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The RPGC Xmas story 2003 by Wilfredo Martinez

(My thanks to all those who asked to be included, and had the patience to wait for me to start.)

XMASVILLE: A town located at the North Pole.
Well, not the ACTUAL North Pole of Earth, which is just a geographical point in the middle of the frozen Artic Ocean- there's no land there, just shifting ice. Instead, Xmasville exists in another dimension- Faeryland- in a region that happens to correspond to Earth's North Pole.

It was night, and the town was covered in snow, as always. There were lights on in all the houses, and figures could be seen, coming and going, inside.

At the very center of the town, there stood an actual Barber's Pole- complete with swirling red and blue stripes. It was an old joke, inspired by some old cartoons, but had since become a fixture much loved by the town's inhabitants.

Next to the Pole stood a figure clad in thick furs. He had white hair, a long white beard, and carried a long, wooden pipe in his mouth.

The figure took a deep breath, then exhaled a perfect circle of smoke. A second later, he poofed a tiny ball of smoke, which such force that it caught up to the expanding circle and passed right thru its center.
*Bullseye!* the man thought, then giggled.
*Wouldn't people be upset to see Santa Claus smoking?*

Santa Claus. He had come to dislike that name, which was a fact few people knew.
Not that he HATED it or anything... but it was just wrong.

First of all, his name was Neclaus, which meant "Necille's little one" in the language of the faery that had raised him; Thought it had been translated as Nicholas or Nicolas in human tongues, and he answered to those, as well.

Then, there was the fact that people kept confusing him with Saint Nicolas, who was an actual Saint in the Christian Church. He would be the last person in the world to claim the identity of a Holy Man for himself.

And there was the fact that "Santa Claus" - a mistranslation of Saint Nicolas- had been "cartoonified" so much thru the years. NO, he didn't have a belly "like a full bowl of jelly!" -Ok, so he was overweight, but hey, when you live in the cold, being fat helps you keep warm, everyone knew that, no? And, he didn't wear a white-and-red costume. Well, unless he was in a Special Mission, to visit some child who wanted- and NEEDED- to meet the real Santa Claus.

He sighed. For better or worse, the legend of Santa Claus had become part of the human culture. And it was a legend that brought great joy to children all over World. And THAT was what he truly cared about. For the Children, he'd do anything, even put up with the overcomercialization of his image.

He looked at the North Star -which was also visible from Faerieland- and sighed again. If ONLY everything in the tales were true. If ONLY he had the power to deliver toys, and joy, to EVERY child on Earth.
But, there were limits, even to Faerie Magic. All he could do, was make toys for a few select children, those that, he hoped, would benefit the most from them.
Fortunately, with the coming of industrialization, and with it, the mass-production of toys, most children in the World received toys. Even better, most children were well-cared for. Oh, how he remembered the Dark Ages, when he began his life's quest! How terrible it was, to watch children suffer in poverty, all because of the greed of nobles and corrupt Church Officials! Giving them toys did so little to help them... but at least, it brought some joy into their lives. It was children like those, that he concentrated in helping, to this day.

Nicolas shook his head, exhaled the last of his pipe's smoke, then proceeded to walk towards the toy shops. He'd taken a small break for a smoke- his only personal vice- but there was still much work to be done. He still made toys the old-fashioned way, by hand; such toys required a lot of work, but possessed a charm that most of today's toys lacked. In his opinion, any way.
Fortunately, he always had help from the faeries. Not just elves, as the tales mentioned, but everything from sprites to gnomes. They were all more than happy to help Nicolas in his eternal mission.
He smiled. This year, he had a very special helper: his daughter, Jingle Belle. Half-human and half-elf, Jingle had been a source of annoyance in the past. She was just too much into the "modern" teenagers thing, and had very little Christmas Spirit. Having lived in Xmasville all her life, to her, the season was nothing special, just hard work.
But that changed last Christmas, thanks to Nicolas' friend, Wilfredo. Quite remarkable, that lad. An adventurer and magician, they'd been friends for years. Kinda rough on the surface, but inside, very much dedicated to all things noble. That's why he'd gotten him to take Jingle along on his quest last year; he knew that if there was someone that could both deal with his daughter's poor temper, AND teach her about the true meaning of Christmas, it was him.

And it worked. Despite some unexpected danger, Jingle did indeed learn just what it was that made this season so special. And, THIS year, she was more than happy to help with the preparations.

Enough reminiscing, Nicolas told himself; he'd better get back to work. Christmas eve was fast approaching, and there were still loads of toys to be prepared.
As he walked thru the snow, his breath visible in the cold air, Nicolas heard some noises. He couldn't make them out at first, but something about them made him stop and pause.

He listened again.

Those sounds like...


The sounds came closer. They were definitely, blood-curling screams!!
Nicolas froze in place. What was happening??? Why was he overcome suddenly with a feeling of-
Nicolas saw several figures running towards him in the darkness. He was only able to make them out when they came closer.
Then he saw that they were several of his elves- not the frilly ones you see at shopping malls beside Store Santas, but the real, coarse, nature-warriors that they truly were.
And they looked- scared. Frightened! What could possibly scare such proud warriors?! His dark feelings deepened...
Then he noticed the silver-blonde elven girl running with them:
-"Jingle!" he gasped. "What's going on??"
-"DAD!!!" the girl screamed, at the top of her lungs. "We're under attack!!!"
-"What?? By whom??"
-"I don't know!! Monsters!!!"
-"W-what?" Nicolas stammered. He and his people were under the protection of Ak, the Master of All Woods. Who would dare to defy his edict? Unless- the Awgwas? No! That cannot be! They were defeated long ago!
Jingle reached her father, and hugged him desperately, crying.
-" Dad!! You gotta get away from here!!"
-"No! I can't do that, Jingle, the people of Xmasville need me!'
-"Dad! You don't understand! These monsters, they're fiends!! They're tearing the fearies limb from limb!! And the madwoman leading them, she's the worst of them all!!
-"Madwoman?" Nicolas asked, but before Jingle could answer, a figure jumped at them from the dark.
-"SIRE! Flee! We'll take care of her!!" the elven warriors cried, and, drawing their swords, charged at the dark figure.
-"Dad!! Let's get out of here!! PLEASE!!"
-"No! I cannot do that! YOU leave!!"
-"No!! I won't leave without you!!!"

Their argument was interrupted by the cries of the elves.

Despite their speed and skill, the shadow cut them down with ridiculous ease. Wielding a spear, she jumped, screaming like a berserker, striking at them from mid-air, hitting one elf, bouncing off him before he'd even hit the ground, to attack the next one.
The spectacle had caused father and daughter to freeze in terror. Finally, Nicolas gripped his daughter by the arms, hard, and shouted:
-"Jingle! Go! Find Martinez! Tell him about this! Tell him to call the Righteous Protectors!!
-"but, Dad-"
-"NO BUTS! GO! NOW!!" then he turned, and whistled. In an instant, a deer had come out of the nearby stables and ran up to them.
Nicolas lifted Jingle and forced her to sit on the deer. Then he slapped the beast, causing it to run into the air, at unbelievable speed.
Nicolas turned around, only to see all of his elven bodyguards laying in the snow- and the she-warrior jumped again, this time- towars him!
Before he could do anything, she'd slammed at him with the force of a charging buffalo. Knocked breathless, Nicolas found himself, laying in the snow, with the figure standing above him.

It was only now, thanks to the light from a nearby house, that he could clearly see his attacker.

He gasped in shock!

It was a young-looking woman, hardly more than a teen; her hair was long and golden, as was the armor she wore. In her hand was a tri-pointed spear, dripping with fresh blood; and in her beautiful face, was the look of a hungry wolf.
Worst of all, he recognized her.

It was VALKYRIE ESKER, a member of the RPGC- the very same people that he'd sent his daughter to!

*Oh my god- what have I done??* he gasped in his mind.

Meanwhile, somewhere else, in a dark room, a robed, thin figure played with a set of wooden chess pieces, colored red and black.
with a long-fingered hand, he picked up a black knight, and used it to knock down a red bishop.
-"And so... the game begins" he whispered.

And then he laughed. Like a madman.

There was no answer to his words, as there was NO one sitting across from him...


-"....NO!" the young woman snapped.
-"But Wei!" the man following her pleaded.
-"I said no!" the girl snapped, and turned around, walking away from him.
As she did, her long brown hair flowed majestically, like in those shampoo comercials. So did her long, flowing white robe- and her two large feathered wings.
Her divine grace contrasted shaply with the expression in her face. She walked with her eyes tightly shut, her dainty nose stuck up, her lips a thin angry line, and her reading glasses slipping down her nose.
-"Aww, common, Weiila!" the man following her said. He had a striking resemblance to Lee Majors, except his hair and eyes were black. His clothes were casual, hip, and green in color.
-"For the last time, NO!" Weiila snapped, turning around in the process.
-"But, why not? Why won't you let me help with this years' RPGC Xmas party?"
-"Have you forgotten what happened LAST year, Wil??"
-"That wasn't my fault!!" Wil protested.
-"YES it was!! You allowed Val to bring Absolut Alcohol to the party! Everyone was fighting drunk in minutes!!
-"How was I going to know she was going to SHARE it? I thought she was going to drink it all by herself!!"
-"Why are you interested this year, anyway? Last year when I asked you to help, you were reluctant!"
-"Well, I was new here, I didn't know how much fun It could be. But now, I really dig the Xmas Spirit! Pleeease, Weily?"
-"NO!!!" she shouted, and this time, a small thundercloud, complete with miniature lightning bolts, formed over her head.
-"*Ulp*" Wil said sheepishly, "I guess when a goddess says no, she means no." Then he bolted out of the room.
Weiila snorted, then returned to her work. In addition to being in charge of the RPGC Xmas party, Weiila also took care of the group's archives, and she had many reports to file.
As she checked the most recent records, she noticed something odd.
Several RPGC members hadn't reported in a while.
That was unusual...
Especially in d Galloway's case. He reported in almost every night.
She wondered where he was now...

Sir Percival stood by a window in one of the RPGC building's waiting rooms, basking in the sunlight, and enjoying the beauty of a nearby park.
He was a blue-eyed, long haired blonde young man. He wore medieval-style clothes, sky-blue in color, and he carried his broadsword in a sheath at his side. His features were both noble and handsome; however, they were shadowed by some internal worry.
For despite himself, Percival couldn't relax today. He had an ominous feeling, but he didn't know why. Could it be he was tired of living in the Modern World, he asked himself?
This strange world, so many centuries beyond the time when he was born, was both baffling and exasperating. People here had no manners, no ideals to live for, nothing but an apparently unquenchable thirst for material possessions. How VERY different from the middle ages, where SURVIVING was a goal in and of itself, and faith in The Lord sustained people thru poverty and tyranny.
But of course, that was why Camelot was founded, to help bring hope to people's lifes. He was proud to have been once a member of the Round Table, just as he was dismayed when The Dream ended due to treachery.
But it wasn't over, he reminded himself, not really. Merlin himself had told him, that what they had achieved, would be remembered forever, and the legacy of their legends would do more good to humanity than all the dragons they'd slayed. Furthermore, the Wise One had told him, Percival himself had a destiny yet to fulfill, and sent him on an adventure, one that defied the very forces of time, and had brought him to the 21st century. Why he didn't know, but he couldn't deny, in his time here, he'd come to see great wonders, and battle great evils- even more, he'd found, in the RPGC, a group of warriors as courageous as any knight, and in here, he'd found a place he could call home, at least until Fate took him elsewhere again.

Percival was so sunk in reminiscence that he almost failed to notice the person who entered the room.

He turned to look at him-
and gasped!

Before him stood a mountain of a man, clad in emerald-green armor. Only his head was uncovered, well, by armor anyway; for this man had a hair and a beard almost as long as Merlin's, except that it was GREEN in color- as green as the leaves of an oak tree. Visible among all that wild hair were a pair of deep, staring eyes, that seemed to gaze into Percival's soul.

And he RECOGNIZED this man!

-"The GREEN KNIGHT!!" the young knight gasped.
-"What? Where?" Wilfredo responded.

Percival blinked.

Wilfredo Martinez? When had he walked into the room?
And WHERE was the Green Knight?
He looked around, but there was nothing else in the room, except comfortable furniture.
And Wilfredo, who was also looking around for the misterious knight.

Then Percival realized that it had been MARTINEZ that he'd seen standing before him, except for some reason, he'd seen him as the tree-green warrior. But why?
He shook his head. *Nay, t'is must have been but a daydream* he thought.
-"Perc? You OK?" Martinez asked.
-"Aye, Friend Martinez. I was just... distracted, is all."
-"Did you say something about the Green Knight?'
-"Ah... Aye. For a moment there... I thought... I saw him, standing where thou arts."
-"Huh, really?"
-"My apologies, Martinez. I guess I miss my home time more than I thought."
-"Oh" Wil responded, thought he still looked suspicious. "Are you OK, Perc?"
-"Indeed. Please, worry not about me."
-"Humble as ever, eh, Perci? Look, my offer still stands, you know: If you want, I can help you return to your own time.'
-"Nay" Percival responded strongly but respectfully. "As thou well knowst, I cannot leave this era until I find out what mine destiny here is, and fulfill it."
-"Okay... but if you ever change your mind, don't hesitate to ask" the latino man added. Then he turned around and left the room. He had a great appreciation for Percival, but for some reason, this small incident disturbed him.
As Percival watched Wil leave, he went deep into thought. Why did he see that vision? Of all the Knights he'd known, the Green Knight was the most enigmatic, a champion of the Old Faith that reigned in England before the coming of Christianity; he was an enemy of the Table, yet, he was also noble and hated the forces of evil as well. They were never able to figure him out.
And why did he see Martinez, of all people, as such a strange figure?

Wil walked around the building a while more, and decided to get some snacks. Dragonessa had made a special batch of her cookies for Xmas, and WM loved them. But before he could reach the kitchen, a figure jumped at him out of a side corridor!
-"YAH!" Wil gasped in surprise.
-"WIL!!!!" the girl cried out, as she hung to him. It was Jingle Belle!
-"Jingle!! You scared me!!" Wil gasped.
-"Wil! This isn't a joke! Not this time! Something TERRIBLE has happened!!!" she screamed.
-"CALM DOWN, J! I can hardly understand you? OK, tell me what's going on!
Doing her best to comply, JB, between tears, told Wil all about the nightmarish events she'd just lived thru.
-"-and -and -and Dad forced me to sit on Prancer and before I could do anything he'd sent me off and I don't know if he's alright and-"
-"Please, Jing, I understand your feelings, but if you don't calm down, I can't help! Now- are you SURE it was Valkyrie Esker who attacked you?"
-"OF COURSE I AM!! I perfectly remember that bitch from last year!! I KNEW she was no good!!"
-"STOP it, JB! VE is my friend, she would never do anything like that, I assure you!"
-"And I'm telling you, I SAW HER!!!"
Wil decided not to argue. "Look, let's just go check out by ourselves, OK?"
-"Oh God, thank you, Wil, PLEASE hurry up-" But before they could even move, two figures suddenly darted out of another nearby corridor.
One of them was Weiila. "WIL!!!" she screamed.
*Yikes, I'm very in demand today* WM thought.
Running next to her was Shalcar the Cleric, a young, tall man of brown hair and eyes, wearing a green robe.
-"Come here!! It's an emergency!!" Shalcar shouted.
*What, ANOTHER one!?* Wil thought.
-"I was watching Good Morning America on TV- they were doing this report on Macy's Annual Xmas Store Display, when suddenly-" Shalcar tried to explain, but he was too nervous to focus. "Ohh, just come and see for yourself!!" And he grabbed Wil by an arm, and yanked him along.
-"But I have to-" Wil protested.
-"No, Wil, he's right, you have got to see this with your own eyes!" Weiila added, and that convinced him to go along.
-"Wil!!" Jingle snapped.
-"Umm, just a moment, JB!" Wil added, and continued to run along his friends to the TV room. Jingle followed them.
There, in a large-screen TV, was a scene of what appeared to be a city's streets, except the place had been trashed, with cars and stores broken and smoking. It looked like a war zone!
A woman with a microphone then appeared in front of the camera.
-"Hi, I'm Katie Kouric, reporting live from Midtown Manhattan, where, only moments ago, a man- YES, ONE man- attacked and destroyed everything in sight. HOW? We don't know; he seems not to be armed, but used HIS BARE HANDS to tear apart everything from trucks to fire hydrants. We have no idea how this is possible, but we assure you that it's true! We- what? OHMYGOD!! He's coming again!! Quick!! Get a shot!!!"

The camara then turned around, to show a young man, shirtless, shoeless, and with spiky red hair, glowing like he had a spotlight inside his body- and punching a Porsche into so much scrap metal.

Wil gasped when he realized who it was.
-"We don't know! But he's been tearing apart Macy's and its surroundings for several minutes now!"
-"Maybe he got mad at the toy prices?" Wil joked.
He got three very angry stares.

"Sorry!" he said sheepishly. "OK, there's two possibilities: Either that's an impostor, or someone's mind-controlling him. Either way, SOMEONE has to stop him before people get hurt!"
-"Exactly!" Weiila stated.

Silence for a second.

-"...What, you mean ME??" Wil gasped.
-"You're the most powerful RPGCer currently here!"
-"What about YOU? You're a goddess!!"
-"I'm a pacifist, you know that!"
-"Pacifist. Right."
Weiila gave him a killer stare.
-"Uh, I mean, yessir, Madam, right away!"
-"WHAT? Wil!! Have you forgotten already???"
-"Oh, right! Sorry, Wei, you'll have to find another-"
But their talk was interrupted by a loud BOOOM that came from the TV.
-"OHMYGOD!" Kourik gasped, "The glowing man just tossed a cadillac thru the main display window of Macy's, and it exploded and is on flames!! And we have confirmed reports that there are still people inside!!!"

The four heroes stood watching in silence.

"...Wil. Please." Jingle cried.

Wil looked at her.

Then at the TV screen.

For a second, he stood there, in silence, his face twisted with anguish.

"...Shalc!" he finally snapped.
-"Uh, yeah?"
-"Go with Jingle! Her people are in danger!!"
-"What? Why me??"
-"She says they're badly hurt- you're our best healer!"
-"But, but, I'm no fighter!"
-"Fear not, mine Friend!" a noble voice said. The heroes turned, and standing behind them, was Percival, who had walked into the room unnoticed. "I'll be honored to accompany Shalcar and yon lass on any mission!"
-"Perci! That's great!!" Shalcar said, breathing easier.
-"Wil?" Jingle asked.
-"It's OK, JB, I'd trust these people with my life. Take them to Xmasville. I'll catch up soon as I can, I swear!"
-"O-Ok... " she nodded, then led the two magical heroes out of the room.
-"Weii, call the others. I'm gonna need help with this!"
-"Of course!" she said, and also left the room, leaving Wil staring at the TV.
-*Now all I have to do... is figure out how to stop a Super Saiyan!* he thought. *Gulp*

MACY'S MANHATTAN STORE, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: For the people of New York, Christmas and Macy's go together like lovers' hands. After all, the Store Chain has been sponsoring the Thanksgiving Day Parade for decades, which has come to be considered the official start of the Holiday Season. Furthermore, Macy's use of Store Santa Clauses was the inspiration for the movie "Miracle in 34th Street" which became one of the most beloved Xmas movies ever. Every year, people flock to the store, not only because it is the largest of its kind in the world, but to see its Christmas displays, and have their children talk to THE Store Santa.

Today, however, the customers at Macy's also found... Terror.

d Galloway came in from 34th Street, after having totalled every vehicle in sight. People had come into the store running and screaming, which was a good thing, since it gave the shoppers inside some warning. Otherwise they might've gotten hurt when he smashed his way in thru the Window Shop Display.

Many people managed to get out of the building thru its other three exits, each of which lead to a different NYC street. But Galloway soon blocked them all with randomly-picked cars, which he flung around like toys.
Right now, most of the people trapped inside had fled to the upper floors. Galloway was still on the first one, standing on an electric escalator, blocking the way up, keeping the few people left on the first floor trapped (he'd also destroyed the other escalators.)

From there, Galloway surveyed his handiwork.
The floor was not only on ruins, there was smoke everywhere. People hid among the displays, but the cries of frightened children could still be heard, their parents unable to calm them down.
Galloway smiled.

It was SO easy to frighten humans!

Why had he never realized it before?

Why had he ever even bothered to try to PROTECT them?

They were weaklings, after all. So many things could kill them. It was a miracle they'd survived so long. Not like his people, the Saiyans, who were so much more powerful than almost anything else in the Galaxy.

Kill or be killed. That IS the Law of Evolution.

If humans can't fend for themselves, then they deserved whatever happened to them.

And if he wanted to toy with them, who could stop him? Might makes Right!

He couldn't believe he had not realized that- until HE had told him.

Yes, it had been HIM that had opened his eyes.
And it had been HIM that told him that destroying Macy's would be so much fun.

...Somewhere in Galloway's soul, a tiny voice protested, said this was unnatural, that this was WRONG.

But it was buried under tons of darkness...

Galloway began to laugh out loud. Why not? He could do anything he wanted! No one could stop him! Why, the next thing he would do was-

-"WHAT!?!" Galloway screamed!
Something had just hit him on the face!
Something sticky, cold and... tasty!?!
A... PIE!
-"Yo, Gallo!" a voice suddenly said.

A voice Galloway recognized!
He turned around quickly, and looked at the direction the pie had come from.
There, standing next to a Xmas Food display, was-
-"Hi, Galloway. IF it is you. What do you think you're doing?"
-"Same thing I'm gonna do to you, you clown!"
-"Aww, and I thought, you of all people, would appreciate the old pie-in-the-face gag" Wil mocked.
-"Let me show you my appreciation" Galloway said, fuming, as he wiped the fruit pie off his face.
-"You'll have to catch me first!" Wil responded, then darted off, leaving thru the same broken store window he'd sneaked in thru.
Galloway jumped off the escalator and ran after Martinez, smashing his way out. But as soon as he ran outside, he found the streets full of- smoke? Mist? Gas? Was that the result of his destruction?
He looked around, but it was hard to see.

Nearby, Wil was hiding among the mists he'd summoned. He couldn't see Galloway clearly, either. But at least he'd succeded in luring the Saiyan away from the people in the store, and into an open area where he could unleash his destructive spells if needed. Thought he hoped that wasn't necessary. Between the two of them, they could shatter the city!

OK, no point in hiding anymore. He'd better confront Galloway, and hope the strategy he'd come up with could stop him!
-"Enough of this!" He shouted, walking within sight of the Saiyan. "You will NOT be allowed to continue this destruction. Explain yourself now, or face the wrath of the Righteous Protectors!"
- "Oh, really?" Galloway laughed. "Where are the others? Or are you telling me you think YOU can stop me by yourself?"
-"Indeed I do!"
-"Ha ha ha!" Galloway laughed. "Martinez, I always thought you were lame, but I didn't expect you to be stupid as well. You really think your spells can match my Saiyan power??"
-"Winning battles isn't just about raw power, d; strategy is also an important part of-"



" hear me? Wil!!"
"...What? Who? ...Weiila?" Wil said.
He was lying in the middle of the deserted street, with Weiila kneeled next to him.
-"What... happened?"
-"Galloway knocked you out."
-"Huh? When? I didn't even see him move!"
-"Saiyans are SUPER fast, Wil. I found you unconscious, your jaw shattered."
Wil checked his jaw as he got up, but found it whole.
-"I healed you" Weiila explained. " I'm amazed you're even alive. That blow should've taken your head off."
-"I'm thougher than I look, Weii" Wil snorted.
-"Maybe, but still, Gallo must've just love-tapped you. Must've figured he didn't need to hit you REALLY hard to kill you."
-"Maybe. Where are the others?"
-"On their way. But I'm afraid, I couldn't find any of the really powerful ones. They were all busy with their own important missions."
-"Damn. So I guess it's up to me"
-"What? You're not thinking of going up against Galloway AGAIN, are you??"
-"We have no choice, Weiila! We gotta stop that walking building demolisher before some innocent bystander gets killed!"
-"But Wil! Gallo is WAY too fast for you!"
-"I think I have a way to deal with that" WM smiled, "but I need to sneak up on him first. Where is he now?"
-"I dunno, he flew away."
-"Rats" Wil cursed, then looked around for any clue about his foe's location. Then he stopped and said:
-"There! I think those people can help us find him" he said, pointing at a woman with a microphone, and a cameraman, both standing on the end of the street. It was Katie Kourik again!

They were doing another live broadcast.

The two heroes ran up to them.

But no sooner had they reached them, than Kourik turned around and said,
-"Ohmigosh! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a surprise witness to today's events! It's LEE MAJORS, star of "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Fall Guy" TV shows!"
Wil and Weiila stopped in their tracks, baffled.
-"...Who, me?" Wil said, after a moment.
-"Indeed! Mister Majors, you have been away from the cameras for a long time. What are you doing in NY today?"
-"I'm NOT Lee Majors" Wil spat out. "I'm TOO young to be him, can't you tell??"
-"Oh, don't be embarrased, Mr. Majors, ALL of us celebrities do the Plastic Surgery thing. And that new hair color fits you, as well! And who is the young woman in the Angel costume? Some new love interest, perhaps?"
-"Wh..!" Wil was speechless. Was this woman really that naive, or was she just desperate for a celebrity interview??
-"Whatever!" he snapped. Just tell me, do you know where Gal- the spiky-haired guy went?"
-"The Xmas Destroyer?" Kourik said, using the name she'd just made up for the subject of her reports today, "We just received a call that he's landed at Radio City Music Hall. We were just going over there ourselves. We can give you a lift if you want to."
-"No thanks" Wil spat out, then ran off with Weiila.
-"Hey wait! We can give you free publicity for your next project!" Kourik shouted after them, but they ignored her.
-"Humph. These has-been celebrities are so arrogant" Kourik said to her cameraman. "and I was going to ask him to do my show. Oh well, I can always do another live colonoscopy."

ROCKEFELLER CENTER, New York City, New York:
Rockefeller Center is the nation's favorite Christmas destination. Every year more than a million visitors make the Radio City Christmas Spectacular part of their holiday festivities. And its Christmas Tree lighting ceremony draws huge crowds eagerly awaiting the official start of the season.

Today, however, passersby witnessed in shock as the beloved spruce was set ON FIRE by a maniacal, laughing young man with spiked hair.

Another symbol of Xmas down, Galloway thought, and laughed. "He" was right, Xmas was just another illusion the human weaklings gave themselves to feel safe in a world that is too tough for them to survive. If they love it so much, let's see them fight for it!

So far, only New York policemen had defied him. He'd allowed them to shoot him, just to see their expressions as their bullets bounced off him. Right now, he stood on top of the statue next to the (now shattered) ice rink in front of the building, the Xmas tree burning behind him. He was surrounded by squad cars and armed cops, but they had stopped shooting at him. He could swat them like flies now, but he was waiting to see what they would try next. The National Guard, maybe? The very idea made him crack up.

Watching from a nearby street corner, but beyond Galloway's field of vision, were WM and Weiila.
-"Weiila, can you scan him? My scan spells never work, and I NEED to know if that's Galloway or an impostor" Wil whispered.
-"I think so. Let me see..." Weiila answered, and concentrated for several seconds. Her expression was grim.
-"As far as I can tell, that IS d. He has a very distinctive aura. But I also sense something... WRONG with his soul. It's now mostly- evil!"
-"Rats, sounds like he's been brainwashed. I was hoping it wasn't really him, so I could let loose with my deadliest spells."
-"What are we going to do, Wil?" Weiila whispered to him, worried.
-"I have a plan, but I need to get close to Gallo first. Damn, if only he would come down from there!"

Just at that moment, a military truck arrived, and several armed soldiers quickly got out and spreaded around the area.
-*I'll be damned, they DID call the National Guard!* Galloway thought, and started laughing harder than ever.
-"Attention, stranger!" the sargeant in command of the NG squad shouted over a megaphone, "Surrender, or we'll be forced to use deadly force!"
-"Up yours, weekend warrior!" was Galloway's response.
For a moment, nothing happened except that the soldiers and the policemen were talking furiously with each other about what to do.
Galloway got tired of waiting. He flew down to street level, and all the policemen immediately retreated, abandoning their cars.
-"This might be my chance, Weii. You stay here."
-"What? You don't want me to help?"
-"I might need you to heal me later" Wil explained. "Besides, someone's got to look out for the bystanders, including the soldiers and cops."

Galloway walked toward the soldiers, and they retreated as well, while one of them pulled out a grenade and tossed it at him.
It hit him dead-on.
For a moment, nothing could be seen due to the smoke.

But a moment later, when it began to clear, Galloway was STILL standing, in the middle of a smoking crater- completely unharmed.
-"HA HA HA HA!!" he roared in laughter. "Is THAT the best you can do?? Come on!! Bring in the bazookas, the tanks, the missiles!! NONE of them will save you, you pathetic insects!!"

But as he laughed, he noticed that the smoke was still lingering. Shouldn't it have cleared by now?
In fact, it was getting thicker!
Maybe it was the smoke from the burning tree, blown this way by a change in the wind?
But it doesn't SMELL like smoke...
Wait. Didn't something like this just happen?
But that would mean- no, that's not possible, he's dead!
At the last moment, Galloway felt someone approaching him from behind. But before he could turn, a voice shouted out, "STOP!"
And he did-
-in fact, he froze in place!
-"HAH! Gotcha now!!" Wilfredo said, as he walked out of the mist he'd summoned.

He approached Galloway, who was standing as still as a park statue.

For, that shout hadn't been just a command- it was a TIME STOP spell!

It didn't actually stop time, it slowed the target down to the point that it seemed to be frozen still. But that should be enough to keep Galloway quiet until the rest of RPGC showed up.

-"Whew" Wil whispered, "I'm SO glad that worked. For a moment there, I was afraid I-"
And then, Galloway lunged at him!!!
-"YAAH!!" Wil shouted, and jumped to the side!
And Galloway-
-MISSED him???
-"Wha...?" Both of them said, at the same time.
Wil couldn't believe Galloway was moving! He was SURE that his spell had taken effect, he could feel it!
Galloway couldn't believe he'd missed Martinez. And why was he moving so slowly? He should have zoomed at him!
He was moving at- normal speed???
-"What... have you done... to me?" he angrily said.
-"What the-" Wil gasped, then realized what had happened. "Your Superspeed!" he said aloud, "it countered my Stop spell- and vice versa!"
-"Stop spell..? Since when do you... know Time Mage Spells?"
-"Oh, I know all manner of Spells, Gallo. I have told you that many times. Or did you think I was boasting?" Wil said, mockingly.
-"EXCEPT healing spells" Galloway responded. "All I need is to hit you ONCE, and you're DEAD!"
Wil cursed. He had hoped that Galloway had forgotten his limitation.
-"Then go ahead and TRY, Monkey Boy!"
Galloway lunged again, with enough power on his fist to shatter a brick wall.
But before his punch connected, WM shouted, "VANISH!"
Galloway's fist hit empty air.
-"What the!?" Galloway gasped.
Martinez was gone!
Did he teleport away?
But how did he cast the spell so quickly!?
-"Surprised, d?" Wil's voice sounded, with no visible source. "You didn't think I could cast spells so fast, did you? You forget, Gallo, that I have YEARS of experience as an adventurer. Did you think I would've survived if I hadn't mastered quick spell-casting?"
-"Turning invible will NOT save you! I'll keep throwing punches until I find you!!"
-"Be my guest" Wil responded.
Galloway punched again, in the direction the voice had come from.
No contact.
Galloway cursed.
Silently, Wil laughed. Galloway didn't seem to know that vanish wasn't just an invisibility spell; it made the target unsolid as a ghost as well. No matter what supermove Galloway used, it would go harmlessly thru him!
That should give him time to come up with a way to defeat the Saiyan.
Or so he thought.
-"Fine, Martinez! Hide if you wish! I know that invisibility spells only last until you attack! Sooner or later, you'll reveal yourself- and THEN I'll get you!!"
Rats, he was hoping that Galloway didn't know that. Now he needed to think faster, before D decided to just fly away.
He had PLENTY of superspells he could use against Galloway- Ultima, Flare, Meteor, etc- but he doubted any of them could take him down on one shot. Besides, he didn't REALLY want to hurt him, not if there was the chance that this was the real d Galloway.
He needed to incapacitate him- but how? He also knew plenty of Status Effect spells, but which ones would affect a Saiyan?
Dammit, if only his Scanning spells worked! But, just as with Healing, Wil had the wrong "magical chemistry" to learn them. Most of the time, his attempts at scanning just got him visions of naked women.
Not that he minded THAT, but that wasn't going to do him any good.
He decided to just try them all at the same time.

Wil walked silently away from d, still within combat range but away from where d was looking at the moment.

Then he began to inhale.
Galloway turned, having thought he heard the sound of breathing.
Wil then nbecame visible (and solid) the vanish spell ending as he unleashed his attack.
-"THERE you are!" Galloway screamed, and lunged at him-
-But before he could hit Martinez, the young man blew out a cloud of thick, sickly-looking green gas at his face!
-"What the- ARRRRRGHHHH!!!!" was Galloway's shocked reaction!
He reeled back in pain!
He couldn't see! Everything was spinning! And the stench! Gods of Planet Vegeta, THE STENCH!!!"
Even in his confusion, Galloway recognized what he had been hit with:
A Bad Breath Spell!
But that's a Blue Mage spell! A very rare one, too! Martinez knew THAT too???

Wil watched as Galloway reeled around the still-misted up street, like a punch-drunk boxer. *Damn, I was hoping that Gallo would get petrified, or at least asleep. No such luck!* Wil thought. *But at least it looks like he's blinded and confused, possibly poisoned as well, from the green tone of his skin.* Considering d was so powerful, he was lucky those effects had even taken root.

Galloway began to fling around punches randomly. He was MAD now, as well as confused.
-*Oops, better protect myself now* WM thought, and quickly said, GOLEM!
Just at that moment, one of Galloway's super-punches headed his way.
Just when it looked like Wil was going to get flattened, a giant hand made of dirt and rocks raised right thru the street pavement- and blocked the blow!
KWAMM!! the impact sounded, reverberating thru the street, small chips of the hand flying everywhere- yet, amazingly, the rocky hand blocked the blow, the magic behind it allowing it to resist where most manmade materials never would.
-"How do you like my Golem Summon, d?" Wil couldn't help boasting. "Little trick I learned in Gaia 5. Go ahead, try to find me! It won't do you any good, it'll automatically block your attacks!"
Galloway cursed again. Summons too!? Dammit, Martinez wasnt kidding, he DID know a ridiculous amount of spells!
For the first time, the Saiyan began to take Martinez seriously. He HAD to do something, or he might very well lose!
So he did what all Super Saiyans do when in trouble-
he began to power up!
-"UuuuuuuuAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!" he screamed, and his body began to glow like the sun!
Wil gasped. Dammit, he's going Super on me!
Gotta stop him, or even the Golem won't be able to protect me!
-"BLACKSHOK!!" he screamed!
Waves of a dark energy struck the still-charging up Saiyan. Galloway felt as if the chill of the grave had reached him!
And, incredibly, he felt his power leaving him!
He had depowered back to normal level!
But HOW? That had never happened before!!!
-"That's called Blackshok. Blue Magic Spell" Wil felt like explaining. "Cuts your level of power in half."
-"That TEARS it, Martinez! You're GOING DOWN!!!" Galloway screamed at the top of his lungs.
He raised his arms, and began to summon energy from the very environment around him. Above his head, a huge glowing sphere began to form.
It was called a Spirit Bomb, and it was one of the most destructive Chi-based attacks known. Wil didn't know that, but he didn't have to to guess that it would probably not just kill him, but take the city of New York along with him!
He had to stop Galloway! Now!
But HOW?
Then he decided to take a desperate gamble.
-"DEMI!" he screamed, and waves of gravity assaulted Galloway's very molecular structure, weakening it.
He grunted, but didn't stop. The spirit Bomb continued to grow.
Wil decided that, in his weakened state, he could probably kill Galloway with a Mega-Spell.
But- was he willing to that?
No! He had to try to stop him WITHOUT killing him! He had to have faith!
-*Help me, Lord!* he silently prayed, and lunged forward.
He touched Galloway just as he was about done gathering energy for the bomb, and shouted, "STONE!"
-"What??" Galloway screamed, as he felt his body turn to stone. "Damn you Marti-"
And he became a stone statue.
Wil looked up at the Spirit Bomb, afraid it might go off even now.

But the bomb began to disperse, its energies returning to the Earth.

Wil left out a sigh of relief.
His gamble had paid out. Weakened by the Demi spell, Galloway WAS vulnerable to his Stone spell.

Weiila then came out of the mists, having sensed the end of the fight.
-"Wil! Is it over?"
-"For now" he answered. "But my spell won't last forever. Let's get him back to RPGC headquarters, and put him in a containment unit."

And meanwhile, in a dark room somewhere else, the robed, long-fingered chessplayer took a Red Knight from the opposing side of his board, and used it to knock down a Black Rook on his side.
-"Point for you, Protectors" he said, to no one.
And then he exploded in laughter again...


Three figures trudged with some difficulty across the snow-covered, darkened forest.
It was Sir Percival, Shalcar, and Jingle Belle.
She lead the way, after the heroes had insisted that she land Prancer (whose ability to carry all three of them easily baffled them more than its air-walking one) away from the town, so as not to be seen by their foes, in case they were still there.
This harried poor Jingle, who couldn't stop thinking about the grisly fates her people had suffered- and didn't even want to think how her father might be.
She carried a small branch that glowed in the dark, illuminating their path, thanks to a Light spell cast on it by Shalcar.
It was very cold, and neither of the two heroes were really well dressed for this weather, but they tolerated it due to the urgency of the mission. Silently, Percival was glad he wasn't wearing his heavy Knight's Armour, or he would find it even harder to walk thru the packed snow.
He just hoped he wouldn't need it.
-"So, Lady Belle" he suddenly spoke, "Are thou sure it was the Lady Valkyrie whom thou dost see leading these foul monsters?"
-"For the last time, YES!" Jingle snapped.
-"Hey, easy, easy!" Shalcar intervened. "Percival doesn't mean anything by that. It's just that... we KNOW Val. And yes, she can be a bit testy at times, but... to do something like what you said..."
-"Aye, the Lady Valkyrie has e'ver been an honorable warrior."
-"Look, I don't know if it was really her or not and I DON'T CARE!!" she shouted, turning around, her eyes streaking tears. "All I want is to save my people- or as many of them as might still be alive!!
-"SHH!" Percival whispered, startled by her reaction. "Milady! Do not raise thy voice! Thou mights lead the enemy to us!"
-"Like this glowing stick isn't visible enough in the dark already?" she countered.
-"Uh, she has a point, Perc" Shalcar once again intervened, hoping to calm things down. "Um, listen, Jingle. We understand the grief you're going thru- but please, if you want us to help you, you've got to calm down!"
-"Understand it? Do you REALLY understand it? Have you ever lost everything you cared for in the World??"
Shalcar was shocked into silence.
But Percival was not.
-"Mine friend might have the fortune not to have faced such tragedy" the young knight said sternly, "but alas, I do not. I was present at the fall of Camelot, where treachery most foul brought down, not just a castle full o' knights, but many innocents as well" the tone of his voice made Jingle pause. He continued. "I saw very good men and women, even close friends, slaughtered before mine eyes. More than that, it was the feeling that, e'verything we had worked for- fought so hard for- hath been taken from us. Believe me, o fair lady, that I do knowst of pain and loss."
Jingle was speechless. Not only by the harshness of his words, but also, but the nobility behind them.
When next he spoke, Percival's words were, however, softer. "My apologies, Lady Elf. I did not mean to frighten thee. But, know this: In times like this, is precisely, when we must be at our strongest, if we hope to make a difference. There is always time later, for mourning. See it this way: thine people are counting on thee now."
-"You... are right, Sir Percival. Sorry..."

They looked at each other's eyes, their stares lingering longer than they expected.
Shalcar noticed, and smiled. *Damn, but Perci's good with the ladies, even when he's not trying!*

Suddenly, however, Percival looked to the side, his expression growing grim.
-"Perc? What is it?" Shalcar said, worried.
-"I sense...evil."
-"Where?? I don't see-" the young cleric began to say, but then, before his eyes, several dark shapes began to appear, out of thin air, a short distance from them.
They where humanoid, but hulking, and stooped, covered in fur. They looked like midget, stooped Bigfoots.
-"AWGWAS!!" Jingle screamed.
-"What?" Shalcar asked.
-"Evil faerie folk!! But, but they were defeated long ago!!"
-"Well, they look pretty ready for a fight now!" the cleric countered.
-"Shalcar! Take the Lady Belle and continue! I shall take care o' this foul beings!" Percival said, as he pulled out his bastard sword out of its sheat, with a shwiiing sound. The long blade glowed silver under the pale light of the moon.
-"What? No way!! There's too many of them! I can't leave you alone!!"
Percival was going to protest, but the troll-like beings charged at them, roaring.
Percival swung his sword, cleaving right thru several of the monsters, their blood dripping from his blade, as their bodies fell dead to the snow.
But still, more monsters surrounded him.
-"Do as I tell thee!! The lady's security is our main concern! Furthermore, you needs to reach her people!"
Cursing, Shalcar decided to do as he was told. He began to drag Jingle Belle away.
-"Wait!" she screamed, "We can't leave Percival alone!!"
-"Don't worry, Perci has dealt with far worse situations" Shalcar said, trying to reassure himself as well as her.
But they had barely taken a few steps when more awgwas materialized in front of them!
-"YAAHH!!" Belle screamed in terror.
But then, Shalcar pulled out a HUGE steel hammer he had been carrying in the folds of his robe, and struck the nearest awgwa with such speed, neither it nor Belle could believe it!
The creature fell back, stunned.
Unfortunately, more of them kept coming out of the woods, making themselves visible only now. Shalcar and Belle were forced to retreat, back to where Percival was still fighting.
The two warriors stood on both sides of Belle, easily dispatching the monsters before they could reach her.
But they kept coming, seemingly in endless numbers.
Jingle finally snapped, not just tired of being scared, but of feeling useless in this fight.
Hadn't she been granted the gift of Christmas Magic last year?? Which she was supposed to use only to help others- but surely, helping her defenders had to count!
She concentrated, calling at the power within her.
And it came, in the form of a glowing whirlwind that surrounded them!
-"What the-?" Shalcar barely had time to say, before the magical wind picked them up!
In the blink of an eye, they were gone from the forest!
And in another blink- they reappeared-
right outside Xmasville!
-"WHOA! You did that, Belle?"
-"Yes" she responded, somewhat winded.
-"So, WHY didn't you do that BEFORE?" he asked.
-"Err... because I didn't know I could?" she said, sheepishly.
Before either of them could say anything more, ANOTHER whirlwind- this one LARGER than the one Belle summoned- appeared out of nowhere, in front of them!
-"Um, Jingle, are you-"
-"No!" she quickly answered, and stared at the phenomenon as surprised as the others.
As suddenly as it came, the wind blew away, and in its place, stood a HUGE man- wearing a woodsman's clothes, with long white hair and beard, and piercing, glowing eyes.
-"Dost he mean...US?" Percival gasped.
-"Uh, Perc" Shalcar said in a low voice, "I think we're in deep doo-doo."


...The room was semi-dark, but it was definitely a teenage girl's; there were posters of rock stars -goth-punk ones, mostly- and clothes lying all over the place. There was a curious smell of incense in the place, and objects that looked like they belonged on a witch's parlor laid on a small desk.
There was one unkempt bed in the room.

Lying on the bed, was a teenage girl.

She had long red hair, tied back, and deep black eyes; her clothes were black, and definitely had a goth-girl look to them. And her expression was one of anger, with her stare focused on the ceiling.

Her name is Eva. She's a mystic, born with a sensitivity to the natural forces around her, and certain psionic powers. Furthermore, she had trained herself in the dark arts.

For most of her life, she had tried to find her place in the world.
But her abilities had caused her to be spurned. "Freak" and "Witch" were among the least offensive things they'd called her.

So, she learned to hide what she could do.
But even that didn't help.
Other kids avoided her, somehow feeling that she was- different.

There were those that DID accept her. Social outcasts, themselves.
But they just wanted to use her. She could tell, thanks to her gifts. And that made her angry.

Eventually, she found a group that accepted her. A group of freaks, themselves, thought they didn't see themselves that way.

They called themselves the Righteous Protectors of Good Causes. She wondered if they ever realized how annoyingly self-righteous their name sounded.

But at least they accepted her. They didn't judge her.
And their lifes were, if anything, even stranger than hers. Some had powers that dwarfed hers.
And they lived on the edge. Always looking for danger, for the next thrill. THAT she liked.

And yet... something was missing. She STILL felt like she didn't belong.

What was it? Was it their sanctimonious ways? Or... did she feel they were too GOOD for her?

She didn't know, and it made her... angry.

-"Anger is good" a creepy voice said from behind her.
Eva bolted upright on the bed, and looked at where the voice was coming from.
Someone was sitting on the only chair in the room!
A chair that had been empty a second ago!
The figure was hard to see in the gloom, but it looked like a man wearing a dark robe. Only the lower part of his face, and his skinny hands, could be seen.
-"Who the devil are you??" she snapped.
-"Not quite" was his answer, "but close enough" he said with a wicked smile.
Most girls her age would have screamed at this point.

She just got pissed.

"Look, mister, I don't know who you are or how you got here. But if you think I'm going to be an easy prey, you're going to find out how wrong you are!" she snapped, and began to call on her psychic powers. Energy began to crackle around her.

The figure in the chair didn't seem bothered in the least.

-"Oh, I know how dangerous you can be, Eva. That is precisely why I came to meet you."
Eva was not impressed by his strange behavior. "OK, mister, you have ONE second to explain yourself. Otherwise, I'm going to drive a lighting bolt up your butt!"
-"Ooh, that would hurt, no?" he said in a mocking tone. "Very well, allow me to explain myself."
Common sense told Eva that she should just blast the intruder.

But there was... something else- her own curiosity, perhaps- that made her decide to wait and listen to him.

-"I've been known by many names" the hooded man began to explain, "but for now, call me... Laufeyson."
The name meant nothing to Eva. Yet... it sounded oddly familiar...
-"I'm a- games player. Except- I play for REAL stakes. Like people's lives" he said carefully, weighting her reactions to his words.
-"Actually, in my opinion, ALL of life is a game- those that have the power play games with those under them" he continued. "It's the way things are. The way things have always been."
Eva was silent.
-"So, I decided: if Life is a game, I would be the greatest player of all. I would never be a pawn. I would be the Grandmaster! Wouldn't you agree?"
-"So? Even if I did, what's it to you?"
-"I'm looking for players for my game. A game where the World itself is at stake" he allowed his words to sink in for a moment. "The Righteous Protectors are my opponents. And I would like you to join the game- on my side."
-"The Protectors!?" she gasped. "You're nuts. They'll kick your ass!"
-"Ohh, I'm sure they would, would I be foolish enough to just face them. Except- I came up with a gambit, one that increases my odds while lowering theirs."
"I have made half of them join MY side!"
-"What? I don't believe you!"
Laufeyson laughed.
-"You have by now heard about the Saiyan's attack on New York, I assume?"
-"That Galloway guy?" Eva said, raising an eyebrow. She had recognized him on TV, and was wondering just what had driven him to do that.
-"He works for me. Or at least, he does now."
Now Eva was surprised. This man was able to bend a Saiyan to his will?
-"...Let's say I believe you. What's in it for me?"
-"Anything you decide. After all, to the victor go the spoils. Power, Revenge, Riches... your darkest desires, made true."

Eva was silent for a moment. She felt torn. She had, of course, no reason to trust this man- if it WAS a man. For all she knew it could be a demon (thought she did not feel any such vibes from him.) Yet... SOMETHING told her that he meant it. That something BIG was going on- and that this was her chance to be part of it.
"...Let me see your eyes" was finally her decision.
She prided herself on her ability to "read" a person's soul just by looking into his or her eyes.

..."Very well" Laufeyson finally said. He stood up, approached her slowly, and slowly pulled down his hood, revealing a wizened face, like an elf's, with pointed ears, long black hair, a devilish smile, and piercing, dark eyes.

Eva stared at them for a moment.

What she felt inside him was...



-"No, forget it" she said, walking away from him. "You cannot be trusted."

Laufeyson was NOT amused.
-"And here I was hoping that you, of all the Protectors, would join me willingly" he said bitterly, then pulled a- jar? out of the folds of his robes.
Before Eva could even react, Laufeyson pulled the top of the jar off, and a sickly-looking, oily grey mist began to pour out.
-"WHAT IS THAT??" Eva shouted. All her psychic senses were on fire!!!
-"Just a little something to assure your alliegance" the wicked man said, similing.
Eva tried to run, but there was no room. Laufeyson blocked the way to the door, and before she could run to the window, the mists surrounded her.
-"You won't get me that easily!!" she spat at him, then called upon her powers.
The window EXPLODED, as a bolt of lighting smashed its way into the room.
But laufeyson just lifted a hand and blocked it, like it had been a squirt of water from a squirt gun!
Eva gasped in shock, at the power she felt coming from him...
...And then the mists wrapped themselves around her.

Eva felt herself, falling, falling... into a dark, bottomless Abyss.

But in reality, only her soul fell.
Her body was still in the room-
-and at Laufeyson's mercy.
-"Come, my dear" he called to her.
And she did.
-"Good, good... now let's go meet with... the others."
And then he exploded in laughter.


...The room was dark, as no staff meetings were taking place today.

The place was full of strange machines, most of them computers.

One of them was a crystal tube, which currently held the unmoving form of Galloway; he'd turned back to flesh-and-blood, but wasn't moving, not even breathing.
Weiila was standing next to him, fiddling around with the stasis pod's controls.

Wil stood beside her, gazing at all the contraptions. Most of them inventions of Merlin, the RPGC's unnoficial leader (and resident inventor) he figured.

His gaze soon went back to the stasis tube.
-"Are you SURE this thing can hold d?" Wil asked Weiila.
-"Yes" she responded, without looking up from her calibrations. "It keeps the prisoner in stasis, not just of body but of mind as well. It doesn't matter how powerful you are if you're not even able to think."
Wil nodded. But then, he lamented:
-"Too bad. I was hoping I could interrogate Gallo... find some clue as to what happened to him."
-"That may still be possible" Weiila said, looking up.
-"Eh? How?"
-"I could try to probe Gallo's mind."
-"You can do that?"
She nodded.
-"Well! You never stop surprising me, Wei! I mean, Mistress Weiila."
-"Oh, stop it!" she giggled.
-"But wait. Didn't you just said his mind is shut down?"
-"Yes, but his MEMORIES are still there. If I probe them, we might learn what happened."
-"Great! You do so, Wei. I'll be back as soon as I can."
-"Eh? Where are you going?"
-"To the North Pole! Have you forgotten?"
-"Oh, right! Sorry, it's just that I was so worried about Gallo..."
-"I understand, Wei. Just as I'm worried about Nicolas. I'm sure Perci and Shal are handling things well, but I want to find out what is happening there by myself."
-"OK. I'll start the mind-meld. Good luck!"
Wil nodded to her, then prepared to cast a Warp spell to teleport to Xmasville.
But just as he was about to cast it, Weiila suddenly gasped!
-"WEIILA! What happened??"
-"Ah-nothing- I was just- SHOCKED by the amount of negative emotions in his recent memories. It was like- jumping into a dark, cold ocean!"
-"Then stop it!"
-"No, it's OK" she explained. "I can handle it. I can shield my mind from the Darkness. I was just surprised to find so much of it in Gallo, is all. I will continue."
-"...Very well. But I'll stay here to watch you."
-"That's not really necessary-"
-"I've made up my mind, Wei."
-"OK, as you wish..." Weiila turned back to probing Galloway's mind.

Her expression was grim as she did so, but also determined. After a few seconds, she spoke:
-"Gallo's soul... it feels... topsy-turvy."
-"Eh? What do you mean?"
-"All the bad memories... are on top, near the surface of his consciousness. Everything from his fight with you to the cancellation of his favorite TV show. All the good ones... are buried deep."
-"Ah, I see- as if someone had- reversed his soul?"
Wil was thoughtful for a second.
-"...That would explain a lot" he then said.
-"What do you mean?" Weiila said, without breaking mental contact.
-"We heroes tend to have MORE darkness in our souls, than most people."
-"We- do?" Weiila said, surprised.
-"Think about it, Weii" Wil explained. "Most people repress their negative emotions. Only villains act on them at the very moment, by destroying whatever or whomever bothers them. We heroes, on the other hand, not only have to control our dark urges, we have more of them than the average person, since we face so many shocking things- deaths, murder, rampaging villains, etc.- in a regular basis. If all that were suddenly unleashed..."
-"I... see" Weiila nodded. Wil always seemed to have a better understanding of people than she did.
-"That would also explain what happened to Val" he continued.
-"Eh? You think both things are connected?"
-"Definitely! Val and Gallo both going berserk on the SAME day... and both attacking places related to Xmas... it cannot be a coincidence!"
-"You think- SOMEONE did this!?"
-"I fear so, Weii. Tell me, can you see anybody suspicious in Gallo's recent memories?"
-"Yes!" she said after a moment, "He was training at home... a robed man suddenly appeared... he didn't recognize him..."
-"Drat!" Wil cursed.
-"...But he does know WHAT he was hit with!!" she suddenly said, excitedly!
-"YES! Well, at least he THINKS he recognized it. It's something called... Black Water Mist!"
-"Hmm" Wil thought for a moment. "Never heard of it..."
-"It's a substance from Gallo's home universe!"
-"The DragonBall World!?" Wil gasped, surprised.
-"Yes. It seems the Guardian of the Earth in his universe keeps it under safe care. It's a substance that turns people evil- it's kept in a magic jar, that can produce enough of it to affect a whole planet."
-"So how did it get to OUR universe?"
Weiila shook her head. "He doesn't know. Doesn't even know if it IS Black Water Mist. He's only HEARD of it, from the other heroes there- never seen it himself."
-"Hmm, I see... but, it IS our only clue in this matter- we'll have to check it out" Wil said, thoughtfully.
-"Does he know how to undo the effects of the Black Water?"
-"...No. Sorry."
-"Anything else useful?"
-"...I don't think so. Sorry."
-"Damn. I'll have to check it out later. I gotta get to the Pole!"
But at that precise moment, a blue-haired, short, bespectacled teenager in blue clothes ran into the room.
-"They're here!" he shouted.
-"Who, Poke?" Wil said, startled.
-"The others! You know, the people Weiila called!"
-"Ah, the RPGC members I contacted! Let's go see them, Wil!"
-"Eh? But I gotta leave!"
-"But, don't you want someone to accompany you?" the young goddess asked.
-"I can take care of myself!" he scoffed.
Suddenly Pokefreak spoke: "Have you rested yet, Wil? That fight with Galloway must've been draining!"
-"Eh? ahh-" Wil mumbled, caught off-guard. "Well, yeah, it was. But I'm OK, really!"
-"And you're going into an unknown situation without being at full power? Especially considering what we know now??" Weiila chided him.
-"But, Weii-"
-"Don't you 'Weii' me! You're taking some RPGCers with you, and that's final!" she snapped, and left the room.
Wil sighed. "OK, Mistress Weiila..." he said, and followed her, along with Poke.

As the three heroes made their way around the HQs, two figures came out of a side corridor, running.

One was a young man with messy brown hair, blue eyes, tan skin, and wearing leather armor and a blue cape; the other was a muscular teenager with electric-blue hair, and black pupils, wearing blue baggy pants, a white robe-like top, and another blue cape.
-"OMEGA! MABATSEKKER!" Wil shouted when he saw them.
-"WIL!" the armored one said, then ran to him. "I came as soon as I could! What happened to Val?" he said, obviously troubled.
-"We don't know yet. I'll explain what we know on the way" was the older man's answer. "Man, Om, am I glad to see you. I can certainly use your help" he added, smiling, as he shook the young wizard-warrior's hand.
-"What happened to Jingle Belle?" Mabat added. He had received his powers from her last year, making him a hero out of an ordinary Finnish teenager, so his worry was understandable.
-"Last I saw her, she was with Shalcar and Percival, heading back to Xmasville. I worry about what might have happened to them..." Wil answered.
-"Then let's go!" Omega said.
-"Wait! There's more people here!" Poke interfered.
-"That's OK, Om and Mabat will be enough-"
-"No, we will see everyone FIRST" Weiila insisted. "Aren't you the one who ALWAYS insists on knowing all the facts BEFORE undertaking a mission? Maybe one of the others can give us special aid or information" she said to Wil.
-"Yeah! Besides, Perci and Shal can handle themselves, AND others" Poke said, trying to help.
-"Ah... I guess you're right" Wil said, agreeing, but still worried.

The five of then continued running along, until they reached a waiting room.
There were several people there, mulling around. Mostly young people, thought many wore strange clothing (even for teenagers.)
Wil didn't recognize many of them. Were they new members?
He DID recognize the only adult in the group, a man with long black hair and a blue trenchcoat, who was talking amicably with several of the others.
-"Dragon God!' he exclaimed.
The man turned around, and smiled. -"Wil! Nice to see you walking around. Weiila told me you were fighting Galloway..." he said, in a slightly mischevious tone.
Wil raised an eyebrow, but smiled back.
-"Yeah, well, I managed somehow. What's the party about?"
-"I sent out a general SOS" Weiila explained. " These are the people who have shown up, so far."
Wil felt a tug on his sleeve. It was Poke, who, smiling, gave Wil a piece of paper.
It was a membership list, with details on who was who!
Wil smiled at the young RPGCer. That was Poke, always making things easier for the rest.

As Wil read the list, he noticed that many of them were visitors from other realities, as were about half of the old members of the group, already.

Omega and Mabbat mixed into the group, then came back with some of them.
-"Wil? Have you met my friend GG Crono?" he asked, as he introduced a teenager with short, messy purplish hair, wearing baggy clothes.
-"Only by reputation" Wil said, and shook the young man's hand. "What's the 'GG' stand for, anyway?"
-"Gigli" he answered, with a straight face.
Wil blinked. "Huh. Really...?"
GG Laughed. "Ha! No, not really, just kidding."
-"Heh. Nice reference" Wil said, allowing himself to appreciate the humor, if only for a moment.
-"And this is Heaven's Soldier" Mabbat said, pointing to a muscular young man with slicked-back black hair, blue eyes, and a leather jacket over grey fighting gear.
-"Greetings. I have heard a lot about you" the young man said, as he shook WM's hand firmly "You may call me Angelo."
-"Welcome to RPGC, Angelo" he responded respectfully.
Another brown haired, blue eyed young man -this one wearing black clothes, and a hood- approached him, and said, "Excuse me, but don't we have an emergency going on here? Why are we wasting time, then? Shouldn't we be getting organized, making plans, etc....?"
Wil looked at him, then at his list. *That must be Bahamut Xero* he thought. *It says here, he was just a role-player until recently, when he was mistakenly injected with Dragon Genes. Huh. Gotta ask more details about that -later.*
-"Indeed!" a tall figure said. He was covered from head to toe in white Knight's Armor, with a big red cross blazed both in in his chest, and in the huge shield he carried.
Wil recognized him without looking at his list: It was Manus Dei, a wandering paladin. Mysterious guy- never takes his armor off. No one had even SEEN his face. But he had a right to his privacy, WM guessed. In many ways, he was like Percival- a truly dedicated Paladin. However, he rubbed many others RPGCers wrong. But as far as WM could tell, he was as nice as any of them; just needed to work on his people skills.
-"Some of us have better things to do with our time!" Manus added.
-"Yeah, I agree!" a blonde teenager, with curiously color-changing eyes, wearing a golden dragon-embossed armor, with rings and earrings as well, said. "We're wasting time!"
Again, Wil looked at the list, and found out that this one was named Videospirit. Huh? He would have to ask him about THAT name too.
-"Indeed! I did not come here to mull around!" another young man said. This one had long blue hair, and wore black clothes with a grey cloak. Again, Wil checked his list: Chris of the Brood.
The Brood? Wil thought.
-"Excuse me" he said "Are you REALLY a Brood Prince!?"
-"Yes. What's it to YOU?" he snapped.
-"Err, nothing" Wil recoiled. "I have befriended other survivors of your race, in other worlds. Their powers are quite impressive, and might be helpful in this mission."
-"Of course they would be! Most people here would never understand the supremacy of those that wield the Power of a Kaiser Dragon!"
-"Ooh-kay. If you say so..." Wil said, and quietly walked away.
Accidentaly bumping into a young girl in the process.
-"Oh!" she said, surprised.
-"Oh! Sorry, there. You OK?"
-"Yeah, I'm all right. Don't worry!" she said merrily.
She had short, wavy, blue-sheened black hair, and wore pants with many pockets and jacket over a t-shirt. Her eyes were blue, thought, for some reason, Wil didn't feel like like looking at them directly.
-"OK... Aviana, Correct?" he said, after again checking his list.
-"Mm-hmm!" she nodded happily.
-"It says here, you're a Summoner, correct?"
-"Ah, well, I'm still in training..." she said sheepishly.
-"Oh. Well, excuse me a moment..." he said, and walked over to Weiila.
-"Weii? A moment please?" he whispered.
-"Sure" she said, walking away from a conversation she was having. Pokefreak followed her.
-"Weii, too many of these people are too inexperienced" he said to her, in a low voice. "And those that actually have experience as adventurers, I don't know well enough to tell if they'd be much help on this particular mission. I'm taking Omega, Mabat and Dragon God with me. The rest should wait here, just in case we need extra help."
-"Agreed" Weiila said. "I'll fill them in on what's going on."
-"And I'll make sure there's enough snacks and drinks to keep everybody happy while they wait" Poke added cheerfully.
Wil nodded, then walked out of the room, signaling Omegaflare, Mabbatsekker and Dragon God to follow him.
Outside, he told them, "Hold hands, guys."
-"Huh? Why?" DG asked.
-"Are we going to sing 'Cumbaya'?"
Mabbat joked.
-"No, funny guy. I'm going to teleport us all to the North Pole. We need to be in contact for that."
-"Oh. OK"
They did as Wil had told them, then he said, WARP!! -and all four of them vanished in a shower of green sparks.

AN ANCIENT STONE CASTLE, LOCATED... in a forest, somewhere:

Several figures lounged around the castle's courtyard.

One was a young man with dark hair, mismatched eyes (one green, one blue), an Iron Maiden T-Shirt, black jeans and steel-tipped black boots; He was lying against one of the castle's walls, hands in his pockets.

He did not look happy.

In the branches of a nearby tree (that reached over the courtyard) sat an humanoid figure with wings. His body was covered with long blue fur, his hair was orange, his eyes were green with black irises, the feathers in his wings were dark blue, and he wore half a toga, tied at his waist with a belt, out of which snaked out a long, prehensile tail.

He did not look happy.

In the courtyard, a young blonde woman in golden armor- the same one that attacked Xmasville- practiced offensive maneuvers with her three-pointed spear.

She did not look happy.

Not far from her -but not close enough that they would accidentally strike each other- a young man with long blue hair, blood-red eyes, a red robe and a black cloak, did some practicing of his own, with a black-bladed rapier.

He did not look happy.

Standing in the shade next to another courtyard wall, a young woman, muscular -but attractive- with black hair, grey eyes, a black shirt, black pants, black boots and a black cape, gazed into space.

She did not look happy.

And, on the other side of the courtyard, as far away from the others as posible, a cloaked figure also laid against a wall.
This one was also a young man, slim, with black hair, dark eyes, and a horseshoe-like symbol (the greek letter Omega) tattooed on his forehead. His body was completely hidden by his cloak, so only his long black boots could be seen.

And he, too, did NOT look happy.

The courtyard was silent, except for the sounds of the spearswoman and the rapier-wielder as they trained. Only a breeze occasionally disturbed things.

Then the sound of steps suddenly echoed from the inside of the castle, breaking the peace. All the people in the outside looked at the courtyard's entrance, a darkened portal. Out of it walked Laufeyson, his hood down, and Eva by his side.
-"Come my children!" he chirped merrily, in his hissing voice. "Come meet your new partner!"

All of them approached, thought none looked thrilled about it.
(At the same time, unnoticed by any of them, a figure, hidden in the tree's shadows, climbed silently on its branches)
-"This is Eva, psychic and necromancer. Some of you may know her..."
-"Yeah, we know her. She joined RPGC recently" the young man in the Iron Maiden t-shirt said- in a very dismissing tone.
-"Nice to see you too, Cybercompost" Eva responded, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
-"Now now, children, play nice" Layfeyson said, and had to restrain himself from bursting out in laughter. "Be as it may, I think introductions wouldn't hurt, no?" he continued.
Suddenly, Laufeyson removed his cloak, revealing his body and clothing.
His body was skinny, his arms and legs long, and he wore a skintight suit divided into a pattern of- black and red squares.
With a grace and speed that surprised all of them, Layfeyson leaped, and landed right behind Cybercompost. "I see you two already know each other. But did you know that 'Cyber' here is a SOUND mage? Using the power of his voice to attack and mesmerize? That is a truly rare art these days, yes it is!" Laufeyson sounded like he was a Game Show Host proudly introducing his latest contestants.
With blinding speed, he moved behind his next target, the blue-furred man.
-"And, there's no monkeying around: this is Demigod. Once a human, he messed with the wrong artifacts, and was transformed into what you see now. But, he also became immortal, and that's worth something, right?"
-"Only those who live forever know what a drag eternity can be" Demigod said, not amused by Laufeyson's tone.
-"Unless you find the right entertainment" the jester-like man answered, then moved on.
-"This is Cala" he said, pointing to the black-haired woman. " Assassin for hire, mortal enemy of RPGC... or so she claims."
-"What?" she snapped. "If you didn't believe it, I would not be here!"
But Laufeyson ignored her, and went to introduce the next persons.
-"Now, these two fine young men, are quite skilled in both magic and combat, respectively" he said, as he stood between the rapier-wielder and the cloaked man. "Our cloaked friend is named Azrael, and the red-robed mage is Zhou."
Both of them just grunted, not feeling they had anything to say.
-"And surely, I need not introduce Valkyrie Esker, spear-maiden of Odin? She's quite notorious among RPGC, that she is!"
Val stiffened when Laufeyson stood next to her. She bared her teeth, tightly clenching them, the look in her eyes murderous.
-"You hate me, don't you?" Laufeyson whispered into her ear. "Yes, given half the chance, you'd rip my entrails out" he said in a mocking tone. "Too bad the Black Water Mist holds you under my thrall, tied back by your dark emotions. Even your love for your oh-so-great Lord Odin has turned to hate!" he seemed thrilled about this last fact.
(The figure in the trees- whose body was muscular like a man's, but its hair was long like a woman's- crawled for a closer look, still unnoticed below.)
Val tensed more- ...but did nothing.
Instead, she just asked, "Where's Galloway?"
-"Ohh, I'm afraid your friend d, has been removed from the game."
-"What!?" Cala gasped, in disbelief. "They defeated Galloway? How??"
-"He was outsmarted by a friend of yours- Martinez" Laufeyson said, as if the event didn't bother him at all.
-"Ah, yes- Wil. Should've known. He always has more tricks up his sleeve than a Las Vegas Card Dealer" she commented, smiling sinisterly.
-"What's wrong with you people!?" Cybercompost snapped. "Our most powerful member has been defeated, and you're acting like it meant nothing!"
-"My young friend" Layfeyson said, "Do not mistake the loss of one piece for a defeat. Any good chessplayer knows, sometimes you must sacrifice a Major Piece in order to win a game. And, even with just a pawn, you can still achieve victory, with the right gambit."
-"So- when do WE get to act?" Azrael asked.
-"Soon, soon! However, the next gambit involves our pretty valkyrie again."
-"WHAT!?" Cala shouted angrily. "You've already used her to capture Santa Claus. Why must you use her again!? Besides, there's nothing that this bimbo can do, that I can't do better."
-"Who are you calling a bimbo, you hair-tinted bitch?" was Valkyrie's angry retort.
-"Why, you!!" Cala snapped right back, drawing a curved dagged out.
Esker was ready for her with her spear.
-"Ohh, catfight" Zhou laughed.
-"SILENCE!!" Laufeyson roared, causing ALL of his unwilling followers to freeze. "I AM THE MASTER HERE! ONLY I DECIDE WHEN ANY OF YOU ACT! MY DECISIONS ARE NOT TO BE QUESTIONED! IS THAT CLEAR???"
Everyone gulped. "...Yes... Master."
(The figure in the trees decided it had seen enough, and silently retreated.)
Laufeyson calmed down, and started smiling again. "Now where was I? Ah yes, your next mission" he said to Valkyrie, who was not thrilled at all.
-"We have already captured the Provider of Gifts, and attracted Worldwide attention with Galloway's attacks on New York City. But that isn't enough. We must strike at the very cause of Christmas: Christianity."
He allowed the words to sink in.
-"That's right. In order to ruin Christmas in the World- even for the non-Christians- we must cause a tragedy, one that will cause so much grieving, the very meaning of the Holydays will be eclipsed. We must strike at the very heart of the Catholic Church."
-Val gasped. "You mean...?"
-"That is correct, my little valkyrie" Laufeyson said, almost unable to contain his laughter. "You, my dear-"

-"...will kill The Pope."



Her name is Springdawn.

She's a nymph, an immortal, ever beautiful faery woman.

Her hair is chestnut brown, with long dangling locks; her eyes are lemon green; her skin is a dusky tone; her dress is a marygold-yellow, and it clung to her body perfectly, displaying every sinuous curve of her body.

And the expression on her face-

-was one of sheer terror.

For, as she ran with all her energy, hardly being able to breathe, she was being pursued by a nightmarish monstruosity- a deformed, trollish humanoid, covered only in his own foul, brown fur; a creature that laughed in glee even as it pursued her.

It was an awgwa, same as the monsters that had attacked Percival and his companions; this one was alone, but then again, it wasn't in a mission for it's dark master. No, its evil intentions were its own.

Whether he wanted to rape, kill, or eat Springdawn- or all three- she didn't know, and did NOT want to find out.

She just ran, as far as her legs could carry her.

Unfortunately for her... she ran out of ground to run in.

She reached the end of the glen: a deep, dark gorge.

Imposible to jump over, or climb down.

Her heart raced in her throat, as she turned- and saw the creature standing behind her, smacking his lips, grotesquely.

She was paralyzed with terror, unable even to scream.

The awgwa approached slowly, intentionally savoring the look of fear in her face.

He came slowly closer... and closer... and closer...

Springdawn gasped!
Someone had just ran up to the awgwa, with dazzling speed, and struck him with the flat of a sword, with such force, the creature was knocked face down into the ground!
Both Springdawn and the Awgwa gazed in shock at the newcomer.

It was a young, muscular man, wearing casual, modern clothes, red and blue in color. His blonde-brown hair, however, was a virtual mane, growing all the way to his feet. his manly beauty, howevred, was marred by SEVERAL terrible scars, as if parts of him had been ripped off. Most prominently, he had a scar where one of his eyes should've been. In his right hand, he held a large, embossed, silvery, glowing sword.
He stared at the awgwa with scorn in his good eye.
He raised his sword again, ready to strike the moster.
But he froze in his tracks, when it SPOKE: "N-no!! Mercy!!"
-"What!? You can talk!?" he spat out. "You're lucky I swore never to kill people again, or I would cut you into pieces, vile one! NOW BEGONE FROM MY SIGHT!!"
The awgwa lost no time scrambling off.

The warrior then turned to the young nymph. She stared, not sure if she could trust him.
-"Fear not, my lady, I will not hurt you."
-"Who... who are you?"
He hesitated for a moment, then responded, "You may call me... Reaven. Reaven Ryelandt."


A explosion of green sparks appeared in the middle of the town, followed by the materialization of Martinez and his allies, Omega, Mabbatsekker and Dragon God.
-"Wow! So this is Xmasville?" Mabbat said, in awe.
-"I don't see anybody" Omega said.
Wil and Dragon God looked around in all directions, assessing the situation.

The town was indeed deserted.
(or so it appeared; unnoticed by the heroes, several small shapes flew away.)

After a moment, DG commented: "...Wil. There's blood in the snow."
-"I noticed" he answered grimly. "But there's no sign of any bodies. Let's not lose hope yet. Let's assume the inhabitants were captured."
-"What about Shal and Perci? Shouldn't they be here?" Omega asked.
-"We're wasting time just wondering. Let's look for answers. But, be ready for combat" WM said.
-"Don't worry, we're ready!!" Mabat exclaimed, confidently.
-"Should we split up?" Omega asked.
-"No! We don't know what await us. Let's stick together for now" Wil told the others.
The four heroes walked into the nearby houses, checking them one-by-one.

They found them to be old-style log houses, full of old-style furniture. As well as Xmas decorations, and toys in various states of production.

And more blood.

No bodies, thought.

After a short while, they stepped outside again.
-"Um, Wil, I don't want to be a pessimist, but, what if..?" Omega began to say.
-"The monsters ate them?" Wil finished for him. "We must consider ALL possibilities" he said grimly. "But we are HEROES. We do NOT give up hope without conclusive proof."
-"Right!" Mabat agreed.
Suddenly, however, Omega turned around.
-"Om! What is it?" Wil snapped.
-"Someone's coming!" he shouted, holding his crystaline staff with both hands, in a battle stance.
Wil did the same with his wooden staff, and Mabat drew out a short-bladed sword, while DG unsheated a rapier. They were all magical weapons.

The heroes waited for a moment, and before long, the sounds of a crowd approaching could be heard. Another moment, and it became visible around a corner.

Its appearance surprised the heroes.

It wasn't a band of monsters, nor was it human people.

It was a mass of mythological creatures!
Nymphs! Satyrs! Elves! Pixies! Gnomes! You name them, they were there!
And ALL of them were armed- and angry!

However, they didn't immediately attack. They stopped, observing the heroes carefully.
-"Um, Wil? What do we do?" Mabat whispered.
-"We wait for them to make the first move" he whispered back. "Just be ready if we're attacked.

But the fearie-folk didn't move either. Then after a few seconds, a voice shouted, "STOP!"
Everyone looked in the direction it had come from: Behind the faeries.
It was- Jingle Belle!
"That's my friend!! Don't attack him!!" She cried out, and immediately, the faeries put down their weapons.
Jingle ran to WM.
-"JB! You're OK!!" he said, receiving her hug.
-"Oh, Wil!!" she cried happily. "It's OK! Everyone's OK!!"
-"What? You mean the Xmasville folk?"
he asked.
-"YES!!" she continued. "Shalcar saved them all! He's incredible!!"
-"Aww" a voice said behind her. It was Shalcar, who walked out of the crowd, alongside Percival- and a huge, white-bearded man.
-"I wouldn't have succeded if they weren't immortal to begin with. Anybody else would've died from their wounds before I got to them" he explained. He looked VERY tired.
-"You OK, Shalc?" Omega asked.
-"I exhausted myself, but it's nothing a good night's sleep won't cure."
-"What happened to you people?" DG asked.
-"We were attacked by awgwas" Jingle explained. "Evil faeries. I teleported us to safety."
-"Yeah, and we ran into him" Shalcar said, pointing to the large man by his side.
-"Mine friends" Sir Percival said, "allow me introduce thee to Ak, Master of All Magical woods."
-"AK!?" Wil gasped. "You're the one who granted Nicolas his immortality! He told me so!"
-"Indeed" the Tall man said in a thunderous voice. "And who might you be?"
-"Lord Ak, these is my friend, Wilfredo Martinez, the one I told you was going to help me" Jingle explained.
Wil bowed. "An honor to meet you, Sir. These are my friends, Omegaflare, Dragon God, and Mabbatsekker" he explained, pointing to each.
-"Before I decide if I can trust you" Ak said, "I must gaze into your souls."
-"What!?" Mabbat gasped.
-"It's OK, folks" Shalcar explained. "Ak did it to us, as well, when we first met- and AFTER Jingle explained to him that were on the same side. It doesn't hurt."
-"Very well... I have nothing to hide. You guys?" Wil asked his three companions.
-"I guess it's necessary to avoid a needless battle" DG commented. "I'm in"
Omega and Mabat consented as well.

Ak gazed at them intently for a moment. They saw or felt nothing, but the intense gaze, from the fearsome immortal, was still disturbing.

-"Ah, I see" Ak said after a moment. "You all are, heroes indeed, just as your companions, the Knight and the Cleric" he commented. "You, in particular, may be of use in this situation" he said to Wil.
-"Err, really? How so?"
-"You bear the Mark of the Outsider."
Wil blinked. "...What? Where?"
-"In your soul."

Everyone was silent for a moment.

And a look of shock appeared in Jingle's face.

-"I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean" Wil asked.
-"There is an order to everything" Ak explained. "Everything has its place, and its purpose. Everything, except the Outsider."
He allowed the words to sink in, then he continued. "However, too much order leads to occassions in which there might be, no escape from terrible events. That is, then, the purpose of the Outsider: to BE outside events, so he can influence them, and prevent such tragedy. In every generation, an Outsider is born"
-"Huh" Mabat commented, "sounds kinda Matrixy to me."
-"And... I'm supposed to BE the current Outsider?" Wil said, bushy eyebrows lifted.
-"Lord Ak, if I may ask ye something" Percival suddenly said. "Was the one known as The Green Knight, the Outsider of the Time of Camelot?"
-"Indeed. I remember him well; he was a Champion of our people."
-"Ah, that, then, explains the vision I had, when I saw thee earlier today, Friend Martinez" the young knight concluded, "In mine daydreaming state, mine mind must've sensed thine- unique state, and visualized it as a more familiar image."
-"Hum. Well, I must admit that I've always been something of a loner" WM mused. "Always wandering, never feeling like I truly belonged anywhere. I assume it could be possible-"
-"NO! Jingle suddenly interrupted, "NO! Lord Ak, you must be mistaken!!"
-"Eh? Why do you say that, Jingle?" Wil asked, puzzled.
-"Wil, you don't understand" she responded, "I have heard legends of the Outsiders. And their fate is always the same" he stopped, tears in her eyes. Then she continued. "They always die... without finding love."

Wil froze in place.

So did the others.

There was silence for a moment. Jingle cried.

-"You... you mean... I'll never... find love?" Wil finally whispered.
-'Not necessarily" the mighty Ak spoke again, "It is indeed the fate of the Outsider, to live outside the circles of life, even that of love; however, one born an Outsider, does not always stay one. But that is entirely, in the hands of Fate to decide."

Everyone was still silent.

Finally, Wil shook his head. "Why are we talking about this? My life has NOTHING to do with our current situation! Let's get to business!" he snapped angrily. "Jingle! What about Nicolas?"
-"We don't know. He's... missing." she said, still crying.
-"Easy, easy" Wil said to her. "If they took him, it means they want him alive. We just need to find him as soon as possible. Lord Ak, Do you know who our enemies are?"
-"Sadly, no" he answered. "But whoever it is, must possess great magic, to have brought back the foul awgwas, whom we good faerie defeated in a mighty battle, centuries ago."
-"Yeah, I was afraid of something like that." Wil mused, all hero business again. "Our first priority, is finding out excatly what turned Val and d evil, and more importantly, how to cure them. I think I have a clue, but I'll have to travel to Galloway's home universe to investigate it."
-"But Wil" Omega protested, "You haven't even rested yet!"
-"No matter! We HAVE to act soon; God knows what our enemies have planned next! Shalcar, are you done here?"
-"Uh, I think so" the cleric said.
-"I think you guys should return to RPGC. Weiila might need help there. Jingle, you stay with Ak- now that he's here, you should all be safe."
-"Hey! You're not leaving me behind! Besides, if you're leaving, who'll take the guys back to the HQ?"
-"...Oh, Alright. Take them back, then" he finally agreed. "Go, guys, I'll be back ASAP."
Then he began to concentrate, and finally shouted, "PLANESHIFT!!"
-And vanished in a burst of blue-and-golden sparks.

No sooner had he vanished, than a voice was heard shouting, "Lord Ak! Lord Ak!!"
It was Springdawn, running thru the crowd towards him.
-"Eh? What is it, Springdawn?"
-"My Lord! I bear a message!"
-"A message? From whom?"
-"A daring and noble hero, that just saved my life!" the young nymph said, despite being winded from all her running. "My liege! I know where our enemies are!!"


...The room was dark.

Which was appropiate, since very few people alive even knew of its existence.

The only thing inside the room was -far as the eye could tell- a crystal display, with some sort of long, metallic object inside. Which seemed odd, to have such a huge room for a single display.

The place was conpletely silent, and had been for a long time...

Until a very faint, squeaking noise could be heard coming from its upper part.

The noise came from the screws in an air duct vent cover, which were being very slowly and carefully unscrewed.

In a few moments, the cover was unscrewed. But it didn't fall to the floor; it was carefully pulled inside the vent., by a pair of black-gloved hands.

In another moment, an arm -also clad in black- emerged frm the vent. It held a curious device, resembling a high-tech version of a child's suction cup gun.

With a quiet pfssh! the minigun fired, and its tiny missile flew thru the air, trailing a black cable behind, and stuck to the room's ceiling, right above the display case.

In another moment, a man dressed completely in black, with matching hair and eyes, and a square jaw, emerged from the vent.

This was PC Glenton, one of the greatest thieves in the World.

PC secured one end of the cable to the vent, and the other to the harness he wore (also black.) He had to be VERY careful about what he was going to do next.

Taking a deep breath, he allowed himself to drop off the vent, and it looked like he would fall all the way to the floor-
-but amazingly, the tiny suction cup (and the micromachinery attached to it) supported the weight of his body, so that instead, he swung around the room like a pendulum.

PC allowed himself to swing a few times, until his momentum died, rather than stop himself by hitting the walls; he didn't want to risk the chance of triggering a hidden alarm.
He was right above the display case, hanging from the cable. He was still several meters above the case, but that was OK; the important thing was, he was above the web of invisible infrared beams that surrounded the case, everywhere except on top of it. *I guess they never expected someone to come at it from the top* he smirked silently.
So far, all the data about this secret room which he'd bought in the Espionage Market had proven correct- if VERY costly.

But the value of what was inside that case would more than make up for it.

He could see it clearly now, thanks to the infrared goggles he wore (which also allowed him to see the security alarm beams)- it was an old, rusty spear, of the type the Roman Legions used to wield.

Except this was no ordinary spear.

It was the Spear of Longinus, also known as "The Spear of Destiny."


Or so the legends went. It wasn't an official part of Catholic doctrine, of course; just a legend that had been around at least since the 6th Century.
According to it, when Jesus was crucified, he was struck by a legionary with a spear. Some people believed that, as a result, it now carried a terrible curse; in fact, in the King Arthur legends, the spear is accused of having caused a wound that never healed on a king, at the same time, causing his lands to wither.
Some even stranger tales claimed that Hitler himself had sought the spear.
And others, that the Vatican had it hidden all along.

Well, at least the final part WAS true, PC figured.

Not that he believed in all that nonsense. He was an extremely practical man; he believed in what he could see, nothing more. And he did what he needed to survive, not bothering with concepts such as good and evil.

The only thing that mattered to him, is that the Vatican DID have the spear, and that one of his clients was willing to pay a fortune to possess it. Why, he didn't know, nor care. Wasn't the first time he stole some museum rarity for some wacky collector.
He had to admit, thought, that the Vatican State had gone to some extreme lenghts to keep this piece of junk secure. Must've costed them a fortune.
-*So that's where all the church donations go* he again smirked silently.

Well, time to get to work. He pulled out of a pocket a device that looked like a pen, but was in reality a mini-laser that could cut thru steel. Soon, he would carefully remove the display lid and take the spear (after making sure any pressure-sensitive devices that the case might contain had been disabled.)
The hard part would be carrying the spear thru the ducts without breaking it, he figured.

But then, a hissing sound was heard in the room. PC looked up, and saw a crack of light appear on a wall: the outline of a hidden door- opening!
-*Someone's coming!*- he realized.
Immediately, PC reached for a tiny device on another pocket: a remote control unit for the micro-engine in the hoist holding him up. With an inaudible whirr, the device reeled him up, until he was almost at the cavernous roof, and out of sight from people on the floor.

The door opened, and a figure -a very old man, wearing a large white robe, emblazoned with a red cross- walked slowly into the room.

PC couldn't believe his eyes.
It was The Pope himself!
-*What a time for him to come check the spear!* he silently cursed.

Pope John Paul II strode silently thru the room. He was alone, which struck PC as odd; the Pope was NEVER without his personal guard. He was, after all, one of the most visible targets in the World.

John Paul stopped, drew out a device from his robe, pressed it, and the infrared-beam security web was turned off.
PC wondered if he should take the chance to steal the spear and escape. But he decided to wait further.

John Paul stared at the spear. The look on his face was one of pain and uncertainty.

He had NOT felt well lately. He was suffering from several health problems, many of which, under advice from his counsellors, he had not revealed to the public.
But, it was more than that. It was a strange feeling, a sense of doom, that had been troubling him of late.

Not that he was afraid of death. Paul's faith in God was, as could be expected, genuine, and he had always accepted all the travails that Life that put him thru. Even in his experiences in his native Poland, when it came under the grip of Nazi Germany, he saw a lesson taught him by The Lord, that he was meant to apply in his future.
That had been the reason why, when he was chosen to be the next Pope, he had decided he could not just stay in Rome and preach to the Catholics of the World. No, God had meant him to do as much as he could for the benefit of ALL humanity, believers and non-believers alike.
That was why he had spent so many years travelling, speaking about controversial subjects, and challenging the leaders of the World to put aside their differences and work together for a better future, even agains the counsel of his peers.
But that was back in the old days. He was too weak these days for that. He had, in fact, a very strong sensation that Death would soon come to claim him.
So be it, he thought.
No, it wasn't fear of death that worried him; it was something else... like a feeling that a dark evil threatened the World, and he was powerless to stop it. But what could it be?
And what had caused him to want to see the Spear? Was it his belief that it had been wrong to continue to hide this artifact from the rest of the world?
But he had allowed himself to be convinced by the other bishops that such a revelation -despite their belief that such a thing as the Spear of Longinus had never existed- would be bad for the masses, since they DID know that this artefact, whatever it truly was, was indeed evil, and it should be kept hidden, lest it be explited by the enemies of the Church.
So, why come to see it today? And why alone?
His bodyguards waited outside the room, doing as they were told, despite not being happy about it.
But they figured, nothing could happen in a sealed room.

Up in the roof, PC thought, *Dammit, hurry up and leave, Old Man!*

Suddenly, sounds of fighting could be heard, coming from outside the room!

As well as screams!

Both The Pope and PC looked at the still-opened door- and a figure, a young blonde woman wearing golden armor -and a bloody, tri-pointed spear- appeared in it.
It was Valkyrie Esker!
PC recognized her from their brief encounter last Xmas.
What was she doing here NOW? Whatever it was, it probably was not going to be good for HIM...
-"THERE you are, Old Man!" Val screamed. "I had to fight my way thru half of your pathetic guard to find you, but I have you now!"
-"Who are you, child?" Paul asked, confused.
-"I'm Robyn Esker, Valkyrie in service to Lord Odin, and I've come to put an end to your existence!!"
-"A Valkyrie?" Paul gasped. "Has Lord Odin decided to strike me down?"
That comment caught Robyn off-guard. "You KNOW about Odin's existence?"
-"Indeed" the Pope said, oddly calm. "We in the Catholic Church have known about the Asgardians' existence for a long time."
-"If that's true, why do you deny the existence of the gods?"
-"Because they're not gods" he calmly explained.
-"WHAT!? How dare you say such a thing!!" she angrily responded.
-"A true god, one of infinite goodness and power, would never do the kind of things the asgardians, and many other races that have claimed godhood over the millenia, have done, nor would he commit the all-too-human mistakes they have commited" he continued to explain. "I'm sorry, my child, but your deities are no more divine than the superheroes who guard this World."
-"Why-you-you" Val was so angry at this attack on her faith, that she could hardly speak. Finally she burst out,
-"Very well, you pathetic old man!! Let's see YOUR god save you from this!!" and she ran at him, Gungnir held ready to strike.
Paul didn't even flinch.
Mere inches from him, Val stopped, baffled.
-"...What... what's the matter with you? Don't you understand, that you're going to DIE?"
-"We all die, my child. It is up to God to decide, when and how. If you're indeed here to kill me, then it must be a part of a larger plan that the Lord has. If my time has truly come, so be it."
Val stared at the Pope in disbelief.
It wasn't just his reaction, or the words he said, that had impressed her.
It was a... sense of- holiness around him. Something that the Darkness within her actually FEARED!
Could it be? Could it be that this man... REALLY was the voice of God- a god that might be... GREATER than the one she believed in?
For a moment, she was paralyzed by indecision-
-while above her, PC watched the strange events.
Curiously, he found himself wondering if he should help the Pope?
-*Eh? why am I thinking such things?* he reacted. *There's no profit to be made here. I should just leave before this place gets flooded with Vatican Guards...*
Suddenly, PC felt a jerk on the cable he was still suspended from.
-*Eh?? What now?*
He looked up-
-and gasped!

The cable holding him- was unraveling!
-*WHAT!?* he silently shouted. *THAT'S NOT POSSIBLE! I checked it myself just a second ago! It was in perfect condition!*

The cable continued to unravel.


And PC found himself, falling thru the air.

All he could do, was twist, so that his fall would miss the crystal display.

Below him, the darkness within Val's soul gathered together, and made one more attempt at accomplishing its mission.
Val raised Gungnir with both hands, putting all her strenght behind the blow.

John Paul closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable.

And then-

PC fell ON TOP of Valkyrie, knocking her down!
-"WHAT!?" she screamed!
-"OOF!" he shouted!
-"Blessed Mother!!" John Paul gasped!

With incredible speed and agility, PC rolled back to his feet.
So did Val, with her battle-hardened reflexes.
PC's first tought was to just run out of the room.
Unfortunately, an angry valkyrie was blocking the only way out.
Val recognized him as the assassin that was hired to kill Wil last winter. She figured that he must be now in the employ of The Pope.
-"DIE!" she shouted, and lunged at him.
-"No! Wait! You don't unders-" but his words were wasted.
Only his reflexes allowed him to dodge her spear-stroke.
Val gasped, amazed Glenton could actually dodge her.
But, it was apparent to him that he could not keep doing it forever. Reluctantly, he pulled out his secret weapon, something he always carried but hoped not to have to use: a minigun, loaded with a poison-tipped dart.
Before Val even recognized what PC had in his hand, he had shot her. *Pffsht!* the tiny gun went, and the dart, with incredible aim, struck her on the neck.
-"AHH!" she cried out, and quickly removed the dart. But it was too late; she could feel the poison flowing thru her veins.
She had access to antidotes, but none at hand at the moment. She realized she had no choice but to retreat.
-"DAMN YOU! I'LL GET YOU FOR THIS, GLENTON!!" she screamed, then bolted for the door.
-*Great. Just what I needed, another enemy...* PC thought, as he watched her flee.

He decided to give her a start, so as not to run into her outside.

He looked at The Pope, who was watching him with a disturbing calm.

PC couldn't believe the whole turn of events. An accident that should NOT have happened, had made him save the life of the Pope!

If he were religious, he'd think it... a miracle.

Not wanting to hang out any longer, PC also took off, trying to make sure he didn't run into Val -or any Vatican Guards- along the way.

And inside the Spear's room, John Paul closed his eyes, and silently prayed,
-"Thank you, Lord."


The air in a the corner of a street suddenly bursted into a mass of blue and golden sparks, surprising the heck out of the passersby.
Wil materialized in the middle of it.
Then he realized, he had appeared in the middle of a crowded street, with pedestrians looking at him, baffled.
-"Umm, don't mind me, folks, I'm- uhh, practicing a magic trick for a street performance" he said, thinking quickly.

The pedestrians seemed to swallow it, and continued on their way, paying him no more attention.
That was the problem with Planeshifting to an unknown dimension, Wil thought- you never knew WHERE you were going to show up. *I guess I should be thankful I didn't appear in the middle of an active volcano* he thought.
Wil took a good look around- and was baffled himself.
The buldings in this city were odd- Mainly big white circular structures. And, while most of the people looked just like people from 20th century Earth, some of them were clearly NOT human- heck, some of them looked like dog-men!
-*Huh? Is this supposed to be Earth? Did I accidentally land in the wrong planet?* he wondered.
He looked around for a way to confirm his location, that would not require walking up to someone and ask "Excuse me, what planet am I on?" That probably would not be well received, unless this world had well-stablished interplanetary travel.
He soon noticed an automated newspaper machine. He walked up to it, then noticed it accepted zenny as currency. He happened to have some zenny coins in his pocket, thought they were from another world. He didn't have anything to lose, he guessed, and put them in.
The machine accepted them, and spat out a copy of a local newspaper. *How about that? Gotta ask Gallo how come this world uses zenny as currency... umm, when he's back to normal* he thought.

Wil read the paper, and after a while, concluded that, this WAS indeed Earth in the Dragon Ball Universe- it just was noticeably different from most other Parallel Earths. But, it seemed close enough.
Ok, so how to find the local heroes Galloway had told them about? Goku and the rest? He had hoped he'd land next to their home or something...

For a few minutes, WM wondered what to do next.

And why he felt so blasted uneasy.

Sure, he was worried about things back home... but that wasn't it, he realized.
It was all that 'Outsider' stuff.

True, he'd never felt truly at home, not even in his native land. He always had the urge to wander. That was what led him to become a planeshifter. And yeah, he had never had a serious relationship... but he just figured, that was just bad luck.
He had always hoped to, someday, find a place where he truly felt he belonged, and settle down- and find someone to share his life with.
And now, it turns out, he was fated NEVER to achieve either thing...?
-*DAMMIT, I can't let that get to me now! I don't even know if Ak read my soul correctly. Right now, I gotta focus on helping the others* he chided himself.

Then he noticed an ad in the newspaper for something called, "Capsule Corporation" -a company that offered a miniaturization service, shrinking down ANYTHING, even whole houses, for ease of transportation, inside pill-sized capsules.
-*Hey! Gallo mentioned that! He said that the owner is the father of one of Goku's friends... Bloomers, or something like that*
Wil decided to go there. "Hey taxi!" he shouted, when he spotted one of the familar yellow cabs.

A few minutes later, the taxi had dropped him off at another of the round buildings, this one with a BIG sign that read 'CAPSULE CORP' in front.

He walked to its entrance, and knocked on it.
In a moment, the door was opened, and a beautiful woman with blue hair and blue eyes -and an annoyed expression- stepped up to him. Could it be her?
-"Yes?" she asked.
-"Err... I'm looking for Bloomers."
-"You mean BULMA?" she snapped.
-"Err... could be" he shied away. "She's the daughter of the owner of this company, I believe."
-"That's ME" she said, in a very unladylike way.
-"Are you a friend of Goku's?" he asked.
-"Who wants to know!?"
-"Umm, I'm... a friend of d Galloway's."
-"That loser!? What does he want now?"
-*Oops, Gallo didn't tell us she didn't like him.* "He's in trouble- SERIOUS trouble. Could you get me in contact with Goku?"
-"Sorry, he's out in some mission somewhere, I have no idea where."
-*Oh Rats, such bad timing* "Maybe you can help me? I need to find the Guardian of the Earth."
-"Yeah, I know where to find him. But why should I tell you?"
Wil realized he was going to have to tell her the truth. "May I come in? I can explain, but it may take a while..."
-"...Very well" she said after a moment. "But I warn you, don't try anything funny."
-"I would never harm a lady" Wil said, smiling wickedly.

Several minutes later, Wil had finished telling Bulma about all that had happened.
She was intrigued.
-"That's a very interesting story. Can you prove it?"
-"I could take you back to my universe, but I don't want to waste any more time..."
-"Just show me that you CAN do magic. I don't want to waste my time with a faker."
Wil nodded, then began to gesture.
POOF! A plume of red-orange flame suddenly arched between his hands.
Just a simple trick, nothing more, but clearly something that no normal human could do.
Bulma was certainly impressed. Besides, she was bored, and wanted to do something exciting today.
-"Very well. I'll take you to the Guardian. Follow me" she said. Or, more like ordered.
-*Bitchy, ain't she?* Wil thought. *Too bad, she's rather pretty...* Then he followed her.

In a few moments, Bulma had lead WM to her personal flyer, a two-passenger flying vehicle. They sat on it, and it took off, as she piloted it expertly out of the building and into the sky.

The trip was a silent one, as Wil didn't want to say anything that might turn his hostess off.

It took a while to get to the Guardian's home- an arab-like palace, apparently perched at the top of a VERY thin tower that reached all the way into the sky! Quite a view, WM thought.

The minijet/copter landed in the palace's courtyard. As he and Bulma got out, an obese black man, dressed like an arab prince, came out of the building.

-"Hi, Mister Popo!" Bulma said, with surprising sweetness.
-"Hello, Miss Bulma. Good to see you again. What brings you here today?"
-"I need to see Kamisama. Is he available?"
-"Indeed. But, who is your companion?"
-"That's a long story. Tell Kami I vouch for him."
-"Very well, I will call him" Popo said, bowed out, and returned to the palace.

In another moment, he was back, this time followed by a bald, green-skinned man, heavily wrinkled, with antennas on his head, wearing a white robe and carrying a staff. Looked like an alien to WM, but for all he knew, he might be a native of this strange Earth.
-"Lady Bulma. Good to see you again" the Guardian said.
-"Good to see you too, Kami" she greeted him back.
-"Wil decided to bow respectfully. "An honor to meet you, Sir. I am Martinez, wandering mage. I have come to ask about something very important."
-"Indeed? What is it?"
-"Tell me... is it true you keep under your protection, something called... Black Water Mist?"
The mention of those words, caused the Guardian and Popo to stare at each other.
-*They know something* WM realized.
-"How do you know about the water?" the Guardian asked sternly.
Wil then recounted the events all over again.
-"...So you see, I have no proof that it IS the Black Water that was used on Galloway, but it is the only clue I have so far."
Kamisama was silent for a moment.
Then he spoke.
-"It is indeed possible" he admitted. "Just a short while ago, Mr. Popo disvovered that the Black Water Jar was missing. We have no idea what happened to it, but feared it was stolen."
-"Thought it is hard to believe anyone could steal something so well-guarded under the Guardian's nose" Popo added. "The thief must have incredible abilities to have done it."
-"Not to mention, having brougth it to another universe" Bulma commented.
-"Yeah, I was thinking that, too. That's NOT good news for us..." Wil said, thoughtfully. "Lord Kami, if it IS the Black Water that we're dealing with, what can we do about it?"
-"Well, the only cure for its effects, is its opposite, the Sacred Water. It is, however, kept in another dimension- a very dangerous one."
-"For my friends, I'd face ANY challenge, Lord Kami" Wil said, very sternly.
-"Very well" the Guardian returned, "I can sense the goodness in your soul. Come with me.."

And the four of them walked into the palace.


-"...People, please!" Weiila cried out, beggining to get annoyed about the mini-mob around her.
-"Yeah, folks, give us a break!" Poke interjected, defensively. "Weiila and the others are doing all they can to handle the situation. You all will be notified as soon as we know something new."
-"That's not the point" Bahamut Xero explained. "Given what we know about the situation, we should be taking certain courses of action, already."
-"Yeah? Like what? We don't even know WHO is behind this!" Chris of the Brood argued.
-"Calm down Chris!" GG Crono said, trying to help.
-"Gime him a chance to explain him himself" Heaven's Soldier said.
-"We know his modus operandi" Xero continued. "Whoever he is, he has a way to turn some of us evil. He's chosen particularly dangerous members, like Galloway and Esker. And, he's used them to attack places related to Christmas."
-"What would you suggest we do, Xero?" Weiila asked.
-"We should make a list of possible RPGCers that we might have to fight against... and how to beat them."
-"I was thinking about that" Weiila mused, "but we have many powerful members, who haven't reported in a while- any of them might be a suspect... it would take a long time to make such a list..."
-"Look, not to sound like I don't want to help" Videospirit said, "but if there's nothing we can do right now, why are we hanging around here?"
-"'Because Wil wants us to" Poke added. "I guess he wants us to keep an eye on each other- so the bad guy don't catch us off-guard, like he did Galloway."
-"Yes" Weiila insisted. "Besides, the others might need our help soon. Please, I know you all have things to do, but please, wait a little more..."
-"Yeah, we still have plenty of snacks for you to eat while you wait!" Poke said cheerfully.
-"Well, you can count on me at least" Crono said. "I'll be honored to help... and eat some more snacks."

As the argument continued, two figures sat on a the room's only sofa, away from the others:

Aviana and Manus Dei.

The young girl was nervous. She was so new to these things... and the situation sounded bad, even to the other, more experienced members.
What was she doing here? What difference could she make? she thought.
-*I was just so eager to prove myself to the others...*

But then she shook her head. She decided that, maybe, it WAS better for her to be here. After all, if someone evil was out looking for RPGC members, maybe he would come after her, too?
Or, more precisely, after her jewel, and the evil contained within...

She decided that thinking about it wasn't doing any good. That she should trust Weiila and Poke, and just wait, and try to have a good time while doing so.

She looked to the armored man next to her. A knight in white armor! How charming, she thought, like something out of a faery tale. Except she knew, from personal experience, that faery tales WERE real.
-"Hi!" she greeted him.
He didn't react.
-"Er... my name is Aviana" she continued.
Still he ignored her.
-"Um... sorry" she said, deciding she must've annoyed him somehow, and began to get off the sofa.
-"No, wait!" he suddenly said, causing her to freeze.
-"I'm... sorry. I just... am not used to... casual talk."
-"Oh" was the teenage girl's reaction.
-"...But... if you want to..." he continued.
Something told Aviana that she could trust him. Whether it was her own natural sensitive abilities, or just a feeling of simpathy towards socially-awkward people, she didn't know, nor care. She smiled, and sat down again.
-"What's your name?" she asked.
He was silent for a moment, as if thinking about it. Then he finally said:
-"...You may call me Manus Dei."
-"Wow! That means 'God's Hand" doesn't it?"
-"How do you know that?" he said, surprised.
-"I have been doing some reading on mystical things- ever since my... powers began to manifest."
-"I'm a summoner" she explained. "I inherited it from my mother. She... was a water nymph."
-"Yeah, really!" she said, glad to have someone to talk about that. "What about you? What's your story?"
-"I... fear I can't tell you."
-"Oh" Aviana said, sad, but somehow feeling that Manus had a good reason not to tell her.

Before the two of them could continue their conversation, a noise began to be heard in the room.
-"What's that?" Aviana asked.
The sound got more intense.
It sounded like a scream- but higher in pitch...
Manus bolted up off the sofa. "I don't think it's anything good" he said.
Then the sound became clearly heard to everyone.
-"ARRGH" Heaven's Soldier shouted, covering his ears in pain. "What the hell is that??"
But no one heard him, they were ALL covering their ears as well.
The sound got even MORE intense!


Suddenly, the room's large front window EXPLODED into a million shards!!

Fortunately, none of the shards reached the RPGCers, most of whom at this point where on the floor writhing in pain.

Several figures then stepped thru the shattered window.
Weiila looked up, and gasped. She recognized all of them.
-"Oh no...!"

They were: Cybercompost, Demigod, Azrael, Zhou You, Cala, and Eva.

They entered the room silently- and grimly.

-"Rountree" Weiila said, sadly, as she got back on her feet. "Not you...!"
-"Do not call me that" was his response. "I'm CYBERCOMPOST! Now tell us where Galloway is"
Weiila sighed. "No, Roun. I can't do that, and you know it."
-"I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL ME THAT!!" he snapped, and his scream made the walls tremble again. "Dammit, Weiila, don't make me hurt you!"
-"WHY are you hesitating??" Cala snapped at him. "Just BLAST her! We'll find Galloway on our own!"
-"Cala! Is THIS your doing??" Weiila snapped at her, furious.
Cala smiled wickedly. "Ha! I wish! But no, Weiila, I'm afraid I'm as much a chesspiece in all this as the others. The one behind this makes ME look like a minor annoyance. So, if I were you, I'd get out of the way."
-"Never!" the young goddess said, and spread her wings, the air begining to crackle around her.
-"DAMMIT, Cyber, blast her! NOW! Before she unleashes her powers!!" Cala shouted at him.
Cybercompost stood still for a moment, an internal struggle visible in his face. Unfortunately, the grip of evil on him was too strong. With a look of regret, he opened his mouth, and-
-Before Weiila could finish summoning her divine power, she was struck by a blast of sonic force, that knocked her back, and into a wall.
-"AAHH!!" she gasped, then fell on the floor, unconscious.
-"WEIILA!" Poke shouted, then rushed to her side.
-"Well, now that she's taken care of, let's look for Galloway."
-"I think not!" Manus said, as he, too, got back to his feet, and pulled out his longsword. "I don't care if you're members of RPGC, or acting on your own or not- you WILL be stopped!"
-"I accept your challenge!" Azrael said, drawing out his own sword.
-"Oh please. Why waste time with him? Just blast him too!" Cala urged Cyber.
-"You'll not have to deal just with him" Heaven's Soldier added, as he too, got back to his feet.
Suddenly, a pair of wings burst out of his back! Pulling out his blue katana, Tempest, he took off into the air.
Cyber began to suck in air, preparing for another sonic-spell, but before he could, a small figure jumped at him!
it was- POKEFREAK!
-"You'll PAY for what you did to Weiila!!" he screamed, and swung his staff, striking Cybercompost in the guts, knocking the wind out of him. He dropped to the floor.
-"What the? POKE!? You, of all people!?" Cala gasped.
The teenager said nothing, but held his staff ready for combat, and stared at Cala with anger.
-"Bah, lucky blow" she spat out, then dragged out Damballah, her curved dagger.

However, more figues stirred. Xero and Chris also rose to their feet, obviously spoiling for a fight.
-"FOOLS!" Cala shouted. "Do you newbies seriously think you can take us down!? Get lost before we slaughter you!!"
-"I may be new to THIS organization, but you'll find me a force to be reckoned with!" Chris cried out, as he began to cast a spell.
-"I'll deal with him" Zhou You said, as he began to cast his own magics.

On the air above them, Heaven's Soldier found an aerial opponent: Demigod. The blue-furred humanoid charged at him with a spear; but, with amazing ease, Soldier spun in mid-flight, avoiding the stroke, and then brought down his katana, slicing the spear in half.
Realizing he was outmatched physically, demigod flew back, and began to cast a spell.
But he never finished it; Soldier flew at him with blinding speed, sword-first- but at the last second, twisted, and instead kicked him in the ribs.
Demigod got the wind knocked out of his sails; he was out before hiting the wall behind him, and then falling to the floor.

Heaven's Soldier turned around, and looked for another foe. He saw a red-headed teenage girl staring at him, but dismissed her.

That was a fatal mistake.

-"ARRRGHH!!!" he screamed, as Eva used her mystical and telepathic abilities to assault his very soul.

In another second, he plummeted to the ground, falling at her feet.

She smiled wickedly, wondering if she should toy with his soul some more.
-"STAY AWAY FROM HIM!!" a girl's voice suddenly screamed at her.
It was Aviana!
Eva stared at the girl and almost laughed. This pipsqueak was challenging HER?
-"Get lost, kid" she said, dismissingly.
-"Who are YOU calling a kid?" Aviana shouted back at her. Something about Eva REALLY pissed her off, besides her attitude; maybe it was the darkness she felt within her.
Scoffing, Eva reached with her powers, trying to smother Aviana's soul as she had Soldier's; but to her surprise, Aviana's soul fought back.
-"You're a mystic as well!" she exclaimed.
-"Yeah!" Aviana responded, thought she felt as if her soul were on fire.
-"Very well. I'll take you down with my own hands!" she said, as she pulled out her yari (spear).
But, once again amazing Eva, Aviana grappled her for the spear. The two exchanged blows, and as hard as she hit Aviana, she could not bring her down!
Sadly, before Aviana could gain the upper hand, she was struck a blow from behind- by Cala, who had just walked away from the unconscious body of Pokefreak. The girl was knocked out instantly.
-"Stay away from her!" Manus Dei shouted, as he, too, walked away from the unconscious form of Azrael.
-"Zap him, Eva!" Cala ordered, deciding that taking on the knight hand-to-hand was not a good idea.
-"I'm...trying! But his mind... is... closed!!" she gasped.
Manus continued to approach, slowed down by the psychic assault...

Meanwhile, Zhou Yu was winning his spell battle with Chris.
Xero watched it, impressed. Despite himself, he found himself hesitating; although he had gained great power recently, he still wasn't used to it. He decided to wait for an opportunity to help.
-"...Ha! And down you go, dragon-man!" Zhou laughed, as he blasted Chris against a wall.
Momentarily stunned, Chris was defenseless as Zhou prepared a spell to finish him off.
But then, to his shock, his clothes caught on fire!!
-"WHAT??" he gasped, as he smothered the flames magically. "Who dares??"
-"Who do you think? GG Crono said, as he got off the floor too, his hand still glowing from the spell, as he smiled wickedly.
-"YOU??" Zhou spat angrily.
-"Come on, Zhou" GG said, trying to reach to his friend. "You're not evil! Shake it off!"
-"SILENCE! I AM EVIL! And I will prove it NOW!!" Zhou screamed, as he drew out mysteltain, his black-bladed rapier.
He and GG began to clash with their swords -his rapier against Crono's katana- and found themselves stalemated.

On the other side of the room, Demigod began to recover, and surveyed the battle. He decided not to join in unless necessary.
Unfortunately for him, he noticed a vaporous form staring to gather together: Videospirit, who, having just awakened, had turned into his Spirit Form, preparing to assault the Evil RPGCers with magic.
Before he could do so, he found himself under attack by Demigod's spells.

But then Demigod was under magical attack himself! It was Xero, who finally decided to act.
With his superior skill in magic, it wasn't long before Demigod was knocked out again.

Xero then reached out to Chris, to help him get up.
But Chris brushed him off. "I can help myself!!" he shouted. "I'll show these people the TRUE power of a Prince of the Brood!!" he roared, then began to glow!!

Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing as they caught sight of Chris' espectacular transformation. Glowing ike a red-hot coal, his body expanded, until it reached to the ceiling, and turned reptilian- obviously, he was becoming a Dragon- a KAISER dragon, perhaps the most powerful kind ever!

But he never finished his transformation.

Once again, the hellish sound was heard:


It was Cybercompost, who had just awakened.

Due to its magical nature, the sonic attack affected ONLY his enemies, leaving his unwilling allies unharmed.

One by one, all the heroes who were still conscious, dropped to the ground, defeated.

-"Well, took you long enough" Cala said.
-"Let's just find Galloway, and get out of here before someone else shows up" he spat back at her.


...The forest was still, except for the small animals that thrived on it. No unnatural sounds could be heard.

And then, the tops of the trees were rustled, by something huge and crystaline, that flew at a low altitude!


An oriental, serpentine dragon, to be exact.
Its crystal scales shone blindingly in the sun, its pink mane trailed in the wind as it flew at great speed.

There was a saddle in its back, just were the mane ended; in it sat Sir Percival, with Shalcar, Omega and Mabatsekker sitting in the dragon's back, as best they could.
-"Umm, should we be flying SO close to the treetops, DG?" Shalcar asked, looking down.
-"I'm trying to keep us as hard to spot from a distance as possible" Dragon God -in his Shinryuu form- answered.
-"That's not what worries me" Omega said. "I still think we should've waited for Wil to come back. We're about to storm an enemy castle, without any idea of who we are facing."
-"Nay, friend Omega" Percival said. "We have no idea how long it will take Martinez to return from his quest; further, every minute we delay, is another our mysterious foe gains. We MUST strike, as quickly as we can."
-"That's something that bothers me" Mabat said. "HOW do we know that this isn't a trap? I mean, don't you find it suspicious, that some mystery hero shows up to leave us a message?"
-"It COULD be a trap" DG said. "But Percival is right; we know almost NOTHING about our enemy. We NEED more data in order to plan against him. We must take the chance."
-"Besides... that guy's name... Ryelandt... I've heard it somewhere before..." Omega mused. "I just can't remember WHERE..."
-"I trust Percival and DG's wisdom" Shalcar said. "I only wish DG had brougth more than ONE saddle! *0uch*"
-"Well, EXCUSE me for not being accomodating" DG fumed.

A few minutes later, something appeared in the distance, at the edge of the forest:
A castle!
-"There!" Percival said. "It doth appear, that our mysterious benefactor's directions were accurate."
-"Let's land, and approach on foot" DG said.

In another moment, the mighty dragon had landed in a clearing in the forest. The heroes got off it, and then it began to shrink, and change- until it turned, once again, into a long-haired, trenchcoated man. DG then joined the others.
-"OK, let's try to make as little noise as possible from now on" DG said.
The others nodded, then started walking towards the castle.

(Unnoticed by them, a muscular, long-haired figure followed them silently, at a distance.)

A short while later, they reached the edge of the forest.

They could now see the castle clearly.

It was a typical stone castle. Not very big, either. It was covered in ivy, as if no one had lived in it for a long time.
-"...Looks abandoned." Shalc said.
-"Lord Ak did mention, there was a castle around here, but that t'was abandoned long ago." Percival said.
-"Shh! Lower your voices!" DG chided them. "Then he added. "Let's look for an entrance."

The five heroes walked around the castle. Eventually, they reached its front, were they found-

...the entry gates, wide open?

The inner courtyard could be plainly seen from outside.
There was no one in sight.

They did see the portal that lead INTO the castle, also wide open. It was too dark inside to see more, however.

-"...I don't like this" Shalcar said.
-"Maybe the owners left the gates open when they left" Omega mused.
-"Or bandits broke in afterwards" Mabat offered.
-"Perc, you detect any evil here?" Shalc asked.
-"No" he answered. "And that, in itself, is strange."
-"I know what you mean" Mabat said. "We haven't even seen one of those chiuahua monsters around here."
-"Awgwas" Omega corrected him.
-"In any case, there's a difference between falling in a trap and LETTING a trap catch you, guys" DG said confidently, and then began to walk inside. Percival followed him immediately; the others hesitated a moment, then they followed.

A moment later, they all stood in the entrance of the courtyard.

They looked around, but saw nothing beside old castle walls.
-"You know, I hope we aren't trespassing on some poor old troll's castle" Mabat joked.
-"Hey, guys, you notice something odd?" Omega said. "The courtyard's floor... it's tiles- they're painted red and black. Like a big... checkerboard."
No sooner had Omega spoken those words, than the tiles FLASHED blindingly- and suddenly, something BURST up from the ground-
A MAZE had suddenly formed around them!
-"Aw, DAMN!" Shalcar cursed. "I KNEW it! HEY GUYS! YOU OK??"

There was no answer.

Shalc cursed again, then proceeded to try and find his way out of the maze...

Percival tried to feel his way around him with his paladin senses, but still felt neither good nor evil around him. *These walls, they must be mystically shielded* he decided. With a grim expression, he pulled out his bastard sword, then began to carefully proceed deeper into the maze.

For a while, he walked slowly, afraid, not for himself, but for the fate of his friends.

His caution paid off, as another swordsman- this one clad in black, stepped from around the next corner.
-"Ah, the Paladin" the young man said sinisterly, his sword (Avenger) held before him, ready to strike. "I was hoping to run into you."
-"Indeed? Why?" Percival said, equally ready for a fight.
-"I hate people like you" Azrael spat out. "Believing in your lilly-white ideals... when in truth, the world is full of nothing but misery. Maybe, as a knight, you have never known the suffering of the poor."
The comment infuriated Percival. "I wil have ye know, I come from a family of farmers myself. And I understand more about woe, than ye could ever imagine, I would guess. But, it is precisely because of that, that I give not up on my ideals, but instead, figth harder to see as few people suffer, as possible."
-"BAH! Enough banter! Show me your skill, paladin!"
-"Have at ye!!"
And their swords clanged loudly.
Not that the noise could be heard thru the magical walls.

Elsewhere in the maze, Dragon God inspected the maze.
He decided that maybe he could escape by turning into his dragon form.
But, what if he accidentally crushed one of the others under a collapsing wall? What if the walls were boobytrapped? And, wouldn't it be better to try to keep his power a secret from his foes, until really needed?
As he pondered, DG heard the sound of wings coming from above.
He looked up in time to see Demigod divebombing him!!
He managed to dodge in time to avoid being impaled on the winged humanoid's spear.
Demigod landed, then addressed DG as if he had just dropped by for a visit!
-"Ah, Dragon God. I have heard much about you. Nice to meet a fellow immortal."
-"You're Demigod, right? I have seen your file in RPGC. May I assume from your attack, that you're working for the enemy?"
-"I prefer to see it as, playing on the winning side."
-"That remains to be seen" DG said, as he drew out his rapier.
-"You have no idea of just who is behind this. If you did, you would think as I do."
-"I don't think you're even thinking by yourself" DG commented. "We know about the black water. You're just a puppet in all this."
Annoyed, Demigod began to weave a spell with his hands. "We shall see who's being played with. I know you can't change into a dragon here, and it will take more than a rapier to kill me."
Before Demigod could cast his spell, DG struck at him with lightning speed! However, the wound closed as soon as it opened. "See?" Demigod laughed.
But DG laughed back at him. "The joke's on you. My rapier is magically envenomed."
Demigod's expression blanched. "That- won't- kill me, either!"
-"Maybe not, but I bet you'll be sick as a dog for a while."
Demigod gave him a hateful stare. "This-isn't-over!" he gasped, then beat his wings and took off, leaving DG to continue pondering the situation.

In another part of the maze, Omegaflare proceeded carefully, holding his crystaline staff in both hands.
Suddenly, a long-haired figure, wielding a rapier, came out of a corridor just ahead.
-"Dragon God?" he called.
But when the figure came out of the shadows, he realized it wasn't his friend. It was-
-"Zhou You!?" he gasped. "Don't tell me you're on the bad guy's side!"
-"Ah, Omega!" the red-clad mage said, wickedly. "Why should that surprise you? I've always told you- I'm a villain!"
-"No you're not" Omega said in a mocking tone. "GG has told me about you. You fancy yourself a villain, but you always end up helping us heroes!"
-"BAH! I just found myself in situations were I was FORCED to help your kind!" Zhou spat out angrily. "This time, I'm REALLY working for the forces of darkness! And I shall now prove it! EN GARDE!"
Omega raised his staff defensively.
-"What is this? You'll face me with a staff!? Where's your sword??"
-"Didn't bring it today" Omega explained.
-"Very well. I challenge you to a spell duel, instead."
-"Oh, how villainous of you" Omega taunted him again.
-"Don't make me change my mind!" Zhou shouted, as the air between the two young men began to crackle with their magical energies...

In yet another corner of the maze, Mabatsekker proceeded, more intrigued by the maze than worried about his fate. He figured, no use worrying about it; he either would find the way out, or his friends would find him- or his captor would get tired of playing with him. In any case, he might as well have some fun.
And he drew out a pad and pen, and began to draw!
-"You're always SO distracted" a female voice suddenly said.
He looked up from his pad, startled- until he saw who it was.
-"Cala!" he said. "Boy, I'm lucky it's you whom I run into!"
-"What's THAT supposed to mean?" she snapped.
-"Well, for starters, you're easy on the eyes" he said, humorously. "But more importantly, you're not really evil."
The brunette snarled at his comment.
-"YOU think you have me figured out, don't you? You know nothing about me! I'm the world's greatest assassin! A simpleton like you could never understand, the kind of training, of skill, of cold-hearted ruthlessness that must be possessed for such a life!"
-"Well, from what Val and Wil have told me, you always talk big, but you always end up working with them. Hell, you're almost considered an UNOFFICIAL member of RPGC!"
-"ENOUGH! I'll show you show just how DEADLY I am!" Cala shouted, then pulled her bow off her back, drew a poisoned arrow from her quiver, nocked it, and let it fly, all in a single, fluid move!
But, before her astonished eyes, Mabat CAUGHT the arrow in mid-flight!
-"I hate to tell you this, Cala, but I'm a blue mage, as well as a martial artist. Using my opponent's weapons against them, is my especialty."
-"BAH! I'll take you down with my own hands!" she spat, then went into a fighting pose.
-"Suit yourself" Mabat said, smiling, before the two of them started trading blows at blinding speed.

Shalcar hadn't had much luck finding the way out, either. He held his war-hammer at the ready, afraid some monstrosity would jump at him at any moment.
Imagine his surprise when he finally ran into- a red headed teenage girl in goth-punk clothes?
-"Oh! I'm sorry, did I scare you?" Shalc asked.
-"Scare ME? The girl laughed. "It's YOU who should be afraid!"
-"...Oh, no. Don't tell me you're another-"
-"Another minion of Laufeyson? Yes."
-"Laufeyson? Who's that?"
-"What? You guys don't even know yet who is it that you're fighting against!?"
-"Um, well, no. Why don't you tell me?"
-"...To be honest, I don't know his real name yet. I think the others do... I just joined his troops."
-"Why?" Shalcar asked, with true concern. "Why would a young girl like you, join forces with an evil man?"
-"SHUT UP! Don't you call me 'young girl'! My name is EVA!"
-"Ok, Eva. Let's just talk about this-"
-"Oh, I will be talking... to YOUR SOUL!" she snapped, and reached out with her telepathic/mystical abilities, into his very essence.
-"ARRGH!!" Shalcar screamed. It was like having hot coals stuffed into your belly!!
Still, to Eva's surprise, Shalcar didn't fall. "Huh! Your soul- you're a CLERIC!!"
-"Indeed" Shalcar said, with unusual anger. "I have dedicated... my life... to channel good magic for the benefit of others. It is... a calling... stronger... than your Evil!"
-"Oh, really? I was just going easy on you. Let's see if you can take a FULL-power assault!"
-"I don't think so!" Shalcar snapped, and quickly casted a spell.
Eva could feel as holy energies surrounded his soul. It was now shielded!
-"Damn you!" Eva spat out. "If I can't get your soul, I'll get your body!!" she said, unslung her spear, and lunged at him with it!
But, with blinding speed, Shalcar drew out his hammer again, and struck at her, hitting her on the head- and knocking her out cold.
Shalc checked her out, then used a simple spell to heal the wound he'd caused on her head.
Then, with a sad look, left her behind, as he continued thru the maze...

Sir Percival continued to make his way thru the maze.

He'd defeated Azrael, thought he found himself forced to use his "smithe evil" paladin ability to do so; Azrael's skills in swordmanship were indeed formidable. In other circumstances, Percival would just have let him win; but, there was more at stake here, than just his honor. His friends' lives, for instance.

Although he was expecting another enemy to come out at any moment, he was still surprised by the person that suddenly stepped out of a corner.
-"Rountree!" he gasped.
-"Sir Percival!" the young man gasped. "Not you!!"
The two of them stared at each other in shock for a moment.
Then Percival spoke.
-"Friend Rountree. I do hope, most sincerely, that thou be here to help, rather than fight against, me."
-"...I'm Cybercompost now" he finally said.
-"Ah. Well" Percival said, not really understanding. "But... thou hast not yet answered my question..."
There was a long pause. "I... am sorry, Perc."
Percival grew grim. "T'is a dark day, indeed, if I be forced to fight thee."
-"Please, Percival. We don't have to do this. I can pretend not to have run into you. Escape while you can-"
-"Nay, Friend Cybercompost. Thou dost know me. I cannot, will not turn my back on evil. E'ven if it means, that I must face thee in combat."
-"...Yeah. I know" Cybercompost said.
There were no more words between them. They just stared sadly at each other.
Then they attacked.
Knowing the power of Cybercompost's voice, Percival lunged at him with the flat of his word, hoping to knock him out before he had the chance to sing.
No such luck.
Cyber's magical voice resounded even in the magically-silent maze:

Do you want my blood, do you want my tears?
What do you want?
What do you want from me?
Should I sing until I can't sing any more?
Play these strings until my fingers are raw?
You're so hard to please!
What do you want from me?

Percival fell to the floor, covering his ears, desperatedly trying to keep the horrible noise out!
It wasn't really the song, but the magical sound, that made it unbearable.
It was like the screams of a thousand madmen, the laments of the damned, and the cries of tormented children, all mixed at the same time!

After another moment, Percival stopped struggling and laid still.

Cybercompost watched his friend just lay there.
The struggle inside him, between the goodness and the angst in his soul, had never been stronger.
Percival was one of the few people, who had ALWAYS treated him respect, who always gave him the benefit of the doubt, when others judged him harshly.
Although in the outside, he pretended to condemn the sort of things that Percival stood for, inside, he always respected the fact that the knight fought for what he believed in.
In a world of hipocrites, Percival was the one person he truly trusted.

And now, he'd been forced to strike him down.
Oh, how he hated Laufeyson! He LOATHED him! If he had half a chance, he would blow him to bits with a scream!
But he couldn't. The more anger he felt, the more he was under control of the darkness...

At least he'd managed to not kill Perc. He had only used a song, to knock him unconscious.

Still, he felt the need to make sure he was OK.
He kneeled next to Percival, to check him out-

He never saw the blow coming!

As he fell out cold to the floor, Percival quickly rose from up.
His Paladin resistance to magic had been the only thing that had kept him awake; even that, he knew, wouldn't have lasted long. Dishonorable a tactic as it may be, he decided that such a dirty trick was necessary this time.
Now it was his turn to make sure Cyber was alright.
Poor lad, he thought. He had suffered so much... and now, someone had used that suffering, to make him do things that tormented him even more!
-"Rest, Friend Rountree. Thou shall be avenged. T'is, I swear."
Then he picked up his sword, and continued along the Maze.

To his surprise, he soon found the way out.
A simple doorless portal led to the part of the courtyard not covered by the maze.
There, sitting in front of a chess table, was a man wearing a dark robe.
Standing at his sides, like rooks in a chess formation, were- Galloway and Esker!

Despite himself, Percival silently cursed. He knew he was outmatched.
Still, he could not resist confronting the vile being.
-"Congratulations, Sir Percival" the hooded figure said. "You're the first to escape from the maze."
-"Who are ye??" the angry paladin demanded. "Why hast ye done all this? Stop hiding in the shadows, and face me like a man!"
-"A MAN?" the robed figure snorted. "I'm no mere man, knight!"
"I'm... A GOD!"

The figure stood up, and took off his robe, revealing the jester-like figure that had tormented the heroes before.
-"You may call me" he continued,


-”Loki?” Percival gasped. ”The Norse god of Evil? Why are ye doing this?”
-”First of all” Loki answered, annoyed, ”I'm NOT 'evil'. What I am, is a gamesplayer. You see, Sir Percival, when you're immortal, you can get pretty bored with existence as the millennia crawl by. All of us gods find some way to entertain ourselves. I chose games. When I was younger, I amused myself with simply playing pranks on the other asgardians. Especially that bull-headed half-brother of mine, Thor. But, as time passed, I grew bored of such childish stuff. So, my games became more… complex. I chose to toy with the very lives of mortals- or even other gods. My fellow Aesir never did- appreciate my trickery, shall we say.”
-”My friend Esker hath told me that, according to the prophecy of the Norns, ye be fated to betray your own people, on the day Ragnarok, the Last Battle of the gods, is to happen” Percival commented, even as he looked at Valkyrie, who stood next to the deity with a look of pure hatred in her face directed at him. ”If that be not an evil act, I know not what one might be!”
Loki actually snarled. ”Betrayal? You have to be LOYAL to a people in order to 'betray' them, Sir Knight. I owe the Aesir nothing but misery! I was the son of Laufey, king of the Norse Giants, and thus fated to rule them one day; but Odin killed my father in battle, then felt the impulse to 'care' for me as an orphaned child. And raise me, he did… only to lavish all his attention on Thor! Never mind that I was smarter, or better at magic, than anyone else is Asgard; he cared only for his warrior children! The Aesir barely could hide their disdain for me! I swore that one day, I would get my revenge on them all! That day will yet come!'
-”Enow!” Percival snapped. ”I care not for ye personal woes; I demand to know why ye hast toyed with mine friends!”
-”Ah, now that is a curious story” Loki smiled, regaining his composure. ”You see, Percival, even someone like me, gets tired of always playing with the same toys” he said with malicious glee. ”So, I explored the Nine Worlds, and beyond, to find new ideas. It was recently, that I found the Black Water Mist, in another universe.”
”SUCH an interesting substance!” he crowed. Do you know what it does?” Loki asked. Percival did not humor him with a response, but Loki didn't care. He continued: ”It brings all your hatreds to the surface, clouding any good feelings. It turns the nicest person into a hateful killer” he laughed. Percival gritted his teeth, but continued to listen. (He was actually hoping to delay Loki long enough for his friends to come to his aid… or at least, escape.)
”Further” Loki added, ”Someone with enough training in the Dark Arts- such as, say, ME- can use it to CONTROL those infected by it. If I wanted, I could've used it to turn the WHOLE of Midgard -I mean, Earth- into my own dark kingdom!!”
”But- WHERE would the fun have been in that? No, best to find some new pawns to use it on… such as, the self-styled heroes who now protect the World…”
-”The Righteous Protectors” Percival said coldly.
-”Who better?” Loki gloated. ”So many of you! Such great powers- and even more diverse tempers! Playing with you all has been the greatest diversion I've had in a few centuries!”
Percival found it hard to contain himself, but did it for his friends' sake. Loki's behavior reminded him too much of Mordred, the man who betrayed the Round Table and brought doom to Camelot. If it were up to him, he would try to behead the vile god, but he knew that he would likely end up fighting against Galloway or Esker- which would likely result in his demise. Not that he feared death, but it would likely torment his unwilling killer forever.
No, he HAD to continue gaining time!
-”Tell me one thing,” he said, thinking quickly. ”Why the attack on Christmas?”
-”You mean, other than the fact that it made for a great background for the battles?” Loki commented casually. ”I have always resented the fact that you Christians stole the Yuletide celebration from us”.
-”Stole!?” Percival gasped. ”What dost ye mean??”
-”I would have expected a medieval throwback like you to understand. Do you not remember, the way your precious religion displaced the Old Faiths- even the Norse people's beliefs in us? Well, I'll have you know, long before the people whom your kind, in your arrogance, called 'barbarians' ever heard of the birth of your messiah, we already celebrated the Winterfest. Where do you think such things as the Christmas Tree tradition came from? It was our way to thank the trees for providing us with the logs that kept us warm in winter! But, when the Catholic faith sought to make the Norse change their ways, they decided to provide a DIFFERENT explanation for the celebration's origins. So they INTENTIONALLY set the date of the Christ's birth, which I'll have you know has NEVER been verified, in December! Just another way to erode my people's beliefs. While I never cared much for mortals, I always intended to make them pay for the effront someday.”
Percival did not know if Loki's statement was true, nor would he take his word for it. But, he had to keep him talking…
But then, Loki suddenly said, ”Ah, I sense all the battles in the Maze have finished. Let's see who won…” Then, with a simple gesture, he caused the maze walls to vanish, as quickly as they had appeared.
Thus, the RPGCers still standing where revealed: Omega, Dragon God, Mabatsekker and Shalcar. Lying in the checkerboard floor, where the unconscious bodies of Azrael, Cybercompost, Zhou You, Cala and Eva.
-”Well, about time” Mabat commented.
-”My friends, beware!!” Percival shouted, assuming a combat position. ”Our foe, t'is be Loki, Norse god of Evil!!”
-”AGAIN with the 'evil' thing?” Loki said, annoyed.
-”WHAT!? Oh, no!” Shalcar cried out.
-”AND he has Galloway and Esker by his side, I see” DG noted.
-”Uh… do we stand a chance, guys?” Omega asked.
-”I fear not” Loki answered for them. ”But don't worry. While I could have you all slaughtered, that just wouldn't be fun- to me, that is. But don't worry, I'll think of ways to use you all.”
Loki then reached over to his chess table, and knocked down several Black Pawns.
Then he grabbed a Black Knight, and moved it towards a Red Bishop.
-”Esker, if you please” he then said. It was obvious he had a special joy in using her
Reluctantly, Valkyrie raised her spear, and came closer to- Percival.
-”Fiend! Ye woulds make me face a lady in combat!? Fight by yourself, so-called god!”
-”Spare me your knigthly pride, Percival. Esker: Kill him.”
-”Why, you bastard!!” Shalcar cried out, then began to cast a spell. Omega and Mabat did the same.
Unfortunately, none of them had a chance to finish them, as tendrils sprouted from the ground, tangling themselves around the heroes.
-”Wait for your turn, 'heroes'.” Loki mocked them. ”Now, where were we…?”
Val gave Percival a painful look. He responded with understanding and mercy -and battle readiness- in his eyes.

Then she attacked.

Percival was surprised both by the fury and the skill of her attack. He had seen Esker fight before, but never expected to find himself on the receiving end of her wrath.

At first, Percival managed to parry her blows with his sword and shield; but it soon became clear, that even his skill at swordsmanship was no match for Esker's 1000-year-old battle expertise. Besides, no matter how much he tried, he just couldn't bring himself to hit her as hard as he would another foe- for being a female And a friend. Worse, the one thing that mig have given him an edge- his Smithe Evil attack- had already been used up.
He found himself pushed back, back…

The others watched the battle with trepidation. No matter who won, RPGC would be the loser.

Galloway was impassive; Loki watched with childish glee.

Finally, Percival stumbled, and fell on his back.
That was the opening Valkyrie needed.

With a battle scream, she jumped in the air, pointed her tri-pointed spear downwards, and prepared to impale Percival!
The heroes gasped in horror!
Just when it seemed that Esker was about to connect-

EVERYBODY in the courtyard- even Loki- froze!
Valkyrie's blow had been blocked!!
Her spear was now locked with the glowing blade of a silvery sword- a sword held by young man with long blond-brown hair, his body covered in terrible scars!
A young man that the heroes RECOGNIZED!!

-”X-HUNTER!?!!” Val cried out, in disbelief!
-”Val's old flame??” Shalcar exclaimed.
-”Hey, it IS Hunter!!” Omega said, also baffled.
-”But, he disappeared months ago!” DG said.
-”What happened to him??” Mabat said. ”He looks like a bear mauled him!!”
-”Looks like his cybernetic implants were removed” DG commented to the others.
-”EH!? What is the meaning of this?? Who dares to interfere with my game??” Loki shouted angrily.
With a sudden push, Hunter managed to knock Val, who was still in shock, away from himself and Percival. Then he addressed Loki:
-”I am- or was- known as X-Hunter, vile one. I'm pledged to protect my Lady Esker, regardless of the situation. I have been following her for a while now, which is how I found you. I only refrained from interfering because I feared I would have to fight her. But, I could not allow her to slay Sir Percival! You WILL pay for what you've done to her, as well as the rest of my friends! With Atma, my dragon-borne sword, I shall strike you down!”
-”Indeed? Very well, then” Loki said sinisterly, still confident on being in control. ”Esker! KILL HIM!!”
The two lovers stared at each other, with even more pain in their eyes than Esker and Percival had. But despite herself, Valkyrie couldn't help lunge at him.
Percival tried to get up to help, only to find himself seized by tendrils too.

Fortunately, if there was one person who knew Esker's movements, it was Hunter. The two of them, engaged in a dance of strokes and counterstrokes, as in their old practice bouts- with neither one of them gaining the upper hand.

As the clash continued, the heroes desperately thought about what they could do, while Loki began to grow bored with the stalemate. Just as he was thinking of ways to make it more ”interesting” he noticed something.
-”Eh?” he gasped. ”I sense MAGIC here! Who is it??”
Everyone looked around- even Hunter and Esker stopped at Loki's comment.
But nothing was visible.
-”STAND REVEALED!!” Loki shouted.
And a figure suddenly appeared out of thin air!
-”WIL!!” Omega gasped loudly.
-”Hi guys. Sorry I'm late!” Wil said, with his usual humor.
-”MARTINEZ!” Galloway roared. ”You owe me one!!”
-”Uh oh” Wil gasped.
Before he could even cast a spell, Galloway moved like a lightning bolt and hit-
KWAAAMM!!! The self-proclaimed deity found himself slammed against a wall!
-”Eh!?” everybody gasped- even Galloway. ”But- you're not Martinez?”
-*HOLY SMOKE!* Wil thought, Gallo must STILL be confused from my spell! I'd thought the effect would have passed by now! Unless- the stasis tube! It must've maintained it!!* Wil silently prayed in gratitude that Status Spells don't all have the same duration, or Gallo would have recovered when the stone spell ended.
Realizing he only had seconds to act before Loki recovered, Wil pulled out a- capsule?
He threw it on the floor, and- POOF!!
-with a cloud of smoke, the jar's contents -shrunk courtesy of Bulma- expanded to its full size:
And ancient-looking jar!
Quickly, Wil removed the Jar's lid, and immediately, a white mist snaked its way out, and began to cover the courtyard!
-”Eh? What? OH NO!!” Loki, who had just gotten up, screamed angrily once he realized what it was.
-”Oh YES!” Wil shouted back, triumphantly. ”You're not the only one who can go to other universes to look for stuff, Loki. Allow me to introduce: the SACRED WATER mist! Guess what it does?”
But Loki, his face twisted in anger, did not answer.
Nor did he have to. The mist, as if possessed of a life of its own, rushed over to Galloway, and enveloped him; the Saiyan then grasped his head, as if he were being mentally attacked… then stood still for a moment, saying or doing nothing, as if dazzled.

The mist then reached Esker, who had the same reaction as Galloway.
-”My lady…?” Hunter said, worried, but still wary.
-”…X?” she said softly.

The mist continued to expand, reaching all over the courtyard in seconds. It concentrated over the fallen RPGCers, thought even the still-awake ones could feel a sensation of- holiness- coming from it.
-”DISPEL!” Wil suddenly shouted, and green sparks flew from his hands, reaching Percival, Omega, Mabat, Dragon God and Shalcar, and causing their magical bindings to dissolve.
Then he turned to face Loki.
-”Well, grandmaster” Wil said, with obvious scorn in his voice, ”let's see how you like it when WE start playing with YOU!”
Loki took one look around the courtyard, and realized that he was surrounded by some of the mightiest mortals in the World- and ALL of them wanted his blood!
And so, he-


Before anyone, even Galloway, could move, Loki's body EXPLODED in light-
-and vanished!
-”Huh?? Where is he??” Shalcar asked, looking around.
-”I sense him not” Percival said bitterly.
-”He's gone” Wil concluded.
-”HAH! He ran away!!” Mabat laughed. ”Some god!”
-”COME BACK HERE, YOU COWARD!!” X-Hunter shouted in indignation.
-”Why?” Loki's disembodied voice was suddenly heard.
-”Where are ye??” Percival demanded.
-”Up there!!” Galloway shouted, pointing at the sky.
Over them, Loki's face could be seen- projected in the clouds!
-”Only a stupid player stays around when the game is obviously lost” Loki said with glee. ”Congratulations, RPGCers. You have won… THIS game. But I WILL be back, someday. With a NEW gambit, needless to say. I…eh?”
It was only then that he noticed what Robyn had been doing:
-”Oh, all-father, come! Come, so that the one who mocks your power and wisdom, who has dared to desecrate your faithful follower, can be made to pay!!”
-”NO!!” Loki shouted.
But it was too late.
The image in the clouds trembled, as a gauntled hand suddenly reached to his throat, grasping it.
Loki gasped for air- and then the image faded, to be replaced by the face of an old, one eyed warrior, with a long beard and a horned helmet:
-”Thanks, my faithful Valkyrie” Odin said, his voice sounding like thunder. ”Long have I seeked my erstwhile foster son's location, but ever did he elude me. I assure you, he will be properly punished.”

And with that, the sky returned to normal.

-”…Is everyone OK?” Wil finally said.
-”I feel terrible” Galloway said. ”But I think your magics have finally ended on me. Dammit, Martinez, you sure did a number on me!”
-”Heh, sorry, Gallo- I had no choice.”
-”Yeah, I know. I… remember everything.”
-”Val?” Hunter asked.
-”I… will be fine.”
-”Are you sure?” He asked.
-”I SAID I would be fine!” she snapped, and walked away, leaving him baffled.
-”Err… Wil” Shalcar said, trying to change the subject. ”How did you get here?”
-”I just came back from Galloway's home universe” he explained. ”Ak told me that you had left for this castle, so I teleported around the forest until I found it. Then I turned invisible and entered. I only just arrived, thought. You guys are going to have to tell me most of what happened.”
-”What about you, X?” Omega asked his friend. ”You disappeared about six months ago. What happened to you?”

X turned away from Val, and, in a sad voice, explained: ”As you know, I was turned into a cyborg by my own father, who wanted to create the perfect warrior. I escaped him and came to Earth, where I joined you. But my father, although now dead, left behind a machine that was broadcasting waves at me from my home universe. It made me return there, and it was all I could do to resist long enough for me to remove ALL my implants… some of them, rather forcefully.”
-”Yikes!” Shalc gasped.
-”…It took me a while to recover, as you might guess. I… wanted to return to RPGC, but I was… ashamed of many of the things I did while under the implants' influence. I dared not even see my lady Robyn… only follow her from a distance.”
-”And yet, it was your actions that led us to Loki, and our possessed friends” Wil remarked. ”Don't let yourself become weighted down with shame, my good friend. If you do, only your father wins.”
-”You… are right, Wil” Hunter said, and then actually smiled. ”It's good to be back.”
-”My friends” Percival suddenly said, ”Ware. Our former foes rise.”

Indeed, the defeated RPGCers were getting up.
-”Hey, are you guys alright?” Mabbat asked.
-”Yeah… I think so” Azrael said. ”Thought I hate losing. Oh well, at least I lost to Sir Percival.”
-”Rountree?” Percival asked.
Cybercompost turned away from the knight.
-”What is wrong?” the young knight asked.
-”Percival, I… am sorry…"
-”There is no need to apologize, Friend Rountree. What thou didst, twas due to vile magic.”
-”…You don't understand” the young man said. ”The magic may had been Loki's, but the hatred, the angst- that was all mine.”
-”Friend Rountree” Percival said sternly, ”If I hath learned anything from this adventure, t'is precisely, that terrible shadows hide in everyone's souls. There be no such thing as a pure soul. Waste not time castigating thyself for what hides inside thine soul; instead, work to nurture the good qualities, for which both I, and our fellow Protectors, have come to respect thee.”
Rountre was silent for a moment. Then he said, ”…Thank you, Perci.”
-”Hey!” Mabat suddenly cried out, ”where are you guys going??”
Cala, Zhou You and Eva were walking away!
-”Guys?” Wil asked.
-”My part in this is over. I'm leaving” Cala said.
-”Yeah" Zhou You agreed,"At least this time, I got to fight some of you. But, don't expect me to let you all off so easily next time.”
-”Eva?” Shalcar asked.
-”Don't you dare give me a speech!” Eva snapped. ”Nobody who doesn't use magic is going to force me to choose my destiny. I MIGHT stay in RPGC, or I may not. I'll let you know when I feel like it.”
-”Should we let them go?” Omega asked.
-”…Yeah, let them. There's been enough fighting today” Wil said.
-”And HOW are you going to get home?” Mabat laughed. ”You're in another DIMENSION!”
-”We KNOW!” Zhou snapped. ”I can get us back to Earth, don't you worry.”
And they walked out of the castle.

-”…Anybody seen Demigod?” DG asked.
-”Nope” Shalcar said. ”I think he flew away.”
-”That guy's a real mystery” Omega remarked.
-”We still have to find Nicolas” Wil said.
-”I know where he is” Galloway said. ”He's in a dungeon cell, deep inside the castle. He's OK.”
-”Good. Let's grab him and get out of here ASAP” Wil said. ”I'm DEAD tired. Wait until I tell you guys what I did to get that water…”


That night, Lord Ak decided to hold a great party in honor of RPGC, and in order to celebrate Nicolas' safe return, and because it was Christmas Eve.

And because faeries will party given any excuse.

As nymphs, fauns, sprites, elves and gnomes all danced around a huge bonfire, all the heroes sat around, drinking, eating, talking, and generally having a good time.

GG Crono, Poke, Mabatsekker, Heaven's Soldier, Xero, Omega, Galloway, Shalcar and Dragon God were all in a circle, exchanging stories while feasting; in another small group, Chris, Videospirit, Rountree and Azrael also talked, but about more serious matters; Sir Percival and Jingle Belle danced; and Aviana was trying to get Manus to dance, but he refused.
Only Nicolas was absent, but he had IMPORTANT business to take care off that night.

At a short distance from the others, Val and X were talking.
-”My lady, have I done something wrong…? You have been… avoiding me.”
-”I'm… sorry, X. It's just… the things I did…”
-”My lady, didn'you heard what Wil and Percival said? You should not let it get to you!”
-”Well… it's not just that. When you left… so suddenly… I thought that- that it was because of- me.”
-”WHAT!?Why did you think that??”
-”I… have always been- so stern with you. I thought- maybe- deep down- you resented me.”
-”My lady- Robyn” he said, holding her hands. ”Please believe me, that you've never brought anything but joy to my life. Fate separated us, even made us fight; but, no matter what happens, our souls will always be bound together.”
At that, Robyn actually… smiled.

Near the 'North Pole' Wil stood watching the festivities, but without joining in.
As much as he wanted to, he couldn't. Despite himself, he STILL was troubled by the revelation that he was 'The Outsider'.

And that he might never find love.

-”Still brooding?” A female voice said.
-”Huh? Weiila!” Wil said, surprised. ”Why aren't you at the party?”
-”Oh, I like to hunt down Christmas Grinches” she said, smiling.
-”Hah. And I guess, I'm one?”
-”Certainly. You should be in there, partying with the rest of us.”
-”Nah. I would spoil things for everybody.”
-”Martinez. Either you get your butt in there, or I zap you!” she joked.
Wil stared at her.
Then he smiled.
-”A while ago you didn't want me to help with the RPGC Xmas party, and now you do?”
-”Wil” she said, now in a serious tone. ”I heard about that 'Outsider' stuff. I don't believe it. Not for a minute. For one thing, you DO have a place to belong- with us” she insisted. ”And as for love, well, I never thought I would find love, either, until I met StarStorm. Even if you ARE the Outsider, Ak said such a fate doesn't have to last forever. So, don't you dare give up, you hear?”
Wil couldn't help but smile at that.
-”…Oh, alright. Let's return to the party” he finally said.

As they walked towards the others, Wil, smiling wickedly, said:
-”…Hey. You think Ak would mind If I hit on some of the nymphs?”
And Weiila couldn't help but laugh at that.


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