"If I'm willing to what?"

Kira gave Lisa one of her looks. "If you're willing to put your life on the line. I'm pretty sure you've noticed by now that these things are very real." She said. "You've got one of two choices; run and hide, and pretend that none of this is happening, or start fighting. I don't think my choice needs any explanation." With that she activated her Guns Guns Guns ring and shot out a small squad of lawn gnomes that were trying to attack.

"I'd make the choice soon, if I were you." She added.

Kira had a bit better control of her rings now, though she was still using up too much energy. "Rosalyn! Toria! Nolie! Raina!" She shouted. "Laruenciel! Guys! Try and get a perimiter around Roz's backyard!"

"Don't call me Roz!" Rosalyn shouted back.

"I'll call you whatever the hell I want," Kira replied once they'd gotten the perimiter set up.

"Daile, you can't seriously be believing this." Lisa said. "Last time I checked, you're rational. Nerdy, yes. Sarcastic, extremely. Irrational, never. This is insane!"

Kira rounded on Lisa. "Didn't you just hear what I said? These things are real. Didn't you see me shoot a shitload of them?" She demanded. She held out her arm. "Here, feel my jacket. Go on, it's as real as the shirt you're wearing." Lisa gave her a look. "Just feel it. It's as real as you are."

Lisa tenatively touched the cloth. "Okay...." She said. "Say I believe you. Let's assume that I believe this is all true. How is it you guys can fight and nobody else can? Why aren't you leaving this to the cops?"

"Because the cops can't do too much against these things. At least, nothing more than hold them off." Kira replied. She held up her hand. "These are Rings. Only people on Gaia--yes, it's the webside my favorite hoodie is from--have them. The things that're all over the street right now are called the Animated."

"So...a bunch of kids on a website can do more than the cops? Bullshit." Lisa replied.

Rosalyn sighed in frustration. "My god are you thick!" She snapped. "Didn't you just see what happened back there! I mean, Kira just set a bunch of lawn flamingos on fire right in front of you!" She stepped towards the girl. "What more proof do you need? Getting killed? Sent to the hospital?"

"That's enough, Rosalyn." Amria said. "If she wants to deny all this, then let her. Her loss."

Everyone was silent. "That's cold," Nolie finally said.

"It's also the truth," Edmund replied. "In Gaia, citizens were doing the same thing. They denied the Animated existed and thought it was all just a hoax that would blow over. I don't think I need to explain to you what happened."

"The towns got cut off." Raina said. Edmund nodded.

"When communications ended, that's when it was finally taken seriously." He said. "I came here with the Shards--embodiments of Gaia, brought into existance by Null energy--to attempt to prevent that. Ian, Louie, and Devin have come here as well."

"Johnny stayed behind to try and figure things out on his end," Amria said. "The first order of buisness was getting communications between the two worlds established. So far, there's been about as much success with that as there has been getting the towns connected again."

"So, let me clear this up quick," Toria said. "Amria, you're one of these Shards?" Amria nodded. "Does that make you like a guide or something?"

"Bingo," Amria replied. "The guy I was talking to on my PDA, Tobias, was a Shard too. He got deployed to some suburb of San Diego."

"That's where Arens lives!" Kira said. "He's in Esperanto, California. That where Tobias got sent?"

"I think so," Amria said. "Anyway, back on track. As far as I'm concerned, people in this world are denser than in Gaia. You remember the crazy stuff that happens on the site?" The girls nodded. "That's not exactly unknown in Gaia. Of course, the different races aren't limited to the towns they're in. I mean, I'm a Dark Elf and I'm from Barton. But that's beside the point; in Gaia, magic is not out of the ordinary. Here, it's almost nonexistant."

"Which means people here are going to stick with mundane solutions when dealing with the Animated." Edmund said. "Because there's so little magic in this world, your people will be far less likely to accept what is happening and find a solution to it."

"In other words, they won't think outside the box." Laruenciel said. "Just what we need."

***


"Dahlia? Is that seriously you?!" Arens asked.

Dahlia shrugged and scratched the back of her neck. "Well, I'd kind of hope so." She said. "When did you move to California?"

"Just this year." Arens replied.

"Ah," Dahlia said. "I was adopted by a family out here at the end of Freshman year. I was going to tell you guys, but..."

"The adoption got finalized and you had to move before you told us." Arens said. Dahlia nodded. "Hey! At least now you can get in contact with everyone again!"

"But I haven't been able to find them on Gaia..." Dahlia said.

"I have their phone numbers and emails." Arens said. "And their Gaia usernames. This time, the Crazy Crew won't be seperated!"

Dahlia grinned. "Yes!" She said, jumping up in the air. They were in the mall's food court, waiting for the Panda Express line to thin out. "Do the others even still remember me?"

Arens nodded. "Rosalyn and Kira have been going nuts looking for you." He replied. "And DCFS wasn't making it very easy for us to track you down, despite what they were saying."

"Figures." Dahlia huffed. "They can't even keep kids in the same state, let alone the same school district."

"Be nice if they had," Arens replied. "But at least now you've got a connection back."

Dahlia nodded. "Yeah, finally." She replied. "If I could've found them on Gaia, I'd have PMed them all to tell them I was still in contact."

Arens wrote down a copy of the list he had. "Here," he said. "Just let them know who you are or at least one of them will have a WTF moment."

"Don't worry, I will." Dahlia replied, slipping the paper into her wallet. "Think they might know somthing about the Animated showing up?"

Arens shrugged. "They might, they might not." He replied.

"From what Amria said, these friends of yours are already fighting." Someone said. Dahlia and Arens turned around to see the blue-haired vampire from several nights ago standing behind them. "Couldn't help but hear you guys chatting. I'm Tobias, if you guys've forgotten."

"Kind of hard to forget a guy who looks like Vash the Stampede with blue hair." Dahlia said.

Tobias sighed. "I get the feeling that nickname's gonna stick." He said. Dahlia nodded. "Right...well, I don't need to explain how Rings work to you guys, so that's good."

"I just started playing the game a week before the chaos started, so I'm still figuring things out." Dahlia replied. "Talk about a way to get XP."

"Lemme guess; you're still a 2.0 CL?" Arens joked.

"Ha ha. Really funny, dipwad." Dahlia deadpanned.

"Right, let's get to the explanations as to why this happened." Tobias said. "I got a message from Amria a little while ago, telling me what happened. Is a friend of yourse, Rosalyn Tourniquet, a magicl-user?"

Arens and Dahlia looked at each other. "Yeah..."

"That's what I was afraid of. The message from Amria said that she'd tried combining magick and technology, whics opened a portal between this world and Gaia. And before you say anything, Gaia is far more than just a website...."

And he launched into the explanation between Gaia and Earth.