xXx Chapter Two: Unwanted Reunion xXx

xXx Bubbles xXx

The buildings of Townsville zipped through her line of sight as she soared over the city. Buttercup kept close to her while Blossom took the lead. The red-haired Powerpuff searched every street they passed with scanning eyes. She was searching for whoever had sent them the book. She had heeded their advice last night; she begrudgingly left the book alone. While she did not read from it again, she had paced the room all night. She also kept revisiting their list of senders. Much to everyone's dismay and annoyance, they were unable to find an answer. On more than one occasion, Buttercup had threatened to burn the book if Blossom didn't stop talking about it. Bubbles could understand Buttercup's annoyance; Blossom seemed obsessed with the book and its sender. Thus, Blossom dragged them all out of bed the next morning in order to search Townsville.

They had been flying around for a few hours, a venture which had yielded nothing of importance. They had circled the city a countless number of times and it was starting to affect Buttercup. Silently, the green eyed Powerpuff brooded beside her. She could probably last a few more minutes before snapping at either her or Blossom. In all honesty, Bubbles was growing tired of their search as well. She sighed. Both sisters knew that Blossom wouldn't leave town until she found at least one villain to question. They could be here all day.

Buttercup finally let out a frustrated groan. "Blossom, we're not getting anywhere."

Blossom gave Buttercup a fleeting glance. "We have to find something. We can't just wait for something to happen."

"What's wrong with waiting? I say we let the book sender come to us."

Blossom gave a sly smile as she responded. "Oh, so you want to play by their rules? Have things unfold when they want them to?"

That easily swayed Buttercup, who fell silent. Bubbles, on the other hand, didn't see the point of merely flying around the city. "I think that we should take action, too, but this is getting us nowhere. Why don't we just go to a hideout? We could start with Mojo, even though we already crossed him off the list. He might know something."

Blossom's brows furrowed. "If we just barge into lairs, it will be obvious that we're looking for something."

"Not with Mojo. We just sent him to jail, so he shouldn't be home."

Buttercup muttered. "Unless those stupid guards let him have the keys to his cell."

Blossom sighed in defeat. "Alright, but just Mojo's lair. I don't want every villain in town knowing that we're searching for something."

As they flew toward the volcanic observatory, Buttercup made a snide comment. "We've been flying around Townsville for a couple of hours. Everyone knows that something is up."

Blossom's cheeks flared, but Bubbles cut in. "It doesn't look that odd. We've patrolled the city like this before."

Buttercup frowned. "Sure, take her side."

Bubbles gave her an exasperated look. "Why do you always think that I take sides?"

She stuck her tongue out in a playful manner. "Because you do."

Blossom gave them a disapproving look as they landed at the base of the volcano. "Focus. We don't have time for games."

"Ah, that's too bad. We'd really like to play."

Blossom's head snapped to the source of the voice, and then a frown tugged at her lips. Brick, with his red and black striped shirt, stood across from them. His red baseball cap still sat on top of his messy red hair. His brothers, Boomer and Butch, stood behind him. They all wore a smirk and had a mischievous glint in their eyes. Like always, they stood with a lazy confidence.

Buttercup took a step forward. "What are you guys doing here? Don't you have some grade school kids to bully?"

The three boys that stood in front of them still had all of their powers, but they didn't try to destroy the town as much as they used to. As Buttercup had said, they were no more than bullies; however, their simple bullying would sometimes escalated to an event that required a call from the mayor. When their tempers exploded, they would fight like they did when they were younger. Despite their willingness to fight, they never actively sought out the Powerpuff Girls. Bubbles was curious about their sudden challenge. She wasn't convinced that this was just a random occurrence. As she glanced at her sisters, she thought that they must be thinking the same thing.

Blossom took a step forward, thus taking control of the conversation away from Buttercup. "What are you three doing here, at Mojo's lair?"

Brick glanced behind him. "We're not here for Mojo."

Blossom did not back down. "Why did you follow us here? It' not like you to start a random fight with us—not anymore."

With Brick's line of sight still directed at the volcano behind him, Buttercup slipped in a snide remark. "Maybe they've reverted back to their simple ways."

As soon as Brick's eyes fell back onto his counterpart, he charged forward with a fist pulled back. No sooner than his feet had left the ground did his brothers follow suit.

When they were mere feet away from the girls, Brick's voice yelled out: "Remember the plan!"

xXx Blossom xXx

She deflected Brick's punch with ease, but there was a considerable amount of strength behind it. As he prepared for another attack, Blossom leapt back and went into a defensive stance. Another charge of raw power came at her; she sidestepped and brought out her leg, effectively tripping Brick. She rose in the air and waited for another attack as he skidded across the ground. As she glanced behind, she saw that Bubbles and Buttercup had been pushed back by Boomer and Butch. Bubbles was in the park a few blocks away, and Buttercup was now in the city. Knowing they could handle their counterparts, she turned her attention back to her attacker. Brick, jumping up from the ground, spit out a mouth full of dirt and then sent an obnoxious smirk at her. Her eyes narrowed as Brick charged at her again.

Were they trying to keep them separated?

Testing her theory, she dashed away from Brick's perusing form and headed in Bubble's direction. As she neared the park, she deliberately slowed down. A hand clamped down on her ankle and she was twirled around before being thrown. By flipping in midair, she landed safely on the patchy ground; dirt and rocks flew around her as she slid to a halt. Her eyes immediately sought out Brick. He still floated in the air, his eyes fixed on the pair of fighters behind him. Bubbles and Boomer were still fighting in the park, which seemed to be good enough Brick. His head snapped back to her and he dashed forward again.

Not convinced with the evidence she had, Blossom sprang up from the ground and marked Buttercup as her next target. In no time at all, Brick was on her heals. She had to know how close she could get to Buttercup. As Brick got dangerously close, she veered to the right and stayed close the buildings around her. Sudden, sharp turns around corners put some distance between Blossom and the red blur that was tracking her. As the sounds of Buttercup's and Butch's battle grew louder, the closer Brick got. The air, which was already pounding against her skin, started to burn as she pushed herself to go even faster. When she turned another corner, she glanced behind her and saw that her pursuer was gone. Her eyes snapped back, but it was too late. Brick came in from the side and hit her hard.

Air left her body as she plummeted to the ground. She wasn't sure how long she fell, but the impact of her crash made her think that it had been a long time. As she dragged herself up from the rubble around her, she searched for Brick once more. Again, he was still in the air, a few dozen feet away from her. After shaking the bits of concrete from her hair, she rose in the air and took note of her surroundings. A frown tugged at her lips. Buttercup and Butch were to her right, nearly as far from her as Brick was. The park was no longer in view, but she knew it was still behind Brick.

Why did he throw her deeper into the city?

Blossom looked over to her raven haired sister. "Buttercup, regroup!"

Buttercup gave her an irritated glance and then sent Butch crashing into the pavement below. A green blur of light met up with her, but Blossom lead her further away from the two boys. As the red and green Rowdyruff Boys chased after them, Blossom spoke quickly to her sister.

"This isn't their usual pattern of attack. Something doesn't seem right."

Buttercup glanced behind her. "Yeah, they usually attack us in a group, keep us close together. Are they trying to keep us separated?"

Blossom shook her head. "I thought so at first. When I tried to get to Bubbles, Brick made sure that I didn't reach her. But when I went after you, he just drove me deeper into the city."

After deflecting a few attacks and sending the boys back down to the pavement, Buttercup turned back to Blossom. "He only tried to keep you away from Bubbles…"

Both sisters came to a sudden stop and faced the direction of the park. "We have to get back to Bubbles." said Blossom.

Brick and Butch appeared in front of them, blocking their path. "Yeah, but you're not going anywhere." said Brick in a mocking voice.

Butch drew his arm back for a punch. "We're just getting started."

xXx Bubbles xXx

A graceful back flip allowed Bubbles to avoid an attack that came from Boomer. For whatever reason, Boomer's attacks were weaker than usual, and they were easier to evade. After dodging another attack, she glanced behind her and saw that Blossom was now out of sight. That was odd. She turned her attention back to Boomer; he was barely trying. She gave him a suspicious look and then dashed forward. In vain, he attempted to back away, but she caught hold of his shirt and sent him to the ground. Without another thought, she turned and started after her sister. She wasn't going to waste time fighting Boomer if he wasn't going to take it seriously.

As she kicked off from the ground, she was tackled from behind. Before they could even hit the ground, she kicked Boomer off of her. Bubbles hit the ground more gracefully than Boomer did. The blond Powerpuff was up on her feet while the blond Rowdyruff was still flat on the ground. She smoothed out her dress as she waited for her counterpoint to rise. With more poise than the other Rowdyruff Boys, Boomer jumped up and sent a roundhouse kick in her direction. It was easy enough to dodge, but she stumbled back in her retreat; Boomer crouched down and kicked her feet out from under her.

She prepared herself for another hit, but it never came. Boomer remained in his crouched position, and it seemed like he was lost in his head. He stared at the ground in a passive manner. Slowly, Bubbles stood up and put some distance between them. Without any warning, he stood and gave her a fleeting look before blasting off into the sky. She watched his retreating form in a stunned silence. They had only been fighting for a few minutes. Even odder, they didn't engage in their usual banter. Did he want her to chase him? He had done so before but had never been so subtle about it. A chase would usually be initiated with a challenge.

With a sigh, she started to follow him but stopped short. Her vision started to blur. The trees swayed and went in and out of focus. The sky brightened to a blinding intensity and then dulled to muted hue. Colors of blue, green, and brown twisted and melted together. This cycle continued until it her eyes hurt from the sudden changes. Even the sounds around her faded away. After shaking her head, another change overtook the environment. Slowly, everything started to break down. The vivid colors and shapes that had surrounded her were now a lackluster mass of mush at her feet. The world around her was void of any color or form.

Through all of that, which seemed to last only a few minutes, she remained were she was and waited for the events around her to play out. Despite her calm demeanor, her heart was pounding rapidly in her chest. She had no idea what was going on. After taking a calming breath, she searched her dismal surroundings. Nothing caught her eye. As she started to move, the world around her started to change again.

The lifeless goop around her started to bubble, move, and finally take form. Green and brown was introduced back into the picture. Trees, taller and thicker than the ones in the park, sprang forward. Grass and shrubs crawled out of the ground beneath her. The sky above her was blue, but it was partly obscured from her view by the canopy of trees. She gasped in surprise as the area exploded with life. The sounds of birds, insects, and various other animals encircled her. Everything was simply beautiful. Simply foreign. Before a smile dared to show itself, she shook her head and searched the area again. She had seen this before; it was just an illusion.

In a voice that shook too much for comfort, she called out: "Where are you? Stop hiding!"

A long moment of silence stretched out; the noise of the forest disappeared and then a familiar voice responded. "Why, my dear Bubbles, I put a lot of effort into making this world for you. You could at least smile."

Her blue eyes widened, even though she had expected this. "It's been over a year since we've seen you. Why are you back now?" Her voice was a little less shaky, but her heartbeat was loud in her ears.

A red, smoky fog poured out from the trees that surrounded her. She took in a quick breath and held it, waiting for the unavoidable. Even though she had come across Him many times, his appearance and demeanor always made her flinch. This time was no different. His demonic form stepped forward from the swirls of red, but the glow from his feline eyes had been visible within the thick of the fogy smoke. Those unsettling eyes were steady and unblinking. He came closer and closer, but she was held there by the entrapping eyes he had always had. Whether it was some kind of dark magic, or the inhuman quality, everyone was vulnerable to those eyes. The Powerpuff Girls were no exception.

The thought of her sisters gave her the resolve to move; she jumped back and averted her eyes away from his. She had to get to Blossom and Buttercup. Even with the combined strength of the three Powerpuff Girls, Him was a difficult opponent. Regardless of how strong she had come to be, she knew she couldn't drive this monster away on her own. And he was a monster, despite his humanoid form. As for his form, he hadn't changed in the year that had passed. He hadn't changed since their first encounter. He still wore the same red and fluffy dress, along with the thigh high boots. If one didn't know how horrifying this creature could be, his appearance would be comical. To those who knew of him, his attire is simply terrifying.

His permanent smirk was spread widely across his features. "You look quit scared, Bubbles. I haven't even done anything. You're hurting my feelings; I thought you would be happy to see me." He feigned an expression of hurt and betrayal.

Her eyes narrowed at his devious remark. "I can't hurt what isn't there…"

'Hate' had always been a strong and forbidden word for her, but it accurately described the feelings she had for this fiend. While she disliked having such strong, negative feelings, it was nothing her sisters had ever blamed her for. They could relate to it but not to the same villain. Blossom and Buttercup had the same type of feelings for Mojo Jojo. It all had to do with betrayal. When the three of them had put their faith in Mojo, it had ended in disaster. It ended in a bitterness that always stayed with her sisters. For a long time, she had shared that sentiment of animosity with her sisters; however, it faded away when she met Him.

Even though she hadn't known it was Him, she had trusted him. Octi, which he had possessed, had her trust. When her sisters were constantly fighting, the time spent with 'Octi' had been precious to her. Her purple friend served as a safe haven, as something she could always go to. There wasn't anything that she didn't tell Octi. That had been true long before the incident with Him, so when Octi started to talk to her, she didn't pull away. When the magic shattered, when Him revealed himself, part of her reality seemed to shatter with it. A tiny bit of her trust and faith had been permanently erased that day. The pain she felt from that betrayal had trumped what she felt for Mojo. It took her a long time to put what had happened behind her.

No sooner than she had pushed past that did Him use her again. After running away from Pokey Oaks, due to Buttercup's teasing, Him came to her in the form of a butterfly. That was when she had learned to express her feelings in a negative way. When the chalk monsters she drew came to live and started attacking, she still had hoped that the butterfly would come to her aid. The butterfly did come back, but Him soon abandoned that disguise. She felt the pain of betrayal all over again. When that incident ended, the feelings of anger and pain still remained.

She would not let that emotionless demon use her again.

As she looked at the monster before her, she struggled with the decision she would have to make. She could stay and fight him by herself, but the odds weren't in her favor. Neither Buttercup nor Blossom could fight him single handed. Her second option was to fly away in an attempt to reach her sisters. With three, the odds of victory increased. The second plan held her favor, but she doubted that Him would let her get very far. As she recalled Boomer's quick departure, she became certain that the boys were working under orders from Him. Him separated them and then singled one out. Her chest tightened as she decided to stand her ground.

As she prepared herself for an attack, Him spoke again. "I'm not here to fight you, dear Bubbles."

She didn't want to humor him, but knew it would be dangerous not to. "Then why are you here?" Her stomach squirmed as his smirk widened.

"I have come to make a challenge."

She groaned inwardly. "We don't like your challenges."

He shrugged. "I know, but it would be in your best interest to accept this one."

"You never give us much of a choice."

He waved his claw in a casual manner. "You've found the book, correct?"

She just barely suppressed a gasp. "You sent us the book?"

"Yes. Would you like to know what the challenge is now?"

She gulped down her growing nervousness. "What is it you want us to do?"

He suddenly disappeared, which caused a gasp to pass from her lips. Before she had time to search for him, she felt him reappear behind her. He had done that so many times that she could easily recognize the feeling. She could feel the unnatural heat that radiated from his body, even though a chill always ran through her. He also has a distinctive smell; it was spicy and made her nose burn. Overall, it was unpleasant, and it currently had her frozen in place. She could tell that he was close, but there wasn't any contact.

"It's simple, really. There are seven virtues, which you and your sisters will collect. And there are seven sins, which I will collect. The first one to obtain all seven wins."

She fought the desire to move away from him. "And what happens if we lose?"

"Oh, nothing good, I assure you."

"What if we win?"

"Then nothing bad happens. I think that sounds fair."

She frowned. "Fine, but how do we find them?"

"There are clues in the book. Any more questions?"

"…No."

"Excellent. I imagine we'll run across each other while on our quests, which will only make things more interesting." He took a step back. "The game begins now."

Red fog cascaded down around her and clouded her vision. After a fit of coughing, the smog cleared to reveal the park. The illusion Him made had vanished, along with the red demon himself. For the first time since Him appeared, she allowed herself to breathe fully. She closed her eyes and took calming breaths. She hated being alone with that monster, more so than her sisters. As she recovered from the encounter, she remembered all of the lies Him had told her over the years. As long as they were playing a game with Him, they weren't safe. She was startled from her thoughts and doubts by someone landing down beside her.

Blossom rushed to her side. "Are you alright, Bubbles?"

Buttercup joined in. "Did Boomer run off on you, too? Brick and Butch just stopped fighting with us and took off a moment ago."

Blossom hushed Buttercup as she noticed Bubble's worried expression. "What's the matter, Bubbles?"

She took a deep breath. "Him was here."

Blossom's countenance mirrored her own, while Buttercup's turned hard. With more calm than she felt, she explained what Him had said and what they needed to do. At the end of her story, Buttercup kicked the ground in annoyance and Blossom seemed lost in her own head. Under any other circumstances, Blossomed would have been delighted to learn who had sent them the book, but her look was pensive. She didn't like Him's games any more than Bubbles or Buttercup.

Finally, Blossom spoke. "Since the 'game' has already started, we should get back to the book and see what we can find out."

Solemnly, both Buttercup and Bubbles nodded in agreement. As they flew back to their house, Bubbles became lost in her negative thoughts again, so she didn't see the concerned looks that Blossom kept sending her. Before she knew it, they were going through the front door of their house and giving the Professor a short greeting. Once they got to their room, Blossom immediately opened the book and beckoned her sisters to join her.

Buttercup sat on the edge of the desk. "So, there are clues in the book? Did you see any of these clues when you read it, Blossom?"

She nodded. "I think so. There were little poems or riddles under the description of each virtue. Those could be what Him was referring to." She glanced up at Bubbles. "Are you alright?"

The blond Powerpuff blinked in surprise. "You already asked me that."

She gave another concerned look. "Right, but you didn't answer."

Buttercup crossed her arms over her chest. "We know how you feel about Him… and you seem pretty shook up."

She forced a smile that they didn't buy. "I'll be fine, and the sooner you read the first riddle, the sooner we can end this. And I want to end this as soon as possible."

Blossom didn't turn back to the book. "Even though Him told you that we would be seeing him again, I don't think we'll be seeing a lot of him. He has his sins to collect, and that should keep him busy."

Buttercup nodded. "And when he does show his ugly face, we'll be there with you. We won't let him hurt you again."

She felt the urge to cry. Over the years, she had shared how hurt she was by all of Him's games. Buttercup, who loved to tease her, was always there for her. Despite her lax nature, Buttercup was very proactive over her more sensitive sister. Buttercup would gladly punch anyone who upset her, and Blossom would always give a lecture that would annoy the target. She gave a real smile this time and nodded her head.

"Right. Now, show us the first clue, Blossom."

The three sisters gathered around the book and searched for the riddle that was hidden in the description of the first virtue.