El-Hazard belongs to Pioneer and AIC. I'm not profiting off of this fic. I blame this entirely on PK's bad
influence. Naughty Parrot! Bad, evil Parrot!

This story takes place a few months after OAV2.

Shayla darted around a corner, charging up a blast and roaring as she ran. She heard his footsteps ahead,
and knew he was near. She turned another corner, the weight of her pack shifting with her momentum.
She considered dropping it, and coming back for it later, but in the time it took to sling the bag off her
shoulders Jinnai could escape. She did NOT want that to happen again. She wanted to make this the last
time she had to chase this little weasel.

But now she had him. This time, he couldn't get away from her. It was just Jinnai and herself, and the
long, cold, dark tunnels of this damp cave. She glanced over her shoulder. The voices of the rest of the
group had long since faded away. She assumed that they had made a wrong turn somewhere, as the paths
in these caves forked off sporadically and often. She had stayed close enough to keep on Jinnai's trail,
though, and she'd not lost him yet.

Ahead, she heard Jinnai's footsteps stop. His voice echoed unmistakably through the passage: "Oh, shit!"
Shayla grinned, the fireball nearly ready for whatever traps the traitorous human could have laid for her.
She skidded around a final bend, the tunnel illuminated by the power in her hands, and she stopped.

Jinnai stood like a frightened deer, his back to a solid rock wall. It was a dead end; he was trapped. Her
grin widened, malice flickering in her eyes. The young man attempted to mask his fear. He straightened
up and brushed some invisible dirt off of his jacket. Shayla was disappointed, she had been looking
forward to seeing Jinnai cower.

She started forward again, slowly, her eyes darting warily to the sides in fear of traps. She saw nothing,
and smirked. "Not so tough when your big bad bugs aren't around to do your dirty work, ne, Jinnai?" He
said nothing, eyeing the fireball. Shayla followed his gaze, and felt a thrill of victory. "Should I kill you
now, or later?" she asked, standing at the ready. The backpack strapped to her shoulders felt awkward and
heavy, and she cursed mentally at Fujisawa for insisting that every member of the team keep their pack
with them instead of with a porter.

Jinnai cleared his throat, his cocky confidence appearing in small measure. "You can't kill me," he said.

"Why the hell not?" Shayla snarled. "What's gonna stop me?"

"If you let that fireball fly in here," Jinnai said, motioning to the low ceiling of the cavern, "the walls will
collapse and crush us both."

Shayla tried to disguise her obvious disappointment. He was right, though, such a powerful blast would
kill them both, and possibly even collapse the tunnel. She swore. Jinnai started laughing, and she felt her
fury compound and multiply. The blast in her hands had begun to dissipate, but it regrew now with
violence to match Shayla's growing temper. Her nerves began twitching as his laugh grated on her senses,
her anger rising in a mindless, churning tidal wave. Her breath became labored. She wanted to kill him…

She heard something move behind her. Without thinking, she spun around and fired the blast instinctually.
Behind her, Jinnai swore violently. The powerful, bright light moved from her hands in slow motion,
speeding indiscriminately towards the bat that had startled Shayla. The blast enveloped the bat, and
continued on its angled trajectory to hit the far wall further down the tunnel. Panicking, Shayla stumbled
backwards. The fireball hit the cave's wall and the room began trembling violently. Rocks slid from
above, stalactites released their hold on the ceiling with sharp cracks and shattered like glass on the floor.
Dust rose, clouding the air, as Shayla's back hit the same wall Jinnai was pressed against.

A huge boulder fell from the ceiling some feet in front of the two frightened enemies. The last of the
fireball dissipated, and its light flickered out, leaving them in darkness as the world collapsed around them.

"What's that?" shouted Makoto over the dull roaring in the distance. Ura, who had wrapped herself around
her master, yelped in fright. Pebbles on the cavern floor beneath Makoto's feet jumped as the ground
began to tremble.

"An earthquake?" suggested Nanami, staggering into her schoolmate. Makoto caught her and pulled her
back onto her feet. Ahead of them, the two could see the forms of Miz, Afura, and Fujisawa running
towards them. The two priestesses and the teacher had gone ahead in the tunnel while Makoto guided
Nanami out of the cave, supporting the girl, who had turned her ankle earlier and was progressing at a fast

Fujisawa reached them first. "The tunnel's collapsing!" he shouted. "Quick, Makoto, help me get Nanami
out of here!" Miz squealed as a rock dislodged in the tunnel they had just escaped. Afura called something
unintelligible over the increasing volume, but was ignored as the four other members of the party stumbled
towards the exit.

Each of the tunnels looked the same, and the lanterns they carried cast little light in the growing clouds of
dust. The adventurers followed Fujisawa blindly, trusting his sense of direction and his honed natural
skills. Rocks and stalactites cracked and crashed all around them. In the distance the tiny circle of daylight
that was their salvation appeared. Moments later the five figures fell, squinting, into the sunlight. Fujisawa
handed Nanami to Makoto, who helped her onto the grass. Miz threw her arms around her fiancée's neck,

"Is everyone alright?" the history teacher asked, glancing around the dust-covered group.

Afura gasped for breath, gritting her teeth against the burning in her side. "What," she panted, "What about

The group fell silent, even their labored breathing pausing in thought. An icy chill ran up each of their

"Oh, no," whispered the water priestess. "Oh, God…"

It was dark. For a moment he thought that he was dead, that this was what eternity would be, just darkness.
Then he felt the cold, and the throbbing in his head started. No, he was very much alive. He cringed as
white, hot beams of pain shot out from his temples and through his head and neck. He grunted and tried to
bring a hand to his forehead, but found his arms were pinned at his side. He was wedged between a large
rock and the wall of the cave.

He panicked. Was he to die like this, forgotten, lost, alone and helpless in some cold hole in the ground?
What an excruciating way to die, to slowly waste away while trapped motionless in the dark. He wondered
if his Bugrom were all right. He'd lost them when Shayla had caught up to him. His Bugrom were strong
and fast and willing to obey, and he had instructed them to keep running while he ducked behind a stone
column, hoping that Shayla would blindly follow his troops and he could slip out behind her. It would have
worked, too, had the way his Bugrom chosen to go not been a dead end. Shayla hadn't been interested in
the giant bugs, only their leader, and had doubled back to find him.

He heard someone coughing off to his right. Shayla. Damn. Either I hide here, and get left behind when
she leaves, or I get her to help me out and she kills me anyway. He scowled. Mizuhara, that bastard,
filling the Roshtarians' heads with lies and propaganda… Jinnai thought for a moment, then made a final
attempt to dislodge himself from the crevice in which he was wedged. He froze again as the cave filled
with light—Shayla had produced a small flame from the palm of one of her hands.

The light flickered and snapped across the shadows of the room. Jinnai's view was half-blocked by the
rock, but he could see well enough to note his surroundings. The far tunnel was almost completely
collapsed. He was unable to see the wall where the fireball had impacted, as the ceiling there had caved
completely. Huge, ragged rocks lay scattered across the floor. Luckily, the ceiling directly above Jinnai
and his oppressor had remained intact, leaving an area of about twenty-five feet wide and ten long clear,
although scattered with debris. There was no way out.

The fire priestess looked pretty much intact. Her left leg was scraped up pretty bad, with a shallow, three-
inch long gash surrounded by a raised purple welt. "Ah, damn," she said, sucking in her breath as she
examined her wound. "If I find that asshole, I swear I'm gonna…"

Jinnai cringed again, realizing just how screwed he was. There was always the off chance that his Bugrom
would dig them out. Although willing workers, one couldn't say much for the Bugrom's intelligence. That
chance was not something he was going to rely on. He pushed against the rock again, hoping he could at
least gain a little of his dignity back before he died. He grunted against the weight.

Shayla spun around. "Who's there?"

"Princess Fatora. Who do you think it is?" he growled, his voice raspy from the dust in his lungs. His head
spun in a whirlwind of pain, little colorful spots appearing in front of his eyes.

"Oh. You're not dead, then." She sounded disappointed.

"No, I'm not dead," Jinnai snapped, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Shayla frowned, and took a step towards his rock. "What're you doing back there, anyway?"

Jinnai felt his temper rising. How could she come up with so many stupid questions? "I'm not DOING
anything! I'm stuck." He struggled against the rock again, illustrating his point.

Shayla lost herself in thought for a moment, then sighed. Concentrating, she enlarged the flame in her
hands and left it floating in the air, lighting the small chasm. She studied the rock that had Jinnai trapped—
a large, flat slab leaning against the wall. It was amazing that he hadn't been crushed by it when it fell.
Nonetheless, it had still done him a number, and she wondered if she would be able to move it at all.

"Alright, I'm gonna try to move this. You're going to have to pull yourself out of there," she said.

Jinnai snarled. "What, you're not going to leave me here?"

Shayla shot him a look of disgust. "No, I'm not going to leave you here. I may hate your guts, but I'm not
heartless. So quit bitching." She frowned. "Why, would you have left me there?"

Jinnai was silent.

Shayla set her jaw and tried not to think about what would happen if the tables were turned. She shook her
head, then positioned herself awkwardly above Jinnai, her back to the wall, and grasped the rock with both
arms. "Ready?"


"Go." She grunted, pushing against the rock with both arms and her good leg. It moved slightly.

"Eh, I'm still stuck. A little further."

Gritting her teeth harder, Shayla summoned the last of her strength. In her effort, her concentration on the
impromptu light she had created wavered, and the two were plunged in darkness. She felt the rock shift,
and Jinnai's suit coat brushing against her legs. She felt her muscles twitch and she could strain herself no
more. She quickly slid away from the rock, tripping over Jinnai as she released it. The large stone
slammed back into its original place, sending small tremors through the room and causing little stones to
cascade further down the piles of rock.

Shayla landed half on top of Jinnai, her muscles spasming and her back suddenly weak. The Bugrom
dictator groaned. "Hey, get off of me!"

"Shut up. I just saved your sorry ass, you could at least thank me." She called what little will was left in
her together and produced a match-sized flame. Jinnai pulled himself out from under the priestess and tried
to stand, but his legs buckled under him and he staggered back to the ground. Shayla rolled her eyes as
Jinnai pulled himself up again, attempting to assume what she guessed would be a defensive position. "Oh,
knock it off. I'm not gonna kill you yet," she said, her lungs still burning. She coughed again, the grit from
the rockfall getting in her eyes.

Jinnai eyed her warily and sank back to the ground, his back against the wall.

Still panting, Shayla remained sprawled on the floor. Her leg throbbed, her lungs were raw, and Jinnai was
looking at her funny.

This was going to be a real joy to get out of.

"You WHAT? How in the name of the gods did you LOSE him?!"

The Bugrom, a large purple drone, mumbled something nervously, then ducked as a large metal vase
whipped past his ear.

"I don't want your excuses, insect!" Diva shouted, reaching for the vase's twin. "I want my military genius
back!" The Bugrom drone mumbled something again and bowed his head. "You'd better find him," Diva
snapped. "I'm not going to watch the Bugrom empire fall because of your stupidity!"

"You WHAT? How in all hell did you lose her?!" Fatora shouted, storming down the gangplank of the
royal transport ship. Alielle squealed and ducked behind Makoto, who sweatdropped and fought the urge
to bolt.

"We didn't lose her, Fatora," he explained. "She lost US."

"I don't care who lost who!" Makoto's lookalike hollered, grabbing her masculine double by his collar. It
was obvious she did care, as she wound up to punch Makoto. The young man whimpered. Just before
Fatora's fist flew, though, a broad, strong hand caught her elbow.

"Calm down, Princess Fatora," Fujisawa said, his voice low and calm. His eyes were bloodshot and his
hair mussed, but he was sober. The princess scowled at him, but lowered her arm.

"Well, her lamp is still active," offered Makoto. "Afura said that means there's a good chance she's alive."

"She'd better be alive," Fatora snapped. "I'm not gonna watch my love life go to shambles because of your

Shayla growled as she cleaned out the gash on her leg, the small, magic-fed flame hovering above her
again. There were a few pieces of sharp rock wedged into the muscle, and she had been trying to summon
the courage to pull them out for the past ten minutes. Every time she would get a good grip on a shard, the
pain would overwhelm her or her hands would slip. One piece had come out on her previous try; there was
one left.

Gritting her teeth, Shayla pinched the shard between her nails and squeezed her eyes shut. This fragment
was larger than she had thought. She could feel it sliding out of her leg—god, this was unpleasant.

"That's disgusting," came a voice from the shadowy part of the room.

"Shut up, Jinnai," Shayla barked. "I'm busy."

"I can't stand blood."

"Shut UP." The piece of rock came loose, and the redhead sighed in relief. Immensely thankful that
Fujisawa had forced her to carry her own pack, she pulled out the makeshift first-aid kit and dressed the

"Really, disgusting."

"Dammit! Don't you know when to stop talking?" She felt a sudden strong urge to blast this guy's ass and
see if he survived the rock fall *this* time. In the shadowy corner, she could just make out his form, his
arms crossed, staring sullenly at her. His eyes were the things that were really getting to her, he'd been
just… looking at her… ever since they'd gotten stuck. It felt like days that the two of them had been
trapped. She hoped everyone else was all right, and that they would get there, soon. Before she started
blowing things up again.

Jinnai pushed himself further back from the light, hoping to god that Shayla didn't make up her mind to
loose another fireball at short-range. He'd not taken his eyes off of her yet, confident that someone like her
would wait until he turned his back. Well, not confident. Idly hoping. Not idly. Desperately. This
woman scared him to death. How can one person be so incredibly volatile? Doesn't she work for the
government? Wouldn't they *notice* she was unstable? And now I'm stuck with her, waiting for her to
snap… He sighed.

Shayla glanced up as she heard Jinnai sigh. That didn't sound like a normal sigh. He's up to something.
She scowled. Maybe this is all an elaborate trap! Could he have planned this? She eyed his shady
form suspiciously. It wouldn't be above him to create some elaborate scheme, to lure Makoto down here
and ambush him. Why is it always about Makoto?

That rat bastard Mizuhara. This was probably one of his plans, to sic this deranged fire harpy on me in an
enclosed space and then leave us both for dead. Just like him, to do something so malicious and
underhanded. And they all think he's a hero…

How can this guy hate Makoto so much, if they were friends? Makoto says he's never done anything to
Jinnai, on purpose at least. Makoto is kind, and gentle, and smart... he would never do something cruel to
anyone! Is he really deranged enough to believe that Makoto's out to get him?

He's out to get me, he always has been. Even in little petty ways, tiny things. That Mizuhara's a crafty
one, but he's not smarter than I am. One day I'll catch him without his precious guardians and priestesses,
and then he won't have a chance. Shit, my head hurts.

He doesn't have a chance. Makoto and the others will find us first, and Jinnai will be punished for what
he did to Roshtaria. She cringed, her head throbbing. She'd hit it pretty hard, hard enough that she
suspected she might have a concussion. She would have to stay up all night.

I'll have to stay up tonight, just in case I have a concussion. Not like I could sleep anyway, with her
watching me like that. Jinnai shivered, his eyes locked unwavering on the priestess. He was hungry and
cold and tired, and miserable in just about every way possible. It couldn't get much worse than this.

"Look out below!" The cry resounded down the side of the mountain. There was a moment of silence,
then a great crashing of trees and earth as a huge boulder was hefted into the air, then rolled down the

Makoto coughed as the dust settled. "Fujisawa-sensei, do you think that there's a less dramatic way to do

"Huh?" The teacher had a wild look in his eyes, evidence that he was sober. His alcohol had gone
missing; he'd come to the conclusion that either Miz was trying to straighten him out—again—or that
Shayla had grabbed his pack earlier. Which meant that the only alcohol within several hundred miles was
buried under several hundred feet of dirt and rock, or meant that there was no alcohol at all. He preferred
to be optimistic. "I suppose there is, but this is faster."

"Are you sure it's worth it? It seems kind of, well… unsafe." He watched as the boulder, easily the size of
a bus, crashed through a stand of trees. Woodland creatures squealed and darted out of its path. The rock
picked up speed, crunching and thundering, until it finally leapt, spinning, off the edge of a cliff. The
ground shook when it landed.

"The kid's right," Afura said, climbing the last few feet up the steep incline to the collapsed cave entrance.
"You just took out two of the porters' tents. Would you at least throw those things away from the camp?"

"Oh, sorry." He bent over and dislodged another boulder. "Look out below!" he hollered, then pitched the
rock—this one, the size of a Buick—in the opposite direction of the last one.

"Oh, well," Afura sighed. "It's better than nothing, I suppose."

Groucho whimpered, ducking another thrown vase. It seemed that every time he entered Diva's chambers,
something was hurled at him. She'd been quite unhappy ever since Jinnai had gone missing. Unhappy
wasn't exactly the word for it; she'd been furious. He hadn't even brought her bad news this time. He was
only there to tell her that the first search team had been deployed, and that the second one, including him,
would be leaving shortly.

The front entrance of the cave would be collapsed completely. The Bugrom that had been with Jinnai had
made their way out through a different exit that let out on the opposite side of the mountain, apparently the
only exit left. Search drones had already been deployed, and were already weaving their way through the
dark, narrow tunnels.

Somehow, the Queen was still displeased. The giant purple Bugrom grunted as an empty wine bottle
connected with his forehead, and made his hasty retreat from the chamber.

How was he supposed to coordinate rescue plans if every time he spoke to his leader, he got pegged in the
head with whatever was within her arms' reach? Was he supposed to run this, himself? He was nothing
more than a worker, and he certainly wasn't a tactician. He tried to imagine what Jinnai would do in this
situation, but all he could conjure up was a mental image of Jinnai shouting and throwing things at him.

This was not going well.

Jinnai scowled as more gravel flew into his face. She'd been digging for at least the past half-hour. He had
a feeling she was doing it just to spite him, at this point. There was definitely no change in the amount of
rubble between them and freedom, because every time she made a dent in the pile of rocks, more would
cascade from the ceiling and she'd be back where she started.

"You know," he said, "You're really just making a bigger mess."

Shayla-Shayla was silent for a moment, then turned around. Her words were clipped and made no pretense
of sanity. "You know," she bit, "Just because I can't blow you to little tiny pieces doesn't mean I can't
strangle you with my bare hands."

Jinnai swallowed hard.

"That's what I thought," She turned back to her pile of rocks. "You could help me, you know."

"Why should I?" the Bugrom leader mumbled sullenly. "If you're going to kill me before we get out of
here, then what's the point of hurrying?"

"Fine, if you really don't care, I'll get us out of here by myself."

Jinnai snorted. "Well, you're the one that got us into this! What the hell did you fire at, anyway?"

Shayla glared. "I thought I saw one of your Bugrom."

"And… what was it?"

She gritted her teeth. "A bat."

"A bat. You really ought to think these things through, you know. Or can you not walk and think at the
same time?"

"Shut up! You're pissing me off!"

"There's nothing else to do down here! I'm tired, cold, and hungry, and bored as hell!"

"There's food in the pack, if that'll shut you up." She pulled a large rock out of the pile, and smaller stones
rushed to fill the space.

He paused. "You could have told me that earlier."

Shayla growled quietly. "I should have left you under that rock."

Jinnai ignored her and started rummaging through the relatively untouched bag. The first aid kit was on
top, he set this to the side. Next were some jars of water. His hands landed on something soft, and he
pulled a bundled towel out of the large pack. Unrolling the towel revealed several bottles of Roshtarian
wine. Jinnai shot a glance at Shayla, who was surrounded by a cloud of dust, dislodging rocks and
swearing as they new ones filled the spaces she made. What sort of person packed wine in a hiking bag?
He set that aside, too, and finally reached the tin of food at the bottom of the bag. He cast another
apprehensive look at the fire priestess, then dove into the food.

Small pebbles danced down the pile of rocks and buried Shayla's ankles. We're going to be stuck here
forever. I'm going to die before my twentieth birthday, in a hole surrounded by rocks, while being
harassed by the most evil person in this world. I would rather be stuck in here with anyone but him… even
with Fatora.

Well, maybe not.

In fact, the idea of being stuck here with Fatora gave her chills. If anything, the princess was just as
annoying as Jinnai, and much more likely to attempt to slime her way into Shayla's pants. As if she hadn't
done enough already.

My first kiss, stolen by that…

The night came back to her. On the balcony of that hotel, the moon low and cool…

…psychotic little…

It had felt nice.

It did not! It was horrible, disgusting, it was… Fatora!

She hadn't known at the time. She'd thought it was Makoto, and she'd enjoyed it.

No, no I did not! There was no way that…

That what? It had all been a mistake. Fatora had tricked her into thinking she was Makoto, and as a result
tricked her body into responding as if Makoto had kissed her.

It doesn't mean anything.

Of course it couldn't mean anything. If she had known it was Fatora, she would have never let her get
close. But still…

She kicked the stones off her feet and sulked over to where Jinnai had the contents of the bag spread out.
Sinking to the floor, she reached for a water jar. The bottles of wine caught her eye. "Were those in the
bag?" she asked.

Jinnai nodded, his mouth full, his eyes locked onto her nervously. He swallowed. "What are you, an

"I'm not in the mood for this right now," she said emptily. Jinnai raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
"But, no, those aren't mine. I probably grabbed Mr. Fujisawa's pack this morning. We were in a hurry, I
really wasn't paying much attention." She reached for a bottle. "But I could use a drink."

"Not a chance in hell!" Jinnai barked, snatching the bottles out of the priestess' reach.

"Hey, those are mine!"

"I thought they were Fujisawa's!"

"Well, they were in my pack! Give 'em back!"

"Nuh-uh! You're already unstable when you're sober, I don't need you drunk."

"I'm unstable? You're the one who's nuts!"

Jinnai said nothing, but gathered the bottles together in his lap and glared.

"Fine," Shayla spat. "But if I don't get any, you don't get any." She grabbed a sandwich out of the bag
and stomped to the far wall of the cavern.

She wanted to hurt him. Oh, how she wanted to hurt him… She'd never been this angry and frustrated for
this long. How much longer 'til she snapped? How long had they been down there, anyway? It had been
late morning when she had entered the cave. It seemed like forever since then, but she'd only just now
gotten hungry… maybe six hours?

And they could potentially be trapped for days.

She wanted to cry.

Makoto grunted as he flopped onto the ground next to the fire. He peeled off his shoes, grimacing. Mr.
Fujisawa collapsed next to him.

"I need a cigarette," the teacher groaned. "I have blisters in places that I didn't know could blister."

"I know how you feel," Makoto said, his hair falling in front of his eyes. "I sure hope Shayla's okay."

Afura, sitting across the campfire from the teacher and student, sighed. "Shayla's a survivor. If anyone
could have lived through that, she would."

"Still, that was one heck of a blast."

"You can say that again," Fujisawa mumbled, searching his pockets for a nonexistent pack of cigarettes.
"Managed to collapse the entrance for…how far is it that we've dug?"

"One hundred twelve feet," murmured the dark-haired woman.

"One hundred twelve feet," finished Fujisawa.

"That's not entirely because of the blast," Miz said, wandering up to the small group with jugs of water and
kneeling next to her fiancée. "This region is pretty unstable, rock and mudslides happen all the time.
Whatever that original explosion was probably wasn't enough to collapse the tunnel completely, but it was
enough to trigger a small landslide. That's why the entrance is crushed. I wouldn't be surprised if we got a
ways further into the cave and found many of the tunnels untouched."

Afura shot a suspicious glance at her fellow priestess. "How do you know all of this?"

Miz shrugged. "What, I'm not allowed to know random trivial facts?" She flipped her hair over her
shoulder and sniffed. "Men find intelligence attractive. Don't you?" She nudged Mr. Fujisawa, who

"I do?"

The water priestess glared.

He sweatdropped. "Er… of course I do."

Jinnai ducked as a fist-sized rock flew past his ear and cracked into the wall. "Ack! Why must you resolve
everything with violence?"

Shayla didn't answer. She did, however, throw another rock.

"Is your temper really bad enough to destroy your capacity for normal, healthy human thought? Or are you
just dumb enough to think that this solves problems?" They were falling into a bit of a routine: Near-
silence for an hour or so, then one of them would say something or drop something or sneeze, and the other
would attack. Fatigue added to the tension; they had both been up for the entire night, nursing their head
injuries and glaring at each other. This was getting rather tedious.

"Ha! At least I'm not blaming my own problems on someone else!" shouted the infuriated priestess. Her
voice was becoming hoarse from a combination of the dry underground air, the thick dust that swirled with
every footstep, and the hours of endless shouting and growling.

"I simply attribute failures to those who cause them."

"You make shit up!"

Jinnai's eyebrow twitched. "I do not, you insufferable wench!"

"Heartless bastard!"

"Stuck-up, sour-faced…"

"Conceited, arrogant…"

"…wild-eyed, violent, malicious…"

"…big-headed, self-obsessed, manic, possessive…"




"Freak!" Shayla retorted. "All you care about is power and self-glorification."

"I am destined to rule all of El-Hazard! I have a RIGHT to keep a healthy ego!"

Shayla laughed. "Destined! You got to where you are by lying, and ever since then you've seen nothing
but defeat!"

"MINOR SETBACKS!" Jinnai roared. "You just wait!"

"I won't hold my breath!" she shouted, and stomped to the other side of the cavern.

Jinnai closed his eyes, his cool returning slowly. "The only reason," he began, his words coming slowly,
"that you are alive right now, and the only reason Roshtaria still stands…" He drew a deep breath. "The
only reason that I am not ruler of all of this land, is because Mizuhara managed to trick that defective wind-
up toy into doing his dirty work for him. Otherwise…"

"Why do you blame everything on Makoto?" Shayla snapped. "He's never done anything to hurt you, not
on purpose. You're obsessed! He's not out to get you!"

"Oh, really?" Jinnai snarled. "How would you know? I've known him since we were children. He's
stolen everything away from me, time and again! He's the one that's obsessed!"

"He hasn't stolen anything from you! Why would he want anything of yours, to begin with?" Jinnai
chuckled maliciously, and Shayla felt herself involuntarily powering up at the sound. "What's so funny?"
she demanded through tightly clenched teeth.

"You!" he laughed. "Do you have a little crushy-wushy on big strong Makoto?"

"What?!" Her hands balled into fists and a blue flame spouted out of her headpiece. "I… I do NOT!"

"You do!" he howled. "I knew it!"

"Shut up! You don't know anything!"

"Ooh, intelligent comeback, Shayla."

Just hearing him say her name was enough to drive her nearly mad. It sounded so foreign on his lips,
strange and archaic. She couldn't find anything to say back to him; she was too mad to think. She
growled, trying to ignore Jinnai's pleased expression.

"I've always wondered what women see in that moron," Jinnai sneered. "Is it his beautiful eyes, Shayla-
Shayla? His lovely hair? His golden disposition?" The flame returned, and Jinnai gloated.

"More than anyone could ever find in you, I'm sure." The woman growled, shaking in fury.

"Oh?" His superior demeanor took a vicious edge. "And I'm sure that men are just lining up for you!"

"I'm too busy to worry about men!"

"Virgin." Shayla blushed furiously and choked on her half-formed words. Jinnai realized he had found a
weak spot, and dug in. "You've probably never been kissed. Am I right?"


"What, Fatora catch you off-guard?" Shayla suddenly felt sick. Jinnai paused, watching incredulously as
Shayla reddened further. He grinned idiotically. "I'm right, aren't I?" Shayla ducked her head and turned
away. Jinnai laughed, delighted. "You… you're with that… horrible, nasty, vicious little beast? How

"I'm not with her! She…she tricked me…" Shayla's voice fell. How could this man make her feel so
ashamed of herself? It wasn't like it was her fault that Fatora had pretended she was Makoto.

"I get it!" Jinnai exclaimed. "You're really a dyke, but you hide behind your little crush on Mizuhara
because you don't want to accept it!"

"No!" Shayla yelped. "No, that's not true!"

"Because you're in denial!"

"No, I'm not!" she cried desperately.

"It's alright, Shayla," he said, wandering towards her, his voice sweet with sarcasm. "I won't judge you
because of your sexual orientation…" He stopped next to her, and leaned close. "I won't tell anybody," he
whispered, then giggled maniacally. "Except maybe Makoto."

"I'm not gay!" She was too angry to be embarrassed anymore. Where the hell did he get off, making
accusations like these? She was ready to kill him. She would kill him, if he said one more word. She
didn't care if it did collapse the cave, and kill her with it.

"You sure are overreacting. You know, adamant denial like this is usually a sign that someone's touching
on a sensitive spot. Homophobia is one of the sure signs of homosexuality."

"I'm not homophobic! You're just wrong, is all, and I don't like being accused!"

"I'm not accusing you, you're just taking it like that because you're afraid I'm right."

"I'm not gay!" She really wanted to hurt him, to do something irrational and make this feeling go away.
Her mind took this opportunity to point out the fact that she was kind of overreacting, and maybe he was

That idea made her even madder. Of course he was wrong! Of course she wasn't gay. Her mind cleared
its throat again and noted that she'd never actually kissed a guy, and that she had no real proof that she was
straight until she had. Her vision started going spotty.

Jinnai smirked and folded his arms over his chest. "You're not? Then what were you doing making out
with Fato…ack!" He yelped in surprise as she grabbed the front of his jacket and pulled him roughly
toward her, her lips mashing against his in a furious, violent kiss. Their teeth clicked and his eyes widened
as her warm tongue slid across his own. He tried to pull away, confused and more than a little frightened,
but the fire priestess tightened her grip on his shirt. The backward momentum sent him off-balance and he
put a foot out to steady himself. Jinnai's back met with the rock wall, the cold seeping through his shirt.
He hardly noticed, though, as Shayla planted a hand on the wall, pinning him there, and the fingers of her
second hand hooked under his belt, pulling the two of them closer together. He felt the heat of her body
contrasting with the chill of the cold, stale air. A rush of warmth spiraled down from his stomach, making
him lightheaded.

Despite his desperate effort to remain shocked, he found himself enjoying the kiss. His eyes fluttered
closed. There was a frantic tone to this situation, between the volatile emotions and the tumbled rocks, that
made this seem appropriate. For the first time in his life, he wasn't in control, he couldn't be in control,
and now this… this girl… was taking his control further from him. There was a shiver of fury in his veins,
his dominant nature returning. His body blocked off any capabilities of higher thought.

Surprising himself, he wrapped an arm around Shayla's waist and pushed away from the wall, his tongue
meeting hers in a battle for dominance. The woman jumped, startled by his sudden involvement, and
caught her heel on a rock. She landed sitting, sending up a small cloud of dirt. She reached up to fan the
dust away from her face, but before she could move he was on top of her.

His control regained and his screaming conscience ignored, Jinnai's instinct took the reins. He pushed her
back, hungrily pressing his mouth against hers again, groaning softy as his tongue slipped over her teeth
and into the heat of her mouth. His breath quickened and he leaned further into her, keeping his balance on
one arm as his other hand slipped to her waist. He felt her gasp as his hand slid under her shirt, his cold
fingers brushing the warm, smooth flesh of her well-muscled belly and ribs. He could feel her pulse almost
as strong as his own, rapid, furious, and frightened.

He broke the kiss, panting for breath, but she reached for him again, her lips meeting his neck. His eyes
shut of their own accord again and the whorl of heat inside him spun madly. He whimpered as her teeth
closed gently on the skin of his neck, her breath burning on his already flushed face.

They remained like this for a few moments. Jinnai's brain fought for control, howling over the fact that he
was exposed to the enemy, that she could attack him at any second and catch him completely off-guard.
This did nothing to slow him down. If anything, the danger aroused him even more. The realization of the
insanity of the situation flickered in his mind for a moment, but was forgotten when Shayla shoved him
backwards suddenly.

He caught himself before his head hit the ground. Shayla looked nearly possessed as she leapt after him.
He thought for a moment that maybe she *was* going to try to kill him, but instead she straddled his legs
and pulled his tie loose, then reached for the buttons on his shirt.

Jinnai found himself speaking. "What…"

"Shh." She pressed her lips against his again. She fumbled with the buttons, her hands suddenly all
thumbs. Jinnai realized where this was going, that it was probably a bad idea, but libido kicked the thought
away. Shifting his weight to one hand, he tangled the other in her hair, the soft red locks cascading into his
face, and pulled her body closer to his. His hand drifted to her shoulder, the smooth expanse of her back,
and fell down to cup her breast. He felt her shiver, and she pushed against him roughly. His hand slipped
at the sudden movement. Yelping, he fell back, cracking his head on the rocky floor.


"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

"Damn, watch it, would you?" He groaned, rubbing his head. Sitting up slowly, he pushed Shayla back
onto her haunches. She scowled indignantly.

"I said I was sorry!"

"Ah, crap… I think I'm bleeding," he mumbled, his hand probing his scalp. He gasped as his fingers met
the tender spot. "Shit! And right when my headache was going away."

"Well, maybe if you weren't so clumsy…" Sexual frustration added to her already violent temper.

"Maybe if YOU weren't so violent!" Jinnai snapped back, pulling his hand away from his head. "Look! I
*am* bleeding!"

Every fiber and muscle in her body was aching for more. She wanted… needed… her pride quickly
erected a large, looming barrier between her mind and her body, and she suddenly realized what had just

Jinnai continued to complain as Shayla drowned in her disbelief. "I should have known," the young man
was saying, "As soon as I let my guard down, I get nailed."

She'd just been…

"You were probably planning this all along."


"You'll probably kill me in my sleep tonight…"

Shayla's heart stopped.

He was mumbling now. "In league with Mizuhara, I bet…"

Her eyes widened. "Oh, shit."


He had tricked her… he must have tricked her, somehow, because she would never have…

This was all his fault.

Jinnai fell silent, watching the emotions play across the young woman's face, morphing into something that
could only be described as pure, unadulterated fury. He had the sudden, sickening feeling that this was not
going to end well.

The ground began to shake.


Nanami stumbled again, nearly tripping Makoto. He caught himself, sliding a few inches in the gravel.

"We're not gonna make it!" Nanami cried, cringing as her bad ankle hit the ground. "It's too far!"

"Just hold on!" the dark-haired boy said, grabbing the girl's elbow and helping her over a fallen log. He
glanced over his shoulder. A series of huge boulders was rolling down the mountainside. Trees snapped in
their path. They were getting awfully close... Makoto picked up his pace, gritting his teeth.


Relief. "Mr. Fujisawa! Over here!"

"There you guys are!" The lanky man scooped Nanami up in one arm and grabbed Makoto's wrist with the
other. "Think you can keep up?" He took off at his dead-sober run, dragging his student along behind him.
The Roshtarian ships came into view quickly. Since the boats could be brought many feet up off the
ground, they had been deemed the safest place if a landslide occurred. Makoto could see the rest of the
party hanging anxiously over the rails.

"There they are! They're safe!"

"Oh, thank the gods!"

Ignoring the still-unfolded gangplank, Fujisawa leapt onto the deck of the boat. "Bring her up! Up!

The stunned captain nodded and pulled some levers, and the boat rose above the trees. Next to them, the
two other boats gained altitude until they were more or less level with the first. Beneath them, trees, rocks,
and massive volumes of dirt roared past.

Makoto looked up, the entire expanse of the mountainside laid out before him. He groaned. "Oh, no!"

Nanami gasped. "The cave! It's…"

The hundreds of feet into the mountainside they had cleared were completely wiped out.

"It's gone."

Stones began to trickle down from the ceiling. A large lump of stone dislodged and crashed to the ground,
missing Jinnai's feet by inches.

"What did you do?!" Shayla snapped.

"Me? How the hell could I be responsible for this?"

"I'm sure it's your fault, somehow!" The small chasm continued to shake violently. More of the ceiling
collapsed onto the pile of rubble, and part of a wall began to crumble. Rocks skittered across the ground
like frightened mice, disoriented and hesitant. Then, slowly, the tremors began to fade away.

"Well, that wasn't that bad," Jinnai said. "I wonder what that was?"

"Landslide," Shayla said. "This mountain is really unstable." A glint caught her eye. Was that… no, it
couldn't be! She frowned and shuffled through the freshly fallen stones. It was! Through a newly opened
crack in the wall, there was a glimmer of light! Butterflies danced in her stomach, and she laughed.

"What's so funny?"

Ignoring the question, she hefted her pack onto her shoulder and snapped the lamp on her wrist. She
summoned a small fireball, the light forming between her outstretched palms.

"Have you gone nuts? Hey!"

"Shut up, Jinnai, I'm getting us out of here!"

"You'll collapse the tunnel! And… we came in THAT way, you're aiming in the wrong direction!"

She loosed the small sphere of energy. The wall exploded into dust and gravel. The ground began to
rumble again. "Hurry," Shayla urged, grabbing her companion by the elbow and pulling him towards the
opening she had just created. "It's gonna collapse!" A large slab of rock slammed to the floor behind them
in agreement, and the two passed through the hole.

"Ack! What the hell did you do, you deranged fire demon? Where are we…"

Concentrating for a moment, Shayla conjured up another small flame and set it to hover above them. The
cavern was flooded in light.


"What is this?" she breathed. Huge, sculptured columns rose to support the twenty-foot high ceilings. Half
deteriorated statues stood at intervals along the walls. The focal point of the room, though, was a large,
deep pool with an elegant, faceless statue in the center.

"Looks like a temple," Jinnai mused. "I've seen nicer." He shot a suspicious glance at the redhead, who
seemed quite speechless. "How did you know this was here?"

"I… I didn't," Shayla said, quietly. "There was a light coming from in here, I thought it was the sun." She
snapped back to reality. "That's right! There must be a way out of here, because I saw a light!"

Jinnai rolled his eyes and pointed to the pool in the middle of the room. "Water reflects light, genius."

Shayla blinked. "But…"

"Sorry, try again."

She was silent for a minute. Then: "Sonofabitch!"

Jinnai snorted. "Well, at least we have nicer accommodations." He wandered through the room, idly
perusing the statues. "This seems a more fitting death trap for the destined ruler of all El-Hazard."

Shayla sighed.

The search drone paused for a moment, tapping a rock with a bristly foreleg. The other foreleg went to his
head, scratching above his top left eye. He'd been progressing in this direction for the last three hours,
slowly squeezing through crevices in the fallen rocks, and he was beginning to grow tired. Returning to the
hive unsuccessfully was an unpleasant thought, he didn't like the idea of further disappointing the Queen.
But if he went much further he wouldn't be able to return at all. Although certain battle drones would
instinctually forge onward in suicide conditions, search drones were useless if they didn't return. Within
him, the little bug carried an intense desire to return to the hive. But he would go just a little further first.

He found a workable path and pulled six of his eight legs closer to his body, pushing against the rocks with
his last two. He would not let the Queen Mother down.

"You. Freak." Shayla glared as her call went unanswered. "Hey! Bug-boy!"

"I would prefer it if you called my by my name."

Ignoring his request, Shayla continued. "I'm going to take a bath. Find somewhere to sit so I know you're
not watching me."

"Since when am I taking orders from you?"

Shayla reached for the pouch on her leg where her lamp was stored, fully intending to finally take
advantage of the opportunity to maim her companion.

"Alright, alright, I'm going," Jinnai grumbled.

Shayla emptied the pack on the floor and unrolled the bottles of wine, taking the towel they were wrapped
in, and started towards the fountain in the center of the room. She would feel so much better after a bath,
even if it was cold.

Jinnai smirked as the girl walked away. He snagged one of the bottles of Roshtarian wine, then stalked
behind a carved wall on the other side of the room.

Dear god, he needed a drink.

What happened back there? What the hell was that? Remembering still sent thrills of heat swirling in
his stomach. He uncorked the bottle, and paused, hoping Shayla hadn't heard the pop. All he heard was
water swishing. The image of her lowering herself into the water in the warm, yellow light of the flame
that hovered near the ceiling popped into his mind.

This is bad.

He raised the bottle and swallowed a large mouthful of the wine. He'd never been interested in women.
He was too busy for women. They only got in the way, with their emotional attachments and long talks
and claims of love and such. Love was ridiculous and pointless. Power, that's what was worthwhile.
Power, glory, and the pursuit of victory. He heard Shayla shout something, and a loud-ish splash, but he
ignored it and took another swig.

He thought a triumphant conquest over the Roshtarian forces. Nothing. His Bugrom marching over the
still, cold corpses of Roshtarian troops.

Still nothing.

Mizuhara locked in a cold, wet dungeon, dying slowly and miserably of starva…

This isn't working.

He swore under his breath and downed a quarter of the bottle in one gulp. The tendrils of alcohol started
weaving into his mind. It did make him feel better, but did nothing to push the evil thoughts from his mind.

He would just have to drink more, then.

Shayla brushed her hair behind her ears and stepped into the water. It wasn't that cold, but it was still

She got an idea.

A moment later, with the lamp strapped to her wrist, she shot a small fireball into the water. It contacted
with a loud hiss and splash. She grinned. It should be just about perfect, now.

Setting her towel and lamp aside, she slipped into the water up to her neck. She felt her tension melt away,

What have I done?

The thought of where she might have taken… that… had fate not intervened made her very nervous. And
now she got to deal with the thoughts of what he might be thinking about right now, in addition to her own

Why do I care what he thinks?

It didn't really matter why, but the fact remained that she did care.

This sucks. She glanced over her shoulder at the dark wall that Jinnai was hidden behind, and bit her
lip. Very quietly, she pulled herself out of the water and tiptoed to where the contents of her pack were
spread out, and grabbed a bottle of wine.

Sinking back into the water, she uncorked the bottle and took a deep drink. She would feel better after she
stopped thinking.

An empty bottle later, and she was still thinking, albeit a bit slower. She frowned and pulled herself out of
the water again, determined to drink until thought was completely unnecessary.

There were eight glowing eyes sitting on her clothes.

She screamed.

Jinnai jumped and staggered to his feet, dropping the empty bottle. "Shayla? Whatcha screamin' at?" He
steadied himself against the wall and took a few wobbly steps.

A half-nude towel-clad form ran around the corner and into him, knocking him back into the wall again.

"…the hell?"

Shayla panted, her damp bangs sticking to her forehead. "Giant… bug… in my clothes!"

He eyed her coolly, his eyes coming to rest on the empty bottle in her hand. "You've been drinking."

Shayla blinked hard. "Forget that! Go, kill the bug!"

"I can't believe you!"

"Bug! I *hate* bugs!"

"I specifically asked that you not drink while trapped down here with me, for fear of losing my…" he
hiccuped and tripped over his own empty wine bottle.

Shayla stared. "Hypocrite!"

Jinnai stood for a moment, thinking. "Alright, I'll give you that one," he said.

"Now," Shayla bit out, "Go kill the big giant…"

"Spider!" Jinnai squealed, ducking back behind the wall. "Shayla, there's a huge freaking spider sitting on
your stuff!"

"That's what I said! Weren't you listening?"

Jinnai whimpered. "Bugs are one thing. Spiders are a completely different case…"


"I hate spiders!"

"Go kill it!"

"Nu-uh! You do it!"

"I hate spiders more!"

Jinnai swallowed. "Well, where's your… wristy shooty thing?"


"You know!" he mimed Shayla's powerup routine. "The wristy shooty thing!"

Shayla stared blankly. "You're drunk."

"So're you!"

"Not as drunk as you are!"

"Listen, just get the… the shooty thing, and blow the spider up."

"I can't!"

"Why not?"

"Because the spider is sitting on it!"

The search drone poked through the small pile of objects for a moment more. Yes, he was definitely
picking up the scent he had been dispatched to find. He chittered happily to himself for a second, then
scuttled back to the small crevice in the wall he had entered through.

The Queen would be pleased.

Jinnai yelped as Shayla pushed him into the main room, holding an empty bottle like a club. "Alright,
mister spider, face the wrath of… hey, it's gone!"

"Huh?" Shayla stuck her head out from behind the wall, clutching her towel tightly.

"The spider's gone."


"Not here, gone."

"Oh," she said, stepping out and feeling rather foolish. "Well… okay."

Jinnai shook his head, trying to dislodge the alcoholic haze that was sitting heavy on his brain. "'Kay."

Shayla sniffed and eyed the pile of clothes warily.

"Whaswrong? Go, get dressed, go on."


"Yeah? What?"

Shayla bit her lip. "It… it touched them!"

Jinnai sweatdropped.

"Well, would you want to wear clothes that a giant, ugly, hairy spider had been rolling around in?"

Jinnai frowned. "Good point."

"So what do I do?"

"I dunno."

"You're supposed to be a tactical genius! Or did you make that up, too?"

Jinnai scowled.

"C'mon, mister problem-solver. Fix it."

"Fine!" The young man scooped the girl's clothes up in his arms and tossed them into the water. "Better?"

"I really hate you."

Jinnai hiccuped. "I hate this cave." He shuffled over to the pile of provisions and fished out the final wine

"You're sharing that, right?"

"Not a chance." He tipped the bottle back and swallowed.

"Fine, then I'll make you," she glared.

"Alright, alright, I'll share." He sank to the ground. Shayla folded her towel tighter around her and sat
down next to him, far enough away to keep an eye on him, but near enough to reach the bottle of wine.

Rain banged on the roof of the ship's cabin. They were enveloped in twilight. The low, furious clouds
blocked any attempt of the sun to warm and light the day.

"This area is getting increasingly unstable," Fujisawa said. He'd been sober for several days, and he wasn't
much fun to be around. "The spring rains are loosening the dirt, raising the potential for rock and
mudslides. If we wait much longer, this region of the mountainside may be completely unidentifiable."

"So what do we do?" asked Miz, chewing on her lip.

"We really don't have much of a choice. As soon as the rains stop, we're going to go in there and dig our
little butts off."

"Will that be enough?" Afura asked. "We didn't get that far yesterday, only a few hundred feet."

"If we double our manpower, we should be able to clear out enough to get into the more stable region of
the tunnels. Remember, it's only the entrance that's unstable. Once we get through, we'll have a much
easier time of it."

Makoto sighed. "I just hope she's okay."

Diva lay on the bed in her royal apartments, staring sullenly at the ceiling. Things seemed so dull without
Lord Jinnai in the hive. He couldn't be gone. The Bugrom would survive without him, of course. She was
a completely capable leader, and her race had thrived for centuries. But with Jinnai in charge, the hive
surged with enthusiasm and hope. With Jinnai in charge, the Bugrom could quite feasibly be the greatest
power in all El-Hazard!

Now if she could only find him.

She admired him greatly. He had a way with her troops, with her drones and workers, a way of inspiring
them to new achievements, and things she would have thought impossible. Nothing was out of his reach.
Nothing was too difficult or too impossible. If only the Roshtarians hadn't interfered with the Demon God,
the Bugrom would rule this entire region! But it was not to be at this time. They would try again, when the
forces were recompiled.

Spring was here, and she was just itching to recompile Bugrom forces. Jinnai didn't seem too enthusiastic
about it, however, but she would show him how necessary it was to produce more eggs. He couldn't hold
out against her for much longer.

There was a knock at her door. Obligingly, she sat up and patted down her hair. "Enter," she growled.

Two guards and a messenger drone ducked into the room. The messenger glanced around nervously,
folding and unfolding his wings.

"Yes, what is it? Speak."

The Bugrom mumbled for a moment at a high speed.

Diva gasped. "Well, what are you waiting for? Send out reinforcements! We shall not desert our Lord
God Jinnai in his time of need!" She stood excitedly. "I shall accompany you to the front lines this very

"I hate wet socks."

"I hate being talked down to, just 'cause I'm young for a priestess."

"I hate Mizuhara."

"I hate people who hate Makoto."

"I hate losing."

It had all started innocently enough. Jinnai had simply mentioned, once again, that he hated their cave.
Shayla had responded in kind. They had been naming things they hated for a while now. Apparently, they
were both very hateful people.

"I hate sore losers."

"I hate Mizuhara."

"You said that one already."

"Yeah, but I hate him enough that it should count for at least twice." Jinnai took another swig from the
bottle, his face flushed.

"Okay, fine. I hate people who think they're better at something than me, because I'm a girl."

"I hate the spring."

Shayla frowned, reaching for the bottle. "How the hell can you hate the spring?"

Jinnai hiccuped. "'Sides the rain and mud and people going on about how wonderful the spring is?"

"Yeah, 'sides that."

"It's Bugrom mating season," Jinnai said, miserably.

Shayla snorted.

"It's not funny."

She laughed.

"Hey! It's not funny!"

"Yes, it is."

He glared hard.

Giggling, the fire priestess stood. "I'm gonna check if my clothes are dried."

Jinnai watched her walk away. Nice legs, he thought. Dammit! I'm doing it again! Stop, stop, stop
it! She's in league with Mizuhara, remember?

"I'm gonna change, turn around. Pervert."

Her barbs were shot at very low speeds and fell on him harmlessly. Maybe it was the alcohol, but the urge
to fight back was completely drained. After two days of constant bickering, it just didn't seem worth it
anymore. He turned around and stared tiredly at the pool as Shayla fought her way into her clothes.

Even if she is on his side, she *still* has nice legs.

Freshly dressed, Shayla flopped onto the ground and yawned. Leaning back, she stared at the high, vaulted
ceilings of the room.

"We're gonna die down here, aren't we?" she mused quietly.

"My, we're feeling morbid this evening. 'I'm going to kill you.' 'We're going to die.' You really ought to
lighten up."

"Well, we *are* going to die.

"Maybe. Just be grateful that little monster Mizuhara destroyed my ultimate weapon, or you'd already be

"I kind of wanted to live past my twentieth birthday."

"Well, I kind of wanted to kick Mizuhara's ass, but you don't see me being all morbid and depressive about

"I've never even been kissed."

Jinnai blinked at the girl incredulously. "What?"

Shayla glanced up, then back at her hands. "You 'n Fatora don't count."

"The great goddess Shayla-Shayla too good for us, hmm?" He was surprised. Nothing Shayla had said to
him to this point had bothered him, other than to make him furious or put him in a murderous rage. But
that sentence, delivered in complete innocence…

It hurt.

This is something new, he thought. Am I going to start cuddling puppies and reading weepy romance
novels now? He closed his eyes briefly. It's no big deal. You hate her, remember? Isn't she supposed
to hate you back?

"That's not what I meant," Shayla said.

"By all means, tell me what you *did* mean."

Shayla took a deep breath. "I… I just… it's not the same. I want to be kissed for the sake of being kissed,
not because someone tricked me, or because I was trying to prove something."

She *was* just trying to prove me wrong, after all, Jinnai's mind told him. It had nothing to do with
me, personally.

"Huh," he said.

"Yeah." Blushing, she turned her face away. He must think she was horrible. Why does it matter what
he thinks? He's a maniac, a nutcase, a power hungry, vicious… She couldn't bring herself to finish the
sentence. The will to fight had long since drained out of her, aided by exhaustion and alcohol. Or maybe
she was going insane, too.

Jinnai cast a sideways glance at the girl, who had fallen silent. The flame she was producing had faded, but
she looked more defeated than tired. He wondered for a moment if she was right, and that they would be
stuck down here forever. They had water, in the pool, so they would starve to death in the end. Or perhaps
asphyxiate, when the oxygen in this cavern was no longer plenty enough. One day, weak and mindless,
they would finally collapse and not find the strength to rise again…

These thoughts were eliciting sudden impulses in him. Panic welled in his chest. He was suffocating, fate
weighing heavy and foreboding before him. Had Shayla been feeling like this all along? Why hadn't she
snapped, why wasn't she attacking every rock wall in the cave? He looked at the young woman with new
respect. That fire in her eyes was not a ravenous anger and desire to destroy him, but a desperate attempt to
cling to life. The alcohol in his system poked holes in his emotional barrier, and he feel beginning twinges
of sympathy for her.

Among other things.

Shayla startled as he leaned into her, meeting her lips in a kiss. This was nothing like their previous
encounter; there was no anger, no hate, no desire to destroy, dismember, or dominate. He leaned further
into her, guiding her back, and she wrapped an arm around his waist, responding to his touches, her
breathing rapid and warm.

Outside, the rain stopped.

The dissipating clouds reflected the setting sun's light, making for a spectacular show of nature's colors.
The spring air was warm and thick with humidity. The world paused for a moment, drinking in this

The Roshtarian and Bugrom rescue teams, however, didn't notice.

Under one side of the mountain, Queen Diva paced in a large, cathedral-like cavern, the temporary base for
the troops that had been combing the passages. Only one path was being cleared right now, the one the
search drone had specified. They were close, she could feel it. She smirked. They would have Jinnai back
in the morning.

Under the other half of the rocky slope, Makoto leaned on his shovel for a moment, watching tiredly as Mr.
Fujisawa lifted another large rock onto a cart and sent it out to the entrance. The men who were pulling the
cart away had a considerably more difficult time of it than the Earthling teacher.

"You alright, Makoto?" he asked, dusting his hands off. "You look tired. Maybe you should take a

The young man shook his head. "No, we need as much manpower as possible. If we keep going like this,
we should reach the stable part of the cavern by three in the morning. After that, we just have to backtrack,
and I'm sure we'll have Shayla home, safe, by the morning."

Fujisawa grinned his lazy little half-smile, looking for a moment like a proud father. "You're a good guy,
Makoto," he said. "Alright, let's get back to work. Shayla-Shayla will be pissed if we're late."

Her head hurt. She noticed this first. Her head hurt, but she was safe and warm and comfortable.

Well, maybe not comfortable. The bed seemed awfully hard. She'd need to look into getting a new
mattress, because this one felt like it was full of rocks. But she was still warm and safe, so she decided to
sleep on.

After a moment she realized that the bed wasn't really warm, either. In fact, it was quite cold. The only
warmth that she could really locate seemed to be emanating from an area next to her. She cringed as a
wave of nausea flowed over her. She must have been drinking. She could dimly recall a large but dark
space, and being upset about something, and… Jinnai? That's right, he was there, too.

She wondered how she'd gotten home, to bed.

The warmth beside her stirred. Why was her bed moving? If her head didn't hurt so badly, she might have
been able to think a little easier. She was confused. As much as she disliked the idea, she would have to
open her eyes to figure this one out.

Why was it so dark? Sitting up slowly, battling her stomach and head, she snapped her fingers and
summoned a small flame.

Why was she naked?

She squinted, her eyes drifting to…

Oh, fuck.

Battlefields lie before him in the realm between sleep and waking, the image of his minions lined up and
awaiting his command fading slowly into red hair and tanned flesh.

"Onward, my troops, and glory to the Bugrom cause…"

The red-haired Bugrom seemed to be hyperventilating. It didn't really look very Bugrom-like, now that he
thought of it, in fact, it looked rather humanoid. And he'd never heard a Bugrom scream quite like that…

He shook his head clear of the haze, a dull throb in the back of his skull reminding him of the wine he'd
drunk. He blinked hard and sat up.

"Wh… what's going on?"

"I can't believe this!"

"Huh?" He seemed to recognize this girl, especially the murderous look in her eye. He recognized the orb
of red and white energy forming between her hands, too. He swallowed.

"Must… destroy evidence…" Shayla mumbled. "Never think on this again, must… destroy…"

Suddenly self-conscious, Jinnai realized his clothes were missing. As were hers. That probably accounted
for Shayla's sudden outrage, but how had they gotten there in the first place? His hangover sent a spiral of
pain down his neck—he'd been drinking, that's how they'd gotten there.

In fear for his life, Jinnai ducked to the side, the flaming ball of destruction narrowly missing his head. He
rolled, collecting his clothing as best he could. Shayla growled as she pulled her tunic sloppily over her
head, then conjured up another attack. Jinnai dodged this assault, too. The previous night came back to
him in small snapshots.

"Hey, hey, calm down!"

"I can't calm down! Do you know what you DID?"

"*I* did? You really think I did that by myself?"

"THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!" Shayla sent another fireball in his direction.

"It's your fault too!"

Furious tears worked their ways down the girl's cheeks. "I hate you, I hate you…"

Jinnai took advantage of the girl's momentary distraction and darted behind a rock, pulling his clothes on.
This looked bad. He wouldn't survive this one. Of course, he couldn't really blame her. He didn't
remember last night exactly, but surely this couldn't have been all his doing. He couldn't have
overpowered her, the girl was incredibly strong. But… did he actually feel a little guilty?

The rock he was hiding behind exploded, sending him several feet into the air. He yelped, pulling himself
back to his feet. "Shayla, hold on!"

"No!" Another explosion rang out, filling the air with dust. Blind with rage and indigence, Shayla threw
herself at her enemy, pounding him with her fists, all thought and higher functions abandoned.

Grimacing, Jinnai fumbled with the girl's arms, finally managing to catch her and pin her arms to her side.
Emotionally and physically exhausted, Shayla collapsed against him, sobbing. "I hate you," she whispered.

"Listen, Shayla…"

There was a crash in the distance. The both of them jumped, parting quickly, their struggle forgotten. A
voice floated through the aftershock of tumbling gravel and skittering rocks. "Shayla?"

The girl gasped. "M… Makoto?"

"Shayla, can you hear me?"

Her stomach tumbled, tears forgotten. She called back, louder. "Makoto! Over here!"

"Shayla! Are you alright?" The voice was getting louder, and was joined by other voices in chorus. The
crashes came more frequently. Jinnai stepped nervously backwards, fading into the darker corners of the
room as the wall to their right exploded under Fujisawa's foot.

"Shayla, you're alive!" Makoto beamed as the girl practically leapt into his arms, embracing him. She
released him awkwardly a moment later, blushing furiously.

"You alright?" Fujisawa inquired, taking the girl by her elbow. "Are you hurt? Are…"

Makoto squinted. "Jinnai?"

Jinnai composed himself quickly, stepping a bit further into the light and folding his arms, regaining his
dignity. He glared, unable to conjure up words quickly enough through the muddle of his hangover.

I'm so screwed, he thought. "Well, Mizuhara, I see you've finally come to pick up your little pet fire

Fujisawa stomped across the room and grabbed him roughly. "You, young man," the teacher growled,
"will be serving so many detentions when we get back home!" He shoved Jinnai roughly towards the small
group that had formed: Afura, Makoto, and Miz stood around Shayla, who appeared quite stunned. Fatora
burst through the newly created hole in the wall. Alielle followed close after the princess, and glomped
onto the fire priestess' waist.

"We were *so worried* about you, sister Shayla!" She yelped as Fatora smacked her.

Fujisawa dragged Jinnai towards the exit. "Come on, let's go home."

Shayla studied Jinnai for a moment. His face was a mask of calm. He saw her watching him and smirked,
then leaned towards Fatora and whispered something.

Shayla felt her temper rising. Jinnai, having a quiet conversation with Fatora. Great…

She took a step toward them to break up their little gossip session, but startled when there was another
explosion. "Halt!"

Jinnai spun around suddenly, surprising Fujisawa enough to duck out of his grasp. "Diva?"

"Lord Jinnai, we've finally found you!" the Queen called. A large, purple drone—Jinnai recognized him as
Groucho—pushed its way past the Bugrom hive queen and leapt across the room. The insect hugged the
stunned young man tightly, until Jinnai's eyes bulged. He released him a moment later, turning him in
different directions as if inspecting him for damage. Content that his master was still intact, the Bugrom
started to lead Jinnai towards their escape.

Fujisawa glared, prepared to attack. "Oh, no you…"

"Let 'em go." The words had come from Shayla-Shayla, who was glowering resignedly at the slightly
confused and awkward Jinnai.


In the moment Fujisawa hesitated, the Bugrom made their escape down the tunnel.

"Shayla's right," Makoto said. "This isn't a military campaign. Let him go home." Shayla beamed, and
the group turned to leave.

"So, Shayla," Fatora said, falling into step next to the exhausted priestess as they headed out, "I heard from
Mr. Jinnai that you did some thinking while you were stuck down here."

Shayla glanced at Fatora nervously. "Oh?"

The princess grinned. "I'm glad you've finally realized your true colors, Shayla-Shayla. Maybe, tonight, I
could help you recognize a little more…"

Shayla's eyes widened, and she stopped.

"What? You're not going to insist on pretending still, are you? You can't deny what you really are."
Fatora watched quizzically as Shayla turned a deep shade of purple. "Do you need a hug?"

Shayla turned around and tore after the retreating Bugrom forces. "I'm gonna kill him!"