He crouched over it, trying to imagine symbols on its surface. The Elders read the bones. They told them the future. He wished he could do that. Then he would have respect in the village. He would be more than just a scruffy little boy.
He looked at the pebble where it lay. It was a simple, gray rock, and yet, the side that was face up had a tiny, tiny grain of crystal running down the center.
He picked it up. He hadn't noticed the crystal vein before. He checked the other side of the rock, but there was nothing else on it.
He heard feet approaching from behind him. Dropping the pebble, he jumped to his feet. This person was unlike any of the boy's people, or even like the Elders. He was dressed in white, with a straw hat, like the boy's mother wore when she was picking grains out in the sun.
"You dropped your pebble," the old man said. He must have been an old man, even if he didn't look like an Elder. The boy was afraid. Terribly afraid. What if this was a demon, like his mother warned?
The boy scrabbled backwards, his worn leather sandals offering very little in the way of purchase over the gravel. The old man did not try to stop the boy, but crouched down, and picked up the pebble that the boy had dropped.
"This is a special one," the man said, holding his flat palm out towards the boy. The pebble was split open, and revealed a glorious crystal center. "Doesn't look like much, on the outside," the man continued, "but it is very special."
The boy stopped. As frightened as he was of the stories his mother told him, he was also a curious little boy, and he very much wanted to see this crystal rock.
He stepped forward. The man smiled, and held his hand out a little farther. The boy took the rock, and examined it closely, studiously. Another puff of wind blew through the valley and the boy shivered.
The man stood up, and took off the long, white outer robe he wore, and put it around the boy's shoulders.
The boy stroked the warm fabric. It was not leather, nor wool, nor silk. He was not sure what it was, but it felt nice. The man looked down, and smiled. The boy noticed the man's eyes for the first time: they were blue, like the sky.
The boy screamed, and started to run, but he tripped himself on the hem of the long robe. The man caught him, with one swift motion, and picked him up, since he was just a little boy. The boy regarded the stranger with the same studious curiosity he had displayed on the crystal rock he held clutched in his hand.
"I think we need to get you home to your mother," the man said, gently, putting the boy down. He held out his hand, instead, and the small boy took it, after a moment's hesitation.
The two walked off down the slope, as overhead black storm clouds gathered.
"My name is Yellow," the boy said, finally, as they walked down the side of the slope.
"Yellow? That's an interesting name," the man said. "Where did you get it from?"
"My mother," the boy said, quietly. "Because I am a boy, and she has only had girls, so far."
"So you are her treasured son," the man said, thoughtfully. "I see. No brothers?"
"No." Yellow stopped. He had been trying to walk while keeping the wonderful white robe wrapped around him, but it was too hard. It was a long walk for his short legs, and he was getting tired. Wordlessly the man picked him up, and carried him the rest of the way. Yellow snuggled into the man's shoulder. He smelt very pleasantly of food, of stir-fries and rice, and of a sweet smoky smell, that the boy didn't recognise. He started to fall asleep, but before he knew it, he was at the door of his family's house.
"Yellow!" cried one of his sisters, Blue Lily, yelled in greeting. Then she noticed just how strange the stranger was, and she screamed, bolting into the house.
Her screams attracted a number of people. Two of the Elders were next door, asking the bones some question, and they came running over. They, like everyone else, stopped in their tracks when they saw the sky-eyed old man, with his white robes and even whiter hair.
Yellow squirmed a bit, and the man let him down.
"Yellow," cried an older, female voice. A woman, Yellow's mother, came out of the house, running forward to scoop up the child.
The strange man bowed.
"Who are you?" the mother whispered. To do so was very rude, but no one chastised her, and the man did not seem to mind.
"I am a traveller, from beyond the mountains," the man said. Just then, there was a crack of thunder from the sky, and it began to rain. "May I come in?"
The woman stared at him, then broke off her gaze to look at one of the Elders for guidance. The Elder nodded, and she nodded in turn, leading the stranger into the house.
The man sat down on one of felt mats spread on the floor. Yellow's mother offered him some stew, but he declined. "I have come to talk business," he began, but another of Yellow's sisters interrupted with:
"Who are you? What's your name?"
"Red Peony, be quiet!" snapped the mother, and the girl looked contrite and slunk away to the side of the hut.
"It's a good question, Red Peony," the stranger said. He reached into his robe and brought out a peony, a red one, and held it out to her. Eyes wide, she stepped forward, and took it, bowing her thanks, before running to her mother's side, holding the flower out for the woman to smell.
"My name is Rayden," the stranger continued, reaching and drawing out a blue lily for Yellow's other sister, who was also watching from the shadows. "And I'm a traveller, from another part of the world. I have come looking for someone." He pause, and patted Yellow on the head. "Someone like your son."
"You wish to take my son?!" the woman screamed, leaping to her feet. Outside, a crash of thunder nearly drowned out her shouts. "You are a slave trader!"
"No," Rayden insisted. "I didn't come with any wrong intentions--" here he held out his arms to show that he did not have any weapons--"I only came to tell you that your boy has been chosen. Chosen, to serve the Great King."
"Great King?" the woman said, suspiciously. Yellow recognised the Great King from some of the stories his mother told, of sky gods with palaces high in the mountain. "What would a foreigner know of the Great King?"
"I know that he has asked me to find a certain boy," the stranger continued. There was a tone in his voice, as he found the remark some what insulting, and Yellow thought for a moment he could see something sparking in the stranger's eyes. He shivered again, and a horrendously loud crack of thunder broke overhead. "I can make up for your loss," he added, composing himself. "Whatever you wish."
"What I wish is to have a son to support me in my old age!" the mother cried.
Just then, a older girl ran in from the rain. "Mother!" she cried, not even noticing the stranger sitting in the hut with her mother. "I have fabulous news! Bright Dragon has asked me to marry him!"
"What? The blacksmith's son? What happened?" the mother exclaimed. "I thought he was betrothed to the girl in the other valley!"
"He just got word that she died some months ago, from the fever," the eldest daughter, Orange Blossom, cried happily. "And he has asked me to marry him, instead!"
"This is wonderful news!" the mother said, joyously.
"That's not the half of it, mother," the girl continued. "He said that since you have no husband to take care of you, you can move in with us!"
The older woman burst into tears of happiness for her oldest daughter. It was only after she hugged her daughter that she remembered the old man, sitting by her fire. She looked over, horrified to see the man had his hand on the top of Yellow's head.
She screamed, causing Orange Blossom to jump in fright.
"You cannot have him!" the woman screamed at Rayden, who was merely patting the boy's head. "You cannot have him!"
She ran out of the hut, her daughters following dutifully.
Yellow looked confused, and gazed up at Rayden. Already, he seemed used to the stranger's odd skin and peculiar eyes. He seemed comfortable, somehow. A crash of thunder over head caused the small boy to jump, but Rayden just wrapped the robe around him tighter.
"It's just a storm," he said, soothingly. The small boy leaned against Rayden's side.
A few moments later, the woman could be heard outside, arguing with one of the Elders.
"I can't!" she wailed. "He is my life! My joy!"
"You can have other sons," the Elder said sternly. "For now, that boy is being corrupted by the demon that you invited into your house. He is becoming wicked, even as we speak."
"I don't think he was really evil," Blue Lily piped up, smelling the flower he had given her. "He looked funny, though."
"Children tell the truth," the old man intoned. "The man is strange. This storm is no doubt his doing!"
"What are they arguing about?" asked Yellow, sleepily. Rayden just hugged the boy closer, and watched out the doorway with sad and weary blue eyes. He really wished it did not have to come to this.
The fire started small, and in the rain, had a very hard time starting. But the hut was mostly wood, cured over many seasons, and it soon caught, sending plumes of smoke up into the sky. Yellow's mother screamed, comforted by her distressed daughters and her new son-in-law. The Elders watched in sad smugness as the hut was reduced to a charred skeleton, and finally crumbled to the ground.
Through the communal weeping for the poor soul of Yellow, the villagers all noticed something; there was no smell of burning flesh, no screams, or cries, or anything. It was as if the hut was empty.
Once there was no more fuel, the fire began to die down. The carbonized walls collapsed in on themselves, and the villagers all saw the same thing at once.
A white robe, perfectly un-singed, lying in the center of the rubble.
Yellow's mother began to wail even louder, in part for her lost son and in part for her own foolishness.
The small boy clutched Rayden's hand tightly, as Rayden led them through the wide field. The open sky overhead was something that the astonished boy had never seen before, as he had always lived in the mountains. He stared around him with wide brown eyes.
A castle seemed appear like magic, over the horizon. Yellow was confounded by the building; he had never seen anything made of stone and mortar, never mind a towering fortress with turrets and a wall.
"Do you like it?" Rayden asked. Yellow nodded, vigorously. He wasn't quite sure, but the feeling it gave him, that he was about to step into something powerful and immense, he liked a great deal.
They stepped over the moat on the drawbridge, and walked through the courtyard to a set of doors. At least, they resembled doors to Yellow; the doors of his people were skins, or perhaps felt. Never before had he seen doors made of polished wood, set with gold handles and trim.
Rayden smiled at the boy's reaction, and very gently closed his small mouth shut. Yellow, somewhat embarrassed, squeezed Rayden's hand and was reassured by the squeeze in return. The doors opened, and Rayden led the small boy through them, down a great corridor, into the Hall.
Tapestries covered the walls, and rugs covered the floor. Walking on the plush carpets felt like walking on grass to Yellow, who had taken off his sandals while walking through the field and was now slipping them back on. It didn't do to walk through here barefoot. He was only a small boy, but he knew that much.
"Hello!" Rayden called out. There was no one in the Hall. In fact, Yellow realised, there were no people at all in this strange place.
Rayden waited for a response, but there was none. "Hello!" he called again. Then there was a slight giggle.
Yellow knew what it was immediately. He grew up with three sisters. He knew a girl giggle when he heard one.
A small girl peeked out from behind the tapestries, then ducked back behind. Now that Yellow knew that she was there, he noticed the pair of feet sticking out. Rayden smiled. "Hello!" he called again, while creeping over to the tapestry, leaving Yellow in the center of the Hall.
There was the giggle again, and then Rayden reached behind the hanging and pulled the girl out. She squealed, and laughed as he tossed her into the air, and then carried her over to meet Yellow.
"Hello," she giggled. Yellow stared at her in fascination. She was his size, but pale, like Rayden, and her eyes were sky-blue as well. But where his hair was pure white, hers was red, like fire.
"Say hello," Rayden said to Yellow.
"Hello," he muttered, feeling embarrassed to be in front of such a beautiful girl in such a beautiful place while he was only a little village boy, still in his old clothes.
The girl laughed. "He's shy," she said to Rayden, as a secret. Rayden chuckled.
"Don't be rude," he said, setting her down. "Introduce yourself."
The little girl made a big fuss of patting her hair, and said pleasantly: "Hi! I'm Nova, daughter of Hiko, of the Fire and Cosmos, of the Space!"
Yellow just stared.
"Introduce yourself," Rayden prompted gently.
"I'm Yellow Chrysanthemum," Yellow finally admitted. He paused, thinking to himself. "Of the space what?"
"What?" Nova was taken aback by the question.
"You said you were of the Fire and of the Space. What fire, what space?" he asked, studying her. Confused, she looked up at Rayden for explanation.
"He's asking about your clans," the elder informed her.
"Oh. Fire and Space are my clans. They're Elementals." she said, proudly. Then she looked at him suspiciously. "You do know what Elementals, are, don't you?"
He nodded vigorously. Then he stopped, and shook his head.
Rayden laughed, but ceased when he heard footsteps behind them.
"Daddy," Nova called out, waving. Her father did not wave back. Yellow nearly ran from the room as Nova's father came and stood on the dais. He was very tall, and dark, although his skin was white, like Rayden's and Nova's. He wore shiny fabric, that looked like silk, but not quite, and his eyes were very cold looking. Angry looking.
"I see you found him." The imposing adult stated, glaring down at Yellow and giving him a look-over.
Rayden nodded. His smile was gone, and Yellow realised that Rayden was just as nervous as he was. "Hiko said--"
"Hiko is not here, at the moment," Nova's father continued. "She is visiting a neighbour's Realm. But she left note that the child was staying with us until--" he looked at Yellow with distaste--"different arrangements can be made."
With that, he left, his cape swirling around him, he turned so fast. Yellow shivered. He looked up to Rayden. "You're not leaving, are you?" he said, panic creeping into his voice.
Rayden got down on one knee, to look Yellow in the eye. "I do have to go, now, but I'll be back, in a little while."
"Why are you going?" Yellow asked, starting to cry. He didn't want to be left with the scary-looking man.
Rayden pulled the boy in for a hug. Nova joined in as well. "I have to go make arrangements for your new family. But don't worry. Nova will be here, to keep you company, and Nova's mother will be coming back soon."
"Tonight," Nova interrupted. "She's just visiting Aunty Celebria."
"There, see? And you'll like Nova's mom." Rayden ruffled Nova's hair playfully.
"We'll have fun, Yellow Crysantemum," Nova added.
"Chrysanthemum," Yellow corrected, sniffling. Reluctantly he let himself get disentangled from Rayden. Nova, however, was not that easy to pry off.
"When are you going to see me again?" she demanded, clinging to his leg.
"Soon, when I come back for Yellow," he said, trying to pull her off while hopping. "Then we can all go to the Bar."
"Bar? Really?" Nova shrieked.
"Only if you get off me," Rayden added. She leaped off, and said to Yellow, conspiratorially: "You'll like the Bar. The grown-ups say Bad Words."
"Nova!" Rayden exclaimed. "Don't tell anyone about that, or they won't let me take you."
"Okay," Nova agreed reluctantly. She looked the type who hated to keep secrets.
"Now, you can take Yellow up and show him your room," Rayden said. No sooner were the words out of his mouth but Nova grabbed Yellow by the arm and ran with him out of the room. Rayden waved goodbye, then teleported away.
"Are you ever going to come away from the window?" Nova said, exasperatedly. "What are you looking at, anyway?"
"The sky," Yellow said, leaning out of the window. Despite never having been in a two-storey house, he was very used to being up high and looking out over the country-side. "Why is everything so green?"
"Isn't it normally?" Nova seemed confused by the question. She was digging through a wooden chest, stuffed with clothes. "Do you want to be a God, or a Mortal?"
"What?" Yellow got down from the windowsill.
"God, or Mortal? Oh, how about we have a tea party, instead? I never get to play that with Rayden." Nova dug out a table cloth, and spread it out over the play-table set up in her room.
Yellow watched the cloth-laying with interest. "Oh, so that's a bed," he said with understanding. Nova stared at him.
"No, it's a table. A banquet table," she clarified.
"A table, Yellow. What do you eat supper on?" She looked at him as if he was completely brain-dead.
"From a bowl," Yellow replied, proud that he knew the answer to his one.
"And what do you put the bowl on?" Nova continued.
"Um, my lap?" he stuttered. Nova was about to say something when the heavy door creaked open, and Cosmos walked in.
"Leave him, alone, Nova, he's just a backward mortal from a backward Realm." her father said sharply. "Now, clean up, supper's almost ready."
"Yes, Daddy," she replied, looking at the floor, and watching her toes. Yellow slinked so that he was standing behind the table, ready to dive under it if the need arose.
"And you, Yellow," Cosmos snapped, looking directly at the little boy, "Don't get too comfortable. We'll ship you off to the Guardian's the minute we can."
He left, slamming the door behind him. Both children jumped. Nova looked apologetic. "He can get grumpy, sometimes," she said quietly. "But he's nice."
"I don't like him. I'm scared. I want to go home!" Yellow's voice started out fine, and got higher and shriller, and by the time he yelled 'I want to go home!' he had burst into tears.
Supper was, for Yellow, an incredible experience. More food than he had ever seen in his life was put in front of him. He was unsure how to use a fork, so he left it to the side, content to eat with his fingers. And he ate, and ate. The last bit of food he'd gotten was a bowl of thin soup. That was before he'd gone up the mountain, and met Rayden.
Nova chatted constantly to Cosmos, who, for the most part, ignored her. Her mother, Hiko, was no where to be seen, despite Nova's assurences that Hiko would come home "soon". Yellow missed his own mother, and even his sisters.
As soon as they were both full, Cosmos, in a fit of paternal indulence, told Nova that she could take "the mortal" to the observatory, as a treat.
This meant nothing to Yellow, of course. But Nova was very excited, and dragged her new friend off the minute her father's etiquette permitted.
"What's an..." he trailed off, thinking of the word.
"An observatory," Nova supplied, her voice full of anticipation. "It's the best room here. Every manor has one. Tradition, Mama says. It's so neat!" She squealed to herself.
"What do you do there?" Yellow asked, as he found himself led into a large, darkened room.
"You look at things," Nova said. "Look at the picture books, and the maps, and things like that." She lit a candle, which was fitted into a lamp, on the wall. "But we have to be careful. Very careful." She implied that Yellow's Careful was not Careful Enough.
Yellow only nodded solemnly and started to walk around the room. Shelves covered the walls, filled with books, although Yellow did not actually know what a book was, nor a shelf; but he did find them impressive looking.
Impressive, but not as fascinating as something that was parked in front of the window. "What's this?" he asked, tip-toeing up to it, careful not to touch.
"That's a--" Nova cocked her head to one side. "It's a tel something."
"Oh." Yellow tried to look out the window at the night sky, but the Tel Something was blocking his view. He realised that the curiosity was hollow, so he tried to look through the room end. He gasped as he got his first view of the stars, mechanically aided. He saw a meteor streak by, and saw a nebula for the first time. Not that he knew what a nebula was, of course. Nova, finishing her book, tried to distract him, to get his attention, but he was too absorbed to even notice her. Or the door opening.
"Mama!" Nova shrieked, running into the open arms of her mother, who swung the little girl off her feet, and into her arms.
"How are you, darling?" Hiko asked, giving her daughter a hello-kiss.
"Good--did you meet Yellow?" Nova asked, pointing.
"No, not yet," Hiko admitted, a smile on her face. She walked over to the windowsill and the telescope, where the small boy was completely absorbed. "It is interesting, isn't it, Yellow?"
Yellow looked up, startled by the new voice. He was also startled by Hiko's appearence. Her mane of fiery red hair seemed to give her a unnatural appearence, in his eye, and he shrunk back from her. She didn't seem upset, like Nova had, or scornful, like Cosmos had. She just smiled, again, and stroked his head, gently.
"You'll make a good one," she said, softly. She put Nova down. "It's time for bed, dear."
"Can't I stay up for a little bit?" Nova pleaded.
"No. Rayden will be here first thing in the morning, and you can't stay up all night." Hiko took Nova by the hand, and held out her other hand to Yellow. He was reluctant to leave the stars, but realised that he had no choice. Many things were different here, he knew, but not bed-times.
Hiko tucked them both in. A spare bed had been moved into Nova's room, for Yellow. She kissed Nova good night, then moved over to Yellow's bed. "You look upset, Yellow. Don't worry about anything," she said comfortingly, as she tucked the blanket around him. "I'm in the next room, I'll know if you're upset."
"Okay," Yellow replied, sniffling. A moment passed, and he found he couldn't hold it back any longer. "I miss my mother! I want to go home!" he wailed, flinging himself at Hiko. She wrapped him in a bear hug.
"I know, Yellow. I know," she said, picking him up, to sit him on her lap.
"My mother's dead, isn't she?" he sniffled. "Just like my father."
"No, no." Hiko said, shaking her head. "Your mom's still alive. She's still alive, and you'll see her soon."
"So she doesn't want me," he said, angrily. "I knew it. Rayden was wrong."
"What are you talking about?" Hiko asked, gently.
"I heard them. They were going to kill us, but Rayden took us to the big field, and said that Mama wanted me to be happy."
Hiko was shocked at the candidness of what the boy was saying. He realised that his villagers had been intending to kill him. The goddess was saddened that such a little boy had to know so much, but she knew that this was only the beginning of the role he would soon take on.
"Your mother," she began, hugging him tightly, "knew that you needed to go somewhere special. You're a special boy, Yellow, and you need us to take care of you. Teach you special things. When you're done learning, you can go back to living with your family. Until then, you get to stay with a great teacher, a very special person. You will have a good time, promise."
"I miss the mountains," he sniffled, leaning against her shoulder. "I miss home."
"I know. I know what that's like. I grew up in the place far from here, and very different. But I had to leave, too, and I learned to make this place my home." Hiko said, softly. "It will all work out for the best. Trust me."
Yellow nodded, and she placed him back in bed, covering him up with the blanket. She kissed him goodnight, and blew out the lamp that hung by Nova's bed.
"See you in the morning," she called, as she left, shutting the door carefully behind her.
The two children lay in their beds, very warm. Nova was cosy, and drifted off to sleep quickly. But Yellow was wide awake, staring into the darkness. It was very quiet, in the room, in the manor itself. He wasn't sure if he liked the quietness. He wasn't sure if he liked the bed, either. It was too soft, and way too high up. Taking the soft pillow, and the blanket, he got up, and made himself comfortable on the floor. He finally fell asleep.
The next morning, the children were woken up by Hiko, who led them in for breakfast. With Cosmos nowhere in sight, Yellow began to relax a little. He wolfed down his cereal, despite the wide-eyed look from Nova as he did so.
"Don't you ever eat?" she exclaimed.
He put the bowl down only long enough to give her a dirty look, then went back to the serious task of getting as much of the cereal in his mouth as possible.
Hiko laughed, a little, poking at her own breakfast. She seemed distracted, something which her daughter picked up on.
"What's the matter?" Nova asked her.
"Oh, nothing," Hiko replied easily. She set down her fork and stared out the window. "Nothing important, anyway."
"It's Rayden, isn't it." Nova said, with the blunt perception only a child can master.
Hiko looked startled. At the sound of Rayden's name, Yellow looked up from the bowl, his mouth so full, his cheeks were puffed out. "No, whatever gave you that idea?" Hiko replied, calmly.
"It's always `Nothing' when Rayden's coming over," Nova explained, sullenly. She was angry that her mother didn't see fit to explain anything. Hiko opened her mouth to say something to her daughter, but noticed Yellow staring at her, his mouth still full. She closed her mouth, and instead concentrated on her breakfast. Nova shot Yellow a dirty look. Yellow just looked around him confusedly.
There was a knock at the door. Hiko jumped to her feet. Nova put down her fork. Yellow swallowed his entire mouthful in one go. The door opened, and Rayden came in.
"Hello," he said, briefly. Hiko just stood to the side of the room, not saying anything as Nova ran and jumped into Rayden's outstretched arms. Yellow got up, too, but didn't run. He stood out of politeness, unsure of his place in the reunion.
"Yellow, how do you like it here?" Rayden asked, setting Nova down. "Good night's sleep?"
The little boy nodded.
"He slept very well," Hiko commented, "Considering what he's been through." Her voice sounding strained. She was very tense. Rayden was as well, but he was more determined to appear congenial.
"That's good. Well, it's time to take you to your new home," Rayden announced to Yellow, who was still standing by the table. "The Guardian's looking forward to meeting you."
"That's a surprise," proclaimed a dark voice from outside the room. Cosmos entered, scowling. "Hello Rayden."
"Hello, Cosmos," Rayden said, his voice guarded.
"I see you found Hiko and Nova okay," Cosmos said, shooting a look to his wife. "And Yellow, of course."
"I came here for the boy, Cosmos, not for a fight. But I'll be happy to give you one, if you want," Rayden said, his voice lowering. He took a step forward, but Hiko rushed in between them.
"I don't want any fighting between you two." Hiko said, sternly. "Yellow, are you ready to go?"
"Yes," Yellow nodded. "I have to get my clothes, though." He was still wearing the spare set of pyjamas that Nova had lent him.
"You don't need them, we'll get you new clothes." Rayden said, peacefully, ignoring Cosmos. "You'll get everything you need."
"No, I need to get them," Yellow insisted.
"Let him have them, Rayden," Cosmos sneered. "The mortal should be dressed in his own finery."
"I'll take you, Yellow," Nova suddenly declared, grabbing him by the hand, and running from the room.
He was confused as they ran to her room, down the stone corridor. "I don't understand," he called to her. She didn't answer, but he could see she was trying not to cry.
In her room, he found his clothes, as well as the small chunk of crystal he had brought from home. He took the pyjama top off, and put on his tunic. He noticed that Nova had turned her back to him, which he found odd. None of his sisters did that, but he knew Nova's family did things differently. When he was done dressing, he folded the pyjamas up and placed them on his bed.
"I can go, now," he said, letting Nova know that she could turn around. She didn't. "Nova?"
She was crying, to herself, very quietly. "I don't want them to fight," she said, when he came up to her. "They always fight when they're together."
"Rayden and your dad?" he asked. She nodded.
"I don't spend time with Mama and Daddy--only one or the other. And if Rayden comes to visit, they nearly kill each other." she sniffled.
"They won't," he said, patting her shoulder. "My mother and Uncle always fight like that, too."
"I'm going to miss you, Yellow Cystantemum," she cried.
"Chrysanthemum," he corrected sadly.
He appeared in the doorway, silently, and waited for the grown-ups to notice his presence. He clutched the rock tightly and scuffed his sandals on the floor. Finally Rayden looked in his direction, and broke off the arguement with Cosmos.
Forcing a smile to his face, he bent down to pick up the small boy. "I had better be going," he said, simply, nodding towards Hiko as a goodbye.
"That would be best, yes," Cosmos scowled.
Rayden closed his eyes. Following suit, Yellow did as well.
He opened them a second later, and found himself in the strangest place he had ever been to, or even could have imagined.
He was in a room. The walls, floor and ceiling were made of a hard, translucent material. After a moment, when the shock wore off, Yellow realised the room was made of crystal, like his rock. Rayden put the boy down, but Yellow made no move to explore the room further, or even leave Rayden's side.
A sliding noise caught Yellow's attention. He whipped around to see a slab of the crystal slide upwards. A woman walked into the room. She was carrying a staff with her, such as the Elders sometimes did; but her staff had a large jewel on the end. And she was no Elder; she was young, younger than Rayden.
"So he has arrived," she said, her voice flat. "Leave us."
"No!" Yellow cried, clinging to Rayden's sleeve. "No! Don't leave me here!"
"Nothing will happen to you, I promise," Rayden said to him, glancing at the woman, who nodded. "Now, be brave. I'll come and visit you soon." He very gently, but firmly, pulled the boy off his robe, and gave him a light push towards the woman.
He looked up (and up) at her, for she was very tall. She wore strange robes that resembled nothing he had seen before. She had long black hair, black and straight like his own. Her eyes were thin and black, like his. She was someone like him.
He turned to confirm this with Rayden, but the man was gone. Startled, he turned back to the woman.
She was not smiling.
"I am the Guardian," she said. Her voice was odd sounding. Not cold, like Cosmos' but not warm like Rayden's or Hiko's. It lacked the giggle of his sisters, or Nova, or the comfort of his mother's. It simply had no tone at all, and he found that distressing. "You will be staying with me while I train you, in your duties."
"Then I can go home?" he said hopefully.
"If you wish," she said flatly. She turned on her heel and marched out of the room, the slab sliding upwards again to let her pass. She turned, only briefly. "You must follow, Yellow Chrysanthemum."
He did so, walking a few paces behind her.
The corridor they walked down was made of the same crystal as the room they left. It was thick enough that he could not see through it, but clear enough to let in light.
Watching her from behind, he noticed how her hair seemed wrong. Off, somehow. It was the same as his own--longer--but there was something about it that he did not seem right.
She stopped, abruptly, facing an blank wall, which slid upwards. It revealed a glowing white light. She stepped through it, and Yellow did as well, nervously.
He found himself in a field. The grass was not high, although it went past his waist. It barely reached the woman's. The Guardian's. She was still walking, and he ran to catch up with her. Overhead the sun blazed down, and Yellow saw that they were heading towards a grove of trees when suddenly the woman seemed to fall.
Confused, Yellow ran after her, and nearly tripped down into a small gully. He recovered his balance--he was from the mountains--and scrambled to the bottom of the ravine. A river cut through the banks, exposing red earth on either side. Trees grew along the other side of the flat-bottomed valley. The woman stood, waiting for him.
"What do you see?" she asked him, as he approached her. This time, her voice was nearly kindly, although it kept its distant quality.
"I see a river, and trees, and the earth," he said. He sometimes had the Elders asking questions to him like this. There was never a right answer.
"Look into the river," she said, gesturing with her staff.
He knelt by the side of the river, looking down. He could see a small minnow dart among the waves, and he saw some weeds growing. "Do you see anything, now, boy?" she asked, leaning over his shoulder.
"I see fish--" he stopped, startled. For a second, he could almost see Rayden's face, and looked up over his shoulder. But he was alone with the Guardian. "I see--"
There was the flash of image, again. Of a man he did not know. And then another. Then he saw Rayden, and a woman who looked like Hiko.
He leaned closer, entranced by the sights. As he did, he noticed that the sound of burbling of the river was replaced, by sighs, and groans, screams and laughter. He heard someone talking, in a strange language. He saw the images better, as well. Now he saw Rayden with someone.
This Rayden was different, though. He was not being kind and gentle as he was with Yellow. He was fighting the man, lightning leaping from his fingers. Yellow gasped as the man collapsed, dead. Rayden had killed him.
Then he saw Cosmos, his fingers wrapped around Hiko's neck. Yellow screamed as she did, and jerked back up. The images vanished, and the only sounds were the wind and the river. He was shaking.
The woman knelt down as well, not facing Yellow, but looking into the river. "You are quite unique," she said in a whisper. "But you are not yet ready."
"I want to go home," Yellow sobbed, bursting into tears. "I don't like it here any more."
"Then we will leave." The Guardian stood up, and held out her hand. Still crying, Yellow took it, and together they left the valley.
Yellow sat up in bed, startled by a strange noise. He had gotten used to the silence of the Palace, compared to the noise that he had known living in his village.
His village. It seemed like a dream now. He looked around his room. Satisfied that there was nothing in his room, he put his head back on the pillow. But he knew he wouldn't get back to sleep very easily.
He tossed and turned for a bit. The bed, despite having gotten used to it, was still too soft for him, and it often hindered him from going to sleep. He tried to ignore the feeling, and closed his eyes.
He wondered, briefly, what his family was doing. How was his mother? His oldest sister, Orange Blossom, did she have children of her own? He had no idea how much time passed here, at the Palace. Everyday was the same, the same routine. He had breakfast, then exercises, then lunch, then more exercises, then dinner, then lessons until it was time for him to sleep. It was exhausting for the boy, but the Guardian expected no less. He had not crossed her once, in all his time here, for she still terrified him.
Althought the Guardian had softened, slightly, she was still severe, and distant. She could not be counted on for any dispaly of affection, or of any nicety of any kind. She was, however, always fair, and very patient. She was not harsh. She was simply not loving.
There seemed to be no people in their wing of the Palace. Yellow was not even sure who the Palace belonged to, but he knew there were people around them. He saw them, sometimes, on the hikes he went on, or sometimes one would have a message for the Guardian.
He wished he could go back, sometimes, to the castle. He wished he could see Nova again, and play with her. He had only spent a night there, and yet it had made a huge effect on his life.
He felt himself getting drowzier. He yawned, and turned over, and gradually drifted asleep.
He sat at the breakfast table, poking at the eggs, making the yolks run, when the Guardian entered the room. He jumped to his feet, surprised to see her so early in the morning. "You have a visitor," she announced, before turning and leaving through the open door.
Confused, Yellow waited at attention until a familiar figure walked through the door. It was Rayden.
"Yellow!" he exclaimed. "It's been a long time!"
"Has it?" he asked, despite his best intentions.
Rayden nodded sadly. "I'm sorry I couldn't come sooner, but I've had a lot of problems to take care of. But I'm sure we can make the time up, okay?"
Yellow nodded, thrilled. Finaly, real human contact in--
He frowned. "How long has it been?" he asked suddenly. Rayden looked uncomfortable.
"Three years, Yellow. I'm sorry."
Yellow sat down with a thump onto the chair. Three years. Three whole years. He hadn't realised that such a long time had gone by. The Guardian had never mentioned his birthday, or her own, and there seemed to be no seasons in this strange place. "Three years," he mumbled. He closed his eyes, visions of his family coming to him; Orange Blossom with children, his mother in her home. Red Peony might be married by now too, to someone from outside of the village. They probably had forgotten about him by now. He opened his eyes.
"You look so much older," Rayden said, to himself.
"It's been three years," Yellow reminded him.
"Yes, I know--but there's something intangibly older about you. I can't put my finger on it." He mused.
"I have been working to develop him," came a voice from behind Rayden. It was the Guardian, leaning against the crystal wall. "He will need much to cope."
"You might be working him too hard. He's only nine," Rayden pointed out. They seemed to forget that Yellow was standing right before them.
"His sister is twelve, and already married." The Guardian said, tapping her staff idly on the ground. "Should he not also be expected to face his life at that age?"
"It's not the same thing, Samantha, and you know it." Rayden argued.
"It is better that he learn to deal sooner, before he is set in his ways. I know this from experience, Rayden-sama. Trust my judgement."
Rayden didn't reply, but regarded Yellow for a moment. The boy regarded him back, in the same studious way that he had.
"Well, Yellow," the man said finally, "What do you think about a walk through the Palace grounds? We can catch up, and you can tell me all about your studies."
"I would like to," Yellow said, smiling. He got up again, and moved towards the door. Rayden held out his arms, and the boy naturally ran to them, happy for a hug after so many years, when something completely unexpected happened.
The moment his hand touched Rayden's, there was a flash of light and a piercing sound and then hs whole sense of reality shifted.
The piercing sound resolved itself into a scream, and Yellow found himself in a dark, unholy place. The stories that told of demon lairs came back full force as Yellow watched the inhabitants of the dark cave--it seemed very much like a cave--start towards one end of the room. Someone stepped out of the shadows. It was a large man, dressed in leather, bristling with weapons, decorated with skulls. Rayden emerged from the other end, confronted by the demon warriors.
"I don't want to fight you, Shao Kahn," Rayden yelled, lightning crackling around him.
"Too bad that I want to fight you," Shao Kahn, the leader of the demon horde, unsheathed a sword, and advanced forward. Yellow screamed in terror, but they did not--could not--hear him. He looked for a way out, but couldn't see one. He did not want to see this, but was forced to as Rayden battled the demons, using his powerful lightning attacks. Shao Kahn advanced, even as his minions were slaughtered underneath him.
Yellow screamed again, and was brought abruptly to the present.
He lay on the ground, surrounded by mist. He thought it was mist, but perhaps it was his own mental haze. Voices called to him from it, but he didn't want to leave. It was safe. It was where he was supposed to be.
"--it is too early." A woman talking. She was familiar, but not welcome, she was an intrusion.
"How could it be too early?" Another voice, a man: also familiar. This voice brought painful memories to the surface, and he cringed. He wanted to stay here, forever, without the memories.
"I do not know. All I know is that he is truly stronger than we first thought. The next stage of the training must begin."
"He'll lose the chance for everything he dreams of," the male voice said, softly. "He won't go easily."
"He must. He will," the female said firmly.
He faded out again.
Yellow awoke, lying on his on bed. It was night, judging by the level of light in the room. Someone was sitting on the edge of his bed. It was the Guardian.
"I need to ask you something..." Yellow croaked, his throat surprisingly hoarse.
"Yes," the Guardian answered. He could see the faint light cast by the gem in her staff.
"What...is Rayden?" Yellow asked, struggling to sit up.
The Guardian was silent for a long moment. "You must know."
Yellow paused. The answer came to him so simply it seemed as though someone gave it to him. "He is a demon." The answer seemed to startle the Guardian, who looked shocked for the first time that Yellow had ever known her. "He is a demon." Yellow said again, stronger this time, the vehemence in his voice thick. "And so is Cosmos. And Hiko. They are all demons, from the nether realms. I saw it."
The Guardian started to speak, but then stopped. She was unsure of what to say, or how to say it. "They are not demons. They are Gods, Yellow Chrysanthemum. They are Immortals, in charge of universes."
"They kill each other," Yellow said furiously. "They don't act like gods."
"It is humans that think the Gods are perfect." she corrected him, softly. "It is we that are wrong."
She gently pushed him back down into bed. "You are tired. You had a vision, and it took a lot out of you. Sleep for now. Tomorrow, the real training begins."
They stood in the valley that they first visited when Yellow arrived. He watched, very quietly, while his teacher knelt by the river and dipped her fingers into it. As she brought her fingers back up, dripping, Yellow had another flash of images and sounds, but it lasted barely a second.
"I have been training you," the Guardian said, without preamble, "to replace me."
"Replace you? Why?" Yellow exclaimed. He was not that shocked, truth be told, for he had come up with several reasons why he had been chosen to under go the training, and replacing the Guardian was one of the options. But to actually hear it form her, to actually pry an explanation from her, seemed extraordinary.
"Because I need replacing." she replied to his question, with a hint of a smile. He didn't say anything. He had long since learned that silence was to be appreciated for what it was and not to make inane remarks simply to fill the gap.
The Guardian straigtened, and tapped her staff firmly into the ground. "I am the Guardian of Time," she announced. "I care for the time stream and gate, and watch over it for all mortals. You, Yellow Chrysanthemum, will take over my role as Guardian, when I can no longer fufill my duties. That is why you were taken from your family; to learn and understand your destiny as Guardian."
Yellow watched her in stunned silence. It was too much to take in all at once. The Guardian did not seem to want a response, however. She stepped up to him, and put a hand on his shoulder, directing him to the edge of the river.
"Time is this stream," she said. "It has a beginning, and an end, and it simply flows around any obstacles, washing and eroding anything in its path."
She bent down and picked up a leaf. "Mortals cannot see this properly, as they are in the stream. But here, in this valley, you and I are apart from the current. We are outside it, and can manipulate it. What I will teach you is how to change time's flow, and how to use it for the good of the Omniverse."
"The what?" Yellow stuttered. His head was reeling.
"I know that this is hard to take in. But the lessons must be learned now, boy, before you grow much older."
"How can I grow older, if we are outside time?" he asked, staring at the river and wondering if it would ever make sense.
"We are outside time now. But if we go back to the Palace, back to subjective reality, we will be affected, same as all mortals. We will be affected much more slowly, of course, but just the same." She said the explanation as calmly and as rationally as if she was telling him the weather. It made perfect sense to her.
She watched his face, looking at his reaction. "You are not ready."
"I am," he blurted, before he knew what he was saying. "I think."
The Guardian shook her head. "No, you are not. I can see that this does not make sense to you yet. We will return later, and try the experiment when you have had a chance to accept this."
She turned, and started up the side of the gully, leaving Yellow behind. She no doubt was assuming he'd follow her.
But he didn't. He sat on the river bank, looking at the water and letting his mind wander.
There were clouds that floated above his head, in the the slit of blue sky he could see from inside the gully. He lay down, in the dirt, and closed his eyes. He could hear the river, naturally, and a soft breeze, but he couldn't hear birds. Or insects. None buzzed around his nose or his ears. It was almost deathly still.
He opened his eyes again, and thought about what the Guardian had told him. Knowing exactly why he was here gave him a sense of closure, of relief. He was no longer a boy tossed around like hand-me-downs. He was a Guardian-in-Training, soon to be in control of Time itself. A cloud floated overhead, and as he stared up at it, he felt his concentration narrowing to it, shutting everything else out until all there was in existence was that cloud.
With a gasp he snapped out of his trance, and found himself on the outskirts of what looked like a village. Only this village was grotesque; the buildings were huge, monsters of metal, with sheets of glass for windows. People milled on the ground, which was divided by the buildings into strips of land covered with stone. Yellow jumped to his feet. He didn't know what to make of the sight.
Nothing he had seen so far in either Nova's Castle or the Palace prepared him for it. And the studies the Guardian gave him did not cover other places.
As he watched the people, he noticed how much like him they were. Some even seemed to resemble, superficially, the members of his village, and family. He looked behind him, and noticed that he was standing at the foot of a great mountain. Feeling panicked, he looked around him for something familiar, but couldn't find anything remotely recognisable.
A family was sitting near to him, enjoying food spread out over a blanket on the ground. The father noticed him, and called out. But Yellow did not know the language, which frightened him. Through all his journeys, no matter where he went, he knew what the people were saying; they were speaking his language. But these people were not.
The man got up, and approached him, still talking. Yellow knew he was asking whether Yellow was lost; the boy could tell that from the man's body language and tone of voice.
Yellow backed up as the man came closer. "I don't know what you're saying," he yelled. This startled the man, who clearly didn't understand Yellow either.
"I want to go back!" Yellow yelled, up at the sky. He saw the same little cloud that had floated over his head in the gully--
He was back.
He sat down, shaking. He felt like crying, but knew that the Guardian would not approve, if she found him. He waited a little while, until his nerves felt better. Then he got to his feet, and climbed out of the ravine.
The Guardian was waiting for him. She said nothing, but continued on her way back to the Palace, as if he had only lagged behind for a second.
Every day, it seemed, the Guardian called him away from his exercises, or his lessions, to spend some time by the stream, reflecting on its true meanings and meditating. Sometimes he had visions, other times he did not. The Guardian never commented on them, until one day when he was explaining one where he had seen Hiko and Rayden fighting together on a beach, on an island.
"Why do I always see them?" he asked.
"You don't see them `always'," the Guardian corrected him. "But you do see them frequently."
"Why?" he persisted.
"Because you feel a connection with them. It makes visions that come to you more meaningful that way, if they are about people and places you know." she explained. She was leaning against the wall of earth, her staff pulsating gently. She shifted, and he noticed that a smear of dirt was on her dress, the long, immaculate black dress that she wore constantly. He had never seen her in anything different.
He looked back over the water, and noticed a small red reflection. He looked back at her staff.
"What is that for?" he asked.
She paused, rearranging herself again. She was not one to fidget, so Yellow assumed that something must be poking her, to make her so uncomfortable. "The staff focusses the temperal energy, so that we can use it."
"Use it, how?" he continued.
She stepped forward, and bent down, to pick up a leaf. "I will show you," she said simply.
She walked to the water's edge, and dropped the leaf. The leaf floated gently along the surface, downstream.
"Retrieve the leaf," she commanded.
Yellow was hesitent. The closer he got to the water, the more vivid and long lasting the visions were, and he did not want to actually immerse himself in the stream.
She nodded. "I do not want to enter the water, either." she said. It was the first time she awknowledged the river's power. Instead of getting into the water, she lifted the staff. The red jewel atop it glowed. Yellow watched, fascinated, as the water seemed to lift itself up, tossing the leaf back to the Guardian, who caught it. The leaf wasn't even wet.
"That is what the staff is for," she said, holding out the leaf, but Yellow didn't take it. "It is so we can control the flow of Time without immersing ourselves in it."
Yellow nodded, understanding. "May I try it?"
Wordlessly, she handed the staff to him. He was surprised how light it was. He rested the bottom on the sandy ground and waited for her next instruction. She tossed out the leaf, again.
"Now," she began, but Yellow already seemed to know what to do next. He started to lift the staff when the water heaved itself upwards in a great tidal wave, starting down towards them. The Guardian actually screamed, and leapt for the staff when the water crashed down around their heads.
Yellow panicked, clutching the staff for support as the wave slammed down on him. He staggered backwards as the flood of images, sounds, smells and memories splashed down, soaking him completely. He strained against the flow, willing the water to go backwards.
It did. The water surged upwards, and sank back into the river. In a second it was the same burbling stream it had always been.
The Guardian stood to the side, shaking. The leaf was perched on top of her head. Like Yellow, she was drenched.
He handed the staff to her, and she took it as though it was a life preserver.
He sat on the edge of the gully. There were footsteps heading towards him, but from the sound, he could tell that it was not the Guardian, who walked through the meadow with quiet grace. He did not have to turn to see who it was, though.
"Rayden," he said quietly.
The god sat next to him on the edge. He was careful not to touch the boy. "Yellow. By the Creator, how you've grown."
Yellow said nothing, but stared straight ahead.
Rayden sighed, taking note of the behaviour. "I know you're mad for my not seeing you very often, but you have to understand--"
"That you are in the midst of a battle with your brother for control of your Realm." Yellow finished. "I know."
"Ah. The Guardian told you--"
"Nothing. I see it. When I look into the water, when I sleep. The battles of Mortal Kombat are disturbing the very fabric of the Omniverse." Yellow snapped.
Rayden was taken aback by the sharpness in the boy's voice. He couldn't, however, say anything to contradict Yellow, for what he said was true. The war with Outland was disturbing the natural flow of things in the Omniverse.
"I came here," he began, at last, "to tell you that the Guardian has been invited to a gathering of the Deities. She technically a mortal, but she is the Guardian."
"What does that have to do with me?" Yellow asked, finally turning to look at Rayden, his eyes burning with curiosity.
"You have been invited, if you want. It's up to you, but it would be you'd get to see Nova again. And mingle with other people." Rayden explained. "It would be good for you. I think you should go."
"You'd make me?" Yellow exclaimed.
"No. You're fourteen now, you can make up your own mind. I just think it would be good for you to see other people. You can't grow up with only Samantha for company." He chuckled. "I just can't think about what it would be like with only her for company."
"I've grown to like her, a lot," Yellow replied, huffily.
"I only meant she's not an avid conversationalist," Rayden explained. "What's wrong? You're very defensive."
Yellow didn't reply.
"Nothing is wrong," he said quietly. He slipped down off the perch of the bank, he walked over to the stream, sitting cross-legged on the shore. "It's time for my meditation," he called up, closing his eyes.
Rayden got the hint, and left, without saying goodbye.
Yellow could barely get through his dinner fast enough. He kept thinking of Rayden's invitation, and what it meant for him. A chance to see other people, even if they were gods. Even if they weren't like him.
A small voice in the back of his mind reminded him that no one was like him, but he squashed the voice. It was his first chance to meet people since his whole new life began.
But what he was most excited about was the chance that Nova would be at the gathering. He hadn't thought about her in literally years, but she was always hovering in the back of her mind.
He also felt guilty about the way he had treated Rayden. It wasn't Rayden's fault that his fighting with Shao Kahn kept the Guardian-in-Training up most of the night reliving the battles; it wasn't Rayden's fault that he was a Deity, that he had powers that scared the village boy. Yellow tried very hard to ignore that fact. He had grown so much, but at the core he was still a five-year old boy from the mountains.
He shook off the depressing thoughts and set about planning what to wear to the gathering. He wanted to show Cosmos and the others that he was more than a backward mortal; he was the next Guardian. He had not asked Rayden when the gathering was, exactly, but he supposed the Guardian did, and would tell him.
"It's tonight?" he yelled, leaping out of his chair. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
The Guardian, for once, looked surpised. She was taken off guard by his outburst. "I didn't know you were going, Yellow."
"Well, I wanted to," he said, miserably, turning his chair up and sitting down.
"You still can," she consoled.
"How can I? I haven't had time to make anything." He buried his head in his arms. "And I can't wear my everyday clothes."
"Make it?" The Guardian continued, startled. "Why would you make it?"
"How else?" he asked, bring his head up but still resting his arms on the table. "Besides, I've been studying fashion and sewing lately, just as coincidence. I know I could do it."
"I know you could," she said, confidently. "But that's not the point."
"What is the point?"
She smiled. "The point is that there are some advantages to living in a palace. I'll ring for the Palace tailors, and give them your measurements, and you will have a suit for tonight."
"Are you serious?" he asked, before he realised what he was saying. He ducked his head, sheepishly.
"Always." She said it seriously, but there was a twinkle in her eyes.
That day, Yellow could barely get through his studies. His time spent by the river was next to useless; he couldn't sit still long enough to concentrate properly to call forth any visions. And when they did come, they were quickly disrupted by thoughts of Nova. He couldn't wait to see her, and talk to her, and tell her about all his training. They could finally have a tea party. He knew what they were now. He could eat with a fork. He wasn't scared of the dark, and he knew all about telescopes. He could tell her, and then they'd play--
The Guardian's voice floated down into the gully, startling him. He looked up to see her standing on the edge. "Yes?"
"You need to come back to the Palace, now," she said, somber as always. "Your meditating is not going well."
He didn't respond except to get up from the edge of the river and follow her back to their wing. There, however, he found she led him to his room, instead of to the study.
"Guardian...?" he asked.
She merely opened the door and gestured towards his bed.
Lying on top was a new suit. It was purple, with a tunic top and trouser bottom, and featured a black strip along the cuffs and tunic. The tunic had a lighter purple belt and fastened along the top with a flap that covered the front; it didn't meet in the middle like most of the shirts that Yellow had researched. He looked up to see the Guardian fingering the material.
"It is of an Imperial cut," she said, "And well made. It will suit you for a long time to come, and the tailors are standing by to adjust it after you grow."
"Thank you," he said softly, truly meaning it.
"You're welcome," she replied, sincerely meaning it as well.
He was very nervous. The Guardian opened a portal and stepped through it, confident and gorgeous in a long purple and black dress that showed off her thigh-long hair.
Yellow wore his new suit, and had washed and tied back his own jet-black hair in a small pony tail. Taking a deep breath, he stepped through.
It was like nowhere he had ever been before. It resembled, superficially, Nova's castle. It was a single large room, with a high arching ceiling and magnificant frescoes. Gilt adorned everything. He knew it was vaguely reminiscent of Earth's European archecture, but he couldn't recall from when. His lessons never covered history.
Candles were arranged artfully at regular intervals along the wall, for both form and function. The Hall--the Great Hall, he supposed--was packed. There were literally thousands of people--deities--there, and he and the Guardian were the only mortals.
It began to give him an even worse feeling in the pit of his stomach.
He scanned the crowd for the Guardian, but she had disappeared into the mingling mob. He started to feel panicked, as he approached the crowd, for he had never, ever, been around this many people at once. There were more deities here than mortals in his village, and he started to get the urge to run back to the Palace. Then he remember he had no way to run back to the Palace without the Guardian's portal.
"Yellow?" Someone called to him from behind. He jumped a foot, but then recognised Rayden's voice.
"Hello," he stuttered, as the god came over, punch glass in hand.
"It's good to see you here," Rayden said, with a grin. "I knew you'd want to come."
Yellow just smiled wanly, and rubbed his palms--discretely, he hoped--on his trousers. Rayden laughed.
"I know it's a big crowd. But you'll get used to it. There's always three stages at a gathering like this; excitement, terror, and then you get used to it. Trust me." he said, clapping a hand on the Trainee's back. "I like the suit. Very dashing, if I do say so myself. You look twenty-one. Speaking of that--" Rayden broke off his sentance to disappear into the crowd. Yellow, finding the panicked feeling return, started to edge himself towards one of the walls, where the concentration of party-goers was less.
He leaned against one of the walls, near the candles, when someone approached him. It was a woman, a few years older than he was. "Hello," she said, sweetly.
He stared. With her red hair, she looked a lot like Hiko, but younger, and with more of a spark in her eyes. "Hello," he said back, politely. He had no idea who she was, or what she wanted.
She seemed to get a little uncomfortable, and started fidgeting as the silence stretched on longer and longer. Yellow kept looking at her, a slight sensation of recognition creeping into his brain. "Oh..." he gasped, as recollection snapped in. "You're Nova!"
"I am," she said. She smiled. "You must be Yellow, then. Rayden told me you'd be over here."
He grinned broadly, wanting to tell her so many things at once that he couldn't think of where to begin. "I--"
She held out her hand, interrupting him. "I'm of the Fire Clan and the Space Clan. It's nice to meet you, Yellow. Rayden said we'd get along really well."
He took her hand, numbly. He was in complete shock and felt giddy; she didn't know who he was. She didn't remember him.
"It's nice to meet you too," he heard himself saying. Inside, he felt like he had broken into millions of tiny pieces. He had waited for years for the chance to see Nova again, to prove that he wasn't the backwards mortal her father thought him to be. And she didn't remember him.
There was another long silence. Yellow was not talkative by nature, and the years with the Guardian had reinforced that. His natural quietness coupled with the awkwardness of the situation and his horrendous heartache created an atmosphere that killed any conversation that Nova started. It wasn't long before she made an excuse to leave Yellow standing by the wall, alone.
Rayden watched the two. Yellow wasn't talking much, which Rayden expected from the boy, but there was also something else going on. It took the deity a moment to pin it down: Nova didn't remember her former playmate.
"Poor Yellow," he said, out loud, to himself. "He must be crushed."
"Oh?" said a voice, next to him. He turned to see the Guardian. He nodded towards the pair. Nova was already leaving, Yellow staying behind and looking forlorn.
"I thought this might happen," the Guardian said softly. She shook her head and sighed. "I should never have allowed him to come."
"You can't keep him looked in a crystal tower forever, Samantha." Rayden took a sip of his drink. "He's bound to get out and meet people and have bad experiences. Part of growing up."
"I find this amusing," she began, with a slight grin, "that you are giving me the lecture on growing up. How long has it been now, Lord Rayden? One, maybe two dozen millennia?"
"Point taken," Rayden acknowledged, shaking his head. "I just hate to see him all alone like that."
"That is the path that he's on." The Guardian tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "I have tried, myself, to lead two lives, and it does not work. They both suffer."
"He should have that choice," the diety said softly.
"We all have things in our life we must do regardless of the consquences, without being offered a choice. This is his; it is for the good of the Omniverse, and you know that," the Guardian finished sternly.
Rayden didn't say anything in return, but watched the boy leaning against the wall, alone in a sea of people.
Yellow watched the seemingly endless parade of people. Some, like him, seemed to want to stay by the fringes and not be swallowed whole by the crowd, but most seemed comfortable to be tossed around like flotsam.
He had long since lost sight of Rayden, and of Nova, and of the Guardian, although he thought he saw her for a moment. He wasn't sure. He leaned his head against the wall, wondering how long he had to stay here when he got a peculiar feeling at the base of his skull.
He touched the back of head, to make sure he wasn't leaning against anything, and sure enough, he wasn't. The feeling instensified, and then he noticed someone in the crowd.
The majority of the guests wore fancy clothing, spectacular dresses and showy tuxes, depending, of course, on their respective culture. Rayden, for instince, had worn a variation on his white robes. Nova had worn a stunning red mandarin dress and the Guardian wore her simple but striking purple and black slip dress. But the face that Yellow picked up was not wearing anything fancy at all.
He--a tall, bald man--wore leather, festooned with skulls and chunks of armour. He bore a resemblence to Rayden and Yellow realised that he was Shao Kahn, the leader of the Outworld. And he was heading straight for the Guardian-in-training.
Panicked, Yellow looked around for some where to run to. There was only the small corridor leading from the room, which he knew had a dead end--it was for portals only--and the Great Hall. He tried to calm himself, knowing that Shao Kahn would certainly not try anything with so many deities surrounding him--
"Boy." Yellow looked up, and up, and up. Rayden was certainly tall but his brother quite a bit taller. It could have been the boots.
"Yes?" he asked, politely.
Shao Kahn grabbed him by the collar. "You will address me as Sir, mortal."
"Yes, sir," Yellow stammered, feet on their tip-toes.
Shao Kahn smiled and let Yellow down, slightly, but still held to him by the collar. People had begun to notice what was going on, and the party had stopped. Rayden and the Guardian pushed themselves to the front of the crowd.
"Let him go," Rayden warned, a ball of lightning growing in the palm of his hand.
"Or what? You cannot hurt me here," Kahn sneered. "You know the rules. `No gods can cause harm in the Great Hall'."
Reluctantly, Rayden let the lightning dissapate. "Leave the boy alone."
"I do not think so," Shao Kahn said, smiling and shaking Yellow slightly. "I've grown rather fond of him. I think I'll keep the runt."
The Guardian stepped forward, her staff raised, but Rayden held her back. "What do you want, Shao?" he asked, loudly.
Kahn kept grinning. "What I've always wanted, Rayden. Earth."
"It's only if you win at Mortal Kombat, and you know that," Rayden replied harshly. "Nothing can change the rule."
"Nothing can change it now," Kahn said smartly. "Isn't that right, boy?"
The Guardian gasped. "He is not capable--"
"He is and you know it," Kahn snapped. He shook Yellow harder. "He's my ticket to what should've always been mine."
Yellow gulped, and closed his eyes. He was getting an powerful impulse to faint away completely, but he wouldn't let himself. He bit down on his lip to keep from crying out as Shao Kahn lifted him higher and wrapped a beefy hand around his neck. "Do it, boy," he commanded. "Take me back in time."
"Do it, mortal, I'm ordering you." Kahn barked, squeezing.
Yellow whimpered, and clenched his eyes shut, trying to think about how to change time, to take this tyrant back, if only he'd let him go--
"Stop it!" howled the Guardian, charging forward only to be held back by Rayden and a few other deities. "Leave him alone!"
"Are you willing to change time for me?" Kahn inquired sweetly. She was silent. "I thought so."
Yellow was concentrating, the way he did when he was meditating. As it had always happened before, he could sense when the visions were about to hit. This time, through supreme effort, he forced them away from himself and to Shao Kahn. He willed them to the angry god, hoping that Kahn could at least pick up on them. Perhaps they wouldn't affect him at all--
Kahn gasped, and clutched his forehead. He jerked back and loosened his grip enough that Yellow managed to push him backwards, then leap out of arm's reach, scrambling to join the others.
Kahn swore several deity curses, and started towards them. "Uh uh," Rayden said smugly. "Can't harm us. `No gods can cause harm in the Great Hall'."
Kahn scowled. He became momentarily alarmed by the Guardian, as she stepped forward, her staff raised, the jewel pulsating. "You can't harm me," he growled.
"Not true, as I am a mortal," she said, a dark tone to her voice, "and as you so plainly demonstrated, mortals are exempt from the rule."
Shao Kahn backed up a few steps, knocking into the wall. He was cornered. She raised her staff above her head, the jewel glowly brightly enough to turn heads away from it. "Time Beam Crystalisation!" she yelled, swooping the staff down to point it at the trapped deity.
He screamed as the blood-red beam lanced out, striking him. As it hit, his scream was cut off, frozen, by the skin of red crystal that surrounded him. She stepped forward, and raised the end of her staff. None was sure what was going on until Rayden darted in, and held the staff aloft.
"You can't," he said.
"I can," she replied, stiffly.
"You can't. It's not your job to take care of him, it's mine." Rayden lowered the Guardian's staff and stared her straight in the eye. "Send him home."
Sighing deeply, she waved with her hand. The crystal emperor vanished.
She turned, and looked for Yellow, in the crowd. He was standing to the side, wide-eyed with terror. She held out her hand to him. Hesitently, he approached her, and took it. The moment he did, the two vanished in a burst of red light.
Startled, the crowd was silent for a moment, but gradually, conversation and mingling started anew, and the partyers went back to their former activities, except for two.
Nova and Rayden watched the spot where the Guardian and Yellow had disappeared. "I have a bad feeling about this, Rayden," the younger deity said softly.
"So do I, Nova. And I have a bad feeling that it's only going to get worse for Yellow." He watched for a moment longer, then turned back to head into the crowd.
"That was very smart of you," she began, "to use the visions against him. It would have never occurred to me, at your age."
"I'm sure when you were my age you never had to think of it," Yellow replied, his voice full of bitterness. He sat on the edge of the gully, hunched over and ignoring the Guardian as she came to a stop next to him.
"That is true," she admitted, finally. "I did not have your strength, your power, until I was quite a bit older. By then, I had been trained as a Soldier, and fighting was second nature to me."
He looked up at her, at that point. "I didn't know you were a soldier."
"I still am; I fight to protect my adopted Realm. I've made many mistakes in my life, due to my soldier loyalties winning over my duties as Guardian. I hoped to spare you all that." she said, somewhat sadly. "I've done everything I can to spare you the mistakes that I made; but as they say, to err is human. You will make mistakes, your own, and I was foolish to think otherwise."
At any other time, Yellow would have been astonished to hear an actual confession and apology fall from the Guardian's lips; but now he was too wrapped up in his own misery to notice.
"Why do I have to be human?" he asked, fiercely. "What aren't we Immortals? Why make the Guardian a human?"
"No one knows," she admitted. "It is the will of the Creator."
"The Creator made a big mistake," Yellow snapped. "We should be powerful, like they are. So that they can't push us around."
"Yellow," she said gently, putting a hand on his shoulder, "we are powerful. We are far stronger than even the Elementals. We only need to train for far longer than they do, but even Rayden needed to learn to use his powers."
"Really?" Yellow asked.
"Really and truly. He was once young, like you, and didn't even know what he was capable of. But he learned, and he practised, and soon he was strong enough to stand up to those around him. No one is that strong overnight."
Yellow nodded, and she patted him. "I have to go, to see the King and Queen about a mission they wish me to go on. I will see you in the morning?" she asked. He nodded again.
"Good." She got up, and headed out of the meadow, the door to their Realm opening with a thought.
Yellow, however, had no intention of following. He slipped down the bank, and walked purposely over to the river.
He stared at its quiet surface, with its murky depths. It was how he felt; calm on the outside, quiet, reserved. But just underneath he raged, furious and ashamed that he was human, that he could be treated as nothing by those around him. He longed to be able to deserve respect and fear from people like Shao Kahn, who only admired power.
He saw a ripple, a tiny splash, in the river, as he thought about getting even with Shao Kahn. "I wish..." he whispered out loud, and saw a larger ripple. It seemed that there was something under the surface that was working its way upwards. "I wish..."
The ripples were stronger now, the water was starting to foam.
"I wish I was..."
Yellow watched the water with a fascination he hadn't felt in a long time. It seemed to be reacting to his thoughts, and his words. He gathered himself together mentally, and focused all his anger, and embarrassment and rage into the water. With a sudden splash that soaked the boy even as he jumped backwards to escape the wave, something emerged.
"What...are you?" Yellow asked, terrified, but before the person could respond, Yellow knew the answer. It was himself. It was himself, formed of water from the stream of Time.
The water Yellow smiled, and Yellow saw his own sunny smile reflected on the being's face. "You already know who I am."
The voice was not the mortal's, though; it was a combination of running water and the whispering of a thousand tiny voices.
"What do you want?" Yellow whispered, backing away from the apparition, which hovered over the surface of the stream.
"I want to help you," it answered, still smiling. "Help you achieve your true potential."
"I am you," the being continued, "I am yourself, your true self, the self that you have been working toward."
"I don't--" Yellow tried to explain, but the being cut him off.
"I am one with the nature of Time. I am Time, as much as Time can be said to be anything," the spirit explained, amused by Yellow's reactions. "And I can give you want you want."
"What I want..." Yellow trailed off. The being nodded.
"I can show you what you want to see--I can give you your true powers in minutes, instead of the years that it will take you to absorb me." It smiled, and drifted towards him, stopping at the shoreline.
"What are you?" Yellow asked again, taking a timid step forward.
"I am your Timeself, the aspect of you that controls your powers. You are far stronger than even the Guardian suspects," the being laughed. "You wish to take me in, a droplet at a time. The Guardian wants you to do it slowly. But you don't have to."
"I can have my powers, now?" Yellow asked, feeling a tightness of breath. He took another step forward. This was almost too much for him.
"You already have your powers," the being said, gently. "You must only accept them for them to activate themselves."
Yellow was face to face with the being, eye level, even though the spirit floated a few inches off the top of the stream. The mortal realised that his doppelganger was smaller than he was. With that fact in place, the being's explanation flew together. It was himself. He was it.
He held out a hand, very slowly, to touch the spirit, who seemed made of water yet held itself like a solid person. As soon as Yellow's hand was past the shoreline, the being grabbed it.
Yellow screamed as the being pulled him down, into the stream. Images flashed by his eyes, the cacophony grew louder in his ears as he flailed, trying to get back on shore. The waves grabbed at him, pulled at him, tugged him down, trying to drag him under, to the depths. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't see, the visions crowding past each other faster and faster until he couldn't make sense of anything any more, his pulse was loud in his ears--
He broke the surface, taking gulps of air, even as the voices and the waves threatened to capsize him again. He tried to pull himself ashore, but there was nothing to grab on to, nothing to hold, he couldn't touch the bottom he was drowning in people and places and memories and feelings and he screamed again, but he was underwater, it rushed into his mouth and his lungs and he couldn't get any air--
The Guardian knelt in front of the Throne, listening to the King speak when she suddenly gasped, shuddering. She got up, and started running towards the door, not even paying attention to the cries of the Queen for her to stop. She had to get to the valley, something was terribly wrong.
She activated her staff, transporting her to the gully. There was no sign of Yellow, although there was a circle of ripples in the center of the river, as though there was a fight going on under its surface.
She realised in a flash what had happened, and brought her staff up. She used her full concentration to try and drag Yellow up from under the water, but the stream was fighting her, it wouldn't let him go. She strained against the pull when she spotted a flash of purple from just under the surface.
It was Yellow. He was fighting for air, but he couldn't quite make it. Now she had an objective, she knew where he was. She channelled all her powers into pulling him up, but something was fighting her every step of the way. There was another flash of purple, and she recognised his arm.
Making a snap decision, she dropped the staff, and threw herself at the water's edge, grabbing the sleeve. She was not actually in the water past her elbow, and already she could feel the water's effects, clouding her vision and making it hard to concentrate. But she had a grip on him, she wasn't going to let him go. She pulled, and pulled, and slowly she began to drag him from the water.
It was hard, and her boots did not have much purchase on the sandy shore, but she managed to pull him from the water. She started to haul him up, farther up the beach, away from the water, when the being raised itself up from the waves.
"Let me go," it howled. "I was almost--"
"No," she said, vehemently. "You're not ready! It's too much--"
"You can't know that," it screamed. "It is my life! Let me go! I almost had it!"
She ignored its screams, and wails, and set about checking whether Yellow was still breathing. He was, although weakly. For a second, he snapped into consciousness. He looked at her from watery eyes and started to say something.
"Let me go back," he whispered, before fainting again.
"He nearly died?" the incredulousness in Rayden's voice was obvious. "How? Why? I--"
"You're misunderstanding, Rayden-sama. He didn't nearly die. He fell into the Time Stream," the Guardian explained, wearily. "He was trying to absorb the knowledge it offered all at once, instead of over years, over a life-time."
Rayden looked over at the bed, where Yellow lay. The mortal was fast asleep, looking no worse for wear. "Is he going to be okay?" he asked, quietly.
The Guardian nodded slightly, and then sat down on the bed side, rubbing her eyes. "I am afraid for Yellow, Rayden. I don't even know how it will begin to affect him. I was years older before I had even an inkling of what it all meant, or what I could do." She paused, grasping for words. "I do not even have the potential that he has. I don't know how he'll be able to handle it."
"I wonder how this happened," Rayden pondered. "If he knew the risks--"
"I don't think he did. He knows that the river is the source of our visions, but I don't think he truly understands its significance," she countered.
"Perhaps he just fell in?" Rayden suggested. She shook her head.
"I saw his Timeself. Subconsciously, he created that aspect of himself in the water, as a way of expressing something he was feeling. I saw it, talked to it." She was shaken by the memory, and Rayden put an arm around her shoulder, comfortingly.
"What did it say?" Rayden inquired. He added quickly: "But you don't have to tell me, if you don't want to."
"It wanted me to throw him back," she said softly, leaning out of Rayden's embrace to touch Yellow's hand gently. He didn't respond. "It wanted him to remain, immersed in the Time stream."
"But I thought he was terrified--"
"He was," she said, softly. "I heard him scream in my heart, he was so frightened. But a part of him craved it, enjoyed it. Welcomed it." She closed her eyes. "Oh, Rayden. What if he turns out like Shao Kahn, enjoying power for itself?"
"He won't," the god said firmly. "You've done a wonderful job raising him, Samantha. He's got a good head on his shoulders. It must have only been curiosity that drew him into the water, you know what he's like."
"True," she admitted. "But--"
"No buts. Now, you're very tired, and you've had a long day. I think it's time for you to get some rest." Rayden got up, and pulled the Guardian to her feet, leading her from the room where the mortal lay asleep.
Yellow awoke some time later, long after his caretakers had left. The room was dark, and he had a throbbing pain in his head, so he tried to get back to sleep, but he couldn't. Now that he was awake, he was wide awake, and he might as well get up. He had to do so slowly as he was dizzy, and very disoriented, but he managed to get up in the end.
Swinging his legs around, he stood up, and made his way, carefully, to the mirror. He looked into it, as his reflection. He didn't look any different.
For some reason, the minute he woke up, he thought that something about him had changed, but nothing had. Nothing on the outside, at least. On the inside...
He could close his eyes, and not see visions, as he had for the past several years. There were no disjointed sounds and sensations, and it seemed eerily quiet inside his own head. He sat back down at the edge of the bed, trying to remember what had happened.
He remembered being at the water's edge, seeing the spirit, having it pull him in. The rest was a blur, but he could remember the feelings of panic and terror. There was also a curious sensation that he was more complete, but he didn't know what to make of that, so he left it alone for the moment. He got to his feet again, still wobbly, when he thought he noticed a movement in the mirror.
Startled, he looked over to see someone else's reflection, although he was alone in the room. The man in the mirror was tall, and looked vaguely like Yellow although his eyes were dark green and his hair was as well. He wore a costume like the one Yellow had worn to the Hall, but slightly different, and with a cape. He carried a staff like the Guardian's.
"Who are you?" Yellow whispered. The figure looked at him, a cold look in his eyes. Startled, Yellow backed up, in case the stranger decided to leave the mirror. But the image only flickered, then returned to a normal view of his room.
Yellow sat back down on the bed, his heart thumping. What did that vision mean? Was it a vision, or some sort of magic, done on his mirror by the strange man?
He got back into bed, his head swimming with the implications of it all, trying to comprehend the meaning with a thumping headache. It was too much. He lay back down, and tried to sleep again. He thought it would be too difficult, but he managed to, at any rate.
He was woken up in the morning--judging by the amount of the light in the room--by the Guardian, shaking him gently on the shoulder.
"Yellow, wake up," she said. He did, rubbing his eyes.
"What happened?" he groaned.
"I was going to ask you that myself," she said dryly. "Come on now, sit up."
Groggily, Yellow sat up, propping himself up with his pillows. He noticed how tired she looked, how weary. "Are you okay?" he asked.
She waved the comment away, as if it didn't matter. Perhaps to her it didn't. "I want to know what you were doing in the stream."
He looked ashamed. "I was--I saw a spirit, or a water sprite, or something, and it told me..." he trailed off.
"It told you?" the Guardian prompted.
"It told me that it could give me all the power that I could control. It said I could have enough strength to defeat Shao Kahn." he finished, miserably. Now that he said it out loud, he realised how foolish it sounded, how self-centered. He nearly killed himself, the future Guardian, in order to take care of someone else's problem.
The Guardian did not say anything, sensing Yellow's own guilt in the matter. She sat on the edge of the bed, watching him. Finally she spoke. "Did it work?"
"Pardon?" he stuttered, startled.
"Did you get the power you hoped for?" she clarified calmly, her voice devoid of emotion.
"I can't see the visions any more," he said hopefully. "Unless I want to, that is. I haven't tried anything else yet."
"I hope it was worth it," she commented. "Because there's nothing more I can teach you."
Yellow didn't know what to say. He sat up straighter, staring at her with wide eyes. "What do you mean?" he forced out, in a strangled voice. "Why can't you teach me?"
She shrugged slightly. "You have your full range of powers. I can sense them in you, already. All you need now is the wisdom to use them properly, and that I cannot teach you. There is nothing more that you can learn from me."
She got up from the bed, and started for the door.
"Wait!" he called, frantic. She turned, her long hair turning with the movement. For a moment, he could have sworn that the hair was green-tinged, but he was too distracted to take much notice. "What's going to happen now?" he asked, plaintively.
"I don't know, Yellow," she said softly. "I can't see my own future, and yours is up to you."
She turned again, and walked from the room.
He sat up, thinking about what she had said, for a long time. He knew that she was furious, in her own quiet, calm way. He was upset that she didn't see how beneficial this could be. Now there were two Guardians to protect the Omniverse; now they could take of Shao Kahn, and anyone else that threatened their safety. Why didn't she see it that way?
And what would happen to him, now? Where would he live?
The thought of being on his own terrified him. He wasn't old enough to live by himself yet. He didn't know how to cook--only in theory--and where would he get food, anyway? He had dim memories of his mother and sisters foraging for berries on the slopes of the mountain, and of fishing with his father before his father died. But that's all he could remember.
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in," he called, hoping it was the Guardian, coming back to say that he could still live with her, stay with her, even though she couldn't teach him.
But it wasn't the Guardian. It was one of the Palace servants. She tip-toed in. "I was wondering if you wanted anything to eat, Yellow," she asked. He had met her on several occasions, and she had always been pleasant, and he had never thought there was anything remarkable about her. Now, though, if he let his mind wander, he could see dim outlines of people around her, on either side, stretching out infinitely (he assumed) in each direction. He had no idea what that meant.
She started to fidget as he stared at her. He blinked in surprise, and the images vanished. "I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head. "If I could get some soup, perhaps?"
She nodded, and left quietly, only stopping to have a final, furrowed look at him before the door shut. He relaxed when she was gone, and realised that he had been holding his breath. Why he was doing that, he didn't know.
He tried to get up again, to get dressed and figure out what he was going to do with himself. He found his uniform hanging over the back of his chair, cleaned and pressed, and he slipped it on. He felt better looking at his reflection. He definitely did not look the part of a helpless mortal, and he certainly didn't feel it any more. He brushed his hair, and put it back in a ponytail, to keep it out of his face. The Guardian liked to wear her long hair down, but Yellow disliked it; the hair got in his face.
As he was giving it a quick brush he noticed that it seemed to be a slightly different colour than it was yesterday. It had a deeper tone to it, and looked darker. He shrugged it off, and put his hair up.
He turned to see the mirror again, and noticed how much he looked like the vision in his dream last night. If it had been a dream. He was still confused about that aspect. But the image did resemble him, and it was dressed in clothes similar to his own.
He was so confused about the meanings that he thought he might meditate on the nature of the vision, and perhaps gain new insight into it. He sat on the bed, and closed his eyes, taking deep, calming breaths. Meditating was so second nature to him now that it happened with out a thought. But he noticed that he wasn't seeing visions the way he used to, as a bolt out of the blue; he could control them, stop them, or conjuror them, if he wished. He let the vision happen to him, hoping it would explain itself as it went...
The Guardian was facing Shao Kahn, her staff raised. She seemed very dim, indistinct, while the tyrannical deity was sharp, and clear. "Oh, really, Guardian," he sneered. "I'm sure I can change your mind."
He drew his sword, and charged after her. She was quick, and blocked his blows, but Yellow could see that she was tiring quickly. She wasn't up to top form, and Shao Kahn knew it.
Yellow wanted to help her, but he couldn't. He was just a spectator, watching the scene from the outside. He wished he could fight at her side, use his new powers--
She screamed as Shao Kahn caught her off guard, and the blade sank into her arm. The staff clattered to the floor, and she tottered backwards, clutching her wound, the blood pouring out from under her fingers. Shao Kahn stood over her, the sword raised--
Yellow snapped out of the vision with a jolt. His heart was pounding furiously, and he had trouble breathing. He knew that the vision was one of the future. At some point, the Guardian would get drawn into Outworld, where Shao Kahn would attack her and possibly even kill her. Yellow couldn't let that happen. He would have to warn her.
He started to get up, to find her and tell her what he saw when he saw his reflection. It was the reflection of a Guardian-no-longer-in-training; of someone who had no more to learn.
Grinding his teeth together in determination, and his hands balled in to fists, he made his mind up. He would get to Outworld himself, and find Shao Kahn, and make sure that he wouldn't harm the Guardian.
With an ease that surprised him, he created a portal to Outworld. He took a deep breath, and stepped through.
Only a few moments after he left, the servant came in, bearing a tray with soup and one of Yellow's favourite sandwiches. When she saw the empty room, she had a feeling that something was up to no good, and she hurried out, to find the Guardian.
The Guardian was sitting with Rayden, enjoying a cup of tea and a break when the servant burst in. "Guardian!" she cried. "Yellow's gone!"
The Guardian stood up so fast she nearly knocked the table over, but Rayden caught it. "What is it, Samantha? Is Yellow in trouble?"
"If he is, it's because he caused it," she said grimly. "I think he's gone to play with his new powers."
"I'll have to check his room. I can probably track the portal, if it wasn't too long ago," she said. Rayden nodded, and teleported them both to his room.
She raised her staff, and walked around with it, until the jewel began to glow over one particular spot, where Yellow had opened a portal. She paused there, her eyes closed, as she concentrated, tracking him.
She opened her eyes quickly, and looked Rayden in the eye.
"What is it?" the god asked.
"He's gone to Outworld," she said softly.
Shao Kahn smiled, showing as many teeth as he could. The mortal stood before him. He had teleported in, just a moment ago, and the best bit was that he was alone. The Guardian was no where in sight.
"You should have called," the deity said, standing up from his throne. "I wasn't expecting you. And how did you get around the barrier? I didn't invite you here."
"I'm a mortal. The Realm barriers don't effect me." he said, calmly. Kahn had to admit something was different about the boy now. He seemed confident, and sure of himself.
"No, I suppose they don't." The god stepped down one of the steps on his dias. "Let's discuss why you're here."
"You get right to the point." the mortal said sarcastically.
Kahn nearly burst out loud. The mortal was trying to play it cool when he had, in fact, no idea what he was doing. This was fabulous. A gift straight from the Creator. A Guardian-less apprentice who was too cocky for his own good. Kahn stepped down another level. That unnerved the mortal, slightly, which was good. The more unnerved the better. He stepped down another rung.
Now the mortal was backing up, clearly having second thoughts. Kahn took out his sword, that he had holstered to his side. "I think we both know why you're here, boy. You want to fight me, don't you? You want to take me on."
The mortal took a deep breath and a defensive stance. He clearly thought he had a chance. Kahn rolled his eyes skyward, thanking Providence for such a blessing when he was struck full in the chest by a blast of energy.
He staggered backwards, stunned, and realised it had come from the mortal.
Recovering from the blow, Shao Kahn charged forward, but ran into a invisible wall inches from the boy. He tried to back up, but found he was now pinned, on all sides, by force-fields.
The mortal stood inches from him, his eyes closed. He was concentrating. He opened them slightly to whisper: "Time stream memories flood."
Shao Kahn screamed as a flood of images, memories, smells and sounds overloaded his senses. He would have fallen to the ground in agony had the force-fields let him, but as it was he was compelled to remain standing.
Another wave broke over him and he fought down the impulse to scream again, once was enough. He tried to block out the tidal wave when all of a sudden, in was over.
He fell to one knee, gasping.
The mortal lay on the ground, trying to get up. Blood streamed from his nose, and he was shaking. Shao Kahn looked up to see his aide, Scorpion, standing over the mortal. The warrior grabbed the mortal by the collar and hauled him up. The boy was woozy from the blow, and not quite awake.
"Good work," Kahn said, with a sneer. "Just in time."
Scorpion only nodded slightly. "The boy will come in very handy," Kahn continued. "Once we give him to Shang Tsung and let the magician work on him. He will prove very useful to Outworld."
"Over my dead body," yelled someone. He turned to see the Guardian standing behind him, staff raised and ready to fight.
"That can be arranged," Kahn sneered. He gestured to Scorpion, who dropped Yellow and charged towards the Guardian.
She was not a martial artist. Her skills lay in the manipulation of Time, not in brute physical force. Shao Kahn hoped to overwhelm her with the combined forces of himself and Scorpion, but the Guardian saw through that plan quickly.
She brought the staff down, and yelled: "Time Beam Crystallisation!"
The red beam lanced out, and caught the Outworld warrior, who remained frozen in time. She raised her staff again, to swing it down and shattered the crystal, but Shao Kahn teleported his best warrior away to spare him the death.
The crystal disappeared, and the Guardian lowered the staff, waiting for Shao Kahn's next move.
Shao Kahn watched her dispatch one of his best warriors with a single phrase and he knew that the key in defeating her lay in removing her powerful advantage.
"Great Creator!" he yelled out loud. "I invoke the mystic calm!"
The Guardian was startled. She had hardly expected Shao Kahn to call upon the Creator for assistance. She wasn't sure what the deity had in mind, but she was determined to finish this fight and get Yellow out of harm's way before anything else could happen.
She raised her staff. "Time Beam--"
Shao Kahn laughed. "Do your worst."
"--Crystallisation!" she yelled, bringing the staff down.
Nothing happened. The jewel at the end of the staff was dark. Kahn laughed again.
"No one can use their powers when the calm is invoked," he explained. "That means it's just down to you, and me. No magic. Only skill." He unsheathed his sword.
She raised her staff.
"You could join me," Shao Kahn said, as they circled each other, each waiting for the other to strike first. "You are a soldier, you know the thrill of conquest. Together we could take the Earth Realm."
"My duties lie to my Realm and to the Omniverse," she sneered. "They will defeat your armies. You haven't half the strength you think you have."
"Oh, really, Guardian," he sneered. "I'm sure I can change your mind."
He drew his sword, and charged after her. She was quick, and blocked his blows, but she was tiring quickly. She wasn't up to top form, and Shao Kahn knew it.
She screamed as Shao Kahn caught her off guard, and the blade sank into her arm. The staff clattered to the floor, and she tottered backwards, clutching her wound, the blood pouring out from under her fingers. Shao Kahn stood over her, the sword raised--
Yellow faded back to reality, a throbbing pain on the side of his head making it hard to concentrate. Where was he? He wasn't at home, he was--
It came back to him in a rush. He was lying on the ground, in Outworld. He had come to attack Shao Kahn, and now...
He looked up, and saw with horror his vision unfolding before him. The Guardian was fighting the Emperor, and she was losing. He was too quick. The blade flashed as it caught the light, right before it sank into the Guardian's arm. She screamed, and dropped her staff, and staggered backwards.
"No!" Yellow yelled, struggling to get up. His cry alerted Shao Kahn to him.
"Oh, the boy is awake, is he?" he sneered. "So I get to kill both of you? Good."
"Yellow, get out of here, now," the Guardian pleaded. "Get away--"
"I'm not leaving you," Yellow said fiercely, on his feet. "It's my fault you're here."
"Get out of here," she repeated. "Teleport yourself--"
"That's enough," Kahn barked, stepping in between them. "Neither of you is getting away from me."
Yellow saw the staff lying on the ground, only a few feet from him. Taking a deep breath, he threw himself at it, landing and rolling to avoid the Emperor. He got to his feet again, holding the staff firmly. Shao Kahn made no move to stop him. The Guardian stood to the side, her face pale. She was mouthing something to him, but he didn't understand.
"You want to fight me, as well?" Kahn sneered. "Go ahead."
Yellow was frightened. He knew that something was seriously wrong if Kahn had been able to beat the Guardian, and as well, he couldn't feel his time powers. He couldn't sense them in the back of his head the way had been able to since he was nine. The silence scared him.
He blinked, and he noticed that there now seemed to be a line of Shao Kahn's standing before him. Some were dressed differently, and some were exactly the same. They moved when he did, as though they were shadows. They did seem shadowy, in a way, for they were indistinct and lacked solidity. He knew that they were the key to something, but he didn't know what.
Shao Kahn was getting impatient. The boy just stood there, staring, and had not even made a single move. The Emperor decided enough was enough and started forwards when the boy's lips started moving.
The jewel in the staff began to glow. That was impossible. He whirled to check the Guardian, but she seemed just as confused as he was himself. He turned back just in time to see the mortal raise the staff, and bring it down.
The Guardian clutched her wounded arm, watching as Yellow picked up the staff. He seemed to think he could defend himself with it. She tried to tell him about the magical restriction, but he didn't understand. Shao Kahn started forward, going for the kill, and she was ready to throw herself at him to protect Yellow when the staff lit up.
That was impossible.
Shao Kahn stopped in his tracks, frozen. On either side of him, stretching farther than either of the mortals could see, a line of doppelgangers appeared. They were live second exposures, ghostly figures that resembled the deity perfectly.
Yellow concentrated harder, pulling the clones farther apart, as though he were stretching them out on a string. The strain was becoming tremendous as he fought to keep them separate, instead of a blurred line.
Finally they were as far as they were going to go, and he released them. The tension fighting against him now worked in his favour, for they snapped together and for a brief instant they were a single entity. Then there was a burst of light, and they disappeared, as well as the original Shao Kahn.
Yellow let himself relax, and he nearly fell over as his legs gave out, but he held on to the staff and it kept his balance. He tried to stand, to show that he was all right, but it was all too much for him and he fainted dead away.
The Omniverse was in an uproar. The Council had been called, an emergency session, to discuss the ramifications if the rumours were true. If Shao Kahn was dead.
Obviously the biggest benefactor was Rayden, of the Earth Realm. The two brothers had been at odds for so long that some deities had forgotten that the war between them was responsible for the Barriers between Realms, and for the Mortal Kombat tournaments.
"Silence!" roared Celebria, Goddess of Truth, and the unofficial leader of the Council. "We must have silence!"
Gradually the crowd quieted down.
"We must have proof, substantial proof that Shao Kahn is dead before we decide what to do next," she continued. "Rayden?"
The white-haired Lord of Thunder stood. "I'm afraid I can't give you any."
There was a surge of noise around him, as fellow deities loudly protested the lack of faith in the matter, and the absurdity of Rayden's claim. Of course, if Shao Kahn was dead, there must be proof.
"Silence!" Celebria roared again, losing her temper. "Silence, or only Council members will be permitted to view the proceedings!"
There was instant silence.
"Rayden," she said calmly, her face still flushed from yelling, "What do you mean? If you have no proof, how can you make the claim that your brother is dead?"
"I didn't make that claim," Rayden corrected. "I merely said that I watched him vanish, and that I couldn't sense his presence in the Omniverse any longer. I never said he was dead."
"I see." Celebria held up her hand for quiet before the crowd even had a chance to get started. "Then you have no idea where he is?"
"None," Rayden agreed.
"You have a very developed ability to locate people throughout the Omniverse, do you not?" she asked, civilly.
"I do." Rayden agreed, rather proudly.
"And you cannot sense your brother?"
Celebria deliberated for a moment. "Then we have no choice but to--"
"I would like to say something in defence of Shao Kahn," called a voice. It was Cosmos, and as an Elemental, he had the ability to do so.
"Cosmos," Celebria acknowledged. It was a plainly known fact that the entire Council lived in fear of the temperamental and extremely powerful deity.
"I would like to say that I do not believe Kahn is dead," Cosmos said. "I, too, was watching the proceedings in Outworld, as Kahn is an old ally of mine." He cast a contemptuous glance in Rayden's direction, which the deity found hard to ignore. "And I do believe that some how, impossible as it might seem at first, that Shao Kahn was transported to another dimension." Cosmos finished.
"I would sense him in another Realm," Rayden snapped, losing his temper in the face of his nemesis.
"I know. He isn't in the Omniverse any longer." Cosmos sneered. He turned to Celebria. "I have been doing numerous experiments in the area--"
"Experiments?" Rayden snarled. "Using Hiko and Nova, no doubt?"
Cosmos seemed ready to explode at the comment. "I resent--"
"We all know about the way you're using them--"
"--these baseless accusations--"
"They're only too scared to stand up to you!"
Cosmos glared, and clenched his fists. He was ready to fight Rayden then and there, but at the last moment remembered the sanctity of the Council, and he let his anger fade. "I have been doing experiments," he began, semi-calmly, "and I do believe that there are other Realms beyond our own--"
"There are no other Realms," Rayden interrupted hotly. "You know that."
"I know no such thing," Cosmos snapped back. "I have found in my experiments--"
"Quiet, both of you," Celebria suddenly interrupted. "You have been forgetting the most puzzling aspect of Shao Kahn's disappearance--there was a invocation of the Creator to end magic powers for the duration of the fight on Outworld. Therefore, how could have the mortal--Guardian-in-training though he might be--have accomplished any of this? Cosmos?"
"I have no answer for that, Celebria," Cosmos admitted. The leader glanced at Rayden, who shook his head.
"Unfortunately, the mortal is recovering from trauma to the head and is not available to comment. And we have no reason to believe in the existence of Realms outside the Omniverse." Celebria continued, to the listening crowd. "Therefore--"
"Wait!" Rayden gasped suddenly, closing his eyes. He seemed to be concentrating on something. "I think--Shao Kahn is back!"
This time, no amount of Celebria's influence could stem the tide of comment from the deities present.
Yellow stood outside the door to the Great Hall. Being a mortal, his wounds were easy to fix by the immortal healers, and hours of recovery time became only minutes. He felt a touch on his shoulder and looked up to see the Guardian. She was tired, and worn, but her arm was healed.
"I wish I knew what was going on," Yellow whispered.
"As do I, but it's not our place," she said, leading him away to sit on one of the couches provided for waiting deities. "Yellow, I want to talk to you about what happened, on Outworld."
He looked up at her, solemnly. "I want to talk about why you looked different."
She paused, unsure of what he was talking about. "Yellow?"
"I see flashes of colour that aren't supposed to be there," he said quietly. "I saw your hair as green. Why?"
She didn't respond for a moment. "I think I know what you mean..." she trailed off, and her features shifted slightly,. Her hair became greener, still black but with a different undertone, and she became taller, and paler than he'd known her to be. He didn't do anything but stare at her. "You see, all my years living in this Realm has made me look different that I used to. Than you do, Yellow. My adopted people look different than yours, and when you first came to me, I felt that it would have been too strange for you, to see me as I really am."
She gently took a lock of his hair between her fingers. "It's even affecting you, being in this Realm."
"My hair's green, isn't it," he said, resignedly. "That must have been what the vision was. Me."
"I don't understand," she said, but he didn't offer any more information. There was a startled burst of noise from inside the Hall, and both mortals looked up.
"You had a question to ask?" Yellow prompted, once the shouts died down.
"I was going to ask you about what happened in Outworld. What you did to Shao Kahn. Several Council members came to ask you about earlier, when you were resting." The Guardian clutched her staff, as if for support. "I'm not sure what happened myself. Nothing in the Omniverse can use its magic where a restriction is placed, according to the ancient law."
Yellow looked confused. "I just used his versions against him."
"His versions?" Now it was the Guardian's turn to be confused. Yellow merely nodded.
"Don't you see them, if you're not paying full attention?" he asked, somberly. "The versions of people."
"No," she began, very slowly. There was a pause. "Can you see my...versions, Yellow?"
He stared at her, his eyes unfocussing. Then he nodded. "But you only have a couple on either side," he added. "Not very many at all."
She shook her head. "I knew that when we found you that you had special powers. I never realised that you'd exceed even my limits, so quickly."
He looked shocked. "You don't see them?"
"No," she admitted. "I saw them once, when you attacked Shao Kahn. But that's it."
He slouched over, the answers he was looking for not forthcoming from his mentor. "Oh."
She patted his shoulder. "We'll sit down, and sort this out, when I get back."
"Get back?" He straightened up. "Get back from where?"
"I have a mission I was assigned, by the King and Queen. I have to leave tonight," she explained. "But don't worry, you'll have the Palace staff nearby, to help you, if you need anything."
"How long will you be gone?" he asked, plaintively.
She shrugged. "As long as it takes, Yellow. I may be some time. Would you like Rayden to check in on you?"
"No, that's okay," he admitted. "I'll be fine."
His mind was already drifting towards what he could do, on his own. He nodded, to reassure her, and the Guardian smiled.