Billy Hatcher's Den for Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg

Fan Fiction - Hero's Nightmare: Chapter Four, by Digi-Dolphin
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"Why not just shoot your stupid crow egg right at us?!"

Billy thought about the question as he sat on his bed and stared at the Crescent Crow Egg set before him. He reviewed the battle several times in his head, each time knowing full well that he could have, should have, killed all three heroes easily. Yet, he hadn't. Why?

He picked up the ball and studied it closer, dropping the unanswerable question in favor of another; the origin of the Crescent Crow Egg. Billy had searched through what few memories he had and still couldn't explain where the egg came from. He only knew that he had possession of it for as long as he could remember. He assumed that Dark Raven had given it to him, but wouldn't he remember that?

"Ugh, forget it." Billy grumbled and got up to look out of his window at the rest of Giant Palace, careful to avoid putting too much weight on his leg. The crow that had tended to the the injury told him it would heal quickly, but exerting the leg in another battle could result in more serious damage. Billy only ignored him and pulled a knee brace on over the blue pants of the Rooster Suit to help ease the pain and support it.

"Stupid Rolly and her stupid question." he added under his breath as he looked down at the Egg Spirits racing about serving crows, "Next time, I'll make sure they don't get so close." He flopped back onto the bed, bouncing the ball off as he splayed his arms out, and sighed. The wind whispered to him again, bringing to the surface of his drowsy mind the image of a white house with yellow trim and a rooster weather vane. "I wish I was home." he murmured softly to the empty room as he lost himself to sleep and the vision of a house with a man and woman waiting for someone to come back to them.

Some few hours later, flocks of crows began to panic around Giant Palace. Sand Ruins was being attacked by Rolly, Chick, and Bantam in their attempts to rescue Meri-Meri. Reinforcements were being called in and the frantic rapping at his door roused Billy from sleep. He sat up, rubbing his eyes and glaring irritably at the panicked servant.

"Damn useless crows." he grumbled under his breath as he headed out, Crescent Crow Egg tucked under his arm. His opinion on crows remained the same. Ever useless, ever pathetic, unable to do anything unless he did it first. It was a miracle he actually stuck around for them, though half the time he wasn't sure why.

Dark Raven watched Billy run by, yelling orders at his battalion of Gaters, and resumed looking at his maps to select his next target. Despite knowing that he had a close call in dispelling whatever magic his foe had used to try to wrest control away, he was confident in leaving the boy on his own for now. The spell he used on the former hero was his most potent, and though it was slightly worn now from the attack, it still held fast. He would have the power he sought soon enough.

By the time the Rainbow Gate dropped him off, Billy Hatcher was in a very sour mood. The crow army was being mowed down, the Heroes of Morning Land were becoming more annoying each time he had to face them, and the injury to his knee was definitely going to hinder his performance. How was he supposed to put power into his kicks when his leg was protesting every motion?

"Status report." he ordered a nearby crow as he watched the battle raging below. Or at least, it looked like a battle. The crow cawed and squawked in a fury, hopping back and forth on the vase it perched on and glaring at him with beady black eyes. "Let me see if I have it straight." Billy remarked once the crow finished its ranting, "The kiddies came and grabbed Meri-Meri while you were all partying away within the deeper part of the underground ruins. Now, they're off trying to hatch the cage egg while you're buzzing around like idiots out here." The crow cawed and bobbed its head in affirmation. Billy grabbed it by the neck, causing the bird to let out a strangled squawk and flap its wings in a panic.

"Then why the hell haven't you deployed the troops to stop them?!" he demanded in rage and flung the crow aside, "Useless creatures! I don't see why I'm helping you when you're as pathetic as the chickens!"

Racing for the ruins, the boy continued to hold the ball in his arms. He needed a plan of his own if he was to take on the heroes. If they did manage to free Meri-Meri, he wasn't sure if he could give the Crow Egg a powerful enough kick to create another cage, much less shatter their ribs in a killing blow. He'd be reduced to bluffing his way out of a fight. And Billy was not one to make a good bluff.

Bantam watched thoughtfully as Chick and Rolly used rocks to try and break the metal cage. Meri-Meri kept a look out for crows. Hidden deep within the Sand Ruin, the children had rolled the cage and stopped on a platform overlooking several large stone steps that led to catacombs and other unexplored areas.

"This is tough!" Chick complained, dropping his rock and wiping his brow. Rolly pulled on the mesh and grunted softly from effort.

"We can't give up!" she protested through her teeth, "There has to be a way to crack this egg!" Bantam snapped his fingers and laughed.

"That's it! Look at it! It's a big egg!" he cried, "All eggs are the same; they all gotta be hatched! It worked for the gold eggs!"

"We tried that already." Chick replied in exasperation, "It wouldn't take the fruit."

"Maybe 'cause it's already grown!" Bantam shot back, "Rooster Call it. Maybe it'll work." Meri-Meri suddenly cried in surprise, looking up at another ledge.

"Billy! Billy Hatcher's here!" he yelled as the teen leaped down the ledge and landed nearby, glaring at them as he dropped the Crescent Crow Egg next to him. He held his foot slightly off the ground, trying not to show his pain.

"Traitor!" Chick snapped harshly, bringing his goggles down over his violet eyes, "Rolly! Do the call! I'll handle the back-stabber!" With that, he grabbed the Peliwan egg he had found and dashed at Billy.

"Chick! Wait!" Bantam cried as Rolly took a deep breath.

"Cock-a-doodle-do!" she cooed at the cage, the sound waves flowing from her mouth making it shudder. To her pleasant surprise, the mesh fell away and Meri-Meri jumped free, flapping his wings. Billy scowled as he kicked the ball at Chick's egg to keep him at bay, ignoring the sharp pain shooting up his leg.

"Damn. I figured they'd do the one thing I didn't want them to do." he muttered under his breath and mentally called the crescent egg back to him, thinking quickly of a new plan.

Meri-Meri crowed for dawn as soon as he was loose. Though the crow army still held power over the region, the light of day brought a new wave of hope to the chickens that lived there and to the heroes of Morning Land. Bantam reached back to check his helmet, then grinned.

"Let me help out! I have an idea!" he declared, grabbing hold of a nearby egg. Billy paused for a moment after the egg returned, then prepared for another attack. Rolly and her Rabbish egg were his next targets. If he was lucky, he may push her over the edge to her doom.

"Rolly! Watch out!" the Elder squawked as Billy launched the egg towards her. She screamed and shut her eyes, expecting to have her egg shattered. Instead, Bantam spun his own egg around to intercept and slammed the crow egg, sending it off course and down the stone stairway. A horrified look came over Billy's face as the realization that he was unarmed struck him.

"How the heck did he...?" he began and a soft whisper began to flow around him again. He raised his hands to his head and stepped back, shaking in fear.

"How'd ya do that?" Chick asked, impressed by Bantam's defensive move. The older boy pointed at the comb on his helmet.

"Iron Comb. I picked it up earlier here. It makes the shell of any egg I touch tough metal for a short time." he replied proudly. Rolly stepped around them, watching Billy in cautious curiosity.

"Guys." she said softly, nudging them then pointing at the boy. "Look at Billy." The boys blinked at her, then turned their gaze upon the General of the Crescent Crow Army.

Billy slumped back against the wall he had leaped down from, hands clutching his head tightly. A low, tortured growl sounded from his throat, evolving into a full out shriek.

"Let me go! Who are you?! Get out of my head!" he screamed, "Get out! Let me go!" Chick blinked and lifted his goggles for a better look.

"He's gone crazy!" he exclaimed as Bantam jumped and ran for him.

"No! This is good!" he declared, "He's regaining his senses! Billy! Can you hear me?!" Chick and Rolly looked at each other, shrugged, then ran to follow him. Billy jerked his head up and stared blankly at him.

"B-Bantam?" he murmured and slowly focused on him, "N-no. Can't be." His eyes began to clear, looking more alert than before. "No, not you at all. This isn't...." Bantam narrowed his eyes briefly, then reached out to sling him over his shoulder, muttering something under his breath as he squeezed the back of his neck. "No! Ugh...." Billy cried sharply, then fell limp. The faint whispers continued to flow and his subconscious began trying to pull them into clarity.

"Almost." Rolly murmured softly, then shook her head, "We'll find out what's happened to him back at the village."

"Hurry!" Meri-Meri cried as he flapped loudly to catch the group's attention, "Before Dark Raven shows up! Get out of here and free the other Elders!" He rushed off to hide after that.

"We got what we came for! Let's go!" Rolly yelled and ran to the tunnel that would lead them outside. Bantam nodded and kept a good grip on the unconscious boy resting on his shoulder, Chick hot on his trail. Neither of them knew of the whispering voice that reached out for Billy.

Down below, the Crescent Crow Egg shuddered and paled slightly in color. It rolled away in search of a way to return to its master.

~*~*~*~*

King Cipher stood waiting at the same landing spot the kids had started from. The stretch of ruins between Rolly and her friends, and the Cipher was nearly clear, save for a few panicked Doras trying to get their bearings. The children ran, laughing joyfully and cheering. Now that Billy was back, nothing would stop them from saving Morning Land!

The skies suddenly turned dark and churned with thick clouds. The crows looked up and cawed, hopping around in greater panic.

"Dark Raven's coming! Scatter!" they yelled. Rolly looked around, then back at Bantam and Billy. They were still right behind her, safe and sound.

"Don't stop! Keep running!" she cried, "We're almost home free!"

An angry caw, deep and rumbling, sounded as Dark Raven materialized onto the ruins. The crow egg emerged from a dark cavern and rolled aside, the black duller and lacking its shine. The King of Crows ground his beak angrily and waved his scepter at it, sending the ball flying after the teens.

"I said you have no power here! Intruder in the land I reign! Vanish from this place again!" he bellowed.

"Rolly! Bantam! The ball's on our tails! Speed up!" Chick yelled, looking over his shoulder as he darted past the larger boy. Rolly reached King Cipher, looked back at Dark Raven, and screamed in horror.

"Hatcher! Return to your master!" the Crow King boomed as the egg resumed its dark color and shone. The whispers were banished and the spell was reinforced.

Billy jerked his head up and grinned, the strange light in his eyes once more. Quickly, he hit Bantam in the head with his elbow, then flipped off as the older teen stumbled forward in dazed shock.

"No! Billy!" Rolly cried as he landed and spun around, the ball landing and coming to rest in front of his right foot.

"Traitor!" Chick snapped angrily, "I'm gonna kill you when I get the chance!" He helped Bantam reach the Cipher and scowled more fiercely as Billy laughed cruelly at them.

"I'd like to see you try." he purred before vanishing in a burst of black feathers with the triumphant Dark Raven, the crow army of Sand Ruin regrouping and pressing against the Heroes of Morning Land. Rolly dropped to her knees and sobbed.

"No, not again." she whispered tearfully, "I almost had you back, Billy...."

With feelings of failure and anger, the heroes returned to Forest Village. They gathered around the nightly bonfire to recover as Oma-Oma joined them.

"We were so close." Rolly sobbed, "He was with us! He understood us and knew us! Why did he go back? How?!"

"What happened?" the Elder asked Bantam, "The whole thing. Tell me, please." The boy sighed and relayed all that he knew to the Elder. Oma-Oma gazed into the fire and thought it over.

"Get some rest, children. This puzzle will likely keep me occupied for quite some time." he said carefully.

"We can still save him, Rolly. Don't cry." Bantam murmured to the girl as they headed back to their house, "You want to look pretty when we get Billy back, right? That's why you got that rose waistband added to your dress when the tailor refitted it for you."

"We can get him free; why can't we keep him free?!" Rolly wailed, "What keeps taking him away from us?!"

"Dark Raven, of course." Bantam sighed, "Let's rest and rescue Uri-Uri tomorrow, okay?"

All was quiet that night as Rolly and Bantam slept soundly. Chick lay awake, however, still furious over seeing Billy attack Bantam. It had reminded him of Rolly's injured arm, and he grew even angrier.

"Soon enough, Billy, you rat." he hissed, "I'll make you pay for everything!"

~*~*~*~*~*~*

Dark Raven had not been happy about the loss of Sand Ruin. Cast out of Giant Palace until ordered to return, Billy wandered the beaches of Pirates Island in frustration. He had noticed brief glimpses of images that hadn't been recognizable before now becoming clearer each time he faced the Heroes of Morning Land or was alone for long periods of time. He shrugged it off and began juggling the Crescent Crow Egg back and forth, running for a pair of palm trees a few yards away.

"He fakes to the left! To the right! Oh, he's untouchable!" Billy huffed to himself as he practiced kicking it about, "Ladies and gentlemen, never in the history of the world has anyone moved with such grace, such skill, such speed!" He kicked the egg hard, ignoring the sharp pain that shot up his leg and watching the egg sail between the palms. "Gooooal!" he howled and pumped his fists into the air, "And the crowd goes wild! Yeeeeaaaaah! Billy Hatcher's won the World Cup! How incredible is that?!" He froze and looked startled as the whispering wind swirled around him, then faded.

"Pretty incredible, considering I'm not sure what the World Cup is." he murmured in confusion, "Though, I think I should know." The Crow Egg returned and he ran on, thinking of the images and Rolly's question of his actions.

~*~*~*~*

Dawn broke over Forest Village as the children continued to plan on an attack to rescue Uri-Uri and free the island. Oma-Oma stood silent after his crowing and merely looked distant. Bantam looked up at him, then at his bowl of oatmeal. He had taken his breakfast outside while Chick and Rolly plotted and schemed.

"This bites." he muttered as Chick growled angrily, glaring at the pink clad teenager scowling back at him.

"We don't have a choice! We've already seen how useless it is to try to save Billy!" he snapped. Obviously, Rolly had not agreed with his idea to treat their former friend as a loss and as equal a threat as Dark Raven. "He's Dark Raven's little boy toy, not yours!"

"How dare you talk about him like that?!" Rolly shrieked back in a fury, eyes flashing heatedly, "He's our friend! He's the one who brought us all together! He's the one who kept us all alive when we first got stuck here, damn it! We can't just give up on Billy like that! I won't let you!"

"Guys!" Bantam barked at them, fed up with the shouting, "Let's get the Elders freed, then we can worry about Billy!" The two teens looked at him blankly. "We just need to distract him while we look for Uri-Uri. We have to give Billy something to keep him out of our way until we get the Elder loose and safe." he finished with a helpless shrug. Rolly went silent, thinking carefully as Chick threw up his hands in exasperation.

"How are we gonna do that?! Throw the latest issue of Sports Illustrated at him?" he shot back, "This is messed up! We're talking about Billy Hatcher, Boy with the Attention Span of A Hunk of Wood! If it's not about sports, he's not gonna focus on it for more than half an hour!" Rolly opened her eyes and smiled wickedly for a moment before blinking back to a normal expression.

"Leave that to me! I'll draw Billy away if he interferes again!" she declared and winked slyly, a soft pink blush spreading over her face. "This calls for a girl's touch!" The boys looked at each other in confusion, then shrugged. If they hadn't had much luck in freeing Billy and keeping him sane, then perhaps a girl could snap him out of it at last.

The beaches of Pirates Island was overrun with Grays and Gellys as the teens landed and raced to find Uri-Uri. As they ran, mowing down the crows that tried to mobilize themselves, Bantam noticed the crows seemed to be in a panic already, flapping about and cawing in terror. He looked around, then at his friends, worried.

"What do you supposed is going on here?" he asked. Rolly shrugged and veered off to search another part of the island for the Elder.

"Who knows and who the hell cares?" Chick griped, drumming his fingers on the egg he used for his weapon, "But if I see Billy before you guys, I'm gonna pop him one in the face." Bantam scowled, then dodged the Crow Egg as it sailed past him and slammed a crow, crushing its small body into a palm tree.

"What the-?!" the heavier boy exclaimed and they looked up at the docks in shock. Billy stood high above them, staring down at them with a wild expression on his face, eyes glowing so brightly they seemed to almost shine with their own light. An aura of violet glowed around his body, flickering and undulating around him, reaching with tendrils to the sky. Bantam turned dark, glaring up at him. "Blast it... he just won't give up...." he hissed under his breath.

"It's him!" Chick yelled and turned towards a ramp to make his way up to the dock, "You bastard, wait till I get there! I'll run you down and throw you to your stupid army of brain dead birds!"

"Chick! Get back here!" Bantam yelled as the Crow Egg zipped by again, nearly tripping him over in the process. Billy cried out to the heavens, clawed at his head, then leaped back from them, disappearing into the lower parts of the port's structure. "Chick! Billy! Damn it all!" Shaking his head in frustration, Bantam gave chase, determined to fix the situation at hand.

~*~*~*

Earlier....

Billy had stood on the beach, gazing out at the ocean with his injured leg resting slightly on the Crow Egg. The pain was dying slowly and he was sure he would recover soon. The wind whispered more insistently, circling around him. He growled angrily and looked around as the voice grew louder.

"Billy! Can you hear me? Please, fight this! It's not who you are!" a familiar tone urged him.

"Who the hell are you and what do you want?!" the boy snapped, "Come out and face me! I'll show you why I am the General of the Crescent Crow Army!"

"This isn't who you are! Remember what happened! Remember your battle to save this land!" the voice pleaded and Billy shut his eyes tightly, shuddering as visions bloomed into his mind, "Raven's power over you, I wean! The truth of the nightmare that you live be seen!"

The images flooded Billy's mind suddenly, a rush of half distorted memories that hit him with such force he couldn't help but utter a cry and arc back, reaching for the sky in a silent plea of help.

The Crow Egg flashed various shades as he tried to wrestle control of himself away from the voices that now fought verbally in his head. The image of a large black crow filled his mind, looming over a shattered egg of gold and his own body lying bloodied and battered on an airborne arena. The Master Rooster Suit was stripped from him, the tiny figure that was himself struggling to stand as the giant raven stepped ever closing to him, crowing in victory.

"Noo! Get out!" Billy shrieked at last, clutching his head as the few Grays and Doras that lounged on the beaches looked at him warily. "Get out, get out, get out! What are you doing to me?!" A violet aura began to shimmer around him, flickering madly as he doubled over, screaming in pain and confusion.

"This spell is more powerful than I thought it was! Billy! Hurry! Come to your senses before he finds out I'm here again!" the first voice begged, "Billy! Billy Hatcher! Hero of Morning Land, use your power to fight this!"

But the visions and the clash of two great powers within him had driven the teen insane and, with a shriek, he turned on the crows, running down the panicking hordes in attempts to find something, anything, to purge them from his mind.

"Die! Die! Die!" he cried, kicking the Crescent Crow Egg at whatever was in his path, ignoring the pain, ignoring the multitude of colors the egg itself was alternating between. The image of the Chicken Elders briefly crossed his torn mind and, struggling to find some remedy to the insanity, Billy focused his madness on Uri-Uri. He stopped only to crush one crow, distantly heard the voices of the other Heroes of Morning Land, then leaped back, turning himself in the direction of the Skull Cave where the Pirates Island Elder stood captive.

"Billy! No! Ah, he knows I'm here! No, no! Billy, we need time to save you! BILLY!" the wind wailed in anguish.

~*~*~*~*

Rolly was making her way to that same cave, tipped by a few baby chicks she rescued that Billy had banished the Elder to it before claiming the captain's quarters on his ship. As she zipped by Anters in a dash for the stairs, she heard the cawing of crows in terror and the sound of Billy Hatcher's voice screaming insanely, growing ever louder as he drew closer. She blinked and looked back fearfully.

"What? What's happening?" she whispered and quickly brought her egg around to block the entrance to Skull Cave after her. The barrier was pathetic but it was something. She could just about make out the voices of her friends chasing him as she ran up the flight of stone steps, but knew that Billy would reach Uri-Uri, and herself, before they could even reach the island where the cave was located.

Rolly reached the top of the steps and made it to the mesh egg where Uri-Uri sat in dejection. The Elder brightened considerably upon seeing her, adjusting his hat as the girl ran up to meet him.

"Rolly! Thank goodness you're here! Listen, our situation's gotten so much worse now! Billy is...!" Uri-Uri cried. Rolly pulled on the mesh and nodded.

"Working for Dark Raven. I know. We're trying to free him from Dark Raven's magic." she replied and stepped back, "I'm going to hatch the egg, so get ready." She took a deep breath and blinked when the Elder suddenly looked as though he just saw Death come in. Exhaling slowly and fearfully, Rolly turned to look at the doorway she had just come through. Her friend was faster than she remembered.

"Step away from the prisoner." Billy hissed coldly, "Or I will kill you both in one shot." Rolly gulped but stood her ground, putting on the bravest expression she could.

"You wouldn't dare hurt me, Billy Hatcher!" she shot back shakily, "We've been friends since the fourth grade!" The boy narrowed his eyes at her and some of her bravado escaped. "Y-you can't hurt Uri-Uri! I... I won't let you!" she went on and flinched as he began to laugh, a cruel and menacing sound.

"And here I thought I was still going crazy." Billy mused aloud, shaking his head at her, "But no, your idiocy proves I'm still okay and still on the winning side." He waved at her almost dismissively. "Shoo, little chicken girl, and run away. Pirates Island is still under the control of Dark Raven and you won't get to keep your life if he arrives." he sneered. Rolly scowled and folded her arms over her chest in irritation.

"Yeah, 'cause he knows you'll screw up getting us like you always do, Chicken Boy!" she snapped back. That seemed to have touched off a sore spot. Billy fumed and the girl only smiled; girls had a way better understanding of how to use words to throw off a boy's balance. "Really, Billy, don't you remember anything? I'm way smarter than you; I always got the higher grades in school, y'know." she added coyly, striking a near-flirtatious pose, "You always had to get stuck with me for tutoring. And your parents were rich enough to pay me well just to make sure you didn't fail History class every six weeks!" Almost as if she ignored the building rage of the blonde across from her and the flabbergasted expression of the Chicken Elder by her, Rolly continued proudly, "Face it, Billy Hatcher, you're just a snobby rich man's son who keeps screwing things up and has to have someone else do the real work."

"LIIIAAARR!" Billy suddenly shrieked and shot after the pink-clad girl. Rolly threw herself aside, kicking out a leg to slam her foot against his injured knee. The blonde screamed painfully and stumbled to the ground, struggling to get up despite his leg collapsing under the effort. Rolly stood aside, smiling triumphantly as she watched him.

"Now all I have to do is wait for Chick and Bantam to show up. Then we'll take you back to Forest Village and break the spell." she remarked smugly and clasped her hands together over her heart as her face lit up with hope and joy, "And I'll have my dear friend Billy back; my truest friend since third grade...!"

Struggling to his feet, Billy froze at the last remark and looked back over his shoulder at her with wide eyes, confusion filling the aqua-blue color.

"Wh-what? That's... impossible...!" he murmured and Rolly blinked at him, puzzled by his words. The blonde stood straighter, half-turned in her direction as he continued staring at her. "I... remember...." he whispered as a strange light began to emanate from below the knot of his scarf, "We... never met... until fourth grade.... I always saw you in third... but never spoke... never...." Rolly stepped back from him, taken aback by the confession as Chick appeared in the doorway.

"Dammit!" the girl hissed through her teeth.

"Ha! A perfect shot!" Chick suddenly yelled and fired his nearly grown egg at the frozen blonde. Rolly yelled in shock as it collided with full force and Billy was hurled out through the eye of the skull cave. "Take that! You got owned, you back-stabber!" the smaller boy declared and yelped as Rolly whapped him over the head.

"Idiot! There's water out there!" she snapped, cheeks flushed with fury, "Billy can't swim! He'll drown and then we won't be able to save him!" She hurried to the entrance and peered out at the ocean. Chick rubbed his head ruefully as Bantam stumbled into the room, panting from the effort of keeping up with the smaller boy.

"I told you not to react like that, Chick." he grumbled between gasps, "Nice going. Now she's gonna be on our case all day." The smaller boy scowled, folding his arms over his chest.

"At least I got him back for all the crap he did to us!" he declared and jumped as Rolly leaped out the eye after the blonde, "Rolly! No! What are you doing?!" The two boys raced to the open holes in the mountain and stared down in shock as the girl dove into the sea. Chick gawked down in disbelief, then turned and raced for the exit. "C'mon, Bantam! We gotta see if Rolly's okay!" he yelled.

"What about Billy? And the Elder? Hey! Wait up!" Bantam shouted and groaned as he hurried after the boy, "We'll be back, Uri-Uri! Promise! Hang on, okay?!"

~*~*~*~*~*~*

"Stupid, stupid, stupid! How did this happen again?!" the thought raged through Billy's mind as he sank deeper into the ocean. He held his breath, mouth pressed tightly shut as his thoughts scattered then returned to the matter of finding a way out of the situation. For some reason he had yet to uncover, Billy Hatcher was a horrible swimmer. Well, he was more of a sinker than swimmer, and anytime he was near water, he was always wary of who and what was around him. One good shove overboard and he'd be done for, and who knew how many crows would want that to happen.

Things were getting dim. Not good. There was a second splash and in a fading stupor he watched the pink-clad girl swim desperately towards him. A puzzled expression came over his face as the annoying whispering wind filled his ears, called to his mind.

"Yes! You almost had it! Think harder, Billy! Remember! Truly remember!" the voice pleaded, encouraged. Odd. The girl -Rolly, right?- suddenly looked angry and paddled faster towards him. The images came unbidden, faded, hazy, half-formed dreams of vague visions... why the hell was that girl pestering him about 'science homework'?

He tried to growl, even as consciousness was fleeing him, and bubbles of air escaped between his teeth. But as he was fading, something else was coming clear, something that formed a single sharp image as Rolly looped her arm around his chest and shot towards the surface of the water.

...sharp claws... pinning his body... blood all over... silver marble....

They broke the surface and Billy gasped for air, the image receding into his mind, along with that infernally confusing voice... and then, it hit. Everything seemed to come clear.

"Rolly...." he croaked out, throat raw from the seawater that seeped past his teeth and nearly filled his lungs. He coughed, emptied out a portion of the ocean, and clung desperately to the orange-haired girl as she made her way to shore. He had to tell her, before the spell took him again.

Spell.

Yes, that's right; a spell Dark Raven cast... a spell that Billy had only himself to blame for....

He wasn't supposed to be the General of the Crescent Crow Army, was he? He was Billy Hatcher, Hero of Morning Land... but something... went horribly wrong....

Didn't it?

"It's okay, Billy. I'm here. It's me, Rolly Roll. Your friend from school, one of your bestest pals! Remember?" Rolly crooned softly, dragging him onto the beach and holding him tightly. She swayed back and forth, rocking him almost hypnotically, as a mother would an infant. The blonde closed his eyes for the moment, shuddering in her embrace, half from cold, half from the guilty pleasure of knowing she was holding him so tenderly.

...the hidden desire....

"The ball... that metal one... metal egg...." Billy stammered out, trying to keep his chattering teeth from utterly destroying his ability to speak coherent words. Rolly gave him a surprised look, he didn't have to see it to know that, just the sudden tightening of her grip was enough to alert him.

"What ball? What about it?" Rolly asked, her voice almost eager to know more. Strange... strange... his head was clearer, but still so fuzzy. What was happening?

The spell....

The ball....

A warning....

But there was to be no warning, as he opened his eyes to watch Chick and Bantam finally decided to make their appearances, along with Dark Raven. And that ball... that damned ball was rolling in from who-knew-where to reach him and... why the hell was it gray?

Rolly screamed in horror when she laid eyes on the evil King and held Billy even tighter. The other boys took up defensive stances beside her, ready to fight despite knowing their eggs weren't grown enough to do much damage. And the blonde knew, in his gut he knew, that there wasn't time left. He lowered his eyes, then gazed sadly up at his dear friend, the blue filled with anguish and shame and guilt and torment and so much more all deeply hidden yet so openly displayed one could drown in the emotional pools.

"Forgive me...." he murmured softly and closed his eyes again as Dark Raven stretched his arms out to him. The ball seemed to suddenly bounce into the air and hung there suspended, defying gravity, defying logic, just waiting. And magical energy knocked Rolly aside with a cry of pain and shock, then wrapped around Billy's still form in a sort of translucent capsule that lifted from the ground and flew straight for the cruelly smiling Dark King. Bantam and Chick yelled in surprise at the attack and quickly looked back at the rising figure of Rolly before turning enraged glares at Dark Raven.

"The Hatcher boy is mine now. You would do well to forget rescuing him." the King purred malevolently, taking the boy's limp body in his arms, the flight feathers running along them forming a shield of black and violet that hid Billy from sight, "It is impossible." He laughed then, laughter that shook his entire being and allowed the red comb of the Master Rooster Suit to bob into view. Then, with the Heroes of Morning Land glaring at them, both Dark Raven and Billy Hatcher vanished in a burst of violet light and black feathers, the gray ball winking out of sight almost immediately after.

Rolly knelt on the beach and rubbed at one eye, sobbing softly as her dream of recovering their team leader was shattered once again. Bantam helped her to her feet as Chick growled deep in his throat. He kicked at a rock, sent it skittering and skipping across the surface of the water.

"Damn it! We almost had him!" he yelled in frustration and stomped off to find higher ground. There was a strange glint in his eyes, as though the fury and the pain and the frustration had reached a breaking point in the youngest of the group, visible even behind the goggles that protected his eyes during battle.

"Chick! Where are you going?!" Bantam barked out in alarm. He didn't like that look. No one did. Anytime Chick got that strange shine in his eyes, that expression of 'I know what I gotta do now!' despite not really having any idea of what he was doing, everyone become nervous and edgy. Even Billy was not immune to that look, having on several occasions of witnessing it either sought salvation in the school locker rooms with the other children or simply crouched behind a desk, clutched some random item in his arms for meager protection and prayed that someone other than him would be called upon to interfere with the madness. And always, always, the burden fell on Billy; they were, after all, the best of friends.

Now was not the time for a Poacher Pwning. There was no Billy Hatcher to intervene, and Lord knew that blonde was the only one who could turn reason into illogic and back, and hurl that at the smaller boy, so thoroughly confusing Chick that whatever scheme he had just hatched was effectively snuffed. No, this was completely the wrong time for it.

And there was a strange malice to that glint... a warning that this scheme involved more than just a crazy prank sure to go wrong, more than just a blind stab at vengeance against some unsuspecting bully. Whatever was spurring on this Poacher Pwn, it was deadly serious.

"I'm going to find Billy and I'm going to finish this whole stupid thing!" Chick snapped as the other two friends hurried after him, "You two may be blinded by stupid sentiments, but face it! There's nothing left of our Billy now! You saw him! He was like a shell when Dark Raven showed up!" He turned and gave a shrill whistle, calling down Queen Rabbish from the heavens. She obeyed, not needing her offspring to contact her for the children, and swooped down to land by the young Hero. Chick reached into one of his boots as Rolly and Bantam reached the small cliff on which he stood. From there, the boy produced a small wooden object and held it out, a cold seriousness on his face that froze the other two in their tracks.

"My dad gave this to me before I left home that day four years ago, as a present for going on my first camping trip without my parents." he told them bluntly and made a small motion with the item in his grip. A bright, shiny blade snapped into place, glinting with the light of the still dominating moon. Chick smiled grimly. "This will be the end of all our problems, of the only thing keeping us from freeing the lands and stopping Dark Raven." he finished and leaped onto Queen Rabbish. There was a flash of something from his hand, a quick signal, and the queen launched into the air, flying away from the islands.

"Chick! No! Come back!" Bantam shouted in horror at what the boy's words meant, "Think about what you're doing for once, you idiot! Good Lord, Billy, how did you ever talk sense back into that boy?! Chick!" Rolly was wailing louder now, a howling, desperate shriek that filled the air as she clawed aimlessly at empty space. Bantam turned, grabbed her wrist, and went searching frantically for a Cipher Egg. If Chick was planning what he thought he could be planning, then there wasn't much time to stop him. Somehow, someway, Chick would make his way to Giant Palace, solely for the purpose of hunting down the turned Billy and ending any hopes of rescue in a few strokes.

"This is not in the plan!" Bantam growled, eyes peeled for the red-orange striped egg that could help him, "Not in the plan at all!"

>> Chapter Five >>

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