A/N: Yeah, I realize it's been a long time, but I promise that I am working on this. It's just taking some time. It will be finished, though, by hook or by crook. This is the first half of the Scaredy Cat story, though I make no promises about the next chapter's arrival. It'll eventually be here, I promise.
"Here it is," Necrolai muttered, stopping and looking to a Hidiac behind her. She raised an eyebrow at it. "Well? Go on." She gave the zombie a shove toward its destination, an innocuous looking cave on a beach. It trudged forward, wary of the craggy opening. "Get in there!" The zombie went forward, but as it hit the entrance, it flared up and exploded, surrounded by a spell seal. Necrolai just frowned. "Of course." She turned to another Hidiac, hair whipping around her face in the wind. "Well? Break that seal before the Rangers get here."
"Too late," replied a voice from above them. On top of the hill that the cave lay within landed Leelee, dressed in full vampire queen armor. "In a sense." Necrolai scowled.
"Hello, daughter," she snarled, shifting to a stronger stance in case she was attacked.
"Why're you here, Mom?" the blonde snapped back, no love in her voice. For all she cared about her mother, the woman had no love for her and no qualms in attacking her own daughter if she had to. Necrolai cocked her head at the question.
"Just thought I'd go on a small vacation to the beach. The troll greatly oversold the luxury of the accommodations, though."
"No straight answer then? Shame. Thought we'd have an intelligent conversation for once."
"I don't converse with traitors." Behind her mask, Leelee's eyes narrowed.
"Get out of here," the younger woman commanded. Necrolai raised a hand to her chin, holding it in a mockery of thought.
"No," she replied sharply, hand dropping to her side. Leelee raised her arm, throwing a blast of purple energy at a Hidiac, which disintegrated into black smoke.
"I'll destroy them all without a thought, and you if I have to," Leelee added, an afterthought and a forewarning. The former Queen only watched her daughter with a steadfast glare; again, Leelee vaporized a Hidiac, matching her mother's glare. "You know the extent of the power better than I do. You know that I can go on endlessly." Standing in silence for a moment, Necrolai scowled.
"This is not the end," she growled, and teleported away. Leelee moved down to the beach, choosing to hover down instead of navigating the precipitous rock face, and inspected the cave. It looked harmless, but Udonna would want to know. If Necrolai was this interested in it, it had to be worth quite a bit.
In a rare moment, Root Core was quiet. Udonna was cooking lunch, Madison was reading a book on ancient sigils, Xander was messing with a fern and Nick was polishing his sword. Only the occasional sound penetrated the room–the flipping of a page or clinking of a tool–but it was otherwise bathed in silence. Weekend study sessions were usually more raucous, but with Chip and Vida working, and the others tired from reconstruction in the city, Leanbow had agreed with Udonna's decision to let them pursue calmer tasks this once.
As if the Universe was in disagreement with this choice, Clare burst down the stairs, curls bouncing frantically around her. The four occupants of the room glanced up.
"What is wrong?" Udonna asked, brushing her hands on her apron. The blonde's eyes darted around in a panicked manner before she seemed to realize where she was and why she was there. A huge grin engulfed her face.
"The Fire Heart is hatching!" she squealed. The news took a moment to settle, and then the room erupted into its regular chaos. All four occupants, plus Clare, bolted up the stairs, following the blonde onto one of the open porches. The egg sat in the center, blankets wrapped around it. It rocked back and forth a few times, sending Clare into a fit fixing the blankets.
"How do you know what to do?" Madison asked, watching the girl fuss.
"I read a book I found," she replied, not looking up from the gold-flecked egg. "It was all about dragons."
"So is it gonna hatch right now?" Xander asked.
"I don't know," Clare shrugged, worry and curiosity tinging her voice. "The book said it could be a few hours or a few weeks."
"So it could hatch at any time?" Nick inquired. His cousin nodded, finally glancing up at them.
"Any time," she repeated, brushing a strand of hair off her face. "I'll just have to keep watch until it does." Taking in how frazzled she appeared, Udonna shook her head.
"We will help you," the elder sorceress said. When Clare opened her mouth to protest, she added, "Everyone needs rest at some point, dear. Let us help." Looking between the faces of the others, she finally ceded.
"Okay, but -" Loud knocking halted her words. It lulled for a second, as if waiting for a response, then resumed, more insistent than ever.
"I think someone's at the door," Xander said, slightly blase. He was back inside and down the stairs in only a moment.
"We have an actual door?" Nick asked, sharing an interested glance with Maddie before following his friend down the stairs; Madison was right behind him.
"Do wooden dragon heads count?" she shot back, drawing a smile from him. As they reached the main room, they saw Xander enter from outside escorting Phineas along with him.
"Oh, Phineas, you know you don't have to knock after all these years," Udonna said, last to descend the stairs. The troblin looked up at her, a hand on his cheek.
"Thought I'd be polite," he shrugged. "Seeing as I got a favor to ask." The White Sorceress just smiled.
"What would that be?"
"Well, see, I've got a sore tooth and I already went to the boulder roller–he's a troll that pulls teeth with boulders," he added, seeing the Rangers' befuddled faces, "but he said he couldn't do anything because today's his day off, so I just thought that you guys might know what I could do cos it really, really hurts." He raised his eyebrows at them, smiling in a pained way. Nick glanced to Maddie and Xander, eyebrows raised.
"Do you guys have any ideas?" he asked. "I'm not exactly up on the latest dental technology around here."
"Actually, I think I know a guy," Xander said. "A bit weird, but what isn't these days?"
"And he works in Briarwood?" Maddie asked, receiving a nod from the Green Wizard. "You think he'll see a troblin and not notice?" Xander shrugged.
"Told you, he's a bit weird. My mum goes to him. He started painting a lion on her face one time. Wasn't half bad either." Phineas looked between them as they talked, head swinging back and forth.
"I like the sound of him. When can I go?" he said, smiling broadly before flinching and putting a hand to his cheek. "Bad idea." The Rangers looked between one another.
"Well, I can -" Maddie began, but was cut off by the sudden appearance of Leelee through a seal.
"We have a problem, guys," she stated. When her eyes fell on Phineas, a smile bloomed on her lips. "Hi."
"Hi," the troblin repeated, smiling and wincing at the same time. Udonna looked between the two, shook her head and put a hand on Leelee's shoulder.
"What is it? What is going on?" The blonde's attention snapped back to Udonna, any hint of a smile gone.
"Necrolai. She was trying to break through a spell guarding a cave. I don't know what's in there, but it had a strong protection spell around it. I think it was a Seal of Solus." Udonna raised her eyebrows.
"Are you sure?" Leelee nodded; Udonna paced away from the group, brow furrowed. "Then this may be more serious than you realized." She turned on her heels to face Nick. "Call
Chip and Vida. We must look into this immediately. Leelee, where is this cave?"
"It's on the beaches of the West, close to the village of Lisiven." Suddenly, Udonna's lips curved ever so slightly into a smile.
"Ah, Lisiven," she murmured, mind drifting to another time. For a moment, she was lost in memories of the past, but she quickly returned to the present. "Rangers, go to this cave and see what Necrolai wanted." The trio nodded, following Nick out of Root Core. When they were gone, Phineas looked to Udonna.
"What about me?" he asked, rubbing his increasingly sore jaw. The redhead smiled, a mischievous gleam in her eyes, and stepped between the troblin and Leelee.
"If it is okay with her, I think Miss Pimvare can escort you. She knows the city well." She glanced to the young queen. "Is it okay with you?"
"I'd love to," Leelee replied with a blush. She momentarily met Phineas' eyes, then looked away, blush deepening.
"Good. Then you should be on your way." She gave the two a small push and watched as they nervously exited the base, Phineas allowing Leelee through the door first. Udonna smiled knowingly to herself; it was good to see young people in love.
"This is it?" Vida inquired, skepticism evident in her voice. The cave they stood before was nothing special, not as far as they could tell.
"This is where Leelee said to go," Nick shrugged. He glanced between the other Rangers, adding, "We still have to check it out." He only took a step before a group of Hidiacs appeared between them and the cave.
"More believable now?" Xander asked Vida, gripping his axe as it materialized. She held her wand just the same, glancing at him.
"Much better," she replied, ducking the swing of the first zombie that charged them. From behind the soldier, she shot a burst of pink energy, disintegrating it into a cloud of black vapor.
The other Rangers quickly sprang into similar fights, engaging the rushing undead. Chip jumped over a footsoldier's low swing, shooting it point blank in the chest as he touched back down. Madison stabbed one through the chest, chucking it over her head onto another before both disappeared into dust. Embedding his axe in a Hidiac's chest, Xander jumped to kick another in the face while still holding the axe handle.
Nick blocked the kick from one zombie as he slashed at another; he kicked the first one in the chest and sent it careening onto Maddie's trident. He gave her a wink before elbowing a Hidiac in the face. She smiled and kicked the soldier off her weapon. Sometimes, she thought that maybe they enjoyed this a little too much.
"We're lost, aren't we?" Phineas groaned, a hand moving to his cheek, which ached when he spoke. Leelee just looked between the street signs and tall buildings, befuddlement donning her fair features. She loved the city, but she'd only been allowed up top for a few months now, and she still wasn't all that familiar with everything.
"Yeah," she ceded. "I think we are." She turned back to him, a dejected pout on her lips. "I guess I'm not much help, am I?"
"It's a big city. I think it's great you even made it this far," he replied, sincere. Leelee blushed, glancing to the sidewalk as a smile bloomed on her lips.
"Thanks." She met his eyes briefly, or so she assumed–he was wearing big sunglasses to help hide his inhuman features, along with a long scarf and a sherpa hat pulled down over his ears. As far as she could tell, their eyes met, because a moment later he grinned, showing a wide array of distinctly inhuman teeth.
"So, uh," Phineas began, moving past his guide to one of the parallel parked cars, "what do you call these things? They look delicious." Before she could stop him, he bent down and licked a tire experimentally a few times.
"You probably shouldn't do that," Leelee said, but it was lackluster. The troblin just glanced up at her from his crouched position.
"S'okay. It just tastes like dirt. If I wanted dirt, I'd eat some." She giggled.
"Phineas, you're weird." He stood up, a blush on his jutting cheekbones.
"Aw shucks," he managed before wincing. Awkwardness forgotten, Leelee rushed to him.
"We need to get you to this dentist," she said. Her eyes moved around, looking for any sigh of their destination. Moments later, with a small smile, she added, "I can't get us there, but someone else can." He tried asking whom she meant, but she had already taken his hand, leading him to the one place she knew well in Briarwood.
Four blocks and one brush with death at an intersection later, they were in front of the Rock Porium. Phineas took a moment to take in the store until Leelee dragged him down the stairs. Inside, recorded music pumped through the sound system; a dozen or so people milled about, most with a record or CD in hand. The Vampire Queen scanned the store before her eyes fell on Toby, rearranging a glam rock display. Pulling Phineas along, she approached the store's owner.
"Hey, Toby?" she ventured, stopping behind hi. The curly-haired man turned around, a smile curving his lips as he saw her.
"Leelee, it's been a while," he said. His eyes darted around the store before he leaned toward her conspiratorially. "Busy fighting evil?" She nodded.
"Darkness never rests," she replied. "I don't even get into the city much anymore."
"That sucks." He tilted his head. "So how'd you get the time now?" A smile blossomed on her lips as she pulled Phineas forward.
"That's why I'm here now, actually." Phineas, who had been behind her until now, gave the man a genial smile. "We need some help finding a dentist." Upon seeing the troblin, Toby's eyes widened; Phineas noticed this and shifted under the sudden stare.
"I'm, uh, Xander's uncle from the old country. I was in a-a ski accident," he recited, stumbling over the practiced cover story. Toby just took it all in with a raised eyebrow.
"You're Phineas, aren't you?" he figured, eyes drifting up and down the other-worlder. "The Rangers talked about you. So you're a troblin then." Phineas, not put off by Toby's apparent deductive skills, smiled toothily.
"Yup. Half troll, half goblin, all hunk." Leelee giggled, cheeks flushing slightly.
"All cheeseball, too," she added, glancing away as he met her eyes. Suddenly, the floor seemed to fascinate her.
Toby, not as out of it as most people thought, cleared his throat and smiled.
"So you need my help finding a dentist?" Leelee's eyes snapped up, a smile crossing her face.
"Right! Phineas has a toothache, and Xander recommended a place in town that could help him, but I got totally lost. I figured you knew the city pretty well, so we came here, and..." She smiled, pitiful yet hopeful; Phineas tried the same but only ended up cringing.
Toby regarded the pair for a second before asking, "What's this dentist's name?" The blonde glanced to her companion, who just shrugged, then back to Toby.
"We don't know his name," she admitted. "But Xander said he was really weird."
"Painted a lion on Xander's mom's face," the troblin supplanted. At this, Toby's smile grew, crossing his arms.
"I think I know who you're talking about." He maneuvered around the duo, heading for the door. "Just follow me." Leelee and Phineas obliged, the former giving the store a backwards glance.
"But there's no one to keep watch over the store now," she commented. Toby shook his head, falling into step with them.
"Got that covered. I have a few back-up workers now, for emergencies. You know, when the others have... 'duty.'" He emphasized the last word with air quotes. "I already called Jeannette in when Chip and Vida left." He smiled, looking to Phineas. "So, what are the woods like? I've never been, myself."
The Rangers easily dispensed with the Hidiacs, which served only as a slight annoyance to them at this point. When Chip had shot the last one, they regrouped and headed for the cave.
Nick went first, moving into the cave with speed; the others followed close behind, traversing the rougher ground along the entrance. Xander, the last to enter, paused just inside the cavern to glance behind himself. All he saw was the fading shimmer of a spell seal, which he shrugged off, pressing on.
Inside the cave, Chip raised his wand; the crystal lit up with brilliant light, spreading the deepest crevasses around them. They made their way deeper in, searching for anything out of the ordinary that Necrolai would want. Nothing seemed to stick out, though–as far as they could tell, it was an ordinary cave with ordinary damp walls and an ordinary dirt floor.
Then Madison screamed.
Instantly, the others were at her side, Vida and Nick with weapons drawn. The Blue Ranger didn't even notice them, though. She was too busy frantically swiping at something on her shoulder. Dislodged after a few seconds, the small dark greyish green thing toppled to the floor and hopped away.
"I hate frogs!" Maddie squealed, trying to swipe the invisible amphibian germs off of her. The others lowered their wands and weapons, smiling. Nick gave her a one-armed hug, shoulders pressed together.
"It's okay, Maddie. It's gone now, you're still here." She just shook her head.
"I hate frogs," she stated, a bit calmer, but not by much. Vida was about to say something when Chip's voice cut through the air.
"What's that?" he inquired, pointing his lit wand at the far wall. White light revealed a small pedestal, covered in years of dirt and cobwebs, with a small, similarly dirty object on top of it.
"I'm not sure," Vida said instead, taking a step toward it with interest. Nick was right behind her, scanning it visually.
"Looks like an old lamp or something, like they used a long time ago in the Middle East." Xander gave the Red Ranger a sidelong glance.
"Since when did you become an expert?"
"Since my parents took me on business trips with them when I was a kid. When your parents work getting antiques for an auction house, you learn a lot about weird old stuff."
"So what's it doing here?" Chip asked, moving to it. He lifted it gingerly off the pedestal, inspecting it from all sides. Under the grey blanket of dust, one thing was obvious: "It's got the Mystic Seal on it, guys. This has gotta be what Necrolai was looking for."
"It's all dirty. It's probably been here for years," Xander added, reaching out to it from his point at Chip's side. "Maybe if we cleaned it up a bit, it'll have instructions on the outside or something." The Yellow Ranger smacked away his friend's hand.
"Don't try that. It might be a genie lamp, and we don't want to accidentally free an evil djinn, do we?" He shook his head. "No, we don't. We need to open it somewhere safe, like Root Core."
"Where we keep all of our knowledge and power hidden from evil?" Madison pointed out.
"And where Udonna and Leanbow, two highly trained magicians, live. Between all of us, I think we could handle it."
"Can I at least wash it off?" the Blue Ranger asked. "All those cobwebs are gross." The Yellow Ranger shrugged, acquiescing; Maddie quickly doused the lamp with water, clearing away years of filth.
"Now let's get the hell out of here," Nick suggested. "The sooner we leave, the less chance we have of running into -"
"-me?" cawed a voice from behind them, unmistakably Necrolai. The Rangers snapped to see the villainess striding confidently into the cavern. "Thank you, by the way, for breaking the seal in the doorway. I couldn't get in until now."
"We already have the lamp, so don't bother," Chip stated, clutching the golden treasure tight. The raven-haired witch just put a hand on her hip, an eyebrow raised under her porcelain mask.
"Why would I want such a useless thing?" she scoffed. "I'm here for something much more important." The black clad woman threw her arm out dramatically, pointing to a spot just beyond Madison and Nick. Everyone glanced to the unremarkable stone wall, vision drifting downward until a small, decrepit looking totem of sorts became apparent. It seemed to be a skeleton, though not of any recognizable creature–it had a jagged skull, leering smile full of seemingly mismatched teeth and folded, almost human, ashen limbs.
"What the hell is that?" Vida asked.
"My treasure," Necrolai spat, "and your destruction." A bolt of dark energy blasted the group apart, sending a puff of dust into the musty air. Through the haze, Necrolai sauntered to her prize, claiming it gingerly.
"It has been many years, and your time has come," she murmured, eyes falling almost fondly on its face. Up in a snap, she smirked at the Rangers as she stalked out of the cave. "Thank you for your assistance, Rangers." As she as she'd cleared the entrance, she was gone, disappearing into a dark seal. The Rangers stood up, each feeling the hints of bruises forming across their sore forms.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Chip muttered, brushing dust off his chest. Vida grabbed his arm to pull herself up, eyes moving to the entryway.
"Well, it's definitely not good," she replied.
"We can worry about that later," Nick interjected. "Let's just get the lamp back to Root Core." The others nodded and followed him out to the beach, vanishing in their own golden seal.
"So Phineas, what's it like in your neck of the woods?" Toby ventured as they walked down the street. For as odd as the troblin looked, they'd received very few irregular glances during their seven block journey. The only time they'd really distracted other pedestrians was when Phineas had loudly asked if cars came in flavors besides dirt, and Toby had to remind him that cars weren't food.
Now, Phineas was fairly well-adjusted, but he still jumped at the occasional horn honking or man selling Communist newsletters. He'd thoroughly freaked out a man predicting doomsday in a sandwich board when he'd started agreeing with the man's views on how close the end was, and why the Ancients were doing everything they could to stop it. Fortunately, they'd escaped any other incidents, or could easily explain his other eccentricities.
"Oh, it's great," Phineas replied enthusiastically. "There's this patch of stickleberries right next to my bed, and the stream is really cold right now, cos I think there was a snowstorm in the Mountains, and the wind only knocked my tent over once this week." He smiled jovially. "Yeah, it's been great."
Toby nodded, genuinely interested. In the short time he'd known Phineas, he'd come to like the strange troblin, even for his idiosyncrasies. Sure, he didn't know what the troblin was talking about half the time, but he was slowly catching onto the workings and layout of the magical world; it was strange how natural it all felt to him.
"Sounds about perfect," Toby commented, pausing in front of a tall building. "Here we go." He pulled the door open and ushered his companions in before entering himself. Together, they inspected the directory, found the floor and piled into a tiny elevator. The other occupant eyed them suspiciously, scooting a bit further away from the trio, but none of them seemed to care.
Leelee's hand brushed Phineas' own, causing the two to exchange shy smiles; Toby took notice and smiled as well. Young love was a curious thing, though he suspected that Phineas was actually the oldest of their small group. Despite that, he was still green, though Toby sincerely hoped he wasn't so green that it fell through. During these dangerous times, it was nice to see good things could still happen.
"Mom?" Nick called out, glancing around the atrium. The other Rangers followed behind him, Chip carrying the lamp. His words echoed around the base, receiving no response until Leanbow appeared at the top of the staircase.
"She's out with Clare, finding a warm spot to hatch the Fire Heart," he said, descending the stairs to join them. "What do you need?"
"We found this lamp at the cave Leelee warned us about," Chip said, proffering the golden lamp. Leanbow took it in his hands, a smile spreading across his face.
"Necrolai attacked us, but she took a mummy. She didn't even try for the lamp," Vida supplanted. The elder man raised an eyebrow.
"Curious. She must not remember what this is," he said, turning it in his hands as he took in the intricate details.
"Is it a genie lamp?" Chip asked, drawing a smile from Leanbow.
"Yes it is, and a powerful one at that. I'm just surprised she didn't recognize it."
"Have you seen it before?" Maddie inquired. The older wizard gave them a small, reminiscing smile.
"Yes, I have. It is the lamp of Jenji, the companion to my old apprentice Daggeron." He rubbed the side, causing the entire lamp to shake. The lid popped off and a cloud of smoke streamed out, hovering a few feet away from the group. It shifted into a more solid form, one of an ornately dressed and overly large cat.
"I am the great genie Jenji! I will grant you - Leanbow!" he exclaimed, dropping the all-powerful persona as soon as he saw his old friend. The two quickly embraced before Jenji stepped back. "Leanbow, you've gotten older."
"So they tell me. I see you haven't aged at all," he replied with a smile. "Tell me, do you know what happened to Daggeron?" The cat's smile instantly dimmed.
"I don't know. We were running through the forests when someone attacked us. There were a lot of curses, and one hit us, and then I was stuck in my lamp for twenty years." Fear crossed his eyes. "We set Bowen down during the fight. Did they get him?" Leanbow's mouth set into a hard, grim line.
"I'm afraid so. We are under Dark rule now." Horror crossed Jenji's face until he saw the slight quirk in Leanbow's frown.
"Don't mess with an old tabby like that! I almost soiled the sand!" Leanbow was grinning madly now.
"I'm sorry to joke. It was just too great an opportunity after all these years." The cat was grinning similarly now.
"So how is your boy? What happened to him? And what happened to the others? Where are Ambrose and Niella?"
"Fortunately, Phineas rescued Bowen and took him to safety in the other world. The others were not so fortunate."
"They all...?" Jenji began, but didn't have the heart to finish the question when he saw the look on his old friend's face.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. Ambrose, Lior, Cordula, Elouan and Fergus died in the battle, and Niella gave her life to ensure the Gates were closed." A moment of silence passed between the two, each ruminating on the past, before the genie spoke up.
"And Bowen remains in the human world?" Jenji queried, moving away from the sadness of lost comrades.
"No, not quite. When the seal on the Gates broke many months ago, the seal between worlds was weakened, and Udonna gathered the newly powered Mystic Force." Jenji's jaw dropped.
"The Mystic Force?"
"Yes, friend, the Mystic Force. She didn't know it at the time, but our son was one of the fated magicians drawn in. He is the Red Mystic Ranger." Jenji looked now to the group of teens just beyond Leanobw. He moved to them, eyes wandering over their interested faces.
"This must be them," he murmured, more to himself than anything. "I never thought I'd actually see the day. And this -" His eyes fell on Nick. "- this must be Bowen."
"Call me Nick," the Red Ranger said. "Nobody calls me by that name." Jenji raised an eyebrow at Leanbow, who nodded approvingly.
"It's a complicated story, but Nick is his true name." The cat gave a low whistle.
"Wo-ow. That's something." He smiled. "You take after your dad, I can see that. Red warrior, Dark looks, leader of your team–history is funny that way." Nick smiled with pursed lips, unsure of what to say to that, but Jenji moved on before he needed to respond. "And the rest of you, I think I can guess." He looked to Maddie first. "Let's see, water, judging by the Undellian uniform. Not Lior, but close. Hmmm... Mia, Megan, Marie, no?" She shook her head. "No, but I've got it–Madison!" Her eyes widened, a smile spreading across her face.
"How'd you know?" she asked.
"I'm just good," he grinned, moving across the group to Chip. "Lucien, Elouan, Caspian. No? Charles!" The Yellow Ranger glared at him. "Or Chip, be a stickler. Next is Cordula, Olivia, Vivian, Vida! And then we have, last but certainly not least, Fergus, Gil, Lee, Al, Alexander."
"Xander," the Australian corrected.
"Close enough," the genie shrugged. "Looks like a crack team, Leanbow." The Fortesian wizard nodded.
"I will tell you of their exploits later, though Udonna may be more qualified to tell their tale." Jenji smiled at the mention of Udonna.
"Where is the wife, anyway?'
"She and Clare are in the woods, finding an appropriate setting for the Fire Heart." The cat quirked an eyebrow. "Our dragon egg. It is ready to hatch soon." Jenji's eyes widened.
"A dragon egg? It's been ages since I saw one of those."
"They are quite a rarity. I'm glad we have it, and not the Darkness. I have seen how they treat the poor creatures."
"I hope we'll do better with ours," Clare chimed in, arms wrapped around the egg that was much too big for her to be carrying. She heaved it onto the central table as Udonna entered, arms loaded with pine branches and other assorted sticks.
"I am certain we will," Udonna added, eyes on her bundle of branches. "We decided to build a nest here instead of in the woods, in case we were attacked for the egg." She allowed the wood to drop onto the table unceremoniously before something in her mind clicked. "Jenji?" She spun around to see if it really was the cat. A smile lit up her face as he pulled her into a tight embrace.
"Lady Udonna," he replied, stepping back and looking her over. "Beautiful as ever, I see." She smiled, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Time hasn't dulled your talent for flattery, if I may so observe." He grinned back at her, eyes twinkling. "How have you been?" He shrugged.
"Bored. There's only so much to do in a lamp for twenty years. Took a lot of naps. I'm glad these kids came to save me."
"They are truly heroes, if they can save a genie from monumental boredom," Udonna jested, but Nick shook his head.
"I'm not so sure we saved the day, Mom. Necrolai was there and she took this creepy mummy." A frown replaced the elder witch's smile.
"I am not so sure what to make of that. I have heard no legends of mummies hidden in caves, but if Necrolai wants it, then it is more dangerous to us than we may realize. Tell me, did anything about it stick out in particular?"
"It didn't look human," Nick replied, trying to remember exact details. "The teeth were weird, all different."
"It was sort of like a small monkey, but the face was more human," Xander added. "Its arms and legs were long, but it was folded up cross-legged."
"It looked disgusting," Maddie added, pulling a matching face. Udonna took all this information in, thought on it for a moment, then shook her head.
"I'm sorry, that rings no bells," she said. "I'm afraid we are at a disadvantage here."
"It's okay," Chip said. "We got the genie, and he's a friend. That has to count for something, right?"
"I'll agree with Chip," Jenji added. "I'd like to believe I'm an invaluable asset to the team."
"We would be lost without you," Leanbow replied, smiling. "So are you going to give these kids their one wish? They did free you." The genie gave the older wizard a grin, eyes sparkling.
"You're right," he replied, looking back to the teens. "You kids rescued me. You get one wish." He looked benevolently over them, arms crossed.
"Just one?" Vida snapped, a hand jutting from her hip. "I thought genies granted three wishes."
"Tut-tut, little lady." He waved an admonishing finger at her, drawing a displeased eyebrow raise from the Pink Witch. "Don't believe everything you hear. One is all you get."
"So wish for a million wishes," Xander stated, shrugging. Chip just shook his head, years of fantasy reading finally coming to use.
"No, no, no, you can't do that. Using your one wish for more wishes voids all the wishes because you only get one. Genies are tricksters. You have to be careful." His hand drifted to his mouth as he thought, contemplating all the way to reword the wish, before he shook his head yet again. "Nol, shouldn't be done. He'd manage to gyp us with that wish no matter what." Jenji nodded, grinning.
"I like this one. He's on top of it. Yeah, it's a bad wish. Do you want to try again?"
"No, not just yet," was Chip's instant reply. "We'll wait until we figure out a solid wish." The genie nodded appreciatively.
"Fair enough." A beat of silence passed until it was broken by Clare fussing with the arrangement of the sticks she and Udonna brought in. Everyone turned to look at her; she struggled to maintain the balance before a few dozen toppled onto her. Jenji, Leanbow and Nick rushed forward to help reposition the rest before they fell as well, while the others either picked up sticks or unburied the Lurian sorceress. Within moments, the mess was undone, and Clare was smiling abashedly.
"Sorry guys. I'm still new with this dragon egg stuff," she stammered, brushing a blonde lock out of her face.
"It's alright," Jenji replied. "Not a lot of people these days know how to care for a dragon. Lucky for you, I'm something of an expert. Twenty years is good for a lot of reading, at least." He blinked and a book popped into his hands. "Chapter One, Hatching Your Dragon..." He let the words trail off, looking to Clare for any interest.
"Help me," was all she said' this elicited a smile from the cat.
"I'd love to." He took her by the arm and lead her into another room as he began to explain the process to her. The others watched for a moment, until the sticks and egg blinked away.
"He's interesting, that's for sure," Maddie commented.
"I like him," Chip added. Vida snorted.
"Because he complimented you."
"And because he's awesome," the redhead shot back defensively. " Besides, when was the last time a genie complimented you?"
"He's got a point," Xander interjected. The feistier twin looked like she was about to say something, then thought better of it.
"I'm glad we at least got him," Nick said, and the others nodded in agreement. "The Darkness doesn't need that kind of power. The mummy is worrying me, though. What do they want it for? Why's it important to them?"
For once, no one had anything to say.