It felt as if she'd just fallen into her bed of hay when loud yelling outside the barn they were in woke Mindy. She opened one eye, groggily uncurling herself from the dog-like sleeping position and sitting up as she blinked blearily. The others were muttering and coming into consciousness around her. She glanced around at them and climbed to her feet, stumbling outside unsteadily. As soon as she emerged into the cold night air, silence fell on the mob outside, and all eyes turned to glare at her.

            "I knew I shouldn't have had that many drinks," she commented to herself, running a hand through her hair. "The whole kingdom's looking for the tab."

            One woman, a tall blonde in her possible mid-forties, shouted at Mindy, "It's all because of you demon spawn! That's why this happened!"

            "Wait, hold up." Mindy paused to yawn, then scratched her head and asked, "What'd we do?"

            "My daughter! She's been kidnapped! And don't deny it was you four!" The woman cried angrily.

            "We didn't have anything to do with that," said a voice behind Mindy. She glanced back and saw Exodus trudging out to stand beside her, his hair sticking out at funny angles. He yawned hugely and then glanced at her. "It isn't fair that you can sleep and not look like a monkey when you get up."

            "It's a gift, dear," she muttered, distracted, before turning back to the villagers. Blatant refusal to believe was clear in all the faces that she saw.

            "If you aren't the… the… the demons that had my daughter kidnapped, bring her back and prove it!" yelled the woman.

            "Well maybe we will!" Mindy snarled.

            Chad and Gwen sleepily staggered out of the barn, yawning and glancing around.

            Mindy turned to them and grinned. "Who's up for a bit of kid hunting?"

~

            "I can't believe you dragged us into this!" Gwen growled from her seat on the back of one of the four grudgingly provided dinosaur creatures they'd been given. She glared at the back of Mindy's head and flipped up the collar of her coat. "It's the middle of the night!"

            "Oh, shut up!" Mindy snarled back, looking over her shoulder at the redhead. "We must be close by now, so quit your whining!"

            Gwen scowled, turning her glare back to the large mansion-like house they were drawing closer to. Bats hung from the edges of the roof; glowing eyes watched them carefully from the shadows.

            "This is so stupid," The redhead continued, her eyes trying to close while she tried to keep them open. "Do we know her? No. Do we care? No."

            "Shut up!" Mindy snapped.

            Gwen growled and bared her harmless human teeth, but said no more.

            "If we're trying to find something, we should at least try to get along for the time being," Chad suggested.

            "NO!" both girls yelled at once. Chad shrank back with a squeak.

            "Let's just get this over with," Mindy sighed, rubbing her eyes tiredly. She slowly began to ascend the large staircase that led up onto the porch. Her hand trailed along the wide banister, peeling paint chipping off under her light touch. She heard Exodus hurriedly begin to follow, and after a moment, Gwen and Chad as well.

            "This place is giving me the creeps," Exodus whispered, clutching onto Mindy's arm and shrinking against her slightly. Shree whistled in agreement, hiding in the hood of Mindy's coat, under her hair.

            "Come on," Mindy hissed, shaking off his arm. "Don't be such a baby."

            After a few seconds they reached the door. It was about seven feet tall and covered in worn, inlaid patterns of roses and briars. It was beautiful, definitely mahogany from Mindy's look-over, but in a way it was very intimidating.

            Hesitantly, Gwen reached out to knock. Before Mindy could stop her, the knocker hit the brass plate with a loud bang. With a loud, creaking groan, the door swung open.

            "This is creepy! Very, very creepy!" Gwen hissed between her teeth.

            No one replied. Mindy stepped inside first, setting her toes down first and then her heel in an effort to be as silent as possible. She instantly morphed her eyes to cat eyes, the pitch-blackness becoming easier to see through instantly. Quickly glancing left and right, she crept inside and began down a hall that went off to the right. The others followed her as silently as they could, occasionally giving a quiet cry of pain or stumbling into one another.

            Thinking maybe she'd be able to hear something, Mindy morphed herself wolf ears, pricking them forward and falling still. Voices met her new ears, and she concentrated to hear.

            "Let me go! I want to go home! HELP ME!" yelled a young, female voice.

            "QUIET!" shouted a male's voice. "Shut your mouth and maybe your death won't be extremely painful!"

            "Just let me go, I'll do anything! I swear!" cried the female voice.

            "Oh, really, anything? You mean-"

            Mindy demorphed her ears quickly. She'd heard enough. She looked to the others and tugged all their coats so they'd know she was going, whispering, "Come on."

            They followed a bit clumsily, stumbling over broken boards and banging softly into walls. Mindy led them to a stairwell and began to descend, the three following her blindly. Once or twice one of them would trip or misstep, but right themselves quickly enough that they were undetected. About six steps from the door – Mindy could see a faint sliver of light from a cracked door – the voices became audible. Mindy crept towards the bottom, intent on the door and getting a peek-

            "AAAARGH!" Exodus yelled, tripping and pitching forward. He slammed into Chad, who fell against Gwen, who in turn hit Mindy, causing all four of them to fall down the rest of the stairs in a struggling knot of people. They hit the door and burst through, sprawling apart into a heap on the floor of the room beyond.

            Mindy looked up, demorphing her eyes to normal as fear chilled her stomach. They were in a large dungeon-type room, entirely made of stone. The faint light came from a gasoline lantern hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room. In the far corner there was a small cage that was about three-and-a-half feet long, two feet across, and two-and-a-half feet tall.

            Inside it sat a girl of maybe seventeen. Her hair was waist-length and dark blonde, her huge, frightened eyes a dark blue.

            Standing next to the cage was a man, possibly in his early twenties. He had frozen, and was now staring at the four. His hair, a dark red similar to blood, was spiked up, with two strands falling into his narrow silver eyes. His hand, a metal, cybernetic attachment, held a crowbar firmly.

            Across the room was another girl, watching the intruders quietly with large purple eyes. She nervously ran a hand – cybernetic, and attached to a totally cybernetic arm - through her waist-length silver hair, and then turned to the man. "Sh-Shawn? W-Were we expecting visitors?"

            "No, Jamie." The man, Shawn, growled slightly and stepped towards the four, looking eerily like a very angry dog. "What are you… people doing here?"

            "We, dear sir," Mindy began sarcastically as she struggled from under the others, "are here to save…um…"

            "Patricia," the girl in the cage weakly supplied.

            "Patricia," Mindy continued, "and to clear our names in the eyes of her people."

            "This chick is staying here to become a slave," Shawn snapped irritably.

            "Uh-uh. No. Nope. Back to Kingdom Gaimo. Now," Mindy stated flatly.

            "Jamie, show our uninvited guests to the door," Shawn growled, not taking his eyes off of Mindy and her friends, who were just beginning to rise.

            "Yes, Shawn." Jamie began walking towards Mindy with a clang of metal, and Mindy looked down at the girl's feet. Dread iced into her as she saw that the girl's feet were shackled together.

            "We're not leaving without the girl." Mindy turned and walked determinedly towards the cage, pushing past Jamie on her way.

            Suddenly a hand grabbed Mindy's arm. She spun, only to be faced with Shawn. His face was about an inch from her, his eyes narrowed dangerously. He clenched his cybernetic arm tighter on her arm, almost breaking it, and hissed, "Come with me, miss."

            Mindy hissed in pain, trying to pull her arm away. He held on impossibly tighter, and she felt her bones creak, when he suddenly released her, falling to the side. Mindy backed up into the cage and fell on it, looking down at the scene.

            Exodus was trying futilely to pin the man to the ground. He looked up at her and squealed, "Go! Come ON!"

            She wanted to help him, but she saw Chad and Gwen fighting their way past Jamie to get to him. Figuring that he would be adequately helped, she jumped to the ground and knelt down to the small door of the cage. Pulling through her pocket and trying to find the correct lock pick, she finally gave up and looked around for something… anything to help her. Her eyes fled to the crowbar that Shawn had dropped when he fell, and she snatched it. With one, two, three strikes of the crowbar, the rusty padlock on the cage door broke off.

            Mindy swung open the small door and was almost knocked flat as the girl inside fled out of the cage, out the door, and up the stairs in less than a second. With one distraction out of the way, Mindy morphed to a large black panther and spun.

            As far as Mindy could tell, the three were no match for Shawn. She bounded forward, about to attack, when suddenly she was hit at the base of her skull with something very hard. Her eyes rolled up in her head, the sounds dimmed, and she fell into blackness.

~

            Mindy's eyes opened, staring up at the morning sky through a haze of pain. She gave a small groan and sat up, rubbing the base of her skull where it ached so forcefully that her head was pounding. She lifted her other hand to look at it, seeing it as a human appendage.

            "So I lost the form when I conked out," she muttered, looking around. Gwen and Chad were sprawled on the ground nearby, both of them still unconscious.

            Exodus was nowhere in sight.

            "What the… W-Where's Exodus?" Mindy asked herself, snapping fully awake at once. She looked around with a blink, standing up and turning in a circle. The silence pounded in on her ears.

            Still no Exodus.

            "Exodus!" she yelled, squinting as if it was only the sun that prevented her from seeing her missing friend. "Exodus, where are you?"

            Twin moans alerted her, and she spun, but it was only Gwen and Chad awakening from their forced sleep. The two of them, rubbing their heads, lurched to their feet drowsily.

            "Exodus is gone!" Mindy half-shrieked at them.

            "What?" Gwen looked at her blearily.

            "We have to find him!" Chad cried, suddenly done with the yawn he'd been half-through as the news of his missing friend hit. "I bet those… things in the house got him!"

            "Maybe… but if we want to get him out of there, it's no use trying during the day. They'll expect us," Gwen reasoned, looking quite worried but still quite tired. She rubbed at her eyes and then looked to Chad.

            "So you're suggesting we wait?" Chad cried, as if that was the most absurd suggestion in the world.

            "Shut up, Chad," Mindy snapped. She was just as worried as them, but she couldn't let it show. She was trying to think. "We should wait until nightfall. We'll be better disguised then. We can get some sleep between then and now, and then we'll be ready to fight again."

            "But… But… I…" Chad whimpered, looking totally helpless. He looked from Mindy to Gwen, his eyes showing the betrayal he felt from them.

            "It's not like he won't be okay," Gwen comforted, her voice steady even as her eyes revealed her immense worry and doubt.

            "Yeah, Exo'll be fine," Mindy agreed quickly, excusing herself for yet another unavoidable lie. Her thoughts weren't so ready to accept her excuse.

            He's only a human, she thought. He can't live long under slavery and torture.

            "Let's get some sleep," Gwen suggested, sitting down Indian style on the ground.

            After a moment's hesitation, Chad sat down on the ground. His exhaustion betrayed his worry, and he fell down, asleep, in seconds.

            Mindy, however, stared off at the house. Those things…

            Cyborgs, she corrected herself mentally. They had the cybernetic attachments.

            Those cyborgs had her friend. Those little tin cans had the gall to steal something important from her.

            They had to pay.

            "He'll be okay," Gwen reassured her.

            "He got taken all because of my failure to handle a little scrap of metal and human flesh," Mindy snapped, not looking away from the ominous house.

            "It's not your fault," Gwen sighed. "That guy was too strong for any of us."

            "That's not the trouble…" Mindy turned to face Gwen, just thinking of something. "Why did he save me?"

            "Well…" Gwen looked down and then looked up, grinning nervously. "I don't know."

            "You don't know how to lie, that's what you don't know," Mindy growled. "If you don't tell me right now, I can assure you that on one of those spires there will be a Gwen kabob."

            Gwen blinked at her and wrung her hands guiltily. Looking back and forth, she finally spoke after an uncomfortable silence. "Well… he sort of…"

            Mindy tapped the toe of her boot on the ground, giving a tight glare of impatience.

            "He… has a bit of a… so to say… he has a teeny little… bit of a… crush on you," Gwen said, the last three words coming out in a rush.

            "WHAT?" Mindy shrieked in disbelief.

            "Hush!" Gwen hissed, jerking her head towards Chad.

            "You can't be serious!" Mindy yelled, ignoring the shushing.

            "He's going to kill me," Gwen groaned, flopping back on her back.

            "He can't have a crush on me! That the most screwed up mixture nature could provide! Wrong way! I'm a legendary murderer! He's a wimp!"

            "He really can't help it, you know."

            "What? Why not?" Mindy demanded.

            "Because he's a crazy little eunuch and he's in love with a scary thief who changes into animals! Do I need to say more? Love is screwed up!"

            "You certainly didn't need to tell me that!" Mindy hissed. She dropped down to the ground, moving to sit Indian style with her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. This was too much to take. Too much to absorb all at once.

            How dare Exodus do this to her!

            She heard the beating of small wings and felt small claws grip into her shoulder, and sighed slightly. She couldn't let Shree see her in such a pathetic state. Not her best friend… her partner.

            Don't worry, the dragon said inside her mind. We'll get him back.

            "So you heard?" Somehow, Mindy wasn't surprised.

            Well, it's hard not to hear you screeching. Just don't expect me to turn into some kissy-faced moron along with you.

            "Shut up."

            "Who are you talking to?" Gwen asked drowsily. She had laid down on her side and peered over now.

            "Shree, of course. Can't you hear him talking to me?"

            "Um…" There was a long pause, and then, "No…"

            "Well, your loss, then," Mindy concluded with a slight shrug.

            Gwen fell silent.

            Mindy didn't know how long she sat like that, her fingers steepled in front of her face, her thumbs resting on her cheekbones, her elbows on her knees, back bent uncomfortably, before she fell into a discontent, disturbed sleep.

~