2

A Province of Mind

Nicol groaned softly, having felt as if she were hit over the head repeatedly with a brick. She tensed her eyes, and slowly opened them, staring up at dirt ceiling.

"You want some tea?" asked an unfamiliar voice which startled Nicol. She slowly sat up in what seemed to be a cot, and looked in front of her, to see a figure tending to a steel tea pot at a half broken stove. "I said, do you want some tea?" the figure asked, a bit irritated. "Don't you talk?" Nicol rubbed her forehead slowly, and looked down at herself, still wearing her white nightshirt. "Uh...yes, please..." she said softly.

The figure grabbed two green mugs that were hanging from a rack over the sink, and poured tea into the mugs. He turned around, holding them in both his hands, and began to walk towards the cot. Nicol gasped, and recognized this figure immediately.

"Hayato?..." she asked. The boy who looked like Hayato sat down in a brown, whicker chair next to the cot, and set down his mug on a table before handing Nicol hers. "No... I'm Grimm. Or, as Miss Agwa likes to call me, 'Hey you!'..."

Nicol held her mug tightly in her quivering hands. "You're Hayato... the boy who was so nice to me at school..." Grimm took a long sip of his tea, before answering. "I'm not this Hayato kid you say I am. I've never met you in my entire life until twenty minutes ago."

Nicol shrunk down against the pillows that were behind her. "What?..." Grimm rolled his eyes. "I found you laying in the middle of the street. The old people were poking at you, and one even tried to pack you into her shopping cart, but I fended them off and brought you back here, to my hut."

Nicol looked up at Grimm with sorrowful eyes. "Where am I?" Grimm put down his mug, and went over to a window, which was just a hole covered in wires. "Well, you're in Oasia, the desert province. Wherever you come from will have to wait for you until morning because Soul-Steal is feeding right now, and if you run into him he'll drain you of your colour, soul, and mind, leaving you a quivering zombie." People screaming outside could be heard as Grimm warned Nicol of the creature.

Nicol slowly got up, hugging herself gently. "I don't care! I just want to go home." she protested, and with that she ran to the thick., wooden door, and ran out into the outside world. "Hey!" Grimm yelled at her.

Nicol shoved passed a small crowd, and dodged a few homeless people. She winced in pain, because the red sand burnt the soles of her feet and the sun and red sky hurt her eyes, but she just kept running. She wanted out of this place. She wanted to be back in her bed, back in her house.

Once again, Nicol wasn't watching where she was going, and she ran into someone very tall, wearing a black cloak. "I'm so sorry!" Nicol apologized, and backed up a bit, wincing because of her feet. She looked up to see just a black cloak... there wasn't a head where the head should be! The cloaked figure seemed to glare down at Nicol, and lifted its left arm, which was just a long sleeve of black, slimy tendrils.

"Soul-Steal!" Nicol cried out in terror, and fell back, landing on her rear. The cloaked figure went to latch its tendrils to Nicol, but stopped just in time. It bent right down to Nicol's face, and began to sniff her all over. Soul-Steal stood up straight, and began to howl incoherently. It lifted up Nicol by her hips, and more tendrils shot out of its cloak and went under the poor, frightened girl, as if forming a throne for her.

The people began to gasp, and gathered around Soul-Steal to stare in awe at Nicol. Grimm ran up to where all the commotion was, and blinked, realising Nicol was sitting atop the monster. Grimm shoved passed all of the people, and growled a bit. "Hey Soul-Steal! Put that girl down right now!"

"All hail Goddess Nicol, the creator of our world!" cried out a person in the back. Grimm's eyes went wide, and his snorted. "W-what!?" he asked. Nicol squirmed, trying to escape from Soul-Steal. The monster noticed this, and quickly lowered its tendrils, setting down Nicol on her feet. Nicol cried out, and hugged Grimm tightly.

Grimm looked down at Nicol with a nervous look on his face, and a single sweat drop slowly rolled down the side of his head. He was completely still, not sure what to do. "Please... take me home..." Nicol begged, tears running down her face.

"I think it'd be best if you went to see Miss Agwa, first..." Grimm told her. "I was going to go see her about some work, anyway." A few people nodded, and agreed with Grimm.

A homeless person led a horse over to the two teens, and Grimm helped Nicol up on the horse, and get up behind her. "Yah!" he cried out, and the horse reeled back, and began to gallop quickly, taking the two of them out of the desert-like town.

Nicol didn't really understand what was going on. She clung to the horse's mane tightly, and had a deep blush because Grimm was holding onto her hips tightly, so she wouldn't fall. "Where are we going?..." Nicol asked timidly. "To Miss Agwa's palace. She's the ruler of this desert land."

Soon, they arrived at Agwa's palace, which was surrounded by sand and cacti. Grimm swung his leg around, and hopped off the horse. He turned to Nicol, and lifted her up by her hips, and set her down on the ground. "Come on." Grimm said, and led Nicol up to the large palace doors, which were guarded by a large beige frog-man wearing thug clothes, and sunglasses. He peered at the two visitors, and sniffed the air suspiciously.

"No humans allowed." the frog-like bouncer said in a rough tone, crossing both his arms. "Listen, Beezlebub, we need to get in to see Agwa." Grimm spoke up. Beezlebub raised a thin eyebrow, and just repeated what he had said earlier. "No humans allowed." Grimm growled, and shoved Nicol aside, stepping right in front of the guard. "Listen, you ugly tub of algae, we have to get in! It's very import--"

Beezlebub grabbed Grimm by the front of his shirt, and lifted him up into the air. He took a long whiff of Grimm, and growled. "No humans allowed!" he yelled, and plowed his large fist into Grimm's stomach before tossing him back to the sand.

Grimm rolled onto his side, and coughed hard, holding himself in agony. "Oww...Jeez!..." Nicol gasped at what had just happened, and backed up, frightened that the large, menacing bullfrog would treat her the same way.

Beezlebub looked over at Nicol, and gasped. He immediately bowed down at Nicol's feet, and began to kiss them, cleaning off the dirt, and tried to heal the sores that the sand had left behind on the girl's precious toes. "Oh, Master! I didn't even see you! Please, please forgive me!... Do you need to go in? Please, go right ahead!"

Nicol blushed lightly, and slowly stepped aside from her foot cleaner, and walked over to the large doors, which immediately opened wide, with a deafening creak.

Nicol was overwhelmed with what she saw: a large hallway decorated with red carpets and walls. The stone tiles were a royal blue, and the maze-like stairways that twisted around each other were a brilliant colour of copper.

"Please... walk forward, to the next room." a voice told Nicol from somewhere in the room. Nicol gasped a bit, and cowered, looking around frantically, trying to look for the person who spoke to her.

Two large hands formed from the carpet, and grabbed the girl's ankles. Nicol cried out in surprise, and tried to struggle free, but no matter how hard she tried, the hands' grip on her just grew tighter.

Slowly the hands began to move across the carpet, pulling Nicol along with them. They stopped at a large wooden door that was in the shape of a dragon's muzzle. Magically the muzzle opened up wide, and the two large hands let go of Nicol, and tickled her heels, forcing her to leap inside.

Nicol yelped a bit, and the muzzle-like door slammed shut on her, keeping the frightened girl trapped inside the darkened room. Nicol hugged herself tightly, and whimpered softly, gazing around. Suddenly, two candles on either side of her lit up. Soon, more candles began to light up, two-by-two, forming a pathway for Nicol to follow, and stopped at a wide, thick oak desk, stacked with papers, and old leather books.

Sitting at the desk was a fat, wrinkly old elfin woman, who wore long, emerald green robes, and wore a red visor. She seemed to be writing notes with a long, black quill, and she had a freshly lit cigarette hanging loosely from her lips. She let her large, orange eyes gaze up at the dirty girl, who still wore her night gown.

"Ah... Master Miyazaki! So glad to have you... please, sit down!" the elfin woman said in a cheery, but raspy voice. She put down her quill, and leaned back in her large chair. She lifted her right hand, and quickly snapped her fingers, having a very comfortable, oak chair appear in front of the desk.

Nicol hesitantly began to walk forward. She sat down in the chair, and was relieved to be in such a comfy piece of furniture, because Grimm's cot was too hard, and the ground burnt her bare skin too much.

"I'm sorry to summon you here on such late notice, Master, but this is very important." said the large elf. Nicol gazed at the large desk, trying to read what the titles of the books were.

"What is this place, and why does everyone keep calling me Master?..." the girl asked timidly. The elf blinked, and raised an eyebrow. "This place is my palace, and I am Agwa, ruler of Oasia."

Nicol shook her head solemnly "No... What is this place in general... Where am I?" Agwa leaned back more in her chair, and took a long drag of her cigarette, letting the smoke escape from her nostrils. "This? ...This place is your imagination, Master... The only place you know where people can leave you alone, and you can escape from your timid real life and pretend that people actually care about you. This, Master, is your own personal 'Land of Far Away'."

Nicol's eyes went wide, and she shrunk back against the chair. "You can't be serious!... this... is my imagination?" Agwa nodded, tapping the end of her cigarette against her ashtray. "Every single part of it. All that you draw and write come alive here. You may not recognize many of us, Master... but we all know who you are."

Agwa lifted her cigarette back to her lips, and took a drag. "But anyway... on to business. I called you here, because I've seen how you are in your world, and quite frankly, I needed proof that you WERE our creator." The large elfin took a short break. "But now that you're here, and I'm talking to you face-to-face, I was hoping you'd stay and rule here."

Nicol shot up out of the seat, tears beginning to form in her eyes. "You can't fool me! This is all just a dream, and I just can't wake up!" She began to pound on the sides of her head, crying out in frustration. "Wake up! Wake up!!"

Agwa snorted, rather unamused. "This is no dream, dear... this is all for real. Now please... sit back down." The girl slowly sat back down in her chair, whimpering softly. "Please... I don't want to stay here... I just want to go home..."

Agwa eyed Nicol, and set her cigarette down in the ashtray. "I'll tell you what... If you can prove to me that you are emotionally capable of being my Master I'll let you go home, but if you fail, you'll have to stay here for all eternity, and rule this place."

Agwa then pressed a button on her desk. "Susan, send in that idiot of a delivery boy. I have new plans for him!"

The large muzzle opened wide, and Grimm stumbled in, holding his head; he was obviously beaten up badly. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Grimm, but I'll need you to escort Master Miyazaki to the Dalsha Temple... and for the Gods' sake, get her some decent clothing!"

Grimm choked a bit, and groaned. "Dalsha?.. that's three days from here!" Agwa growled. "If you want to continue to work for me, I suggest you do as I say, got it!?"

Agwa looked over to Nicol with a soft smile. "Once again, Master... I apologize for such short notice... If Soul-Steal caused you any uncomfortableness on your trip here, just tell me."

Grimm's eyes widened. "Wait... you OWN that thing!? It's been devouring everything in sight for the past two months!"

Nicol whimpered softly. "It's not Miss Agwa's fault... I created it..." Grimm turned his head to Nicol sharply. "You!?" Agwa nodded. "She." and with that, she pulled out Nicol's sketchbook, and opened it up to the page that had the cloaked monster. She leaned forward, and showed it to Grimm. "See?"

"My sketchbook!..." Nicol gasped in longing. Agwa grinned a bit, and handed the book over to the young girl, along with a pencil. "You'll be needing this, Master..."

* * *

The two teens slowly rode along a dirt pathway. Nicol was given a black cloak, and knee-length boots to wear. She held her sketchbook under an arm, and held onto the horse's mane tightly. "I can't believe I got stuck doing this..." Grimm grumbled under his breath.

He looked up and sighed. "Well... we're at the end of Oasia..." he told Nicol. Standing ahead of them was a large cliff that was connected by a long rope bridge to another cliff. Grimm pulled the horse's rein, and stared forward. "Here we go..."