Who knew that eight outcasts consisting of a bookworm, a semigoth, a spitfire, a jock, a prep, a cheerleader, a scholar and an elementary school girl would have one major thing in common? Magic.
And on top of that putting them – the Enchanted ones - on the same level as Candracar's current guardians and the renowned Winx club. Thus they were dubbed the Enchanted Ones.
Who would ever guess something as petty as wanting to win an argument against one of the meanest girls could land three of them in genuine danger?
It wasn't that long ago, just a couple of days before the Summer solstice. The guardians were in their college program managed by the seniors of their new college, where they learned that even amongst magical users there were skeptics and the occasional fantastical bigotry.
Mainly from another girl in their year by name, Natalia "Nat" Halston. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, tan skin complexion and a whole lot of attitude.
"Every lousy debate!" Bouncy curled Yui whined.
"Was it Natalia again?"
"Who else?!" Beth, the redhead tomboy, snapped.
Zaira – the practical semigoth- sighed in exasperation. "Okay, tell me. What'd she do this time?"
"Nat's always putting us down. Back in middle and high school it was malicious teasing, exclusion and degrading rumors from the popular girls. Here Nat is more subtle or uses more of verbal rebuttals in almost every topic just to spite us. She's turning every group discussion or debate into a nightmare." Sara G shook my head.
"She's trying to get a rise out of you."
"Who knows?" Zaira shrugged. "Maybe she wants you to quit the summer program. Or maybe she thinks if she's mean to you, you'll try harder to improve your skills."
Beth scoffed. "That's a stupid way to do it."
Kylie, the bookish blonde, put down her book, "Or… she feels slighted. To be more direct: insulted by us in some way."
"I suspect it's because we became new students in Alfea right on the same day Nat was supposed to get a school award or something, so she feels undermined."
"It's no excuse." Yui grumbled.
"Talking to her didn't work either," Haruna sighed sadly. "We told there was no need for the rivalry since we don't have anything she wants and she took it the wrong way."
Kylie chimed in, "And to quote her: 'Meaning you've all got everything and I don't! We'll just see about that!' Then she flounced away."
It also would've been easier if their teachers didn't keep either keep putting them in groups for projects in a misguided attempt to keep things from escalating.
"That is not your decision to make," Ms. Griselda had told a protesting Nat. "If you do not agree with the choice of your teammates, you can choose not to be here. We don't allow bigotry, and bullying will not be tolerated. And anyone who does it will leave without marks."
Then the class started, Nat had turned to the girls and grumbled under her breath, "Don't get too comfortable."
"How about that obstacle course with the boggart?" Theo changed the subject. "I'm still pumped, I could race the track again."
Haruna was glad to be amongst her friends and strengthening their powers, maybe the next time there was a supernatural threat they'd be better prepared.
"So long as we do it close to the protective barriers especially after what happened months ago and…" Haruna trembled still remembering what happened on the Autumnal Equinox of last year.
Theo and the girls looked sympathetic. "We get it. How about some shakes instead?"
Sara G then brought up something else. "Speaking of barriers, many ancient human cultures believe that on the longest night of the year, demons and spirits come out at midnight to feast. Or so Grim claims."
"Speaking of urban legends, ever heard of the ?" Zaira smirked. "They say it's located somewhere on the internet deep web and it's the homepage of something supernatural. No one knows how reach it. But if you find it, you can communicate with the spirit world."
"Well we seen a lot of stuff these four years, I wouldn't be surprised if part of it ws true." Beth shrugged.
"You would!" Nat scoffed, she'd come up behind them. "Don't you think if such a place existed, we would've known about by now?"
"Some things can't be proved with scientific evidence. It's a question of belief." Yui responded.
"Cheap talk if there's no evidence, it doesn't exist." Nat folded her arms.
"Coming from someone who lives in a world of fairies, witches, sorcerers and other creature mortals says don't exist according to logic?" Zaira rolled her eyes. "That's hypocritical."
"Well, I can understand if you're...scared. To be proven wrong that is." Beth grinned.
Nat huffed at the jab. "I'm not. And I'm going to prove that you're wrong and I'm right!"
"Then let's do it!" Sara G said.
That night and the next, both sides did their research preparing to outdo the other one in their dare. And on one fateful summer day…
"Alright, see you there." Theo hangs up her cellphone, "We'll be meeting at the bus stop in a couple of hours – it's 40% off at Deidra's diner. That means desserts and sugary drinks on discount!"
"Oh that sounds tasty!" Yui smiled.
"Miss Kasuga, that boggart is not going to vanquish itself!" Professor Dufour said reprovingly.
"Be right there!" Yui answered.
While Yui was dealing with the exercise, the guardians had let their friends know where they'll be meeting for a treat.
"Fine, when you're done with Nat, meet us at the bus station around 2:30, got it?" Beth reminded Zaira, Sara G and Yui.
"Will do." Yui had just come back from banishing the boggart – which was now in a small carton box.
"And don't let that boggart out." Haruna reminded.
"No need to tell me twice." Yui grumbled, shoving the box into her bag.
Nat's friends had already left, agreeing to meet her for shopping later on. Half an hour afterwards, they were still at it, they even tried the deep web too, but there was no sign of it.
Just as Sara G was about to give in, something appeared on the computer screen. It looked like some dark stone gates with some winged figures engraved onto them, with a blue background.
"Hey look at this. I think I found it!" Sara G at up straight.
Nat rolled her eyes, "I told you there's no record about your dead portal whatsoever."
"I know, call me nuts."
Sara G then pointed to the screen. "But this picture doesn't look like your average website. There's no instructions, maybe we just picked up a secret signal."
Finally, the other three notice and lean in curiously. Once they did, a title appeared saying 'Spirit Portal: yomi network'.
"This is it!"
Intrigued, Sara G clicked on the gates. The doors slowly opened, to reveal a very dark room full of mist. For a moment, the four felt like they pulled right in, but soon as they blinked they saw that they were still sitting in the computer room.
"Well that was a bust!" Nat scoffed. "Must've been one of those scam sites."
"I'm just glad there wasn't any malware or virus involved." Yui remarked.
"Great, now I'm five minutes late!" Nat snapped. "Thanks for wasting my time!"
"Alright, can we just leave now?" Zaira rolled her eyes.
"Fine. Let's go." Sara G sighed then pressed the power button to turn off the computer.
The four left together discussing what the others will say. None of them looked back at the computer, if they did, they would've seen a large eye blink open on the screen.
It was past 3 pm, but even as they approached their own destinations they'd noticed something off about the entire neighborhood: There was not out and about despite it being a weekday.
Zaira, Yui and Sara G looked around, they were at the bus station but there no sign of their friends or anyone else. Also Nat was even more confused not finding anyone from her group at the usual meeting spot.
Against their better judgement, the four met up again, wondering where everyone else was. At that moment, their cellphones rang.
Nat answered hers first. "Hello?"
"Honk, honk, outside! Nat, where are you?" The other line said. "You were supposed to be here 20 minutes ago!"
"Twenty minutes ago?! I'm right outside the boutique in front of the bus station as always! Either everyone's evacuated or you're late!"
Yui then answers her own cell. "Yeah?"
"Hey, where you and the other two?" Theo's voice questioned. "It's way past the time we were supposed to meet up!"
"Theo! Where are you?"
"Where else? At the bus terminal!"
"But we're right in front of the terminal!"
"What're you talking about?"
Zaira took the cellphone from Yui, "Since a little while ago, there hasn't been anyone around at all!"
"What do you mean? There's loads of people here!" Theo's voice protested.
"That's why I'm telling you that something's not right!" Zaira responded.
"Hold on, I get this now. We're being pranked." Sara G speculates.
Yui shrugged. "Either someone cast an invisibility spells on the community, or maybe we're on the new reboot for Scare tactics."
Nat got a little excited. "Where are the cameras? Can we do another take? I'll give you way more in another take."
"Wait, there's someone – HEY!" Yui's voice cried out.
What none of them knew was that the missing four were no longer in the same dimension as them. Nor were they entirely alone. Yui had spotted a young girl in a white yukata passing by.
Hoping to get answers, the bewildered four sprinted after the stranger and lost sight of her around the next corner. But the moment they turned around, she was right in front of them!
Once they got a glimpse they get the uneasy feeling that something was terribly off. Even more so since the mysterious girl pointed behind them without saying anything.
The others were now greatly worried. How could their missing friends be in the same place, and be nowhere to be found? They couldn't be possibly be invisible.
"Let me try them!" Beth insisted, she started dialing Yui's number.
After three tries, the other girl answered. "Hello?"
The redhead held on the cellphone firmly. "Yui, don't hang up! Where are you and the other girls? What happened?"
There was indistinct shouting from the other side.
"Yui, what's that?"
"Nat is accusing us of drugging her… but I'm more than sure we've come into some other world! We tried disapparating but it didn't work, what do we do?"
"What do you mean, another world?"
"Yomi-net… that must've been the cause!"
Sara G took Yui's phone and spoke through it to Beth. "Please, you got to get to the computer lab!"
"Wait, the one with the computers donated from Zenith?"
"We were on one of the computers there earlier when just for one second, we found the entrance to the Yomi-net! I bet if you check the computer you might find something!"
Beth listened intently to the explanations, "Alright, hang tight. We're on our way."
Without a moment to spare, Beth had herded the other guardians back to the establishment only to find the doors to the lab were locked. Theo was the one who insisted on opening the window so as to get there faster. It was unorthodox but the safety of their friends was at stake. Finally the window was jimmied open allowing them to crawl through and speed down the halls to the lab.
Kylie pointed. "Look, that's computer is still on!"
And there was something on the screen: in it, they saw the missing four on their stomach lying face down and groaning as if in pain.
"What do we do?"
Their friends were trapped but they couldn't just start pushing buttons at random.
The frightened four had found themselves in a barren area in a dull red haze. They spotted a river and a boat. Leading to it was a long line of people in white robes waiting to embark from the riverbed of stone. Relieved, they called out to them, yet received no response so they hurried over. But then Zaira skidded to a stop and pulled Sara G and Yui back.
"That goes for you, too!" Zaira stopped Nat.
"Hey, let go! This could be a way out!"
"It is, but not for us!" Zaira snapped. "Look over there! The fifth person in line for the boat? That's the Prime Minister Takebana!"
Zaira gave them a dark look. "And he died two days ago!"
"OK, Baker!" Nat folded her arms. "You wanted to prove me wrong, and here we are. At the edge of a river in the middle of nowhere. What are your plans? Or don't you have any?"
"It's the river Sanzu!" To their shock, they saw the mysterious girl staring at them intently.
"You mean like the river Styx?" questioned Sara G.
"I – in a manner of speaking." the strange girl had hesitated before confirming. "Come, it's time to go."
"But we're not dead!" Yui shook her head wildly.
"We're not going anywhere!" Nat put her hands on her hips.
"No matter what?"
"You can't make us."
"Then it can't be helped, I'll just have to…" the strange girl smiled creepily at them. Her head turned to 360º angle but when it faced them again the face had turned to that of a horrible ogre! "Take you on the boat by force!"
"That's a Datsue-ba! " Zaira gasped. "They always linger by the edge of the river to escort souls to the boat!"
"You just had to go and make it mad!" Sara G accused Nat.
"Never mind the talk – time to run!" Nat shrieked.
Back in the lab, the rest heard their friends screaming but this time it was coming from the computer. Kylie had been trying to reach them by cellphone when it finally connected.
"Who is it?!" Yui's voice was close to hysterics
"Yui, where are you?!"
"The River Sanzu! There's an underworld ogre after us!"
"The Sanzu river?!" Kylie was stunned.
She and those in the computer lab exchanged nervous glances. According to Buddhism, it's supposed to be a river that people cross when they die and that it lead to the afterlife. That could only mean the Yomi-net was the entrance to that very river.
Just then a cloud covered the sun and it got dark outside. The wind began to blow. The trees bent back in the wind and leaves blew across their path.
"Hey, where'd all this wind come from?" Haruna asked as her hair blew into her eyes.
"Never mind that!" Beth yelped. "I got to get ahold of Grim! Or Vanessa!"
While running from the Datsue-ba, the misled girls ran onto a strange circle with a pentagram which they all pass ghost-like through. Strangely enough, the underworld ogre stopped dead in its tracks and watched with an expression one could guess is disappointment.
Downwards they disappear breaking up into sparkling pixels then falling through a dark hole, walls of dirt racing by on all sides. There is an electrical crackle, then a wall of flames which then the girls fall from the sky, landing first on a tent building canopy. It acts like a trampoline which tosses them off and land in a dumpster.
Stunned and relieved, the four climb out of the dumpster, dust themselves off and look around. They'd somehow gone from a barren wasteland to an unapologetically sketchy city. There were no trees or any plants, just buildings soaring out of the sidewalk in an exact grid pattern. Almost everything seemed to have a mix of all the rough and shifty sections of New York and Las Vegas patched together. The streets had barely visible red cracks and the sky was a strange shade of red.
A further mystery, it look as if the city were preparing for some big celebration.
"Girls, I don't think we're in Tokyo anymore."
Nat rolled her eyes. "Good hunch, Kasuga."
"Oh, you know what? This is the last straw. Come on, let's get out of here." Zaira twirls her finger round encapsulating all four of them but they remained where they were.
One more time they tried to disapparate, only to hit the pentagram shape in the sky and fall right back to where they started. However, when they attempted disapparating on other sections of the city such as alleyways or rooftops, it was accomplished. Meaning they were unable to disapparate away from wherever this metropolis was located.
So they tried to use their fairy forms to fly out. Even so, the moment they reached the sky it felt as though it were solidified, like a large glass cover they just couldn't break through.
To any of the denizens observing, it looks like four glittering comets – one purple, one a soft blue, one yellow and another chartreuse- were racing towards the pentagram symbol in the sky.
Some watched curiously, other turned away rolling their eyes and scoffing. "Newbies."
After five minutes of trying to get through, the four fluttered down onto a sidewalk to catch their breath and changed back.
"Girls, I think perhaps the time has come to call for backup." Sara G suggested. "By that I mean either one of our teachers who knows a good teleportation spell."
"No! They'd kill us." Nat refused. "Look, we got here on our own, so we can survive here on our own. All we need is to stay focused, get directions and find a way to get home."
"What if we can't get back?" Sara G sounded nervous.
"Don't think like that." Yui gently said. "We just need to keep focused. Remember if things go south most likely the girls will have to alert the higher ups."
But they agreed to call Beth back. Zaira used her cellphone, "Beth we need your help!"
"Zaira! Nat's friends have been pestering us about her whereabouts. Hate to be pessimistic, but you're gonna be in so much trouble if your folks-"
"We're in trouble already! Here's what happened." Zaira then summarized everything they'd gone through, "We can't use a portkey, we can't apparate out of this place unless it's actually in THIS area such as the top or inside or outside the buildings or even the streets!"
Beth sounded confused. "I never heard of place that keeps you from leaving one section of the country. Cross-disapparation across continents but not this. Anything else?"
"We must've taken a wrong turn when we were running from that Datsue-ba before stumbling downwards…so now we seem to be trapped here."
What were they going to do? Zaira and the other missing girls were lost somewhere between Earth and the other dimensions. But where?
To be continued….
Author's note: Go easy on me, if it's slow it's because I needed to set the stage. We'll get better insight in the next chapter.