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The Playground


Editor: Changes made to the story other than grammar/spelling/punctuation/sentence structure are noted within [brakets]
Post #1
[Emiko's Agent wrote:]

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        Emiko's ears perked up in the middle of the green meadow. "I know that song..." she whispered. Her head drifted back into the ground as the sweet, almost childish tune played on. but where...?

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me... The verse kept playing on and on, sung through the voice of a little girl. "Huh?" Emiko sat up, brushing the grass from her pink hair. There was something approaching. The tall grass under the windy sky blocked her view from seeing the on comer. She stood up to her feet and balanced on the ball of her feet, straining for sight.

        There was a balloon.        A balloon drifting across the high grass, headed in her direction, it's red glow intruding the peaceful green of the meadow. Emiko's heart started to beat faster. doki doki doki doki

        "What's the big deal, it's just a balloon, Emiko...what's wrong with you?" she asked herself.

        Out of the bushes emerged a little girl. For some reason, Emiko's heart continued to pound. "Hi!" the child beamed. The balloon hovered quietly over her petite red head.

        "Don't I know you from somewh--"

        "Come play with me?" the girl interrupted. Quickly, the balloon was thrust into Emiko's hand.

        "Huh?"

        "Come! Play with me! You know where I live, right?"

        "Yes." The answer came out of Emiko's mouth, not as a thought out response, but as a forced reaction. What's going on?

        The red head giggled cheerfully and danced away. "We're going to have a party!" The thought reverberated into the cloudy blue sky.

        Rain? Water began to fall, washing over the DCD officer as the balloon [floated] unwavering from her tight grasp. Okay, I will go.

------------------------

        Another wet towel was applied. Mai sat dutifully on a stool beside the bed, patting more moisture away from the forehead. "Nana..." Mai smiled cheerfully, though her sniffling and teardrops down her face betrayed how she really felt. "Nana-sama, you're going to get well, ne?" Mai held onto the angel's frail hand, hoping to renew some vigor into it with her own energy. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't push the dreadful thoughts of death away. "You...you promised me you'd show me how to cook some day, right? And...and...so, since we shouldn't break promises...like you said..." Her hands were beginning to tremble, drops of salt water staining her cheeks. "...Nana...you're like my...my mother...so...so..." Her eyes couldn't hold back the tears any longer, her words choking on sorrow. "...so...so..." Mai kneeled down on the floor and wept bitterly onto Nana's soft arm.

        Nana was very ill. Her face was pale and without life, as if her energy had been stolen away. Her eyes, barely able to open, looked upon Mai's soft brown hair. She smiled. "You've grown into such a sweet girl, Mai-chan...I'm proud to be thought of as your mother..." She wanted to comfort Mai with her hands, but there was no strength to be found.

        "Nana..." Mai sobbed quietly.

        Eric watched remorsefully, his back leaning against the wall, head down in thought. Other than Mai, all the children of this planet seem to have gone sick. And Nana... He felt the lump in his throat, but refused to give into it.

        "Eric...?" The elf walked up to the bed and put on a brave smile. "Eric..." Nana repeated. "It's time for you to go..."

        "What do you mean?"

        Nana looked even paler than before as she fought for the right words. "I'm sorry Eric...but it's...it's the only way...everything will come into place..."

        He kneeled down beside Mai, confused. "Nana, I don't understand what you mean..."

        "Go, find Emiko. Help her...now...please....if you wish to help me, help her..."

        "If that will help you, then I'll go too!" Mai piped.

        Nana's damaged voice was getting more and more quiet as she objected "No...Mai..." By sheer will alone, Nana forced energy into her arm, until it landed upon Mai's head. "Sweet child...I'm too sick to take care of the children now...." Happy sobs sprung forth from her body. "You're...you're my little angel...sweet little angel..." Mai joined in with the tears.

        Awkward with the moment, Eric stood up and saluted. "Hai. I am on my way, then." Quietly, he slipped out the door and down the steps. Is Emiko in trouble? As he left the house, he could hear Nana start to sing...how what was possible in her condition, he did not know. Maybe it was all in his mind.

Everywhere you go in life, I will be there knocking.        I am deep inside your heart, if your soul is longing...

-------------------

        It was hot.


        But Emiko didn't feel it, as she walked onward into the desert. Where am I going? She didn't know. Why her feet led her in this direction was also a mystery.

        I have control of my body, don't I?

        If I wanted to stop, I could.

        *I just choose not too, that's all.

        That rationale was all that played in her mind during the two-hour journey into the Gaea Wastelands. Was I even in the Wastelands? Neopia should have shown up by now.

        "Emiko!" came a great shout from behind her, a shadow of blue in the horizon.

        Eric?

        "Damn it! Emiko!"

        There was the familiar voice again. I could turn my head if I wanted to...I just choose not to.

        Her casual walk was slow enough for Eric to catch up with little difficulty. "Emiko, why don't you answer me?"

        "I'm going to a party..." Emiko replied in an emotionless voice.

        As she didn't appear to want to stop any time soon, Eric walked in pace with her. "Party my butt! Haven't you noticed the desert is purple? Where are we?"

        She stopped. "Oh. It's purple." Indeed, it was. Behind her, there was nothing but sand and sky. Civilization was unheard of here.

        "Where'd you get that balloon?" A bit of concern crept into his voice. Emiko looked more stoned than a drunk on 10 bottles of sake.

        "My balloon," she replied promptly.

        "Here, let me see it." Eric reached out for the string, but Emiko pulled back.

        "No.

        "Emiko, what's the matter with you? Are you okay?" Eric made another swipe for the balloon, but again her arm evaded.

        "Fine then. Spark!" A splinter of light shed from Eric's finger.

        The balloon popped.

        "Nani?!!" The black came at him faster than he could move.

        "Eric?"

        He collapsed.

        "Eric!!"

-----------------------------------

        "Help!!" Emiko called. But there was no one around. It was a desert after all, dried and cracked. "There are no purple deserts on Gaea, [so] where are we?! Eric-sempai?"

        Eric couldn't see straight anymore. Sweat dripped from his blue hair like a fountain. "E-emik-o..."

        She shifted her weight to support more of him, his arm draped over her shoulder. "You keep talking now, you hear?! We'll get out of this mess!" She laughed. "Ha! Look who's bailing who out now, ne?" Emiko hoped her wink would cheer him up. Instead it made him fall. "No!"

        His mind throbbed. What's wrong with me! I feel...so tired...

        Emiko dragged him onto her lap, and wiped the sweat off his brow with the sleeve of her pink jacket tied around her waist. "Hey!" she cried into his ear. "No quitting! The DCD doesn't hire quitters, only survivors, right?!" Her voice was getting on the edge of desperation. "I remember when I was young, you told me: 'Emiko, I won't let anyone hurt you!' While your protection over me was getting a little annoying..." she smiled gently. "I've always appreciated it. Now, when I need you to help me find a way out of here, you're going to quit?!"

        "DCD officers.." Eric coughed dryly. "Don't hire the soft minded either, but you're here, ne? Heh he--" the laugh was cut off by spasms in his abdomen.        

        Emiko popped him one in the arm. "That's the attitude I know! Now come on, up on your feet!"

        A little girl screamed.

        "Nani?" Emiko looked into the horizon. "What the--?!" That large house in the distance was not there before. Shrouded in a veil of mist, it beckoned to her. The scream of a little girl flashed through the air again. "She'll have to wait, I have to save you fir---"

        "No!" Eric was on his knees, clutching his throbbing temples. He looked up at Emiko and threw a grin. Emiko wasn't sure if it was a genuine smile or clenched teeth to hide the pain. "What does DCD regulations say when an officer is down and a civilian is in trouble?"

        "Well...but...!"

        "What does it say?!"

        "Attend...attend..." her voice wavered.

        "...attend to the civilian f-first." His body started to take the shape of an egg as he grimaced at a pain in his chest. "Take this..." With a clip of the belt, Eric tossed the Masamune to Emiko's feet. "Now get going!"

        "But!"

        "NOW!!!!!" Eric used up what little he had left to produce a yell that would get Emiko on her way. His former sidekick grabbed the sword, jumped up and started running to the house.        

        Emiko looked back. Eric lay there, a lump of blue on the desert floor, unmoving. He could be dead for all she knew. Alone, and dead in the desert. "Eric- san...!" She yelled. No movement.        The panic, which was building up to this moment, was on the verge of exploding. Another scream from the horizon. Eric on the floor. No one around. Tears welled up in her eyes. "Eric...I don't know what to do..."

        "Go..."

        "...Nana?"

        "Go...it's the only way..."

        "But Eric!"

        "Go...it's the only way...please..." Emiko departed to the house. "I'll be back with help, Eric-san!!!!!" she yelled back on tears. "I'll be back, you hear me!!?? Eric!!"

-------

        So...this is what it all comes down to... His blue eyes searched the strange sky for something to comfort him. But there was nothing, and he was alone.        Empty...someho w...damn, never even found a girlfriend. As a laugh would produce pain, he could only amuse of that thought in his head.

        Funny...I always thought it'd be different...different... His eyes closed, drifting off to a strange dream. The heart slowed, and his body numbed. With a final breath, Eric was dead.

        A familiar angel came down from the sky, and kneeled down to mourn.

-------------------

        As the house approached closer and closer, Emiko's mind departed from the thoughts of Eric, and onto the weirdness in front of her. "What the hell...?!" It was an ancient house, surrounded by an old seemingly abandoned gate. There were trees shedding dead leaves eternally onto the ground, covering whatever laid beneath it. The windows were boarded up, hiding whatever lived inside. Groans from the house, from the wood grain, howled of misery into the dry air. In the middle of it all, sitting on a porch step, sat a girl holding a balloon. She was dressed in pure white clothes with a short ruffled skirt and bow in her hair. She looked about Mai's age.        "Hi!" She laughed.

        "Little girl!" Emiko yelled, "You have to help me! I have a friend who needs aid, and--"

        "I didn't invite him." she laughed again. Jumping up, she ran into the house.

        "Damn it!" Emiko twisted herself through the thick gates, careful to not get the Masamune snagged into the thorn bush behind it, and burst into the main courtyard.        A fountain lay nearby, but the water it spouted looked brown and dirty. It was there [that] she heard a new voice.

        "Emiko?"

        She looked to see a familiar face, holding onto the string of a popped balloon. "You! How did you get here?"


Post #2
[jessie wrote:]

        Jana hung up her backpack and closed the door behind her. Her vest was spotted with rain marks, and her hair was water-heavy. She sat down on the lonely futon, closed her eyes, and put her head in her hands.

        It had not been a particularly long day.

        Jana's stomach made a noise, and it occurred to her that eating might be advisable. Then again, what was the point really? She would only get hungry again later.

        Damn it all anyway.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me. The line of music whispered up from the background, and Jana grimaced. There was no such thing as quiet here. Bad enough that the streets were filled with odd noises at odder hours, but she had to live next door to a musician as well.

        She wanted to stop thinking, to stop picking herself apart. And yet there was no way to do that, except by forgetting home and Larod, and she would sooner kill herself than do that. She let herself flop backwards. The music continued in the background, and she found she was listening to it despite herself. The tune was lilting, almost ethereal, and she lay on the futon for a long time, listening. The melody rang bells in the back of her mind, but she was too tired to chase them down and figure it out.

        And then someone knocked at the door. Grumbling softly, Jana rolled over and stood up; she felt a little groggy, as if she had been sleeping. Hm, I really am tired. She slid the door open, and blinked; a green balloon was floating in midair, and for a split second she had thought it was a head. She looked down at the girl holding the balloon. Her eyes were green and wide, and beseeching.

        Jana regarded the girl uncertainly. She...who was this girl anyway? Surely she remembered those eyes...

        "Hi!" the girl said.

        "Hi," Jana replied. (Why was her brain so foggy? Maybe she had fallen asleep on the futon.)

        "Will you come play with me? Please? I brought you a present." She thrust the balloon into Jana's hands. Jana blinked at it, feeling befuddled; the only thought she managed was that the balloon matched the streak in her hair almost exactly.

        Then she frowned. "But it is raining."

        "I know," the girl said, hopping from one foot to another. "That's why I came up here."

        This didn't quite make sense, but Jana nodded anyway. "All right", she said.

        "Sugoi!" the girl said. "We're going to have a party." She giggled and ran down the hallway ahead of Jana. Jana followed more hesitantly, weaving the balloon string through and through her fingers.

        In the background, the music welled up, except now the lyrics had shifted: Everywhere you go in life, you will feel my fingers. I am deep inside your heart, where all you've lost still lingers.

        "C'mon!" the girl's voice called, "we don't wanna be late!"

        All right, I'm coming.

        And Jana strode down the steps of the Apartment Complex with No Name, and followed the balloon, or the song, or the girl, and let everything else drip backwards out of her mind.

        The scariest thing was that she knew something very strange was happening to her. That she had not fallen asleep on the futon. That the girl's reply had not been an explanation. That she was walking through the city one moment, and a purple desert the next. That purple deserts didn't make any sense.

        Why am I still walking? I should turn around and go back, go home...

        Because.

        That is not a good enough answer! she shrieked to herself.

        But it must have been, because she kept going. Happily. Serenely. And she walked, and in her hand the balloon bobbed and danced with her footsteps.

        And then up ahead a girl's voice screamed, and Jana's head snapped up. She ran forwards, suddenly alert again, though she did not let go of the balloon despite the way its fluttering dragged. The scream cut off, and Jana continued grimly. She pounded up the side of a hill, the grass springy under her feet, and skidded to a bemused stop as a moss-encrusted fence loomed up in front of her.

        Where was the girl?

        Jana put a cautious hand on the bars of the gate. It must once have been beautiful; the scrollwork was intricate, though the patterns seemed oddly familiar somehow. It swung open with a slight push, though its hinges protested creakily. She stepped through the gate, moving lightly in an alert stance, though her sword hand was tight round the balloon string.

        Dead quiet, but for creaking noises Jana knew were the sound of wood on wood. Leaves drifted down in utter silence. They terrified her. She had learned to trust her instincts, and they were all clamoring for her to run, run and not look back. She moved an inch backwards.

        "You made it!" The girl came skipping across to Jana. "I knew you'd come!" She took Jana by both hands and began dragging her enthusiastically away from the gates. "We're going to have fun!"

        Jana shivered.

        They had reached the house. "Come in," the girl invited, cocking her head to one side.

        "No!" Jana said.

        The girl looked hurt. "Why not?"

        Jana swallowed thickly. "When all the guests are here. [Until then,] I'll wait outside."

        Mollified, "Okayyyy." And then, brightly again, "There are other people around the front already. You can go play with them while you wait." She smiled, and disappeared into the house.

        It was then that she realized her balloon had vanished somewhere between the gate and the house's back door. Jana leaned back against the wall of the house and shivered [again].


Post #3 [Susano Orbatos wrote:]

        Susano ran his hand through his bangs, encompassing himself into his own boredom. Louisville never had anything to do...The Rocket House had its share of kindhearted people to cancel his longing for the Retreat, but both contained that ever-present boredom...

        "'ey," called a voice, thick with accent, "breakfast's ready."

        That girl, Cynthia, was sleeping on the other side of the filthy couch he was sitting on. Susano, eyes closed, grinned wolfishly and leaned his head back against the peeling drywall.

        "...it wasn't Tara who cooked, was it, Jeff? That girl barely washes her hair, let alone her hands..." he muttered, barely audible. There wasn't any response.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        "Whuh..?" It came from Cynthia's direction. She wasn't singing, was she...?

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        "Cynthia...? Is...Jeff and Tara writing...writing more songs...again...?"


        "Hey!"

        Susano's eyes popped open; that wasn't Cynthia. He swiveled his head to the other end of the couch and found, instead, a young girl sitting there. She was holding a light blue balloon.

        What...?

        "You're bored too, I guess..." the little girl let loose a cascade of silvery, delicate giggles. The balloon slipped out of her hand.

        "Oh no!" she cried, aghast.

        Wait, I got it!

        Susano bolted up and grabbed the balloon before it floated up and popped against the prickly, stucco ceiling panels.

        "Thank you, mister!!!" exclaimed the girl, bouncing with joy.

        H-hey...no prob...

        Susano tried to look down towards the girl but found only blue, sky blue light.

        "Hey! I got an idea...You can come with me to my party!" the girl's voice laughed.

        S-sure...

        Susano's eyes danced, but he couldn't find her. He tried and tried again, but all he could see was the patterned silhouettes of the furniture, the walls...

        All that blue light...

        All those things you do, you take away my fear...Everything's gone, everything changes, but I'll be here.

        Susano closed his eyelids firmly, letting the teardrops wash over and around his pupils, dilating slowly...

        "C'mon....!"

        Ok, I'm coming.

        Susano began to walk... but his feet didn't hit the familiar creaking hardwood of the Rocket House...sand..?

        Susano opened his eyes and found himself in a huge expanse of...purple...Purple what? He shook his head vigorously, impatient with his non-focusing eyes.

        "No no, keep going! You're almost there!"

        There was so much purple...

        He trudged slowly, deliberately, step by step in the sweltering heat...

        Hey...blue?

        He could see that blue light again, a small, disappearing spark of it. He ran towards it as fast as his uncooperative body would allow. With each step, the spark grew larger...his feet dug deeper and deeper into the sand...

        Susano tripped and fell forwards, scattering a cloud of purple sand around the scorching air, inundating his hair with dust. He laid there, half awake, half unconscious... but the blue was right in front of him...

        Focus...

        His dried out eyes spread thin layers of fluid over and over again, restoring his sight, agonizingly slow...he looked into the deep light....

        It's darker than before...?

        Eric...?

        "No! Wrong way! Here..."

        Huh?

        The balloon he held tightly in his left hand jerked. His gaze snapped up at the bobbing rubber sphere...and it filled his vision...


        "Hey!"

        Huh..?

        "You're here! Don't look so down, you won't be bored anymore!"

        I won't be...Yeah...I...I...

        "Yeah, mister?"

        "Where am I?" Susano stood, looking around in amazement.

        The little girl giggled, "C'mon in, you're just in time!" she held open the door...to a house...a large house...

        Susano managed a wan smile across his face. He patted the girl on the head and entered the house.

        Pain shot through his arm.

        Surprised, he looked downwards at his left hand.

        There were four dried, crescent shaped scars in the center of his palm. His fingernails were caked with blood.


Post #4
[Theria Krystal wrote:]

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        "Why so down?" chirped the voice.

        The voice woke her. Had she been dreaming? It had seemed like a dream. From where she sat underneath a large tree, Lina looked up at the little girl, her ruffled white skirt and the bow in her hair. It reminded Lina of...of...she couldn't remember.

        "You're here to play," grinned the girl.

        "Play..." Lina repeated.

        "There are some others here too," the girl skipped away. "Come on."

        Slowly Lina got to her feet. Everything was so sluggish. The dead leaves fell all around them. The dead leaves covered the ground. How odd. Lina didn't think that the trees made so many leaves. In her eyes, she saw the little girl skipping away, lightly, noiseless, over the leaves. The leaves were falling. The girl was disappearing. Lina could just see the white skirt, the white hopping up and down... up and down... up and down in the falling leaves. On its own, her foot took a step forward.

        And it sunk amidst a crackling of leaves.

        Lina fell out of her reverie. What...? When did I start walking? When did I even get up, for that matter? She pulled her foot up and placed it back down again. The leaf bed wasn't that thick but the cracking leaves were loud. Funny, she couldn't remember hearing anything when the girl had skipped away.

        And disappeared.

        Disappeared? Lina looked ahead of her. No, she shook her head. The girl had probably only gone around the corner of the house. Which should be torn down. Just looking at it made her shiver. Looking away, she started after the girl who probably lived somewhere near...here?

        Lina took her first good look around. She was in some sort of garden filled with dead leaves that surrounded the house that scared her just by being there. Outside of all of this was...nothing. Just purple sand. Something moaned and Lina jumped several feet up and away. Catching her breath and her rapidly beating heart, Lina looked in the direction of the sound.

        There was only the house.

        Gods, Lina swore silently. Not only does it look scary, it sounds scary too. A yellow leaf brushed past her cheek and Lina watched it fall silently to join its companions. Wait a minute, there isn't much of a breeze here... how could the house moan? Lina looked nervously at the house again, taking a step away from it.

        This had better be a dream, she prayed. Any minute now I'll wake up in...in... Lina frantically tried to think of a place she should logically be right now, but she drew a blank. She didn't know where she had been or how she had gotten here!

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        Lina sang the words again softly. The words just came to her, just as did the melody. Why did she remember it now? Where did she hear it before? Another verse came to her tongue.

        Everywhere you run from me, you refuse to believe. I am deep inside your heart, something you cannot leave.

        The girl's voice...The girl was singing it. But [then] why was Lina singing it too? It just came naturally. Maybe the girl knew where this song came from. There was something hauntingly familiar about it, but Lina couldn't remember why. Damn my bad memory. Why can I remember a song that I probably only heard once on the radio or something but not remember how I got here!

        This was getting very annoying and freaky.

        The girl, or whoever was singing the song, seemed to be around the other side of the house. Without another ideas of what to do, Lina started walking carefully through the leaves, still making the broken leaves crackle in the stillness, weaving her way to the source of the song.

        The trees crowded closely near the corner of the house. The only open area was right next to the house that was scaring her half to death. This is almost as bad as spiders, Lina grimaced. Sliding through the tight spot between the trees and the house, Lina was hit with several thoughts.

        One, she could have sworn the girl went this way.

        Two, the song was coming from inside the house? There was a boarded up window just above eye level. How convenient. Lina pulled herself slightly up, hoping there was a crack in the boards so she could look inside.

        Looking in, Lina could barely make out a pink room with lots of toys and stuffed animals. Just beyond the room, she could see a little girl, [but] she couldn't tell if it was the same one since there was someone else with the little girl. And whoever it was, was covered by the board. Lina frowned and tried to move to get a better look.

        And she did get a better look, though not of what she wanted to see. Right there, next to her right hand, was a big, hairy, black, spider. Lina froze. She couldn't move. She couldn't even scream, or at least shriek. Everything that had happened had come crashing down on her and she was paralyzed.

        Lina didn't know how long it was. She [just] knew she didn't move. Her arms were killing her for having to hold herself up to look through the window. The big hairy black spider just standing there next to her hand. [Then] Lina blinked: it wasn't there [anymore]. She blinked again, but it didn't reappear. Lina let out a long held breath, and quickly looked around for where the spider could have suddenly gone to in the space of a blink. She didn't see it.

        Slowly relaxing, Lina took a last look into the room before lowering herself. The girl and who ever she was with were probably gone by now. Lina looked and Lina stared. This was getting very, very, very, very weird.

        She was looking into a gray room with peeling wallpaper, covered furniture, and layers upon layers of dust. Lina lowered herself onto the ground, absently shaking the cramps out of her arms. How long had I been frozen there by my arachnophobia? How the hell did that room change?

        Slowly, Lina continued walking around the house, keeping a healthy distance between herself and it. The song the girl was singing was still floating in her head. The two verses she had sang before and more came unbidden to her tongue. Lina couldn't help singing them. It was odd how singing the song comforted her and frightened her, all at the same time. Where had she heard it?

        Her feet walked, her voice sang. Lina felt like she had lost total control of herself. Something brushed her leg. Looking down, she saw a string wrapped several times around her hand. The string lead down to the torn piece of a purple balloon that had been popped. Popped...Did I pop it with my dagger Tenzaito? Lina guessed she was heading toward the front of the house. The girl had said there were others somewhere...Lina hoped some of them were outside. She didn't want to walk inside that house.


Post #5
[Ka-Sui wrote:]

        In the deep Archives of Nexus, Saphiros sat there brooding [over] several books he had pulled from the shelves. The was an eerie silence in the room that seem to have no end. Saphiros flipped through the book he had as he scanned the pictures of numerous demons and monsters of evil that have been discovered or heard of from across most dimensions. Saphiros' natural- -or, [rather,] unnatural--fear of being thrown into a horror movie fueled his research on forces of evil.

        "Nervis an ancient spirit bent on wiping out all chickens?" Saphiros blurted out to no one in particular as he read the book. Groaning to himself, he continued onto the next page.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        Saphiros immediately stood as he heard the songs whispered through the empty hallways of the Archives. He squinted his eyes as he quickly scanned the room for any intruders. That song? He thought to himself. It couldn't be, where did it come from? After several tense minutes, Saphiros groaned and sat back down. Turning back to the book he came face to face with the face of a little girl.

        "Gaah!" Saphiros screamed as he jumped back in shock, sending him crashing down to the ground. The girl just giggled to herself as Saphiros slowly stood up from his fall. Looking at the girl, he noticed that she was holding a black balloon in her hand.

        "Who are you?" he questioned, wondering where this girl came from. Looking around to see if there was anyone else, he questioned, "Are you lost?" As he turn back to look at her he discovered that she had vanished and he also noticed that her balloon was now tied to his left hand.

        "You're funny." A disembodied voice chuckled at him. "Why don't you come to the party? It'll be fun to have someone like you along." the voice chimed before fading out in soft laughter. [Saphiros] stared at the sky in open shock as the scenery changed into that of strangely colored dessert. In the distance he could catch sight of a hill.

        "Where am I?" he muttered as the wind blew by him. Who was that girl? He thought as he stared at the balloon he had. Could that girl be some kind of spirit? Does that mean I'm stuck in a horror movie? After [he] let out a shrilled scream, Saphiros suddenly heard a soft laughter in the wind. Turning around again to try to spot the source of the noise, he was only greeted by emptiness.

        "You are so silly." The invisible voiced laughed at him. "If you don't hurry you'll miss the party." the voiced continue as it slowly seem to drift off. Shrugging, Saphiros slowly made his way to where ever he was supposed to go, he knew everything will be explain in due time, but will it be to late then? He slowly started to walk, letting the girl lead him to their destination, [but] somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that he was really going to regret this. As his body slowly walked through the vast wasteland, he spotted a figure lying face down in the sand. As he moved to investigate he suddenly felt himself unable to move from his present course.

        All those things you do, you take away my fears...Everything's gone, everything changes, but I'll [always] be [near].

        That song again? He thought as slowly dragged himself to the body. As he neared it he felt another jolted tugging him back, turning in surprised he stared in shock as the balloon itself started to pull him back. As the two forces slowly dragged him away, Saphiros managed to notice the person look like a blue elf, before he was pulled back away.

        "That wasn't a nice man." the girl voice said out of nowhere as the person's body disappear from view. "But I like you! You're so silly!" the voice continued to say as it faded away again.

        As he continue on his previous course he could here the girl giggling in the distance as he made his way to a strange house. As he near it the song started to get louder in his head.

        As he neared the gate he heard the girl's voice say, "You're here! You know many things! You'll make it fun!" Slowly followed by soft giggles that seemed to emanate from everywhere.


Post #6 [Jinx wrote:]

        A flirtatious grin spread across Jinx's glossy lips. She slowly crossed her legs, and reached over to her shades to pull them down a bit.

        He's hot!

        A tall, muscular brunette met her gaze from the other side of the park fountain. He seemed to be roller-blading, too. Jinx was glad. She could see his big, muscular arms, and legs.

        He smiled when he spotted her smile.

        Ohh! His smile is GORGEOUS!

        He took a few steps toward her and she pushed her sunglasses on top of her head, careful not to knock her headphones. Silber, sleeping at Jinx's feet, suddenly jerked her head up and barked loudly at him. The guy jumped, and turned away.

        "Aww, man! Silber-chan! You've got to stop having those weird chasing dreams!" Jinx scolded, sitting back. Silber replied with an annoyed moan and set her head back down. Jinx sighed and pulled her shades back down. "Oh well, it's not like there's no more cute guys in here..." She turned up the volume on her Discman to max and silently sang along. Tapping her fingers on the bench, she looked around for any other scrumptious looking guys.

        Suddenly the loud dance music she was listening to stopped and the sound of a little girl singing broke through..

        Everywhere I go with you, you cannot escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        Jinx's eye flashed purple underneath her shades. The music instantly came back on. Apparently, the music never stopped.

        "Then where...?" Her voice trailed off as she removed her sunglasses and took a good look around. Silber, noticing the change in Jinx's attitude, looked up. Jinx shrugged and then returned to her music, but it bugged her so much, she pulled off her headphones, pushed her shades back and looked around again. Silber hopped onto all fours and looked around as well.

        A little red-haired girl was playing with a balloon and walking toward Jinx. Jinx furrowed her brow and blinked a couple of times. Although she didn't see any reason to be suspicious of a little girl playing in a park, but she couldn't help it. When the girl reached her, she looked up, and holding the balloon firmly in her hands, she smiled. Her eyes twinkled, and Jinx's expression softened.

        "Hi there," Jinx greeted, smiling.

        "Hi!" The little girl replied enthusiastically. She looked toward Silber whose red eyes were pinned on the little girl, and her smile faded.

        "Oh, it's okay..." Jinx assured. "She won't bite, I promise." The little girl took Jinx's word and lightly patted Silber on the head. Silber's eyes moved away, but she did not bite.

        Wonder what's with her...

        After a few seconds of silence, Jinx noticed the girl looked familiar.

        "So what are you doing here? Looking for your parents?" The girl shook her head, her smile reappearing.

        "Will you play with me?" She chimed, grabbing onto the string of the balloon and letting it float.

        Jinx smiled again and knelt down in front of the girl. "Well, sure!" She grabbed her K2's off the bench and beckoned for Silber. "Will it be okay with--"

        "Here!" The little girl interrupted her by shoving the balloon in front of her. Jinx took the balloon without a second thought. "Hold on to it, 'kay?"

        Jinx nodded. "Okay."

        The little girl giggled and skipped ahead of Jinx. "There's a party at my house!" She obediently trudged along after her, but Jinx seemed no different. You'd think one would try to resist it, but for some reason, Jinx didn't.

        "Will the party be fun?" She asked, smiling.

        "Yes! Lots of fun!" The girl giggled. Silber barked at Jinx, and didn't budge. Jinx and the girl stopped. She reached up and tugged on Jinx's hand. "Hurry! It's going to start!"

        Jinx turned back to her wolf, and waved her hand. "Come [on,] Silber, we'll be late." They turned back and continued walking. Silber, being born like she was, couldn't stay away from Jinx. She sensed danger in this little girl's mind, and she wasn't about to let Jinx walk right into it. But it didn't look like there was much she could do. Silber reluctantly followed after her master, biting down on Jinx's loose shirt and keeping her eyes alert.


        "Where are we now?" Jinx asked quietly, wiping the sweat from her brow. She waited for an answer, but there was only a bark from Silber. She glanced at Silber beside her and then noticed the purple sand. "Purple...sand...?" Blinking, she finally realized her surroundings. She carried her roller-blades in her right hand and the balloon in the left. Suddenly the little girl popped back into view.

        "Sorry!" She replied. "A few more steps..."

        "I'm getting tired.." Jinx said, yawning. When she reopened her eyes, she wasn't surrounded by purple anymore. She was in front of an old house, with a beat up gate around it.

        "But you can't sleep!" She felt herself being pulled to the gate. "The party will start!" The girl opened the gate, and Jinx's eyes opened to the sound of soft groans coming from the house.

        Silber barked at her and she noticed the balloon had vanished. "In there?"

        "Yeah! Your dog can come too!" The girl pulled on Jinx's hand again, and Jinx and Silber followed her up the steps and into what she was sure would be just an innocent party...


Post #7
[Joseph wrote:]

        Joseph stared at his drink.

        In retrospect, it was, he decided, not a good idea to order more than one of any drink called a -- he strained his memory --Lung-busting Climax. Especially if the first one felt like being stuck between a small wrecking ball and another really big wrecking ball.

        He could hear snatches of a song playing in the background.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        Definitely imagining something. Must've been the cocktail doing something, he decided.

         "Um..." he said. "Madoka, are you sure this stuff is safe?"

        "'course it's safe!" proclaimed Madoka, not looking back.

        She was nearly finishing another one. Madoka put the last ingredient into a clear- looking liquid, which clouded instantly on contact.

        Joseph stared at his own suspiciously.

        Oh, well. Down the hatch.

        The song continued. Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        Or possibly, he thought as it made its way down, up the hatch this time round.

        The world went swimmy...

        -- And joined together abruptly, like a particularly hostile person trying to work out a jigsaw puzzle.

        "...Are you okay?" said a blur directly in front of him.

        "Er..." he said, his mind clearing to only a light fog. The picture focused, and he found two green eyes staring innocently at him.

        And the two innocent eyes were attached to a little girl's body. She had red hair and wore a white bow in it, and held a translucently blue balloon in her hand, and she wore a pure white skirt, but those paled in comparison to her eyes...

        And one other thing. He could definitely see the ceiling. Which meant that he was lying down, which meant that he had fallen off of his barstool. The usual background bar talk was silenced, he couldn't help noticing.

        He stared at the three lights on the ceiling --

        (There...are...four...l ights...)

        -- four lights on the ceiling, and couldn't help thinking that something definitely wrong had happened.

        "I said, are you all right?"

        "Um," Joseph said, sitting up. "Could be better, could be happier..." Something about her struck him. "Hey, haven't I met you be --"

        The girl's voice giggled demurely, interrupting him. "Maybe you'll be happy if you come play at my party!"

        To his surprise, Joseph found himself saying: "Sure..."

        "Sugoi!" said the girl, thrusting the clear-blue balloon's string into his hand. "C'mon, follow me!" And she ran out of the empty Retreat.

        The tune had changed.

        Everywhere you turn from me, you cover how you feel. I am deep inside your heart, where your wounds must heal...

        Joseph stepped out of the Retreat, and followed. Cascades of water fell from the skies, drenching him, and she didn't feel the slightest bit resentful about it this time.

        The desert was purple.

        Jo-chan couldn't help thinking that purple was the wrong color for a desert. She'd been to a black desert, before, once...

        Except it didn't have the bright light all over everything. Sky and sand were the only things she was conscious of.

        Why was she still following... whatever it was that she was following? No one ever wanted her for anything good, as a general rule. She'd probably go to this party and things would go wrong and she'd once again find herself facing Adventure, and also once again Certain Death, who was probably by now quite exasperated at not being able to get a clear shot at her.

        And she surprised herself by adding: Probably.

        She could go back anytime she wanted.

        But she didn't. Jo- chan continued onward, the balloon still wrapped tightly around her hand.

        The heat was unbearable.

        And then she heard a little girl's scream. And she rushed on, ever faster.

        There was something at the end of the desert.

        There was a tunnel at the end of the light.

        She trudged forward, string in hand, as the sparkling-blue light came ever closer.

        And...

        ...it came...

        ...nearer, and- nearer...

        

        ...and-faster-and- fasteruntilshecouldtouchitandshedidandtheworldwentbl


        Death re-hoisted his scythe and waited expectantly.

        If he were a human, he would be looking at his watch and tapping his foot impatiently. But he wasn't, so he didn't. And besides, tapping his foot impatiently might result in the detachment of one of his lower limbs.

        The blue-haired corpse looked like it was about to go into rigor mortis.

        Someone suddenly walked through him without noticing, looking extremely preoccupied. Death calmly turned to look at the receding figure.

        It was a girl, with red hair, although she had bits of purple in it from the sand on the desert ground. She carried a satchel.

        OH, he said. IT'S HIM.


Everywhere you turn from me, you cover how you feel. I am deep inside your heart, where your wounds must heal...

        She'd popped her balloon in the thorn bush.

        Jo-chan rather liked it, somehow. She still had the popped balloon's string in her hand.

        She opened the rusty gate, as it squeaked.

        If she didn't know any better, Jo-chan would have thought that it was creaking rather resentfully at her.

        There was, to her surprise, someone else who was here. And she looked familiar. At the very least, it was as familiar as you could get while still feeling that someone had dropped a one-ton mallet on your head.

        "Emiko?" said Jo- chan.

        The pink-haired girl turned. "You! How did you get here?" said Emiko.

        "Er," said the red- haired girl conscientiously. "Would you believe a little girl made me do it?"


Post #8
[Chris wrote:]

        Sable continued his walk from the dimensional gateway. He was fairly light-hearted after seeing a few old friends from Seattle every now and again. He had even left all of his usual gear at the seedy bar he was at. As he walked he lit up a cigarette and took a long habit-quelling drag and thought of his past and what it had cost him, before coming to CAPOW. That brought him down pretty quickly but not too far. He always visited his brothers whenever he went back. Whenever he was like this he usually thought about music, sad music. Sometimes some Metallica (Unforgiven) or Stabbing Westward (I can not save you). This time he heard lyrics he never thought he knew.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        He was deep in reverie when he heard a small child, probably a girl, cry out. He turned around and saw a yellow balloon beginning a solitary trek skywards. With the customary inhuman speed so many people in CAPOW exhibit he sped off and leapt up catching the balloon right on the end of the string and looked at its previous owner, a cute little red-headed girl.

        "Arigato!" she said with the tears in her eyes subsiding.

        "No problem, little girl, no problem at all," replied Sable in as manly a voice and stance as possible. He moved to give the balloon back but she shook her head at the action.

        "No, you can keep it; you'll need it to get to the party!" she exclaimed with her eyes once again bright and shining, almost as if sadness had never touched them.

        "Party?" asked Sable.

        "YEAH! The PARTY! Don't tell you won't come." she said with a slight pout at the end.

        Wait a minute, I've got practice with Vic and Fuzzball in an hour, don't I? he thought to himself, ehhh , they'll be fine without me.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        "I'll come. Of course I'll come." he said.

        "Sugoi!" she squealed in the way only kawaii little girls could do. "Well, we had better hurry, almost everybody is already there." She took off down the sidewalk, giggling all the way.

        Sable's field of vision was obscured by the balloon as he took his first step after her. It never connected with the concrete of the sidewalk but sank in to what felt like...

        sand? He looked around to find himself in a massive purple sandbox. It was hot, enough so that he was about to take off his armored jacket and most of his body armor. Then he saw what was in his hand, and he remembered the little redhead. He turned back and forth with more than a little alarm. "What the hell..." he said aloud. The next thing he knew he was running in the direction of something.

        Something bad, something alarming, something he heard a long time ago....

...a child's scream.

        He saw a speck on the horizon at first and it slowly began to take shape. A large, old- looking house. It may have been a palace when it was in good shape but it looked as if the world had moved on and left it behind. He still had the bright yellow balloon in his hand. He didn't even think about it, even when he actually did begin to strip off various unnecessary bits of clothing he still held fast. The wrought iron gates looked like the ones from the old horror movies, one hinge broken off, rusted, and of course, just enough room for him to squeeze in. As he did he saw the little red-headed girl on the front stoop sitting and watching him with a face as calm and serene, which normally would give him reason to suspect some mischief, but in front of a house like this, sent shivers down his mechanically altered spine.

        He looked around and saw a number of other people standing around, that pink-haired girl who was looking for ol' fuzzball awhile ago, among others he had seen here and there. He merely looked around for a few moments.

        "Is this the party?" he asked as if he was a little five-year-old who walks in on his big brother's beer bust.

        "The party is just about to begin." the little girl said, the calm demeanor never leaving her face.


Post #9
[jessie wrote:]

        The girl had left, vanished into the house, but the music still tinkled in the background. Sing-song, the melody rose and fell, but the words remained the same: Everywhere you go in life, you will feel my fingers. I am deep within your heart, where all you've lost still lingers.

        Nervous, Jana put an automatic hand to the hilt of her sword. It wasn't there; her fingers flailed through empty air. She was so upset at this that she almost laughed. She slumped against the wall of the house. Its boards were gray with age and weather, and without her leather vest, splinters would have been a problem. She slid down to sit at the base of the wall, her arms wrapped around her knees. Unbraided, her hair sifted forward to hang about her face.

        "Jana-chan," a voice called softly. Jana looked up sharply, disturbed that she had not heard the newcomer approach. Before her stood an angel, her great soft wings half-furled.

        Jana inhaled, shakily. Again there was a haunting sense of familiarity; she recognized the angel in ways she couldn't place and couldn't deny. Yet where the girl and the song made the back of her mind creep, the face of the angel brought a simple joy that knowledge of such a thing dwelt in her somewhere.

        "Jana-chan." The voice was gentle. "You're afraid."

        "I'm terrified."

        Nana said sadly, "This is the only way, Jana-chan."

        Jana managed a wry, if watery, smile. "It's too late to go back, and we can't go sideways. Forward is the only way left."

        "Jana. You have always been one to face your fear head on. Remember that. Use that. Don't let it be used against you." Nana looked pale, and though her face was serene, a layer of weariness was beginning to break through.

        "Wait..." Jana uncurled from the base of the wall and reached out.

        Nana smiled gently. "Hush, Jana-chan." She took Jana into her arms and held her for a moment.

        It had been years since anyone had hugged Jana. She wrapped her arms around the angel, and blinked bittersweetly against the prickling in the corners of her eyes. As Nana pulled away, Jana smiled sadly.

        Nana was beginning to turn translucent; through her shoulder Jana could see leaves trickling to the ground. Nana raised her wings, smiling gently, and faded into the sky. The angel was gone, but Jana thought her voice still lingered, singing softly.

        Everywhere you go in life, I'll be there if you ask. I am deep inside your heart, the truth behind the mask.

        The music no longer shivered uncomfortably through her mind. She sighed once, and gathered herself. The girl had said there were other people around front. She might as well go see who they were.

        Jana walked around the side of the house. On this side there was barely a meter between the house and the trees. Both wore the same tired shade of gray, and both leaned in over her, hungrily, or perhaps amused in a dark, toying fashion. Dead leaves fell noiselessly around her, and some caught in her hair. And though the ground was covered in dry leaves, so deep her feet sunk into them up to the ankles, her footsteps made no sound.

        She came out from the narrow passage onto the edge of a courtyard, filled with ivy run wild. A large fountain stood in the center of it all, and on the opposite side of it two people stood in conversation.

        Bright and sparkling, the fountain was a work of art. Three interlaced circles formed the outline of the bottom pool, edges worked in minute and intricate scrollwork. Rising off-center was a pillar in the shape of a swan about to take flight; its wings were swept backwards, its neck gracefully curved. On top of its wings rested a basin, its edges similarly cast. Sparkling in some sunlight, water shot upwards in three jets and cascaded brilliantly into the base pool.

        Jana watched the others for a moment. There was Jo, redheaded and lucky, and Emiko, who was usually perkier than she seemed now. Not, she reflected ruefully, that that was surprising. Jana felt a previously unidentified knot of tension relax. There were others here, others she knew.

        The air shifted minutely, and the mist from the water jets drifted in front of her line of sight. Before her, two skeletons stood talking to each other, their skulls stuck in a perpetual grin. Nothing else had changed--not the trees weeping dead leaves, neither the porch, nor the gates. Only the others turned to bone and mockery. And then, following the dictates of chaos theory, the mist shifted away again, and Jo and Emiko [became] flesh once more.

        Despite the sunlight, Jana was cold. She went to meet them, giving the fountain a wide berth as she crossed the courtyard.


Post #10
[Dare wrote:]

        A groaning creak sounded as wind whistled through the shutters of the upper level window. All the windows had been boarded up, allowing none to view inside nor outside. Except one window. It was clouded by an eternity of dirt and mildew, the pane seemingly opaque. That was not so. The girl could observe the outside. And she did.

        "They are gathering," she spoke. No one answered her remark. "They come because they have been called. They can't escape and yet they leap eagerly at the opportunity." The silence gave its agreement.

        The room was dark save for the small light that could creep in through the musty window. Shadows hid her face, as they did all through the house. In shadows lurked many things, the girl noted. Things that despised the light. Things that were content to stay in the dark.

        The girl giggled. "It will be fun to have someone to play with," she mused. "No you're right," she quickly countered. "We will watch and see."

        Stepping from the window, she picked up a small music box from the table. Winding it up, she listened to the tune. It was a dark melody, just like the house. The house was a symphony of many things and it was old, very old. Above all else, the house simply was. It watched silently as the seasons passed, a testament to history and time itself. Things changed. The house did not. Nor did its inhabitants. The ones that lurked in the shadows, and still others. How they longed and desired. And wanted.

        The music box plinked away at the dark tune but created no sound. The music, the siren's wail, instead, was heard inside the girl's head. And in the minds of the others. The girl watched silently as the music box played, watching those who gathered below. When the box stopped its tune, she replaced it on the table.

        "Are you sure?" she asked suddenly, answering just as quickly. "Yes of course. No, I understand. Only one will pass." She tossed her head gingerly. An almost sorrowful tear streaked her eye. "The others must die."

        She walked away from the dirty window and out the room. She closed the door behind. Inside, the room was empty once more, silent and foreboding and waiting. An unseen force wound the crank of the music box. And its tune played on.


Post #11
[Dot wrote:]

        Two people walked into the purple desert completely out of their own volition. One was Eva, in her Remote Unit, her scanners humming and beeping almost melodically. The other was Samui, looking this way and that.

        Suddenly, Eva stopped, slightly puzzled. "Strange...this is as far as Eric-san's energy signature goes."

        Samui stopped as well. "How about the others?"

        Eva concentrated. "The others keep going..." she pointed towards the distance. "That way." Samui began walking in that direction. "But scanners indicate that you have a 99.9999% chance of dying if you try to go there."

        Samui stopped. "Well, so much for that idea," she kneeled down and picked up a handful of sand.

        "Something the matter, Samui-san?"

        Samui rubbed the sand between the fingers. "There's something distinctively unusual out here," she looked out towards the horizon. "And I don't mean this sand."

        And then both of them heard something that made their nerves stand on end.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        Samui stood up very slowly and inched next to Eva. "Do you think you can get a pin on the source?"

        "I'll try," Eva tuned her receptors to the music. Just as she was about to home in on where it was coming from, the singing stopped as abruptly as it had started. "Gomen, I wasn't able to locate it, and when I tried to record a segment, the audio file deleted itself."

        "So whatever it is that's out here doesn't want us to find it," Samui murmured.

        Eva nodded. "And I don't think it's safe to stay out here any further."

        "Likewise," Samui agreed. "Let's head back."

        "Hai."

        Samui turned to leave, but then, as if remembering something, stopped, squatted down, and stuffed several handfuls of sand into her pockets. "All right. Now, let's go."


        Samui squinted into the microscope again, but no matter how many times she looked, the specimens on the slide still looked like ordinary sand. Behind her, Eva was busy analyzing the chemical properties of the sand.

        Samui bent over the microscope for yet another time. "Have you found anything yet?"

        "Nothing," Eva reported, watching Samui's efforts with curiosity. "Um...Samui- san?"

        "Yes?"

        "Why are you so interested in the sand?" Eva blushed a little. "Gomen nasai, I know this is none of my business, but..."

        "There is no need to apologize," Samui straightened and rubbed an eye somewhat absently. "I just find it unusual that things can appear to be so normal and yet be so...wrong."

        Eva blinked. "I am afraid I do not quite understand your reasoning."

        "Everyone is either disappearing or falling ill, and yet very few people seem to be alarmed about this," Samui explained. "I was hoping that the sand would yield some clues as to what is going on."

        Eva nodded. "Oh. Is there something I can do to help?"

        "See if you can find anything in the Genesis records about any similar events," Samui suggested. "Then run a search on legends and myths."

        Eva became confused again. "Why?"

        "Most legends and myths have some grain of truth in it. Maybe that will lead to what we are looking for."

        "Good idea," Eva opened the files and began looking.

        Samui put away the microscope and put on her jacket. "Thank you, Eva-san. While you do that, I'm going to give Nana a visit. I won't be long."


        "Don't strain yourself," Samui said when Nana moved to receive her.

        "Sit down, please," Nana patted the corner of her bed.

        Samui pulled up a chair and sat down next to Mai, who had fallen asleep. "Mai-chan finally got some rest, I see."

        Nana nodded. "She tried to stay up for as long as possible, but the poor girl couldn't stand the exhaustion any longer," she looked away. "I feel so useless..."

        Samui took Nana's hand. "Don't say that. Without you, many of the children on Gaea would never have experienced love."

        Nana blushed at the compliment. "I only did what I was supposed to do..."

        "And all of us are eternally grateful for it."

        The talking woke Mai, who immediately snapped to semi-conscious attention. "Gomen nasai, Nana-Sama! I didn't mean to fall asleep..." she noticed Samui, and her eyes filled with hope. "Samui-sensei! Did you find Emiko-sensei or Eric-sensei yet?"

        "I have some clues that may lead to them," Samui answered carefully.

        Mai's face fell for an instant, but instantly brightened again. "That means you can get them back?"

        "Hai, Mai-chan," Samui placed her free hand on Mai's head. "I'll get them back. Whatever it takes. I promise."

        Mai leapt into Samui's arms and hugged tightly. "Arigatou, Samui-sensei."

        Just then, Samui's beeper rang. She unclipped it from her belt and pressed the 'receive' button. "Yes?"

        "Samui-san, I think I've found something," Eva reported.

        "I'm all ears, Eva- san."


Post #12
[Dot wrote:]

        Suddenly, the transmission was cut off, and there was a bright flash. When the light faded, Samui found herself standing on a great, empty plain.

        Samui blinked. That's funny...wasn't there something here before?

        A fragment of a memory tugged at the edges of her brain, but when Samui tried to concentrate on it, it slipped away again. A light breeze rustled the dry knee-high grass and lifted a few strands of Samui's hair off her face.

        Samui shook her head. Now is not the time to worry about whatever used to be here, or even if it existed at all. What's more important is that I need to find out what is causing the disappearances that have been going on.

        With that in mind, Samui found her bearings and began to walk. It didn't bother her one bit that she had no idea how she knew about what had been happening; a part of that something that she couldn't quite remember had firmly implanted itself in her subconscious [mind].

        I'll get them back. Whatever it takes. I promise.


Post #13
[Dot wrote:]

             ;    "Hiya, Samui!" The self-proclaimed Universe's Greatest Scientist greeted.

        "Hello, Washuu-san." Replied Samui.

        "That's Washuu-CHAN!" Washuu huffed, pretending to be angry. It wasn't before long, though, [that] she was grinning again. "So, are you finally going to let me take a sample?"

        "You know that they wouldn't let me even if I wanted to."

        Washuu pouted. "Not even one little bit of blood?"

        "No. I'm here to do some research."

        Washuu could tell that Samui wasn't about to change her mind any time soon. "The library's all yours, then." She moved aside to let Samui in.


        Samui set down the large stack of books that she had collected and opened one of them.

        This is going to be a very long shot, but it just might work... Samui thought as she skimmed through the Table of Contents. Hmm... She flipped through the pages until she came across an article.

        "Wrexsoul," she read softly to herself. "A demon that feeds upon misery, fear, despair, and other negative emotions. Interesting." She flipped through some more pages. "The Weeping Woman. The spirit of a woman whose misplaced love caused her to kill her children, and then herself. Very interesting." Flip, flip, flip. "Similacra. Beings who can create illusions in the minds of others and even force people to do things against their will." Samui closed the book and rubbed her temples. "This is intriguing, but not very helpful. I need something a little more specific."


        "Of course I'll let you use my computer!" Washuu exclaimed. "That is, for a small exchange."

        "No."

        Washuu sighed. "You're very stubborn, you know."

        Samui took one step closer to the small redheaded woman. "Washuu-san."

        Washuu crossed her arms. "Washuu-CHAN."

        Samui shook her head. "Washuu-san," she repeated, adding a slight emphasis on the word 'san'. "Something terrible is happening right now, and if I can't get to the bottom of it in time, all of us will be in danger. I'm sorry that I can't satisfy your scientific curiosity concerning me, but now is neither the time nor place to do so." Samui stared straight into Washuu's eyes, making the other woman very uncomfortable. "So. Will you help me, or do I have to make you?"


Post #14
[Chris Magee wrote:]

        Sable looked up at the massive Victorian house before him. It really did look like it was the set of some old horror film. The shutters were battered, broken, and many were held on by one hinge. The paint was flaking off at a thousand points on the siding. And the wood showing through was rotten all the way through.

        He went over to the patio and sat down. The party was going to start soon. He couldn't wait, he didn't get invited to parties often since he lived near the Redmond slums and most of the kids didn't like him. Besides, most of the time he had to look after his three little brothers. He told his mom he would watch after them after they all got back from school. But he usually didn't need to get invited, he and Sterling would...

        He shook his head as if a fly had touched down on the tip of his nose and told him about French history. His mind felt like it had been stuffed in to a blender for a half-hour.

        What in Gods' name was he thinking? He hadn't lived in or near Redmond for over a 10 years and hadn't been in Seattle for at least half that time. It was almost like he was reliving his childhood but then he wouldn't have remembered that flea-bitten, magic-using, sorry-ass excuse for a roomie. Something was very, very wrong.

        "Wait a second, where's that girl?" Sable asked aloud. He looked around and was surprised to see he still had the balloon. "Where am I?" Sable must've been walking around while dazed, cause he was at the back door now. No one else was here. He could see the path he had taken in the compost heap that was supposed to be a lawn. Steel-toed combat boots leave quite an impression. Behind the house was what looked like jungle but only seven feet high. It was a garden, and it was big. A large willow tree was the only major feature to be seen and it was at what appeared to be the middle of a hedge maze. He was about to go back to the front and find out what in the hell was going on when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

        He turned to see a small kid run into the hedge maze. He didn't catch the face but he did hear laughing of several children in the maze. Sable wanted some answers but the girl wasn't available for questions. But these kids might be in on it. He took off after them. In the maze was a tangle of over grown plants and vines that gave Sable the near impossible task of breaking through. Sable thought how nice it must be to be one of those sword wielding maniacs that infest Capow, cause right now they would be pretty darned handy.

        Through a dozen turns and as many dead-ends Sable lost his grasp on coherent thought. Every time he was about to catch up to one kid he would turn a corner and see the child at the far end and a near impassable stretch of overgrowth in between. But he knew the kids were going to the center of the maze and that he was making steady progress. Every minute the willow got a little bit closer to the willow and he could hear the voices getting louder.

        After what seemed like eternity he reached the center and found three young boys no older that 10. They all looked a little alike. They all had brown hair and green eyes. And, most striking, they all looked a little like Sable.

        "Len! You found us! You're fast! No one else was able to find us but you! Let's do it again! We'll go hide now." They all said at once. Sable was a little shaken. He watched his brothers as they dashed out of the small squared off center. He hadn't really seen them in over 10 years. Even worse was that they had said the exact same things. Sable then had an terrifying sense of deja vu wash over him. He had played this game with his brothers that afternoon. He had won and they had hidden one last time.

        All the others heard him scream...not again.


Post #15
[Jinx wrote:]

        Jinx waited eagerly as the girl slowly opened the door. It creaked loudly, making Silber squirm.

        "It's in here!" The girl exclaimed, as Jinx pushed the door in. It was dark, and she could barely see inside.

        "Why is it dark like this?" Jinx asked, turning around, only to find the girl gone. She looked up, and around, but there was no sign of her. "Hmm." She turned back around and proceeded in, but was stopped short by Silber's teeth tugging on her shirt. "It's only dark, Silber. We can find a light.." Jinx's voice was soft, and unusually calm, and Silber was frightened. She wouldn't move.

        "Silber...what if we're late? Come on..." Without waiting for a response, Jinx pushed the door in more and stepped in. Silber hesitated, and then followed. Her red eyes easily darted through the darkness, but all she saw was what else you'd find in an old house: an old interior. She moaned.

        "Perhaps everyone else is late." Jinx stopped a few steps in, and ran her hand along the wall. She felt the paint falling off, and the wood escaping underneath. She continued, finally finding the light switch. Flipping it on, several lamps on the walls lit like candles. The paint on the walls weren't peeling as much as she thought. It wasn't that bad looking. There were doors to other rooms, and a huge staircase to the second floor. The wooden floorboards were beginning to lift up, and the furniture was old and dusty.

        No matter how you try, I will always be near. I am deep inside your soul, everything you think is what I hear.

        She hummed the tune as she moved easily around the room, looking at the furniture and the paintings on the walls.

        "This... looks like me.." She squinted to get a better look at the painting behind all the dust. Silber cautiously approached Jinx and looked up at the painting as well. "This..." Jinx gently brushed away from of the dust, revealing a little girl in front of a man and a woman, supposedly her parents. The woman had long, black hair and a gentle look to her face. The man had light brown hair, deep green eyes, and and a serious face. The girl standing in front of them, with black hair and green eyes, must have been Jinx. Blinking a few times, she noticed something in the girl's hand.

        A gun.

        For a moment, Jinx almost escaped, until gunshots rang through her head. Her eyes went wide and blank, as the gunshots continued. Seeing the blood on her fingers, she screamed. The gunshots rang louder, and Jinx's screams increased in volume as well. Silber barked, and nudged Jinx, trying to get her to calm down. But Jinx ignored her, and grabbed the sides of her head.

        "It...it was an accident...nooooo! NNOOOO!" She fell to her knees, and hearing the gunshots another time, continued her screaming. Tears escaped her shut eyes, and she shook her head violently, her grip tightening with every cry.

        Silber, eyes widened, stepped back, and burst out the door for help, Jinx's cries still audible, and piercing every inch of Silber's body, she ran.


Post #16 [Chris Magee wrote:]

        Sable looked about the courtyard towards the front of the house where that one girl and wolf just entered. They shouldn't go in without the hostess here yet, it was bad manners. She might not let them come to the party. All their friends will be there... Mike, Louie, and Melissa are all coming. Will Sterling come? Who is Sterling? He's my roomie. You don't have a roommate. You're only eleven. I'm over twenty. If you are then why are you coming to the party. What party?

        His mind came back to him. "What the...." He looked around and he was fully soaked with sweat. He wiped his face with his sleeve and took in what was around him. His mind raced like a like a dragster without brakes. "I was.... I was on the street when I caught that balloon for that girl. She thanked me and I...I...I..." He wasn't brainwashed or knocked out, which left the ever-present aggressor, magic. This wasn't his area of expertise. He sorely wished he had brought ol' fuzzball with him, he would at least have a way around this or some idea of how to deal with it. Or that mage who used a fireball to dry them off that rainy day; Martin was his name, or was it Martini? Arrrrr, what a headache. He was about to turn and leave when he saw a small figure dash through the backyard gate. The fence was at least seven feet tall and he couldn't see through it. Sable dashed after whoever it was in the hopes of finding out what the hell was going on.

        No matter how you try, I will always be near. I am deep inside your soul, everything you think is what I hear.

        He got through the gate and heard the music again. He stopped dead in his tracks. He saw a patio half rotten with age, but that wasn't the heart-stopping sight. On it was a series of deep red stains on the stairs leading up on to the door. Sable hoped it was paint. On the door and knob, red handprints were everywhere. It didn't look like paint at all. He grabbed the knob and he went inside to what looked like a kitchen. His only real clue was the horrible smell of decomposing food. Just then he heard screaming. He dashed through the kitchen into the foyer. He saw Jinx for the second time that day but this time she was on her knees with her eyes wide as she screamed at her hands.

        "It...it was an accident...nooooo! NNOOOO! I didn't mean it!" she continued to scream, completely oblivious to the outside world. Sable went over to her and grabbed her arm in an effort to snap her out of her episode. She turned to him and in a low voice said "It was an accident, I didn't mean to do it.." her voice broke down and she continued to sob. Sable looked up to see the picture and did a brief double take at the girl in front of him and the girl in the picture.

        "Something is definitely wrong here."


Post #17
[Jinx wrote:]

        Sable looked back down at Jinx as her sobs quieted, and her eyes lowered. He glanced back up at the painting. Oddly enough, it wasn't of the little girl and her parents before. Instead, it was a simple still life of a vase of irises. Sable blinked.

        What the...?

        There was also no red stains anywhere, as he had seen before.

        Jinx hiccuped and her body loosened. She dried her eyes after Sable let go of her arm.

        "A-are you okay..?" Sable asked. He waited for her response, and when she lifted her head to look at him, he noticed her eyes were pitch black.

        Sable shivered.

        Her cheeks were slightly red and moist, but she seemed to act as if nothing happened.

        "Who are you?" She inquired in a low, soft voice. Jinx furrowed her brow.

        "I'm Sable...I heard you scream..." Sable replied, "so I came running...I found you on the ground here.."

        Jinx opened her mouth to speak, but had decided to say something else instead. "Where is Silber?"

        "Silber? The wolf?"

        "Yes." Jinx's voice hardened. "Where is she?"

        Sable blinked. "I don't know...she wasn't here when I came in."

        Her expression softened, and she folded her hands in her lap and looked at them. "She left me? Silber...left me?"

        Sable swallowed. "N- no, I'm sure she didn't leave you."

        "No, she left me...like everyone else did.." With that, Jinx got up off the floor and ran farther back into the house. Sable jumped to his feet, but was already too late. He sighed, and wondered what was going on, and whether or not he should go after her.


        Silber's red eyes darted around the yard desperately. She stopped before a tall, slim fountain. It seemed to build in levels, like a cake, with spouts of water at every section, and at the top sat a mermaid, looking up at the sky, as if yearning to walk on two legs. The fountain seemed old, but still in decent shape. Silber jumped up with her hind legs and looked in the water.

        Nothing suspicious, just the ripples in her reflection.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        She heard it. For the first time. Silber looked around cautiously and then jumped away and continued past the fountain quickly, ignoring the singing and remembering her reason for being out there in the first place. Making her way past several dead bushes, she stopped short when she spotted Jo-chan and Jana talking. Silber dashed over to them, barking loudly.


Post #18
[Chris Magee wrote:]

        Sable looked around the foyer to try to figure this all out once more. He has been hypnotized by some midget, stuck in front of some run down old Victorian mansion, finds blood on the back step and a girl screaming her brains out in the front hall. Then she asks about her wolf and then zips off as if she had an incredibly large chunk o' acid.

        The sounds of a canine barking could be heard from the front yard, but Sable was paying them no heed. He looked up to the large family painting that had Jinx in it. He was looking at the damned thing but his mind was elsewhere, mainly as too what in God's name was going on.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me.

        Sable whipped around with his cybernetic claws extended. He had made the rather simple connection of that song and the weird-fucking-shit that happened shortly afterwards. Sable watched and waited for that one more freaky thing. To those who don't know him, Sable may look like something of a low-watt bulb, but quite the contrary, his mind was acid sharp. He just decided subconsciously that people wouldn't appreciate it so he just didn't show it too much.

        He thought he heard someone moving around upstairs, a couple of floorboards creaked as whoever it was walked above him. Sable's juices were flowing and he was very much rattled at this point. He raced up the stairs to a rather long hallway. Unfortunately Sable didn't really look at the portrait or he would've seen something that would have really gotten to him. He would've thought that it looked like his Dad or Uncle Don. But it would not take long for him to realize that he was looking at himself.

        A set of footprints was visible in the dust on the floor. Seven rooms lined this hallway, three on the right and four on the left. Another staircase began at the end of the hallway and continued up to the right. All the doors were shut and the footprints led to the middle right room.

        Sable crept up to the door and placed his ear to the door. All he heard was sobbing inside. Taking a deep breath he opened the door to see what was inside. The room was obviously made for a little girl, although time had made it a bit less than feminine. There was no one in the room as he walked in. Sable walked over to the windows and saw two other women trying to make sense of a clearly agitated and distraught wolf.

        He turned around to see the whole room changed, it was as it originally was, wallpaper with pink pastel stripes and little angels flying in between. A small but amazingly beautiful chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The bed was a masterpiece of woodworking, satins and silks. It was a four-post deal that Sable would not know the name of and wouldn't ever want to know. He wasn't in his usual garb anymore but a rather well made suit. The sun was streaming in and it had that dream-like quality. He saw what was in the bed. This was no dream, it was a nightmare and his mind snapped.


        Jo-chan and Jana where both attempting to decipher Silber's barking when both heard someone else scream. All three of them rushed into the house and into the foyer. There they met a fairly unnerved Jinx coming in from the kitchen. Silber got a case of puppy madness as she saw [that] Jinx [was] all right. She jumped up to her and glomped her, badly.

        "SILBER! Yes, I am glad to see you, too. Silber, move. Move! MOOOOOVVVVVVEEEEEE!" Jinx said as she got up from underneath her overzealous guardian.


        "Jinx, what is going on? Who screamed?" inquired Jo-chan as she took in the foyer. "Oh my God." She had laid her eyes and saw a number of people whom she recognized, the foremost being Jinx.

        Jana saw the portrait and looked at the staircase and saw the fresh footsteps in the years of dust. Jinx saw them shortly after and remembered that guy who helped her a second ago. "Hey, that guy was wearing boots." And with a small entourage she darted up the stairs. Jinx got to the top with the rest of the procession close behind. Only one set of prints was to be seen and a door was open. They all piled through into the room to see Sable.

        The man was not the same one Jinx had seen just moments before. Sable was breathing hard, as it he had just been toe to toe with death and death said, "boo". His eyes were wide open, pupils as wide as they could be. He was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane and he was sweating like a pig to boot. He was kneeling in front of collapsed and rotting bed that at one time was a true sight.

        Jinx walked up to him and put her hand on his quivering shoulder. "Hey, are you alright?" she said as she gently tried to rouse him from whatever it was that taken him.

        His hand moved like lightning and grasped Jinx's wrist, his head slowly turning to face her. His eyes looked vacant, as if he wasn't really there to begin with.

        "HEY! What are you doing!?! HELP!" cried Jinx as she tried to break free. Jo-chan and Jana moved in and tried to break his (literally) iron grip. Silber began biting his forearm but to no avail.

        Sable began to speak in a strange tone, a voice filled with betrayal and pain. "Why did you do it? Why did it have to happen? She never did anything wrong. Why did you do it? Why?" This freaked out everyone within earshot to the point of backing away a good two or three feet.

        "LET ME GO!" yelled Jinx as she pulled with all her strength. With that Jinx flew from Sable's grasp into Jo-chan and Jana. Sable turned his attention back to the bed, still shaking and staring. Silber was angry now. NO ONE hurt her friend, NO ONE. She growled and pounced upon Sable and began to bite his other arm. The reaction was noticeably delayed but was still there.

        "YYYEEEEEEOOOWWWWWWWW!" Sable yelled as he pushed to wolf off him. He immediately scurried into a corner and looked around like an animal. "What the hell is going on." he said while cradling his now bleeding arm.

        The ladies looked at each other then looked back at Sable with a fair amount of surprise. Jana put it as well as anyone else could, "We don't know."


Post #19
[Dot wrote:]

        Washuu stared at Samui. "You've _got_ to be kidding."

        "Do I look like I'm kidding?" Samui took out her capsule case and made sure that everything was there. "I've wasted too much time already. The only way that I can get to the bottom of things is go there myself."

        Washuu shook her head. "It's too risky." She touched a panel, and a keyboard appeared. "Watch." Washuu typed in several commands. "No even my computer is even picking anything up in the general area that you described. What's going to happen to you if you go in there?"

        "I don't know," Samui admitted.

        "Then why in the world are you still doing it?"

        Samui headed out the door. "Because I gave my word that I would do whatever it takes."


        The purple sand crunched slightly under Samui's feet as she paced back with and forth her hands in her pockets. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        Samui's heart began to beat rapidly, and her body began to shake. Sensing someone approaching, she opened her eyes.

        Floating lazily in the air was a clear balloon. Holding onto it was a little girl wearing a white dress.

        "You changed your mind!" The little girl exclaimed. "Good!" She thrust the string into Samui's hands. "Hurry, or you'll be late!"

        "All right..."


        Everything suddenly seemed a whole lot bigger when Samui stepped through the gate, which was now mysteriously over her head. In the center of the yard, seven stone angels 'blew' water out of their stone trumpets into a large fountain.

        You can run, but you can't hide. No matter where you go, I am by your side...

        Samui felt as though her brain was looking through a distorted, foggy window. When she tried to concentrate, though, her thoughts only got farther away from her.

        "You're here!" The same little girl who had offered her the balloon appeared and grabbed her hand. "Come on! Everybody's inside!"

        "Oh, right," Samui answered, even thought she had no idea what the little girl was talking about.

        The two had gotten as far as the living room when the little girl stopped. "Oh, I forgot! Everybody has to wash their hands." She let go of Samui and pointed to a door. "The bathroom is over here."


        The faucet was too high to reach, even when Samui stood on tiptoe, but this didn't bother her one bit. She simply pulled up a nearby stool and climbed to the top of it. The natural consequence of this action, of course, was that Samui got a good look at herself in the mirror.

        Staring back at her was the face of a 5-year-old little girl with gray eyes and green hair.


Post #20
[Dare wrote:]

        The girl screamed. How dare they! They were not permitted to leave unless it was over. The house had told her that someone had simply vanished without her permission. She couldn't believe it. She wanted to know who it was but the house could not say, perhaps it didn't know. She regarded her guests secretly. They did not seem to have noticed their friend was missing. It was as if they did not remember. But the house always remembered.

        She frowned. Yes, she agreed. They would need to move things along now, prevent anyone else from leaving before it was their time. She needed to find, among her guests, the one worthy for the lurkers. One whose darkness and misery were greater than the others so that they might feast upon them and grow. The lurkers in the shadow could not do it by their own hand. They needed someone to be their proxy, someone real who could manipulate what they could not. But the more they consumed, the more powerful they would become until nothing could stop them. She wondered if they would still need her once that happened. She shivered to think that the lurkers would abandon her once her task was done.

        No, she would join them, they had promised. They would embrace her and she would never be alone after that. She would never know fear or sadness or weakness once she joined with them. But she had to complete the tasks or it would never come to pass. Find one who is worthy to satiate our hunger, they told her. And eliminate the remaining.

---

        "What the--?" Jinx asked suddenly. One moment she was struggling with Sable, the next she found herself in an entirely different room. She looked around and spotted the rest. Her jaw nearly dropped to the floor.

        They were all here but it was all wrong. Susano, Jo-chan, Jana, Sable, Lina, Saphiros, Silber and Samui. They looked like little kids, barely eight years old. "What's going on?" Jinx asked again, then felt her throat as she noticed her voice had rose slightly. She looked at her hands and her feet. They seemed smaller than before.

        The room they were in had a long table, covered by a dusty cloth. A brilliant crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling but its glitter had all but dulled from years of neglect. There were ten covered chairs at the table. Four were on the long side and one at each end.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        Everyone heard the familiar sing-song music. The girl who had led each one of them to the mysterious house entered the doorway to the large dining room. She skipped merrily to her chair and smiled. "Everyone, I'm so glad you're all here! Let's have some fun now!"

        With an innocent smile and flutter of her eyelashes, she grabbed the cloth covering her chair and tugged it off quickly. Dust filled room.


Post #21
[Joseph (mostly) wrote:]

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.
        --John Lennon

--

        Cogito, ergo sum.

        I think, therefore I am.

        It's quite a bit harder to prove that anything else is.

        Most people go through life making the assumption that what they see is what they get. For the most part, this is true: What you perceive is reality. Until such time as someone or something is able to convince you or influence you otherwise, in which case you discover another perspective. But it's still not objective.

        Because you can never look at anything objectively. The only way that you can possibly look at anything objectively is during the period after you have already been cold and rigid and in a wooden box six feet under the ground, and even then we're making assumptions.

        If you took every single history book in the world and ripped out all the sections about Hitler, then, in a few generations time, he'll have been long forgotten. Or at the very least, he'll have been a myth, a legend, a story handed down from parent to child to grandchild to great- grandchild but which everyone nowadays knows isn't real.

        Get enough people to believe something, and suddenly reality changes to fit it.

        In other words, perception equals reality.

        And you're as dead as you think you are.

--

        Jo-chan was too tired for this.

        It was way worse than the fourteenth century.

        She'd told the others that she was looking for hot water, and had left them in the room adjacent.

        It had taken a bit for her to find what she needed.

        She struck a match, lit the stove, and put the teakettle on it. The house had got running water, but no heat. The paint peeled sadly off the walls, and dust lachrymosely covered the tables, walls, and chairs from disuse. No one had been in this kitchen for years. Anyone that had ever been in it before was probably dead by now.

        There was no room service.

        Jo-chan wiped the inch- thick layer off dust off of the window, and stared through it.

        The sun shined. But not brightly. It had a dismal and jaded quality to it, as if it had shone for so long now, that it was thinking of turning in its resignation and taking an early retirement. Probably to Miami somewhere.

        The trees wafted back and forth. Slowly. Like everything else was. Even the still grass in the yard had a gloomy touch. The gates, however, shook in the wind as a green-haired little girl holding the hand of another little girl wearing a white dress walked through it.

        In the center of the yard, seven stone devils "spat" water out of their mouths into a large fountain.

        The water boiled.

        Jo-chan blinked.

        ...In the center of the yard, seven stone angels "blew" water out of their stone trumpets into a large fountain.

        The green-haired young woman walked into the house, but Jo-chan didn't notice.

        She stared out of the window for awhile longer.

        If she'd been younger, Jo-chan decided, that would have been the sort of place she'd have liked to play in...

        A brief whistle shook her out of her reverie, in accordance with the Laws of Dramatic Style. Teakettle whistles always shake people out of their reveries, and this was no exception.

        Sometimes, when you leave the kettle on a bit, steam collects on the wall behind it. In the exact, perfect angle, they look exactly like tears.

        Jo-chan paid this no mind, picked up the teakettle, and tipped it over her head.

        And she screamed.

        And screamed and screamed and screamed.

--

        Sable gripped a random wrist in such a way that a few seconds longer would have required amputation.

        "What was that?!"

        "Onee-chan must've found that hot water," said Jinx.

        "...Would you please let go?" said Jana.

        Silber bit him.

--

        Joseph blindly put the teakettle back on the stove.

        "Damn boiling water." He wiped the scalding liquid from his eyes, and turned.

        The room changed.

        Distant music entered.

Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        The wood looked new, and varnished. The walls were done in pastels, in pink and blue and white. The floors were polished, the lights were on, and the table was set. Napkins and forks and spoons and plates on place mats with a party motif adorned the table. Joseph noticed a vase of freshly plucked flowers on the table, as well.

        Each setting had a very specific place card, with a very specific name on it. Very specific, and very familiar.

        It would all have been very nice and festive if it weren't for the large stain of blood on the west wall.

        Tendrils of red crawled slowly and horribly down the white paint, leaching its color from it.

        Joseph shut his eyes. His heart beat faster as he stepped slowly backwards.

        Don't panic. Don't panic. I mustn't run away.

        There was a thump as his back hit the wall.

        I disbelieve the illusion. Don't panic.

        Joseph had based quite a lot of his life on not panicking. Because if you panicked, you couldn't keep a clear head. And you had just about as much use as an illiterate pen pal.

        So he never panicked. Or at least, he tried not to.

        Don't panic. It's not real.

        Don't panic...

        The rhythm slowed. Joseph opened his eyes.

        The wood was old, the paint peeling, and the room dark. In other words, Joseph noted, it was exactly as it was before.

        Except for the little girl in the white dress standing in the corner.

        Today had been a really terrible day. Sudden hallucinations and people appearing out of nowhere were not the sort of things that helped.

        Joseph stared. "Where'd you --"

        "Everybody has to wash their hands if they want to come to the party," the girl interrupted, cryptically. Her gaze drilled into his eyes.

        He'd meant to refuse. He'd meant to demand an explanation. He'd meant to say, "All right, hold it! Just what the bleeding Hell is happening right here, right now?"

        This was not what he said.

        Instead, Joseph said quietly, "Oh, right..."

        Joseph did not curse frequently, because then, among other reasons, he would not have had any words to convey how he felt if, for example, a meteor was about to strike earth while a third of the moon and seas turned to blood and started boiling as the boat he was in struck an iceberg. But he did when his emotions were riled up.

        This sentence did not have an expletive. Not even so much as a "dang". An objective observer who knew him would have noticed that something was out of kilter, if it was at all possible to be objective.

        His head ached. The day was starting to get to him.

        More accurately, something else was starting to get to him, although he didn't know that.

        His mind grew foggy.

        The little girl grasped his hand. "Come on! The bathroom is this way."

        And she guided him into the next room, skipping. He followed, walking slightly behind her, dazedly.

--

        Drink a martini.

        Drink another martini.

        Drink another martini.

        Drink another martini.

        Drink another martini.

        Drink another martini.

        Drink another martini.

        This sensation is exactly how Joseph is feeling right now.

--

        He hadn't been here long, but what he missed the most right now was Tylenol.

        The girl pulled Joseph into the room. From the looks of it, he decided, it must have been a living room once. The furniture -- the sort of furniture that is found in living rooms everywhere, regardless of culture, creed, or, indeed, planet -- showed considerably more wear and tear than most of the rest of the furniture around the house. Doors connected it to passageways connected to most of the rest of the house. A ceiling fan with what could probably be described as a feet-thick layer of dust failed to revolve ominously, and resolved itself to just sitting there trying to be foreboding.

        The little girl let go of his hand and pointed to a door. "That's the bathroom."

        Somewhere in Joseph's mind, gears began to shift.

        What was the point of all this? Here he was, listening to a little girl he didn't know, in a house he'd never seen before, where people seemed to go mad every three seconds, and she was telling him to wash his hands.

        His mind cleared a bit. Now he'd only felt like he'd downed six martinis in a row. Give or take a half a martini.

        Probably give, he decided.

        The iron usually in his mind began to interlock.

        Right. There was going to be a party here. And what he'd seen before was lots of screaming and buckets of blood and generally people being utterly barmy.

        Why?

        Ideas formed in his mind.

        He'd almost got it...

        The little girl looked up at him. It was hard to tell whether she was looking expectantly.

        There was a small yelp and a thump through one of the doors.

        The bathroom door.

        Joseph lost his mental footing. Thoughts slipped away from him, to be replaced by other thoughts.

        For example, Someone's in there and it sounds like maybe she's in trouble and she might need some help...

        Right.

        He walked up to the bathroom, turned the knob, and let the door close shut behind him with a click, ignoring the faded and scratched image on the door.

        It was a solid circle atop a triangle with two lines jutting diagonally out from just below the point and two parallel lines just below it.

        If you looked very closely, you could still see tinges of pink paint.

        The little girl looked after the door for a bit.

        Then she nodded, satisfied, walked across the room, past a door with the image of a solid circle above a rectangle with two lines extruding downwards, and two parallel lines beneath it, went behind the bookcase, and vanished.


        And then Jo-chan was in the dining room with the others. Everybody looked a bit strange, but at the same time completely normal. You know, it all looks so right, but there's that nagging feeling in the back of your head as if you left something to burn on the stove.

        There was something that they said about drinking seven martinis in a row, and it was akin to the feeling that she felt before. She couldn't remember it at the moment, but whatever it was, the sensation looked like it was going away now. Everything seemed clearer, and more vivid...

        Everything seemed more real.

        Thoughts crossed her mind. What was a martini, anyway? Something grown-ups drank, she thought.

        Someone pulled back the sheets covering the chairs, and dust flew everywhere. Jo-chan instinctively covered her eyes and waited for her lungs to clear. "Happy Birthday" began to play in the background, but it was barely audible. There was the sound of a match being struck, and the pleasantly odd odor of burnt phosphorus wafted in the air, mingling with the smell of flowers.

        Wait. There had been no flowers on the dining room table when Jo-chan last saw it. At least, not counting that scary moment when -- no, she would not think about that.

        Jo-chan opened her eyes again.

        On the shiny, very recently cleaned table sat an equally shiny vase. The flowers stored in it reminded her of an old childhood rhyme.

        Old? She wondered why she'd thought that. She'd just learned it the other day. She liked the song.

        "Ring around the rosy,

        Pocket full of posies,

        Ashes, ashes,

        We all fall down!"

        Everyone stared at her. Jo-chan stared back. Had she really just sung that out loud? And why did her voice seem to be an octave higher than normal?

        That nagging feeling got stronger.

        The girl at the head of the table giggled. "No, silly, we're supposed to be singing 'Happy Birthday'!" Her red hair bobbed up and down, up and down, up and down. Compared to the bow that she wore, though, the girl's hair looked more of a rusty brown. A bit like...

        A bit like dried blood.

        Jo-chan blinked. How did she know that?

        The girl looked at her expectantly. "Well? Aren't you going to sing?"

        She sung.

        "Happy birthday to you,

        Happy birthday to you,

        Happy birthday to..."

        Jo-chan hesitated for the slightest fraction of a second. 'course she knew her name, she told herself. She was nice and invited her to her party.

        Jo-chan hoped she liked her present. 'cause it was something cute she liked and she picked it just for her.

        In her mind, Jo-chan checked on the stove and discovered that it was off. And everyone else did, too. They all sang the last line together.

        "...Happy birthday to you!"

        "Make a wish!" Somebody said, but Jo-chan did not know who.

        The little girl closed her eyes. "Hm..." She opened her eyes and clapped her hands. "Oh, I know what I'm going to wish!" She leaned forward and blew out all seven candles.


Post #22
[Dot wrote:]

        The Lurker's were starting to get impatient, and the girl was getting nervous. Some of the minds were still too closed for her to see whether they had enough on which the Lurker's could feed. However, she was running dangerously close to angering the Lurkers, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.

        Coming to a decision, the girl stood. "We've got a lot of fun games in the basement. Come on, everyone." The guests stood as well, some leaving rather large pieces of uneaten cake. They followed the girl in a single file as they made their way to the door that led to the subterranean level of the house.

        "What games will we be playing?" The little boy with the dark hair asked as the door to the basement opened.

        The girl smiled. "It's a surprise."

        One by one, the guests descended. As the last one, a girl with green hair, laid her foot on the first wooden step, the girl gave her a hard shove. Then, the girl turned off the basement lights, slammed the door, and locked it. As the Lurker's frenzied feeding began, the girl sank against the door, letting out a relieved sigh. With all these guests, she might be able to get her reward at last.

        The girl's heart skipped a beat as a thought occurred to her: what if she had to go into the basement in order to receive her present?

---

        Samui awoke to the sensation of floating. When she opened her eyes, she could only see dark masses around her. Pushing her arms outward, she bumped into strange tubes that seemed to stretch to the ceiling. As her other senses came back to her, she became aware of a salty, slightly metallic taste in her mouth and the slightly muffled sound of alarms in the distance.

        And then she realized she wasn't breathing.

        Panicking, Samui inhaled deeply, only to gain a lungful of liquid, furthering her distress. Adding onto her disorientation was a loud, repeated banging noise in front of her and flashing lights that went off around her.

        Suddenly, Samui was no longer floating but falling, carried by a large rush of liquid. She landed in a pair of firm strong arms. Another pair of arms wrapped a jacket around her and rubbed her back to help her catch her breath.

        "There, there," a voice said soothingly. "You'll be all right."

        Samui froze. She remembered that voice.

        "I don't think she can understand us yet," a second voice said.

        No. This wasn't happening.

        "How do you know for sure?" the first asked.

        "Because the whole point of my design was so that she has to learn, and that includes language capabilities," the second replied with an air of superiority.

        "But you used the human baby as a model, didn't you?" the first countered. "And there's so much that we still don't understand about ourselves, even after all this time."

        The second chuckled. "I guess this means you still haven't given up on trying to give her a name, have you?"

        "Of course not," the first replied seriously. "What do you think of the name 'Rei'?"

        "Too generic. How about 'Ryouko'?" The second feigned horror. "Gah! Now you've got me doing it too!" she shook her head. "Anyway, she already has a designation."

        "Yes, I know. 'Jinzouningen Juuhachigou'."

        No! Stop! Don't make me remember! Samui wanted to scream, but only a whimper escaped her lips.


Post #23
[Dot wrote:]

        Laughter...childish, carefree laughter echoed in the garden...

        The garden...the garden that grew in the backyard of the abandoned house...the house whose gate bore the warning "All Trespassers Will Be Shot"...the warning that every child ignored...

        The living maze had long ago overgrown into the path, but not so much that it could hinder the progress of four overly enthusiastic boys. You could see by the way some of the branches had been unnaturally bent what their childish energy had done to the bushes.

        The sun hung lazily over the boys, casting the garden in a hazy orange. It was getting late, and the boys were getting a bit tired, not to mention hungry.

        But nobody wanted to leave just yet.

        Sable had been the most reluctant to go. He had ended up being It nearly all the time, and he was determined that, if even for once, someone else be the unlucky kid to be stuck with the tedious task of counting to one hundred.

        "One more time?" He suggested, nearly pleading.

        "Okay, but that's it," said the oldest, mimicking their mother's tone of voice.

        Sable nodded. "Okay." He closed his eyes, leaned against the tree, and began counting.

        A gentle evening breeze blew through the garden, rustling the leaves overhead. Sable faltered a little as the numbers got higher, but he regained his confidence and continued to count again.

        Something went *crunch*, like the sound of someone stepping over a branch. Thinking it was one of his brothers, Sable ignored it and kept counting.

        The footsteps came closer.

        This time, Sable paused briefly and listened carefully, but he heard nothing save the occasional sound of leaves waving in the wind. Peeking out of the corner of his eyes, Sable resumed his counting slowly.

        The wind suddenly picked up speed and the sky grew frighteningly dark. Dry leaves whipped Sable's back, and a low moaning sound could be heard in the distance.

        "Guys?" Sable called out uncertainly. "Let's just forget this game and go back. It's getting scary."

        No reply.

        "Guys?" Sable called again, his voice shaking slightly.

        Still no response.

        As dusk turned into night, the garden seemed to come alive with strangely moving shadows and eerie sounds.

        Sable felt like crying. "This isn't funny, guys! Quit hiding and come out!"

        A bush to Sable's right shifted slightly.

        Sable walked over to it cautiously. "Guys?"

        Something leapt out of the leaves towards him, and everything went black.
---
        The tale was repeated so often that it became a joke among those who knew it. Guy gets lost in China, stumbles upon a small place called Jyusenkyou, and becomes intimately familiar with some Very Tragic Story.

        It's not so funny when you're the one it happens to.


        It was times like this that Joseph really, really, really hated being a Hitchhiker. His feet ached from walking God knows how many miles, his stomach ached from not getting any decent food for the last few days, and his skin ached from taking in at least a few hundred hours worth of hot, scorching sun.

        As he took out his map and compass and checked his bearing, Joseph wondered yet again what in the world he was doing in the middle of nowhere. Ah, yes, now he remembered; this was where his ride ditched him after he made a few unintelligent remarks about her chest size.

        How was I supposed to know that the guy was a cross-dresser? Joseph wondered sourly. He sighed. Me and my big mouth... Hefting his satchel a little higher, Joseph took in a deep breath and kept going.


        They wanted to kill him. Not maim, not seriously injure, not even torture, but kill, as in the cessation of life. Or, at least, that's the impression Joseph got as he ran from the mob of shouting women wielding very deadly weapons.

        "WAUGH!" Joseph screamed as the ground rose much too quickly. Stupid protruding roots that trip fleeing Hitchhikers...


        The pools that dotted the landscape below made a lovely sight, especially with the occasional bamboo pole that protruded from them. The picture would have made a nice "Wish You Were Here" postcard, but Joseph, tied up more securely than a Christmas present and dangling precariously from a cliff overlooking the pools, was in no mood to enjoy the view.

        The leader of the group, a very buxom woman with flaming red hair, intoned something in what Joseph assumed to be Chinese and brought out a knife.

        "Um..." Joseph began, sweating heavily. "Isn't there any chance of renegotiating this?"

        The woman continued to move forward with the knife, chanting rhythmically. The other women joined in, swaying with the beat.

        Joseph took in a deep breath. Don't panic, he reminded himself.

        It wasn't working very well.

        As the woman neared, Joseph shut his eyes in fear. All he felt was a quick whoosh as something passed over his head.

        Wait. Whoosh?

        Before Joseph could make any sense of this, however, the Law of Gravity took over and he began his long plummet towards the pools below.

        First was the heart- stopping sensation of weightlessness, and the feeling that your stomach would jump into your throat. Then came the impact, a thousand sharp needles piercing your skin and a sledgehammer that knocked all the air out of you. Next, the panic of not being able to breathe, with nothing but water beneath you, and the surface so far away. Finally, while all of this is happening, so subtle that you almost miss it, is the change. Your body shifts, becomes smaller, softer, rounder. Parts disappear, and new ones take their place. And you become aware of someone else, another soul merged into yours, lurking there in your subconscious, your thoughts mixing with theirs.

        Joseph Sutedja, meet the Spring of the Drowned Girl. Very Tragic Story, of a girl who drowned there one thousand five hundred years ago. And one Hitchhiker who nearly joined her.

        Jo-chan screamed.
---
        St. Cabrie-Quioun Island, having been uninhabited for nearly two centuries, was a veritable paradise. However, Benson Caites didn't there with his wife and only daughter only to admire its sandy beaches or lush tropical vegetation. Professor Caites--Ph.D. of Archaeology, Universitšt Dortmund--was more interested in the temple that had been discovered there. By a rough estimate of the documents he had found and the artifacts excavated from the site, the temple had to be at least four hundred years old. Benson planned to spend quite a bit of time at St. Cabrie-Quion, so his wife, Mataea, decided to come along as well. Mataea, who held a B.S. in Humanities from the Universidad de Navarra in Madrid, often accompanied Benson on his excursions, for she greatly disliked being separated from him and found his work rather intriguing.

        For his daughter Elisabeth, however, this would be the first time she actually joined her parents on the field since she was a baby. On all of the previous occasions, Elisabeth had been enrolled into the nearest local school or stayed behind with a tutor. This time, though, since summer was near, Benson thought that Elisabeth should get some hands-on experience. Besides, she was old enough to understand and appreciate what was going on and mature enough not to touch the precious artifacts. Besides, Silber would be coming along as well, and aside from being Elisabeth's guardian the dog also made sure that she behaved herself.

        Today, the three would be exploring the newest tunnel that was opened the night before. Some of his men had expressed concern that the tunnel might not be completely safe, but Benson would hear none of that. He was certain that this tunnel held the answer to why the island had been abandoned, for excavations around the temple did not reveal any traces of a natural or man-made disaster.

        Benson nearly tripped as the floor beneath him began to decline, but he caught himself. Elisabeth, however, wasn't so lucky and yelped as she fell, sending the flashlight in her hand tumbling into the darkness.

        Mataea immeadiately knelt down to check on her daughter. "Elisabeth-darling, are you all right?"

        "Y-yeah," Elisabeth replied a bit shakily.

        Benson waited a bit impatiently for Mataea to help Elisabeth up. He was lucky to even have a child, he supposed, for according to their doctor the chances of Mataea getting pregnant had been so slim that she was practically infertile. Of course, Benson never gave up trying for a son, but now that both he and his wife were going into their fifties, it was foolish to hope for a miracle.

        By the dim illumination provided from his flashlight, Benson could make out the faded designs and runes on the walls. He made a mental note to study them further after proper lighting was installed.

        The floor was level once again, and by the echo in his footsteps, Benson surmised that they were now in a large room. A dingy altar near the center of the room reflected the beam from Benson's flashlight. "Honey?"

        Mataea was already reaching into Benson's backpack. "I'm way ahead of you, dear." She dextrously pulled out a lamp about the size of her head, re-zipped the backpack, then set the lamp on the floor. Next, she brought out a small box of matches from her pocket and removed a match. Last, lifting the glass cover, Mataea struck the match on the rough stone floor, lit the tiny wick, and turned the gas flow all the way up to allow maximum brightness.

        Elisabeth turned an unnatural shade of green and choked back a gasp.

        The room was filled with skeletons of various sizes. Judging from the way they were leaning against each other, Benson surmised that they had probably died sitting down and squeezed very closely together. A skull sat upon the altar, its grim visage grinning at the family who gaped at it. Painted on the wall behind the altar was an enormous white serpentine creature. Eight of its heads were munching contentedly on a human body, and the ninth was bending towards a pile of dead that, if one viewed it from the right angle, appeared to be right on top of the altar.

        Benson walked forward and picked up the flashlight that Elisabeth had dropped. "They're all dead, Elisabeth. There's no need to be afraid."

        "W-what happened here?" Elisabeth asked very quietly, as if afraid to wake the dead.

        "I don't know," Benson confessed. "And it might be a while before anyone can figure anything out."

        Elisabeth shuddered and unconciously moved closer to her mother. "Can we go now? Please?"

        Mataea agreed. "Yes, I think Elisabeth has seen enough for today."

        Benson sighed inwardly. One of the many things he had to put up with because he had a daughter and not a son...

        On their way up, Benson noticed a small opening he had not seen before. Shining his flashlight through it, he caught glimpses of something shimmering back at him.

        "Daddy..." Elisabeth began, sounding a bit impatient.

        Benson ignored her. He had to investigate this before the day was done. Removing everything he carried with him, including the large shotgun he slung over his backpack in case he ever needed to defend himself, he began squeezing himself through the opening.

        A secret wall began to move, but no one noticed.

        Benson forced a dry chuckle. "Honey? Could you give me a hand? I think I'm stuck." Must be getting old, he thought. Just a few years ago he could still move around without his belly hindering him.

        Mataea set her things down as well and inched into the opening after her husband, leaving Elisabeth to stand alone in near total darkness.

        Silber let out a low growl.

        "What is it, Silber?" Elisabeth pointed her flashlight in the direction that Silber was menacing, but the range of the beam proved to be too short to show anything. She gulped. What was taking her parents so long?

        The sound of something heavy falling was heard from the room they had just been in, causing Elisabeth to jump.

        "What was that?" she asked, but got no reply. Her hands shook. "Mom? Dad?"

        "We're almost out, dear," Mataea answered. "It'll be just a few more minutes."

        Standing by herself, with nothing but a bunch of things by her, and with Silber alternatively growling and barking at the darkness, this did not sound very reasurring to Elisabeth.

        Silber let out another round of vicious barks. That did it. Setting her flashlight down against her father's backpack so that it wouldn't roll away, Elisabeth groped around until she found his shotgun. Awkwardly hefting it in her arms, Elisabeth once again confronted her fears.

        I'm not scared, Elisabeth thought resolutely, hugging the gun tightly. I'm a brave girl.

        Bang! Something whizzed by her head. Without even thinking, Elisabeth hoisted the gun, cocked it, and fired into the pitch-black tunnel. The echo was so loud that it sounded like two shots had been fired.

        Mataea screamed. The sound of her voice was from the same direction in which Elisabeth had pointed her gun.

        A sick sensation rose as realization dawned on Elisabeth.

        "No..." she whispered, letting the gun fall onto the floor. Another shot was heard, and this time it was her father's voice that cried out. Elisabeth's hands shook even more. "No...it was an accident..." She sank to her knees. "It was an accident..."

        A dull boom sounded in the distance and a slight tremor could be felt. Silber let out a startled yip as she and Elisabeth were showered with pebbles, but Elisabeth didn't even blink.

        "It was an accident...an accident..."

        The tremors rose steadily. Alarmed, Silber began tugging on Elisabeth, but she only continued to sit there and repeat the same thing over and over again. A large chunk of rock broke free from the ceiling and landed dangerously close to the two of them. Seeing that Elisabeth wasn't about to make any effort to save herself, Silber decided to take things into her own jaws. Biting down rather hard on Elisabeth's jeans, Silber began dragging her towards the exit.

        "...an accident..."
---
[Dare wrote:]

        Saphiros opened his eyes. He had tumbled down the stairs in the dark and hurt his head, slightly. Annoyed, he thought it was really rude of that girl. He hoped everyone else was okay.

        Where was everyone else?

        "Lina? Guys?" His voice echoed. Where was he? Putting his palms on the floor, he felt the uneven cobblestone floor. It was cold and dusty. It was a good chance that nobody had been down here in years. Feeling along the walls, he found what might have been a candleholder for light. Taking a match from his pocket, he striked it against the wall.

        Saphiros gasped. Before him was a long corridor. Shadows flickered on the walls from the dimly lit match. It played tricks on his senses. He thought he saw the shadows take form, but they weren't. Above his head, was indeed a sconce with a burner and handle. But, when he brought the match to the burner, it blew out.

        Damn wind, he muttered. Although the idea of wind in the basement was odd to him, he ignored that stray thought and took out another match. Again, it blew out right after he lit it.

        This time, he lit another match and cupped his hand around the flame so the wind couldn't blow it out. But, it still did, from behind. He spun around, but all was dark. What in the name--?

        He had only one match left. He brought it close to the burner and quickly lit it. It didn't blow out. Relieved, Saphiros took the handle.

        Then, something pulled at him. Turning around, he jumped. Where was the stairs? He was quite sure he had come down a set of stairs. He even had the bruise on his head to show for it. But, either direction in the hallway looked the same.

        Saphiros picked the direction he was originally facing and began walking. At even intervals, similar burners hung in sconces along the narrow hallway. As he passed them, he lit each one. He traveled for a few minutes and came upon something quite creepy. A stone figure embellished the hallway. Its face was cloaked and its palms rested on a sword. Curiousity overwhelmed him, and he looked closer. Dust settled on his face, and he sneezed.

        At that instant, he thought the statue came to life. It lifted its head and drew the sword up. Saphiros blocked his face with his arm, squeezing his eyes shut. Then, nothing. He looked back, and the statue was normal once more.

        And he noticed something more terrifying. All the burners he had lit had been extinguished. The only light he carried was in his hands.

        Fear was slowly taking over. What was going on? Where was he? Where was everyone else? Scrambling up, he began running towards the end of the hallway, if it even had an end. This was impossible! He would have to be several yards away from the house's foundation by now.

        BOOM

        What was that?

        BOOM

        The floor shook with each sound. Specks of dirt and dust floated down from the ceiling. It was heavy footsteps, coming towards him. He looked back and saw only darkness.

        BOOM BOOM

        The steps were getting closer together and louder.

        BOOM BOOM BOOM

        That was a good indication that the thing was running. Saphiros started running, too, and the thundering footsteps followed him. He dared not look back, in case he saw whatever it was that chased him. He ran and ran, until he reached a large wooden door. Pulling the handles, he found it locked shut.

        Glancing back over his shoulder, he could feel the footsteps drawing near. He even thought a figure was moving closer and closer. His heart began racing faster. He banged on the door, desperately hoping someone would open it.

        And then, it did. He didn't care who or what opened it, but he raced through and slammed the door shut. Stepping back, he waited, breathing hard. The door was large, solid oak, with two doorknobs. One of them began to turn.

        Panic drove him. He flew towards the door with utmost reluctance and drew the long metal bolt across. The knob jiggled slightly then it stopped. Suddenly, a deafening boom thundered. The wooden door heaved against the bolt, attempting to burst at its hinges. It was trying to break the door down. The banging was so loud Saphiros almost covered his ears. Then, it stopped.

        Pulse racing, breath panting, Saphiros scrambled backwards onto the floor, waiting, hoping. Hoping that whatever was on the other side gave up. Hoping the door would hold. Seconds passed and became minutes. Minutes felt like hours. Time felt eternal. And nothing happened.

        Regaining his composure, Saphiros got up and backed away. Where was he now? Waving the burner around, he found himself in a large room. At one end, there was a big desk with many books piled around it. The room was empty, otherwise. The ceiling was quite high, and a intricate chandelier hung from it. At the other end was a large painting. He couldn't see the person in the painting. Two stone lions sat on other side of the painting, atop stone pedestals.

        Judging by the hardwood floor, he guessed the room might be a party room or a ballroom. Odd place to put it, he thought, in a basement.

        Saphiros felt himself being drawn towards the desk and the books. He lit two lamps sitting on the desk. On top of the stack was a great leather-bound book. He blew off the thick coat of dust and flipped the cover back. The pages were heavy as well. Each page had many lines on it, but nothing written on them. He flipped through half the book until he found some text. Each line contained a name, nothing more. Each name was also crossed out. What could that mean? There were eight names. The rest of the book was empty.

        Another book caught his eye. It was modern, a coiled notepad, although it was also yellowed with age. Somebody had been here. The first page had entries and he decided to read them out loud.

        "It's been several weeks since we've moved in. Angela absolutely loves the house. She spends the day playing in the old rooms. Her mother thinks she should spend more time studying her reader instead of playing hide and seek. I wonder, who is she hiding from? Elise still doesn't like the house, but it's the best we could afford after Jim left her."

        He flipped down a few paragraphs.

        "Angela was playing hide and seek again and I scoured the house, looking for her. And, then, I spotted a staircase I had never seen before. I found myself in a dark hallway with candleholders on the wall. At the end, was a door that led to this room. How could this large room be here? I want to learn more, but I must find Angela."

        The entry ended. Saphiros flipped to another page. Was it his imagination, or did the unknown author's handwriting look a bit shabbier, and the handwriting a bit harder to make out?

        "I've spent a good deal of time in this room, reading about Mr. Faldwell's journals. Apparently, he was the original owner, amassing great fortune on the stock market. He became desperate to find a successor to his money. He devised a devilish idea. For some reason, he wanted his closest friends and family to attend to his will, when he died. He wanted them to stay in the house for a week, and whoever could claim the will after that could have the money."

        Movement flickered from the corner of Saphiros eyes. He turned his head slightly and saw nothing out of the ordinary. The room was silent, save for his voice, which he felt gave him slight comfort.

        The two stone lions were staring down at him from across the room? Weren't those stone lions looking up?

        He flipped another page.

        "The journals end on November 1st. I presume that must be the day he died. There is nothing more to read here. Elise is becoming unhappy at my constant disappearance into the basement. I tell her that I'm just tidying the place up, but somehow, she doesn't believe me. The little girl, Angela, is becoming more insufferable each day. I wish I had met Elise when she wasn't already a mother."

        "What a deadbeat," Saphiros said to himself, remarking about the author, the supposed step-father of Angela. Wait, was Angela the little girl? No, the years didn't match up. She would have been at least a middle-aged woman by now.

        He thought the stone lions had moved again. From the corner of his eye, he spied they had now settled on the floor. But, when he looked straight on, they were still perched on their stone pedestals.

        There were more entries. The neat print had now degenerated into a loosely connected cursive and had a decisive slant to it.

        "I had the most chilling dreams. I saw nameless faces gathered in the house. They were standing around an open casket. It was Faldwell. They were gathered for his will. After the reading took place, the dreams blurred. But, I saw red, blood everywhere! Dear lord! They are murdering each other! It is a horrifying competition to claim the will and outlive the others. Whoever survives will claim Faldwell's riches!"

        The stone lions were drawing nearer. Now, they were sitting halfway across the room. No, they weren't. They still on the pedestals. What? What was going on? No, he had to keep reading. He had to find out what happened.

        "I had another dream. This was more gruesome than the first. Elise thinks I should seek counseling. Angela doesn't help with her incessant tea parties and stuffed animals littered all over the house! But, I must write down my thoughts. I saw one man, standing over the other guests. He had won. He had outlasted them all. There was blood everywhere. On the floor, the walls, the furniture, and on his hands. He had to dispose of their bodies. Somewhere, in the house, where they wouldn't be found. My god! He buried them in the floorboards of that very room! I am afraid to set foot down there anymore. I want to leave, but we have nowhere to go."

        The lions had positioned themselves close to Saphiros. Now. No, keep reading. The scrawl was now nearly illegible in some places, and strange rust- colored stains spotted the paper.

        "The winner, a favorite nephew of Faldwell, throws himself off a cliff a few weeks after receiving his uncle's inheritance. The investigators have no idea why, but I know. He became mad with grief over killing his competitors. The house was placed on public auction. But, no one would buy it. It remained unoccupied for years, its price depreciating. That is, until we bought it!"

        "Elise has become ill. Her face is deathly pale and she refuses to eat. Angela has absolutely no care for what is happening. She comes and goes as she pleases. I now feel the house is cursed with the souls of Faldwell's friends and family, those who competed for his riches."

        They were right behind Saphiros. The words were being written with such force that they pressed and bled onto the next sheet of paper, in some places even ripping through several pages. The spots of rust were now large blots generously dispersed over the notebook.

        "I am pulled, once again to the cursed room. Driven with despair, I've ripped up the floorboards and to my ghastly horror, seven skeletons, each laid side by side, stare back at me. The sight was too much! I place the floorboards back. I must flee hellish place! I must let someone know what has transpired here!"

        The entry ended and there was no more to read. In fact, the rest of the pages after that entry were ripped out, with only the ragged edges left behind testifying to the brutal force subjected to them. Saphiros felt something warm on his back. It was as if someone was breathing on him. He turned and the two stone lions pounced. He screamed.
---
        Lina could barely catch her breath. She was bent over, panting hard. Her legs felt like they were on fire. Her left hand covered a bloody gash on her right arm. It hurt like nothing she had ever felt before.

        No, I have to keep going, she ordered herself. Her body screamed for her to collapse, but she knew that [to stop] meant death. She had to keep running.

        The sound of men's voices and branches snapping helped Lina pick up the pace once more. She was filled with fear. Why were they chasing her? What had she done?

        Her movements were slow and sluggish. One of the men shouted, There she is!" Shots fired behind Lina. Instinctively, she ducked her head a little. Bullets ricocheted off trees and nipped at her footsteps.

        Lina raced through the forest. The foliage became a blur as she ran past them, trying to elude her pursuers. The thick brush had all but covered the sun, letting in only small amounts of sunlight. She couldn't tell what time of day it was. Her only chance was to outrun them until nightfall, when the darkness would provide cover. But, she had to away until the sun set. And there was no telling how long that would be.

        Lina needed a place to hide. She couldn't keep running. It was only a matter of time when her body would resist her urging panic and shut down completely. She spotted thick bushes near a rocky outcropping. Better yet, there was a small cave. Lina dove into the bushes and concentrated on catching her breath. Hopefully, the men would think she went inside.

        After a few moments, her pursuers were in sight. They were tall and muscular. They all carried rifles and ocular targeting reticules over their left eye. The group stopped, unsure of what direction to continue in. One of them spotted the cave entrance. "She's probably in there!" Foolishly, they disappeared into the cave.

        Waiting a few seconds, Lina emerged from her hiding spot. She breathed a sigh of relief and prepared herself for another long run.

        She turned and hit something. A hand grasped her throat. One of the bounty hunters had been waiting for her.

        "Well, well, you think we're stupid or something?" He called out to his companions. "Hey, she's over here!"

        Lina gasped for air. Her hand clutched his forearm. She dug in her fingernails and drew blood. The man let her go, but backhanded her with his other hand. He clutched his arm. "That hurt!" Enraged, he kicked Lina in the stomach. "You're gonna pay for that!"

        The hurt Lina was feeling was unbearable. Along with her fatigue and confusion, she couldn't take anymore. Deep inside herself, she tapped into something she had never noticed before. It gave her energy. It fueled her anger.

        The other men were drawing close, laughing at their companion's misfortune. Lina waited, calculating. Come nearer, she beckoned. Closer. Now.

        A burst of energy lashed out all around Lina's body. Those closest to her were thrown back hard. They hit trees and rocks, and fell to the ground, unmoving.

        The rest of the group were more shocked than injured. Immediately, they raised their rifles and fired. Lina gasped and turned away, but she knew she wasn't fast enough. She held out her hand, as if it could catch the bullets. Instead, a force field erected around her and the bullets bounced off. Amazed, Lina got up and advanced. The men continued firing, checking their clips and backing off once they saw they were having little effect.

        Lina felt back into that place once more, and reached for more energy. She found the angrier she got, the more she could take. She didn't understand why these people were chasing her. Why they wanted to hurt her. Why they wouldn't leave her alone. Anger grew to hatred.

        Rods of energy coalesced in her hand, forming twin daggers with slightly twisted blades. Bloodlust filled her eyes. She slashed at the first man's throat, where he was the most unprotected. He fell in a blood-gurgling wail, clutching his neck.

        The second man roared and came at her. She threw the blade and it lodged into his chest. He fell over. Lina whipped her hand back, and the dagger flew back into her hands. She marveled at the feat. It was fascinating. Then, she remembered the last two men. She swiped at the air and energy bolts flew at them. They fell as well, and did not get up.

        Suddenly, the energy around her dissipated. The daggers dematerialized like wisps of smoke. The pool of energy that she had reached into was empty now, and inaccessible. Her senses dulled from their heightened state, and her heartbeat slowed.

        That was when she became aware of what happened. She looked around. Men were lying on the ground of the forest, dead. Blood was collecting into a little pool beside one's head. And then, the stench hit her nose. It was the smell of burning flesh. She looked around. The rest of the men were burned. Their bodies were but charred remains.

        She had killed them. Realization set in. It turned her stomach, and made her sick. Lina dropped to the floor and vomitted. The blood and the smell were everywhere. Why was this happening to her? Why? Tears dripped her face. She'd never killed anyone before. What was going on? What had they done to her?
---
[Dot wrote:]         Susano.

        Susano looked up from his books and looked out his window. Nothing. He rubbed his eyes and checked his clock.

        Five a.m. already? he thought incredulously. Well, that rules out Remus...not even he stays up this late...

        More than anyone else, it had been Remus who had introduced Susano to the University's night life. This led to Susano spending more than one night at Remus and his sister Rachel's apartment, as well as a sharp plummeting of Susano's school performance. After getting some sense knocked into him--quite literally, in fact, thanks to Rachel--Susano decided to get serious and do what he was really supposed to do in college, namely, study.

        Susano.

        There it was again. This time, Susano was certain it wasn't Remus. Not only did it sound absolutely nothing like him, the voice came out more as a deathly whisper, something Remus didn't seem to be too good at, not even when he would come beneath Susano's window well past lights out and try to get Susano to come to another one of those late night escapades.

        Susano.

        Realizing that the sound was not coming from beneath his window but just outside of it, Susano set down his books cautiously and crouched down for his flashlight. Tiptoeing as quietly as possible and keeping one hand on the flashlight's switch, Susano went over to the closed drapes. In one swift motion, he pulled the drapes open and turned out the flashlight.

        The feeble light produced by the tiny bulb in Susano's hand was completely lost in the brilliant glare that flooded the room. All at once Susano felt inundated by a cacophony of sensations and memories that were not his...

        the Yamato no Orochi's blood spilled upon his face as he slew each of its eight heads but he did not even think of removing it until the beast was dead and
        he screamed in pain as his hand was pierced the tendrils wrapped around his ankle and he could not move she cried out his name as she was taking away from him and he could only watch no no no this was not how it would end and
        carried by her spirit he rose higher and higher the lances of energy cutting his face but he didn't care he drew his weapon and growled he had to stop this madman too many people had already lost their lives even she the only one he cared anything about did too and
        their swords clashed in midair the demon grinned at him red eyes glowing but he saw her pain saw her crying out saw her beating uselessly against the prison her controller had placed against her mind and he knew he couldn't kill her and
        he jumped into the air after her falling figure but he was too late and she was gone beneath the water so he jumped in after her and the darkness took them both and

        A rush of power entered him with the force of a waterfall trying to fit within a thimble. Susano screamed, but he didn't know whether any sound came out of his mouth, for his entire body seemed as if it was screaming with him. The last thing he was vaguely aware of before he passed out was the stranger-looking armor--or perhaps it was binding?-- materializing around him.

        When Susano opened his eyes again, the sun was shining brightly onto him, but he felt no warmth. His head spun, his vision swam, and his legs were rubbery and weak. But none of that was bothering him at the moment. What was was the fact that he only had a few cloudy recollections of his past. His address, his place of origin, even his parents--nothing. It was as if he had just awakened from a deep sleep.

        A sudden pain caused him to look down, and he found himself holding a sharp, long sword in his hands. It was covered with blood, his own, but the wounds in his hand was already beginning to heal.

        Susano opened his mouth to speak, but what came out was no more than a croak, a deathly whisper:

        "Why?"
---
[Jessie wrote:]

        The door closed, and Jana stood alone on the stairs, and looked out into darkness. Before her there was nothingness, not the echo of the other people who had come through the door with her, not the sound of her breathing, not the faint drift and sigh of the damp things that lived in old houses.

        At least her nerves had stopped telling her that she was small. She knew, objectively, that she had to have been a child at some point, but that belonged to the blank part of her, the hole in her past, the pages that had been torn out and destroyed. It was a strange and distressing thing, the legs too stubby to run, the fingers that could not manage the minute scientific motions of violence, the tiny body that reeked of vulnerability. She hated it. She had sat, silent, trying not to panic and not succeeding particularly well.

        Now...nothing. But at least she felt adult again.

        She did not like nothings; they left her itchy. She took a further step down; one step; another. And in the darkness below her she caught a glimpse of something, a light speck on the edge of vision. She stepped down again, and the thing came closer, until by concentrating hard she could see what it was. It was a hand, but without any of the luxuries of flesh. Bone and bone alone stretched toward her, pale and nightmarish, and she watched it with a growing sense of horror.

        Her senses kept telling her it was not there; the shifting pressures of the air against her skin that should have broadcast its every movement were absent, and the absence screamed. The bones were pale in the darkness, a sort of wan nondescript color, and moved without a trace of muscle or ligament. It neared, the intricate skeletal filigree of the wrist and the dual bones of the lower arm coming into view. And she wondered with that detached part of her mind why she could see the hand when her own body was lost in the darkness; but she was not listening to that part of herself, she was staring at the hand as if she could grab hold of the sudden vision and use it to pull herself up out of the morass inside her own mind.

        The hand stretched toward her; it was a child's hand, short and stubby, and with that coating of grime that is universally attracted to youth. And she saw it with an explosion of hope and welcome -- and in a split second the knowledge came that she remembered this, this was the prologue to the light and the good parts, and she was a child again, reaching out, both her-remembering and her-being, to the hand;

        and his fingers tightened around her wrist, warm and ever so slightly slippery with sweat and blood -- no, the blood was hers, wasn't it?

        and the fingers tightened around her wrist, and they were hard and dry as the grey lord's eyes, and

        then pressure as he tried to pull her up, and she

        pressure, pressure as the hand tried to pull her in, and there was more of the pale stuff in the darkness

        and she was surprised at how perfectly her hand fit within his; it felt right, somehow; and when his face came into view she would grin at it, and he would grin back, undisturbed by the sudden apparition of this semblance of a girl, and the fingers

        laced around hers were bone, slender and cold, and she too was slender and cold, and her skeleton cried out against her flesh to escape,

        (escape, yes escape, anything better than staying here)

        to escape, and shouldn't she be beginning to wonder who this was? except he was smiling, infectiously, with the guileless face of the young;

        smiling, except the absence of guile meant simply that it was no longer bothering to hide its mElise from her

        and -- no! escape -- and the smile the smile she was

        dying, she was dead, she was

        running, running for her life, and where was the boy? and

        no!

        he was smiling, and his hair was all dusty, and he looked down at her and the smile slipped

        the smile slipped, and the bones against her fingers tightened, and there was a grim pale face in the darkness! yes! There was a grim pale face in the darkness, and her hand in the skeletal hand was cold

        the hand was warm.

        and the skeletal arms wrapped around her

        the skeletal

        and the dirty child's arms wrapped around her and he was so nice and gentle and despite the dust he smelled good

        and the arms

        and the warm arms

        around

        her?

        What is happening to me?
---
[Dot wrote:]

        The basement had been deathly quiet for quite a while now, but to the little girl, every sound she heard--the creaking and groaning of the old wooden floors, her shaky breaths drawing in and out, and even the settling of another layer of dust onto the ground--kept growing louder and louder. Slowly, very slowly, as not to alert the lurkers, the little girl rose to her feet and began tiptoeing towards the stairs. Even with all of the people she had brought to the house, the lurkers would certainly want more, and the little girl was sure that she would be next. The only chance she would have of getting out of there was to get to the music box in her bedroom. Or, at least, given the stern injunctions the Lurkers gave her against opening the music box, that's what the little girl hoped would be her ticket to freedom.

        An inhuman howl was heard from the basement. The lurkers knew she was trying to escape! The little girl broke into a terrified sprint, her heavy footsteps echoing loudly in the empty house. Behind her, she heard the basement door exploding into a shower of splinters as the lurkers began their pursuit.

        The little girl half- ran, half-stumbled up the shairs and towards her bedroom, the lurkers screeching at her heels. Bursting through the door, she jumped into the room towards the music box on the ground just as the lurkers caught up with her.

        The music box tipped over and opened.
---
        "I'm home!" The little girl called as she entered the house. There was no reply. "Mommy?"

        A strange yet vaguely familiar melody began to play from upstairs.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        "Mommy? Is that you?" Taking her shoes off, the little girl slowly ascended the steps towards the music. At the top, she ascertained that it was originating from her room. The little girl walked forward and slowly pushed open the door.

        Her room was a mess. Her dolls had been ripped apart and scattered all over the room, the framed picture she kept on her desk of herself with her mother and her mother's boyfriend lay broken and torn on the floor, and a dark red stain seeped into the bright pink carpet. On the ground, in the middle of a strange circle painted onto the carpet, lay her mother, her face pale and her skin clammy.

        "Darling..." the woman called out weakly when she saw the little girl, reaching towards her daughter, knocking over the ornate music box near her as she did so. "My little baby..."

        "Mommy!" The little girl rushed close to her mother and kneeled beside her. "Are you--"

        "Now we can be together..." said the woman as she closed her hands around the little girl's neck, her bright blue irises turning pitch black. "Forever..."
---
        Jana was the first to wake. "Ung..." she groaned, holding her aching head. She gave a slight start as she noticed the others lying on the ground around her. "Guys? You okay?" She went to each of them, shaking them gently and calling out their names, not giving any thought to the fact that she had never seen some of them before.

        "Where are we? What happened?" a sleepy Jinx asked, her eyes shifting to a worried yellow.

        "I'm normal again!" Joseph exclaimed, looking at himself. He rubbed the bump on the back of his head. "Er, more or less, that is..."

        Lina looked around the room. "What's going on here anyway?"

        A dull explosion sounded in the distance, causing everyone to jump.

        "Never mind what's going on, let's get out of here!" Saphiros urged, running towards what he hoped was the way out.

        Another explosion was heard, this time much closer, and the ceiling burst into flames.

        "SCATTER!" Sable yelled, diving to avoid the sparks that sprayed everywhere.

        Upstairs, although no one heard it, the music box began to play. Its quiet, mournful melody echoed in the empty room.
---
        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        So they think they can escape. A pair of glowing red eyes narrows. Fools. We shall crush them in our jaws.

        A pair of bright green eyes opens. Wait. Let them run. It shall be an interesting diversion.

        The one with light blue eyes agrees. Yes. The feeding can wait.

        The purple-, black-, orange-, clear blue-, yellow-, and white-eyed ones nod. Let the games begin.
---
        Everywhere you go in life, you will feel my fingers. I am deep within your heart, where all you've lost still lingers.

        Jana crawled under the thick, acrid smoke on her stomach, using her elbows to propel herself forward.

        The house didn't look this big from the outside, she thought, pausing to catch her breath and get her bearings, but nothing looked familiar. All of her senses, including her instincts, screamed to her that something else was horribly wrong as well, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out what that something was. And then there was the feeling that she was being watched...

        Jana came to a dead stop as she neared the top of a set of stairs. Beyond its peeling rails, she could make out what appeared to be the living room.

        But hadn't the dining room been on the first floor?
---
        Everywhere you go in life, I will be there knocking. I am deep inside your heart, if your soul is longing...

        "Jinx! Wait!" Susano shouted as he saw Jinx round the corner ahead of him. Running as fast as he could, Susano followed, only to catch a glimpse of Jinx's fleeing form further ahead. "JINX!"

        Jinx didn't seem to hear; she only continued to run. Susano nearly tripped as he tried to close the distance between them, but he righted himself in time and resumed his chase.

        Since when could Jinx run so fast? Susano couldn't help but wonder.

        "Jinx!" he called out again, more loudly and urgently this time, but Jinx's only response was to run even faster. Too tired to even attempt another shot at catching up to her, Susano sank to his knees, panting heavily. He slammed a fist onto the floor. "Dammit!" His chest ached, although he couldn't tell whether that was from his overexertion or his apparent abandonment.

        Rapid footsteps could be heard approaching, but Susano didn't bother to see who it was. It wasn't until the sudden rush of air signaling that someone had passed him did Susano look up.

        And froze.

        Running past him was Jinx, her pupil-less black eyes staring straight ahead as if concentrating on something in the distance. As Susano stared, the fact that Silber wasn't with Jinx registered in his shocked brain, but it wasn't until Jinx was out of sight again that Susano completely realized this. Taking in his surroundings, Susano was further disoriented when he noticed that he couldn't see an end nor a beginning to the seemingly infinitely long hallway he was currently in.

        What was left of his coherent thought disappeared completely when Jinx dashed his way a second time, except this time running upside-down on the ceiling instead of right-side up on the floor.
---
        All those things you do, you take away my fear...Everything's gone, everything changes, but I'll be here.

        Lina tried every door she came to, giving each intricately carved oak frame a hard push as she turned the knob.

        Locked. Locked. Locked. Locked.

        The fifth knob unexpectedly gave, causing Lina to fall into the room. Dust, moss, and fungus flew everywhere as Lina slipped towards the surprisingly clean full-length mirror at the end of the room. She tried to grab onto something for support, but all she got was handfuls of dirt. Lina closed her eyes and braced herself for the impact as she neared the mirror.

        Had she kept her eyes open, Lina would have seen the mirror glow brightly before she passed right into it and disappeared. The dust in the room gradually settled, restoring the room to its previous state.
---
        Everywhere you run from me, you refuse to believe. I am deep inside your heart, something you cannot leave.

        Saphiros could hear the fire all around him as he fled for his life. Spotting a door nearby, he opened it and entered without thinking.

        "What the--?" Saphiros looked around the room, staring. The room was completely empty save a small table and an even smaller black phone that sat upon the table. There was no window in the room and no lights, yet Saphiros could see the entire room clearly.

        Hearing the door slam behind him, Saphiros turned around, and gasped when he saw that the door was no longer there. Rushing to the wall, Saphiros began pounding as hard as he could, shouting for help, but no one answered him.

        The phone began to ring.

        Pick it up, a voice from somewhere told him. Saphiros felt himself move towards the phone.

        What are you doing? his common sense screamed at him. There's a fire outside that will burn you to cinders if you don't get the hell out of here, and you're going to get this stupid phone?!?

        Pick up the phone, the voice insisted. Obediently, Saphiros picked up the receiver.

        "At the tone, the time is twelve o'clock midnight," a computerized voice intoned calmly, followed by a mellow beep.

        The receiver fell soundlessly and hung limply by its cord.

        "At the tone, the time is eleven fifty nine p.m."

        *Beep*
---
        Everywhere you turn from me, you cover how you feel. I am deep inside your heart, where your wounds must heal...

        Silber, having four legs to Jinx's two, was therefore faster than her.

        Normally.

        Now, Jinx, her orange eyes wide and darting to and fro, was pulling even with the large dog, and at times even getting ahead. Jinx was terrified, and Silber could sense this even without the strong bond between them. And with good reason: the burning house could collapse on them at any moment, or they could choke to death on the smoke permeating all of the rooms, or Jinx could trip and hurt herself...

        "AAH!" Jinx screamed as her foot hit something and she tumbled forward.

        "AAH!" Screamed the 'something' in question, which Silber quickly recognized as Susano. She bit back the urge to laugh as Jinx ended up nearly straddling the bigger man as a result of the two's encounter.

        "S-suano!" Jinx stuttered, blushing beet red as she scrambled to get off.

        "Jinx?" Susano blinked and knocked himself a few times upside the head. "Is that really you?!?"

        Jinx forced a weak laugh. "Of course it's me! Why wouldn't I be?"

        Susano shook his head. "I don't know. There's been some really weird things going on around here..."

        "That's true," Jinx agreed nervously, looking around to see if anything else was happening, but everything seemed normal. Almost too normal, in fact. Jinx could almost forget that the house was on fire and that they were in serious danger if they stayed any longer.

        Silber barked worriedly and tugged at Jinx's shorts, as if to urge her to keep moving.

        "I think Silber's got the right idea." Susano rose and and extended a hand to help Jinx to her feet. Still hand-in-hand, the two began walking at a brisk pace with Silber in the lead. Slowly, the labyrinthine corridors began giving way to large rooms that led away from the corridors, but none of them seemed to be anywhere near the outer wall of the house. Looking further ahead, Jinx spotted a figure.

        "That's Jana!" Jinx exclaimed, her eyes turning blue.

        "Woah!" Susano exclaimed as Jinx broke into a run, nearly dragging him with her. He held on for dear life, though, not wishing to become separated from her a second time.

        "Jana!" Jinx called as she neared the other young woman, who looked like she was staring at the wall. "JANA!"

        Jana blinked and jumped a bit. "Wha..." she turned to face them, then back to the wall. She swallowed. "There was...a set of stairs here...just a moment ago..."

        Jinx walked up to the wall and gave it a few sharp knocks. The solid wood panels resonated deeply and echoed down the long hallway.
---
        Everywhere you go in life, I'll be there if you ask. I am deep inside your heart, the truth behind the mask.

        Sable frowned with annoyance as he tried to get a reading of the area and again failed. With all of his cybernetic parts apparently offline, he'd been having to rely solely on his senses, and he felt almost naked without their aid. And, with all of the bizarre things going on, he had a sneaking suspicion that those senses wouldn't be much use. So, in a way, he was blind, deaf, and devoid of taste, touch, and smell.

        Damn it, I might as well be dead, Sable thought, scowling inwardly.

        At least now he seemed to be going somewhere. After passing the same damned set of stairs going up four times, Sable spotted a small passageway behind the stairs and entered that; he hadn't seen another flight of steps since. But, lacking in any visual clues other than the boringly drab walls, Sable still didn't know whether or not he was walking in circles.

        Hearing something, Sable paused and cocked his ears. Two...no, three pairs of feet ran overhead, not unlike a group of hyperactive children chasing one another. If he concentrated, he could also hear them shouting to one another.

        "Heh! Look at the shorty run!"

        "You can't get me! Nyah-ni-nyah-ni-nyah nyah!"

        "Slowpoke! Hahahaha!"

        A fourth pair of footsteps joined the other three. "Come on, guys! Really! Slow down!"

        Being able to hear the footsteps Sable could understand, but there was no possible way that he could have made out what someone on the second floor was saying so clearly. He scowled [again]. This was starting to get really annoying. Taking large, purposeful strides to the nearest door, he grabbed its handle, turned it, and flung it open so hard that it nearly came off its hinges.

        Racing down the long, infinitely reaching steps that the door opened to was one, two, three, four miniature Sables. The first ran smack into him, bowling him over as if he weren't there, and the other three trampled him beneath their tiny sneaker-clad feet in a similar manner. They continued their chase down the hall, their asynchronous pitter-patter still echoing long after they were out of sight.
---
        No matter how you try, I will always be near. I am deep inside your soul, everything you think is what I hear.

        Joseph was pretty sure his jaw was no longer attached to his face. An enormous sofa almost completely took up the room, leaving only a small space for him to squeze through.

        Where could anyone find a sofa this big? Joseph wondered as his made his way past the gargantuan piece of furniture. And how the heck did they get this thing in here?

        The next room, a large den, was littered with toy houses. Joseph gingerly stepped around the faithfully rendered models of the various buildings--some of which looked vaguely familiar, but Joseph couldn't place exactly where he'd seen them--but he couldn't avoid some of the miniature shrubs and trees. They made tiny, delicate snapping sounds as Joseph stepped on them.

        It was only when Joseph reached the purple desert and the tiny mansion beyond it that he recognized that the entire room was a small scale reproduction of Capow. Even its streets were laid down with what looked like real asphalt, each strip painted with the utmost accuracy, and the traffic lights, electric signs, and street lamps were fully functional. Elfin graffiti decorated the walls of the seedier areas of town, and pinkku bira no bigger than pencil shavings were plastered everywhere in the red light districts.

        In fact, the only things missing from the ensemble were the inhabitants. There were no businessmen walking down the street, no teenagers shooting baskets, no children frolicking in the park, no lovers necking on the benches-- nothing.

        At least the walls aren't oozing blood any more, Joseph thought as he opened the door and stepped into the third room.

        He blinked.

        And blinked again.

        The ceiling, floor, and walls were full of fish. Not the fake, drawn, wallpaper kind, but real, living, swimming fish. The ones in the floor fled as Joseph walked over them; the ones in the ceiling leisurely cruised for food; the ones in the walls flitted back and forth, not bothering to avoid the doors set within them.

        Joseph could hear his heart pounding in his ears with the subtlety of a jackhammer. His assessment of the situation moved up from "totally beyond bizzare" to "unspeakably dangerous to one's sanity". Accordingly, his feet began to move, spurned by his instincts to avoid all threats to his being, whether physical or mental.

        The door, lacking a handle, swung open as his touch. As it opened, it revealed a long row of cabinets, followed by an old, dusty range, and then a sink that was full of dirty dishes which seemed ready to create life at any moment.

        In short, he was in a kitchen. A, not the, because this one didn't have a window like the one Joseph had been in before. There were other subtle differences, too, like the rusty pots and pans hanging from various hooks throughout the kitchen, the cutting board with the knife embedded into it, and the strange tapping sounds coming from the other end of the room.

        Wait. Strange tapping sounds?

        Joseph held his breath and listened closely.

        *tap* *tap*

        There it was again, and it seemed to be closer to the other entrance. Joseph very slowly moved towards one of the pans and eased it off the hook, then very slowly inched to the door. He briefly considered running, but that would entail going back into those mind-bogglingly creepy rooms, and he'd rather not do that at the moment. Besides, maybe he'd get lucky and land a good hit before making his swift getaway.

        Yeah, right. But at any rate, it was worth a shot.

        *tap* *tap*

        Now it was closer still. Whatever it was was probably right outside the arched opening. Joseph held the pan high over his head. Letting out a loud yell, Joseph jumped out into the corridor and brought the pan down--

        --and stopped in mid- swing when he recognized who was staring at him.

        "Jinx!" Joseph's arm relaxed as he saw the others with her. "Susano! Jana!" His eyes drifted downward to the barking dog before him, and smiled. "And Silber!"

        "Joseph-onii-chan!" A relieved Jinx nearly tackled Joseph to the ground with the force of her hug. "I'm so glad to see you!" She then proceeded to relate everything that had happened to each of them.

        "God, this place is worse than an Escher painting..." Joseph muttered to himself after Jinx was finished, picking himself back up.

        "What about you, onii- chan?" Jinx wanted to know.

        "Well..." Joseph turned to point to the door he had just stepped through, but found himself looking at a large walk-in pantry full of long-expired food instead. "Let's just say it was really, really, really strange, and leave it at that, okay?"

        Jinx was about to pursue the subject when a loud crash could be heard in the distance. "That sounds like someone's in trouble. Come on, let's go see!"

        "Hey--" Joseph protested without much avail as Jinx began dragging him towards the source of the sound. The other two (and dog) looked at each other, shrugged, and followed.
---
        You can run, but you can't hide. No matter where you go, I am by your side...

        Instead of running for the door like everyone else, Samui instead headed towards what she perceived to be the source of the flames. The reason for this--other than her more than moderately questionable sanity at this point--was that Samui had a hunch that the fire was trying to keep them away from something. Therefore, against every instinct that told her otherwise, Samui went inward instead of outward.

        Even though she kept a respectable distance from the flames, her face still burned from the heat. At least in this part of the house, everything had already pretty much gotten past the deadly smoke-emitting stage and moved into the raging inferno stage.

        Strangely enough, although everything around it was going at a merry blaze, the stairs were still relatively intact. Samui put a tentative foot on the first step to see if it would hold her weight; despite its initial groaning protests, the stairs held, so Samui began heading up. At the top of the stairs, something else could be made out over the nearly deafening roar of the flames.

        Everywhere I go with you, you can not escape me. I am deep inside your heart, come inside and take me...

        It was coming from the room right in front of her. The door was conveniently shut and engulfed in 400-plus-degree tongues of fire. It was probably locked, too, although Samui couldn't tell just by looking. Taking off her jacket, wrapping it around her hand, and testing the doorknob, Samui was surprised--although it was heavily debatable whether said surprise was pleasant--when it turned easily.

        The door opened, and Samui found herself looking at the startled expressions of Sable, Joseph, Jinx, Jana, Susano, and Silber, who was standing at the other entrance.

        "The hell--?" Sable exclaimed. "We're back where we started!"

        Indeed, they had returned to the dining room. Everything was already completely burnt, and no trace of the fire could be seen save for the orange glow that could be seen from the window.

        (window? Did the dining room have a window before?)

        Jinx let out a scream and dug her fingernails into Susano's shoulder when a piece of the ceiling collapsed, showering everyone with glowing embers. More objects from upstairs began to descend, their size slowly growing along with the hole above.

        Reacting almost out of instinct, Samui unlatched the window and tried to open it, but it wouldn't budge.

        "Give me a hand!" She shouted to Sable.

        Sable looked hesitant. "What if this is another trap?"

        "It's better than staying here, isn't it?" Samui countered, struggling to ease the window through decades of rust. As if to emphasize this point, the house sent a blazing bookshelf crashing into the room. "Come on, help me!" Still seeing no response from anyone, Samui grabbed a candleholder that was laying on the ground nearby and brought it against the window as hard as she could.

        There was no glass to hit.

        Samui's startled cry as she fell out onto the leaf-choked yard jolted the others back into some semblance of normality. One by one, they followed Samui out the window, although they exited feet first. As Susano held Jinx's hand while she jumped down from the windowsill, Joseph helped Samui get up. Then, together--with Jana at the lead and Samui heading up the rear-- the seven began breaking into a run. The group dashed past the fountain with the statue of the dying man gushing reddish-orange water from seven wounds dispersed all over his body, through the wrought-iron gates with curling designs that seemed to reach out for them, and into the expanse of purple sand that stretched as far as they eye could see. Behind them, all sorts of inhuman noises could be heard, but no one looked back and became a pillar of salt.

        Even though their legs were about to give out and their lungs about to burst, they didn't dare stop until the disturbingly purple sand of the desert gave way to the refreshingly green grass of St. John's park, and even then they would have kept going were they not so completely exhausted. But no matter how much they might have wanted to, they just could not move another step.
---
Epilogue

"You know that place between asleep and awake? That place where you still remember your dreams? That's where I'll be waiting for you when you come back."

        Samui sat in the swings of St. John park's playground, but she was in no mood to play. Once the seven--Samui, Sable, Joseph, Jinx, Jinx's dog Silber, and Susano-- had made it safely back into Capow, everyone dispersed to their own homes, none of them wanting to talk about what had happened. Additionally, Samui couldn't shake the feeling that someone had been left behind, but no one seemed to remember exactly how many people had entered the house. Even more disturbing was the fact that aside from the group who had been there, no one else saw the purple desert nor the house beyond it, and there was no trace of it now.

        It's as if the whole thing never happened, Samui thought. Her own memories of the events were hazy and vague, as if she had just awakened from a dream. She sighed. Maybe it never did.

        A sudden flash of color caught her eye. Following it, Samui looked up and froze.

        Stuck in the branches of the tree in front of her was the remains of a bright red balloon.

        Samui blinked. The unbroken field of green trees waved gently in the wind, and childish laughter could be heard echoing from a distant place.

        It wasn't very cold, but for some reason Samui couldn't stop shaking.
---
        "More tea?" The little girl in the white dress offered, holding out the small plastic kettle.

        "Yes, please." The pink-haired girl, her long hair tied up in a high ponytail, brought her cup forward, and the little girl in the white dress pretended to fill it.

        The boy with black hair reached forward to grab an imaginary cookie and yelped when he got his hand slapped by the girl with black hair. "Say please first!" the black-haired girl scolded sharply.

        The boy pouted a bit before putting on his best face. "Pweeze?"

        "Okay!" The black- haired girl beamed, handing him a "cookie".

        Behind them, a ragged, old elf-doll with blue hair and a torn blue trenchcoat lay slumped against a colorful, jewel-studded music box. The little girl in the white dress tiptoed to get the doll and sat it down next to the girl with pink hair, but the doll soon tipped forward and leaned against the table.

        "He's tired," the pink- haired girl explained gravely. The girl in the white dress nodded and held a finger to her puckered lips before exploding into a fit of giggles along with everyone else.

        Outside, in the fountain before the entrance of the house, stone fish frozen in mid- frolic "shot" blue, sparkling water high into the air. In the middle of the "dancing" fish was a man sitting upon a turtle, his face an expression of wonder as he looked about him. Trees ringed the fountain, shading it with their bright green leaves. Beyond that, flowers of all colors bloomed in the vast grassy field outside the houses' gates.

        And far, far in the distance, so far that it was almost too hard to see, was a winged figure holding the string of a gray balloon.

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