Yellow was alone. He picked idly at his dinner, his appetite not up to his normal standards. His head didn't hurt any more, but he didn't feel like going to meditate, or even going to the river valley just to think. The last time he had gone was just before he'd absorbed its powers. That seemed an eternity ago.
He missed the Guardian. He wished he could talk to her about the versions of people that he saw, but she obviously couldn't help him there.
He wished he had someone else to talk to, but Rayden was still tied up trying to figure out what had happened to Shao Kahn. The deity had returned (unfortunately for everyone) and was unable to verbalise what had happened to him. Several of the top telepathics were working even now to figure it out.
Yellow didn't know what the fuss was, but apparently he'd violated one of the oldest and strongest Omniversal laws, and in doing so had frightened everyone senseless.
He got up, leaving most of his dinner untouched.
Yellow decided to roam the wing. He never had, before, mostly because he had been too busy with other things or because the Guardian was with him. But now he had free time and no one watching over his shoulder.
He walked down the hallway, ignoring the door at one end as that was his own bedroom. There was one door on his left, that led to the valley; only he and the Guardian could enter it. Another door led to her sleeping quarters, and one opposite it opened to the dining room and study. The one at the end of the hall led to the rest of the Palace. That's it. Five doors. Nothing else. No other features on the smooth, crystal walls.
He was tempted to explore the rest of the Palace, but decided against it. He was more tempted to explore the Guardian's sleeping room. He tip-toed towards it, but stopped when he realised how silly that was. No one would see him, he didn't need to sneak around. He tried to go through the door, but she'd locked it, and she would definitely know if he teleported in.
So that was that.
He started back towards his room when he thought he could see something. The outline of a door? He looked at it more closely. It was definitely a small door, that stopped only two feet off the floor. It had no handle, and there seemed to be no way to make it open.
One thing that Yellow had brought with him from his home was a keen curiosity, and now that he'd found the small door, he was determined to see what lay beyond it. He tried to pry it open, but that didn't work, and he tried to will it open, like the valley door, but that didn't work either. He was stuck.
He pounded his hands on it in frustration and noticed that his hand caught on a small indentation. It was a small keyhole. It hadn't been there before.
He looked through it, but couldn't see anything at all. He sat back down, and stared at it in defeat. How was he supposed to get in? He couldn't even ask the Guardian about it, although something told him that she didn't know about it either.
He looked at the tiny keyhole, and it took a moment for it to register how irregularly shaped it was. It was roughly circular, but with jagged edges. It certainly didn't look like any key he had ever seen before--or had he?
Something tugged at the back of his memory. He had the key--it was something that belonged to him alone. But he couldn't quite remember...
Then it came to him in a flash of recognition, and he ran to his room, and dug out from under his bed a small wooden box. it was one he'd carved for himself, when he was smaller, around ten or so.
He opened the box, and sorted through small mementos that he'd saved from over the years. There, at the bottom, was the rock. The pebble that he'd been playing with when he first met Rayden. The one that had the crystal on the inside.
Taking it with him, he ran back to the small door, unsure of whether or not he could find it again. But he did. He slipped the rock into the keyhole, and it fit perfectly.
There was a small snap and the door slid open, so quickly that Yellow had barely enough time to grab the rock out before the door disappeared into the wall completely.
There was a small tunnel, pitch black and very narrow. Yellow just fit, barely. He took a deep breath and got on his hands and knees, crawling through. His rock he kept clenched in one hand and he made slow and steady progress. He couldn't see behind him, so he didn't know how far he'd gone, and he couldn't see anything in front of him.
After a few moments he began to get very claustrophobic. He was about ready to back up when he thought he could see a bright light at the end of the crawlspace. He started crawling faster, but the light never seemed to get any closer or larger. Finally, when he was just about to back up, the ground underneath him fell away.
He woke up with the sun on his face and the smell of pine in the air. He looked up to see tall trees, stretching up into the sky, so high that he couldn't tell where they ended before they were a point too tiny to see.
He was lying in grass. Not long, dried, wild grass, like in the gully, but short, smooth green grass. It was cool against his face and neck. He sat up, and looked around. He was lying next to a small pond that was the same size in diameter, roughly, that he was. It was at the foot of one of the trees, which was only the same size around as a middle-aged pine, but that was still tall enough to dwindle away to nothing high in the sky.
A few feet away was another pond, and another tree. And another, and another. He was in a forest, a pine forest, with each tree accompanied by a pond. No, that wasn't true, he corrected himself; two trees away from his own there was a dried up pond, just a dent in the ground that had been filled up by the grass. The tree that stood next to it was still healthy, although it seemed a little brown compared with the others.
Yellow wondered what it all meant, and where he was, anyway. There was a stillness in the air that he couldn't begin to describe. No birds flew among the branches, and no insects hummed over the ponds. There wasn't a breath of wind.
He got up, finally, and decided while he was here he might as well look around. He had no idea where here was, or even how to get back home. He looked around him carefully, and decided it would be a good thing to leave a marker on this particular tree, just in case he got lost. He ripped a strip of fabric from the bottom of his tunic, surprised at the strength of the material, and tied it around a clump of grass. None of the branches were low enough for him to reach, but the purple cloth showed very well against the green grass, and he was happy with it.
He left the marker and started out in a random direction. He had no idea which was he was headed, but he figured it wouldn't make much of a difference at any rate.
He walked for about half an hour, not seeing anything but trees and ponds. They stretched out forever. Tired, he sat down. He was starting to feel hungry--he wished he'd eaten more of dinner--and he felt like having a nap. He knew he shouldn't go to sleep in this place, just in case, but a drink of water wouldn't hurt. He bent down at the closest pond. It was free of bugs and algae, and looked crystal clear. He stooped forward to cup some in his hands when he felt a gentle but firm push and he fell in.
He woke up with a start. Sitting up, he realised he had no idea where he was. He wasn't at home, and he certainly wasn't in the wood any more. The last thing he recalled was falling into the pond, and as it was only a few inches deep he thought he would have only splashed into it and gotten a good soaking. Instead, he woke up here.
Here was a dark city, the buildings made of black metal with tinted glass windows. The streets were deserted, and the sky overhead was dark grey and green, the signs of a violent storm about to strike.
He got to his feet, quickly, and ran to the shelter of the nearest building. There was a slight overhang, and he was in the lee of the vicious wind. He huddled against the ebony wall, wondering how to get himself out of this whole mess when he noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye.
It was a pool of liquid, moving stealthily towards him. He watched in the fascination of horror as it pulled itself upright, forming a figure loosely shaped like Yellow, but without any detail on the surface.
It burbled at him. "Hello," he said back, unsure how one talked to liquid.
"Hello," it burbled.
Yellow paused. "I'm Yellow," he said.
"I'm Yellow," it burbled back.
He smiled. "You're just repeating what I'm saying."
"You're just repeating what I'm saying," it answered. Yellow nodded to himself, and noticed that another pool of liquid was heading towards him. It also pulled itself into a rough approximation of the mortal.
Yellow smiled, and nodded, but didn't say anything. The liquids didn't respond, but watched him with featureless faces. Another movement caught his eye. Yet another of the liquids was moving towards him. Several more were coming up behind him, he realised when he heard the burbling. Now he was starting to get uneasy. He tried to take a few steps to the side but one of the liquids, perhaps it was the first burbler, he couldn't tell, blocked his path. Now he was quite frightened.
The liquid reached out to touch his hand, but he jerked it away. He tried to teleport himself back home, but he seemed to hit against a metaphysical wall. He attempted to take himself back to the woods, but that didn't work either, something seemed to be missing.
He took the pebble out of his pocket, but one of the liquids didn't take kindly to the gesture and knocked the stone out of Yellow's hand. It went flying, landing several feet beyond the crowd. The mortal tried to push his way through, but the burblers wouldn't let him past, and tried to shove him against the wall.
Yellow, annoyed and frightened by this time lashed out with his powers. It was nothing too focused, just a general burst of energy, and the liquids surged away just long enough for him to scramble over to the rock, and pick it up. They came after him, gooey arms outstretched, but he erected a force-field around him, just like with Shao Kahn, and clutched the rock tightly. Then he thought of the forest.
Immediately the sounds of the burblers ceased, and the cold wind and dark sky were replaced with warm sunshine. He was back.
He looked around, and realised he was at the lip of the pond he'd taken a tumble into. He could tell that for when he'd fallen, his knee had taken a chunk out of the earth, leaving a muddy smudge on the grass.
He got to his feet. He was still shaking after his encounter with the strange beings, and the strange world. Although he was frightened by the experience, another part of him was eager to try another pond, to see if they all led to different worlds.
He walked over to another pond, one that was identical in most respects to the pond he had first fallen into. Taking a deep breath, he bent down towards the pond, and again he felt the gentle shove. This time, he distinctly remembered hitting the water before he woke up in the new place.
It was by the ocean. Yellow had never seen the ocean before. He'd seen pictures, obviously, but not an actual ocean. There was a slight breeze that came off the water, but it wasn't that cold a day. There were giant square rocks strewn over the beach.
He climbed onto one of them to get a better look. He could see an arm of the island, or peninsula, or what ever, stretching out to make an artificial bay. At one end of the arm lay a giant clock face, half buried in sand. Behind him there was a foundry of some sort, half hidden by trees.
He thought he saw a bird in the distance, but it was only a small cloud. He didn't see any insects, or any other signs of life, although there must have been, at some point.
He scrambled down the block's side, and found that behind the rock was a door. It had an electronic key, that used a combination of sounds, but he didn't know the combination, and he wasn't too eager to find the inhabitants of the beach, at any rate.
He walked along the beach, stopping only when he came to the rocky arm. He decided to climb along it, and found a small hatch. It was made of a rusted iron, and had a turning mechanism to keep it in place. He was tempted to open in, and to crawl down inside, but decided against it.
Finally, he decided just to sit a while, relax, and enjoy the ocean air. It was very peaceful, the only problem being the odd waft of seaweed, which wasn't pleasant, but he got used to it after a time.
Again he wished he had someone to talk to. He remembered meeting Nova again in the Hall, and how she had forgotten him, but that just made him wish for someone to talk to even more. The wind whipped his hair into his face, and he was getting cold.
He took the stone out of his pocket and held it tightly, wishing to be back in the forest.
He was. That time he didn't feel any length of time go by, he simply changed places. Pocketing the pebble, Yellow decided it was time for him to go now. He set off through the forest. Luckily he had flattened the grass in a trail for him to follow back, so he had no problem finding the pond with the purple marker.
He was a few steps away from the pond when he stubbed his toe on something. Curious, he bent down and picked it up. It was a buckle, made of steel, engraved with a skull. He regarded it for a moment, before putting it in his other pocket, and leaping into the pond.
There was the feeling of hitting water and then he found himself in the hallway, in the Palace.
He got up, and dusted himself off. He jogged down the hall and opened the door to his bedroom, ready to finish off his lunch.
Inside there were several people. One was Rayden, and another was Celebria, the leader of the Council. One woman, tall and blond, looked vaguely like the Guardian did. This woman was wearing a crown, and she stood as Yellow entered.
"Yellow, where have you been?" Rayden asked. "We were looking for you."
"I was just meditating," Yellow lied smoothly, slipping the rock and the buckle into his pocket. He didn't want to tell them about his discovery. Not yet. Something felt wrong about telling Rayden about the strange place.
"For two days? And what happened to you? You're a complete mess." Rayden looked incredulous. Yellow was confused.
"I've only been gone a few hours," he explained. "At least--it only felt like two hours." He chose not to explain the ripped tunic, the smears of dirt all over himself.
Rayden sighed, and the crown-wearing woman came forward. "Yellow Chrysanthemum?"
"Yes?" he asked, still confused by the crowd in his bedroom.
"I am the bearer of bad news, Yellow." She looked at him sadly, and put her hands on his shoulders. "The Guardian is dead."
Yellow stared at her, with wide eyes. "What are you talking about?"
"She is dead," continued the woman, with a sob. "She was--" her voice broke off. Rayden pulled Yellow away and Celebria led the crying woman to Yellow's bed, to sit down.
"She went on a mission. Some forces were trying to take over this Realm and she went out to help stop them." Rayden looked as though he had aged significantly. "But she wasn't up to her full strength yet. She was overwhelmed, and her friends couldn't save her."
Yellow backed away, not believing what he heard. "That's not possible."
Celebria bent down and picked something up off of the floor. It was the Guardian's staff. She held it out to him. A wave of horror washed over him, he knew that the Guardian would never be without her staff--while she was living.
"Yellow?" He heard Rayden asking, off in the distance. His heart was pounding in his ears, and all he could see was the staff, the jewel cold and dim. He reached out for it, and Celebria handed it to him.
He took it, and realised what that meant. He looked up to see the Goddess of Truth smiling. Sadly, but smiling none the less. "You are the new Guardian," she said. "I hope you can bear the job well."
Yellow felt something inside him had been ripped to shreds. He looked at the staff in his hands. He still couldn't believe. How dare this happen! How could this happen?
He threw the staff down violently, and the jewel shattered on the bedroom floor. He turned and ran from the room, Rayden already hot on his heels.
He reached inside his pocket, and took a hold of the stone. He clenched it in his fist, and thought of the wood, of the calm tranquillity that it offered.
Rayden watched as the mortal--the new Guardian--threw the staff against the floor so hard that it smashed. The action shocked everyone who witnessed it. Yellow took off, and Rayden chased after him, knowing how the boy must have felt, and wanting to be supportive, but the mortal disappeared in the middle of the hall.
Rayden closed his eyes, and tried to sense where he had gone, but he couldn't find a trace of Yellow anywhere. That was to be expected, if the mortal went to a different place in time, and there was nothing Rayden could do about that.
He went back to the room. "He's gone?" asked Celebria. Rayden nodded.
"He'll need some time," he said.
The Queen looked up. "I hope he comes back soon. What will the Omniverse be like with out a Guardian?"
"It won't come to that," Rayden assured her. "Yellow's a mature boy--he'll realise what needs to be done."
He stood in the wood, breathing hard, trying not to cry. He had grown to love the austere Guardian, and now she was gone. It was his fault, which made it harder to bear; if he hadn't gone to Outworld, she wouldn't have gotten hurt. She wouldn't have been too weak to fight on her mission. She would have survived, she would have been here now. It was all because of him.
And they wanted him to take her place. Well, he wouldn't. He couldn't. He started walking through the woods, aimlessly, trying not to think about her, and his own future.
What would he do?
It came as a shock to him, when he realised that he could, finally, go home. Go back to Earth, to his mountain home, to his family. He had always longed to go back. And since he could go to any time, it could be as though he never left. He could pick up the pieces, and start anew.
He started to retrace his steps, to find his pool, but he soon thought better of it. He was the Guardian now, and should learn to truly control his powers. The rock, he knew, was only a focus. He would do it for himself. Guardians did everything by themselves.
His mother wailed, as the house burned down, leaving only a white robe, as evidence that her son had been taken by supernatural forces, but only because she'd allowed him to.
Yellow watched, perched on the mountain side, as his wailing mother was led away, by his sisters. He had missed them so much, over the years. But he hadn't realised how...softened by time their memory had become. He didn't remember their primitive leather clothes, their huts, the smell. He had changed so much, he realised. He should never have come back. He could never have come back. He wasn't a little boy from the mountains named Yellow Chrysanthemum any more. He was the Guardian.
His mentor had told him that there was nothing more he could learn from her. And she was right, he could control his powers. But he needed wisdom to use them properly. He needed a sense of what he was fighting for.
He stood up, watching the smoke rising from the place of his birth. He longed to go down and visit them, to say goodbye properly, as he had never gotten the chance. He knew they would never accept him, so he had to say goodbye in his heart and hoped they would somehow feel it. It was the best he could do.
He had always wondered what happened to the people in the village, and then he realised that the Guardian had never told him anything about his people. He had learned about architecture, and literature, and astronomy and cooking, among other things, but the one thing that she had never taught him was history. He knew now that he was meant to discover it on his own.
There was no time like the present, he thought to himself. He stepped sideways, travelling through time.
It was the same spot--he had travelled through time but not through space. Even though he had not moved an inch, a world of difference awaited him.
The sky scrapers towered overhead where his family used to live. This is what his family's descendants had become. They were city people, business people. They owned apartments and stores and went shopping.
He tried to imagine his mother here. Or his sisters, running over the pavement like they used to run over grass. He imagined the Elders dispensing advice in this world. Then again, it was likely to be just as obscure as it was in the older world.
He saw some people gathering for a picnic on the mountain side. He realised with a start that this was where he had come for his first vision; the future of his village. He had seen his own people's future already.
He stepped through time again, and pondered where to go next. He wanted to see Earth, his home Realm. The Guardian's home Realm. He decided to start in the land of his birth, and work his way around.
He stepped back out into subjective reality, and set about exploring his new domain. He could go anywhere, anywhen he wanted and it was about time that he took advantage of that ability. Few were so fortunate.
Several subjective years and countless new experiences later, he stood in her home when she had lived in Earth. He knew so little about her life before she was chosen to be the Guardian, that he thought he might start just by observing the world she had lived in. He was journeying westward, and his place was the last stop before the ocean.
He didn't mean to linger, unobservable in the shadows, but he liked watching the mere mortals scurry about on their business, not knowing about the world they lived in, choosing to be blind. He envied that. The ability to have a normal life, something he had never truly gotten.
The language was tough to master. He had always spoken in his own native tongue, and the gods, being gods, were always perfectly understandable. But talking to other humans required knowing their language. No one knew his any more, it hadn't existed on Earth for thousands of years.
This period of Earth was very different than his own, or from any of the other Realms he had been too. But it was the differences that he took great delight in learning. The languages were a difficult barrier to overcome, but the more he learned, the easier it grew.
He stood now on the corner of a city block, as hundreds of people milled around him. It was rush hour in one of the busiest cities in this world. He saw a set of clocks mounted on the side of one of the buildings. They were set to the different time zones of this world, a city in each one.
He remembered with fondness the time when she had tried to teach him about time. How it was a stream, that it never ceased to flow. And that ordinary mortals could never truly understand that, for they were in the stream, and unable to be objective under those circumstances.
He had disagreed with her several times on that issue; for how could he have understood anything, being a mortal and a rather primitive one at that? He knew now, of course, that the knowledge was in him all along; that he only needed to bring it to the surface.
He knew now, after spending time among them, that ordinary mortals were no different than he was. They knew, or could know, all that he did. They would never have the skill, but they could have the knowledge, if they wanted. For a moment, as he looked at the clocks representing the time zones, that they were a perfect metaphor for what she had tried to teach him. That time could only be truly understood if one was outside it. That the truth is always dependant on where you are.
He stood, ackwardly, staring at the doorbell. He wasn't sure if he really wanted to ring it, or not.
He gulped, and set his suitcase down on the pavement while he wiped his hands on his trousers. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the doorbell when the door itself opened.
"Oh! Hello!" exclaimed the brown-haired American woman behind it. "You must be the new tenant!"
He licked his lips carefully. This new language had been harder to learn than some of the other ones, and the native speakers tended to speak very quickly, and slur the sounds. "Yes...I...wish to look at apartment."
She nodded. "This way," she said pleasently. She opened the door, and he stepped in, nervous. "I'm Elly Heary--I live in the apartment next door to yours. Mrs. O'Shea, the landlady, asked me to show you around."
He nodded again, and she started down the hallway, nattering away about various tenants and the history of the building and the location and other subjects that while he understood, would have been hard pressed to reply to. "Here it is," she said, after they climbed a set a of stairs and walked down a long hallway. "Number 119," she added with a smile.
She took out a key and unlocked the door.
He stepped in. It was a simple apartment, quite unlike his quarters in the Palace. There was a small room--living room, Elly called it; a "kitchenette" and a bath room. A door led to his bedroom, complete with bed, and a simple dresser. There was a moth-eaten couch in the living room, and a card table in the kitchen. That's what Mrs. O'Shea considered "furnished".
It suited him.
He set his suitcase--picked up from his last stop-over--on the couch and opened the dingy orange curtains. Daylight streamed in from the windows. He smiled.
"So, you like it, then?" Elly asked, hesitently. He nodded, suddenly embarressed. He had no idea what happened next; what did one do when renting an apartment? "That's good," she said with a grin. She handed him the keys. "I'm right next door, if you need anything."
"Thank you," he said slowly, enounciating very carefully. She just smiled, and headed out.
"Oh." She stopped suddenly, and poked her head back into the apartment. "I forgot to ask you your name."
"Yellow Chrysanthemum," he replied, automatically over his shoulder. There was silence, and he turned around to see her face frozen in confusion and embarressment. Mentally, he smacked his forehead; how could he have expected her to pronounce that?
"Um..." she began, a little ashamed, but he cut her off.
"My... american friends call me Jerry," he told her. It was a name he had seen on a billboard early that day and he liked the way it rolled around on his tongue.
"Jerry." She looked at him dubiously. "Well, okay then...Jerry, if you need anything, I'll be next door."
"Thank you," he said again, doing a slight bow. This time she left, and he bolted the door behind her. She seemed very friendly, even if she was several years older than him, and it was good to know that there was someone to talk to if he needed help.
He wouldn't of course, his powers would take care of everything...
He stopped again, and looked at the briefcase. It contained all he had, which was his suit from the Palace. His clothes from a former life. He had picked up the clothes he wore now, a plaid flannel shirt and trousers which the americans called "jeans", from a "shelter" which some one had led him to when he first arrived in the country.
He took a peak in the bedroom, and regarded the dresser. Taking the suitcase, he opened it onto the bed. The suit fell out, and he took a moment to feel the silkyness of the material before he folded it up and placed it in the bottom of the dresser.
That life was behind him. From now on, he would be a normal mortal, living a normal mortal life.
"Jerry!" A voice called out as he was heading for the stairs. It took him a moment to remember that it was his new name that Elly was yelling at him. "Wait up!"
He paused on the stairs obligingly. "Where you going?" Elly continued, putting her long brown hair up in a ponytail, not unlike his own.
"I was going...to get food," he answered, taking a moment to plan the sentance out in his head.
"Oh! Are you going to the Shop'n'Save, or the Metmart?" she asked brightly. He noticed she had an empty canvas bag with her.
"Yes," he replied, slightly confused. She laughed, then hid her mouth with her hand.
"Sorry," she giggled. "You don't know the shops around here, do you?"
He shook his head.
"Well," she continued, "I was just on my way out to get a few things. I could show you around, if you want."
"That is acceptable," he replied solemnly. She giggled again, despite trying not to. "Did I say something that is wrong?"
She started to head down the stairs, gesturing for him to follow her. "I'm sorry," she said, "I shouldn't laugh. I obviously wouldn't be this good in your language. I'm really sorry."
"It is acceptable," he replied again, and then paused. "Am I using wrong words?"
She sighed as they headed out of the corridor. "Well...not technically, no. But you sound a little stiff, y'know?"
"No," he replied honestly as they stepped out into the daylight. He squinted in the sun. "It is hot."
"Well, you do have a flannel shirt on," she said. He noticed that she wore a shirt that had sleeves that ended half-way up the arm. And her trousers were quite short. He realised he was staring at her legs and went bright red.
"You have any summer clothes?" she asked, ignoring the stare. He shook his head. "Then we'll pass by the Salvation Army on the way."
Now he was very, very confused. "I do not want to join army."
She laughed again, and didn't bother to hide it. She linked her arm through his and started walking, half-dragging him along the sidewalk.
While Elly poured over the potatoes, he selected a nice head of romaine, and put in his shopping basket. This "supermarket" did not seem very super, to him. It had a terrible selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. Elly was stocking up on "prepared" foods, but he wasn't sure he could handle some of them. What ever "Hamburger Helper" was, he could do without it.
The rice selection was also terrible, and he wasn't sure how anyone could eat it, but he figured he must try and make do. Normal mortals ate like this; he would have to learn.
"So much to learn," he muttered, in his own language. Elly looked up from the spuds.
"Pardon?" she asked.
"I was...saying that there is so much for me to learn here," he said. "I learned much when I was child, but not like this."
"I can help you," she said pleasently. "And you speak English very, very well. But it's the stiltedness--you've got to learn more slang."
He sighed. "I will attempt it."
"There, see?" she said, waving a celery bunch at him. "Don't say `I will attempt it'. Say, `I'll try'."
"I'll try," he repeated dutifully.
"Much better. Not so formal sounding." She put the celery in her basket, and started on ahead. "Anything else you need?"
"Uh..." His brain raced for the word. "Umm...a vegetable--comes in many colours--" Then he spotted them, and pointed.
"Peppers," Elly said with a nod.
"Peppers," he repeated, selecting a nice sweet yellow. Yellow... "That's it," he said hurriedly, putting the yellow back and picking a red one instead.
"Okay, then we just need to buy these and we can hit--" she paused as she saw the incomprehension on his face. "Don't tell me. You have no money."
"I have money," he said, with a start, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out several bills. "This enough?"
Elly's eyes nearly popped out of her head. "I'd say so, yeah." She leaned in close, and he felt his heart thump. "Don't flash that sort of cash around, Jerry. This isn't exactly a friendly neighbourhood."
He nodded solemnly. "How much I need?"
She took two of the proffered bills, and pushed his hand away. He stuffed the rest of the money back in his pocket.
"Let's see, what size are you?" she asked, as they looked through racks of clothing.
He looked down at himself. And shrugged. "Not that big."
She laughed. "Not that big...well, let's see." She pulled a pair of jeans off the rack and held them up to his hips. He recognised the gesture dimly from when his mother used to make his clothing.
"These are about right," she said. "Let's see the size...dammit, the tag is missing. Oh well, we'll just have to try them on."
"I would rather get shirt," he interrupted suddenly. "It's very hot."
"Oh, okay," Elly replied, putting the jeans back. "We can head over to shirts then." She took his hand and headed off, expertly navigating through the aisles. "T-shirts, right?"
"T...shirt?" he asked.
"Like mine," she replied. "Short sleeves."
He nodded, understanding now. "Yes, please."
"Okay then." She led him to the shirt racks, and they started combing through them. He selected several that he liked, including one that Elly called a "tank top". Carrying the load, they went back to the trousers and picked up a pair of jeans and two pairs of shorts.
They made their way to the cashier's desk. "Hmm," he muttered, pulling some of the bills out. "Would twenty dollars be enough?"
"Oh yeah, probably more than enough," Elly replied. She did the actual transaction for him, he insisted; and he watched her closely. It was not that different than money anywhere else. That was good.
They started on their way back, him loaded down with his clothes, while she carried both their loads of groceries, which was kind of her, he thought. "So..." Elly began, half-humming to herself, as they walked, "where are you from, exactly?"
He stopped in his tracks. She was quick to apologise. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry--I was just curious--"
"No, it is all right," he assured her. He started walking again, and she followed. He was busy thinking of a story to tell her, one that wouldn't reveal anything but that would settle her curiosity. "I am from Japan."
"Oh," she replied. Clearly, she had thought he was from some where else. While he was technically from China, it was prehistoric China and bore no resemblence to the country there now. Japan was where the Guardian was from, and the first place on Earth he visited. It was as good a place as any.
She seemed to want more details, but wasn't willing to pry. That suited him very well, it meant less to make up. "I came here, with money from my uncle," he continued. That was a complete lie; he had created the money with his powers shortly before he left for America. "I always wanted to come."
"Oh," Elly answered again, much perkier. "You sound like my grandfather--no, I mean, that's what he did. Came here with some money his family left him, and started over."
"I also wish that, to start over," he continued, pausing when Elly stopped to open the door to the apartment for him. He went through, and waited for her to catch up. She gave him his groceries.
"I'll talk to you later, okay?" she asked brightly.
He was confused. "Are you--?"
"Oh, I'm going to my boyfriend's house. I just thought I'd walk you home, that's all. But you'll be all right, right?"
"Yes," he answered solemnly. She waved, and headed out the door.
He walked up to the apartment by himself, and put the groceries into the small refridgetor. He put his new clothes in the top drawers of the dresser, after changing into shorts and a t-shirt. That made him feel immediately cooler, and he drew the blinds and sat down on his sofa.
The apartment suddenly seemed very bare. He didn't like the dull beige of the walls. He wished for the cool crystal of the Palace. But he couldn't go back.
He sank lower on the couch, and closed his eyes. Maybe he would have a nap, and then he'd feel better when he woke up.
The night was a lot cooler, and he put on his flannel shirt again. The windows were open a crack and he could hear sounds of the city through them. Traffic, people yelling, dogs barking. It was very chaotic after the silence of the Palace, but he enjoyed the noise. Here, he was just Jerry, another immigrant, trying to carve a notch for himself.
He opened the fridge and pulled out the vegetables. He realised with a groan that he had forgotten to buy a pot. Or utensils, for that matter, or even plates. Sighing, he pulled out the pepper, and started to eat it whole. He'd have to do more shopping in the morning. This whole place seemed to revolve around it.
After he finished the pepper, and carefully gathered up the seed and pith to put in the garbage, he decided to go for a walk. He wanted to see what the city was like, at night.
He stepped out, and realised how stifling the air was, in the hallway. He locked the door and made his way to the stairwell quickly.
Outside, the air was much fresher, although still horrible compared to the country air he was familiar with. He wondered how people could stand it. Then he remembered that they were used to it, as he would be, in time. He set off.
He had assumed that most people would be asleep. Not so. The amount of activity was lower than it would have been in the daytime, certainly, but it was nearly as lively.
He walked around the block, and then decided to go a little farther afield. He kept going, making a mental map in his head, noting a grocer, specialising in fresh vegetables and fruit; a chinese corner store that had several native herbs he would like for cooking; a store selling pots and pans, which was helpful, and a store advertising something that was rated "XXX" but he couldn't figure out what that was supposed to spell so he ignored it.
It was a couple hours later when he decided he'd had enough, and started back for home. He'd learned a lot, and had several questions for Elly, when he next saw her.
He was only a block or so from the building when he noticed that someone was following him. He knew the person was following him, for they slowed down and sped up to stay a few meters behind, constantly. It started to unnerve him, slightly, and he came to a stop.
He turned, and saw a young man, older than he was, standing with his hands in his pockets. "Hello," the man called. "Lovely evening, innit?"
"Yes," he agreed, watching the man with interest. The man was coming a few steps towards him.
"It's a rough neighbourhood, you know," the man said, whipping a knife out of his pocket, and started in on Yellow.
Yellow grabbed the man's wrist, and twisted it, the knife dropping with a clang to the pavement.
"Hey! Let go!" the man screamed, and Yellow did so. The man picked up his knife and scuttled back a few feet. "Hey! Mike! Get over here!"
That's when Yellow realised that the would-be attacker was not alone. Several other men had been following him, as back-up, no doubt.
"Now you're going to get it," the first man said with a sneer as the second--Mike charged at Yellow, while two others ran forwards as well.
Yellow grabbed Mike by the arm and twisted him around. Mike squealed, and tried to break free, but Yellow had him in a firm grip. Then second and third attacked, and Yellow couldn't fend off both while holding Mike at arm's length; so he twisted a little harder until Mike screamed and there was a snapping sound. That was Mike out of the way.
The two others jumped him, and he managed to step out of the way of one, but the other grabbed him from behind. He grabbed Yellow's hair and yanked, to keep him off his balance. That's when the first man came back up, knife at the ready.
"Cut him real good, Simon," sobbed Mike. "He's done broken my arm!"
"Don't worry, Mikey," Simon said with a sneer. Thug 3 and 4 were holding Yellow back as the armed thief approached. With his hair tugged backwards, Yellow's throat was exposed.
He struggled again, but his attackers held him firm. "That's it," he muttered.
"You're right," Simon said with a chuckle, "that is it."
"I don't think you understand what I mean," Yellow replied carefully, as he teleported away from the two attackers.
Stunned, they watched as he appeared a few feet from them. They just stood, with their mouths open. Yellow let his disguise drop, and as they saw his green eyes and green-black hair and his aura of power, they panicked. They started to make a run for it, but he created a portal right in their way, and they went through it before they knew it. It dropped them in the spot they had just run from, and none of them could figure out what had happened.
They turned to Yellow fearfully. "This is fucking impossible, man!" one of the thugs whispered. No one answered him.
Yellow realised the problem it would create if they were able to spread news of his powers through the city, so he momentarily stepped out of the time stream.
In doing so, he ran the risk of Rayden dectecting his presence, and that was one thing he hoped to avoid. But it couldn't be helped.
He went back a few moments to where the first thug started following him, and created a tiny energy blast that tripped Simon, who tumbled to the street. By the time he got up, Yellow was out of sight.
Now Yellow merged the two divergent streams, and no paradoxes were created. He had a perfect memory of the event, but technically, it did not happen. As he stepped back into objective reality, he found himself just outside his apartment building.
A little proud of himself for his accomplishment, he went up to his apartment, and got ready for bed. That was the first time he had ever manipulated the time stream in such a way, and it was so easy.
He also realised that even Rayden did sense him, the time difference--Yellow had selected the 1970s to visit, as opposed to the 1990s which Rayden was currently experiencing--meant that the Thunder God wouldn't be able to track him down. So he was truly on his own.
The only "fly in the ointment" as it were, was the realisation that he needed to suppress his powers completely. He couldn't go around using them and then changing the nature of reality simply because it was easier for him to do so. He'd have to stop using them completely. He'd have to learn to be fully mortal. It was time for him to become Jerry, instead of hiding behind him.
He settled into bed, and slept peacefully.
He put the package of herbs into the brown paper bag. He gave it to the grateful woman, and waved as she headed out the door. When she was gone, he busied himself cleaning the counters with a damp cloth. The bell over the door chimed, and he looked up.
"Hey, Jerry," Elly said brightly as she came in. "You ready?"
Jerry smiled. "Not yet...I am waiting for John to take over."
"Oh, okay." Elly stuck her hands into her anorak and looked around the shop. She seemed a little confused by the shelves of chinese herbs, books and products. "Tigerbalm? What's this?"
She picked up the small container that had english writing on it, one of a few. She paled, visibly, and Jerry laughed.
"It's not real tigers," he said with a chuckle. "It's a...rub, you rub it on, to make aches feel better."
"Oh." She set the small glass jar back on its shelf. The door chimed again as John Wang came in.
"Hi, Jerry," he said. "Hi...Elly, is it?"
Elly nodded, and shook his hand. He turned to Jerry. "So, how'd everything go?"
"Mrs. Chou is having problems with her back again, and we're nearly out of ginseng. That's it," Jerry replied with a very American-like shrug, he thought. After only three months, he was beginning to feel like he had been here all his life.
"Oh. Okay then." John took an apron that hung on a peg on the back wall, while Jerry hung his own up.
"Ready to go?" Elly asked. Jerry nodded, and grabbed his sweatshirt before heading out.
"I'm glad you're all settled," she said, as they walked back to the building. "I bet you thought you'd never fit in."
Jerry didn't reply, but she was used to that. At first, she had thought it was because he was hesitent about speaking English; now she knew that it was simply because he was a quiet person. She continued regardless. "Do you want to go out for lunch, today, or stay in?"
"I think...stay in, today. I will cook for you," he said, holding the door open for her.
"You don't have to do that," she said quickly.
"It's no problem," he answered.
He stopped on the stair case. "You don't want me to?"
She sighed, and ran a hand through her hair. "I've had bachelor food before, Jerry."
Jerry made a sniff of disgust. "I can cook," he said, starting up the stairs again. "I must show you."
They headed towards his apartment. "I know!" he said suddenly. "I will make dinner for you, and then you can see that I can cook. How about...tonight?"
"Well...Mark is supposed to come over..." she began, trailing off.
"I can cook for him too. I can meet him, finally," Jerry said brightly.
"Okay," Elly agreed, finally. "Sure. Why not. In that case, let's postpone lunch--and I'll see you about six, okay?"
Jerry nodded. Elly waved as she disappeared into her apartment, and he went into his own, confused about her behaviour. Why wouldn't she want to have lunch with him? Or dinner?
It must be his apartment, he decided. She didn't like to come in, except when she was waiting for him in the morning before work, and they always ate at her place. Therefore, she must not like his apartment.
He looked around. Thanks to time and effort, the walls were no longer a dingy beige (they were a sparkling clean beige, which was a step up) and the curtains were mended and washed. The furnature was still dreadful, but he had seen the pieces in Elly's apartment, and they weren't great either. So what was it that he was lacking?
Plants. Elly had a row of african violets she kept in her kitchen, and some ivy in the bathroom, and a few others scattered around. That's what he needed. Plants.
He grabbed his sweatshirt and headed out.
Finally, everything was in place. He had the new greenery in place, according to the needs of the plants, of course. The woman who had sold him the plants explained about light, and humidity and several other things he didn't realise plants required. He figured they were like people. If he could live in this apartment, he figured the plants could learn to, too. But now the plants were all arranged artfully.
Supper was cooking. He was making a simple stir-fry, with a green salad on the side (Elly was a vegetarian, he found out) with some wine to go with it. It wasn't a difficult meal to prepare. But he didn't want to try something that they might not like.
He had bought a table-cloth from the Salvation Army and spread it carefully over the cardtable, disguising the old stains--he tried not to think about it--and the rusty metal legs. It looked classier with a white cloth over it, he had to admit. As he began to set it, he remembered being very small and seeing someone flip a cloth over a table. He couldn't remember anything else about it, though, and he let the matter drop.
It was almost six, now. He was looking forward to Mark, whom he decided was like Elly. Maybe quieter--two people talking like that at each might run into problems. He heard voices in the corrider, and found himself nervous. What if they didn't like the dinner? What if he over-cooked the vegetables?
He sprinted, and made sure that yes, the vegetables were cooked properly. That was okay.
There was a knock at the door. He sprinted back to the front door, took a deep breath, made sure his hair was tied back properly, and opened the door.
"Hello!" Elly exclaimed. She was holding a package. "Yum... something smells good."
"I told you I can cook," he blurted, before he noticed the tall man standing behind Elly.
"Oh, right. Jerry--this is Mark, my boyfriend." she said, introducing them. She ducked into the apartment, calling over her shoulder: "I've got some buns to warm up... do you mind?"
"No," he called. "Dinner is all ready." He turned back to Mark, to introduce himself properly.
"Hello," he said, gesturing for his guest to step in. He noticed then that Mark had a cane, and was leaning heavily on it. Mark himself was scowling.
Jerry was a little confused. He wasn't sure what to say. Elly came back, and looked over his shoulder. "Honey?" she asked, confused herself. "Aren't you going to come in?"
Mark didn't say anything, but the hand clutching the cane went white at the knuckles. "I am not going in his house," he said, in a low growly tone, and started to leave. Elly darted in under Jerry's arm, and stopped Mark in his tracks.
"What's the matter?" she asked, bewildered.
"You never told me he was a gook," Mark growled at her. She went pale white. Jerry didn't understand the term.
"Oh my god," Elly breathed. "Mark--I'm so sorry--I didn't think--"
"I know," Mark answered huffily, starting forward. She grabbed his arm, the one not holding the cane.
"He's not Vietnamese," she said. "He's Japanese."
"Oh, a nip. That makes it all better," Mark snapped, pulling his arm out.
"Mark, please, just have supper with us," Elly pleaded. "He's very nice."
"And watch him making puppy-dog eyes at you from across the table? No way. Count me out."
"Mark, it's not like that. He's just a kid. Really, it's not like that." She stood in the middle of the corridor as her boyfriend headed towards the stairs. "Mark."
"I'll have dinner on my own, thank you," he called behind him. "Unless you want to join me. But no nips."
Elly turned back to Jerry, but he had already closed the door.
He leaned against the door, his heart about to break. Just a kid.
He had thought she liked him. He thought she liked him. He certainly liked her. He knew about her boyfriend, but still. Somehow, that didn't seem to count. No matter where he went, no matter what he did, he was somebody on the outside, looking in.
There was a tap at the door. He opened it a crack. It was Elly.
"Jerry," she said softly, "I'm really sorry about that. He's--"
"You do not need to apologise for him," Jerry answered quietly. "And I will not be upset if you do not have dinner with me."
Elly looked down. "I'm sorry, Jerry. I'm sure you made a nice dinner."
He didn't reply.
"I'll see you after work tomorrow?" she asked, looking up, hopefully.
He paused, then nodded.
She looked relieved, and waved goodbye. He shut the door, bolting it, and then went into the kitchen. He turned off the stove, and scraped the stir-fry into a container to put in the fridge. It would make a good lunch for tomorrow.
He was busy wiping the counters down when the door chimed. He looked over. It was Elly.
"Hi, Jerry," she said quietly.
"Hello," he replied civilly. "How was your work today?"
"Oh, you know. It pays the bills." Elly was uncomfortable in the shop, and she was rocking back and forth on her feet. "Are you still coming for lunch?"
"I told John I would take his shift for him," Jerry answered, putting the cloth away and starting to re-stock the shelves. "He has a...dentist appointment."
"Oh." Elly ran a hand through her hair, which was down today, a sign that she was feeling preoccupied. Jerry's hair was up and immaculate, as usual. "Uh...can I meet you for a beer, after, then? I really want to talk to you."
Jerry paused, and looked up from the stock to meet her gaze. "That is acceptable," he said, before turning back to the shelves. Elly perked up at the comment.
"Good," she said. "Good. I'll meet you around--"
"Five. Okay, good." She started to leave. "I'll see you later!"
He watched her leave, and then turned back to the stock.
"Where is this place?" he asked, following behind her. The weather had turned hot, again, and he was looking forward to a cold drink.
"It's just around the block, don't worry," she replied. "It's the cutest little place. I've passed by it several times, but never went in." They walked in silence the rest of the way. Jerry found that the scenery looked familiar, but he couldn't place it. The bar was tucked in between two buildings, and it seemed to be filling up.
As Jerry walked in, he was acutely aware of the stares he recieved. He hadn't noticed before, but now he realised how different he looked than the rest of the patrons. "Elly--" he began, but she couldn't hear him. She pointed to a seat, and he sat down. She'd picked a corner table, and it was far enough away from the crowded bar area that he began to feel at ease again.
She came over a few moments later, a pitcher of beer and two glasses. She poured the glasses full and slid his over. He took a sip. It was fairly watery beer, but not unpleasent.
"Jerry," she said, after they had both had a little drink, "I want to talk to you about something."
Jerry put his glass down. "What did you want to talk about?"
"Last night. I'm really sorry that you had to meet Mark like that. He's really very sweet, you know."
"Oh." Jerry stared at the table. Elly slid her hand over his. He looked up.
"Jerry--I think you're a sweet kid. I really like you. And I want to make it up to you." She looked at him sadly. "I'm just sorry everything got off on the wrong foot, y'know?"
Jerry nodded. "I will make supper again, and we will do it right, yes?"
She laughed. "Sounds like a plan."
They were in the bar for several hours, talking, laughing. Drinking.
By the time they decided to leave, Jerry was feeling very light-headed indeed. He payed the bartender for the pitchers at the bar, having trouble coming up with the exact amount but the barkeep was evidently used to that and didn't say anything. While he was paying, he bumped into someone that seemed familiar to him, but he couldn't place the face and the man didn't seem to know him at all.
"We can go," he said to Elly, and she wobbled to her feet. They both laughed, and he held out his arm for her. She took it, and they left together.
It was a pleasent night, still warm but with a cool breeze. They walked along the street, talking and pointing out the various little stores that made up the scenery. Jerry was feeling a lot happier than he had been in a long time, and he told Elly so.
"Really?" she asked, looking up at him. "Why? Didn't you like it at home?"
He paused, his sluggish brain fighting with the urge to tell her everything. "My mother died," he said finally. "And I ran away from home."
"That's terrible, I'm sorry," she said, snuggling into his shoulder. "My dad died in the war, too."
"She died--" He stopped. Her story fit his, as well. "She died in the war. Fighting. But if she hadn't had to take care of me, she wouldn't have died." It occured to him that there was a flaw in his story, but he couldn't put his finger on it at the moment, and Elly didn't seem to notice.
"Don't say that!" Elly exclaimed. "It wasn't your fault. You couldn't have had anything to do with it!"
"That doesn't make me feel any better," he said sadly.
"No, but at least here you can start over. Make a clean start," she added. He smiled.
"That's what I thought. You think like me," he said, having a bit of a problem with the sentance, and she laughed.
They stopped outside of her apartment. "I guess I'll see you in the afternoon," he said. "Or maybe evening. I'm making you dinner, yes?"
"Yes," she replied, mimicing his accent, and giggled. She paused, and leaned against his chest. "I'm sure it will be wonderful."
"I dressed up the apartment, too," Jerry added. "I made it so that you would like it."
"What do you mean?" Elly looked at him in confusion. "I like your apartment."
"You never come in, so I thought that you didn't like it," Jerry explained. He suddenly took a step backwards as his balance system fritzed and Elly nearly toppled over, but he caught her. She got up, unsteadily, and headed towards his apartment. "I want to see."
"Okay," Jerry agreed, letting her in. He flicked on the light.
"Oh," she said, appreciatively. "Plants."
"It's the only thing I could think of that you had that I didn't." He showed her the ones in the bathroom, and the bedroom. "So I bought lots, so that you would stay more often."
She laughed. "Silly! You didn't have to buy plants!"
"You don't like it?" He was upset, and starting to waiver as he stood, so he made his way to the couch.
"No, I like it," she assured him, sitting down next to him. "I like it. A lot."
"Good," he said, leaning back. "I was starting to think you didn't like it."
"No, I like it," she repeated. She leaned in. "I like you, too."
"I like you too, too," he replied, enjoying having her so close.
"Then we all like each other," she replied, with another spurt of giggles, but this one didn't last that long. She was once a few inches away from him, and staring at him. He leaned in a little closer and started to kiss her. His expectation was that she would draw away, but she didn't; she returned the kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Dimly, the thought occured to him that he had left the front door open, but he didn't care about it too much.
"So this is what happens, I supposed," roared a voice from inside the apartment. Jerry looked up, bewildered.
"Mark!" Elly screamed, as her boyfriend hobbled in, furious and ready to kill.
"I knew something would be going on with you and him, I knew it," he replied. Elly leapt off the couch, and ran towards him, ready to apologise when he dealt her a furious backhand. She whimpered and clutched her jaw. "And you--" he began, starting towards Jerry.
Jerry watched him smack Elly and a fury built up within him. An ancient dam broke, and he stood to his feet, his inebriation gone completely in the wake of the adreneline. "Don't treat her like that!"
"I'll treat her however the hell I want," Mark retorted fiercely. "This is my woman, and my country, and you had better stay away from both of them!"
"Don't you dare treat her like that," Jerry continued, his voice low. He could feel his powers building up, begging to be released.
Mark was taken aback by Jerry's tone, but he wasn't frightened of him. Yet.
"Mark, leave him alone," Elly said, as the veteren started toward Jerry menacingly.
"Stay out of this, Elly," Mark continued. He and Jerry met face to face. "You want to take me on? Think you have a chance?"
Jerry didn't reply. Mark lashed out with his fist and he caught it with one hand. "What the--?"
Jerry looked over Mark's shoulder, and saw Elly, watching in horror. A welt was forming on her. He turned back to Mark, who was struggling to free his hand from Jerry's grip. Abruptly, he felt his features shift, and Elly screamed.
"What the hell?" Mark swore, almost in a whisper. Yellow let go of his hand, and the veteran scuttled backwards, his eyes wide. His fear, however, soon gave way to panic, and he launched himself at the green-eyed, green-haired demon that had appeared in front of him. Yellow created a ball of energy in his palm and threw it at Mark, who caught it full in the chest, and crumpled to the floor.
Elly screamed again, and started towards Mark, but stopped. She was afraid of Yellow, and he realised that with a sadness he couldn't begin to say. Someone's door opened in the hallway, and old Mrs. O'Shea, the landlord, came shuffling into the room.
"What's all this racket?" she bellowed, clutching her dressing gown closed tightly. Her eyes fell apon Yellow, and she started stuttering, while backing up into the hall, and then turning and running for her apartment.
The new Guardian sighed, and let his energies fade away, his aura and colouring returning to normal. He looked up at Elly, sadly. She was dead-white, trying not to cry and breathing in tiny gasps. The mark of her boyfriend's slap was bright red against her pale skin, and Jerry felt his fury rise up again, but he fought it back down.
With a single gesture and a slight use of his powers, Elly fainted, and he picked her up off the floor. He teleported to her bedroom, and laid her down gently. He wished he had healing powers, to get rid of the dreadful welt, but he didn't. He teleported back to his room, and pondered what to do with Mark. He finally decided to leave Mark on his couch; he wasn't going to need it any more.
Outside the door, he heard sirens approaching. He realised with a start that Mrs. O'Shea had called the police; he had better make his escape soon.
He went into his bedroom, and carefully opened the drawer. His suit lay neatly folded, just where he left it.
He took it out, and flipped it open. The wonderful fabric had no creases, even after lying in a dresser for a year. He slipped it on, and left his other clothes in a pile on the floor. He could here the police charging down the hallway now, and so he stepped sideways through reality and away.
"Honestly!" Mrs. O'Shea fretted. "Gangs! In my building. And that nice young Chinese boy was in with them the whole time. I can't believe it, at all."
"He wasn't in a gang," Elly interjected to the policeman taking the statement. She held a poultice up to her jaw. "I know him very well. At least, I think I do."
The policeman sighed, and flipped the book shut. "Whoever the perpetratior is, he'll be easy to spot at least. Asian, green eyes and dyed green hair?"
"Green-black," the landlady corrected. "It looks black normally."
The officer rolled his eyes. "I'll be sure to note that."
He started out the door, but stopped and turned to address Elly. "May I ask how you were hurt, Miss?" he asked.
She looked downcast. "My boyfriend. I think," she added. She shook her head. "I'd had a lot to drink. It's kinda fuzzy."
"Well I haven't touched a drop in thirty years, I know perfectly well what I saw!" Mrs. O'Shea interrupted before the policeman could say anything.
He just nodded, and tipped his hat at the two of them. "We'll let you know if this "Jerry" shows up anywhere."
"Thank you, officer," the landlady said, which Elly echoed quietly. Mrs. O'Shea locked the door. "Honestly," she said again, shaking her head. "This neighbourhood sure has gone down, hmm, Elly?"
Elly nodded, sadly.
Mrs. O'Shea continued. "And I never liked your boyfriend to begin with, dear. The war changes men, you know. You'd do right to find another."
Elly only nodded again, sadly, and then she and the landlady turned to head upstairs.
He stepped out from the shadows where he had watched them, unobserved. His heart was heavy and his brain whirling. It would have been so easy to simply change the way everything had headed. He could have changed the way he acted towards Mark; he could have, even easier, simply not mentioned the apartment to Elly. She wouldn't have come in, and it could have all been avoided. It would have been so easy.
So easy, but wrong. He couldn't use his powers like that. He couldn't keep pretending to be something he wasn't and hope that nobody would notice when he goofed up. It was time, he thought, to go back. To take his true place among the pantheon of the dieties. He'd played at being a normal mortal for too long now.
He looked down at the cuffs of his purple suit. It was too tight for him, and he noticed for the first time how much he'd grown. He couldn't go back like that. He wanted respect as the new Guardian, and he wouldn't get it by being scruffy and ill-suited.
The Palace tailors of a century earlier than when he arrived as Yellow Chrysanthemum didn't know what to make of the order. Or of the stranger giving it. But they complied (with a little bit of unconcious prodding) and made him a new suit, in black. It was a slightly different material than the orignal, but he liked it more. It seemed to shimmer with the light, breaking into many different colours. He liked it so much that he had a cape commissioned as well.
When it was done, he admired himself in the mirror, as proud of it as the tailors who had made it. Another bit of prodding convinced the poor workers he had never been there, and that eliminated the problem of his presence spreading.
The final touch to his new look was his hair. He had always worn it long, tied back and out of his face. But that was the old Yellow, and so he took a pair of the shears and cut off the pony-tail.
It was harder than he expected to get a decent look when he was doing it himself, and so it ended up shorter than he would have wanted at first. He also discovered an annoying trait of bangs; they fell into his eyes and he was constantly flicking them out. But he was pleased with the outcome. He looked years older than his twenty, he thought. And it gave him a more mysterious look than the long hair did. With the new hair, and the new uniform, he seemed an entirely different person.
The final piece de resistence he had to do on his own, and when he found himself in the valley, he regretted coming. It seemed to thick with memories, but there was no other way around it.
He stood by the water, his new cape swishing against his ankles in the soft breeze.
He took a deep breath, and mentally prepared himself. He cleared his mind as best he could, and held his hand out over the water. The river began to ripple, directly under his hand, and started foaming. Then then rose up, slowly, until it nearly touched him. He didn't flinch, but kept his mind focussed.
The water began to fall away from the newly-created staff until it was left dry and hovering several feet over the stream. It seemed etherial, and unreal until he grasped it and felt its weight in his hand.
He stepped away from the bank, admiring his new staff. It was fashioned of the same silvery material as the old staff, and had the same red jewel on the end, but were the old one was rounded with curliques for decoration, this one was sharp, and angular. He liked it. It looked serious. It also resembled a key more than the old one did, and he liked that too. All in all, he was quite contented with it.
Now he was the Guardian, in his mind. Now he could join the others.