THE GUARDIANS #16

"CONCRETE JUNGLE" part 3 of 5

"KINGDOM"

JULY 2007

"Hey, quit moving over. Your side is over there!"

"No way, dude. I'm totally still on my side!"

"Says the guy who can enlarge himself to take up more space."

"Come on, Jeff, I'm not even using my powers right now. I'm regular sized, and I'm not taking up any of your space!"

Mounted atop a flying pterodactyl a few feet ahead, Delris gave a small chuckle. "Having a few problems, are we?"

"You boys had better behave," Jessica called back in a tone of mock scolding.

"Don't make me turn this hovercraft around," Richard added, a grin spreading across his face.

"But, Richard--" said both Ryan and Jeff in unison, using the most childlike voices they could muster.

"Seriously, you guys are so childish," Sarah said from in front of Ryan. For a moment Ryan feared she was serious, but then she burst out in a fit of laughter, unable to hold it in any longer. The laughter quickly spread to all the other members of the present company—even Oaru, who wasn't entirely sure what they were laughing about. Seeing the mirthful scene they had accomplished, Jeff and Ryan traded an enthusiastic high five.

The Guardians were riding in their still unnamed hovercraft, hundreds of feet in the air and with no land formation in sight. They followed closely behind Delris and Oaru, each of who rode atop a pterodactyl, the latter of the two brothers also holding a rope that bound and led the other pterodactyl they had just recaptured. Richard was piloting the hovercraft, and Jessica sat at his side; Max and Sarah shared the middle seat, and Ryan and Jeff had gotten stuck in the back. After a good while of enjoying each other's company and the view from high above the ocean but having little else to do, silliness had begun to ensue and the two friends had decided to come up with ways to provoke laughter and attention from their teammates. Eventually, they had come to pretending to be squabbling young boys in the backseat of a car, when in actuality they were young adult superheroes in the backseat of a hovercraft. Apparently, their endeavor had succeeded.

Max let out a low chortle. "You guys are crazy," he said.

"Crazy? Who you calling crazy?" Jeff asked, feigning insult.

"Hey, it ain't always a bad thing," Max added.

"Indeed, such merriment, even frivolity at times, can be quite helpful on a journey such as this," Oaru put in.

Sarah turned around to face her two friends in the backseat. Ryan noticed how pretty her red hair looked as the wind flowed through it at several dozen miles per hour. "Actually, I'm really glad we have you guys here," she said sincerely. "Things would be so boring otherwise."
"I'm glad we have you, too," Ryan mumbled softly, wanting to reply audibly but afraid to speak out loud. Sarah had already turned her head back and made no indication that she had heard him. Maybe that was a good thing—after all, how would he have followed a line like that? Ryan unconsciously let his shoulders slump slightly and stared out into the sky, looking away from all his teammates.

"Psst." Jeff elbowed him lightly, whispering something. "You should tell her."

Ryan turned back around, distress on his face. "Hey, not so loud. Everyone can hear you!"

"No way, man, I'm whispering. Go on, tell her!"

"Not with everyone here all at once," Ryan persisted. "This is personal. It's got to be just me and her."

"So you're scared to tell her?"

"I didn't say that, I just said I wasn't going to do it right now. I'll tell her some time later!"

"I think you're scared."

"Scared? I gave a logical reason for not telling her now!"

"More like a logical excuse." Jeff's tone was light and friendly, but he still meant what he said.

"Hey, what are you guys whispering about now?" Sarah asked, in the mood for another good laugh.

"Uh…" Ryan hesitated for a moment. "Jeff, I keep telling you to stay on your side of the hovercraft!"

"This is amazing," Jessica commented, looking outward across the vast ocean. It wasn't every day that she got to see this sort of thing, so majestic and beautiful, from so close a view.

"It certainly is," Richard agreed. "I know that sayings like this are somewhat overused, but even son, it does make one feel small and insignificant in comparison to the seemingly boundless ocean."

"Well, that too," she replied. "But I wasn't just talking about the ocean. I was talking about this—this whole adventure. The fact that dinosaurs exist, and that there's an entire hidden civilization in the Bermuda Triangle. Even though we've already established it all, I still say it's unbelievable."

Overhearing the conversation, Delris turned back toward her. "I'm sure it is difficult for you to conceive," he agreed. "But we are nearing very close to Predevia now. Once we arrive and you see it for yourself, I don't think you'll doubt its existence any longer."

"No, I'm not doubting its existence," Jessica affirmed. "It's just that it's a lot to take in so suddenly."

"Ah," Delris said, slightly confused. Though he spoke basic English and had done a few studies of how the language had progressed modernly, he was not familiar with the word 'unbelievable' in the context that Jessica had used it, and had taken it literally.

"I know you've already given us a very brief explanation of your land's history," Richard said to the two brothers. "But there are still many things I'm curious about."

"Yeah, an' I got a few questions myself," Max added, halfway listening to the conversation from a seat behind them.

"This is understandable," Oaru assured him. "But soon after we arrive, there should be ample time for a good repast and the answering of your many questions."
"Although, we do have a little bit of time right now," Delris added. "You may ask something, if you wish."

"Well…" Not taking the time to contemplate what to ask first, Richard voiced the first question that came to his mind. "I'm wondering about these pterodactyls," he said. "Are all of your dinosaurs bred specifically for you to train them, or are there untamed ones as well? What other kinds do you have, and what exactly do you use the trained ones for?"

Oaru chuckled slightly, but left the question untouched for his brother to answer.

"Richard, you have told us that you are a man of science, and indeed your scientific curiosity is plain. Predevia is inhabited by many different species of dinosaur, most of which you will soon see. Yes, there are wild dinosaurs as well, but if you are worried that they will harm you, then you have little to fear; the untamed ones live on the outer edges of the island, far away from the city and the palace where we will be staying. And the dinosaurs we train are usually used as mounts for our soldiers, or for us to travel to your land, as we occasionally do."

"Soldiers?" Richard inquired. "Are you at war?"

"Not presently," Oaru informed him. "But we have had…struggles…in the past."

"But we would think you would know about these flying animals," Delris said. "After all, it appears that you have your own version of pterodactyl as well."

It took Richard a second to realize what he meant, but then he realized that the medieval man was referring to his vehicle. "Well, it's not quite the same…"

"No, but as we said earlier, our worlds are not all that different. This product of your modern sciences serves the same purpose as our pterodactyl, does it not?"

"Well, I suppose it does," Richard acknowledged.

"Indeed," Delris said.

"Out of curiosity," Oaru continued, "What do you call that thing of yours anyway?"

"It's a hovercraft," Richard answered. "We haven't exactly thought of a name for it yet."

"Hovercraft," Oaru repeated, carefully pronouncing the word. "I quite prefer pterodactyl."

"Pterodactyl," Richard mused casually. "It does have a certain ring to it."

"Well, whatever name you call it by, I suggest you bring that thing of yours a good deal lower now," Delris advised.

"Lower?" Richard asked. "Why?"

Delris merely gestured forward, as if it were obvious. Richard hadn't seen it at first, but now it was quite visible—a sizeable mass of land peering through surrounding curtains of mist. He brought the craft lower, as advised, and almost thought he could just make out the faint shape of a large castle in the center of the island. Delris spoke only one word.

"Predevia."

To call the island amazing would have been something of an understatement. It was beyond anything that the Guardians had imagined—and they had had plenty of time to imagine it along the way. The brothers led the team of heroes to an open space in the palace's courtyard where Richard brought the hovercraft down. Oaru chained up the pterodactyls they had brought back, right along with several others that gawked quite curiously at the large and unfamiliar vehicle that had just landed. The Guardians all stepped out of the vehicle and did some curious gawking of their own.

"It's unbelievable," Jessica said, and Delris decided to make no further comment on her word usage.

"A castle," Jeff noted with fascination. "We're actually inside a real castle." The palace was a gargantuan edifice of finely polished stone. It was like something out of a medieval fantasy story, only it was much more impressive when being seen in real life.

"I know! Isn't this amazing?" Sarah exclaimed. "This is almost cooler than being a super hero!"

"Sarah, this is part of being a super hero," Jeff reminded her. "Do you think you'd be here if we hadn't met these guys trying to bring that pterodactyl in?"

"Good point," she conceded. "But still, it's awesome!"

"Outta this world," Max commented, astonished.

"Technically, you're wrong, Max," Richard replied, habitually finding the need to impose complete scientific accuracy in everything around him. "It's part of the same world, but only seems different because it's so much beyond what we're used to. You see--"

"Richard," Jessica cut him off. "You know what he meant. Stop being such a nerd all the time."

"Nerd?" Richard repeated, pretending to take offense but grinning playfully. "Why, I never--"

"It's not a bad thing," she assured him. "In fact, it comes in handy whenever we need a big scientific brain to figure things out for us."

"Hey, I'm not the only big scientific brain around here," he reminded her. "In fact, I dare say that you're something of a nerd yourself."

"Oh, really?" Jessica responded, unable to think of anything else. She drew closer to him and they established eye contact, playfully acting as if they were angry at each other but inwardly relishing the moment and cherishing the other's presence. If only—

"Hey, break it up, you two," Ryan said jokingly, coming between them to act as the mediator. "We didn't come here to fight; you can do that any time. Right now, we've got a prehistoric/medieval island to explore."

"Indeed," Delris said. "I assume you do wish to see what the island is like beyond the palace gates?"

A series of excited and enthusiastic affirmative responses came from the various Guardians.

"I thought as much," said Delris.

"Well then, come," Oaru bade them, gesturing through the large wooden doors. "The city awaits."

As the group walked through the various streets and passageways of the city, Richard was continually entranced by everything he saw. The entire place looked like it had been transported out of the Dark Ages and into the present—with the obvious exception of the occasional dinosaur milling about, and possibly the lush foliage growing all around that seemed to suggest a sort of prehistoric jungle. And he noticed that their group was attracting a good amount of attention from the bystanders all around them. In an attempt to blend in, the team hadn't worn their Guardians outfits—they didn't think that it would matter much if an isolated civilization learned their secret identities—but even their normal clothes were drastically out of place in this setting. Also, he noted, they were being accompanied by royalty, the city's leaders. That sort of thing was sure to turn a few heads in any society.

"I don't get it," Ryan said to Oaru and Delris. "Living on the same island as all these dinosaurs, aren't the people worried about being eaten?" They had passed many common people, and none of them looked particularly frightened. The prospect somewhat puzzled Ryan.

"Not really," Oaru answered. "As we said earlier, the ones in this part of the island are tamed and mostly herbivorous. As for the carnivores, in the past our people have had to kill or drive away many of them in order to survive. But the few that we still have live on the outer edges of the island, where my people and our warriors can usually defend themselves against any predators that happen to wander too close to the city." He tapped the handle of the saber that rested at his side to emphasize their usual methods of defense.

"And even though many of the dinosaurs seem fearsome in appearance, not all of them are dangerous enough or even large enough to pose a serious threat," Delris stated. He tilted his head to the side and added, "It seems your friend Sarah has discovered that already."

Ryan glanced in the direction Delris had indicated and saw that Sarah had seemed to befriend a small reptilian creature of some sort which was no larger than a full-grown housecat. She was bent to the ground with one hand outstretched, gesturing for the tiny creature to come closer. Seeing her friendly intent, the miniature dinosaur gradually inched nearer, eventually accepting her invitation and rubbing gently against her hand. Sarah smiled and petted the animal as if it were, well, a pet.

"Aw, he's a cute little guy," Jessica remarked affectionately. Even Max leaned in to try to pet the small creature.

"Whoa, that's cool," said Ryan. "I never knew that there were dinosaurs that small. Did they have those when dinos first walked the earth?"

"All the creatures here are descendants of those that populated the planet thousands of years ago," Delris confirmed.

"He's right," said Richard. "There have been records of some dinosaurs being much smaller than the ones we usually think of. Of course, this one may be just an infant, which could also account for the size."

"Hey, little guy," Ryan said softly, reaching in towards the creature. For a few moments, he gently stroked the dinosaur's head. Then, without warning, the animal turned its tiny head, opened its miniscule mouth, and bit Ryan on the finger.

"Ow," Ryan said, pulling his hand back. "He bit me!"

"He must not like you," Sarah joked.

"Yeah," Jeff agreed. "Maybe he's mad because you called him short."

"I didn't call him short, I was just casually noting his size," Ryan insisted. The bite was not very deep and didn't hurt, but even so, he was unsure as to why the animal had done it.

"Who knows why he did it?" Jessica wondered aloud. "We can't really understand the minds of animals."

Ryan shrugged. "Yeah, it's no big deal." He thought for a second, and then got an idea. "Hey, Jeff, you know that guy who got bitten by a spider and then turned into--"

"Forget it," Jeff interrupted him. "You already have super powers."

"Oh, yeah," Ryan said. "Oh well."

Suddenly, the strange little creature scurried away hastily into the underbrush, as if scared of something. It didn't take long for Ryan to realize what it was. His ears soon filled with a sound like giant footsteps rapidly advancing, and he felt the ground begin to quiver underneath him.

"Uh-oh," he said aloud. "Something's happening."

"Somethin' big is coming, that's for sure," Max added. "Think maybe we should get out of here?"

"No reason," Delris assured him. "As we said, you have little to fear. Those who approach are friends."

"Are you sure?" Ryan asked, still somewhat afraid.

"Quite sure," he replied.

"How do you know?" Jeff asked.

Delris gestured forward, and Jeff saw something that he had never expected to see in his life. It was one thing to see a band of several armor-clad knights riding towards you rapidly, but when their mounts were not the traditional horses but rather several long-necked apatosaurus—that was something else entirely.

"Wow," Jeff remarked. "I'm not going to forget that any time soon."

"These guys are friends of yours?" Snowflake asked to confirm.

"Indeed they are," Oaru assured her. "These are the royal knights of Predevia." He turned to address the group that had just arrived as each individual soldier pulled back on the reins surrounding their apatosaurus' neck, stopping the dinosaurs in order to stay and talk with Delris and Oaru. "Brave knights, we welcome you--"

"Forgive the interruption, mighty Saber, but I must ask you: what is the meaning of this?" This question came from the foremost apatosaurus rider, who appeared to be the leader. He looked slightly similar to Delris—all the riders had beards, which were apparently customary in this society—but he was taller, and his hair was a slightly lighter shade.

It took Jeff a moment, but he soon remembered that the brothers had said they were often known as Sword and Saber. Kind of like they themselves had codenames and secret identities, he guessed. He also quickly realized what the chief soldier was so upset about; he probably was not at all used to the presence of outsiders in Predevia.

"Your interruption is forgiven, Cavagour," Oaru told him. "You have a right to wonder what is going on. But do not fear these six with us; we are certain that they can be trusted."

"Certain?" Cavagour continued. "How can you be so sure?"

"We met them in our journey to the mainland," Delris began.

"Well, that much is obvious," Cavagour stated, not giving Delris a chance for sufficient explanation. "But why have you brought them back with you to Predevia?"

Richard noted mentally that it felt awkward being talked about and argued over when he was in such close proximity to the conversation. Part of him wanted to cut in and explain things himself, but he reconsidered; given the unusual and delicate nature of the situation, he thought it would probably be best if Cavagour heard an explanation from someone he knew and trusted, rather than an outsider who technically did not belong in his land. Apparently, the other Guardians all felt the same way, for they remained silent too.

"You already know about the escaped pterodactyl," Delris explained to the chief soldier. "When we went to retrieve it, we found that these six had caught and tamed the beast for us. We at first thought them to be enemies and fought them for possession of the creature, but we soon realized that they were not our foes, but heroes of their land who sought only to protect their people from danger and evil, just as we do. These people were curious as to what sort of land would have a pterodactyl, and so we made arrangements to have them brought with us for a visit to the island."

Cavagour paused, taking in this story. The other soldiers appeared to be thinking and pondering as well, though they did not speak. It was probably a custom that they were to be silent unless addressed by their leader. At length, Cavagour spoke. "It is uncustomary to bring any outsiders to Predevia," he said.

"This is true," Oaru said, "But we thought that we owed them a boon of sorts, having wrongly fought them, and them having caught our pterodactyl for us. And though having visitors is uncustomary, it is not unheard of. Remember the case of King Breigand long ago."

"Yes, I know the events of our history," Cavagour insisted. "Still, I am wary of the idea." He turned to the six Guardians. "You, outsiders. Which one of you is the leader?"

"I am," Richard said, stepping forward and speaking now that he had been addressed. He did not know the customs of the land, but wondered if he should bow for the chief of the royal guard. He did not bow, and hoped that neglecting to do so would not be offensive.

"What is your name?" Cavagour inquired.

"I am called Richard," he said. He decided that it would only complicate matters if he mentioned that he was also called Forcefield and that he and his teammates also possessed metahuman abilities.

"And, Richard, do you affirm to all that has been said about you?"

"I do," he said.

"So you just happened to be able to catch a rogue pterodactyl," Cavagour continued somewhat skeptically. "Is this something you do often?"

Delris spoke up, slightly offended. "Do not accuse him so. I assure you, they can be trusted."

"I am not used to pterodactyls," Richard admitted. "But my friends and I are indeed, in a sense, heroes. We take it upon ourselves to fight against crime and evil, and to protect our citizens from danger. In doing so, we have encountered some…" he searched for the right word. "…unusual things in the past, and so were somewhat prepared when we met the pterodactyl. We did not know where the pterodactyl had come from or how it had gotten here, but it was causing panic and public unrest, so we tried to contain it and make sure that it caused no harm. Oaru has explained the rest of it; we encountered Delris and him, and once they realized that we were heroes, we became friends and allies. My group was quite curious about the land of Predevia, and so we made arrangements to come here."

"Hmm," said Cavagour, still considering. Eventually he reached a decision. "Your account is…believable. And since the Sword and the Saber clearly trust you, I will also. Predevia welcomes you, and I truly do hope you enjoy your time here. Perhaps we will meet again; for now, I bid you farewell."

"Farewell to you also, Cavagour," Richard said. "And thank you; your trust is appreciated."

Oaru reached up and petted the head and neck of Cavagour's apatosaurus, the creature responding by fondly licking his hand. "You have done well today, Cavagour," Oaru told him. "You did not know who these strangers were, and so you were right to be vigilant and concerned for the sake of Predevia. Also, it is good that you took time to learn the nature of the situation before acting rashly. I congratulate you."

"Thank you, mighty Saber," Cavagour said, bowing. "I am glad to be able to serve Predevia."

"And you serve her quite well," Oaru stated.

"Indeed," Delris added. "After what happened with--" He paused awkwardly, as if remembering something grossly unpleasant. "Well, after the things that transpired in the life of the former head soldier, I am glad that you have proved yourself to be noble and reliable."

"Thank you, mighty Sword," Cavagour replied, bowing again. "But my men and I have been training long and hard all day, and we would very much like to return to the palace to rest."

"Then we shall not delay you any longer," Delris said. "Farewell, Cavagour and soldiers." With that, each soldier pulled once again on the apatosaurus' reins, and turned the beasts in the opposite direction, back towards the palace from which Delris, Oaru, and the Guardians had just come.

"Well, I'm glad that worked out okay," Ryan commented. "I was worried for a second."

"There was no need to be worried," Oaru said. "Even if Cavagour had not trusted you and had wished to fight you, he I subject to us. He would not have attacked without our permission."

After that brief encounter, Richard was curious about something. "Brothers, if I may be so bold as to ask you something more," he began.

"Certainly," Delris said. "What do you wish to know?"

"What happened with the former head soldier?" Richard asked, concerned.

Oaru winced noticeably. Obviously, whatever had happened was not something that the brothers liked to talk about or remember.

"Ah, but you have come here for to enjoy yourselves, to discover new wonders and to be happy," Delris said. "Let us not ruin your stay by telling such woeful and terrible tales."

After a while, once Delris and Oaru had shown the Guardians all the major sights to be seen in the city (they had not yet traveled to the outer edges of the island), the eight of them had returned to the palace for the evening meal. They didn't know exactly what time it was, but Richard guessed that it was about seven o'clock in this time zone, which was a few hours later than the one they had left. Delris had told the palace chefs to make extra food for guests tonight, and the Guardians had been seated at a sturdy wooden table in an ornately decorated dining room, somewhere deep within the castle of stone. Dinner had been served, and everyone was making their way quite well through the meal—an unfamiliar but tasty sort of meat, served with an array of exotic fruits, some of which had been seen among the thick foliage during their tour of the city. The food was quite satisfying, and Richard doubted that he would ever have another meal like it.

"Man, this is so cool," Ryan said during dinner. "I mean, I know we've already said that like fifty times each, but I seriously can't get over how cool this is."

"If it is too cool for you, we could light a fire," Delris suggested. At first Ryan thought he was making a bad pun, but then realized he was serious. These people were not familiar with the slang of his generation—or, for that matter, any generation of anyone else he knew who was still alive.

"Uh, no, thank you," Ryan said, slightly embarrassed. "I didn't mean that I was cold. 'Cool' is often used informally to express…" He thought for a second of how to define it. "…something pleasing or good."

"Spoken like an intellectual," Richard commented on Ryan's definition. "I'm impressed." Max snickered, amused.

"Thank you," he said. "But seriously, I think it's really…pleasing…that we're able to have this sort of an adventure, minus the part where some bad guy tries to kill us or take over the world."

"Actually, no one we've fought so far has wanted to take over the world," Jeff corrected him.

"Just the city," Sarah put in, remembering the Masked Menace and shuddering slightly at the thought.

"Well, yeah," Ryan conceded. "But you know what I mean."

Oaru glanced at him quizzically, somewhat taken aback. "You do not jest when you say that there are those who wish to kill you?"

"Uh, no," Ryan said, surprised at the question. "That's actually serious. I mean, there haven't been too many of them, but we've gotten a few…"

"But why?" Oaru inquired. "Surely you have done nothing deserving of death!"

"Perhaps it is best explained like this," Jessica began. "As heroes, we do what we can to protect people, and that includes fighting against those who seek to harm them. Sometimes, those people grow angry that we have stopped them, and make it a personal battle. In one instance, a group of criminals banded together against us; in another, we fought against a man who wanted to conquer our city, and he captured us and we hadn't escaped."

"This news is somewhat disturbing," Delris said. "Of course we have seen similar things when wars or battles have broken out in our kingdom, but I did not realize that it also applied to—what is the term you used? 'Super heroes'?"

"Yes, super heroes," Richard confirmed.

"Well, it's like you said earlier," Max put in. "Our worlds ain't that different. Sure we dress different and talk a little different, and you guys live in a land full of dinosaurs, but far as I can tell, people are the same all over."

"That's very profound of you, Max," Jessica complimented. No one spoke for a moment as the point sank in. It was true that there were an uncomfortable number of malicious or dangerous people in the world, but all of them were glad not to have to deal with one at the present.

Ryan swallowed a mouthful of meat, and then decided to break the awkward silence. "So, uh, what exactly is this we're eating?" he asked. "This isn't like any kind of meat I've ever had before."

"Ah," said Oaru. "I'm glad you asked, for I have recently remembered one of the other uses we have for some dinosaurs. Some of them are plentiful in number but have little other use to us, but we have found a use for them."

"Wait…what are you saying?" Ryan asked, hoping that the answer was not what he thought it was.

Delris smiled slightly. "A few days ago, Oaru went fishing on the outer edges of the island, and caught a few good-sized ichthyosauri. The meat has lasted for a few days. Good, isn't it?"

"So…we're eating a dinosaur?" Jessica asked, slightly upset by the realization. "Particularly an ichthyosaur?"

"That is correct," said Oaru. "How do you like it?"

"Lovely," Sarah commented, hoping that the brothers would not easily recognize sarcasm. The meat had not tasted bad, but the knowledge that she was eating a dinosaur was somewhat upsetting. She thought of the classic gag in cartoons or on children's shows in which someone would enjoy a food but then spit it out once they learned the disgusting truth of what they were eating, and she did not want to do that. It would be impolite and might offend Delris and Oaru. Still, she wasn't sure if she could continue eating.

"I gotta say, it's the best dinosaur I ever had," Max commented. A few of his teammates exchanged quizzical glances, but most of the company laughed heartily at his joke.

Delris finished eating a chunk of meat, the last slice of ichthyosaur he had on his plate. He drowned it down with a swig of water, and then stood abruptly. "It has been lovely dining with all of you," he said, as if he were about to leave.

"Brother, where are you going?" Oaru inquired, puzzled.

"I must make the nightly rounds of the palace grounds," Delris answered. "You know this, Oaru."

"Yes, but we have guests," Oaru persisted. "I should think that the rounds would be able to wait so that you could spend more time in their company."
"The rounds are made every night, no matter what," Delris countered. "And they don't take a very long time. Besides, I for one will sleep much easier knowing that criminals such as—well, you know who—are still locked up safely in the dungeon. Please, entertain our guests while I'm gone." He turned and left the dining room, entering into the myriad corridors of the palace interior.

"Please excuse the minor disruption," Oaru said to the Guardians. "The rounds are indeed completed every night, and even though I sometimes wish that they did not have to be, Delris does have a reasonable argument. There are criminals—one in particular—who are dangerous to the populace and must be kept locked up."

"Kind of like super villains?" Enormo guessed.

"Villains, certainly," Oaru agreed. "Though they do not have these special abilities which you call super powers. Even so, they are quite dangerous nonetheless." Oaru could see that his guests were curious about this matter, but not wanting to talk about it, he quickly changed the subject. "And that reminds me," he said. "Just as all of you are curious about things in our world, I have some questions about you as well."

"What can we tell you?" Richard asked.

"Delris and I already know about the general workings of your society, as we frequently visit your world and observe it from afar. Mostly, I am curious as to exactly how the six of you acquired your amazing abilities. I understand that they are products of your modern sciences, am I correct?"

"You are," Jessica confirmed. "But they were quite unexpected products. It was quite an accident that this happened."

"Fascinating. But how exactly did it happen?"

"We were chasing down a man who later became one of our greatest enemies," Sarah explained.

"Except for me," Max put in. "I didn't join them til later."

"Right," Sarah confirmed.

"This man was also quite a man of science," Jeff continued. "And, apparently, the vehicle in which he was riding when we chased him was full of a bunch of weird chemicals and stuff."

"And, when our car crashed into his, the chemicals and stuff pretty much crashed into all of us," Ryan concluded. "Our car went off the road, we fell into a gorge, and next thing we knew, we all had powers."

"That's essentially it," Richard agreed.

"Intriguing," Oaru said sincerely. "I must admit that I do not fully understand the entire story, but I suppose there are many parts of your modern sciences that I cannot comprehend."

"Look, there are many parts of our modern sciences that I can't comprehend," Ryan said.

"Ryan, stop making fun of yourself," Sarah scolded. "We all know you're smarter than that." In truth, Ryan had been half joking; sure, he was no scientific genius like Richard, but he was hardly stupid.

"And, tell me," Oaru said, still quite curious. "You said that you had fought many villains—super villains. Do these people also have abilities such as yours?"

"Some of them," Ryan said. "The first villain we fought wasn't actually a person, but a monster that came from—"

"Oaru, there is terrible news!"

Everyone turned to look towards Delris, who had suddenly reentered the room and was looking frantic, panicked. Ryan didn't like the sound of what he had just heard, and hoped that the news was only moderately terrible, not too terrible.

"What is it, Delris?" Oaru asked, equally concerned. "Have you completed the rounds already?"

"Bother the rest of the rounds!" Delris exclaimed. "I've just discovered that Haugla has escaped!"

Oaru's mouth opened in shock, and for a moment he just stared silently at his brother. "Are you certain?" he asked at length.

"He is not in his cell, and the door has been forced open," Delris said. "I know not how long he has been gone, but I fear the worst."

Oaru was at a loss for words. "This…this is terrible."

The Guardians were still sitting at the table finishing up the meal, but the brothers' tone made them all concerned and frightened. "Excuse me," Richard said politely. "But who is Haugla? And is there anything that we can do to help?"

Delris sighed, clearly extremely frustrated. "I had hoped that there would be no need to explain this tale, and that you and your team would not need to be brought into it. But now, it seems that we have little choice. You should probably know about Haugla."

"They should certainly know," Oaru corrected him. "Because if Haugla is free, then we do not know whether he is still on the island, or has gone to the mainland. And if it is the latter, then both our worlds are in danger."

"And if he has brought others with him, then we may need the six of you to help us stop him," Delris said.

Ryan sighed, somewhat exasperated. "So much for an adventure without any villains."

Trouble in paradise? Seems like it. Too bad; we were starting to enjoy it there. Who is this Haugla character, and what does he have planned following his subtle yet daring escape? And can the Guardians and Sword and Saber stop it? That should be enough questions to keep you in suspense til next issue!