A.N.: Today happens to be Braid Boy Urameshi's birthday, so here's the long overdue chapter.


Chapter 008

The True Heroes Back on Focus

Wednesday, 19th February

The news of Fenrochi's brief reign of chaos spread like fire (any and all puns intended, though laughter and groans are strictly optional) thanks to mass usage of phones with cameras, and to the peculiar human instinct of turning all tragedies into public spectacles. Footage made by people who had been in the audience when Fenrochi shot a fireball at Franklin Hill made it to televised news programmes and attained record number of views in a certain popular video-sharing website. Those footages were deemed so spectacular that news channels all over the world reported the incident.

In a rather curious turn of events, however, all versions of the story focused not on how destructive and dangerous the fire dragon had been, but on how heroic it was that two children had taken control of the situation and saved the day. Plenty was said about Urameshi's incredible power to single-handedly put out the flames. There were more than enough retellings of Yuy's bravery in rescuing Hill and fearlessly threatening the giant fire dragon. But the media stayed suspiciously silent about why the MaruMonzterz Japanese Tournament organisers had allowed the fight to get so out of hand in the first place, and what they planned to do to ensure the safety of the public and participants in upcoming matches. It was almost as if someone very powerful and very shady had a vested interest in ensuring the tournament carried on as usual and that Ken stayed in the competition.

Kinomoto's involvement in Fenrochi's defeat was also pointedly ignored, though this was most likely to be because she was a girl (and thus should have no place in epic fights anyway) rather than because of a worldwide conspiracy to shield people from the very real danger posed by True Spirits. Everyday sexism was such an established practice in all big media companies that it happened even when nobody necessarily intended for it to be that way.

The only one who could have tried to make some noise about the perils of allowing psychopathic True Spirits to be controlled by young children was Franklin Hill. He had been by far the most affected by the day's events, and most importantly, he was rich enough to potentially buy space for his arguments anywhere he wanted. Hill was, however, offered a very generous kind of compensation that guaranteed his silence and his re-entry into the plot when everyone least expected. So the MaruMonzterz Japanese Tournament carried on the next day like nothing had happened. The burnt parts of the arena were efficiently replaced during the night, and the referee, Commentator, and even Maruyama were strongly advised to never mention this 'unfortunate accident' again.

But of course, once the tournament gained space in the news, and footage of the very real and scary (and therefore very attractive and awesome) raw power of True Spirits became more widely spread, the number of people wanting to know more about the game and witness the thrill of almost being burned alive by a fire dragon reached an all-time high. The stadium was packed for Rumiko's fight and for the documentary that preceded it.

"Wow, there are so many people here!" Rumiko exclaimed when she and Kinomoto entered the stadium. They still had five minutes before the day's documentary was due to start, but there were hardly any seats still available. "I hope we can still sit together…"

"At least Urameshi-san and Urashima-san are not coming. I think finding two sears together is possible, but four does not look likely," Kinomoto answered. She started walking around in search for places for the two of them, and Rumiko followed suit. "It now seems they took the right decision in staying outside to practice."

"Maybe, but I still think it would be nice if they came to watch my fight," Rumiko said. "It feels like they don't think I'm important."

"Please do not say that, Higurashi-san." Kinomoto stopped walking in order to face her friend. Rumiko's eyes were watery. "I think Urameshi-san and Urashima-san decided they did not need to come today because they have full confidence that you will win, not because they think you are not important." Noticing that her words were not making Rumiko few any better, Kinomoto stepped closer to her and smiled. "Urashima-san needs all the help he can get if he wants to be able to control Fenrochi. He came here as soon as school was over so he and Urameshi-san could start practicing, and they plan to keep going for as long as they can today."

"But they could've taken a break to watch me!" Rumiko argued, still feeling upset.

"This might be true, but I think they did not realise that. When your fight is over, we can ask why this did not occur to them. Urameshi-san does not seem like the kind of person who likes to hurt others. I am sure he was not trying to make you feel bad." Kinomoto tried everything she could to cheer Rumiko up, but she had very little experience with having friends in general and cheering those friends up in particular, so she quickly ran out of arguments. "And you still have me. I came to watch your fight and be witness to your incredible power."

Kinomoto's argument did not sound that great for Rumiko, but it definitely struck a chord with Fenki. 'See, Master, now we have to show her all our power!' the True Spirit shouted in Rumiko's head. 'Screw the friends who don't want to see how cool we are! We'll give everyone else a spectacle and they'll be sorry they missed it!'

'But…' Rumiko tried to argue with the True Spirit, but Fenki would have none of it.

'No buts, Masters! Let's remind everyone that we are the heroes, not that dragon that can't even keep his fire to himself! It's been far too long since we did anything important in this story!' Fenki's ranting distracted Rumiko long enough for Kinomoto to find places for them. The girls had barely accommodated their bums on their comfy chairs when the traditional opening song of the documentaries blasted through the screens. This time, though, instead of the voice of angelical little children, the opening was sung by deep male voices, making it sound either quite funny or utterly terrifying, depending on one's individual tastes.

The documentary opened with a shot of an unremarkable gray shoebox-style building that the subtitles located in Moscow, Russia. After a couple of seconds, the image switched to a meeting room, presumably inside the shoebox building. The meeting room's only piece of furniture was a big oval table with eight chairs, three on each side and one at each head. There were seven people in the room. For some reason the camera had been positioned behind the one occupied head of the table, so that the only identifiable details of the man sitting there were his black hair in a military haircut and his very broad shoulders that almost did not fit his suit. As for the other six men, they all looked incredibly similar, from their dark suits to their red ties and from their empty facial expressions to the fact that their eyes, nose, cheeks, jaws, haircuts, mouths, moustaches and beards were so precisely identical that they might as well have been sextuplets. Yet, curiously enough, the men were actually from entirely different countries, at least according to the nametags in front of their seats.

The incorporeal narrator spoke over scenes of the men debating an inaudible subject. 'Welcome to the MaruMonzterz World Association Headquarters in Moscow, Russia. Here you see the representatives of each host country discussing important matters with our illustrious MaruMonzterz World Association President. Today, we will learn a little more about what to expect from all stages of the World Tournament, in the words of the representatives themselves.

The scene changed to a close up of the first representative standing in front of an important-looking bookshelf. The man was identified as Richard Zhang Wei from Hong Kong, host city of the Asian Tournament. Despite his alleged East Asian origins, the man looked identical to the other non-Asian representatives, who themselves looked like they came from somewhere in the depths of Siberia. While this incredible similarity between all representatives did not, in itself, suggest something suspicious about the origins of these men, the fact that his voice (and that of his counterparts) turned out to be the same as the one singing the opening of the documentary created a general feeling of weirdness and embarrassment that was remarkably difficult to shake off, even after the documentary was over.

'Hello MaruMonzterz fans from around the world. I am Richard Zhang Wei and I want to say a few words about what to expect from the upcoming MaruMonzterz Asian Tournament.' Richard Zhang Wei spoke English with a certain Slavic ring to it, though the Japanese listeners who relied mostly on subtitles to understand the man's words did not notice this particular detail. It would take a minimally observant English native speaker to notice his interesting accent, and to notice the fact that Richard Zhang Wei's way of speaking was the same as the other representatives'.

And this (finally!) might figure as enough reason to suggest there was something very suspicious about the origins of those representatives and about the process that led to them being chosen as such. Not that it would matter much, though, because everyone who worked for the MaruMonzterz World Association valued their lives too much to dare to challenge a decision made by their Illustrious President.

'The Asian Tournament will take place in Hong Kong, China, during the months of March and April. We have a total of twenty-eight nations participating. Both the winner and runner-up automatically get a place at the Grand Final in Moscow in November and December. Additionally, the winner gets a special place in the MaruMonzterz Oceanic Tournament. So there is everything to play for, and nothing to lose!'

Despite the content of his words, Richard Zhang Wei's tone lacked the expected enthusiasm. His overall performance ended up rather robotic and lifeless, but he was a man in a suit, and thus everyone felt compelled to like it anyway.

Next, the representative for New Zealand appeared in front of the important-looking bookshelf, though it was only possible to know he was a different person because the subtitles said so. 'Hello MaruMonzterz fans from around the world. I am Stewart Cockburn and I want to say a few words about what to expect from the upcoming MaruMonzterz Oceanic Tournament. The tournament will take place in Auckland, New Zealand, during the month of May. We have a total of fourteen nations participating. Both the winner and runner-up automatically get a place at the Grand Final in Moscow in November and December. Additionally, the winner gets a special place in the MaruMonzterz African Tournament. So there is everything to play for, and nothing to lose!'

Once again, this turned out to be a robotic performance of a man in a suit. The smarter members of the audience who had good knowledge of English (namely Yuy and a few random people who were otherwise not important to the plot) got a strong feeling that something had gone horribly wrong in the election process that resulted in six identical robotic humans being chosen to oversee the key stages of the MaruMonzterz World Tournament. And to add insult to injury, there was the fact that whoever was responsible for writing the representatives' speeches was inspired by how they all looked like lazy copies of one another and decided to create matching lazy copies of one single speech (thought this could be just the case of someone at the Plot Development Department running out of creativity to write six different speeches). Four more speeches followed, all in the same exact pattern with just a few key words changed, and each new speaker was only identifiable because a new name appeared in the subtitles:

'Hello MaruMonzterz fans from around the world. I am Simon Dickenson and I want to say a few words about what to expect from the upcoming MaruMonzterz African Tournament. The tournament will take place in Cape Town, South Africa, during the months of June and July. We have a total of fifty-four nations participating. Both the winner and runner-up automatically get a place at the Grand Final in Moscow in November and December. Additionally, the winner gets a special place in the MaruMonzterz South American Tournament. So there is everything to play for, and nothing to lose!'

'Hello MaruMonzterz fans from around the world. I am Arnaldo Caio Pinto da Rocha and I want to say a few words about what to expect from the upcoming MaruMonzterz South American Tournament. The tournament will take place in Porto Alegre, Brazil, during the month of August. We have a total of twelve nations participating. Both the winner and runner-up automatically get a place at the Grand Final in Moscow in November and December. Additionally, the winner gets a special place in the MaruMonzterz North American Tournament. So there is everything to play for, and nothing to lose!'

'Hello MaruMonzterz fans from around the world. I am Benjamin Hunt and I want to say a few words about what to expect from the upcoming MaruMonzterz North American Tournament. The tournament will take place in Ottawa, Canada, during the month of September. We have a total of twenty-two nations participating. Both the winner and runner-up automatically get a place at the Grand Final in Moscow in November and December. Additionally, the winner gets a special place in the MaruMonzterz European Tournament. So there is everything to play for, and nothing to lose!'

'Hello MaruMonzterz fans from around the world. I am Hrafn Geir Benediktsson and I want to say a few words about what to expect from the upcoming MaruMonzterz European Tournament. The tournament will take place in Reykjavík, Iceland, during the month of October. We have a total of forty-three nations participating. Both the winner and runner-up automatically get a place at the Grand Final in Moscow in November and December. So there is everything to play for, and nothing to lose!'

By the time all short speeches were over, even the most trained teacher's pet (in other words, Kinomoto) had become bored of so much repetition. Fortunately, the rest of the documentary was considerably more exciting. The six representative-clones disappeared, and in their place came the old disembodied narrator showing images of the MaruMonzterz stadiums being built in all the host cities. This was followed by uplifting travel-agency-like adverts showing all the amazing things to do in Hong Kong, Auckland, Cape Town, Porto Alegre, Ottawa, and Reykjavík.

Finally, the last minute of the documentary was dedicated to a close up of Maruyama in front of the same important-looking bookshelf that had served as background for the representatives. He spoke in Japanese, in a speech that was obviously aimed at his home country only. 'Soon we will know who the people who will represent Japan in the MaruMonzterz Asian Tournament are. I wish our team all the success in the battles that lie ahead, and I hope you, our dear audience, can continue to support us during this time. The fights in the Asian Tournament will be broadcasted live from this stadium, so please keep coming here to follow our journey. Let's cheer together for Japan and see the team progress in the competition!'

The documentary's ending song was also sung by the six representatives, to a rather disturbing effect. At least Rumiko and her opponent of the day were called to the second floor as soon as it was over, so she got something to distract her from that sound of Hell.

"Higurashi-san, let's have a good fight today," Rumiko's opponent told her right before they were due to go down the stairs to the arena. Katsuroh Nakahara was a boy slightly older than Rumiko who did not seem very threatening, so Rumiko smiled at him too.

"Yes, let's have a good fight," she answered. They bowed respectfully and made their way to the arena.

'Master, can we kick his ass in two seconds? We have to show all our power now to make your friends feel bad they're not here to see it!' Fenki asked Rumiko while she was still preparing her MaruBall.

'I don't like the idea of doing things because it will make someone else feel bad,' Rumiko answered. 'I don't think we should…'

"Competitors ready…" the referee announced, forcing Rumiko to focus in throwing Fenki in the launch triangle. "Three, two, one, begin!"

'Then how about we kick ass now because Yuy is watching and you want to impress him?' Fenki suggested. He was not going to give up a chance to show off so easily.

'Yuy-san is scary! I don't want to make him angry at me!' While Rumiko and her True Spirit argued, Nakahara's MaruMonzter turned out to be a yellow bunny remarkably similar to the one Rumiko used to have, though with more armour. 'And look, the bunny is so adorable! I don't want to hurt it!'

'But Master, we're here to win. We have to defeat that cute bunny if you want to get anywhere in the tournament!' Fenki reminded Rumiko in an exasperated tone.

'Can we win without hurting it?' Rumiko asked. Meanwhile, the bunny started the fight in the offensive, head-butting Fenki with all its strength. The damage from each attack was minimal, so Rumiko and Fenki could carry on with their tactical discussion without fear of being unexpectedly knocked out.

'I can fart and see what happens. If that bunny has a nose, it'll pass out,' Fenki answered, this time in a delightful singsong voice.

'You don't have a fart attack, do you?' Rumiko asked, somewhat scared at the obvious pleasure his True Spirit had in being as disgusting as possible.

'Not yet, but if my Master wants me to, I'll find a way to get one.'

"No, I don't want that!" Rumiko shouted. She did not realise she had spoken out loud until the referee and her opponent stared at her with confused faces.

"Higurashi-chan seems to be having a conversation with herself!" the Commentator announced. Rumiko's face turned into a bright tomato because of her embarrassment, but Fenki showed remarkable lack of empathy.

'Then I guess the good old vomit will do, right?' Without waiting for an answer, Fenki shot his infamous slime green ball at the cute bunny, covering half the arena in its putrid stench. The bunny never stood a chance. 'Now that's more like it! The hero is back in action! Oh, yeah!'

"Higurashi wins the first round!" the referee announced, though Rumiko did not feel much like celebrating. She could feel her True Spirit smiling maniacally even as it dissolved in a puddle of goo and reformed into its usual black MaruBall.

"Argh, it smells!" Nakahara exclaimed as soon as he got within two steps from his MaruBall. Luckily, the bunny had reformed just outside the green goo zone, which enabled him to pick up his MaruBall without contaminating the rest of his clothes with the stench.

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean for it to happen…" Rumiko tried to apologise, but it only made her opponent angry.

"Oh really? How's that even possible? You have an attack that makes everything around it smell horribly, and you ordered your overpowered monster to use it. I don't see how that counts as 'didn't mean it'. Unless you somehow can't really control your own True Spirit…" There was definitely a sadistic grin in Nakahara's face. He was not old enough, experienced enough, or important enough to really mean his words, but Rumiko had no way of knowing that. She had way too little experience with being a Main Character to be able to tell the difference between a cannon fodder of an opponent luckily guessing her weakness and a main villain purposely trying to confuse her. So, even though her opponent was the 'cannon fodder' type, his comment was as effective as one made by a major villain trying to psychologically destabilise the story's heroine.

"No… No…" Rumiko desperately tried to deny the boy's accusation, but in doing so only made it more obvious that there might have been a bit of truth in it. "Fenki is perfectly under control! We know what we're doing!"

"Oh, really? Ok, then, I will believe you." Despite his words, Nakahara returned to his platform with the kind of grin that indicated the exact opposite.

The referee did not give the duo too much time to talk. "Competitors ready… Three, two, one, begin!"

Rumiko and Nakahara threw their MaruBalls in the arena. Before Rumiko could even think about her next move, Nakahara spoke to her.

"Hey, Higurashi-san, what else can your True Spirit do? Can he burn the arena like that fire dragon? It was so cool!"

"No, Fenki can't burn anything. He's an Earth True Spirit," Rumiko answered. She got chills in her spine from the memories of Ken's fight. "And it wasn't cool, it was really scary!"

"Well, it did show everyone how powerful the dragon was. Is your True Spirit powerful like that?"

"Of course I am, human!" Fenki answered, projecting his voice for everyone in the arena to hear. He sounded even more ethereal and magnificent than when he spoke only in Rumiko's head, probably because he had a reputation and an image to uphold as a powerful being of mysterious origins. "I am even more powerful than Fenrochi! I am just waiting for a chance to show the world what I am truly capable of!"

"Cool! Then how about I give you that chance right now?" Nakahara suggested, grinning even more. The public that had come to the stadium because of Fenrochi's brief reign of chaos got properly excited when they heard Fenki speak to them, and thus made a lot of supportive noise for Nakahara's suggestion. "I know I won't win this fight anyway, but I could be at least a bit useful in making the world aware of your power…"

"I would love that!"

"No, Fenki! That's too much!" Rumiko intervened, prompting the whole stadium to send her dirty looks. Being a scared-cat of a girl, Rumiko cowed at the negative reaction, and the rest of her words came out shaky. "It's dangerous and somebody could get hurt and it's really scary…"

"I will be careful, Master! I have no reason to destroy the stadium like Fenrochi did. Everyone will be fine; they will just be amazed at my awesome power!"

"Exactly! Please, True Spirit of Earth, amaze us with your awesomeness!" Nakahara bowed to Fenki, and the whole stadium began to shout the centaur's name. Rumiko felt the pressure to let Fenki do as he wanted weighed heavily on her shoulders, but she was too scared and intimidated to say anything. She also felt Fenki's desperate wish to have his fifteen minutes (actually just about two seconds) in the spotlight, and this, more than anything, made her wary of doing what Fenki was asking her.

'No… no, I don't want Fenki turning into another Fenrochi!' was all Rumiko could think about. 'I can't do this! I'm scared! Fenki will destroy everything and it's going to be my fault! I don't want that!'

'Master, calm down.' Fenki spoke inside Rumiko's head again. Even though his voice was still deep and unearthly, he sounded a lot gentler. 'Just as you can feel my excitement, I can feel your fear. I understand you're scared because of what happened yesterday, but you don't have to be afraid of me. I'm not like that horrible dragon. I don't want to hurt anyone, and particularly you. I just want to have fun and show off my hero prowess! You can trust me!'

'But…' Rumiko still sounded uncertain. The stadium got louder and louder in their demand for Fenki's show of explosive power, and the pressure to act put Rumiko increasingly on edge.

'Then how about we make a deal as a sign that I mean what I say? You announce that I can show off, but I'll only give them a very small sample of what I can do. It'll win the fight, and still leave my greatest strength secret for when the bigger fights in the next round start! What do you say?' Fenki proposed. The centaur sensed Rumiko's feelings were becoming less likely to change in his favour the longer their argument went on.

'You promise this is what you will do?'

'I give you my word that I will use just a small fraction of my total power this time around, even if you order me to unleash all of my strength.' Rumiko felt her True Spirit nodding as he spoke, even though his physical form in the arena remained completely still.

'Ok. I will try that…' Rumiko was still not completely convinced Fenki was going to keep his promise, but she felt under so much pressure that her will to end everything quickly overcame her fear of the True Spirit. "Fenki, time to show off!" she ordered in a shaky voice and immediately closed her eyes, as if not looking at the scene would be enough to protect her from what she expected to be a total carnage.

"And we're about to witness the power of another True Spirit! What is the centaur going to do? Should we run for our lives?" the Commentator shouted at top speed and volume while Fenki prepared to launch his attack. The stadium went wild with anticipation. Fenki smiled and waved to everyone before turning his attention to his little opponent. Nakahara was not even holding his MaruMind properly anymore; he knew it would be useless to try to defend from what was coming, and he would rather watch the spectacle from the best possible angle. The small possibility that he, like Hill in the previous fight, would end up becoming the target of Fenki's super-powered attack did not worry him in the slightest.

Amidst so much expectation building up, Fenki knew he had to put up a show to those people. He did a sequence of wild poses combined with aggressive grunting noises, punched his armoured chest and called out the name of his own attack as he finally released it against its target. How a being that had presumably been sealed in a piece of rock for an imprecise amount of time knew the exact way to impersonate certain types of heroes commonly found in media aimed at teenage guys would remain a mystery forever unsolved. But for those who were in the stadium that day, Fenki's dabble into the world of shonen anime became one of those unforgettable memories, the kind of story to tell mesmerised grandchildren at family events. The attack itself was pretty mild, but all the preparatory show-off more than made up for it.

"Vicious Earthquake!" Fenki shouted and charged against the bunny. The centaur technically had no suck attack, but he thought it sounded considerably more epic than shouting 'flick of the finger' or 'double butt-kick'. The 'vicious earthquake' turned out to be nothing more than Fenki charging at great speed at the bunny, then stopping at the last second to flick its forehead. The bunny was thrown against the remains of the previous round's vomit and became completely unresponsive.

"And Higurashi wins this round too, which means she goes through to the next stage of the competition!" the Commentator blasted everyone's ears once the result of the fight became clear. Only then Rumiko felt brave enough to open her eyes to see what had actually happened.

Fenki, still in his centaur form, had turned towards her. As soon as he realised his master was looking at him, he winked and gave her the thumbs up. 'See, we did it, Master! Thank you for trusting me.'

"We won?" Rumiko asked, sounding considerably surprised for someone who knew there was very little chance of losing. "We won and nothing too bad happened?"

"Congratulations, Higurashi-san. Your True Spirit is amazing," Nakahara said from his platform. He did not look very keen to retrieve his MaruBall from the puddle of smelly vomit. "Good luck in the next stage. I really hope you win the tournament."

"Thank you." Rumiko bowed, awed that her opponent would say such nice things to her. Enemies were not supposed to be nice.

'Well done, Master!' Fenki's voice echoed inside Rumiko's mind as the centaur reverted to his MaruBall form. Rumiko's MaruMind told her she had another 300 XP and could thus create a new attack if she so wished. The stadium began to chant Fenki's name again, but Rumiko did not feel afraid or pressured by the hundreds of voices this time around. Fenki had done what he said he would do. He won the fight without damaging anything. He was not like Fenrochi. The feeling that took over Rumiko was something completely new, but in a good away. 'Isn't it exciting? We're on our way to having our own fan club!'

'Exciting? I guess you can call it that way…' Rumiko answered. She had a vague sense of going up the stairs to the second floor. She knew somewhere in the back of her mind that Kinomoto was waiting by the entrance so that they could go find Ken and Urameshi to tell them about the fight. But her immediate attention was focused on this strange feeling she did not know exactly how to name.

'Aren't you proud of yourself, Master? You did great! We're a great team!' Fenki kept talking to Rumiko. He sensed the psychological turmoil in his master's head, but his limited understanding of human emotions meant he could not figure out why Rumiko felt so overwhelmed.

'Proud? Proud…' Rumiko repeated the word in her head a couple more times. Was this what being proud felt like? She could not remember any other times she felt like this. Everything she did at school ended in failure. Her teachers and classmates had lost all hope with her.

'And from now on, we have to keep up the good work! Nobody will stop us, Master! We'll be the greatest heroes ever!' Fenki's enthusiasm translated into ethereal, deep shouts. 'And let's get going because I really want a fart attack!'

"Argh, no!" Rumiko shouted out loud. Thankfully, this time around she was already close to the exit where Kinomoto awaited her. The other girl heard the shout and hurried to join Rumiko.

"What is the matter, Higurashi-san? Did something happen?" Kinomoto asked politely, after making sure Rumiko looked physically ok and not about to be injured.

"Fenki wants me to get a fart attack next!" Rumiko explained.

'It'll be the best fart attack ever!' Fenki added, though only Rumiko could hear it.

"Good luck trying to prevent that from happening." Kinomoto sighed. She did not have high hopes for Rumiko. "And congratulations on your fight today. If you win one more fight, you will be in the final."

'That's so exciting! Isn't it, Master?'

"Wow, hold on! You're going too fast! I just won one fight; I haven't had time to think about the next one!" Rumiko sounded slightly panicked.

"That is ok. The next stage is not until next week. You will have plenty of time to prepare until then." Kinomoto tried to reassure her friend.

'And to get that fart attack!' Fenki 'helpfully' reminded Rumiko, as if she needed such obvious nudges.

"No, no fart…" Rumiko spoke out loud again, but Kinomoto made no comment. She was smart and experienced enough to realise exactly what was going on.

'They are talking about fart attacks,' Flamelus explained to his master. The gryphon used the same kind of polite tone as Kinomoto, though his voice was obviously deeper and more sombre, which gave him an air of dangerous importance.

'How can you tell?' Kinomoto asked, intrigued by his True Spirit's newfound ability.

'I can hear Fenki. True Spirits can always hear each other. This is how we knew Fenrochi was bad news, and how we keep in contact even as we spread around the world sealed in tiny little rocks,' Flamelus answered, sounding a lot like a posh teacher.

'So you can hear all True Spirits all the time? You know where they all are? How many are there?' Kinomoto asked. Her excitement was so obvious even Rumiko and Fenki stopped arguing about farts to look at her. Once the questions started, they seemingly never ended. 'What are they like? Why were you all sealed in tiny little rocks? Are the other True Spirits dangerous like Fenrochi? How does that communication work?'

'This is enough, Master. I have already told you more than I should.' The gryphon probably sounded apologetic, but it was hard to tell with his ethereal voice. As much as Kinomoto wanted to press for answers, she knew it would be useless. She had been with Flamelus long enough to know when to stop her flood of questions (this had not been her first, and certainly would not be the last).

'I understand. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me, Flamelus.'

'You are most welcome, Master.'

With the conversations with their True Spirit finished for the time being, Rumiko and Kinomoto turned their attention to each other. "I think we should find Urameshi-san and Urashima-san to tell them about the fight and join their practice session," Kinomoto said. "What do you think, Higurashi-san?"

"Ok. Let's look for them." Rumiko nodded, and the girls left the stadium. They knew the boys would be nearby, but other than that, they had very little idea of where to look.

'I can sense two True Spirits fighting, and it's really epic!' Fenki shouted inside Rumiko's head, while Flamelus did the same to Kinomoto (though in a much more civilised way). The girls exchanged amazed looks and followed the directions given by their True Spirits.

They found Ken and Urameshi fighting in the car park. Urameshi's True Spirit seemed to be over two meters tall and had once again encircled Fenrochi in a water prison, but the fire dragon was resisting capture. The ground around them, as well as the boys' clothes, were wet. Urameshi's shirt also had a few singed marks.

"Now, Fenrochi! That's our chance!"

Following Ken's orders, the dragon started to glow, and his thin water prison evaporated. Urameshi grabbed his abdomen, wincing in pain.

"What is going on here?" Kinomoto asked. Fenrochi turned his attention to her. His mouth opened, and a fireball as big as the girl began to take shape.

A.N.: Sorry for the lack of updates. I'm busy with two other stories at the moment, as well as life in general.

If I know there are people interested in the story, I would be able to prioritise it a bit more. Nowadays this is a story I write because it's been my life's project since I was 13. Comments and feedback are the kind of external stimulus that could make a difference in frequency of updates... just saying.