mockingly.
-“Maybe he won’t but I sure WILL!” A furious Chris-Chris said, stepping in front of Manus.
-“CC!?” the knight said, shocked.
-“Well, well, the dragon-girl has teeth! Come on, then, girl, let’s see what you got!” the female mercenary said, stepping forward. Behind Cala, Kamikaze stepped out of the shadow.

Meanwhile, in Weiila’s office, Pokefreak, who was going thru Weiila’s papers, hoping to help her catch up with work while she was gone, was surprised by a thunderous blur that suddenly entered the room:


-“Yikes!” he yelped, jumping up, and scattering the papers he was holding all around. Then he saw the cause of the noise: Kostel, who was now standing in front of the desk, his shoes smoking, burnt from the superfast running.
-“Uh… we’re being invaded” the dog-boy said, looking worried.
-“WHAT? By whom??” Poke said, startled.
Kostel shrugged, indicating he didn’t know.
-“Take me there, quick!” Poke gasped, and then added, “But WAIT FOR ME!”
Kostel nodded, then ran out of the room (at normal speed.) Poke ran after him.

Back in the cafeteria, Glenton had just stepped out of the shadow portal, and was now assessing the situation. GG and Sairan were still fighting with their katanas; they seemed evenly matched. Cala and CC were locked in hand-to-hand combat. Manus, Mabatsekker and Lex were approaching them from different sides; Rommiel and Morpheus stood ready to fight, but didn’t move from their spots. Zimmie was still standing by the sofa. And in the kitchen door, Pink Lugia stood, drinking and watching the battles with amusement.
-“Rommiel, keep Mabatsekker busy” Kamikaze suddenly said. Rommiel nodded, lifted his staff, and headed towards the Blue Mage. “Morpheus, deal with Lex.” the samurai then said.
-“Aight” the neatly-dressed warrior said. He pulled out a flashlight-like device, pressed a button, and suddenly *Zmmm!* a black, lightsaber-like beam sprung out of it! He then advanced menancingly towards Lex.
Kamikaze then turned to Magus. “So, Sir Paladin, do you feel like a sword fight?” he asked, pulling out his own weapon. “This” he continued, “is the Sword of Ares, God of War.”
Manus snorted loudly. “There is only one true God, and it is NOT Ares!”
-“Well, then” Kamikaze said wickedly, “Let’s see whose divine power is mightier.”
And the two lunged at each other.
Glenton then, pulled out his two pistols- and proceeded to cautiously walk towards the room’s exit.

Behind him, Heaven’s Soldier stepped out of the shadows. He looked around, and was shocked by the amount of violence going on. He had hoped that many of the heroes would’ve either surrendered, or been knocked out by now.
He decided to watch the events without getting involved, with either side, unless needed.
But then, the air in front of him sparkled crimson. Surprised, he took a step back, and the red sparks coalesced into the form of the red-caped warrior who had just tried to enter the building.
Soldier didn’t recognize him, but it wasn’t hard to guess that it was another RPGC member teleporting in. Upon seeing the battle around him, the newcomer looked for an unengaged intruder and noticed Soldier behind him. “Stop!” the samurai shouted. “I’m Mastermune, lord of the twin swords! Surrender, or pay with your life!” As he said this, he wielded a strange-looking weapon -like a sword with two blades- his ‘Demon Swallow’, and stepped forward.
-“No! Wait, you don’t unders-“ but he realized Mune would not believe his good intentions, and reluctantly drew his own katanas, Crimson and Eclipse, and blocked Mune’s attacks.

Behind them, Darkness also emerged from the shadow. He, too, was surprised by the amount of fighting going on. But before he could do or say anything, a sharp pain suddenly hit him on the side. “ARRGH!!” he screamed, and fell down, his backside bleeding, as Sonicbomber, who had turned invisible the moment Sairan had emerged, reappeared over him, wielding his twin daggers.
But Darkness gestured, and shadows leaped from his hand into Sonicbomber’s face, blinding him. Sonic then turned invisible again. Darkness, not hurt too badly, stood up, and drew out his katana, in case of another attack.

In a nearby corridor, Kostel and Poke finally arrived at the cafeteria’s entrance. They stopped, and looked at the battles going inside. “Oh my, this is worse than I expected!” Poke gasped. “I’d better try to contact Merlin or some of the other team leaders!”
But before the two kids could run back to Weiila’s office, PC Glenton suddenly walked into the corridor, and pointed his guns at their faces. They froze in fear.
-“Do what I say, and you won’t be hurt ” the thief said, matter-of-factly. “Take me to your storage room. NOW.”
The kids gulped, then started walking, followed closely by Glenton.

A moment later, a door right next to where Poke ran into Glenton, opened slightly, and Generic Anonymity peeked thru.
She had heard everything, but, despite feeling worried about the kids, feared that she would only have endangered them if she’d tried to help. What could she have done? She was always screwing up!
Then, she remembered the others, and wondered how they were doing. She decided to peek into the cafeteria.

Just as she did, she saw Lex, whose staff was sliced in two by Morpheus’ energy sword. The black-suited fighter could’ve slashed Lex then, but his orders were to take the RPC people alive. He then tried to kick Lex in the face. But Lex easily dodged him, and kicked Morpheus in the chest instead.
“>UH!<” the blackguard gasped, and tumbled back. Lex tried to disarm him then.
But Morpheus realized his intentions, and had no choice but to stab him with the energy sword.
-“NO!” Anonymity cried out. But to her surprise –and Morpheus’- the blade was deflected by a reddish glow that had suddenly appeared around Lex’s body!
-”Force field” the young hero explained. “Didn’t know I could do that, did you?”
Morpheus snorted angrily, then rolled away, pursued by Lex.

Mabatsekker continued to clash with Rommiel, who limited himself to block his blows. Obviously, Mabat realized, these intruders knew about his reflective powers, and had sent someone without super powers to deal with him, so he couldn’t absorb any.

Meanwhile, Manus was being forced back, as Kamikaze, in an inhuman display of strength, speed and skill, was raining blow upon blow with his sword on Lightcaster almost before Manus could block them. “I’ll give you this” the evil samurai said, as he attacked. “That’s one hard sword! Any other would’ve cracked under my power by now!” Manus found himself knocked down onto one knee.
-“STOP IT!” Zimmie suddenly shouted, and ran towards them. “ZIMMIE! NO!!” Manus screamed.
The blue-haired girl stopped, then screamed, “SPIRITS! AID ME!!”
Immediately, mists began to swirl around them, as a water elemental manifested, answering her call. Its mist obscured Kamikaze’s sight, forcing him to step back, giving Manus the chance to stand up.

CC was having trouble with Cala. The older woman was more experienced in combat, and even tough she struck with some well-delivered karate blows, Cala easily dodged them.
-“You better quit while you’re ahead” the blonde woman taunted her.
-“Oh, yeah?” CC angrily responded. “Watch THIS!” she said, and then, before Cala’s astonished eyes, began to change! Bat-kike wings popped out of her back, a tail sneaked its way off her pants, and flames started coming out of her mouth!
-“Aw, no” the woman cursed, as she saw CC change into her half-dragon form!
The younger girl then began to gesture, and a ball of magical fire began to form on it. But before she could unleash it, Cala, fearing for her life, quickly drew out her dagger- and stabbed her!
-“AGHH!” CC gasped, rolling away from Cala, her side bleeding.
-“CHRIS-CHRIS!” Lugia suddenly cried, actually dropping her wine jar in shock. “NOOO!!” it screamed, its scream becoming a roar as its form began to change, from humanoid, into a large, aerodynamic, pink colored reptile.
The transformation (and its roar) caused everyone in the room to freeze on the spot.

Meanwhile, Poke, Kostel and Glenton had arrived at the Storage room. Poke opened the door, and turned on the light.

Glenton almost couldn’t believe his eyes. Objects of all kinds –from antique pieces of art to futuristic devices whose function he couldn’t begin to guess- laid in shelves all around the room.
-“What is it you want?” Poke dared to ask.
-“I want a planeshifting device” the Thief responded. “A NON-MAGICAL one. Is there any here?”
Poke hesitated.
-“Don’t try to trick me ” PC said, in a more menacing tone. “Or else.”
Before Poke could react in anyway, however, a cloaked figure suddenly dropped from the ceiling- and onto Glenton!
-”WOOF!!” Glenton gasped in surprise.
-“Demigod!” Poke cried out.
Kostel took the chance to zoom out of the room.
But Glenton managed to get the winged, blue-furred being off himself with a judo throw. He threw him onto the floor, knocking some gizmos off the shelves in the process. Then, before the ex-deity could react, Glenton opened fire on him.


-“UGH!” Demigod gasped, then fell limp to the floor.
-“DEMIGOD! NOO!!” Pokefreak screamed. Then he turned to Glenton and shouted, “YOU WILL PAY FOR THAT!!” and began chanting something.
As far as Glenton knew, Pokefreak had no magical powers. But he couldn’t take the risk. He readied his pistols again-
-but never managed to get off a shot.
Something HUGE burst forth from the floor, making a hissing sound. Glenton couldn’t see it well, it was too large and dark. A huge suction, like a miniature tornado, accompanied it. He tried to fire at it, but before he could, the thing, whatever it was, reached over to him- and pulled Glenton into itself!”
-“Accursed MAAAAAAGIIIIICCC!!!” was the last thing the thief said, before disappearing into the thing’s folds, along with some of the items in the room.
Then the thing shrank into a small, dark wisp, and then faded completely.
Poke ran over to Demigod, and cried, “Demi! Are you all right??”
-“I… will be” the blue god said. “I’m immortal, remember?”
-“Ohh… right” Poke said, now feeling a little silly.
-"I didn’t know you were a summoner” Demigod asked.
-“I almost never use my powers, for I cannot control what will appear” the boy laughed nervously. “We were lucky I didn’t get a moogle!”
-“By the way… what WAS that thing?” Demigod asked.
-“I have NO idea” was Poke’s answer.

Back at the cafeteria, the monstrous (if absurdly colored) Lugia towered above everyone.
-“HOW DARE YOU HURT CC!!” it roared.
-“Lugia, wait!!” Kamikaze shouted. “I have money! I can pay you!!” he said, as he pulled out a wad of money.
Lugia stared at it, as if considering it.

And then lunged at it, swallowing the wad in one bite, almost biting off Nagumo’s hand in the process!

GG took advantage of the distraction, and, casting a spell on Starcleaver, caused it to ignite- and hit Sairan’s behind with it!
-“YARRGH!!” the would-be world conqueror screamed. “Not Agaaaaainn!!!”
Crono laughedout loud.

Realizing that now the odds had shifted against his group, Kamikaze shouted, “RETREAT!” and ran for the still-open shadow portal. Fortunately for him, the flying dinosaur didn’t fit well inside the room, giving him time to escape.
Manus saw him, but ran over to check on CC instead. Zimmie followed him.
Cala had run into a corner the moment she saw Lugia transform. She used an innate ability and teleported away before anyone could get her.

Lex thought he had Morpheus cornered, but the man smiled, reached over to his black earring, touched it- and then blinked into nothingness, having also teleported away.

Sairan (still smoking) also made it to the portal, but not without saying, “I’ll get you next time!!” Rommiel also managed to escape Mabat and pass thru the portal.

Heaven’s Soldier, however, dropped his katanas instead, and simply said, “I surrender.”
Hearing that, Darkness also stepped into his shadow, and disappeared, along with the dark portal.

-“CC! Are you ok??” Manus asked. “Wait, I’ll help you!” he said, and then began to use his Paladin’s ability to ‘Lay on Hands’ to heal her.
After a moment, she recovered. “Oww… that hurt.” She said.
-“Little sister! Why did you fight? The rest of us could’ve handled things!”
-“I’m a member of RPGC” she retorted. “I CAN fight, or would YOU let others get hurt in your place because you were scared of fighting?” she asked him.
Relieved, Manus smiled (inside his helmet) and said, “You are right, little sister.”
-“Yeah, and she would’ve toasted that witch if she had had the chance, too!” Zimmie joked.
They all laughed, the tension relieved.

* * * * * * * *


Val, Hunter, Nel, Omega, Kiro, and Video wandered the desert together. All of them were wearing their adventuring backpacks, with their provisions and equipment in them. Video had taken the precaution of activating a signal device on The Hopper, so that it could be found later.

Nel, Omega and Kiro started using their spells to help refresh themselves, but Val warned them to conserve their Mana.

They walked for hours, under the hot sun, not talking much.

All of them were grim, but Makko looked the worst of them all. Val, Kiro and Omega surrounded her, giving her their support.

-"Valky" Makko eventually said, "...You think Uncle is OK?"
-"You're worried about HIM?" Video said in disbelief. "He's probably playing in a snowfield somewhere, leaving us to dry up here!"
-"Oh, shut up, Video!" Omega snapped. "Whatever it is that's affecting Wil, I'm sure he will overcome it, and come rescue us, in any moment!"
-"Dammit, Omega, why do you have such blind faith on him!? He's just a guy, he can be a loser at times, just like the rest of us!" the videan snapped back.
-"SILENCE!" Valkyrie shouted, and the two fell silent, under the force of her personality. Then Val turned to Makko, and, in a kinder tone, said:
-"Your uncle is the stubbornest Mage I've ever met, Nel. We've gone thru worse things than this. I'm sure he'll be all right."

Suddenly, Kiro said, “Hey! What’s that?” She stopped, and sniffed the air. “I smell bacon!”

The others exchanged worried glances. Except Omega, who looked more annoyed at Kiro than ever.

-“Umm, Kiro, darling” Val began to explain to the Catgirl. “When people get exposed to the desert heat too long, they are known to hallucinate-”
-“NO, NO!” Kiro retorted. “I AM smelling frying bacon! My sense of smell is just better than you people’s!”
Omega couldn’t help snapping. “Kiro, don’t you realize you are TORTURING us by saying that?? We are ALL hungry!”
-“I’m NOT lying!!” Kiro cried out, and then suddenly bolted towards the top of a nearby tall dune.
-“KIRO! COME BACK!” Val shouted, but the catgirl kept on running.
-“Kiro!!” Makko also cried out. “Omega, if Kiro gets hurt I’ll NEVER forgive you!!” Mako snapped at the young mage, who reeled back in shock at the usually shy girl’s fury. Makko then ran after Kiro as well.

However, the brown-haired catgirl suddenly stopped on her tracks at the top of the dune, turned around, and started shouting, “LOOK, LOOK! EVERYONE, COME HERE!!”

Her screams caused everyone to start running up the dune as well. Val and Nel made it to the top first, where they saw what it was that had Kiro so thrilled:


Unpaved, maybe, but still a traveler’s road!

Not only that, but they could see a small, cabin-like building by one side, not too far away!

Smoke was coming out of its chimney, and along with it, the unmistakable smell of-
-“BACON!!” Nel gasped.
-“See? I told you so!!” Kiro beamed proudly.

The group quickly made their way down the dune, then walked on the road towards the cabin. They approached it cautiously, just in case.

As they came close enough, they noticed it had something written (in English) in big letters on a sign above the entrance:


-“A DINER! YEEESSS!!” both Kiro and Nel screamed in delight.

The others were happy too, thought they were more careful about counting their chicks until they were hatched.

Led by Val, the group entered the diner.

The place inside looked more like a saloon than a diner. It was almost empty, too, except for two young men. One was standing behind the wooden counter, had had tanned skin and shaggy black hair, and was drinking directly from a bottle. He wore baggie pants and a hoodie. The other was a nerdy-looking kid, with glasses and brown hair, who was sitting at one of the wooden tables.
-“Hey, Dizzy, you got customers!” the boy said.

The young man stopped drinking and said, “Yeah, I see them.” He then put the bottle down.

Val walked up to him. “What services do you offer here?” she asked.
He grunted, then said, “This is a diner. If you are looking for a place to sleep, this is not it.”
-“No, food will do, thank you.” Video said, coming forward.
-”Order for us, Video. I’ll go do some sniffing around” Val said quietly to the Ethereal Warrior.

She then walked to the boy, who found himself quite impressed that such an imposing, beautiful woman –in armor, no less- had just decided to approach him.
-“I got a few questions. If you can answer them, there might be some money in it for you” Val said (although in truth, she didn’t know if any of the currency she carried was usable around here.)
-“Okay, Madam” the boy said. “My name’s Dude. How can I help you?”
-“What is this world’s name?” she asked.
The boy was understandably puzzled.
-“The name of this planet. You know it, don’t you?”
-“Er, yes.”
The boy looked funny at Val, but decided it was better to take her seriously. “This planet’s name-“ he said carefully- “Is Filgaia.”

* * * * * * * *


Wil sat near the top of a dune, on the side away from the sun. Which was still unbearably hot. He couldn’t wait for night to fall.

Assuming there were no nocturnal predators around here.

He did the only thing he could do in this circumstances:
Something was bothering him.
BESIDES the heat.
And his fear that he was losing his sanity.
And his worry about the well-being of his friends.

-*…It’s TOO perfect* he decided.
*What were the odds that:
-I lose my pills despite my knowing how vital they are to me;
-We find a debris field in the middle of the infinite void;
-The Black Ray finds us there, amid millions of rocks;
-I freeze up just as we were in the middle of avoiding a missile attack;
-We somehow survive the attack despite a direct hit with an asteroid-busting missile;
-We are stranded in a Trap World, among infinite other possible Worlds?

…I go thru that bizarre encounter with Him, RIGHT AFTER I begin to wonder if I’m losing my sanity?*
*I’ts almost as if…

…As if SOMEONE was purposely trying to destroy –no, make us suffer? *

*Make ME suffer? *
That’s gotta be it, Wil decided.

He stood up, dusted himself off, and cried:
-“OKAY, GAME’S OVER!” His words echoed among the dunes.
“I KNOW this is a set-up. Stop playing games and reveal yourself!”

Silence was his only answer.
-“Oh, still hoping to convince me it’s true, eh? Fine. I’ll just sit here, until you get bored of waiting.” Wil said, then sat down again.

Several more quiet minutes passed.

-*Of course* Wil thought, *There is always the possibility that this has just all been an incredible series of coincidences. Such things HAVE happened, occasionally…*

*In any case, what do I have to lose by waiting? I’m not getting anywhere. Might as well sit here, and wait for someone to find ME. *

Wil thought about his friends. Val and Video must be mad at me, he decided. Poor Omega must have lost his faith in me… Hunter probably just takes his usual wait-and-see attitude. Kiro would just be puzzled…

…But Nel- Nel must be really hurt.

-*Damn, must not think that. I’m just pleasing whoever is running this Truman Show! *
he decided.
How to keep himself from falling into despair?
Praying, perhaps?
Me mentally shrugged. Why not?
Wil wasn’t a terribly religious person. Or at least, not in the sense that most people considered one to be.
He never attended Mass, and he rarely prayed with words.
On the other hand, he did his best to help his Fellow Man, and otherwise live according to what he felt God wanted him to.
But why not try a specific prayer now?
He remembered one now, one that his mother had taught him, and that he particularly liked as a child…
Wil lowered his head, closes his eyes, and reverently said:
-“Lord, please grant us,
The Strength to accept that which we cannot change;
The Courage to change that which we can,
And the Wisdom to tell the diff-”
The blow came suddenly, painfully, but not totally unexpectedly. Wil rolled with it, falling down to the foot of the dune.

Not really hurt, Wil looked at the top of the dune. There, standing with his back to the Sun, was a figure with a green cape, his features obscured by shadow.
Wil smiled. “You don’t like prayers, do you?”
-“Pray all you like, Martinez. You are doomed anyway ” it said, in a hollow, evil voice.
-“Cut out the comic book villain talk, and get down here so I can put you in your place, whoever you are!”
-“What?” the figure asked. “Can it be, that you haven’t realized who I am, Martinez?”

The stranger began to walk down the dune, closer to Wil, who readied himself for combat. He still couldn’t make out his features in the evening shadows.

Then, finally, the figure came close enough to Wil for him to see his features, which he then realized-
-where HIS OWN!
Wil stared in shock. It was then that he finally realized who his tormentor was!
-“I told you, Martinez” his dark image said, smiling cruely. “I TOLD you I would be back.”
-*No! Not him, not NOW! * Wil thought in shock. He found himself unwillingly saying the being’s name aloud:


* * * * * * * *

-“Indeed!” Wil’s dark doppelganger responded. “Nyarlatothep, the Crawling Chaos!”
-“Oh, you’re STILL using THAT name?” Wil said, defiantly. “You know I KNOW that’s not your true name. You’re using the name of one of the Old Ones, because you know that mankind is unconsciously afraid of them!”
Nyarlatothep laughed. “True. Then again, no name truly fits me; am I not the embodiment of the Evil in All souls- including yours?”
Wil just stared at him, his ayes ablaze with anger, his body still tensed for combat.
- “Very well, then. You may call me by any of the other names humanity has known me as thru the eons. How about The Dark One?”
-“I told you I wasn’t going to play games any more. If you’re going to attack me, shut up and do so!”
-“HAA HA HA!” the entity laughed. “Oh no, Martinez. It isn’t going to be so easy. I CAN squash you like a bug, and you know it. The last times we fought, you had help. But now, you’re alone, tired, and thirsty- and you have no one to blame for it, but yourself!”
-“Your paralyze-with-guilt trick doesn’t work on me, and you know it!” Wil shot back.
-“Maybe not directly” the Dark One conceded. “But the knowledge that you betrayed your friends will.”
-“That was YOUR doing!!” Wilfredo shouted angrily, despite himself. “YOU made me sick, made me hide it from my friends, made me act like a bastard!!”
-“You would like to believe that, won’t you?” the entity said in evil smugness. “But the truth is, without your disease, I would never have gotten to you.”
Wil said nothing, but continued to focus on his enemy.
-“You’re right, in that your will is too strong for me to manipulate directly” the Dark One began to explain. “However, as the Master of all the Negative Emotions in Mankind, I know your secrets as well. When you began having your seizures, you were frightened. Not so much by being sick, or even by fear of death, but by fear of powerlessness.”
Wil said nothing.
-“Admit it! If there is one thing you fear, is being helpless! You felt your own body was betraying you! Not knowing when or where you would seize up, made you fear that you would fail yourself, or worse, the others, during battle! You were afraid that your precious career as a hero was coming to an end! But you didn’t want to admit that, to yourself OR the others! You thought they would be too worried to let you fight!!”
Wilfredo’s hands crackled with magical energy. He was FURIOUS, but he knew he HAD to keep under to control- he couldn’t fall to Nyarlatothep's tricks!
-“And THAT was what gave me the edge” the fiend continued to explain. “It took me a long time to regenerate after our last battle. I had to feed on a LOT of negative thoughts in the realm of the Collective Unconscious to form a physical body again. But your fears and self-doubts helped me, not only to grow back, but to manipulate you subtly. You see, Martinez, I realized what it was that I had done wrong the last time we clashed: I was too direct. Instead of manipulating stupid mortals, much less attack you directly, I should’ve used your own dark feelings to propel you to your own doom.”
“All I had to do, was amplify your own emotions. Let you put yourself in trouble with your own closest allies by opening your big mouth. Now, you’re alone, tired, and trapped in an inescapable desert. All I have to do now, is watch you die.”
Wil tried to think of something he could do. The Dark One was right; he probably couldn’t defeat it on his own. And the others probably wouldn’t find him in time. He needed to think of something- but he needed time. He had to delay Nyarlatothep somehow!”
-“Why are you doing this?” Wil asked. “Why are you so focused on me, out of billions of human beings?”
-“You know why, Martinez” the dark being said. “There have been few people through history that have been able to vex me. Mostly Persona-users, manipulated by my stupid good counterpart, Philemon. You however, have not only defeated me twice, you have guessed many of my secrets, such as my inability to use my full power in the Material Plane. I have to eliminate you- making you suffer, is just a bonus.”
-“There never was any Black Ray, was there? YOU created it, with your ability to manipulate reality!” the Mage stated. “And it was YOU who blocked our attempts to leave this World! And my attempt to return to my friends!!”
Nyarlatothep smiled even more evilly, if that was possible. “Maybe. Maybe not. Don’t you just hate uncertainty? Yes, I KNOW you do!!”
-“ENOUGH!” Wil finally shouted. He decided that he had to act; even if he couldn’t beat the fiend on his own, dying in combat would be better than just drying up in here.
“< ULTIMA!!>” he screamed! Waves of green energy, roaring with power, left his hands, and headed directly for Nyarlatothep-
-who blinked out of the way just before being hit.
“FSWHAAAMM!!” The waves struck the dune, blasting their way thru, effectively splitting it in two! Sand began raining all around the area.
The Dark One reappeared in the Dune behind Wil.
-“Miss me” it mocked.
-“Come here and FIGHT me, blast you!!”
-“Why should I? It’s SO much more fun watching you fall apart!” it gloated. “But, if you insist, I CAN provide a playmate for you.”

With that, the entity reached into one of ‘his’ pockets, and drew out what looked like a tarot card. “Remember these, Martinez?”

He did. It was a Persona Card, used by Persona-users to summon spirits to aid them. Wil and his allies had used them against Nyarlatothep, but his minions used them, as well.

-‘Turnabout is fair play, no?” it said, then hurled the card into the air. Then he screamed:
The card suddenly stopped in mid-air, before it hit the ground. It sparkled, then exploded, its smoke forming a dark, man-sized cloud. The smoke then coalesced into a dark, humanoid form.

It wore black, padded armor, with high boots, and a black cloak. His head and face were hidden by the cloak, as well as a scarf- only his red, glowing eyes were visible.
-“Who dares summon HellDevil, the Right Arm of Asmodeus, Lord of the Ninth Layer of Baator?”
-*Baator? Oh great, a Baatezu! * Wil thought, referring to the creatures more commonly known as Devils.
-“I DO!” was the Dark One’s answer. “I am NYARLATOTHEP, the total sum of all the evils in mankind!”

As Hell Devil turned to see it, the Dark One’s form shifted to mirror his own. Wil noticed that with curiosity.

HellDevil was impressed, not by the trick, but the immense evil he felt in the being. It was actually a match to his Devil Lord’s!

-“…Very well” HellDevil said. “But know this: One, and only one, task shall I perform for you!”
-“Good enough” his reflection said. “Kill that mortal!” it stated, pointing towards Wil.
HellDevil turned around, saw Wil, then pulled out two dark-bladed swords out of his cloak, and started to walk menacingly towards him.

HellDevil sized up his opponent; other than the cape, and the smell of magic about him, he seemed normal enough. A mage, most likely. He approached Wil carefully, his swords at the ready.

Wil had battled Baatezu before, and knew they weren’t easy enemies. Still, he was confident on his own abilities, even if he was tired. But he had to split his concentration between HellDevil, and the Dark One, lest the latter played dirty and interfered.

HellDevil decided to test his enemy’s defenses. The moment he saw Wil begin to cast a spell, he rushed forward.
-“Halt, Mage!” he cried out, taking a slash at him with one of his swords.
-“Arrrgh!” he cried in pain, and took a step back. But then he said,
“< HASTE!>” and green sparks surrounded him, as his spell took effect.
HellDevil was surprised. He had battled mages before, and always managed to interrupt their spellcasting with his attacks; this mage must have an iron will!
He took another swing at Wil with his swords. To his amazement, his opponent actually dodged them, moving in a blur!
-“*Ah, he hasted himself* the infernal warrior thought. *Well, I have a surprise for him.*
-“< SHIELD!>” Wil said, waving his hands in front of him. His trademark green sparkles formed a semitransparent field of green force around him. He readied himself for more blows from HellDevil- but to his surprise, they didn’t come.
Instead, his foe transferred one of his swords to his left hand, holding both there, as he gestured with the other.
-*Oh, no! * Wil realized, *He’s a spellcaster, too! *
-“< DISPEL MAGIC!>” the dark warrior said, and black wisps of energy surrounded Wil, dispelling his Haste spell. He immediately slowed down to normal speed.
His shield spell still was in place, however, so HellDevil decided to dispel it as well.
But before he was done gesturing, Wil finished casting a spell of his own: “< SILENCE!>”
HellDevil found himself unable to speak in mid-casting, his conjured energies dispelling before he could form a spell. He cursed (silently) then transferred his second sword back to his left hand. If the mage thought him helpless now, he had another thing coming!
-“< HASTE!>” Wil said again, once again increasing his speed. But then he noticed HellDevil’s swords beginning to glow. Correctly guessing this was some sort of magical attack –HellDevil’s HellBlade Technique, although of course he didn’t know its name- he dodged, barely avoiding a beam of concentrated flames that went past him, striking the dune behind him, melting part of it into glass: HIIIISSSSSS!!!!
Once again, Wil casted another spell: “< BARRIER!>” –and a second shield, this one orange in color, formed behind the first one.
HellDevil fired the HellBlade blast again, but the orange barrier blocked it. Again, he cursed silently. This mage knew a lot of spells! He decided he had to kill him quickly. He rushed forward, hoping he could smash his way thru the shields, or that the silence effect would fade soon..
Will decided it was time he took the offensive. Knowing that infernal creatures were weak against cold, he unleashed two of his strongest ice spells in quick succession (thanks to the Haste effect):
-“YEEEEAARRGH!!!” HellDevil screamed, as he was hit by the waves of superintense cold. The first one struck his swords, causing them to shatter like glass. The second one struck his body, similarly shattering it. The frozen shards of flesh melted into black smoke as they fell to the sands, quickly evaporating into nothingness.

-“Your puppet has fallen” Wil said, defiantly.
-“Yes, yes” the Dark One said. “Too bad you lost some mana in that battle… as well as some blood.”
It was true; Wil was bleeding from the slash he took from HellDevil’s sword. He would not last long if Nyarlatothep struck now, or if he summoned more underlings to attack him.

A thought hit Wil: Why wasn’t the fiend attacking himself? Cruelty was one of his elements; he enjoyed inflicting pain. Why didn’t he attack him personally, if he was so sure he could kill Wil easily?

Unfortunately, before Wil could ponder that, he felt it begin again.
-“What? NO!”

A seizure!

-“NOO!!” he screamed, as he felt every muscle in his body spasm wildly. It was like having his body pulled in all directions at once!
-“Not… now!” was he able to gasp, before his legs buckled, causing him to fall into the sand.

Above him, on the dune, Nyarlatothep laughed triumphantly:

* * * * * * *


Val, Hunter, Omega, Makko, Kiro and Video were all eating quietly on a wooden table.

They hadn’t managed to find much from Dude. They now knew they were on Filgaia III- since Dude had told them the WHOLE planet was a desert. RPGC members had visited this world before. Which meant it wasn’t a Trap world. Which left them puzzled as to why they couldn’t get off it.

-“Maybe” Video theorized, “This is a Trap World version of Filgaia. Parallel Worlds come in all sort of variations.”
-“Yeesh, Video, thanks for dashing our hopes!” Omega snapped.
-“I’m just exploring all possibilities” Video retorted.
-“Quiet” Val commanded. Then she looked at Hunter. “Something is bothering you” she said to him. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.
-“Something is wrong here” Hunter said. “The Hunter didn’t get destroyed. Wil goes crazy on us. Something is keeping us here.”
-“I was thinking the same” Val said.
-“What? You think this is somebody’s doing?” Omega guessed.
Just then, a man wearing a blue cloak, and black clothes, his face obscured by the cloak, entered the diner.

The group stared at him. No sign that he was a threat, but you can never be too careful.

He scanned the room, looking for something. Then, he spotted the group, and headed right for them.

The heroes tensed, as the figure walked next to their table.
Then, he pulled back his hood, revealing the face of a young man, with blue hair and eyes.
-“CHRIS!?” Omega gasped. “Chris of the Brood!!”
-“Hi, Omega” he said, smiling. “Glad to see you people are okay. We have been looking for you guys all thru the Multiverse!”
-“You knew about our situation!?” Video asked, baffled.
-“Not your exact situation, but- wait, I’ll let Weiila explain it” the Brood Prince said, and then pulled out a cellphone-like device. “Weiila?” he said to it, “This is Chris. I found them. They were at the diner, all right. …OK, I’ll wait here.” Then, to the group: “She’s teleporting here right now.”

A few seconds later, a familiar (to the RPGCers) blue-sky-with-stars whirling mist began to appear inside the diner.
-“WHAT'S THAT!?” Dude screamed from his table, surprised by the magical phenomenon.
-“It’s OK, it’s nothing dangerous!” Omega tried to explain. Big Dizzy, curiously, simply continued to drink and watch events from the counter.
By then the mist was a miniature tornado, which suddenly broke up, revealing several figures inside: Weiila, Galloway, Percival, Shalcar and Erdrick.
-“THERE you are! Are you all right !?” Weiila gasped.
-“Yeah, I think so” Val answered. “What’s going on?”
-“Nyarlatothep is after you guys!” Galloway explained.
-“WHAT??” was the group’s reaction.
-“Aye, I felt its foul presence only as ye took off in thy strange craft” Percival said.
-“He must be after Wil!” Shalcar said, then added, “Hey, where is he?”
The Hopper Heroes looked at each other in shock; NOW things were making sense!

And their worries about their old friend suddenly increased…

* * * * * * * *


Wil continued to writhe in the sand, his body out his control. Nyarlatothep, who had now reverted to imitating Wil’s form, was eating his agony up.

-“I’ll bet you would love to have this now, wouldn’t you, Martinez?” he gloated, as he held a small silvery object in his hand, over Wil’s body.
-“My… pillbox! So you… did… steal it!” Wil gasped.
-“I’ll admit that much” the entity said cruelly.

Wil, starting to regain control as the seizure ended, turned away from him.
-“Giving up already, Martinez?” the Dark One asked. “Or are you waiting for your friends to come rescue you?”

Wil said nothing.

-“I wouldn’t count on that if I where you. Even if they could find you, you made many of them angry at you. And the rest have troubles of their own.”

Wil didn’t want to listen, but couldn’t help himself.

-“You see, even as we speak, RPGC is coming under assault, by a force of mercenaries that I subtly manipulated into attacking them. I doubt they will be able to destroy the heroes, but they will certainly keep them too busy to bother looking for an ingrate like you.”

“…Are you listening, Martinez?”

No response.

-“I know what you’re doing. You have resigned yourself to your fate” The Dark One said, sounding displeased. “You are trying to ignore everything I say, so I won’t enjoy torturing you with words anymore. You prefer death to plying my game any longer. Very well, then” it said, as it approached the still-prone Wil. “I tire of this. There are many humans whose lives I can play with. Prepare to leave the material world forever, Marti-”
Nyarlatothep could feel it before it was even visible, which it was a second later:
Weiila’s teleporting mist!
The Dark One cursed, so loudly that Wil heard it. His seizure over, although he was still dizzy, Wil opened his eyes, and wondered for a moment, if what he saw was real, a hallucination, or the Dark One toying with his senses again:
A whole squadron of RPGCers –the ones that had just reunited in the Diner- materialized out of the mist!
-“UNCLE!!” Makko screamed, upon seeing him lying in the sand. She tried to run to him, but Val stopped him.
-“STAND FAST, ABOMINATION!” Percival cried out, as he drew his bastard sword out. “THY FOUL PRESENCE SHALL NO LONGER BE TOLERATED!”
-“Lemme at him!” Videospirit said, his hands glowing with magical power. Similarly, Omega and Galloway prepared themselves for attack, while Val, Erdrick, Chris and Hunter drew out their weapons –Val a trident, Erdrick his longsword, Chris his Dragon Sword, and Hunter an energy blade- and began circling the fiend. Weiila began to cast some spell, while keeping Makko and Kiro behind her.

To their surprise, the dark doppelganger, instead of attacking them, stepped back, and began to fade away into wisps of shadow.
-“OH,NO!” Wil, suddenly getting up, cried out: “You’re NOT getting away! < MEAN LOOK!!>”
Suddenly, Nyarlatothep stopped, and the wisps began to merge back together into solidity. “WHAT!?” it screamed, in shock.
Wil actually laughed! “Never heard of this power, Nyarl?” he said, while staring intensely at him. “It’s a little trick I learned- from a Pokemon!”
Everyone stared at Wil, baffled. Then they remembered, he knew Blue Magic as well.
-“You see” he continued “As long as I can see you, you are forced to stay here.”
-“Um, Wil, if Nyarlatothep really wants to go” Omega said, worried about the fiend’s immense power.
-“NO! We can’t let him get away! We can destroy him here- FOR GOOD!”
Before the others could react to that, Nyarlatothep roared, and its form bursted, becoming a black mass that grew into the form of a huge, black goat-man.
-“Wil. Are you sure-“ Omega tried to ask.
-“YES!” Wil retorted. “He’s the embodiment of Evil- ON EARTH! Not here! If we destroy him here, he will NEVER reform!!”
-“How do you know-”
-“Because he won’t FIGHT me- or you! Remember how overconfident he was last time? Now he’s trying to scare us away!”
Omega looked at the looming monstrosity, and said, “*Gulp* I hope you’re right, Wil!”
-“Please” Wil responded, “TRUST me!”

Hanging in the air above the battle, Galloway began to form a small, but quckly-growing, ball of ki-energy between his hands. Below him, Val began to chant a prayer to Odin, asking for her weapon to be blessed. Meanwhile, Hunter rushed forth, claiming first blood, striking with a large silvery sword- the AtmaWeapon, the new form of the legendary monster known by that name. “Fall, monster!” he cried out.
-“AGGH!!” the giant shadow screamed after being struck.
Omega took the chance to cast a spell: “< Flare>!!” he said, and an orange explosion bursted below the giant goat-man. “YIIE!!” it yelled.
Sir Percival then took his own swing at the monster, first invoking hid SMITE EVIL power: increasing his sword’s holy power even more, he struck its dark flesh, the very touch of the melting the evil substance. “YAAAGHH!!” the Dark One roared, hurt even more by that blow than by the previous attacks.
VideoSpirit and Chris continued the onslaught by casting their own ultra-powerful spells: Video called down a Thunderstorm from the (cloudless) Filgaian skies, followed by a rain of flames from Chris’ Hellstorm spell.
Nyarlatothep seemed to waver under the massive attacks- but then, suddenly, the huge monster screamed, “< SHADOW KILL!>" and took a swipe at Wil with his right claw!
Wil saw it coming, but couldn’t move fast enough to dodge it! However, Shalcar ran in front of Wil, gestured, and a green magic barrier forced, blocking the attack: SKRIIICHTT!!
-“UH!” Shalcar gasped, taking a step back.
-“SHALC! Are you ok??” Wil cried out.
-“Uh, yeah” the cleric responded, “But that was one powerful hit!”
Wil silently cursed. He was TOO slow- the exhaustion from his ordeal –not to mention his fights with Him and HellDevil- had weakened him. He realized what he had to do:
-“EVERYONE!” he shouted, “Follow Omega’s directions!!”
Everyone stared at him.
-“Me? But-” Omega tried to say. But Wil didn’t let him. “I know you’re one of our best strategists! And I have to focus on keeping Nyarl here. You can do it!!”
Omega looked at Wil, then nodded. Then he shouted, “Shalc! Cast protective auras over everybody! Weiila, heal anybody who gets hurt! The rest of you, use Holy Magic attacks, if you got them, otherwise, hit him with your hardest attacks!!”
The others nodded, and proceeded to do as told. Erdrick, who had managed to circle arounf the Dark One, struck at it from behind-
-but his sword hardly did any damage. *Oh, man, I REALLY need a magical sword!* he thought, retreating before the fiend could hit him.
Makko, seeing her Uncle begin to falter, wanted to run over to him. “Makko, no! Stay out of this, it’s too dangerous!” Weiila tried to hold her back.
-“NO!” I’m a member of RPGC! I can’t put my safety over other people’s! Let me GO!” and she escaped Weiila’s grip, running towards Wil.
-“Yeah, she’s right!” Kiro said, laughing, and also got out from behind Weiila. “Hey, Ugly! Smile for the Zooka!’” she said , as she conjured her Bazooka out of thin air, then fired it:”


The explosion was actually harder than all the previous attacks, and the huge monster actually fell backwards after the hit!
-“Good job, Kiro!!” Omega applauded. “Do it again!!”
-“Err, I’d love to, but-” she said sheepishly, “…I only had one missile.”
-“Agh!” Omega gasped, once again frustrated by the catgirl.

Galloway began to say, “KAAA MEE…”
Val did her usual jumping attack, screaming a Norse war shout along the way, impaling Nyarl with her spear. Again, the blessing on the weapon caused it to hurt the beast more than a normal weapon would: “YIIIII!!” Hunter was right behind her with his own slashes. Percival, however, being unable to use Smite Evil more than once each day, found his attacks less effective (but still more than Erdricks’.)
Omega casted Flare again; Video grabbed his pendant, and it became a blue mist, which then surrounded him, forming his Leviathan Armor. Chris then casted Lightstorm, which caused Golden, Holy energy to beam down from the sky.
-“NOOOO!!!” Nyarlatothep screamed; that attack had been the most effective so far.

But the Embodiment of Evil wasn’t defeated yet. It screamed: “< CRAWLING CHAOS!>” and suddenly, black, formless blobs rained from the sky!
-“EEW!!” Kiro and Nel gasped aloud (thought they weren’t the only ones disgusted) Before anyone could even react, the things vanished- and an eerie silence suddenly fell over the desert.
-* HA MEEE-HA!!* Galloway tried to say. *WHAT!? I’m mute!!* He then realized. His ki-energy ball fizzled in his hands.
The others also realized they had been silenced as well.
-*Oh, GREAT!* Omega mentally cursed. Now he could not only not cast spells, but he couldn’t speak to the others!
The spellcasters had to retreat. Only Galloway, Val, Hunter, Percival, Omega (who pulled out his katanas), Video and Chris and Wil continued to surround the fiend.

Galloway began focusing ki-energy for less-powerful energy-blasts, which didn’t need vocalization to use; Val and Hunter looked at each other, and nodded; they didn’t need to speak to use their well-trained strategy: a “Dual Tech”. They just jumped into the air, then came down in an “X” pattern, cross-slashing the dark being with their weapons. “EEEEYIII!!!!”
Omega, with surprising speed, struck at Nyarl with his katanas; but like Erdrick, found himself doing little damage. Mentally cursing, he retreated as well.
Video’s form began to ripple, as he transformed into his Spirit Form, effectively becoming a man-shaped cloud of blue vapor.
Similarly, Chris’ form began to ripple, in his case becoming a huge, golden dragon: His “Kaiser Dragon” form.
-“< UNPERISHABLE BLACK>!!” the Dark One suddenly roared, and a black rain fell all around him, striking those who still were close enough to hit him.
They all screamed silently, as they were hurt by the wave of pure evil. Percival was the worst affected; he fell down to his knees. Shalcar ran up to his side, but could no longer cast any spells. However, he could still project a force field, and he did, creating a green wall around all of them.
Wil continued to stare at Nyarlatothep, holding him in place. But he couldn’t cast any more spells either, and he knew that, as soon as it could, the beast would cast Transient Ripple to end all magical effects still in place- and would then likely escape. They HAD to destroy him quickly!! He reached into one of his pockets, and drew out a green bottle. He uncorked it, and drank its contents; it was a healing potion, something he kept for the absolute worst moments- and this certainly counted! He HAD to stay conscious long enough for the others to nail the fiend! He immediately began to feel his wounds disappear, but still felt weak and dizzy.

Galloway was finally able to unleash his ki-blast: a golden beam shoot forth from his hands, striking Nyarl and making him reel: “ZAAAMM!!”
Val and Hunter performed their Dual Tech again; Percival, however, had to “Lay on Hands” on himself to cure himself, since no one could use healing spells either.
Behind Video, a huge, blue, serpent-like image formed: one that the heroes recognized as Leviathan itself! The “snake” twirled itself around Video, and the two began to merge; obviously, Video was preparing some kind of super-attack as well.
But Chris didn’t wait for it. Now as large as Nyarlatothep’s 'Moon Howler' form, the Kaiser Dragon roared, and unleashed its Kaiser Breath: a golden blasts of pure magical energy, which greatly damaged the fiend. “GRAAH!!
Suddenly, the goat-man literally melted into a puddle of blackness. Had they won?

But then, the blackness burts forth again: this time, it was an octopus-like, black mass!
-“< TRANSIENT RIPPLE!! >" the abominable mass roared, and a wave of coldness passed thru all of the heroes. And they felt the magic over them dissipate.
-*NO!* Wil mentally cursed. He could feel his stare was no longer magically holding the fiend in place! Now it would surely escape!!

But it never got the chance.
For in that moment, VideoSpirit rematerialized, now a gigantic water-being, combining Leviathan’s power with his own. Transforming into a huge tidal wave-like attack, he fell on top of the evil manifestation, crushing its physical form (already weakened by the other attacks) like an eggshell:


In a second, the ‘water’ disappeared, as Video/Leviathan reformed itself; the desert was dry once again.
Nyarlatothep had shrunk back to human size, and laid in the ground, flattened.
-“Test” Wil said. “Yes! We can speak again! That means-"
-“We finally BEAT it!!” Omega concluded for him.
-“YAAY! WE RULE!!” Kiro and Makko shouted in delight.

Wil walked to the black, humanoid figure, that was quickly starting to break away into radiply-vanishing wisps. “You couldn’t well leave alone, could you?” Wil said to it. “You were SO obsessed with me, you actually followed us out of our universe just so you could personally torture and destroy me. Even knowing you would be far away from your power source: humanity’s evil!”
-“Damn… you… Mar… ti…” was the last thing the entity said.

Then it was gone.
-“Maybe” Wil said, allowing himself a smile, “But not by you.”

The desert was now silent again, except the faint sound of the wind.

Wil spotted a small, silvery object in the sands, which he immediately recognized:
-*My pillbox! * was his reaction. The Dark One must’ve dropped it during the battle.
Wil immediately picked it up, took out a small white pill, and swallowed it, without waiting for a drink first. Of course, its effects wouldn’t be immediate, but the sooner it took effect, the better, he thought.

Then he turned around, and saw them.
His friends.
They were all staring at him.
Makko ran up to him. “UNCLE! Are you OK??” she asked, worried. She hugged Wil, and he hugged her back.
-“Well, I’m still a little tired and dizzy, but my wounds are gone.” He explained. “How about the rest of you?” he asked the group.
-“Bah, nothing we can’t heal, or be healed from” Hunter stated.
-“Let me help you” Shalcar said, and walked towards Wil. He said a few prayers, and his hands glowed with power. Wil began to feel refreshed. “Is that better?”
-“Yeah, thanks!” the Mage said, sighing with relief. “Say, how did you people find me?”
-“You can thank Weiila for that!” Omega happily said. “She’s got some sort of device for finding people!”
-“Actually, it isn’t mine” Weiila explained, producing a small copper box from somewhere within her robe. “You see, first we went to Mana World to wait for you people to come to pick up the Sword of Mana, since Shalc told us he had asked you for it. But when you people never showed up, I got worried, and I decided to go ask for this.” She opened the box, and a hand-sized clay ball, covered with runes, could be seen inside. “It belongs to the goddess Ilmatar. It has the power of showing you information on anything in Creation- you just look at it, and the answer to your questions appears written on it. In Finnish, of course.”
-“Ilmatar?” Wil asked, surprised. “You went to Kalevala!?”
Weiila nodded. “For my friends, I’d do anything” she said, gently. Then she put the ball back in the box. “I have to return this soon. I promised her I would only use it to find you people. Now I owe her a favor back, too.”
-“…Thank you, Weii” Wil said.
She nodded, then put the box back inside her robe.
-“So… we HAVE seen the last of ‘Nyarl?’, right?” Omega asked.
-“Hopefully so” Wil said.
-“How did you know, about his not being able to regenerate here?” the younger mage asked.
-“It was something Mudcap told me two years ago, right before we battled Nyarl in Helsinki” Wil explained. “He told me, in his own crazy way, that each world has its own ‘continuum of souls’ independent to each other’s. When Nyarl avoided fighting, I realized there HAD to be a powerful reason- and then I realized, that if each world has its own Continuum, that also means they have their own spiritual manifestations- Nyarl couldn’t tap this world’s souls for power, because, in effect, he didn’t have the authority to do so.”
-“Hah! Slick as ever, Wil!” Omega said.
But Wil didn’t smile at his comment. Instead, he asked, “How’s the Hopper?”
-“Still trashed” Video responded sadly. “We left it at the crash site. But I left a beacon signal turned on. I’ll return with a larger ship, carry it back to the Academy, and have it repaired.
-“That won’t be necessary” Wil said, matter-of-factly.
-“Eh? What do you mean?” Video asked, puzzled.
-“The Hopper was never damaged. That was Nyarlatothep using his power to alter reality, playing games with us. I’ll bet if you go back to it now, you’ll find it completely undamaged.”
-“Really!? Alright! I love the little fl- cicada!” Kiro said, happily.
-“Weiila, could you teleport the others there?” Wil asked.
-“Me? Well, yes, but why don’t you do it?”
Wil hesitated for a moment. Then he said:
-“I… have spent too much mana. I’m saving what’s I have left to Planeshift Makko and me back home. Is that OK?”
-“Oh. OK, then.”
-“Thank you. Ok, Makko, get re-”
-“Wait!” Makko suddenly snapped. “Aren’t you forgetting SOMETHING, Uncle?”
Wil (and the others) stared at her. Then he asked. “Um, what?”
-“You haven’t APOLOGIZED yet!!” she said, furiously.
Before Wil could answer, Omega intervened: “Makko, don’t you get it? What happened wasn’t your uncle’s fault, he was under the power of Nyarlatothep! We have seen him do things like that to others before!”
Once again, Wil stared at Omega, with conflict in his eyes.
Finally, he was no longer able to take it, and said:
-“No, Omega. It wasn’t like that. Nyarlatothep didn’t control me.”
Omega, and all the others, fell silent, staring at Wil.
-“He cannot control people who are strong-willed- and I have resisted his power in the past. What he did… was increase my angst, to the point I couldn’t keep my anger and doubts inside. And I… took it out on you people.”
Wil lowered his eyes. Omega and the others continued to watch him.
-“Val was right” he continued. “I didn’t want you people to know about my disease… because I didn’t want you to worry. I was afraid of hurting you all by causing you to worry about my impending death, if I do have a brain tumor.
“But… that wasn’t all. I didn’t want pity. Nyarl rubbed the fact on me: I am afraid of being powerless. I was afraid my condition would force me to retire. Although my pills seem to be keeping my seizures under control, I cannot be sure if I’ll ever seize or freeze up during a REAL crisis.”
He turned to Makko. “Nel, what Val said was true, too, in part: I didn’t want to leave this life without making sure you would have other people, besides me, that would help you deal with what YOU are, what you can do. That’s something the rest of our family can never understand.”
Makko stared at her uncle, sadly.
-“I’m sorry… GOD I’m sorry I hid this from you all. I’m sorry I dragged you into this mess. And I’m sorry for having been such a jerk, and for putting Nel under the stress of having to keep my secret.”
Wil approached Omega. “And I’m particularly sorry about you, Om. I knew you were starting to idolize me, as an older, heroic Wizard. I should never have allowed that to happen. I should’ve known I would only end up hurting your faith in me, when my secrets came out.”
“But words are just words. I must make amends for what I did… and there’s only one way to do that, now.”
Wil approached Weiila.
“Weii, as of this moment, I’m no longer a part of the Righteous Protectors.”
-“WHAATT??” everyone else cried out in shock.
Wil continued to stare gloomily. “I’m quitting” he repeated.
-“UNCLE!! You can’t quit!!” Makko gasped.
Wil shook his head sadly. “I would only be a liability to all of you” he said, then added “besides, you have no reason to trust me now.”
He then turned around, returned to Makko, then said, “Come on. Let’s go home.”
-“WHERE do you think you’re going!?” Val suddenly screamed.
Everybody, including Wil and Nel, turned to look at her.
-“Come back here right now, you panty-waist mage, or I swear, I’ll kick your behind from here to Valhalla!”
She then strutted right to Wil. He almost expected her to hit him, and was willing to take the blow.
But it never came.
-“Don’t you understand? You’re STILL running away!!”
Wil (and the others) continued to be baffled.
-“You think you are being all noble by quitting? I say you’re just giving in to fear!” she snapped. “So what if you felt ashamed and didn’t want to share your secret? You think you’re the only one in RPGC who does that? If anything, YOUR presence has helped many others! Or have you forgotten, a certain Norse Warrioress, who many considered to be just ‘Valkyrie the Bitch’, yet despite that, you offered her your support, became her ally, and FRIEND, when others put up her noses at her?”
-“Indeed, Wil” the usually quiet Hunter said. “We three have gone thru too much together, for us just to accept that you can just quit like that!”
-“Besides, you didn’t drag us along, WE insisted in coming!” Video asserted.
-“Yeah!” Omega joined in. “And if some of us put you on a pedestal, that is OUR fault, not yours!”
Wil stared at the others, genuinely surprised.
-“I agree with Val, Wil” Weiila said. “In the time you have been with us, you have always tried to help the others, and not just in battle.”
-“Yeah, Wil! You’ve always helped me feel welcomed in RPGC!”
-“Aye, fellow champion” Percival, too, weighted in. “I’ve known ye to be an honorable and valiant person. Do not give in now, to the shame brought upon ye by such a terrible fiend, because if ye do, Nyarlatothep wins in the end.”
Wil stared at all his friends. Even Galloway, Chris and Erdrick were nodding in agreement.
-“So… you’re not mad at me?” Wil asked, sincerely moved. “You will… trust in me, despite my condition?”
-“Of course, you dumb spellcaster!” Val laughed. “Besides, I know better than anybody here, and I know that you can’t quit the adventuring life, anymore than you can stop breathing!”
-“As the person in charge of RPGC membership” Weiila added with a smile, “I decline your renunciation.”
-“Eh?” Kiro asked.
Omega sighed. “That means she doesn’t accept his quitting” he explained.
-“Oh!” she smiled.
Wil was silent for a moment, shook his head (but smiled) and finally said,
-“Well, if you want me in so badly…”
-“YAAY!!” Makko screamed, and tackle-hugged her uncle, causing everyone to laugh.
Then Wil said, “Well, then, what are we standing here for? There’s still a ton of presents to get!”

* * * * * * * * ?


Amid green sparkles, Wil and Makko popped into existence right in front of the Headquarters.
He was carrying a large black sack, and was wearing a (rather-silly-looking) Santa Claus hat.
Nelimar was all dolled up, however.
-“See, Nel? It isn’t that hard. Keep practicing, and soon you’ll be able to teleport anywhere on your own.”
-“Got it!” she said happily. “Hey, Uncle, how come all the presents fit inside that bag?”
-“It’s a ‘Bag of Holding’ it works on the same principles as Kiro’s bazooka summoning” he explained. Wil furrowed his hairy eyebrows. “No.”
-“Why not?” she asked, disappointed.
-“Nel, you’re my niece. I don’t want the others to feel I’m giving preferent treatment to you for being a relative. In fact, you’re getting your present last.”
-“Aww” Nel pouted. “And it’s Makko here!”
-“Whatever. Let’s go inside.”

The two of them walked past the gates, the (now once again functional) security systems recognizing them and allowing them to pass.

Inside the (purple) reception hall, they ran into Galloway, ever vigilant.
-“Hey, Gallo!” Wil saluted him. “Has the party started?”
-“Yes” he said, matter-of-factly.
-“Why aren’t you there?” Makko asked.
-“I’m not much of a party goer” he said, deadpan.
-“Well, then, I better give you your gift now” Wil said, smiling, and reached into the bag. He produced a wad of high-denomination bills out of it, and handed it to Galloway. “Merry Christmas!” he and Makko said together.
Galloway actually smiled as he counted the bills. There was a LOT of money here!
And then he noticed something.
-“Hey!” he grumbled. “These aren’t dollars. They are ZENNY!”
-“You never specified WHAT kind of money you wanted” Wil said, grinning.
Galloway stared at him from behind his dark shades.
-“Besides, you know I have very little money on Earth” Wil added. “Most of the treasure and money I collected from other Worlds isn’t worth much here on Earth. But hey, you can use it on Dragonball World!”
-“I’m not exactly welcome there, remember?” Gallo grunted.
-“Well, maybe you should work on making amends. Enjoy it!” Wil happily said, and walked further inside, followed by Makko.

As they walked thru the (purple) halls, the two of them spotted Demigod sitting in an empty room, meditating.
-“Hey, Uncle, did you get something for Demigod?”
Wil sighed. “He said he didn’t want anything” he said. “Besides, I think he already has what he wants here."
-“What’s that?” the girl asked.
-“Companionship” Wil said. “However temporary, from an immortal’s point of view.”
The two of them continued walking on.

They soon found Weiila’s office.
Inside the (purple) office, the young goddess was, as usual, nose-deep in paperwork, with Poke standing dutifully by her side. A person Wil recognized as Heaven’s Soldier was also standing in the room, quietly.
-“Ho Ho Ho!” Wil said as he entered the room. Makko rolled her eyes.
-“Hi, Wil!” she said, barely looking up from her work.
-“Hi, Makko!” Poke happily waved.
-“Let me guess. Too busy to join the party, right?” Wil said, eyebrow lifted.
-“You know her” Poke shrugged.
-“Hmmph” Weiila grumbled. Then she said, “Maybe you can help me here a little.”
-“You mean, with Heaven’s Soldier?” Wil asked, knowingly.
-“Yes. As you know, he was once a guest here at RPGC. But, he joined our enemies during the invasion of our HQ. He insists that he had no choice, and that in fact he was planning to help avoid any bloodshed. The Staff has decided to leave his fate in my hands... but, you’re a better judge of character than I am. Can I have your opinion?”

Wil stared at HS intensely for a moment; HS silently returned the gaze.

Finally Wil said, “I believe him. After all, he did help us last year when Loki took control of half our number... not to mention, after what just happened, I’d be careful of judging anyone lightly.”
-“So, you think we should let him go?” the winged woman asked.
-“Yes. We all deserve a second chance.”
-“Very well, then. Heaven’s Soldier, you are free to go. But know that we will keep an eye on your activities” Weiila said, in her commanding tone.
HS said nothing, but simply started walking out of the office.

Until Wil stopped him.
-“Wait. Do you even have a means of travel?”
-“I can fly” HS said, trying to sound neutral.
-“Take this” Wil said, then he appeared to empty the contents of the sack in the floor.
Instead, a huge motorcycle appeared inside the office!

HS, and the others, were surprised.
-“You’re giving me a present!?” HS said, in shock.
-“More like something to help you on the long road ahead. Believe it or not, once I was in your position, Soldier, roaming with no clear destination, until I found inner peace. I hope you find it too... who knows? That road might lead back here.”
-“Besides, it’s Xmas!” Makko said cheerfully.
HS said nothing, thought the expression in his face was more than enough for Wil. The winged warrior took hold of the bike, and (waiting until getting outside to turn it on) headed for the exit with it.

-“And now, it’s time for YOUR present” Wil said, pulling a scroll out of the bag.
That got Weiila’s attention. “Don’t tell me it’s MORE paperwork!” she grumbled.
She unrolled the scroll.
It was a letter, written in Old Finnish.

Dear Anja,

The bearer of this scroll has agreed to take on the onus of your having used my Sphere of Creation. I shall now call on him instead of you when I need to call on that Favor.

You have good friends, Runaway Angel.


-“What?” Weiila gasped. “Wil! You didn’t have to do that-”
-“Yes I did” he cut her off. “You not only saved my life, but possibly the rest of my team as well. Besides, I owe you for welcoming me into RPGC, three years ago. It’s about time I repaid you.”
She smiled, the nodded. “Very well, then.”
-“And don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, Poke!” Wil happily said, reaching into his pocket, pulling out a golden coin, then tossing it at the young man. He caught it, and saw that it looked like a foreign coin, but one he didn’t recognize.
-“A Gil, right?” he said.
-“ Yup. Well, gotta go deliver the other presents. See ya guys later!” Wil waved, and he and Makko started to leave the office.
But then he stopped, turned around, grinned, and said, “Oh, by the way, Pok, that particular Gil is made of PURE GOLD. Which makes it very valuable here on Earth.”
-“What? Oh Wil, you didn’t have to- ”
-“You deserve it, Pok. Merry Christmas!” he said cheerfully, as he left the office.
-“Merry Christmas!” the two RPGC staffers said, and waved them away.

Eventually, the two Boricuas found their way to the Main Lounge, were the Xmas Party was indeed in full swing. The place was decorated with various Xmas ornaments, and modern music was blaring. Many RPGCers were hanging around.

Valkyrie Esker, Hunter, Pink Lugia and Big Dizzy were by a table full of wine kegs, where the four of them seemed to be engaged in a drinking contest; Sonicbomber, GG Crono, Mabatsekker, and a dark-haired, attractive woman Wil didn’t recognize were attacking the snack table; Video and Omega were standing around talking, not far from them; Dude was sitting in front of a computer, surrounded by Kiro, Kostel and Cookiemaster X, who were watching what he was doing with fascination. Manus Dei, Chris-Chris and Zimmie were sitting on a couch talking; Sir
Percival, Erdrick and Shalcar were hanging by a wall, being a bunch of wallflowers; but not as bad as Genericangstyposter, who just hung out on a corner, as far away from the others as possible. Lex and Generic Anonymity were also hanging by a corner, but at least they were talking to each other. By contrast, Mastermune was happily walking from group to group.

On seeing Wil and Makko, Omega and Video smiled and walked towards them. “Hey, about time you two showed up!” Omega happily said.
-“Hey, Om, Video! Nice to see you!” Wil responded. Makko greeted them as well.
-“How are you feeling today, Wil?” Omega asked.
-“Very well, thank you. I took my pills for the day, so I should be fine.”
-“Video, you came in The Hopper?” Makko asked.
-“No, I was sent by magic. The Hopper is back in the Videan Academy. It’s working great, and in fact the Videan engineers are studying its data from out trip, it will prove most valuable to their research.”
-“That reminds me” Wil said, “Thank you for all your help, Video. It was invaluable.”
-“Ahh, no biggie” Video smiled.
-“Still, I feel bad not giving you anything for Xmas. You SURE you don’t want anything?” Wil asked.
-“Really, I don-hey, wait. Are those Tic Tacs?” He pointed at a pocket in Wil’s shirt.
-“Hmm? Oh yes” he answered.
-“Well, give me one, and we’re even. Man, I LOVE Tic Tacs!”
-“Here, have the whole thing!” Wil happily said, and tossed it to Video.
As Video took out a Tic Tac, Wil turned to Omega. “As for you, Om” he began to say.
-“You don’t have to give me anything, Wil” the young mage said.
Wil snorted. “I THOUGHT you would say that. But if anyone here deserves a gift from me, it’s you.”
-“Eh? Why’s that?”
-“You never lost faith in me... not even when I myself did” Wil explained. He reached into the bag, and pulled out a green-colored box, and handed it to Omega.
-“!? What is this?” he asked, puzzled.
Suddenly, the box spoke! “Hi, Omega! Let’s be friends!”
-“It’s a sentient AI” Wil explained. “I found it on some ring-shaped planet... it is programmed with extensive military knowledge. Perfect to assist strategy masters like you.”
-“Wow, cool!” Omega said, smiling.
-“OK, gotta give out more gifts. See ya later, guys!”
-“Yeah, see ya, Wil!” Omega and Video said.

Wil and Makko then approached the drinking table.
-“I HOPE that’s not Absolute Alcohol!” Wil joked.
-“Hi, Wil! And no, it isn’t. We learned our lesson two years ago” Hunter explained.
-“Hi, Nel. You’re looking radiant tonight!” Val said.
-“Thanks, Valky!” the girl beamed.
-“So, you two decided what you wanted for tonight, or not?” Wil asked.
Both warriors shrugged.
-“I thought so.” Wil said, shaking his head. “Fortunately, I know you guys as well as you know me” he grinned.”You, for example” he said, pointing at Val, “Have always liked to fly. So I got you this.” He then took out a small object out of the bag, resembling a heraldic symbol with wings. “This” he said, handling the object to Val, “is the Wing Pack, an item that allows you to summon Airbirds, artificial one-person flyers in the shape of beautiful birds. Now you can fly on
your own, at any time.”
Val’s eyes widened in genuine surprise.
-“And by the way” Wil added, still grinning, “Thanks for being there to kick me into behaving when I need to.”
Val grinned back. “Anytime, pantywaist!” Then she took the item, put down the wine keg, and headed outside, to summon and ride her Airbird.
-“As for you” Wil continued, turning to Hunter, “I know you like fire. Even without bionic enhancements to protect you, you feel attracted to it. Well, here’s something that should help you deal with that.”
Suddenly, Wil drew out a strange little creature out of the bag!

-“...What’s that, a Pokemon?” Hunter said, looking at it askew.
-“No, it’s a Mars Djinn” Wil explained. “It’s a kind of minor elemental spirit, from the World of the Golden Sun. You allow it to merge with you body, and it gives you elemental powers.”
Hunter continued to look at is if where a bug.
-“Come on, Hunt- Would I ask you to do that if it weren’t safe?”
Hunter then nodded, and approached the creature, which immediately jumped onto his chest- and THRU it!
He stood still for a moment, then said, “I don’t feel any diff-wait! I feel- FIRE MANA! Flowing inside me!”
Wil nodded. “They make good pets, too. Good luck with it!”
As Hunter began to experiment with his new powers, Wil approached Big Dizzy and Pink Lugia.
“Hello there. Big Dizzy, right?”
The young man nodded, still drinking from a bottle.
“I hear you met my friends on Filgaia, and decided to follow them here.”
-“Well, yeah. It isn’t like I’m unfamiliar with space/time traveling.”
-“You are?” Wil said, surprised.
-“Yeah, I have time traveling powers” Dizzy continued. “But what I REALLY like to do is to cook. I joined RPGC so I could learn new recipes from other cultures.”
-“A nice enough goal” Wil said. “Tell me, you ever been to Dragonia 3?”
-“I don’t think so. Why?”
-“They have a Master of Cooking there. Also teaches some combat skills. You might want to check him out. I can give you directions later.”
-“Hmm. Thanks, I will.”
Wil then faced Lugia. “Hey, Pink. They told me you helped save the place from some intruders.”
Lugia shrugged. “They attacked CC. Besides, if they trash the place, where am I gonna find all that free ale?” it laughed. “So, you got me those Chocobo dishes I asked for?”
-“Umm, sort of” Wil said, and produced out of the bag... a huge egg!
-“A Chocobo egg!? Is that all??” the pink being gasped.
-“Sorry, PL, but I don’t think most of us would enjoy watching you eat Chocobo meat.”
-“Hey, I know some good recipes for Chocobo Egg!” Dizzy suddenly said.
-“Really? Well, show me!” Lugia eagerly said.
The two of them headed for the kitchen.
Wil and Makko just watched them go, then moved on to another group.

They reached the snacks table. “Hi, guys!” they said.
As they approached, the dark-haired woman, who had an arm around GG’s neck, coughed, said “excuse me” and left the table.
But not without slipping something into GG’s back pocket, unnoticed by anyone.
Mastermune was just joining the group as she left.
-“...Who was that?” Wil asked.
-“No idea” GG said, smiling proudly. “Must be a new member. She sure is hot, isn’t she?”
Wil watched her go; there was something familiar about her...
-“Anyway” he then said. “Gift time, folks!” He reached into his bag, and pulled out a magical wand, which he gave to Sonicbomber; the Rainbow Shell, which he handed to Crono, a nodachi for Mune, the Vampire-killing whip for Mabat, and a magical suit of armor for Chris of the Brood.
-“Hey! Is that the Finnish Xmas porridge you mentioned, Mabat?” Makko asked, as she saw him eat the rice porridge from a pot on the table.
- “Yeah” the Blue Mage answered. “Wanna try it?”
-“Sure! We Boricuas eat rice all year long!”the girl said, and took out a portion with a large spoon. But as she swallowed it, she gasped, “Hey!!”
She reached into her mouth, and pulled out- an almond!
-“What??” Mabat gasped. “I’ve been here eating all night hoping to get the almond- and You get at the first try!?”
-“Sorry!” Makko said, sheepishly.
-“Ahh, don’t worry... I guess you deserved it more than I do. I hope your wishes become true, Makko!”
-“Wait, I know!” Makko suddenly said, cheerfully. “I wish YOUR wish would come true!”
Mabat laughed. “Hah! Thank you, Makko... that makes my day!”
The two laughed happily.

Next they approached Dude, just in time to hear him say to the kids,
“...because 7 8 9! Get it??”
-“Ha ha ha!!” the three kids laughed.
-“Hey, Wil and Makko! Great to see you!” Kiro said. "Have you got our gifts??” she asked, with her typical childish enthusiasm.
‘Hi, Kiro, Cookie, Kostel” Makko happily greeted them back. “Yeah, Uncle is handing them out now!”
Wil produced a collar out of the sack, one with a jingle bell hanging from it.
-“IS THAT FOR ME!?” Kiro cried out.
-“Yup” Wil said, and handled it to her. She put it on immediately. *Tinkle, tinkle* it went.
-“GREAT! Thank you, Wil!! This is better than the present Omega gave me!!”
Wil cocked an eyebrow. “OMEGA gave YOU a gift?”
-“YEAH! A Mark-7 bazooka! One with MULTIPLE shots!! Wanna see it??”
-“ERR, not now!” Wil quickly said.
-“Oh, OK. Hey, what did you get for Cookie?”
-“Well, I couldn’t find a cookie that lasts forever, BUT, my friend Ernie the Elf gave me this” Wil said, pulling out a cookie jar out of the sack “It’s a magical jar that never empties. Now you have an infinite source of cookies! BUT, promise me you won’t eat them all the time... I don’t want you to get sick!”
-“Yes, Sir!!” Cookie said, taking the jar. He and Kiro began to pull out cookies out of the jar and eat them.
Kostel said nothing, but looked at Wil longingly, with (literally) puppy eyes.
Wil smiled. “Of course I have something for you! Here!” And he took out a pair of tennis shoes out of the bag. They looked ordinary, other than having ‘Yoshi’ written on them.
-“Here. These are magical running shoes. No matter how fast you run, they’ll never wear off.”
Kostel smiled, said “Thank you!” then ran off to put on his new shoes.
Now left alone with Dude, Wil and Makko faced him, but he spoke first. “Hello, Mister Martinez, Miss Makko. Yes, I know about you, the others told me on Filgaia.”
Wil shook his head. “Mister Martinez was my father. Call me Wil.”
-“Oh. OK.”
-“So, you too, decided to check out our World, eh?”
-“Yes! It’s fascinating! Especially this thing you call the Internet- WONDERFUL!!”
-“Yeah, it can be. Oh, I see you are playing dot//Hack.”
-“Yeah, GREAT game!!” Dude said, excited.
-“Hmm.. I don’t have a gift for you. Would you like anything?”
-“Umm... not really. Except maybe help with the game.”
-“Ah, I know a cheat that you might enjoy” Wil said, then typed something on the PC.
A cute... or was it awful? Looking creature appeared in the screen.

-“A GRUNTY!! You got me a grunty!?”
-“Yeah, they’re very useful. I hope you enjoy it.”
-“I WILL! Thanks, Mist- Wil!!”
Wil nodded, then started to walk away. As he did, he ran into Omega again, who was bringing in a new tray of snacks from the kitchen.
Omega was following Kiro with his gaze, annoyed, as she ran around the room showing her jingle bell to everyone.
-“Hey Om” Wil called to him. “Kiro said you gave her a new bazooka. Is that true?”
He grunted. “Yeah. That Hyperion thing is TOO dangerous for her to use. Besides, this one has more shots, it should make her MORE useful in battle.”
Wil grinned. “You sure you just aren’t growing fond of her?”
-“What!? Never!” he insisted. Then he quickly changed the subject. “I see you gave her a Cat’s Bell.”
-“Yup. Should keep her out of harm, most of the time.”
-“A what?” Nel asked.
-“A Cat’s Bell. It’s a magical bell whose vibrations keep most monsters away” Omega explained.
-“Yeah. But, don’t tell her, OK, Nel?” Wil said. “We want her to wait until she’s ready to fight better.”
-“Okay” she nodded. Then she suddenly said, “HEY! How come you didn’t give ME one of those?”
-“You ARE ready to fight monsters” Wil stated, matter-of-factly.
Nel pouted. Again.

They walked over to Percival’s group.
-“Hey, Wil! How are you feeling tonight?” Shalc asked.
-“Great! No need for your magic tonight” Wil happily said.
-'It is good to see thee hale" Percival added.
-“You too, Perci. Ok, here are your presents” Wil said, and pulled out a glowing sword. “The Sword of Mana, Shalcar. This sword is said to be connected to the fate of Mana World... make sure you use it properly, Shalc.”
-“I will! Thank you, Wil! Hey, that rhymes!”
They laughed. Then Wil pulled out a silvery longsword. “This may not be as powerful as the Mana sword, but I assure you, Erd, you WILL cut down most monsters with it.”
-“Thanks, Wil. Man, I’m glad to have this... I felt useless during the battle with Nyarl!” he said, dejected.
-“Nonsense, Erd. You faced EVIL ITSELF for the sake of other people; most people would not even have dared try. I’d say that God approves of you, indeed.”
The young paladin smiled.
-“But I have no gift yet for you, Perc” Wil said sadly. “I just couldn’t think of anything that you don’t already have.”
-“Do not worry about it-”
But Wil cut him off. “No, there HAS to be something I can help you with! Maybe something modern?”
Percival thought about it for a moment. Then he said... “Well, there is one thing, I have been wondering about...”
-“yes?” Wil asked eagerly.
-"What canst thou of Salsa dance?"
Wil, Makko, Shalc and Erd all froze. “SALSA?” Wil gasped.
-“Aye” the knight responded. “I have been taking lessons, in an effort to fit in better in the present. However. My teacher has taken ill, and can no longer instruct me.”
-“...So you need a Salsa teacher?” Wil pondered.
Then he grinned.
“Wait a minute” he said, then teleported off: “< WARP!!>
The small group, especially Makko, wondered were Wil had gone.

A few minutes later, another explosion of green sparks announced his return: *FAAASHH!!*
But he wasn’t alone.
A statuesque, brown skinned -obviously Latina- woman, of great beauty, was standing besides him.
Everybody in the room stared at her, in shock.
-“Perc, this is my friend Jenny. Jen, this is Sir Percival, a true British gentleman. He needs a Salsa teacher.”
Jen took one look at the blonde knight and smiled. “I’ll be honored to teach you” she said, in accented English.
-“Nay, the pleasure is all mine” Percival returned, gently kissing her hand.
The two of them moved to the center of the room, and began dancing.
-“WIL!!” Shalcar said in disbelief, “IS THAT-!!”
-“Maybe” Wil said with a devilish grin, then moved away.

Meanwhile, in the couch, Manus and his friends continued to talk.
-“...You STILL won’t take your helmet off?”CC asked.
-“Please, Chrissy. There’s too many people...”
-“Oh, alright” CC finally said. “But you have to start trusting the other RPGCers someday!”
Manus couldn’t help thinking about Demigod’s words. Could they be true? Did he keep his distance from others, not because he felt them unworthy, but because he feared caring about others would lead to getting his feelings hurt?
Cala’s betrayal certainly hurt. Yet, he couldn’t help about caring about CC and Zimmie, who fearless threw themselves into the battle- Zimmie actually did it for HIS sake. And the others- they all fought valiantly, even those he didn’t expect to, like Lugia.
Perhaps he DID need to give others a chance. Perhaps that was what kept bringing him back to RPGC... not just to battle together, but to learn from them?
-“So, will you be staying long?” Zimmie asked.
-"...Yes. I think I will” was his answer.
It was then they noticed Wil and Makko standing next to them.
-"Sorry to interrupt” Wil said.
-“Hi, Wil! Hi, Nel!” CC said happily.
-“I’ve got your gifts” Wil announced.
-“Really!? You got me the Whelk??”
-“Yep. But, you’ll understand if I left it in the corrals. I don’t think most people here would enjoy the sight of a flying squid in the party... Lugia might even eat it!”
The two of them laughed, but Manus and Makko looked mystified.
-“It’s a riding creature from Dragonia 4" CC explained. "I always wanted to own one! They’re cute!!”
-“If you say so...” Makko said.
-“How about my Mercury Djinn, Wil?” Zimmie asked excitedly.
-“Got it here, too” Wil said, and pulled out another bug-like creature, this one blue in color.

Unlike Hunter, Zimmie eagerly absorbed it. “GREAT! I feel my water magic increasing now!!” she cried out happily.
Wil then looked at Manus, who stared back silently.
Then Wil said, “You didn’t ask for a gift, but I feel you should have this” and he pulled something like an electronic bracelet out of the bag. “It’s a communicator device. MUCH better than a cell phone, trust me. In case you need to contact one of us.”
-“...Thank you” the paladin said, quietly but sincerely, and accepted the gift.
-“Ahem” a voice said behind Wil and Makko.
They turned around, to see- Rountree! Or, as he was known now-
-“Genericangstyposter” Wil said. “I’m surprised to see you came to the party.”
-“Um, well...” the metalhead began to say. “Actually, I just came to apologize.”
-“Apologize?” Wil said, surprised. “But, what happened at your house WAS our fault. We should’ve been more careful-"
-“Maybe, but I should’ve less of a dick about it. My personal problems are none of your fault. I was just pissed, and I took it out on you people.”
Wil laughed. “I understand. Boy, do I understand!”
GAP, not knowing what had happened recently, was confused by the Mage’s reaction.
-“Anyway” he said, “That’s all I wanted to say. I’m not staying.” He then turned around.
-“Oh?” Wil asked with a sly smile. “Then I guess you don’t want... THIS!”
Wil then opened the bag, and a BLACK PANTHER jumped out of it!!
“RROAARR!!” it growled, then it pounced on Rountree!
-“AHH!!” Makko screamed! Everyone else stared in shock as well!
The huge black cat knocked GAP to the ground, and then-
-licked his face!?
-and Rountree- LAUGHED!?
Suddenly, the panther’s shape twisted like taffy! Before anyone could even move, the creature’s shape and color changed, into-
-a strikingly beautiful, well-shaped, red-haired young woman!
-“MYSTIQUE!!” the young man cried out, between laughs!
-“Merry Xmas, loverboy!” she said, as she laid on top of him on the floor.
-“But!! I, I thought you were still mad at me!!” Ken said.
-“I was” Mystique answered, “But this Martinez guy talked me into giving you another chance.”
The two of them then kissed passionately, oblivious to everybody else’s reactions.
Wil and Nel walked away from the happy lovers.

Lex and Generic Anonymity resumed talking after that.
-“...What I just wanted say” she mumbled, trying to avert his gaze, “Is that I’m sorry.”
-“For what?” Lex asked, puzzled.
-“For... running out on you... and the others... during the battle.”
-“Oh, don’t worry about that” he said, kindly. “After all, you said you didn’t have good combat abilities. It was for the best.”
-“But there HAD to be something I could do!!” she retorted, angry at herself. “It’s ALWAYS like this. Every time I try to help, I screw things up. And then people get mad at me... “
-“Is that why you’re so reluctant to get to know people?” a voice said behind her. She turned around. It was Wil.
-“That’s... none of your business” she said, returning to a more serious tone.
Wil smiled knowingly, then said. “In any case, maybe this will help you.” He then pulled out what looked like a white crystal shard from the sack. GA looked at it.
-“This” Wil explained, “Is a Time Anchor. A VERY rare item. You can ‘affix’ it, to a certain moment in Time. Thereafter, you can use it to travel BACK in time to that moment again. That gives you a chance to undo things that you have done. HOWEVER, it does NOT allow you to return to the present afterwards. You have to relive your life all over again. That’s why these things are hardly ever used. So, with this, you have a chance to undo your mistakes... just make SURE you don’t mind losing anything else you have achieved since then.”
-“I... understand” she said, and took the crystal gingerly. “Thank you” she said, trying to sound polite, but not TOO grateful.
But Wil could tell, so he didn’t mind.
-“Oh, and here’s that Gunblade you wanted, Lex” Wil added, and pulled out the weapon.
-“Hey, cool! Thanks!” the young warrior said, taking it.

-“Was that the last gift, Uncle?” Makko asked, impatiently.
-“Except for yours, yes.”
Wil smiled. “Before I give it to you, I must tell you something.”
Makko rolled her eyes again.
-“N- Makko, I’m very proud of you. You behaved wonderfully during the mission.”
Makko was somewhat taken aback. “I... didn’t do much, Uncle. In fact, I was... pretty scared, most of the time” she admitted.
-“Didn’t I once tell you true courage is not lacking fear, but fighting even when you ARE scared?” Wil said. “Besides, I owe you for all I put you thru. So-”
One last time, Wil reached into the sack, and produced a hand-sized, purple crystal sphere.
-“IS THAT!!” Makko gasped, recognizing it.
-“Yup” Wil smiled, “A Dancer Dressphere from Gaia X.”
-“YAAAY!!” she squealed in delight, then quickly grabbed it.
She focused on it, and suddenly the sphere turned into a purple mist, that enveloped her, then coalesced into a violet-colored dress around her, replacing her current clothes.

-“Yeah! Look at me! I’m a DANCER!!” the young girl cried in delight. “Thank you,
Uncle!!!”she added, hugging him.
-“Merry Christmas, Nel” he said, softly. She then ran off to show off the dress to everyone else.

Wil stared at her go, then stared at the rest of the room.

Everyone looked pleased with their gifts, and in general, happy. He smiled.

He didn’t know if he really had a brain tumor or not; he didn’t know if this was going to be his last Christmas ever.

And he no longer cared.

He was just happy to BE here, and to have helped spread cheer to all his friends and comrades.

-“You are forgetting someone” a female voice said behind him.
-“Eh?” he said, turning around. There, he saw an platinum-blonde, elven girl, smiling slyly at him.
-“JINGLE BELLE!!” he gasped, in shock.

-“Well, of course it’s me!” Santa’s daughter said. “You didn’t think I’d miss THIS party, did you?”
Wil looked at her, and flustered. “Uh- Jing. I’m, uh, sorry I haven’t been to Xmasville this year, but-”
-“Bah, we know all about that. Dad knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, remember? And, he says, he tolly understands, and wants you to have this.” She then handed him a very small, gift-wrapped box.
-“ not sure I deserve-”
-“Oh, just OPEN the box already, will you?” she fumed.
Wil took the present, opened it- and found-
-a paper?
He began to read it, silently: *Medical mumble medical mumble medical mumble why do doctors write so poorly mumble mumble mumble CatScan results for WILFREDO MARTINEZ!? ” He gasped the last part out loud.
Everybody in the room turned to look at them!
“JING! How did-“
-“FINISH READING, DARN YOU!!” she snapped.

Wil swallowed, not sure if he wanted to. But, he took a deep breath, and continued to read (aloud):

“I... I DON’T HAVE A BRAIN TUMOR!!!” he screamed, in joy and relief!
-“Merry Christmas, you big lug!” Jingle shouted as well, then hugged her old friend.
-“YAAAAAYY!!!” everybody in the room roared!!

* * * * * * * *

A short while later, the party was winding down.

Wil and Makko sat in the couch, watching the others celebrate.

They were happy. However, something was still bugging Makko, and she finally decided to ask it...
-“Uncle... I don’t want to spoil the mood, but I can’t wait to ask any longer...”
-“What, dear?”
-“...If you don’t have a brain tumor, WHAT caused your seizures and freeze-ups? Nyarl?’
-“Hmm, no, I don’t think so. He said it was the other way around, that my self-doubts over my
condition were what gave him power over me. And while I certainly don’t trust him, It does make sense.”
-“I’ll have to take more tests to find out” the Mage pondered, “But I assure you one thing: NEXT time, whatever happens, I’ll deal with things in a logical way, and without leaving those who care about me out.”
Makko smiled about that, reassured.
-“AAHH!!” someone screamed!
It was GG Crono!!
Everybody turned to look at him in shock!
-“MY PANTS!!” the young samurai screamed, “MY PANTS ARE ON FIRE!!!”

Outside the RPGC HQ:
A dark figure laughed out loud!
It was- Sairan!!
He was wearing sound-amplifying headphones, just like the ones PC had used to spy on the headquarters.
-“A-hem” a voice said behind him.
There, two figures stood: Morpheus, and the dark-haired woman from the party.
-“Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve it without you, Cala” the would-be villain conceded. “Your services have been most useful in this venture. And as promised, here is your payment.”
He produced a dagger made out of pure diamond from somewhere in his robe.
Cala took it, even as she removed her disguise. She grinned as she looked at beautiful, deadly weapon.
But suddenly, she grew serious.
The dagger reminded her that she had to stab Chris-Chris to escape.
And of Manus’ reaction to her behavior...
She shook her head. Why was she feeling like that? Was she growing soft?
She cursed silently, then said, “If you’ll excuse me, I ‘ll be going now. It won’t take long for the Protectors to figure out what happened, and start looking for the source of the mini-firebomb’s trigger signal.”
And with that, she silently faded from sigh, teleporting away.

-“She has a point, Boss. We should scram” the dark-clothed warrior said.
-“Indeed. Besides, I want to return to preparing my NEXT scheme as soon as possible” Sairan said.
-“What’s that one?” Morpheus asked.
-“A simple, yet wonderfully sinister plan” Sairan boasted. “You see, Morpheus, in order to rule the World, I need to take over the United States. That much is obvious, no?”
Morpheus grunted.
-“However, that’s what EVERYONE expects to do. And they always fail. Because the heroes always expect them to do that.
After a dramatic pause, he added “Instead, I will surprise them by taking over the SECOND largest power in the Americas. One with vast resources, but a reputation for softness. THEN, I’ll take over the US, and then the World!”
“Come, Morpheus. We’ll begin our quest for world-domination by conquering... CANADA!!”
Morpheus just shrugged, said “Aight” and followed Sairan as he walked away.

* * * * * * * *


The dark samurai was, as usual, sipping on rare wine and sitting on an expensive chair, as Darkness Beckons and Rommiel, both stood in front of him, neither looking pleased.

Finally, Darkness spoke:
-“Why did you call us back here, Nagumo? If you’re trying to pin the blame on what happened on me-!”
-“Not at all” the samurai said quietly. “In fact, I’m quite pleased with the results.”
Darkness and Rommiel looked at each other, puzzled.
-“It is true, we didn’t achieve our main goal” he continued. “However, in all wars, one must be ready to face ANY outcome, even defeat. The Game of War is too unpredictable to be too sure of anything. In a way, that is part of the thrill of battle, as well.”
The two Mercenaries didn’t agree, but said nothing.
-“Besides, we learned useful things about our enemies- like how far we can push Lugia” he added. “Next time, I’ll be ready for it.” He pointed to two boxes on a table between them. “Open them” Nagumo said.
The two Mercs did, and found two glowing weapons inside.
Darkness’ box contained a rainbow-colored sword, while Rommiel’s was a scimitar.
-“Both are of extradimensional origin” the criminal mastermind explained. “As I told PC, I have my own means of reaching other worlds. Still, it WOULD have been great to have access to
RPGC’s technology. I may try to obtain it again in the future. If I need your assistance for that, or any other mission, I’ll let you know”
Rommiel nodded silently. Darkness, however, was still grim.
He was happy no one got really hurt during the operation. But he was definitely unhappy with his situation, serving the likes of Kamikaze. He HAD to find some way out of this life...

But for now, he could use a weapon like this sword. So, he sheathed it and put it inside his shadow.

-“Now, if you’ll excuse me” Nagumo said, getting up, “There’s this Japanese Wanzer for sale that I’d really like to add to my collection.”

* * * * * * * * *


PC floated in the silent darkness, as he had since whatever it was that Pokefreak had summoned had swallowed him. It was like being in outer space, except there were no stars (but there was air.) All around him, junk from a dozen worlds also floated silently.

The thief cursed. He should have known that this mission would be a disaster, the moment Sairan was allowed to join in. Perhaps if he had tried to access RPGC on his own he might have been more successful.

Or maybe he would’ve ended up here anyway.

He wondered if he would starve here.
Or if he would just drift for eternity.

Once again, he cursed magic. Why was he so weak to it? He preferred machines so much more.
They could be taken apart, understood, rebuilt...

Just then, something drifted past his face.

It was a little box with buttons on it.

Something made him reach for it.

PC had no idea what it was. For all he knew, it was just useless junk like most of the stuff here.
Or it could be a bomb.

Either way, he figured he would NOT be worse off than drifting in here.
He pressed one of the buttons and-
In a bright burst of light, he vanished!

Once again, he felt sucked away. The light blinded him for a moment. He couldn’t see, but he could feel gravity pulling him down again.
He fell on something.
His sight came back a second later. Along with it, he was assaulted by noise And smells.
Familiar ones.
Those of a city!
A city’s alleys, to be more precise.

He looked around. He was now, indeed, in a dark alley!
He could see the end from here. And he could see people and vehicles moving there!

Cautiously, he pocketed the device he had found, and walked towards the entrance.
What he saw shocked even him.
He WAS in a modern city. A dark, smoggy, foul smelled city. It could’ve very well been New York. EXCEPT-
-All manner of strange beings were walking the streets!
Furry things. Blobs. Even skeletons!
Oh, and human beings as well.
It was like something out of Star Wars!
Except for the grittiness of the streets.
Was he dreaming!?
In any case, nobody paid him any attention. He took a few steps outside, and noticed a glowing neon sign, written (curiously enough) in English:


Koorong, eh? Doesn’t sound like any place on Earth. Not that he hadn’t guessed that already.

The thief smiled now. Maybe he HAD gotten his wish after all...

And silently, he walked into the street, and disappeared into the crowd...

* * * * * * * *


The place stank of brimstone. And smoke. And human suffering.

The way HELL is supposed to.

HellDevil stood inside a palace made of obsidian, in front of a gigantic, fiery figure:
His Master, Asmodeus, Lord of Hell.

He didn’t expect mercy. He had failed in a mission; he had even lost his precious dark swords!

Besides, his master WAS a Baatezu Lord. Mercy was not their usual trade.

And he was a warrior. He would take his punishment, even if it meant final death, with stoicism.

Finally, the Devil Lord spoke, in a cavernous voice.
-“Yes” he said, without emotion.
He did as told.
Now he knew what his punishment would be: having his arms cut off.
To a warrior like him, a fate worse than death.
Still, he would accept it fearlessly.
Suddenly, his began to glow...

...And two NEW swords, appeared in his hands!
-“!?” he was baffled!
Still, the half-fiend warrior was confused.
HellDevil then bowed. “Yes, Master! I shall never fail you!!”
Then, rising his blades into the air, he screamed, “BEWARE, MORTALS! HELLDEVIL WILL BE BACK!!!”

* * * * * * * *


Him was sitting on top of a dune, enjoying the moonlight, and petting the bizarre little creature (a Mr. Saturn) that a fat man in a red-and-white suit had just given him.

He seemed to be deep in thought.

Then, he finally said:
-“The E key sucks.”

And then, after thinking a little more, he added,
“But the V key sucks even more.”


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