"Try it," Rick provoked once more with a striving smile, a constant smirk. The hot sun blazed above intensely, profusely, hotly. Cloudless skies rained after an hour or two's worth of raining. The smell of fresh, wet grass disturbed noses, and pleased others, invigorating them one way or another with their sharp, surefire scent that lingered about from every direction. Trees were tall stalks amongst the embedded, clean sky, their leaves and branches etched always somewhat into the paradise known as above, the haven of reality, the heaven away from home away from home.

Tension stirred into nothingness, swirling into forgotten races. They stood from each other with a fair distance, a perfected measure. Not a breath was taken, for they seemed too dangerous to commit now, living became a sin. Then, it was a climax. With a pulse of energy and suddenly decided readiness, Mark swung his arm once curvedly through the air and out came a huge uproar of ground at his side. It was a small fissure that poured dust and dirt out, spewing all the troubles of hell it had seemed to recuperate from the depths of the world, the core of the land we knew so well, but didn't. The eruption of dust misted the entire area; Rick blasted a spark towards the ground a second too late – Mark had dodged it.

With a magnetic burst of arm, Rick swung at the air once more, emitting a large squealing burst of noise that sent the puffy, engorged and choked clouds of foggy dust into nonexistence, fading them away with certain power. Right away, Rick began to sleuth around for Mark. He was not there; there was nothing suspicious about the ground… where could he be? Rick ticked at his own tongue. Meanwhile, Marissa continued to stare, halfheartedly, no longer really trying to remain hidden anymore, no longer really trying at all. Her fingers of grace traced over the bark of the thick tree before her with delicate fingers, a soft, glowing touch that had lost its purpose of use, its meaning of life. She remained standing there, sad, depressed, lost and deprived of her proof of existence. Why did she matter anyway? Was she just a mere shell, hiding away to Sound Half Spirit like treasure, like safekeeping it, guarding it? Was she just… a defense to who anyone would try to break through?

Rick paid no attention to her; he figured she did not have problems. She never did, anyways; it was always he had problems, or, to be more specific, one problem, which she had helped him with and solved a long time ago. Now it was his time to be strong. But even so, he still didn't recognize the answer to the question he had asked Raikettei in the deep, dark halls that always seemed to be lost themselves: "What is the meaning of power?" Words to the lyrics of the song of answers still lost, Rick continued to contemplate it, at the same time using the other half of his mind to pay close attention to the features of the ground, the slight sounds that were made that would soon seem unnatural, or any of the type.

Still a bit blinded from the wisps of leftover dust and smoke, Rick's vermillion eyes peered from right to left, right to left continuously in a non-stop cycle until he found something. But he never did. His search never ended; it continued to continue. Then, suddenly, from the ground burst a body easily recognized, bursting from the surface in just a matter of seconds, inducing shock, surprise, suspicion into people's eyes. Rick began to turn around, a bit too late as Mark, still above the ground with bits and pieces of rock floating with him, reeled in a kick from the side and towards Rick's head.

Rick, reacting quickly, dodged the attack; a swing of air whistled right past him as he prepared himself within seconds during the standby. Mark cried out from the unexpected miss. He brought himself closer now, and blasted a spark to Mark's body while it was still helplessly hovering in the air. The small shock of electricity sent throughout Mark's body and began to make his body shiver in a crisp. Rick wondered what was wrong – could he have done something incorrect, and put Mark's life in danger? He hoped to paradise that he hadn't. The crisp, snapping sound of Mark's body began to continue, with louder bursts of noise, and shorter intervals as well.

Mark's eyes began to freeze in petrifaction, his features completely iced over in fear, or so it seemed. The cracking began to discolor his skin, too, as well as his clothes into a false, stony gray. The place where Rick had tapped Mark's body had grown a fault, and continued to spread throughout the body until it collapsed and fell apart into nothing but a moraine of sediment, a forgotten pile of junk, a drumlin of decoy. It hadn't been the real one after all.

Then, before he knew it, Rick had the ground underneath him rumbling all around. He stammered a bit on his feet as he recovered himself from the last attack. He breathed sharply, a second's bare worth of a breath, and jumped away as his last position erupted right before his eyes and closed in like a tomb, a pyramid of rocky, brown surface. It was Mark who, inevitably hid himself, made the ground rumble beneath every step Rick took and make the ground he stood on crumble and rise and close in on him, creating a kind of prison of rock walls. The "prisons" were fairly large; they collapsed under your feet first to take you by surprise and postpone movement while the ground of a fair radius away from your all rose at once and created a coned ceiling above you, trapping you in darkness and a suffocation waiting to happen. Rick gulped at the thought of getting caught in one.

The blonde jumped expertly away again right after taking a millisecond-time step. The ground erupted there, too. Mark was not letting any chances pass up. Rick continued to dodge the ground, hearing, listening to the constant rumbling and shifting of the earth beneath his feet, for it was no longer his helper anymore, it was no longer neutral. Nature was against him, and he had not enough time to fight back. All he could do was jump and run. He jumped another attack, and another; tens of tombs at random places were around the place, trailing his hurried and dashed footsteps. Then, it happened.

Rick overlooked one, miniscule thing and tripped on, ironically, a rock, and grunted as he looked down to catch the fault in his running. He felt one foot lift from the ground and the other lose its balance dramatically. He scowled, knowing he couldn't make it, and at the same time, the ground plunged beneath his feet, and rose and tumbled around him, trapping him in the rocky pandemonium he had promised himself not to be captured into. His promise was officially broken. He scowled a bit, waited for the fear to pulse away from his body and radiate elsewhere. He gulped from anxiety.

"This won't stop me," he informed Mark, wherever he was. His voice bounced back to him a million times over, vibrating over him, shocking him. He sent a wave of magnetism out at once, tremendously overdoing it due to the fact of the sparse sight he had at the time. Then, he knew he would get out. He began to thrust his arms constantly for a short while, a miniature sort of his ultimate technique. He expected the walls before him to break apart and collapse, and pour in the sunlight from outside like a silent retching. But it didn't happen. The only sunlight that specked on his forehead was the tiny slivers of light that seeped through the slits between pillar rocks that constructed the walls so well.

Why weren't they falling? He couldn't have missed his attacks. So what happened? All was unclear. But he didn't have time to figure it out. Before he could even get a sentence out through thought, a hard punch sent him flying right through the walls of the tomb and sent him outside, just as he wished. His right cheek stung with throbbing pain; he found himself on the ground surrounded by pebbles and broken sediment soon enough. The hot sun pounded on him with burden once again. "What?" he called out.

The tomb began to crash and deconstruct, destructing itself into its own oblivion. As everything crashed and burned, and dust once again spewed into the sky, Mark was left there, standing, watching Rick who, evidently, still on the ground. "You succeeded when you sent the magnetic distortions to the walls of the technique," Mark began. Rick blinked. "But that doesn't mean that they fall apart right away, meaning that you, the user, has to take it down with a simple move. But that's where your weakness is." Rick seemed in shock. "I came from the ground after you sent the magnetic waves, so I wouldn't be affected, while you were in the darkness, and didn't notice my presence. I stood in the direction towards you, though, facing you, and when you used those spark attacks, you hit me and my armor, not the walls of the cave," Mark finished explaining. He brought up his arms; there were patches of red rock stuck together all over – they slowly retracted themselves into normal skin once again. Random places on his face and legs and everywhere did the same, had the same effect. It was one thing they shared.

Rick forced a scoff as he got back up from the ground, dusting his clothes a bit. "You're good," he admit defeat.

"You're better," Mark smiled and cocked his head to the side. And all the while, Marissa watched, and felt like crying. And felt like sobbing her eyes out, dying. She froze in the half-shadow. She watched them forever.

PoVS

About an hour later, the Council and Minors found themselves, once again, in the same room, talking about the same things, discussing the same processes required and what was going to occur next. It was the same old thing with these twenty four significances, always speaking of their task, always sending them off and separating until a week or so later or maybe even a few days, would they come back and just wait, and train for the next task. Sometimes, this process was taxing, tedious, in fact. Sometimes it was worth it, to know that you had accomplished something, or gotten over one of the many problems in your life, where even one made a difference, because one took away additional stress. One took away additional thoughts of whatever one had thought of before. So now, they discussed once more. Now, they talked once more, and the Minors listened. Only one Council spoke. The rest watched after his words, as if they didn't trust them.

"You are to leave this dimension after we have this discussion," Shintenmaru had said. "You are to be assigned into six teams of two, each team sent on an "escort" task of six different individuals in the Outer World. Their families always spawn in the same cities, and others are specifically somewhere else. We will tell you these locations. Once you are clear about everything, you are to leave, again I say, right away. Do you understand?" he looked around the room, watching faces, watching for reactions as if secretively, yet not the least bit slyly.

"Wait," Daniel interrupted. "Why are these six individuals significant?" he asked in a clear voice. "What do we need them for? How do we know we're not just wasting our time looking for them and asking them such a thing as to come with us and change their lives with us just like we did for you?"

"In other words," Dylan began his own rephrasing. "What makes them so special? And why would they so easily agree to us?"

"They won't," Raikettei answered. Eyes began to widen in the room, confused and dazzled. "They don't have to agree with you. They just have to work with you. They have no choice but to come with you, though. It is not an obligation, or privilege, it is a requirement, a command," he explained.

"So, then, why them specifically?" Daniel stepped up.

"Because," Shintenmaru took the gold. He took a careful look at all the Minors, then all the Councils. His teammates nodded to him in permissiveness. "All right, when we were infused with our powers as a result of White Cloak sealing the twelve original 'Free Spirits' into us randomly, he tried looking for us and absorbing us for our power, because his goal back then was to conquer worlds, correct? You all know this story?"

Minors nodded, looked at each other to have reassurance. "However, the power of the Free Spirits was overwhelming; we could not possibly control it at our age. So as a result, we could not defend ourselves if White Cloak was to come to us; we'd have to surrender." Shitnenmaru seemed to cough a bit, uneasily before continuing. "However, there was this… organization, I guess you could call it, that respected life's creations, like the Free Spirits themselves, and protected us from White Cloak," Shintenmaru went on to say. Slowly, things were beginning to piece together. "After things happened and time went on, they had decided to create six different families, six divisions of power that were to 'guard' us whenever they weren't around, or when they, in case, died."

Everyone was following along so far, which was great. Shintenmaru could see the anxiousness in their young eyes. He continued. "These six families, each giving birth to at least one child every generation as a requirement, which isn't hard to fulfill, had powers of their own. The reason for this requirement is so that just in case we, the Council, or you, in this matter, the Minors, are in trouble, we could call upon the latest generation 'Guardians' for their assistance. Another requirement of theirs is to leave on request."

"But do we really need them now? Are we really doing that bad that we need help?" Daniel asked, crossing his arms before him. He gave a low scowl, as if unhappy with what he was hearing. His glasses seemed stiff; his posture seemed a bit stressed.

"It's not that you guys aren't doing a well job at whatever we ask you to do," Tsukansu began to explain calmly with a cooling smile. "But, it's just that, White Cloak has gotten stronger – much stronger than we had realized over the five centuries apart. We'd thought he had completely given up and, well, died out from old age. But apparently, that is false, as you know, and has the power to rip all of you apart whenever he feels like it, and maybe even us now. We just need the Guardians to boost our potential and chances of succeeding in a worst-case-scenario of fighting with White Cloak with all twenty-four of us, and with the Guardians, thirty."

"What about Jeremy? Doesn't he have some mysterious power that we still don't even know about yet?" Teresa asked out of the blue. Her face seemed so innocent, so unknowing. If only she did know. She would have remained silent. Dylan looked to the ground; Lance was at his side, clearing his throat out of discomfort. Teresa wondered what was wrong, due to the sparseness of an answer to her question. "I'm just saying, shouldn't we count him? We haven't forgotten about him, right?"

Tsukansu cleared his throat uneasily. "Right, absolutely," he said sympathetically. Teresa seemed uneasy. There was a moment of eerie, suspicious silence.

"Okay, so what happens after we get them here?" Kenneth asked out of the blue to break the silence. Things immediately returned to normal, strangely. Tension was broken into conformity.

"We'll see their levels of power and growth. If it is sufficient, we'll just have to see where it goes from there. And if we can, we'll improve them, if possible, of course," Shintenmaru explained almost immediately, almost tensely and uncomfortably. Memories faded into his mind, unwanted memories. It was the same for the rest of the Council. They couldn't help but feel a strong wave of guilt wash over them, even if they were not directly related to what had happened…back then.

"Aside from that," Tsukansu cleared his throat, trying to defy his feelings. He could sense the tension building up again after a small second of silence, a small second that had seemed to elongate in a stuffed second of eternity. "The teams will be consisting of the following: Dylan and Zack, Derek and Kenneth, Teresa and Lance, Eric and Walter, Rick and Mark, and Daniel and Marissa." Marissa gasped sharply. Daniel raised a brow a bit in curiosity.

The girl turned to Rick, who had no eyes on her. She wondered. Would I be able to survive… without Rick? She wondered about it more. "Hold on, wait a minute," Derek called out. "Eric's not here. We can't leave right away without him," he muttered calmly, a bit crossly, too. Derek folded his arms together toughly to take more of a stand; his eyes narrowed a bit, just a hint of intimidating. However, he couldn't express how happy he was that he wasn't in the same team as Zachary. It was funny to call him by his real name.

The Council looked around; the Minors looked around. They were right. Eric was nowhere in sight. Was he still recovering? "It's true; he isn't here," Shintenmaru acknowledged. "I suppose you guys will have to go without him; he can absolutely waste no time at all – and I know you want to argue it, but this decision is not open for discussion."

Minors scowled. "Yes, it is," Daniel begged to differ. "Anything is open for discussion – you can't make anything not open for discussion; you're just trying to get the upper hand," he scorned through ground teeth. "And you can't just leave behind Eric like that; he's an important member of the Minors, not to mention that he's one of the six strongest in here, that excludes even me!"

"My brother's right," Kenneth argued. "We can't leave someone like Eric behind! We're nothing without him." Many nodded.

"Despite him not being in my team, I'd still like Eric to go; you're not giving him a chance!" Teresa argued. "And because since Eric's not going, I'm deciding not to leave, either," she growled rather irrationally. Shintenmaru seemed uneasy standing in that big, empty room. He gulped from nervousness. Would he win over this time? "How about it, then?"

"Shintenmaru," Derek muttered with crossed arms and stressed features. "If you don't get Eric to go, we're going to have some problems," Derek growled from ground teeth and threatening eyes. Was that a bit of coyness just now from Shintenmaru? The Council could barely talk, and soon, all the Minors were complaining, protesting for Eric's right to go. They would not leave without him, just like Teresa had said.

"Boy, they really love this guy, huh?" Zack asked himself as he brought a hand to scratch the back of his head. He sighed. "How come they don't love me as much??" he complained adorably, cutely.

"'Cause," Derek began with closed eyes, looking all insightful and ready to insult. "Why do you think? You act like a childish idiot all the time. You don't do anything that's important," he remarked.

"That's not true! I do a lot of things!" Zack called out with expanded features.

"Oh yeah?" Derek provoked, getting in the boy's face, growling at him, both boys nose to nose now hissing at each other that they could feel each other's breath on their necks. "Like what?" Zack couldn't think of anything. Derek, the spiky-headed Shadow Minor won over once again. Voices began to ring out once again and fill the room confusedly, mixed words and sentences confining themselves into each tiny little vowel and each miniscule consonant that sounded themselves out into a mixed syllable of twisted meaning, voices echoing off each other, bouncing hyperactively together throughout the room in vibration. Then, invisibly, it was as if a small smile spread upon Tsukansu's face.

"Stop!" a voice rang from the hall. The voices stopped. Eyes peered to the left, to look, to watch. The Council did the same; it had been one of them. The twenty-two sets of eyes found Hanabikai, standing at the threshold of the hallway. He had been missing, too, and no one had noticed. They felt a bit guilty, now standing before him. Hanabikai had a tough, gruff face over him. Half his body remained eroded at the side panel of the threshold; the hall was wider than the door itself. Much wider. Then, soon, Hanabikai's expression changed from grim to happy, smiling brightly with those perfect white teeth of his. "You guys don't need to yell and scream all the time, you know? You're teens; you got a long way ahead of you." Some scowled. Hanabikai chuckled. "And so does this guy," he moved closer towards the door to reveal the other half of him, which carried Eric in his arms, the boy's almost fully recovered state needing only the slightest help from the Council beside him. Eric's arm was wrapped around Hanabikai's shoulder for a bit of assistance. Eric to the Minors, and, being the always tough, serious person he was, he smiled, and for once, wasn't that protective about showing his emotions.

"You guys want Eric?" Hanabikai stared into the crowd of Minors watching. "Well then, I've got one thing to tell you all." Everyone stared at him; Hanabikai made sure everyone, everyone was paying attention. Hanabikai took a deep breath before speaking the last words: "You guys are going with him!" he shouted. And there were cheers.