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What Did You Say That Shadow's Name Was?

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Zett rose from his throne in the Shadow Castle terminal, and slowly ambled towards the door. He was a little disheveled from laying across the armrests, but it was nothing a bit of a tug here and there wouldn't fix. He ran a quick hand through his hair, and decided that was enough. He reached out to push the door open, when someone called out from behind him. “My Lord, if you don't mind my asking, where might you be off to?”

 

The Emperor of Darkness knew the voice of every member of his court, and had no trouble identifying the speaker. “I do mind you asking, Nero, as my affairs are my own business. But if you must know, I thought I would go observe the current developments with the ToQgers... maybe get in some field practice training, myself.” He replied without turning around.

 

“Would you like some company, Sir?”

 

Zett sighed, thankful that he was facing away from his subordinate. “That won't be necessary, thank you.” He left, boarded his personal Kurainer, and headed towards the active battle. He watched out the front window of the engine room as the train approached the venue. Both sides seemed to be putting up a respectable fight, but as he got closer he realized he didn't recognize this particular Shadow. It wasn't unusual for him to be unacquainted with individual soldiers, but he thought he knew everyone that had been sent against the ToQgers.

 

As if on cue, they all stopped. The turn to face his approach wasn't nearly as graceful, rather more like a series of dominoes being knocked over, the last one not quite being close enough to take the force of the one before it… but eventually all eyes were on him. The Kurainer slowed down enough so that he could step off the side opposite the fight, and then it pulled away to dramatically reveal him standing with his arms crossed.

 

He let his arms swing down, and started walking towards them. The first one to move was of course the Shadow, who dropped down to one knee, lowered his head, and addressed the emperor formally. It was quite comical, really, considering the monster’s large round head that barely balanced on its shoulders when it stood perfectly upright, due to the triangles sticking out around it like a solar halo. The motion of its forehead hitting the ground broke the tension, and after a short series of giggles, the ToQgers readied themselves for the battle to continue.

 

Zett waved to them. “Yo, Right,” he said.

 

“What are you doing here, Zett?” Tokatti said defiantly. The emperor immediately focused his very direct and pointed attention on the team’s ‘number two’, who quickly backed off while fiddling with the rim of his helmet.

 

Satisfied with the disappointingly predictable response, Zett shrugged his shoulders. “Am I not allowed to come out and see how my campaign to cover the world in darkness is going?” All this backlash was starting to get old. He transformed into his kaijin form, more than ready to prove that he did not need to be coddled. Right and Hikari took that as their cue to move in.

 

Akira was right behind Zett with his sword raised, when the Shadow cut off his path. “No, Zalam,” he sneered. “Your opponent is still me. Traitor!”

 

“Akira!” Kagura and Mio shouted in unison, diverting their attention from Zett momentarily.

 

“He’ll be okay against that thing,” Right reassured them.

 

“Yeah,” Hikari chimed in. “It’s this guy we really have to worry about!”

 

“And with good reason!” Zett growled as he swiped at the ToQgers, the raw energy being enough to send them flying backwards to land hard on the ground. The sky went blindingly bright around them as they tried to get back up, and suddenly the texture of the ground changed.

 

The light faded a little bit, and their eyes started to adjust, so they cancelled their henshins.  “What just happened?” Mio asked.

 

“I didn’t know Zett had that kind of power,” Hikari observed. “That was an awful lot of light, for the Emperor of Darkness.”

 

“I don’t understand it either,” Right said. “But somehow it makes sense.”

 

Tokatti, Mio, Hikari, and Kagura cocked their heads to the side, but then Kagura realized what he meant. “Oh! We were fighting against two people!”

 

“Damn,” Akira hissed, throwing his fist against the ground. He looked up when their attention turned to him, and came to the conclusion that he could no longer hide his acquaintance with the monster he had just gone up against.

 

Hikari took out his kendama and started idly juggling with it as he thought out loud. “That other guy was weird… none of the Shadows like Akira much since he switched sides, but this one seemed to have a particular distaste for our friend.” His hands paused, and he used the toy to point at the others. “This one must have a special connection!”

 

Akira nodded. “He and I used to work together, him bringing people's hopes up with good weather, and then me slashing those hopes to pieces with rain-outs. His name is Sunbeam Shadow.”

 

Quiet groaning changed the focus of their surprise, as they realized they weren't alone. Somehow, the Shadow had trapped Zett in the pocket reality too.

 

The emperor, for his part, had changed back into human form and was collapsed on the ground and dripping with sweat. He rolled over on his side and draped an arm over his face in an effort to block some of the bright light. Had there been any sources of shade nearby, he probably wouldn’t have succeeded in dragging himself that far across the sand.

 

The ToQgers looked at each other and tried to figure out what to do. “So, that… was one… of your… cohort,” Zett muttered between labored breaths. “I was… unaware… that there was… such a Shadow… in my ranks.”

 

Tokatti chose to ignore the ramblings. “Well, we just need to find a way to break out, right? It’s just like facing any other Shadow?”

 

Akira shook his head. “This would be a piece of cake if I could still use my own Shadow powers.” Mio and Kagura looked hopeful for a moment, before they remembered that a key piece of Akira joining the Rainbow Line was that he had given all of that up. They all tried brainstorming other ideas, but the heat was starting to take its toll. No amount of fanning was able to distract them enough to think clearly.

 

“I can… help…”

 

The six of them laid down on their backs, basking in the warmth of the light. The sand was just so soft, they could imagine laying in their own beds at home if they closed their eyes.

 

“I can… help…”

 

Right pushed himself up onto his elbows and looked around. “Did that sound like Zett?”

 

“You know we can’t trust him,” Mio said, crossing her arms over her chest. The other three kids nodded in agreement.

 

Akira sat all the way back up. He ran one hand over the surface of the sand. “I think that only a Shadow power can defeat this. I’ve never seen Sunbeam so angry as to go this far.” He tried digging the beginning of a hole, but no matter how far he got, the sand was as dry as it was on the surface. It wasn’t like when he occasionally visited the beach where it was damp part way down.

 

Hikari sat up too, and held a hand above his eyes to shade them. “Are you willing to trust him?”

 

None of the ToQgers were still laying down, and all of them looked pointedly at Akira. He broke eye contact with them for half a minute while he deliberated. “I don’t think we have much of a choice,” he said, finally.

 

Zett rolled onto his back, relieved that he stood a chance of surviving the ordeal. He alone knew that the truth of the matter was that the only route of success was by pooling their energy. Right and Akira went over to where he laid, carefully took one of his arms across each of their shoulders, and brought him to where everyone else was sitting. They positioned him so that he was sitting cross-legged as well, but it was almost too much. Eventually they got his elbows to rest on his knees so that he could prop himself up leaning forward. Kagura hesitantly reached over and draped her poncho over his head, but quickly retreated to the edge of the circle after that.

 

“This is hereby a truce,” Right declared. “Until we defeat Sunbeam Shadow, the ToQgers and Zett will be working together.”

 

Zett nodded silently. Had his body not been in so much distress, he might have quipped that this wasn’t exactly what he meant when he set out to find his own shine. Unfortunately, he wasn't in much of a state of mind to take charge of the planning, either. The ToQgers looked back and forth between each other and Zett, waiting for someone to make the first move.

 

Finally, Mio turned her attention outside the group. She leaned back, and propped herself up on her locked arms. “It's so hot! There isn't any shade anywhere!” Having run around outside together on many a summer afternoon, the ToQgers were slowly getting used to their surroundings, but they were also starting to understand that the excessive heat and light were still going to be a problem... especially if they expected Zett to contribute to the solution to their quandary. They looked around in a full circle, and each was able to confirm her observation for themselves.

 

“Maybe if we pick a direction and start walking, we'll find a tree,” Tokatti suggested.

 

Akira shook his head. “That's unlikely. Even while agitated, Sunbeam would have had the presence of mind not to make it so easy.” They stared at the ground and nodded, considering this new piece of information.

 

Right looked up first. “Well, we need something...”

 

“I know! Why don't we make our own shade!” They turned to Kagura in a single motion, as if she'd grown a second head. She crossed her arms. “No, I mean it! With the Renketsu Bazooka!”

 

Tokatti was hesitant. “Will that work if we're not using it on bad guys?”

 

Hikari smiled smugly. “Just like everything else on this adventure, I have a feeling it'll work for no other reason than because we think it will.”

 

Zett found himself happy to have his face hidden again, this time because it prevented them from seeing him roll his eyes. They didn't need to know how absurd he thought the idea was, and if they found out, he worried that he might never escape this forsaken place.

 

The ToQgers transformed again so that they could have as much power as they needed. They combined their individual weapons to form the bazooka, and Right gave Kagura the honor of placing the Energy Ressha onto the track. She returned to her spot and pulled the trigger. When the train car cleared the gun, it expanded and turned into a party tent – large enough to fit all seven of them, and modestly furnished with a picnic table and a few extra chairs. They celebrated for a few moments, and then Right and Akira picked up Zett again, and they all made their way underneath it.

 

They felt the texture of the air change the instant they set foot inside, the temperature dropping from the simple act of no longer having the light and heat beating down directly onto them. Zett started moving better on his own, but they still made sure he was properly seated on a chair before letting go. He took the cloth off his head, folded it, and placed it on the table.

 

Now that everyone's heads were clearing, they were truly at a standoff.

 

Right was the one to break the new silence. “The truce as it stands, is that we don't attack each other until after Sunbeam is defeated.” He crossed his arms and looked directly into Zett's eyes.

 

“Agreed,” he said, shifting in slight discomfort at the sudden scrutiny.

 

Right nodded and smiled, choosing another chair and lowering himself into it so they could be on the same level. He tried to convince the others to do the same, with varying degrees of success.

 

“So... let's figure out what the next step is.”

 

“The way I see it, is this,” Zett said. “This kind of attack is different from anything you've experienced, and you don't know how to handle it. Zalam does, but like he said, he lost the ability.” It was all they could do to keep from being upset at his deliberately using Akira's old name. He ignored them and finished his thought. “I, however, also know how to get us out of here, and I am capable of doing so... the only problem is that I currently lack the energy to fuel it.”

 

Kagura nodded sympathetically. It was a problem she frequently had trouble with, but she wasn’t sure he could make use of her tactic of pure willpower.

 

“We can lend you our energy,” Tokatti said grudgingly. “But you have to promise to take only what you need!” Hikari and Mio were about to raise objections, when he stopped them. “Maybe it will be okay,” he told them. “He understands what the stakes are, and so do we.”

 

Right put his hands together. “Okay! What do we need to do?”

 

“We make a circle,” Akira said.

 

Everyone joined hands, Right on one side of Zett, and Akira on the other, and the other four filled in  the rest. They closed their eyes to focus, and suddenly a light and airy power was rushing around and through and between them. Zett’s grip tightened as his body threatened backlash, and step by step, everyone else’s grip tightened too. It was almost too much to handle, and Zett let out a fierce roar.

 

The temperature dropped.

 

The five kids started shivering at the ten degree difference, but they were worried about what would happen if they broke the circle to pull their jackets tighter around them. Zett was the first one to open his eyes, and his grip loosened as he looked around. They took that as a sign that they’d made it safely back, and followed suit. Kagura went to the table and retrieved her poncho from where he’d left it folded, causing the effects of the Energy Ressha to dissipate.

 

Sunbeam Shadow was still nearby, and the ToQgers lined up once again to transform so they could defeat him.

 

Zett held his arm out to block them. “Sunbeam Shadow! I’m afraid your power is too dangerous to go unchecked. You once had a partner who was able to do so, but even I am far too susceptible to your attacks now. Your behavior will not be tolerated!” He transformed into his kaijin form, made one strong slash at his subordinate before it even knew what was happening, and the monster was gone.

 

He changed back into human form as he spun around to face the ToQgers. They started to prepare for the next attack, but he waved them off. “I am grateful for you letting me handle my own. The events of this day will not escape my memory, however when next we meet, we will once again be enemies.” His Kurainer returned, and he boarded it on the side that faced them.

 

“That… was definitely weird,” Hikari said as the ToQgers walked away in the other direction.

 

Right started bounding off towards where the Rainbow Line’s turnstile had materialized. “Hey Wagon! What do you have on your cart today? I’m starving!”