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Cecelia and W.V. Arc Edit

Candyland Edit

Since the clan of giant insects were blocking the way, our brave adventurers couldn't move forward... so why not move backward? They slowly backed up without thinking, unaware of what was behind them. Cecelia was in the very back, so she was the first one to reveal the surprise. She finally turned around, but it was too late. There wasn't time to say a word, and she walked straight through the large rainbow portal behind them, and so did the rest of the group.

The portal closed as soon as they could see where they were. Gary groaned once again, realizing they were even farther from their destination than before. When they finally got over everything they just experienced and looked around, they were shocked at their surroundings. This was not the Mansion at all!

They found themselves in a land full of candy. The pond near them was filled with melted chocolate and sprinkles, the trees were giant lollipops, and the bushes were M&M's. Only the ground wasn't candy, and the sky was clear of clouds.

Cecelia stuttered, "Wh-wh-what should we do?" She yet again adjusted her staff, still wondering what it was actually for, since she had obviously forgotten.

A loud vacuum noise pierced the air. The rainbow portal vanished in an instant, closing up, leaving our band of heroes in a strange sub-dimension. Candy stretched as far as your eye could see.

Leed groaned angrily. "What just happened? Where are we?"

Peter picked up a candy bar from a gelatin flower bed. Echo snatched armfuls of licorice, her true child coming out. Cecelia wandered about in amazement. She has never seen anything like it. It was so unique, and all the bright colors made it seem cheerful - one thing the Mansion was not. She made sure to stay close to the rest of the group, since she didn't want to alarm them by disappearing into thin air. But, however, she did another thing that was even worse than what she was thinking about.

She was near the chocolate river, wondering why in the world she could see her reflection in it, when the rest of the group heard a splash. Everyone turned in her direction. Fortunately, she didn't fall in herself, but she was staring wide-eyed at the chocolate river, which took away her staff. The currents were too fast for her to grab the staff before it drifted out of sight. And then, finally realizing what it was actually for, she became even more shocked and ran after it, increasing the group's alarm and confusion. Their first impulse was to run after her, but she was still new to the group, and they didn't even know what she was going to lead them into... W.V. could pretty much be anybody, besides the fact he had orange eyes.

Violently surging, the chocolate river traveled a far distance all throughout the sweet dimension. Candy debris floated randomly in the brown liquid, and somewhere amidst it was Cecelia's staff. She cried out in frustration and the group ran to see what could be done.

Gary cupped his hands and tasted the river. "Could her staff be possibly leading us to W.V.?"

Echo, Sunset, Peter, and Lead exchanged bright glances.

Cecelia looked at the others impatiently. "Well, it won't be of any use to us if we just stand here!" she said, and then ran off again before anyone could argue.

The group ran after her, and followed the long, twisting river. It led to a waterfall. The staff fell into the large lake full of tasty treats below. Before their eyes, the staff floated into swirling rapids, and it drifted and bobbed until it sunk to the bottom of the lake. Cecelia sighed and shook her head. Another thing lost to a horrible mistake. She gave up finding it and just sat near the lake, hoping that somehow it will reach the surface again.

Cecelia dipped her feet into water. Then awkwardly, everybody sat around her, listening. "Hello darkness my old friend..."

Then somehow or another, random people started to do the same thing.

"Shut up!" She had just lost it. "Just, Shut up!"

"SILENCE!" another voice yelled, although it was somewhat familiar.

Then all the noise stopped.

"She needs to think, if she stops thinking she won't get the staff."

Cecelia kept on sitting there, like she didn't hear anything the other voice said. She gazed at her reflection in the smooth, sweet liquid, and thought about something... something about blue clothespins and the eye of a hurricane. Nonsensical thoughts, although she seemed content with them.

While she was looking into the water, the group was talking about who the random voices may be.

"Maybe the one talking about the staff was W.V.," Sunset suggested. "We need to get her out of her trance and back on track."

The rest of the group agreed, and neared Cecelia. Right when they were about to try to get her out of her endless chain of thoughts, Peter saw something out of the corner of his eye.

"Look, over there!"

It was a red glow of some sort, in the same shade of red the gem on the staff was. The rest of them realized what was going on, and Sunset tried to get Cecelia back into the real world.

"Cecelia, we need you!" Sunset said, hurriedly shaking her.

Cecelia finally looked at her with big, innocent blue eyes and asked, "You know my name?"

Cecelia's voice sounded... younger, like a seven-year-old's voice should. Sunset looked at her, shocked for a second. Did she just forget everything they've gone through with her?

Sunset shook her head, and said, "We don't have time! Come with us."

Cecelia nodded as the group followed the red glow. Swiftly and surely, the staff floated just out of their reach.

"What's that?" Cecelia inquired, tilting her head and looking at the staff in bewilderment.

This got her another confused look from the group members, but they continued.

Gary said, "Come on, Cecelia. This is your chance to get your staff back."

She stared at Gary for a bit. "What is?" she said.

"The staff, see it? It's over there." Gary pointed to the staff. "Take it. It's yours, remember?"

Cecelia shook her head, but then looked over at the staff, and reached for it. A startling flash blinded the group members, and then they saw Cecelia, holding the staff. She looked different, as if she were an adult.

"Please..." she said, in a more adult-like voice, "Darkness has taken my soul... He has failed me... Don't let him do the same to you..."

Then she disappeared, and the staff fell onto the ground. Sunset picked it up and examined it.

"We should find a way out of here," Gary said, "I think 'he' would be W.V. He took Cecelia, but he won't take us."

"Ugh, if only we could destroy W. V. in the blink of an eye! I'm getting really sick of him," said Sunset angrily.

Cecilia was gone! Echo tried to find a significant clue to their escape. She turned to Leed. "Could you by any chance teleport us out of here?" The others crossed their fingers.

After a pause, Leed nodded his head in disappointment. "If I can't see the end point, then I can't carry you guys. In order for my power to work, I have to see the destination. Everything around us is just candy!"

"I can help you," a faint voice whispered as the lava red ruby on the golden staff continued to glow.

The group, startled, immediately started looking around for who said that.

The voice clarified where it was coming from, seeing their confusion. "Oh, sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Aquamarine Judgement. I'm the staff you're holding, Sunset." Sunset stared at the staff in suspicion. The staff continued, "I'm sure that strikes you as odd. Since we have the time, I'll explain some things." It told them that Cecelia left all of her knowledge to it, as well as the magical power she had that she never used. "If you don't believe me, you can leave me here, but I don't think you'd get very far without someone to teleport you out of this place," the staff said.

Gary's eyes widened in surprise. "It has the same ability as you, Leed! Sorta..."

Aquamarine Judgement hummed, warm to the gem's touch. Sunset fiddled her hair into a bun, concerned she and her friend's wouldn't find a way out.

Echo intervened. "So you say you're the ticket to leaving this candy dimension??? Show us how."

"It's not that easy." Aquamarine Judgement murmured, shrinking under Echo's enthusiasm. Aquamarine wasn't used to the social patterns of humans, and she wasn't sure she liked all this shouting.

The staff quickly recovered and said, "I guess I could show you. I need a volunteer." The group's members looked at one another, and no one volunteered. "Well then, I'll volunteer myself. ABRACADABRA ALAKAZAM!!!" The staff disappeared in a sea of red mist and appeared very far away from them. So far away that they could barely see its red gem in the distance. "See that?" it said.

It sounded just like it was still right next to them, which was odd. Nonetheless, it did teleport (and it looked cool!) and could probably get them at least somewhere other than the candy land. It teleported back.

"What do you think?" it asked. Although Aqua acted a little impulsive there, it was made to fit the personality of the person who talked to it.

Echo was jittering, impatient to get on the way to catching W.V. and, more importantly, getting Cecelia back. She glanced down at her trembling fingers, tried to hold them still, couldn't. She grimaced. Maybe she shouldn't have eaten all that licorice, the sugar high was getting to her.

/Echo.../ A whisper, so faint it could have been the wind rustling the leaves of a tree.

Echo's head snapped up, her dark eyes darting over the landscape for the source of the sound. Aquamarine Judgement had returned from her place in the distance, the others were gathering around her, preparing to go after W.V.

/Echo please...we're...hear this.../ The susurrus came again, fading in and out like a radio with a poor signal, and this time Echo recognized it. She knew that voice, it's familiarity teased her memory in the worst way.

"Echo, are you coming?" Sunset waved her over. His eyebrows were knit over his nose as he watched her carefully. Echo nodded quickly, hurrying over to the rest of the group. Why was Sunset staring at her? What had she been doing?

Pressure on her arm startled her, and she turned to see Gary at her side, leaning in so no one else could hear him.

"Are you alright?" He whispered.

Echo opened her mouth to say yes, then hesitated. After a moment of internally checking herself over she said, "I just got the weirdest feeling that i'm forgetting something important.".

Gary frowned, that hadn't been the answer he was hoping for.

"Why? What is it?" She prompted him, he shook his head.

"I have the same feeling." He admitted, "and I can't figure out what it is that i'm forgetting."

"Maybe it's just this realm. You know, it's made of candy and hey, guess what, it also gives you random sensations of amnesia that have no real basis." She gave a small smile, but it faded quickly.

"Yeah, maybe." Gary agreed, but they both knew that wasn't the answer.

Nobody else felt forgetful, nobody else complained of missing something, and if it was the realm causing this gut-wrenching, overwhelming feeling that something extremely important, something that once lived in a protected place inside of her, was gone, then wouldn't the others have felt it too?

Gary turned away to face the group. Echo followed suit.

Aquamarine Judgement was busy piping out instructions to everyone, explaining this and that about teleporting, and how they would need to be extremely careful not to let go of her. while they were being teleported. Leed stood off to the side, looking vaguely bored and preoccupied, of course, he was a teleporter himself, he already knew everything Aqua had to tell.

"Ok, that about covers it, now, where are we headed?" Aqua finished. One, two, five, ten seconds of silence followed her question. "You...you do know where you want to go, right?"

"Yeah, well-- no." Gary sighed, "The thing is, we don't know where Cecelia went and if we go back to the mansion..." He didn't have to finish, everyone understood.

With the way things worked in Gateway Mansion, if they returned they might never see this candy land-- or Cecelia-- again.

Aquamarine Judgement's stone twinkled cheerily, "That's it? No worries! I can teleport you directly to Cecelia!"

"You can?" Leed piped up. "Sure, no problem, since she's my original owner I can trace her aura and teleport to her location."

"Great! Let's go, before anything else happens." Echo chirped.

"Hold on," Leed held up a hand in the universal 'stop' signal, "If you can teleport to Cecelia so easily, why didn't you teleport out of the lake earlier?"

Aquamarine's light dimmed ever so slightly. "Details." She muttered, "That's not important, what matters is that I can get you to Cecelia, and maybe even W.V., don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

Leed pursed his lips. This all seemed fishy to him, and he didn't appreciate being scolded like a child, but this was also their best shot at getting Cecelia back, so he joined the group and, like everyone else, took hold of the staff. It was less than a second, but all of eternity was compressed into that itsy bit of time. Leed was well accustomed to that sensation, the crushing and stretching and squishing and expanding all at the same time, all continuing on endlessly and yet all lasting an impossibly short amount of time. The laws of time, of physics, hell, of anything, didn't apply mid-teleportation.

The group popped off the bank of the candy river, and when they popped back into existence, dizzied and jello-kneed, they were in a castle. Leed was the first to recover. He dusted himself off and peered around while the others were finding their bearings. They were in a vast room, with a soaring roof and brown walls. Wood? He approached the nearest wall and tapped it with his hand. No, gingerbread. So, they were still in the candy realm, and Cecelia was nowhere to be seen. He pivoted away from the wall, scanning the area. There were no windows, and only one door, which seemed to lead further into the castle rather than out of it.

"I thought you said you could take us to Cecelia!" Sunset had recovered, and was seething at Aqua.

"It's possible that my tracing gets off course sometimes," Aqua hummed, then quietly added, "Or all the time."

"Why didn't you tell us that?"

"Listen, I wasn't that far off!" Aqua snapped, "Cecelia is here, somewhere in this building, I can sense her. "

A crack beneath the single door glowed orange. Could Cecelia be on the other side? As the five walked forward, (with Aquamarine Judgement in close pursuit), Leed whispered to the ruby, "Teach me that sometime!"

Noticing a skull shaped knob, Peter first put his hand to it. He gulped before turning.

Aqua, noticing Leed's amazement, glowed happily. Peter, however, was too busy opening the door to notice. He pulled on it. Once, twice, three times. It didn't budge.

"Locked," he muttered.

He glanced at the group anxiously. But right when he was about to tell them, a lava red and shining gold blur zoomed past him and burst open the door in a dazzling display. Pieces of gingerbread flew everywhere, surprisingly not hitting anyone. Aqua was where the door was standing, looking happy about what she did.

"I just BLEW UP A DOOR! I've been wanting to do this for years!"

Everyone stared at her for a while, wondering if they were going to get blown up just like the poor door.

"Erm, never mind," she said.

They all peeked through the door. Although Aqua did cause some ruckus, they still weren't noticed, if there was anybody in this place. There was a giant factory before them, making lollipops of some sort. It put them into boxes, labeled "Catastrophic Cupcakes." The boxes were lifted up and out of sight. Cecelia was still nowhere to be found.

Sunset glanced over at the staff. "Are you sure this is where she is at?"

But at the same time, a desperate voice shouted, "Someone's here! Please, save me!"

They went in the direction of the voice. They found a shadow of a figure, but not the figure itself.

The shadow stuttered, "My name's Kyle, you must get me out of here! Someone has stolen me, and only my shadow is left! I need someone to become a shadow of someone else or else I'll vanish!"

The group glanced at each other, wondering how anyone could steal someone else and leave their shadow behind. Sunset was the first to speak.

"You can become a shadow of me," she said.

She didn't want anyone else to get hurt, and they needed to get to Cecelia more than anything else.

"Thank you so much! I owe you my life!"

Then Kyle, whoever he was, became a mirror version of Sunset, and did everything that Sunset did when she decided to do it. Even if she decided to bounce around on a unicycle juggling burning torches while doing a handstand and reading a book, sure, Kyle would follow her around. It was actually nice to have a shadow for once. She never had one before, that's for sure, since she was in the Mansion most of the time.

Peter, right before Kyle became her shadow, said, "Wait!" The shadow froze. "Have you seen a seven-year-old girl around here?"

The shadow nodded, and replied, "I saw her a minute ago! She ran past me yelling something about yellow clothespins and teal gelatin. Why do you ask?"

Everyone looked at each other again, wondering if they should answer.

Then Gary answered, "We're trying to find her."

Kyle seemed okay with the answer, and then became Sunset's shadow.

"She went that way," said the shadow, pointing further into the factory.

Still wondering what lay ahead (especially if it had to do with yellow clothespins and teal gelatin), they continued to move deeper into the factory.

Echo had never been more confused in her life (and she knows Gateway Mansion well enough). Everyone ventured past an arsenal of candy machinery. Licorice whips rained from the ceiling. This was definitely not another dimension anymore.....but the Mansion itself......turning into candy from the inside out! Leed and Gary whispered to each other as they hurried. Sunset's shadow danced vigorously around the factory, concerning Peter that this Kyle fellow may not be trusted.........

As they walked, Echo fretted at the ends of her hair, twisting strands, and occasionally bringing a few dead ends to her mouth. The sensation was back, and it twisted her gut in all the wrong ways. They traveled down the hall, their footsteps didn't echo, it was as if the gingerbread absorbed the sound and spit out silence in it's place. The effect was eerie. As they approached the end of the hall they saw that it was blocked by yet another door.

Warily, the group shifted away from Aqua, just in case she decided to blow up this door too. But that wasn't necessary, because not more than a moment after they reached the towering door, it opened from the other side.

Kyle paused in his dancing, frozen and at the ready in case danger crept through the cracked doorway. He had already lost his own body, he wasn't about to the shadowy compression of his self too. Admittedly, the level of frustration that came from floating, a helpless bundle of dark matter, was enough to drive him to recklessness. He would be glad when this was over and he had his body-- and his power-- back.

Someone grunted on the other side of the door, and the whole group tensed. Through the gap came a man. Thin, wiry, and so tall he had to duck, despite the fact that the doorway was at least 6 feet tall. He had a strange look to him, a thin nose, crooked lips, and half a head of neon green dreads. He didn't notice the group at first, he was busy muttering to himself.

Then Peter cleared his throat. The man glanced up, clearly surprised.

"We just keep running into weirder and weirder people." Sunset murmured under her breath. Kyle chuckled.

The man turned his gaze on her, and flashed a smile that was shockingly white against his coffee-stain colored skin.

"Well hello there." He purred, his eyes skimmed the group.

Echo, watched him, hoping to whatever powers there may have been at work there, that he wasn't going to attack them. The last thing they needed was another setback. That was, of course, all he would be if he did attack. A setback. At least, that's what she told herself. His gaze flickered over her, and for a moment Echo could have sworn recognition flared in his eyes. In the back of her mind, the sense of /wrong/ amped up the slightest bit.

"You're missing people." The dreads guy stated finally.

Peter looked surprised, "Yeah, actually, have you seen a little girl around? We're looking for her."

The dreads guy's eyes glinted in the light. "N-, I mean, yes. She tumbled that direction a ways, I think she was talking to herself. Something about teal clothespins and yellow gelatin, or purple socks and maroon lampshades or--"

"Yellow clothespins and teal gelatin." Kyle interjected.

Dreads snapped his knobby fingers, "Bingo."

"Great, thanks for your help." Peter said, shifting anxiously from foot to foot. He was impatient to get on the move again, but Dreads was blocking the way.

"You," Dreads pointed right at Echo, "Is..." He hesitated, "Your name is Haze- no, Echo. Right?"

A cold spear of fear struck Echo in the chest. He shouldn't know that, he was a stranger, he shouldn't know her name. She managed a tight nod, which Dreads responded to with a frown, then he pivoted on his heels and disappeared behind the door.

"Come on then, I'll show you where the little clothespin girl ran off to, i've already been through this part and it's a bit confusing if you don't know where you're headed." He called.

The group exchanged glances. It was Peter who made the first move. With a lopsided shrug and a quiet sigh he broke into a stride towards the door. What other option did they have?

The others followed Dreads through a twisting, winding path. A newly made labyrinth, it seemed even more determined to get them lost and confused. However, Dreads seemed to know a lot about this maze, and made a left, a right, a left again, with complete confidence. After maybe an hour or so of walking, they found themselves out of the maze and another door was in front of them. They were getting used to all of these random doors, but this one was colored differently, an eerie, dark change from the cheerful gingerbread rooms around them. It was a dark violet with black swirls twisting around themselves like ivy. It also seemed to be locked, so Aqua took action once again. She zipped toward the door, like an ambitious athlete in a marathon, and crashed against the door with all of her might. This time, however, it didn't budge. Not even a dent was made.

However, Kyle spotted something out of the corner of his eye and checked it out. Was it a lever? There was something hanging off of it. He moved closer, bending the light's angle so it made him tall enough to reach it. He realized, just then, that it wasn't a lever, it was something you'd probably hang a coat off of. However, there wasn't a coat on it, there was a key hanging off of it, matching the door's lock perfectly.

"Hey guys! Were you looking for these?" Kyle said, grabbing the key and waving it around. It made a familiar metallic tingle.

Gary was the first to look over at the keys. Before Gary could say anything, the keys glowed.

"Ow!" Kyle dropped the keys. "Definitely not meant for a shadow."

Sunset picked them up. They were still warm from emitting the light. Same colors, and it looked like it could unlock the door pretty easily. Cautiously, she pushed the key into the lock and turned them right. She pushed against the door. It didn't open. She sighed, realizing her mistake, and turned the key the other way, left. This time, however, she heard a click, and the door swung open without any effort. They found themselves in an amethyst cave of some sort, matching the color of the door. The black swirls were all over the place. No gingerbread in sight.

"Are you sure this is where she is?" asked Kyle.

Dreads nodded. "This is where I saw her."

There was stalagmites everywhere, making it a good place to hide if Cecelia was here. It was so dark they could barely see. Only Aqua's glowing led the way.

Kyle, being his detail-oriented self, thought he saw a figure out of the corner of his eye. "I thought I saw somebody over there!" he whispered.

They all snuck closer and only found a black silhouette of a girl on the purple wall. She looked like she was sitting and looking toward them.

"Cecelia?" asked Sunset.

The shadow of the girl nodded sadly, but didn't say anything.

"Aw, she got stolen too?! Well, at least I'm not alone," Kyle said after realizing she was who ran past him earlier.

"Maroon gelatin and teal lampshades..." she said sadly.

Purple and pink lights brightened up the cave. On the outside, Gateway Mansion remained a normal-looking estate with pointed roofs and narrow windows. Cecilia and Kyle, because they were shadows, could interact with each other. He offered her his hand and she took it gingerly.

"We should be moving closer to W.V., not farther away!" Peter huffed.

Sunset slipped her arm through his. Leed nodded in agreement and turned to Dreads as if he had the answers. "Who are you? Where do you come from? Can you take us to the villain responsible for stealing Kyle and Cecilia's human forms? Talk. Now!"

Before Dreads could even speak, Cecelia said, "I know who did this." Everyone turned toward her.

"Did what?" asked Leed.

"Took me away. I think it was something like V.W." she replied.

"W.V." Peter corrected.

"Are you sure?" Cecelia queried.

Peter opened his mouth to answer, only to snap it shut again and shrug.

"We should move on." Gary pressed.

He was beginning to get impatient with this constant stopping and bickering, Peter had been right when he said they should be moving closer to their mark. A quick glance around proved that everybody was as antsy as he was, except the dreads guy, who has listed away after Leed started snapping.

"But move on to where?" Echo voiced the question that they were all wondering.

To where indeed, they had been inside this candy mansion for an age and a half, and all they had gained were two shadows and a random dude.

"We need a better way to track down W.V., this is ridiculous!" Peter muttered.

"Guys, listen!" Cecelia huffed.

Being young had it's drawbacks, like getting ignored a lot, for instance. Her outburst succeeded in recapturing the attention of everyone in the room, including the shadow holding her hand, and the tall guy pacing along the back of the room.

"Like I was trying to tell you, the thing that took me away, I think it's still here."

There was a tangible pause. Gary cleared his throat, "Here as in, the mansion?"

Cecelia shook her head slowly. Her free hand shifted up, a finger pointed to the ceiling. "Here." She breathed.

Echo and Sunset were too afraid to peek. Leed adjusted his glasses, straining his neck as he traced Cecelia's finger to the ceiling. A massive cloud of faces manifested above everyone! Lightning crackled from within the void, and screams immediately rang through the amethyst cave. A powerful breeze swept between the Gateway gang and an assortment of candies spun in all directions. It appeared that the cloud of faces acted as a vacuum, one that not only absorbed the human forms of gifted youth, but the tons of candy that filled the indoor factory. Where was this candy from? How could Kyle and Cecelia retrieve their normal selves again? Gary desperately wished Liz was with him at the moment. He pushed his mushy emotions aside.

"We've got a fight on our hands, people! Stand your ground!"

Aqua, from pure instinct, glowed brighter than before. She'd rather have her form taken away than have everyone else be shadows for the rest of their lives. She automatically scanned the ceiling, as she had no sight and needed some other way to tell what was going on. She suspected that the clouds were enemies, but she found out her scans shockingly denied it! She floated there, stunned from the results.

Kyle, however, took action almost immediately and pulled Cecelia behind the stalagmite again. No one would want to lose her after so much effort put into finding her. However, he couldn't understand what happened afterwards. All he could see was flashes of bright light before him, reminding him of the time he became a shadow in the first place. They were the same color as he saw earlier. However, they were going in reverse order! What was happening to him? When he finally realized this, they had already stopped. He felt... more real. He looked at himself, stunned. He was back!

Cecelia was completely bewildered. Why was she hiding behind this rock? She should be fighting! She started to stand up, but then was blinded by a second of bright lights. She recognized them almost instantly, but they were gone before she could confirm that she saw them before. However, she still had to do something, so she grabbed her staff and aimed it toward the clouds. Aqua refused to do anything, though, even though her owner was telling her to do so. What was wrong with her? Then Aqua's scan results popped into Cecelia's head, and now she was just as stunned as her staff.

However, she recovered much more quickly than her staff, and shouted, "Wait! Don't fight them! I have something to tell you!"

The others, occupied by the vortex of faces and shadows on the ceiling, ignored Cecelia. She was young, and they did their best to respect her, but sometimes, every now and then, they forgot that she was just as powerful as they were. Echo was the first to attempt and attacks, she closed her eyes and let her human form vanish, claws pushed their way out of her fingers, her teeth elongated, sharpened, her ears pinched and twisted into long point wolf ears. In a matter of moments she was an arctic wolf, crouched and ready to lunge. She could sense surprise in the air, whether it was from the newer members of the group, or from the vortex above, she couldn't tell. She growled, the vibration rattled the back of her throat in a comfortingly familiar way, and wild energy pulsed through her veins. Oh, she had missed this. The vortex shifted, a shadow streaked down towards the group, a face riding like a mask on the front of it. Echo crouched lower, tracking the movement of the shadow with her sharp eyes, the moment it was close enough she sprang. The taut muscles of her powerful haunches rocketed her up and forward, jaws open, she aimed for what she hoped was the shadow's neck. She sailed nearer and nearer, her fangs were millimeters from the shadow. And then she froze. Midflight, she stopped, and so did the shadow. Neither of them fell, neither of them moved at all. Panic coursed through Echo like an electric shock. What was going on? Below her, the others were equally as confused, they stared, wide-eyed.

"The little girl was trying to say something." Dreads mentioned calmly from his place standing at the back of the cave.

"Thanks," she said gratefully to Dreads, who seemed to be the only one who noticed her. "I didn't mean that those clouds took away my form. They are just inhabitants of this cave. I was pointing at something else." She pointed toward the ceiling again.

They looked at where she was actually pointing, and saw a kitten with plunger shoes stuck to the ceiling, hanging upside down and looking at them innocently. They couldn't tell much about its appearance because it was so dark in the cave.

"It was not V.W. - I mean, W.V. - it was that kitten. I think the kitten did it without realizing it, though I don't know where the plunger shoes came from."

While Cecelia was saying this, Aqua scanned where Kyle was standing and realized he vanished. She thought it was peculiar, but she couldn't do anything about it now, as everyone was busy in their own affairs. In fact, she couldn't tell them at all. Since she has her original owner, she loses her voice and personality. Now it is up to the group to notice that Kyle had disappeared...

The group decided that they should leave the clouds alone, since they seemed harmless. Cecelia found the key to getting back to her real self. She pet the kitten (of course, it was hard to do since it was stuck to the ceiling, but she managed). Now that was fixed. However, since they had found Cecelia in this gingerbread castle, now they had to think of where to go next. Of course, they need to find W.V., but they had no idea where he was. And going back to the Mansion... that would be torture. They finally agreed that they needed to get out of the gingerbread castle first. Back through the mysterious door, the maze, the factory, another door. The first time they went through, they entered and there was no exit, but this time there was, and they exited. They were along a chocolate river that looked quite recognizable. The sun was just setting beyond the horizon, lighting a crimson fire in the sky. But then they saw someone coming toward them, walking along the river. Who was this?

This person was short, with unusual dark pink hair and unnaturally pale skin, but their clothing, at least, seemed normal. As they walked towards the group, seemingly unaware of its presence, they could make out that the stranger appeared to be a child. The child balanced on a log on the bank of the chocolate river, eyes closed as they hummed cheerfully and walked with a spring in their step. Despite their eyes being shut, they seemed unconcerned at the lack of sight and unafraid of the dangers of lacking vision. At the end of the log, perhaps twenty feet from the group, they paused and cocked their head. The humming stopped. Then they opened their dark green eyes with a gasp.

"Wow, humans!" They exclaimed in a cheerful, fruity voice before skipping excitedly closer. "It's been long since I've come across anyone! Who are you? I'm Mallory! Nice to meet you!" They grinned wide-- a bit unnaturally wide.

"Well..." said Peter, glancing at the others. Of course, he was wondering if he should trust them. However, they did give their name almost immediately, like Kyle did. Wait, where was Kyle, anyway? Oh well, there's no time to look for him now. Sunset nodded toward Peter, signaling that he should continue the conversation. "Mallory, I'm Peter, this is Sunset. Over there is Gary and Leed. Cecelia's the one carrying the staff, which is named Aqua," Peter finally finished.

Sunset smiled back at them and asked, "How are you today?" She was hoping not to get Mallory on their bad side.

Mallory tilted their head, blinking up at Sunset in what seemed to be confusion. "How... am I? I am fully functioning..." They furrowed their brows, muttering under their breath.That didn't sound right, but they couldn't figure out what other answer Sunset would be looking for.

The girl gave an awkward polite chuckle. "No, no, like how are you feeling? Good, bad, alright? Happy, sad?"

Mallory seemed to seriously consider the simple pleasantry of a question. What a strange child.

"Hmm... Pretty good, I think!" They gave another too-wide grin. "Oh, what about you guys? Where are you going?" They inquired, eyes shining with curiosity.

"Um, we're not sure." Sunset answered.

"You are lost." Mallory stated.

"Pretty much." Sunset shrugged, there was no point in denying it. Now that they had recovered Cecelia, they were back to square one as far as catching W.V. went.

"You look lost too, d'you want to join us?" Cecelia piped up, shouldering her way to the front of the group to greet the new person. She held out her hand to Mallory, who stared at it, blinking.

A moment passed before Mallory answered. "I...do not think that I am lost." They said carefully, "But I will join you."

"Great!" Cecelia beamed, her hand was still thrust in front of her.

When Mallory didn't respond to it, Cecelia reached forward and took one of their hands to shake. Mallory waited passively, allowing the young girl to wiggle their hand up and down. They were unsure what the purpose of this gesture was, but they had no reason to stop it.

When Cecelia finally let go, and the group began to move on, Mallory inserted themself near the back of the group. A tall man patted their head, they only came up to his hip. Again with the touching. Mallory pursed their lips, closed their eyes, and walked on with their newly acquired pod of humans.

"Say," Mallory began after a couple minutes, eyes remaining shut, "Do you have a plan for becoming un-lost? I want to know how long we will have to walk for," they explained, pouting slightly. Sure, Mallory had the stamina to continue walking for quite a while, but that didn't mean they /wanted/ to.

"It sounds like you need a ride!" said a fairly familiar voice.


Erebos and Erebus Edit

The group looked toward their left, where the voice was coming from, and they couldn't believe their eyes. There was a spaceship in front of them, and someone was coming out of it. Although the person was not as tall as Dreads, he was tall enough to look intimidating. The first thing that caught the group's attention was his eyes. A brilliant blue, they seemed to make everything brighter. He had shiny, midnight black hair and was wearing a uniform with a professional name tag. It said, "Kyle Shannon. Space Patrol."

They were shocked. Was he the same Kyle they saw earlier? There was no other Kyles around... There was an explosion of questions. Where did the other Kyle go? Who is the new Kyle? What is he doing here?

He explained that he WAS the shadow on the wall, that they DID save his life... Yup, same Kyle. They finally accepted him. He even still had the keys from the mysterious purple door leading to the amethyst cave. They actually had good luck for once, because being in a spaceship is definitely better than walking. However, they still needed to decide where to go (Mallory was definitely even more confused than before)...

Dreads, being the detail-oriented person he was, noticed a bit of paper on one of the walls of the spaceship. He read it. "Say my name and I disappear," it said. "From the person you've always despised." Seems like a riddle of some sort. No one else seemed to notice it, though. Should he tell someone?

Mallory began humming again from their seat in the spaceship. They swung their legs back and forth; their legs weren't long enough to reach the floor. Mallory was still unsure about what was happening or what the human pod's plans were, but they weren't complaining about not having to walk through the candy dimension anymore. Their eyes were open now as there were new things to observe; there had been no point in the candyland. Mallory had known its terrain, and it had gotten boring fast. They noticed the tall man with the dreads who had patted their head looking at a slip of paper with furrowed brows. Well, it didn't concern Mallory. Anything that didn't concern them certainly wasn't important.

For the moment, Dreads kept shut. He scanned his surroundings as the group checked out Kyle's spaceship.

"Who even are you?" Gary asked in amazement.

The team so far felt disoriented after all of the random events that occurred. Echo observed throughout the giant cockpit that Kyle's controls were super advanced and complicated.

"I can use this vessel to get us to our TRUE destination........W.V. My archnemesis."

Leed's jaw nearly hit the spaceship floor. Sunset admitted how surprised she was, too.

"The paper on that wall is in fact a riddle with a map that can guide us to W.V's hiding spot. He was your friend, no?" Kyle gestured to Cecelia.

She nodded enthusiastically, sadness showing in her eyes as she remembered a past with W.V. What turned him so evil? Why was he tormenting Gateway Mansion? Could he be creating illusions to distract the Gateway Gang from a malevolent plot????

Whatever W.V. had planned, it definitely did NOT sound good, especially with what Cecelia had to deal with. He was much more friendly back then... Cecelia sighed. She can't go back now. She decided to wander over and read the riddle.

"Say my name and I disappear. From the person you've always despised." She recognized it almost immediately. She knew the answer in the back of her mind, and really wanted to say it. But something else was nagging her and telling her no. To her relief, Kyle was explaining what the riddle meant and she didn't have to tell anyone.

"See, it says 'Say my name and I disappear.' That seems almost impossible to figure out, right? Well, I have this book..." Kyle pulled a huge book that seemed almost one hundred thousand pages in length (that may have been an exaggeration, but trust me, it's GIGANTIC). He started flipping through the pages, and found the page he wanted. "This book is full of riddles and the answers to them. On page 628, right here, it gives the answer to the riddle. The answer's silence. Does that ring a bell?" Suddenly the riddle made a lot more sense. Everyone nodded. "That is actually the name of a solar system not too far away from us. But there are about one hundred fifty-four (154) planets in that solar system! Well, I also found something else out." Kyle headed toward the sheet of paper that had the riddle written on it in fairly neat handwriting. Then he held it at such an angle that it unfolded into a large map. The title? "Map of the Silence Solar System." It had one small planet circled. "This," Kyle said, pointing to the tiny planet, "is the key to everything!"

It almost seemed like pure magic as he held the paper at a different angle and it refolded itself. He hanged it back on the wall and also closed the book. Right before the book vanished into thin air, Cecelia got a glance at the cover and widened her eyes. She couldn't believe it, just couldn't.

Mallory caught only a glimpse of the map, and yet it burned itself across their mind.

"Erebos?" Mallory inquired, referencing the planet Kyle had pointed to. "What do you mean, the key to everything? Does it have some connection to this W.V. person?" They glanced toward Cecelia, whom Kyle had mentioned had some connection to this person, only to catch an expression of shock upon her face. "What is it, Cecelia? How are you?" They inquired, misusing the human phrase they had heard earlier.

It got the attention of the others, however. "Don't you mean 'is something the matter?'" Gary responded reflexively. "Huh?" Gary uttered as he realized the context of Mallory's mis-phrased question. "Cecelia, is something wrong?" he asked in concern. 

"Erebus." Cecelia whispered. "I know- I think- I-" She stammered, her expression scrunching, her mouth twisted down and her eyes, wide from shock, suddenly screwed shut. A strangled groan escaped her lips.  

Echo, across the hull from Cecelia, grimaced as waves of Cecelia's distress hit her. Alarmed, Gary, already at Cecelia's side, pressed the back of his hand to her forehead. Her skin was fever-hot. Gary hissed a curse as he dropped his hand.  

"Language." Dreads murmured. Gary shot him a dirty look, and he shrugged.  

"Cecelia, can you hear me?" Gary asked, running a hand down her small back like he had done so many times with Liz when she was sick.  

Cecelia made a noise that might have been a garbled yes.  

She curled forwards, burying her head in her hands. Gary stood, searching for something to lay across the seats. Kyle was a step ahead, he handed a folded flannel blanket to Gary, the others shifted to make space. The blanket was laid on the ground, and Cecelia was eased onto it. She didn't stay laying down long, soon she was sitting up again, and curled into a fetal ball with her hands folded over her head like she could fend off the growing headache that way.  

"Cecelia is malfunctioning?" Mallory asked.  

"She is sick, little one." Dreads answered, tapping their head once again, at their quizzical expression he elaborated. "Sick is a human version of malfunctioning."  

"I see." Mallory settled back in their seat to observe the human's reactions to this malfunction.  

Echo kept her distance, the emotional spikes Cecelia was giving off made her stomach roil. Gary was at Cecelia's side, and Leed was standing beside him, leaning so he could see Cecelia more easily. Whispered words passed between them. Kyle had returned to his place at the front of the ship, navigating so that they wouldn't have to add 'crashed in space' to the list of things gone wrong on this quest. Sunset joined Leed and Gary when she realized they were trying to figure out what was wrong with Cecelia.  

Kyle kept his eyes on Cecelia as he spoke, piloting the craft blindly with flawless expertise. "My theory is that Gateway Mansion acts appropriately as it is named: a Gateway. Specifically, one that leads to planet Earth. It guided me here to ultimately fail as I now realize W.V. duped me. He can somehow cross between these planets and solar systems easier than jumping over a crack on the sidewalk! Erebus is his current position. We head there immediately, no questions asked, stop him, and find a way to fix his wrongs! The last time I came close to encountering W.V., he held two hostages."

Leed's face fell after hearing this. "Repeat that again?"

Gary didn't appreciate the unnerving feeling he harbored in his stomach. Cecilia grunted feverishly, Echo understanding her pain.

"On Erebus are two hostages with W.V." Kyle dodged a string of astroids in the depths of outer space.

Leed knew now. "They've got to be my parents! That monster has them!"

Peter rushed to his side and rested an arm on his shoulder. "Stay calm, Leed. Kyle needs to tell us how we locate any hint of a lair on Erebus."

A minute passed and Kyle's ship performed a corkscrew, much to the disliking of Cecelia. Mallory held tightly to a cushioned seat.

"The chocolate river led you to that candy dimension! Gateway Mansion leads you to earth. I suspect that we'll come to discover what leads us to Erebus!"

"Erebos..." Cecelia murmured again. "Erebos, and... and that book... riddle... book..." Mallory barely picked up on her words, even with their sensitive hearing. "W... V..."

The human was malfunctioning, alright. It seemed that the word Erebos had triggered her malfunction. Were her words a side effect of the "sickness" or did they mean something? 

Cecelia sat there, as the memories flooded in and the pain grew. She couldn't take this long... she needed to get out... she started crawling across the blanket, slowly but surely reaching the closet of the room. This would definitely work, definitely.

Kyle kept glancing at Cecelia, but since he was driving the ship he could only do it once in a while. This time, he glanced back at the place where Cecelia was to only see an empty blanket and the closet door open. Shocked to see Cecelia disappear, he turned a bit too hard. Right when the ship was about to fly in a very nauseating circle, he gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath. Hopefully no one noticed that...

The rest of the group whispered amongst themselves, about Cecelia and how Erebos/Erebus could make her so sick. Then the whole ship lurched to the left, and breaking them out of their debate they noticed that Cecelia was gone.

"Sorry, I lost my grip on the steering wheel! The ship is getting hard to control," they heard from the front of the ship.

What in the world is going on here?

"Is it the doing of W.V.?" Mallory asked, curious but apparently not at all worried. "Is he trying to stop you from reaching him? Or the opposite? I think it has something to do with Cecelia. I think W.V. related data overloaded her system. If her malfunction speech means anything, it would seem that W.V. has a deeper connection to the planet Erebos. Cecelia also mentioned the book of riddles. That might mean something too. But I don't know anything about your operating systems, so it could be nothing."

Gary looked at them, surprised. They hadn't expected the child to be so observant.  

"I agree, there is something at work here, Mallory," Kyle said. No one expected him to pay attention to the opinions of a child...¨I suspect that it does have to do with W.V..." He pressed one of the many buttons on the ship. It emitted a slightly translucent red light and scanned the planet. He looked at the results. "Just as I thought. First of all, the planet's gravity is stronger than normal. If we fly to close the planet will pull us in too fast and cause us to crash. Second of all, there are defense systems scattered all over it, so if we managed to get through the crash we'd have to deal with those. Even if we managed to get through both, we still have to find the building that W.V.'s in, and there are tons of them. In fact, he might not even been there since he can travel to other planets so easily," Kyle explained. "We'll have to find some other way..." Kyle was now absorbed in his thoughts of what to do next.

Cecelia sighed in relief. She felt much better in here. Only her staff illuminated the dim closet.

@Nice to see you again Cecelia...@

She glanced around. Where was that coming from?

@It's me, Aqua.@

She stopped panicking, knowing that it was her staff and not something out to get her. But why is Aqua talking to her? She only talks when something really, REALLY bad is going to happen.

&Is this another warning?& she asked her staff.

@Unfortunately, yes... Don't look at the cover, don't look at the cover...@ Then Aqua's voice faded out before she could ask her what cover she was talking about.

The cover as in the blanket? What about the book cover?? What happens if she was under cover??? She was more confused than before. She probably needed to tell someone. She came out of the closet, ready to tell somebody about what she heard.

The first person in sight was Peter. He, naturally being the group skeptic, was great to talk to anyway for his suspicion of Cecelia still lingered. As she tapped his shoulder, he pulled her to the side to listen to her concern.

"Aqua spoke to me, Peter! The staff warned me to avoid looking at a cover…..but I couldn't understand what cover before Aqua's voice faded off."

He crossed his arms after pondering the threat. Dreads seemed to be eavesdropping. Though his focus was more on Echo, the odd man kept his defense up. Kyle's ship lurched, and with every spin an overall discomfort fell on our heroes. 

Kyle, stabilizing the ship again, thought that there was literally no way they could get to W.V. by traveling to Erebos. Maybe there was some way they could "jump" to other planets like him? Then they needed to find a device that could do it. The ship lurched again. In annoyance, he steered the ship away from the gravity field, since it seemed to be causing it. Then his eyes lit up. There IS another way. He pressed the idle button on the ship and turned toward the group.

"Since there is no way to get onto Erebos head on, I have another idea. We need to find a device that can make us 'jump' to planets just as fast as he can. And I think I know where one is," Kyle said. "Hopefully it isn't too far away from us." He glanced at the fuel meter worriedly. But out of the corner of his eye, Cecelia seemed to be okay, so at least that was fixed.

Cecelia kept wondering why Kyle made eye contact with her, but she couldn't figure out why. He seemed to care about her a lot. She pushed her thoughts about that to the back of her mind for later. It isn't annoying, so it shouldn't be a problem.

Peter cut her out of her thoughts, suggesting, "I think that maybe Aqua meant the book cover."

She tilted her head at him in confusion. "Why the book cover?" she asked.

Peter didn't want her to get upset and remind her of what she experienced earlier, so all he said was, "Oh, it's just a guess."

Then Kyle explained how he couldn't get the ship to land on Erebos, so he's going somewhere else to get something. She forgot what. All she knew was that riddle book had said something she'll never forget again, and she could never tell anybody because they would never trust her again.

Mallory looked deep in thought, brow furrowed and eyes looking towards the ceiling. "Planets, or dimensions? Because I haven't sensed any dimensional shifts. This is the same dimension as the place I met you? But a different sector of this dimension's habitable galaxy... Wait, W.V. can jump planets? Not dimensions? I've never heard of such a thing before... At least in a human. Are you sure your acquaintance W.V. is a human? If he is a human, he should only be able to travel through open CDGs...?" The others looked at them oddly, as their ponderings were being muttered strangely. 

"I'm sure W.V. can only jump to other planets and that he is human. I have heard of something called a Cellular Database of Galaxies, which has the abbreviation of CDG, if that is what you are talking about, and it can transport you to different locations. However, I do not know whether or not it allows you to jump to other planets or dimensions."

Cecelia's expression seemed to show one of recognition. Somehow she remembers this. It is odd how everything seems to go back to her...

Dreads tapped seemingly absently on the silvery vial at his side. After a moment he tilted his head to address Mallory, "You're right, little one, W.V. shouldn't be able to cover such a distance without help." He stood up, his head nearly scraped the ceiling, and paced to the back, thinking hard. Potentially he could try to teleport everyone, but the last time he had hopped dimensions he had gone from Asia in 1419, to, uh, this candy place, present time. Besides, Kyle was already working on getting them onto Erebus. A problem- the problem- was how they would deal with W.V. once they finally cornered him. Dreads cast a long look at Cecelia. It seemed that this child may well be the key. 

"Cross-dimensional gates," Mallory said to Kyle. "I'm not at all educated about galaxies, but I know more about dimensions. But, within each dimension there's a lot outside my knowledge. Well, I'm a kid, after all." W.V.... This mysterious person was definitely something outside of their knowledge. He could prove to be interesting... 

"Ah, I see," Kyle said, grateful for the clarification. "However, we shouldn't worry about all this, I know a place where we could get something to jump planets with. As long as we have enough gas to get us there we'll be fine..." He glanced at the gas meter again.

Out of the corner of her eye Cecelia saw Dreads looking at her. Why does everyone do that?! First Kyle, and then Dreads. At this rate, before she knew it everyone would be looking at her. However, like everything that has happened in her life, she pushed that thought away and focused on the future. She wondered about how she remembered the Cellular Database of Galaxies. Maybe that was the key to something. It was... She dug deeper into her memory. AHA! She found herself remembering what it looked like, how it functioned... Nice. She guessed knowing about it would be useful sometime. Now, about the cross-dimensional gates... Cuteness of Diligent Giraffes, Car Dealership Giants... She looked through her mental encyclopedia. She sighed. She couldn't find cross-dimensional gates. Wait! She looked back at the set of memories she was searching in. There was cross-dimensional gates! No, she read it wrong. She read it again. Ohhh, cross-dimensional gateWAYS! Huh, that was weird. She brought up the memory of cross-dimensional gateways and started reading about them. This was some pretty interesting stuff...

"So where is it that we can get the thing that lets us jump planets?" Gary asked. "By 'not that far', do you mean in this solar system? But this solar system is huge..."

"it's not in this solar system, but we can use the hyperdrive. It will get us there faster," Kyle explained. "Just make sure you are in one of the seats and hold on to it." Once everyone was secure, he pressed another one of the many buttons on the ship. Through the windshield, it was only a blur as they raced through time. And then they found themselves near a planet's docks. From the spaceship, they had a great view. It looked beautiful, technology everywhere. Buildings reached up toward the sky, hovercrafts and other spaceships were everywhere.

Whereas everyone else paid mind to the possibilities of teleportation, studying it's process, predicting the outcomes, Leed simply went with the flow. He had so much potential, oblivious to his hidden gifts within. For now, however, he could only tackle traveling to spots visible to the eye (with the help of his prescription glasses that allowed him to see pretty far). Gary, strapped in his leather space chair, turned to Leed to ask for advice. "Any clue on where W.V. could be keeping his lair on Erebus?" Kyle landed his ship as they spoke. "Well, my guess is that it could only be a place brimming with inter-dimensional energy. Think of that as the source of my power. I call it the Current. Even though I was born with it, something tells me W.V. harnesses it in an unorthodox fashion. I should be able to sense inter-dimensional energy just by it's overwhelming strength. Anything remotely energized is a target." Sunset and Peter hugged tightly, relieved to be on solid ground without the uncomfortable shaking of the craft anymore. Kyle removed his seatbelt and whirled to face his crew. He puffed his chest and announced loudly, "Okay everyone. This is the plan. Before engaging in a fight, just in case W.V. is hostile, we see if Cecelia can reason with him. At the moment, on Erebus, I find it best if we cover more terrain by splitting into small teams. I will assign everyone a role for their own good. Sunset, Peter, and Echo, I'd like for you three to walk through town and see if you can ask the local folk about any strange happenings or planet disturbances. Learn what they know, and interview anybody who poses as a witness of nearby criminal activity." At hearing this, Echo became so ready she accidentally transformed into a wolf out of excitement. "Mallory, Cecelia, and Aqua the staff will stay behind to evaluate an effective strategy against W.V. to corner him so he does not escape Erebus. Gary and Leed, you guys are going to scout for significant levels of inter-dimensional energy that show us the jackpot to W.V.'s headquarters!" Kyle adjusted his pants belt. The only figure left was Dreads who still gave Kyle an unsettling vibe. "As for you," He addressed Dreads. "We need to have a talk. I don't know what your business is here, and how you have relations to Echo, but you are going to assist me in refueling this spaceship so we have gas to return home." The cast broke apart. Echo, Peter, and Sunset wished the others luck and disembarked, equipped with a walkie-talkie device so communication was simple amongst teams. They jogged toward a bustling community of alien traffic before disappearing over the horizon. Leed wrapped his arm around Gary and pulsed with white light until the two looked like static and teleported into the outskirts of Erebus. Cecelia worked to wake up Aqua again as Mallory watched patiently. Dreads, eyes narrow in caution, followed Kyle off the vessel and behind it's large gas tank…….awaiting a well deserved discussion. 

Sunset, Peter, and Echo traveled down the confusing maze of alleys. They have never seen anything like this before. Buildings stretched up to the sky and many architectural masterpieces surrounded them. It was impressive, although there was no signs of grass/trees/plants close to them. Only towering structures ahead of them and behind them. Hovercrafts whizzed above them, flying through clear, floating tubes that were a lot like roads. Even higher above that were tubes of a similar type for spaceships, but they couldn't see much through the hovercraft tubes, as the hovercrafts were crowding up the tubes in vibrant blurs. However, to their surprise, there were only a few people on the ground. One citizen was in front of what seemed to be an apartment complex. She was quite ordinary, an elderly lady filling her watering can. She sprinkled her water into some sad roses which were wilting. However, when the water touched them, they sprang up happily. Although they wondered what kind of rose moves like that, they thought about what Kyle said, and approached her. Peter greeted her with a friendly hello and asked, "What has been going on lately?" She looked up from her mini garden. She gave a welcoming look, and replied, "Oh, nothing much goes on here. I have heard that someone plans to improve this place. I'm glad that they are so nice." They glanced at each other. This place seemed a lot like paradise already, why would someone want to improve it? And who is this person, anyway? Echo, curious about this, inquired, "Do you know who thought of it?" She shrugged. "I'm afraid I don't know... Want some cookies?" "Not right now," Peter answered without hesitating. "We have all we needed to know." They can't worry about cookies when they have business to be doing. "Come back soon!" she called as they descended the steps to her porch and back onto the street again. Well, at least they knew something was up. However, now they knew, a new bunch of questions sprang up. Now what would they do? *Meanwhile...* Gary and Leed were following a different street. Leed paid close attention and tried his best to detect any sign of inter-dimensional energy. This was not a busy street, although the tubes above them were brimming with hovercrafts and even further up... They couldn't tell. All they knew was that most people didn't walk on this street. Which, in fact, was a good thing. Leed needed to focus, and couldn't let anything get into his way. He ran his hand along walls of the large buildings. He couldn't sense anything right now, but he was sure W.V. was somewhere. He couldn't let anything slip by him, it could've been W.V. that he missed. He'd never know, and this is probably the only way to find out. Gary followed him, wondering where they would possibly end up... and where W.V. would possibly end up. Then Leed jumped up. A wave of inter-dimensional energy just passed over him. He looked around. This was not how inter-dimensional energy was supposed to be sensed, unless the person who had it was invisible and moved at a tremendously high speed. Then he looked up. The hovercrafts... Then an idea popped into his head. That wave of inter-dimensional energy came from above him! That means that whoever had the energy was in a hovercraft. Leed told Gary what he had found. He was in such a good mood. But... if they wanted to know whoever had that inter-dimensional energy, they would need to follow the hovercraft. That means they needed to find a way to get a hovercraft... but how? *Meanwhile...* Cecelia said to her staff, "Please, Aqua, wake up..." She was about to give up. She has been doing this for about fifteen minutes. Mallory was getting impatient, but they didn't want to disturb their human. Previously, Cecelia tried shaking the staff, yelling at it. And dancing around singing a song. And now trying to be gentle and waking it up that way. "I didn't mean to smash that hula hoop into you," she said. Yes, she did use a hula hoop while she was dancing, and somehow it flew off her and landed on the staff. That caused her to drop it. To her relief, it didn't break, but now she thinks the staff is mad at her and she needs to say sorry for Aqua to wake up. She had some wacky thoughts, but if your staff was able to blow up a door, probably you would have such thoughts just because you're afraid it'll blow YOU up. After a few more minutes, the ruby gem glowed a bit more brightly, and the staff floated out of Cecelia's hands. "What now? Shaking me and dancing with me is not something I would like to experience again!" Aqua said, irritated. Cecelia sighed with relief, happy that it wouldn't blow her up. "Um, we need your help. We're supposed to figure out a plan for how to get W.V., and I'm not sure how to plan things," Cecelia said. Afterwards Aqua asked them a bunch of questions. Do you know W.V.'s strengths? His weaknesses? Do you know anyone he knows? "Surely you know all of this. You've been with him before," Aqua said. Cecelia did not like the questions, but even Mallory knew this had to be done somehow. She said, in a small voice, "All I know is - is - is that he's my - " She hesitated, and took a deep breath. "He's my father," she finished. Aqua and Mallory were both struck with shock. They were not sure what to say as Cecelia looked down, ashamed.

Dreads watched as Kyle fiddled with the ship's sleek silver hull. "Hand me that tube, would you?" Kyle instructed, preoccupied, for the moment, with fueling the ship. A coil of corrugated white plastic lay at their feet, one end was secured to a massive iron cylinder, the other lay loose on the concrete floor. Dreads picked it up and handed it to Kyle, who attached it to an opening in the ship's side. "Right then," He mused, strolling over to the end of the cylinder and punched a button. Immediately a low hum and a gurgle filled the space, and oily brown liquid sloshed into the tubing from the cylinder. The fluid chugged it's way through the coils of tubing, and began pumping into the gas tank of the ship. "Now, first things first." Kyle said, making his way back to where Dreads stood. He stopped a foot from the taller man, feet apart, arms crossed and chin jutted. "What's your name, where are you from, what is your business with us, and how on Erebus do you know Echo?" He fired off all at once. Dreads regarded him calmly, his right eye gleaming a curious yellow. When he didn't answer, Kyle tried again, "I don't want trouble, just answer the questions, in order if you don't mind". Dreads shrugged, still staring. "What, what is that supposed to mean?" Kyle narrowed his eyes, "I don't know." Dreads replied. "You don't know why you were shrugging?" "No, I don't know the answers to your questions." "To any of them?" Kyle balked. Who was this guy kidding? These weren't even hard questions! "Do you honestly expect me to believe that you don't know your own name." He demanded. Dreads shrugged again and took a few deliberate steps back. In the light, his eye seemed darker than before, almost ochre. "If you're desperate for a name then I guess you could call me Freak, but I'm really not particular." Kyle closed the distance between them with a few short strides. His expression was hard. "You\re name is Freak?" "I suppose so." Freak took another step back. Kyle mulled this over for a moment before nodding to himself, "Alright, Freak, any other questions you 'suppose' you have the answer to?" But Freak was gone. Kyle had been staring at him the whole time, and yet he had managed to vanish without a trace. "I know Echo because i've met her before." Freak's voice rang out from above Kyle. Startled, Kyle whipped his gaze skyward to see Freak standing with easy grace on top of the cylinder. "And I know Gary, and Liz, and Fawn and Hazel and Icicle, too." he went on, pacing the length of the cylinder. Kyle stared, mouthing the unfamiliar names. Gary he knew well enough, but Liz? Fawn? What was this guy talking about. At Kyle's uncertain expression, Freak hopped off the cylinder and landed neatly in front of Kyle. "As I said before; you're missing people. Now the real question, I believe, is what is /your/ business with the Children of Gateway?" His lips pressed into a thin line, his left eye was stone grey and his right eye was flinty jade. Kyle blinked and swallowed, he could have sworn Freak's eye was yellow earlier. After a moment, Kyle opened his mouth to answer. *Can't remember which of own character's eyes are which colors...sigh*

"They saved my life in the gingerbread castle, so I want to help them back. I am not letting W.V.'s plans end successfully," Kyle replied. He did not trust Freak much, so he did not give much information. It was enough to be a reasonable answer, however, so Freak accepted it. *Meanwhile...* Sunset, Peter, and Echo just got some information. Someone was trying to "improve" this place. But they needed more information. The only way to get it, it seemed, was to ask someone else. A businessman further down the street was walking hurriedly to one of the many skyscrapers. Maybe he'd know something. Once they got close enough to talk to him, he was fiddling with the door and muttering something under his breath. "I've heard that someone is planning to improve our neighborhood!" Sunset said, acting as if she was just another talkative neighbor. The businessman looked up and said, "I've heard the same thing. However, I think our community is good as it is..." He looked back at the door. They noticed that there were several different keypads next to the doorknob and he was entering some kind of code into them. "Well, everything's great except the doors," the businessman said as he typed the wrong code in again. "Do you know who thought of this improvement plan?" asked Peter. He wanted to learn the information as fast as possible so they didn't have to insert themselves into yet another awkward social situation. "Well, I've met him before. Can't remember his name, but his orange eyes were memorable." As he said this he tried getting inside another time. The group realized, when they met W.V. long ago, he DID have orange eyes. Maybe he's the one doing this? "I'm going to be late again this morning," he muttered. "Say, do you know the code for this door?" The group shook their heads. Then Echo spotted a paper out of the corner of her eye and picked it up. It said, "Give me to the businessman, Echo. I can help him." Echo stared at it for awhile. How did it know her name? May as well do what it said. "I found something, it says it's for you," Echo said, handing something over to the business man. He read it. "That's the code for this door! Thanks," he said. This time he typed in a different code and the door opened. He looked at his watch. "Right on time, too!" Then the businessman closed the door behind him. *Meanwhile...* Gary and Leed had to find some way to get a hovercraft. Somehow. "Maybe there's a hovercraft rental or something," suggested Leed. They started searching, this time for a hovercraft rental instead of inter-dimensional energy. They finally encountered one of the many skyscrapers. The door opened for them. It was filled with hovercrafts, of all sizes and shapes. Now it's just to get one of them. Gary stepped up to the counter. "Hello, we'd like a hovercraft," he said. The cashier said, "Well, you're in the right place! Pick the one you want and go wherever. Just make sure you return it. On average, we ask of two Kalidashers and one Mimi per hour you drive it, but it may vary based on the hovercraft you choose." Gary and Leed glanced at each other. What in the world were Kalidashers and Mimies? If this was the currency here, then they couldn't pay for one... They'd have to steal one. *Meanwhile...* Mallory stared at Cecelia. Was the human malfunctioning again? If it was, it was malfunctioning differently than before. What was a father, anyway? Maybe Aqua needed to remove her father part. It seemed to be broken. The only thing Aqua said was, "Get over it. I'm not holding it against you, and Mallory's too confused to hold it against you." Cecelia looked up. Maybe the staff was kind of right. They did need to make a plan, and so far they haven't gotten anywhere. 

Gary tapped his fingers on the glass countertop, his eyes skimmed the hovercrafts as he pretended to examine them. The cashier was beginning to look suspicious. He had a plan, but it was shaky, poorly formulated, and they didn't have more time to spend fine-tuning the details. He flashed his hand at the cashier and turned to whisper in Leed's ear. "I'm going to try to get him to go to the back room, when he opens the door, peek over his shoulder and try teleporting inside, to a spot he won't see you." Leed nodded, and frowned. "And what are you going to do?" "I'll distract him for as long as I can. Grab any hoverboard that looks like it'll do what we want it to, then get out of dodge." "Have you made a decision?" The cashier interrupted their whispering, he sounded weary, and more than a little irritated. Gary faced the cashier and flashed a Duchenne smile. "Sorry, not quite. I was wondering if maybe you had one with...flames?" The cashier's eyebrows raised, "You want flames...?" Gary snapped his fingers, "Yeah! You know, like, painted on the sides? Do you have anything like that?" The cashier's puzzled expression deepened. "I'll check." He said slowly. He spun on his heels and shuffled over to a white door tucked between the shelves of smaller hovercraft. The door swung open, and Leed peered surreptitiously around the tired worker. The cashier stepped into the room and reached back to catch the handle of the door. Leed sucked in a breath as the door was being pulled shut, and in the span of a heartbeat he had vanished. Gary huffed out a sigh as the door clicked shut, he ran his fingers through his limp hair and threw a glance around the store. Luckily, it was empty, and it didn't look like there were any camera's pointed at the spot Leed had been in either. As long as the cashier didn't spot Leed, they should be ok. A crash and a loud bang emitted from behind the door, followed by indistinct shouting. So much for being ok. Gary leaped to action, he vaulted the glass counter and grabbed for the back room door. With a twist and a jerk he yanked the door open just in time for Leed to stumble out. "Gogogo." Leed gasped, snatching the hem of Gary's shirt and dragging him along a few steps. At that moment the cashier emerged from the back room, hoisting a slim, sliver handgun. Gary's eyes widened, his breath hitched. "Aw hell." He muttered. He and Leed crashed out the front door, tailed closely by the cashier. It was just their luck, the one hoverboard shop they tried to rob, and the employees were armed! A shot rang out, the crowd was thrown into a frenzy by the noise. Gary and Leed traded scared glances, "Spaceship?" Gary said, "Spaceship." Leed nodded, they took off running back the way they had come from. 

Mallory tilted their head, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Father part? If W.V. is your father part, it means you and W.V. are connected, right? Do you have data on W.V.? If W.V. is a part of yours, you have to know something about what W.V. is doing... or maybe data on Erebos and Erebus? Because if it's data programmed into the memory of W.V. and W.V. is connected to you, then there has to be data you can access."

Freak and Kyle spun to the hooting and hollering of Gary and Leed. They were small, scurrying figures against a starry backdrop. In Leed's left arm was a shiny amber hoverboard, linked to a rather unbelievable price tag. "Got what you were looking for?" Kyle questioned. He stood stiff and regal. Freak blinked, muddled. Gary laughed in a mixture of exhilaration and fear. "A cashier nearly shot us to death. But, we scored a sweet ride that'll help us find W.V." Each of them huddled. They rushed single-file back into the craft where Cecelia and Mallory were contemplating a solid plan with Aquamarine Judgement. 

There were three people missing from the spaceship. Sunset, Peter, and Echo had yet to return from their venture out into Erebus, and with no way to contact them, or tell which direction they had gone, the only thing left to do was wait. Kyle paced the outside hull, carrying out final checks, while the others plotted inside. "We're going to Erebos?" Leed asked. Cecelia nodded in confirmation, her finger was by her mouth and she gnawed it nervously. "I thought we were there already." Leed waved a hand to encompass everything outside the hull. "No, this is Erebus." Aqua corrected. "Uh...right." Leed rubbed the back of his neck, confused, "I guess this place /is/ to idyllic to be W.V.'s home." At his words, Cecelia grimaced. "Yeah, I guess." She mumbled, and turned away from the group. Kyle entered, and began to run checks on the inner controls of the ship, he stopped briefly to glance at everyone, almost as if he was worried that one of them might have wandered off while he was outside. His eyes lighted on someone, and he hesitated a moment longer. "Gary, man, you alright?" Everyone turned to stare at Gary. He had been unusually quiet the entire time they were in the ship, and now he sat on a chair, with his head in his hands. He was rubbing his temples, and his eyes were screwed shut. "Fine." He answered with sparse conviction, "It's just a headache." Mallory crinkled their nose. Humans were so fragile, first broken father parts, now broken head parts. How did they keep up with repairs? "Aqua, Mallory, can you come help me with something?" Cecilia spoke up. She was walking away from the rest of the group, Aqua was hovering at her side, and she had something gripped in her hands. Mallory tilted their head, and went to follow Cecelia into the cockpit. 'Help' seemed to be something humans exchanged on a regular basis, a bit like currency, but Mallory couldn't decide how humans measured help, and they weren't sure how it translated into payment the way other forms of currency did. Nevertheless, they would give help. Once in the cockpit. Cecelia revealed the object she was carrying; the riddle book. "This," She said, hefting the book to give the other two a better look, "Is our key to getting to Erebos and finding W--, I mean, my father." She said, "I'm just not sure how..." She set the book down on the ground and flipped it open. Mallory edged closer, and kneeled beside the book, their eyes skimmed the letters while her mind ran silent internal searches on each one. "While we're here," Cecelia spoke up again, much quieter now, "could you guys keep quiet about W.V. being...You know. I don't think i'm ready for the rest of the group to know yet." "Not to worry, my lips are sealed." Aqua hummed. Cecelia cast pleading eyes on Mallory. "Um...yes, what the floating staff said...I think. Yes." Mallory tapped their fingers to their lips. Cecelia smiled. "Thank you." She bent her head back over the book and they all began to study it. A moment later, their studying was interrupted by a commotion out in the hull. "Their back!" Kyle's voice echoed. "What happened?" Came Leed's voice, concerned painting his words. Mallory sprang to their feet and headed for the hull, curious, but Cecelia stayed behind. Mallory peeked out of the cockpit, searching for the cause of the scuffle. Sunset, Peter, and Echo had returned. Echo was being supported on either side by Sunset and Peter. Her head sagged and her feet barely shuffled along on their own. "What happened?" Leed asked again, he took Peter's place at Echo's side, guiding her to a chair. "We don't know," Peter answered, "One minute we were talking to someone about the city, and the next she was collapsing." The moment Echo was seated, she drew her knees to her chest and clamped her hands over her head. "It hurts," She whispered, "My head hurts." "Do you have any painkillers?" Sunset asked Kyle. "That won't help." Freak joined the fray. He positioned himself by Echo's side, his right eye a soft blue. "Why not?" Sunset demanded, turning to face Freak. Her hands were planted firmly on her hips. Freak shrugged. "It just won't." "What makes you think that?" Kyle stepped around Sunset, his glare accusatory, "What do you know that we don't?" He jabbed a finger at Freak, his other hand was clenched at his side. Freak sighed. "Nothing." He replied, "I don't know anything. Give them both painkillers if you want." "Both?" Kyle faltered. Echo winced, a weak cry escaped her parted lips. Across from her, Gary was still rubbing his temples. Although now his eyes were open, and he was staring at Echo. "THAT'S IT!" Cecelia shrieked from her place in the cockpit. Everyone jumped. "I've found it!" She gasped, running into the hull with the riddle book clasped to her chest. A smile was on her face, and her eyes glinted excitedly. Her excitement faltered when she took in the scene before her, but nearly instantly she perked up again, "I've found the way to defeat W.V."

Nearly everyone's eyes lit up with hope. Finally someone's figured out something useful. "See? Look at this page in the book!" She showed it to them... and it was blank. Cecelia noticed it was blank when she turned it back to her. "What - what happened to it?? It was right there a minute ago!" She shook the book in frustration, hoping that somehow it would appear back on the page again. Kyle stopped searching in his cabinet of medicine, realizing something was going on. "Let me see that," he said, placing a container of anti-acid tablets back on its shelf and coming over. He looked over Cecelia's shoulder and somehow knew what she was looking for. "I think what you're looking for is on page 77." He flipped the pages and Cecelia looked at him in astonishment. However, he didn't say a word as he went back to the cabinet to look for the painkillers. Cecelia's anxious frown turned into a smile once again and she said, "It's here!" She showed the page again. It was a beautiful painting of a valley, and it was really detailed. Someone must've took years to make it that realistic. However, the page seemed to make the scene ripple, as if it was underwater or it was very hot there. But the page wasn't magical, it was just an ordinary page! Once everyone got a chance to look at it, Cecelia continued. "This is a portal that changes where it takes you every five minutes. If we wait long enough it will eventually lead us to W.V.'s lair. We can tell if it's his lair by the painting shown on the page, it always gives you a preview of where you're going. I've been there before, so I know what the rooms look like."

According to Cecelia, now all our heroic adventurers have to do is wait. So, all of them stared at the book, sure that when the next scene pops up, Cecelia will jump up and exclaim, "This is the one!" But no, nothing happened. For a long time, this went on and on. However, right when Cecelia was about to close the book and give up, the painting flashed once again, signaling that it changed its portal's location. She glanced at it, thinking it was probably the wrong one. This time it was actually the right scene! "This is the scene that'll lead us there! I knew it would come back!" Cecelia said, excitedly. Some of the group who gave up on looking at the book came back over, realizing that hope wasn't completely lost. Before they went in, they got a chance to examine the painting. It was very detailed and realistic, as usual, but this didn't look anything like a lair. It looked more like an ordinary house. There were comfortable chairs surrounding a fireplace, and it was burning, distributing a peaceful warmth across the room. A mysterious figure was sitting in one of the chairs, holding a cup of tea. Since they were only seeing the back of this figure, they could only tell that the figure had midnight black hair, which was surprisingly the same shade as Cecelia's and Kyle's. Since it was only a painting, they did not see the person moving, they would only see movement if they actually went through the portal. Cecelia was about to jump in when Aqua stopped her with a translucent red wall. "Wait a minute. So you guys think we're all going to jump in there?" asked Aqua. "You know that Gary and Echo have headaches, so they'd have to stay here. And someone would have to stay with them." Everyone glanced at each other. There was an odd silence for a few seconds. Aqua did make a point, they should stay. They could potentially be brought into danger if they went through the portal and they definitely weren't in the condition to deal with it. Sunset, aware of these things, said, "I'll stay." The see-through red wall faded the moment she said it. And then it reappeared again, to the frustration of Cecelia. "Are you sure?" asked Aqua. Sunset nodded, and the wall disappeared - for good this time. Cecelia jumped through almost immediately, almost as if it was her destiny to finish this quest of hers, and was followed by Aqua, Freak, Mallory, and Peter. Kyle found the correct painkiller right after Peter went through and approached Sunset. "Here, have this. It may help them," he said, gesturing toward Gary and Echo. And then he went through the portal as well. The group was greeted by the warmth of the fire. The portal worked! Cecelia, however, didn't look at her surroundings and ran into the next room like there was no tomorrow, holding her staff. Kyle seemed just as panicked when he realized Cecelia ran into the next room without looking around first. He sped into the next room like the world was ending in three seconds and the machine to disable the operation was in the next room. The rest of the group glanced at each other with perplexed looks on their faces but went into the next room since there wasn't anything else to do. Besides Mallory. They found an interesting timepiece and placed it in their pocket, thinking they may be able to discover its operating system and somehow relate it to a human's. Once the group, including Mallory, got in to the next room, they realized they were in a lab of some sort. And the mysterious figure they saw in the picture was looking out the window on the far side of the lab. They found themselves frozen in place, even though it wasn't because they were firghtened. Kyle stopped Cecelia from talking to the figure, and instead spoke himself. "Hello, sir, we're looking for someone called - " He cut himself off as the figure turned toward him, immediately recognizing who was in front of him. Orange eyes. Crooked smile. Everything was the same as before. "You're looking for someone called W.V.? Well, you are certainly in the right place," said the figure. "The only thing that you need to do is step once to the right." Kyle narrowed his eyes in suspicion. The figure noticed, and said, "Well, if you doubt me, you could step once to the left." Cecelia, being the closest to Kyle, also found the figure familiar... But not a comforting kind of familiar. She was shocked. "Father?!" she said, finally figuring out who this was. The figure, which was W.V., turned toward her. "Oh, I see what's going on. You and all of your silly friends are going to try to save the world, and I'm the villian. I have no time for games right now, Genevieve." Cecelia gasped. "You - you called me - " She was too alarmed to finish her sentence. "Octavian! Don't do that to her!" Kyle said, enraged. "First you give her a life limit, and then you reveal all of her personal information!" W.V. smiled at Kyle's frustration. "Octavian. I love that name, Demetrice. You should've never mentioned it. And I'm doing her a favor, though you may not realize it." Kyle glared at W.V., silent for the moment. W.V. glanced over at Cecelia again, and noticed she was holding a staff. His eyes lit up in interest. "What do we have here?" Cecelia held the staff protectively. "It's mine," she said. "I'd give it to you if you gave me my life back." @No, no, no, this wasn't part of the plan!@ yelled Aqua's voice in her head. @I don't want to live with that freak!@ &I'm desperate. I promise I'll get you back afterwards.& replied Cecelia. @Uh uh. Not doing it.@ Aqua repeated. &But - & Cecelia was cut off as Aqua zipped out of her hands, glowing brighter than before. W.V. reached for Aqua, but she was skilled in the dodging department and glided past him with no problems. Cecelia gave up on the idea of getting her staff back and decided to do the plan that Aqua suggested. She focused on the one vial in the lab. It contained a glowing, white liquid, and a warning saying it was radioactive. She focused on it more. She heard a faint clanking noise, coming from it. Each time a bubble popped inside it, she heard a clanking sound, and the bubbles were popping every half second or so. She sneaked over toward it while W.V. was chasing the staff and Kyle was looking amused. She picked it up, carefully. This was the vial she needed, alright. Abruptly, she dropped it. Glass went everywhere as it crashed to the floor. But there was no liquid to be seen - it all evaporated. W.V. stopped running, and Kyle stopped smiling. W.V.'s eyes stopped glowing orange as soon as he stopped running. Cecelia realized his eyes were actually violet, like hers. "What just happened?" W.V. asked, looking around as if this place were another planet (which it was). Out of the corner of their eyes, the rest of the group saw a shadowy figure zip past them and out the door. But they also noticed they weren't stuck in place anymore. They rushed toward the others. "Sorry that we couldn't help," said Peter. "We were stuck." Freak nodded, but Mallory just looked confused. "Did Cecelia remove her father part?" they asked. This was going to be a lot of explaining... *A few hours later, after explaining some things to Mallory...* They got to know W.V. He was being controlled by something until Cecelia destroyed the vial it was held in. Although whatever powerful being that was in there was released, now W.V. acts just like he should. They also discovered Kyle was W.V.'s brother. W.V. disappeared from the Space Patrol awhile ago and Kyle was told to find him. So that's why they met him in the first place. W.V. didn't know exactly what he was doing while he was being controlled, and he doesn't know who was controlling him, either. By the way, Cecelia finally got her life back. Mostly, if you put a Life Limit on somebody (it's an enchantment) you give them a certain amount of time to live. She was pressured into coming here and persuading him to undo it. And the names they used while they were arguing - Genevieve, Octavian, and Demetrice - they didn't really explain them. No one asked about them, either, because they assumed it was a personal thing. The only thing they have to ask now is, "What's next?"

"What is the next direction? Is there another mission to start directly, or is there a home base for you to return to? Can I come with you?" Mallory fired off the questions rapidly. "Also, do the rest of you have 'fathers'? Is that just a human thing? I don't think I have a father."

Chaplain Institute Arc Edit

The current Gateway Gang, save for Leed, Echo, Gary, and Sunset, melted away into the book until it returned to them. They would need safe passage back to Kyle's ship, so as their portal dissolved into nothingness, the remainder of the crew sat in the cold interior of the craft. Echo and Gary took their painkillers from Sunset, fighting to ease their headaches. "Go with Leed, Sunny," Gary encouraged. "Help him find his parents." He sat beside Echo as they kept each other company, awaiting happy results. Sunset turned to Leed, sympathy sparkling in her eyes, as she clutched onto his arm. They were showered in cheers before Echo and Gary watched them pixelate and vanish. Kyle's ship grew darker by the hour. On the other side, Leed tumbled with Sunset in tow. Her body crashed over his and they sprawled across a slippery lab floor. A secret department lay before them. Cheeks red, Leed gently brushed Sunset off of him, apologizing for the sloppy landing. "It's as if this environment holds a tear in both time and space. We may be standing in a true flaw of the universe, meaning W.V.'s hideout is in fact a unique location free of outside interference. I tapped in somehow…" He walked along a stretch of tiles. Shelves lined the walls packed with vials upon vials of radioactive fluid. Tables were littered with experimental monstrosities. A storage room towards the back disclosed a massive chamber filled with prison cages. Each cage housed fifteen victims….orange eyes, sunken faces, and stained hospital wear. People hung upside-down motionless in these cages, nearly dead, and there was an endless number looming below a pit of sorrowful blackness. "My god…." Sunset trailed off. "Leed, your powers have gotten way stronger…what is this place???" Her frame shook uncontrollably. This was fear. Immense fear…and it would take the two forever to find what could be Leed's parents in one of the cages. Zombies didn't describe them well enough. Every orange-eyed test subject underwent heavy drilling and experimentation to become some dreadful husk of a brainwashed soldier. Tears flooded Leed's vision. He knew his parents were in here. He knew they had orange eyes now, too. He had to get to the bottom of this. "Sunset," his lips wavered. "We can't free them just yet. Every single prisoner in here are the slaves of a much more evil doing…….I need you to grab a radioactive vial and help me bring it to someone who is intelligent enough to figure out what the damn awful chemical is! Hop onto my back. We're gonna go visit Liz." 

Leed took Sunset by the hand, and with a muffled pop teleported them back to the ship. The others were returning, clambering their way back out of the riddle book. There was a lighter aura about them than there had been when they had first gone through the riddle book. There were also a few less people. "Where's Cecilia? Kyle?" Echo asked, peering around the group at the wavering book portal. "They're coming in a minute, they wanted to talk to their dad." Peter answered. Echo's lips parted, her eyebrows drew down, "/Their/ father?" She asked. Peter shrugged, "It's, uh, confusing. You wouldn't believe all the crap that's happened in the past..." He checked a watch strapped tight around his left wrist, "half an hour." At that moment, Mallory poked their head out of the portal, still chattering. "You need to answer my questions, they're important. I need to know if all humans have father parts that have to be taken care of. Can I be allowed to join your human pod and help fix your broken parts?"Their frustration at being ignored, though mild, was growing. "Are all of your-- what are they called? In your necks, the sound thing. Are all of your sound things broken or can you be pleased to answer--" They cut off as they caught sight of the vial Leed clutched in his hand. Immediately, they fixated on the vial, they made their way with ease to Leed's side and snatched the vial up. "What have you here, human?" They held the vial up to eye level and watched the toxic sludge inside slosh. "Hey, be careful--" One of the humans gasped as Mallory stuck their finger in the vial, swished it, then put that same finger in their mouth. "Mallory!" Sunset yanked the vial out of Mallory's grasp, and yanked Mallory's finger out of their mouth. Mallory pulled a face. "Tastes like s***." They stuck their tongue out. Why were the human's staring like that? "Is s*** not a bad thing?" They asked. Freak had to cover his mouth to smother a chuckle. He seemed the least concerned, though his eye was grey-blue and he kept stealing glances at the vial. "No, um, yes." Sunset stammered, flustered, "Okay, first of all, you shouldn't...lick chemicals, this could be toxic, it could kill you. Second of all, where did you learn that word?" "That one said it earlier." Mallory pointed to Gary, It's means bad, right? Humans say it to indicate that something is bad." Sunset turned to scowl at Gary while Mallory was babbling. Gary was speechless, he hadn't thought anyone had heard that slip-up. "Um...oops?" He offered sheepishly. Sunset just shook her head and turned back to Mallory. "Listen, Mallory, if you start to feel sick--" "Sick? I thought that was a human thing." "Wrong, then. If you start to feel like you are...er, malfunctioning, then you need to tell one of us, okay?" She said softly. Mallory blinked at her for a moment. "But why would I malfunction?" "...Nevermind." Sunset gave up. She stood, and clapped to get everyone's attention, even though they were all already staring at her and Mallory. "Ok, Leed found this," She held up the vial for everyone to see, "And a bunch of people all caged in some freaky laboratory." "They were all too messed up to let out of the cages-- like zombies or something," Leed stepped in before anyone could ask, "If we want to help them we need to figure out what this chemical is. We think Liz will be able to help us." Around the room, everyone was nodding. Except Mallory. They knew what the sludge was. They also weren't going to tell the humans. They wanted to meet the Liz...and, perhaps, they also wanted to watch the humans struggle for a little while-- as vengeance for not answering their questions. 

While everyone was 1) staring at Mallory 2) hoping Liz knows about the vial 3) whatever else they were doing, Cecelia returned through the riddle book. She was just in time for everyone to realize that they need to figure out a way back to the Gateway Mansion's planet to find Liz. No one really noticed her, because they were busy talking about something else. "So... how are we going to get back?" asked Sunset. "None of us can pilot this ship..."

Gary howled in laughter despite his headache. It was slowly subsiding thanks to he and Echo's meds. "We're risk takers." With Kyle gone and supervising W.V., covering important family matters, Gary hobbled over to the cockpit of Kyle's spaceship. He threw himself into the pilot's seat. "Buckle up everyone! I have not a craps clue what I'm doing and we're flying back to the Candyland!" Mallory skipped to their position on the craft and plopped down on a rather extra-cushiony chair. It was Freak's lap. Struggling to rid their mouth of the hellish taste that chemical had when they carelessly licked it, Mallory clicked in her belt and awaited orders. Peter, Sunset, Cecelia, Leed, and Echo did the same wearing concerned expressions as engines were activated. Gary gave it his all. Shakily, he revved the vessel forth and sent his friends out of Erebos' atmosphere. PEEEEEWWWWWMMMM! A view of the universe for a split second showed from the ship windows before pink sky and edible clouds. Jelly rain drops pelted the craft wings. Sunset held her breath. "All good?" Spoken too soon. A loud bang indicated a terrible landing.....but they were all alive. Smoke emanated from the nose of the vessel. Gary provided a babyish smile. "Hopefully Kyle won't be too mad when he returns to collect his ship. Is there a disguise button to leave it here for the time being?" Cecelia thankfully had her answer to give Gary because she and Kyle were related. "Hit the clear button by your wheel to camouflage!" In doing so, Gary had the team exit and observe Kyle's craft as a large funnel cake in the middle of the Candyland. Freak was impressed. Leed dusted off his sleeves. Echo chimed in. "Awesome! Gateway Mansion should be beyond the factory we visited previously, no?" Sunset nodded in approval. Aqua guided Cecelia the way. Residents of the Candyland, (mostly living gummy bears), watched the gang hustle in pursuit. Thankfully, past the familiar machinery that comprised of the factory before stood the portal door. On the other side lay Gateway Mansion's interior. To a tourist, it appeared as a beautiful estate jam-packed with royal furniture...but our heroes knew Gateway was something else entirely. Freak reminisced at the sight. Everyone got situated and put down their belongings. Strange at how good it felt to be 'home.' Leed scratched his head. "Ahhh, ol' Gateway Mansion. A problem of it's own." Echo huffed. Mallory grew impatient. "This Liz....I wanna meet this Liz." Cecelia tapped her staff against the wooden floorboards. Gary raised his hands in compliance. "I can take you guys to her dormitory. But we're gonna need some serious tires." Peter turned to his adorable girlfriend at hearing this. They grinned crazily at each other. "We have just the idea." Scanning their surroundings, the two judged where the next room would be when the Mansion spun like it usually did, Rubix cube style. The garage would be to their left, neighboring the kitchen. "Let's see if we can find some cars in the garage!" Peter beamed. Echo caught on. She digged road trips. Aqua, who by miraculous means could rival the frequency of the house, forced Gateway Mansion to shift and allow them access. Cecelia loved her staff even more, now! Leed wasted zero time. Freak dashed after him into the garage. They beheld amazing vehicles. "Anyone have a license?" Echo joked aloud. They were young and wild and free. They could drive wherever they damned pleased. "Off to see Liz!!!"

They all piled into the SUV. Gary took the driver's seat, since he was the one who knew where to go, and Leed claimed shotgun. Freak made sure to grab a seat in the second row as the third would probably be quite cramped for someone of his size. Mallory also claimed a second-row seat, as from the third row they would be less able to observe the operating system of this machine. Mallory had seen, and been inside of, land vehicles, they thought, but none like this. Even more unfamiliar to them was ithe strange land the mysterious cross-dimensional gate hub had taken them to. Here in the middle of the vehicle was the optimal place to watch. It also meant they were surrounded and packed in by their human pod, though, and they were bound to get restless during transport. Mallory had never liked transport. It always meant being packed in like sardines (as they had heard people say; Mallory had no idea what a sardine was or how they were packed) and bored for hours on end. Echo called dibs on the third second-row seat, so Peter, Sunset, and Cecelia climbed in the back. And they were off-- to see this Liz that everyone seemed to know but Mallory, that could somehow know the chemical in the vial, that was at some gathering of scientists... 

Freak drummed his thin fingers against the black SUV cupholders. Gary fished around compartments for car keys as a question shot from behind his armrest. "Your sister…how long has she been in her studies?" Freak's heterochromic eyes dazzled through the rear-view mirror. The crew whistled as Gary started the ignition and blew some air conditioning. "So far, close to a semester," Gary said. "She desperately wanted a break from Gateway Mansion. I helped her look for schools online, pack, and then the Chaplain Institute of Science and Tech sent a bus to pick her up." Leed couldn't get the radio to work. With the house being a dimensional hub, signals were rare marvels to catch. Cecelia felt Aqua hum under her arm and the garage doors folded into the ceiling. Echo became curious and threw questions of her own at Gary. "You didn't join her?" Gary's face turned sour. "Heck no! I can't stand Science….I give Liz all the credit for being such a geek. She's affiliated with the Chemistry Branch….Chaplain Institute has at least twenty. Dorms are categorized easier that way." He pressed the gas pedal and the SUV sped out into the sun. Mallory, fresh to Earth, shoved their face into the side window and glared in amazement at the blue sky. White clouds. Trees that were actually normal for once and not made of confections! Peter noticed this and smiled. "I, instead, chose to continue average errands…filling the fridge with groceries so I didn't starve. I embraced Gateway as my home. It was on one of those food searches that I met Leed and made a friend. He told me his problem and I quit searching for food and began to search for his folks. We were running around for a hell of a long time, to be honest…" Freak dwelled on these thoughts. He realized that for an extended period, Gary happened to be a guardian of Gateway…balancing normal teenage life with the unpredictable issues that snuck through the Mansion's many doors. Imagine! Gary did a great job too! If any of those mishaps were exposed to the ordinary human realm, it'd be highlighted on the News. Whatever occurred in Gateway Mansion STAYED in Gateway Mansion. How strenuous it must've been to go at it alone while Liz was away…The Rubix cube layout of the estate never helped much to begin with. One could reside in a room without even discovering other inhabitants down the hall or in the attic. Peter and Sunset must've never known. Freak was glad they all grouped together presently, for splitting up could result in a loss. "Where is the Chaplain Institute, by any chance?" Cecelia inquired. Gary itched his brow. "The Institute is pretty secluded. We'll be seeing tons of desert on the trip before we get to the campus."

Deserts, Mallory thought. Dry and barren areas of land. Mallory didn't know all too much about geography and topography, especially not in this strange environment. Mallory had seen several dimensions, but none like this. They recalled a black, cold desert of floating particles and hidden places. What were the deserts in this world like? And what was this Institute the humans' Liz attended? Everything was new to Mallory. Mallory always seemed to know less about their environment than those around them... Everything seemed normal to everyone else, they supposed? They wondered if humans were naturally adapted to a multitude of environments, and if their natures made nothing strange and exciting to them. Mallory could feel themself growing restless already. How long until they reached the desert? How long until they reached the institution? How long would they be forced to sit still... What did humans do to entertain themselves...? It seemed the human pod had turned to conversing. 'Sister'... What was that? Was it like a father part? Humans had strange customs and a strange classification system which seemed to connect different humans. The institution of sciences and technology made far more sense to them than the mysterious Liz. Sciences and technology were familiar... Mallory faced the idea of the destination with one part apprehension and one part excitement and curiosity. 

Potholes and poorly repaired cracks riddled the barren road, and Gary, albeit doing well for a kid who didn't have a license, was not the best driver. He struck most of the potholes, jolting everyone in the car violently. Freak was slouching to keep his head from scraping the ceiling of the SUV. He didn't know much about travelling by car, and at that moment he was at a toss-up on which was worse; hitting the potholes, or the sudden, sharp swerves into the other lane that Gary pulled on the occasion that he spotted a pothole before his tires did. Either way, his stomach was beginning to turn slow flips and the horizon was swimming. He closed his eyes, only to find that that made the stomach-flipping worse. Dizzy, he opened his eyes half-way, and pressed his forehead to the top of the window in hopes that the cool glass would relieve the nausea a bit. "You feeling alright?" Sunset asked, her warm hand squeezed his shoulder. He lifted his eyes to the crooked front mirror and caught her gaze in the reflection for a moment, his right eye was a sickly sanguine. "Fine, fine." He muttered, dropping his gaze. Sunset grimaced, but didn't push the subject. Everyone got carsick once in a while, right? // Echo leaned as far back in her seat as she could, Mallory had abandoned their seat on the hump and crawled onto Echo to stare out the window. Waves of wonderment rolled off the child-like being and washed over Echo's aura. Echo noted that Mallory's emotions had a different flavor than the others', there was a distinctly bittersweet extra layer. Suddenly, the waves of wonderment decreased, and were rapidly replaced by a sludgy boredom. Mallory scooched off Echo and plopped back in their seat. Their eyes roved, and the sensation of boredom became stronger and stronger, until Echo herself was feeling listless too. "Leed, hit the radio, would you?" She asked. Leed obliged, and a twangy pop song filled the vehicle. Almost instantly the wonderment coming from Mallory came crashing back full-force. Echo smiled to herself, an interesting one, that Mallory kid was. // Gary spun the wheel, the tires of the SUV squealed as he made the final turn into the parking lot of the institute. At last, they had arrived. The gang spilled out of the vehicle, Freak walked around to the back and leaned on the hatch, trying to escape the queasiness. He muttered something along the lines of 'never again' as he went. The rest of the crew took a moment to observe the institute. Sunlight glistened off of high glass arches and polished metal swoops. Sprawling white brick arms radiated from glass-and-metal center. Between the institute and the parking lot was a swath of grass that someone was obviously trying to keep spritely despite the withering desert heat, a fountain of stone gushed opaque water in the middle of the grounds, and a cobblestone path encircled it once before stemming off to the east, west, and south towards the glass center. The institute was, to say the least, impressive. "So, what? We just waltz in?" Peter asked, shoving his hands in his jean pockets. "Yeah, I don't see why not." Gary answered. A squeaking distracted him, and he turned to see Mallory standing on top of the SUV. He started to tell them to get down, then thought better of it and shut his mouth. "Come on, I don't know where exactly in this place Liz is, so we'll have to ask the front desk." He broke away from the group, striding towards the glass center. The others fell into step behind him. Mallory jumped from the SUV, and landed easily on Freak's shoulders. Freak grunted at the unexpected weight, but continued on as if nothing had happened, and Mallory settled down on their new perch, pleased with the view. 

Cecelia stretched her seven-year-old bones. That SUV had been nearly claustrophobic. Skipping right alongside Mallory, as the two could always match each other's child-like immaturity, Cecelia watched Gary lead the way into the Chaplain Institute of Science and Tech. An odd building, it was. The campus felt disarranged in the desert outskirts…all rocks and sand until your eyes fell onto pretty architecture and brickwork. A middle office stood proud and mighty over our heroes. Single file, each person walked into a metallic vestibule under an open glass ceiling. Gary leaned his arms against a front desk. A wrinkly old woman with straw for hair and twigs for fingers looked up from her computer system. She squinted at Gary's face. "How can I help you?" The Gateway gang idled around the entrance. "Yes, hi! I was wondering when Chaplain's lunch hour started. I have to speak to my sister Liz who is a student here." The old woman, whose name plate read Chrysanthemum, typed a sequence of letters into her attendance log and pulled Liz up from the results. "You'll be glad to know that lunch hour began five minutes ago. I can call her down and have you speak to her in the Student Terraces." Awesome! With the swift push of a phone button, Chrysanthemum's voice boomed over an intercom. She requested Liz meet her brother and the crew. Freak, Leed, Sunset, Peter, Mallory, Cecelia, and Echo had to slap on visitor passes on their clothes. Through the windows and doorless arches to the left and right, you could see connected dwellings that had to have been dorms and class quarters. Big inflated balloons of several icons distinguished which buildings were for which branch. A fat flask balloon indicated that Liz, from the Chemistry Branch, would be walking in from the right. A student wore different colored uniforms to support their branch. 

Mallory's visitor sticker was stuck to their forehead, and consequentially mostly hidden beneath their magenta-purple hair. They bounced restlessly from their perch on Freak's shoulders. A brown-haired girl in a violet outfit appeared from the right and approached them. Gary ran up to her and gave her a hug. "Liz! It's great to see you!" Returning the hug, the Liz that the humans said could identify the chemical's properties exclaimed, equally enthusiastic, "Gary! It's been a while! I wasn't expecting you. And I see there's some new faces in the crowd," she said, turning to the group of visitors. Mallory leapt down from Freak's shoulders to land directly in front of Liz. "You're Liz," they said, looking up at her curiously. "That's right," she said sweetly. "And what about you? What's your name?" "I'm Mallory! It is nice to meet you," they said with an expression as bright as the sun. "I'm told you can identify the properties of this," they said quickly, holding up the vial. "Hey!" Sunset said indignantly, snatching it from them. "When did you take that? Were you playing with it again?" She scolded. Mallory wrinkled their nose. "Why would I? It doesn't taste or smell very pleasant, for a chemical." "You've tasted other chemicals?!" Mallory laughed bashfully to deflect the question. 

Peter shook his head light-heartedly. He also slipped his hand in Liz's direction. "Gary's sister! I hope you're doing well. My name's Peter and this is my girlfriend, Sunset." She grinned and waved with an air of grace. Echo additionally intervened, locking Liz in an all-too-familiar embrace. Cecelia spoke quietly and introduced she and Aqua, glowing a soft scarlet. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" Liz questioned. Gary guided his little sister up to a Student Terrace that was abundantly lit and adorned with flower decor, (away from Chrysanthemum so she would not hear). Sunset offered Liz the vial from their travels. "Like Mallory said. Our dear friend Leed, along with the rest of us, need to know what's inside. It could be responsible for enslaving a lot of innocent people around the world. His parents were found by a giant storage of the stuff back at a lair belonging to Cecelia's dad. Gateway Mansion gave us the path to his planet."

"How will you identify the contents?" Mallory asked Liz, sparkling with a curiosity that was not for the reasons the humans probably thought. Sure, she could run tests on it and try to find out its molecular makeup and all of the ways humans went identifying the world around them, but the chemical would not be in the human database of knowledge. It did not work like the chemicals humans knew of. Its composition should be indecipherable to anyone of Earth in this dimension. There were too many variables involved, and it should be an unsolvable puzzle for anyone who was not like Mallory was. But if Liz had a way to identify the properties of this chemical, that would make her very interesting. And Mallory would be very interested, because interesting things were the most fun! So they would sit and watch as they had been doing since they had fallen in with these humans and hope for a greater payoff. 

Liz squinted at the vial for a moment. "I don't recognize the material." She said, "I'd have to run some tests in the lab, but the lab's closed Friday through Sunday, too many kids were using it to make moonshine for the weekends." She pulled a face as if recalling an unpleasant memory. "Well, that's just great." Peter muttered. Sunset shot him a look. "Don't worry, I'm sure you guys could stay at the school for the weekend." Liz assured them, "Mrs. Chrysanthemum is secretly a sweetheart, she wouldn't dream of turning away people who needed a place to stay, especially not if they happened to be friends of one of the students." She said with a little wink at Mrs. Chrysanthemum, who had wandered into hearing range. The elderly lady gace an exaggerated sigh, but it soon dissolved into a little smile. "If you all need a bed for a couple of nights, I'm sure we could spare a few." She said. "Really? That's exactly what we need. Thank you!" A smile cracked Gary's face. He was in high spirits, encouraged by seeing his sister again. "One condition." Mrs. Chrysanthemum held up a bony finger. Everyone stilled, holding their breath for her ultimatum. "Boys, you'll have to sleep in the male dormitories, no sneaking over to the girls' side." She wagged her finger at the guys in the group. A collective breath of relief escaped the group, from all except Mallory. "No problem." Gary agreed. "Problem." Mallory narrowed her eyes at the old lady. Boy? Girl? What kind of a division was that? They folded their arms over their chest, forehead furrowed in thought. This...this was a problem indeed. 

"And what problem is that?" Mrs. Chrysanthemum asked sternly. Mallory was deep in thought, but to Mrs. Chrysanthemum it probably looked like an obstinate scowl. They did not understand this at all. "I don't get it," they pouted.

Freak strode to Mallory's side and rested a long-boned hand on their shoulder. They glanced up, squirming away at the same time. They didn't want to be touched, the human pod was confusing them. "You can room with me." DreamFreak said. "Am I a boy?" Mallory asked. "Are you a girl?" Freak asked back. His eye was swirling turquoise. "No-o." Mallory crossed their arms. What were they, what were they. What a puzzle. What an arbitrary division, why should they have to pick. "Would you like to be friends?" Freak kneeled so he was closer to Mallory's height, even so he towered above them. "I don't understand that term." They squinted their eyes, their arms remained tightly crossed over their chest. "Then we can pretend to be friends until you learn, and when you learn you can decide. For now, while we pretend, you can room with me, because that's something friends do." Freak offered. Mallory tilted their head in thought. "Do I have to be a boy?" "No." "Okay." They nodded once. Freak stood, and patted Mallory on the head. They side-stepped out of range, but not far out of range. "The young one is staying with me." Freak addressed Mrs Chrysanthemum, who was hovering like an annoyed bee. "Is it a boy?" Mrs Chrysanthemum asked sharply. Freak narrowed his eyes, his left iris was slowly taking on a red tint. "Does it matter?" He asked in a dangerously soft tone. "Well-- no, I-I guess in this case-- I mean...no." She stuttered, "I'll just go get everyone some room keys." As soon as her back was turned Liz swatted Freak, hard. "Don't bully her, DreamFreak." She growled. "I told you she was sweet. You should have talked to her with more respect." "My apologies." Freak bowed his head to Liz. The rest of the group stared at her, mildly surprised. "You know him?" Gary demanded, suddenly the overprotective brother, he took her by the arm and pulled her away from Freak. Liz jerked her wrist out of her brother's grasp. "Of course, you do too." Everyone's blank stares forced her to sigh, "Never mind....where is Mallory?" Worry crept into her words. The young child's maroon head was nowhere to be seen. They had wandered off. 

It was then Mallory traversed past all the terraces, gardens, courts, and office to head deeper into the Chemistry branch dormitories. The bureau had been the closest to our gang of heroes, so it made sense why that was first pick. Popping in and out of random students' rooms, Mallory finally approached a promising mop closet that appeared to be perfect for resting! The others soon followed, aware that evening had come and next week the labs would be fully operational. Everyone had to cozy down for the weekend. Liz conveniently strolled across her suite. Turning to address her friends, she stuck up one finger for educational effect. "Yes! So, I can tell Mallory is already attempting to get comfortable. That means you all should do the same. Echo is more than welcome to bunk with me, but I'm afraid there isn't much space after her. My other dorm mate Icicle hogs up so much of Room 3B. I'll work as hard as I can on Monday to examine your vial!" Gary caught only one word of his sister's sentences. His girlfriend! She was here? Since when? He had to see Icicle! She'd be ecstatic after a torturous prolonged distance. "Icicle is your roomie?" Gary choked. Perhaps his tongue swelled up to no longer fit his mouth. "Yeah. Long story. We all need to catch up, I swear. But before that happens, how about you secure your suites and then take a load off? I'll gather everyone for a private dinner tonight under the stars. We'll talk."   

Mallory had not rested in a while; they wondered how many heartbeats it had been. Had they since they joined up with the human pod? They were also very curious as to how humans rested. This building appeared to be the place with the resting compartments, but they were very large and unnecessarily furnished. Resting, for Mallory, was quite simple. They assumed a sitting position in a small space and became completely still and unresponsive for... for until they wanted to stop resting. They would resume activity when the human pod had something interesting for them to do. For now, they were tired.

Freak stood near the window of the room he had been assigned, facing in, and watching. There were four beds, three other boys, and a reclining chair crammed into the space. Freak suspected the chair was for Mallory, who had still not been found. The other three boys, Gary, Peter, and Leed, moved about the room. Gary paced between the beds and the onsuite bathroom, carting different objects in his hands each time he emerged from the bathroom. The space was busy, full of a lot of energy in not a lot of space, and Freak, as usual, was outside of it all. His eyes, the colored one now a calmer version of the turquoise it had been earlier, tracked Gary's movements. His fingers drummed the silver vial at his hip, the way he always did when he was deep in thought. He remembered these kids, which wasn't something that happened often. He remembered Liz and Gary, Echo and Fawn, Icicle, Winter, Hazel. And when he thought of them, there always came an attached sense of...fire. Heat waves, the stench of burnt grass and charred beams. That part he didn't understand, and couldn't place where it came from. Though he was indeed able to remember them, his memories of the Gateway children were blurry, on a level between the utter oblivion of his origins, and the almost-clarity of his memories of Cain of Death and his time as Gravedigger. "Hey," A voice pulled Freak from his thoughts, his fingers stilled. He searched for the source of the sound. He found Leed, the boy who had universes running through his veins and smudged glasses, staring at him with eyebrows raised, "You're name is DreamFreak?" Leed asked. "Yes." "I thought it was just Freak." "Yes." Freak answered. A puzzled look took over Leed's features. Peter lifted his head from the pillow he had buried it in moments earlier, "Really? 'cause I've been calling him Dreads in my head this entire time". "Yes," Freak said again patiently, then, tired of the discussion, moved away from the wall. He strolled towards the door, Leed watched him go. "Where are you--" with a wave of Freak's hand, the words froze in Leed's throat, and his universe froze in his veins, and the air froze in his lungs. Freak felt a twinge, in the place below his solar plexus, right above his diaphragm, as the time bubble expanded to encompass all the school and it's living components except for Freak himself. The twinge faded, as he ducked out the door-- always ducking, why couldn't humans ever make doors taller than six feet? Out in the hall there was a smattering of humans, frozen in midstep and mid-conversation, mouths open, eyes half-way rolled to the ceiling, nose crinkling. Freak moved with care not to step on any toes or elbow any books. He was going to find Mallory, he wasn't worried, persay, he just wasn't entirely comfortable with not knowing where a member of his current group was. It took two hours of searching before he finally opened the door to the closet that Mallory had tucked themself into. Their maroon hair fell in curtains over their eyes, they sat with their legs crossed on the floor of the tiny, otherwise empty, broom closet. Freak kneeled, then folded himself even smaller, until he was eye-level with Mallory. They seemed okay, just resting, he assumed. Satisfied with his findings, Freak stood, and shut the closet door. He would leave Mallory there, since they weren't in any danger except of maybe being attacked by a broom accidently. The sense of unease shrouding him did not dissipate, but it was made lighter. There were still members of the group missing, Hazel, for instance, but he had the feeling that no amount of wandering the school and poking his head through doors was going to uncover the missing people, so he returned to his room. Leed and everyone else were still in the same position as he had left them, for them mere seconds had passed. He dragged his feet over to the chair and plunked down. He had been awake for far too long. For days perhaps, before he had even stumbled into the Gateway children, and he hadn't rested properly since then. That, plus the exertion required to hold a time bubble around an area as large as the school, for as long as he had, had drained his metaphorical batteries. He sighed, and ran the tip of his pointer finger down the smooth surface of the vial at his side. The time bubble released. "--oing." The end of the sentence tumbled out of Leed's mouth before he registered that he was talking to thin air. "What the...?" He turned, finding Freak half-asleep on the chair in the corner. "How did you-- when did--?" He stammered, groping for the right question. Freak made a little motion with his hand, a turn of the wrist as if to say, 'who cares'. His eyes closed, and he drifted off to a much-needed sleep.All of the Gateway Gang had keys handed over to them by Chrysanthemum. Liz bunked with Echo and Icicle in Room 3B. Gary bunked with Freak, Leed, and Peter in Room 3C. Sunset bunked with Cecelia in Room 3A. Mallory, well, they just enjoyed the shelter of their mop closet down the hall. Despite the time, a curtain of stars above Chaplain Institute, academy students still roamed the premises like they owned zero curfew. Granted, these students were much older, but active nonetheless. Faint music rang from lounges. Food litter smothered courtyard grounds. Liz, in her suite with her besties, sat at her work table studying the orange vial under a warm lamp light. Miniature bubbles popped at the sides of the glass. She stroked her chin as Echo, mainly speechless, hugged Icicle by the beds. They met with a familiar electricity. Where had Icicle ever gotten the idea to come to Chaplain Institute? Since when did she find an interest in Chemistry? "Girl, you were like a phantom in the night!" Echo laughed. "I missed you." Icicle huffed. "Tell me about it. I missed you too. And I love what you've down with your eyelashes." Liz looked up from the liquid and giggled. "Yup Icicle arrived shortly after me. This school is top notch when it comes to young geniuses and she fit right in! She uses her ice powers to cool down a lot of substances that need refrigeration in our labs. How have we lost touch?" Echo winced at the thought. Her headaches pounded whenever her memory was kicking into gear….except, bits and pieces were sketchy.

Liz decided to go on a walk. While she was gone, she ran into a stranger, on a horse. The stranger was a woman. The girl looked quite small. Liz screamed, and quickly the youth girl stopped. The youth girl got off the horse and said, "Oh my gosh, are you okay? Liz decided to be nice. " Yeah, I'm fine. Why are you alone? She asked.

"Echo?" Echo's head snapped up, her eyes falling on Icicle. The younger girl's pale features were scrunched in mild concern, "Sorry, you spaced out." Icicle explained. "Oh, yeah it happens, guess I'm a little too tired from all the running around we've been doing." Echo said, smothering a yawn even as she spoke. She stretched, a couple bones popped in her back, "That, and these headaches have been killing me." "Headaches?" Icicle leaned forward to prop her elbows on her knees, her wintry eyes trained on Echo. Echo shrugged, trying to brush off Icicle's concern, "It's nothing, I've just been running around too much. Stretched too thin, you know?" "Are you sure?" Echo hesitated, just for a moment, but it was long enough for Icicle to catch on to her bluff. The paler girl reached out and rubbed Echo's shoulder comfortingly. A heavy silence stretched on, binding the room like a rubber band, until finally Echo heaved a sigh and turned to Icicle. Her eyebrows were knit tight above her eyes, and she worried her bottom lip with her fingers. "Can I tell you something?" She asked. Icicle nodded, "Of course." "Before Liz mentioned you were here, I had no idea who you were." Icicle's hand stilled on Echo's shoulder, confusion took over her features. "You...what?" "It was-- it was like you didn't exist, until you did. I didn't remember you, I didn't even know you were a person. I keep trying to think back, I keep trying to find a moment when I decided to put you out of my mind for whatever reason, because there must be a reason." Echo paused to catch her breath, when she spoke again, her words were shaky, "But I can't find it." She slumped. Her hands went to her eyes and she rubbed furiously until the heels of her palms dug in too deep, forcing her to stop. Admitting out loud that she hadn't remember Icicle made the whole thing more real. She couldn't shake the icky feeling that was crawling over her skin, and a new headache was beginning to pulse at the base of her skull, the same place that itched when she used her powers. There, that was another thing she had kept from the group; since the headaches had started, her powers had gone haywire. She couldn't turn, and she was picking up other people's emotions left and right so fast and so many that at times she couldn't tell which were her own and which belonged to strangers. It was Icicle who broke the silence next, "Do you remember the others?" she asked softly. Echo peeled her hands away from her eyes to stare at Icicle, her lips twisted downwards. "Well yeah, I mean I remember Liz and Gary just fine." Her headache struck the pulsing up a notch. Icicle ran her fingers through her fine, white hair, "and Hazel, or Fawn? Do you--Echo!?" Icicle thrust out a hand barely in time to catch Echo by the chest and keep her on her perch on the edge of the bed. Echo's eyes rolled back in her head, and moan escaped her parted lips. "Echo? Echo! What happened? What's wrong?" Icicle rushed to get her friend lying down, "Come on, talk to me girly, do I need to get the nurse?" Echo clutched her head in her hands, her breath came in short, shallow gasps, and her arms shook where they weren't tensed from grabbing her own hair. Everything was foggy, everything was painful. Her skull beat with one massive headache, like a second heart. She could feel Icicle stroking her hair out of her eyes and trying to pry her fingers from her head, but it was as if Echo's body did not belong to her. Icicle could be touching a stranger, for all Echo could respond. A single word filtered through all else and spun around and around inside her head. Hazel Hazel Hazel. Hazel was real, Hazel was a person. She /remembered/ Hazel. And suddenly, it was as if a dam had broken in her mind. Memories flooded out like water, washed her mind, soaked into the pores of her brain, so many that the water was black and deafening. With, came the voice, Hazel's voice, swirling all around.@EchoEchoEchoEchoEchoEchocanyouhearEchohelpusEchopleaseEchoEchoEchoEcho@. She screamed.

Meanwhile, with Liz; Liz took a moment to observe the strange new girl. She was short, and clearly young. Her black hair was coiled in a loose braid down her back, and her warm brown eyes flashed. The girl's attire was shockingly modern considering the fact that she was wandering the deserted countryside on horseback. "I'm Liz." Liz held out her hand to the girl. After a moment, the girl took it, and they shook. "Nice to meet you, I'm Panda." The girl, Panda, flashed a smile full of small, pearly teeth. Her left baby eye tooth was missing, in it's place, the tip of an adult tooth was poking through her gum. "What're you doing way out here in the middle of the night?" Panda asked. Liz narrowly bit back a laugh, "I could ask you the same." "Yeah but I asked first." "You did," Liz held her hands up in mock surrender, "I was looking for a place to have a midnight picnic with my friends, we're all staying over in the Chaplain for a bit. I go to school there." Liz pointed at the school. The light cast by the building's nightlife fell short of where the two girl's stood talking. Panda peered around Liz to stare at the massive school, her brown eyes widened in wonderment. "Whoa, cool!" she gasped. Liz nodded, a hint of pride swelled in her chest. She loved the Chaplain, it had become her home as much as the Mansion had been. "Now, why don't you tell me what you're doing out here at such a late hour." She said, reaching out a hand to stroke the horse's nose.

< Panda gets invited back to the chaplain >

< Echo ends up in the medical wings diagnosed with """dehydration""" and skips the meeting >

< A building explosion was featured on tv, the cause was either unknown or put down to a gas leak, I don't remember >

< probably some other stuff happened >

The night sky was cloudless and stars twinkled brightly. Crickets chirped, hidden from view, and a soft breeze carried their song far and wide. Despite the explosion earlier and Echo's absence, everyone pretended to be relaxed, though there were a lot of cracks in their masks. Icicle gnawed her bottom lip until it bled, and Sunset couldn't stop wringing her hands. Freak's eye was cornflower blue-- it almost looked normal like that-- and even Liz hugged Gary a little tighter than she might have normally. Only Mallory seemed completely unbothered. "Okay," Liz said, letting go of Gary. Silence followed her comment, she cleared her throat and started again, "Okay...who wants to go first?" It was Peter who stuck his hand in the air, behind him, Mallory mimicked the motion, but didn't say anything. "So it's like this..." Peter began, and launched into an explanation of everything that had happened-- everything that he remember anyways. Once in a while someone would interrupt, tossing in their own tidbit of information, but Liz listened to everything intently, nodding along to certain parts. At the end, she crossed her arms, looked at the ground, and said nothing for a long time. "Liz?" Gary whispered when the silence had gone on for too long. "You don't remember anything before that? You don't remember anyone?" she asked, looking up. The expression on her face teetered dangerously close to heartbroken. Gary opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, "Bits and pieces," he said at last, "I remember you, the mansion. Sometimes I think I'm starting to remember something else, and then my head starts to feel like it's splitting in two." "Like what's happening to Echo," Icicle murmurs. "Yeah, like that, only mine go away as soon as I stop trying to remember and hers just keep going," "Right, well then, time to make some decisions," Liz grimaced, "Pressing issue number one; you guys have some kind of memory block or something. Pressing issue number two; Echo is headed downhill fast by the sound of things. Pressing issue number three; no one knows where the missing members of our group are, I thought they were with you and none of you can even remember they exist," Freak pursed his lips at this, but said nothing. It didn't matter that he remembered them if he didn't know where they were. "And pressing issue number four; there are a bunch of enslaved people stored somewhere in the galaxy and their freedom evidently relies entirely on our ability to identify and counteract this...goop." Liz paused, waiting for someone else to speak up. "I vote we focus on issue number four," Gary said, taking his sister's hand, "It's the only one we're even remotely equipped to handle." "I want my memory back!" Sunset protested, her voice held the faintest of tremors and her forehead was creased, "I hate this, I hate not remembering anything." "I know, we all feel the same," Gary soothed, "but we don't have the first clue on how to get our memories back, and every minute we waste is another minute those people are suffering. Besides, for all we know some of those people are our friends." That silenced Sunset, she pressed her lips into a flat line, and nodded. "I agree," Icicle said, and Peter nodded along with her. "Okay, it's settled then," Liz said, "Tomorrow we get to work on freeing those people."

“I think I can be of some assistance,” a voice said from the gloom. The moon was out, but only as a crescent, and all they could see of the newcomer was a vaguely human form.

“Who are you?” Liz demanded nervously. The figure stepped closer. Now they could see it was a tall teenage boy, his hair close cropped and raven black. His skin had a tan, and his amber eyes glittered in the dark.

“Don’t you remember me, Lizzy?” He asked with an easy smile. He stepped closer and surveyed the group in front of them.

“You seem familiar,” Gary muttered. But he couldn’t remember the boy’s name. The boy raised an eyebrow, impatiently.

“Are you seriously telling me you don’t remember me? All the time stuck at this stupid school,” he complained. "Just waiting for something interesting. Fine. My name is Stephen.” He looked around, hopeful that mentioning his name had somehow jogged their memories.

At the sight of the newcomer, Mallory only blinked and tilted their head. "How will you be of assistance?" They were clueless to the heavy atmosphere concerning the humans' corrupted memories and the not-so-new newcomer's arrival.

Stephen blinked, taken aback by the strange child in front of him. “I can help free the people that you guys were talking about, or something,” Stephen replied awkwardly. “I don’t know, but I can’t take another day sitting in that school, with my memories of the Gateway Mansion slowly fading away!” He exhaled. “So, what’s happening to Echo? And who is this child? Also, where did everybody else go?” He furrowed his brow in confusion.

"I am Mallory, my current purpose is to assist my human pod." Mallory answered, pulling a vial of orange liquid from their back pocket, "we are learning about this, it will help us help other people which will...accomplish something...?" they glanced to the other members of the group for a better answer, but everyone was too busy gawking at the vial. "How did you get that?" Liz huffed, reaching to take back the vial. Mallory held it behind their back, expression the picture of innocence, only for Icicle to pluck the vial out of their hand from behind. Mallory didn't react, except to narrow their eyes. "O-kay, well that's one question answered, sort of. Anyone else feel like filling me in?" Stephen said with a quick-fading smile. "We don't have time for more questions, if we want to be anything more than floppy sleep-deprived bags tomorrow we need to get some rest," Peter said. Freak, who had been occupying himself with finding a safe place in his satchel for the vial of orange liquid, looked over at the mention of time. "Stephen," he said, and in two heartbeats and the blink of an eye, Stephen and the Freak were standing apart from the group, Stephen nodding, arms crossed, as if he'd just been privy to a long and strange explanation. Liz and Gary shared a confused glance, but said nothing. "I'm helping," Stephen said decidedly, turning to the group as if he hadn't just clipped to a different location. "The hell was that?" Peter murmured, giving voice to what everyone else was thinking. "It doesn't matter, what matter's is; I'm helping you get our friends back. Whatever you need, I'll do." Stephen said, uncrossing his arms impatiently, "Please, they're my friends too." "Okay, I guess that's decided then," Liz said, eyebrows raised, "Tomorrow I should know what the orange chemical is and we can start making an antidote," "It's sodium pentothal and iron," Mallory said casually, once again drawing the attention of the entire group. "How could you know that?" Liz asked. Mallory shrugged, "I tasted it, remember?" they said, as if that cleared things up. "Great, yeah, that solves everything," Liz said, her tone uncharacteristically sarcastic. The late hour and the stress of it all was getting to her. Stephen stepped towards her, as if to comfort her, but caught himself and stopped before he could touch her. "Hey, this is good right? We know what the stuff is now, we can start working on an antidote right away," he said. "After we get some rest," Sunset added, "Right, after we get some rest," Stephen agreed. "All this talk of sleep and none of you are going to bed," Freak spoke up quietly. He nudged Stephen-- the closest person to him-- with the back of his hand, "go on then, go sleep." As a group as a whole began moving sluggishly towards the chaplain, it really was ridiculously late. Liz hung back, stooping to pick up the picnic basket even as she was smothering a yawn. She had to clean up the remains of the picnic before she went in or the school would have her head. Freak stopped her, taking the basket. "I'll tidy up, you go to sleep," "I got it," Liz brushed him off, reaching for the basket again.Her eyelids drooped and another yawn was fast coming on. Freak poked the middle of her forehead with a long finger, pushing a little until she was staring up at him. "Bed," he said with the kind of finality that you didn't argue with when you were tired. "Mmph," Liz mumbled some sort of half-hearted protest, but shuffled off to join her friends anyways. Finally, it was just Freak, who busied himself with folding up the picnic blanket, and Mallory, who had decided they were very much rested and even more restless. Freak glanced at the lightening sky, and hummed to himself. Who knew what tomorrow would bring.

**ARC ENDED, NES RESTARTED JUNE 2018**

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