The Wonderland, Part 1
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Last time on Nuri:
Lost and Found, Part 2

Elli tried desperately to talk to Dean, who was pacing up and down the cosmoscope room like a caged cougar.

"Dean, we-we can't-"

"Elli," Dean interrupted her, "may I remind you what happened the last time you didn't tell a girl something very important to her future life? Almost dying she did1 And that is ruling out the possibility that she's fooling us and just faking memory loss."

"Dean, she's four," Elli tried again. "I would have known if she was lying, but I'll be happy to scan her memory if you don't believe me. And we can't just tell her that her parents are dead. Do you know what that could do to her?"

Dean stopped in front of her.

"Elli, other kids lose their parents to wars or at birth, someone told them that too. And I insist on that scan!"

"Other kids didn't kill their parents during an instinct-driven rampage!" countered Elli, forgoing the confirmation of Dean's request. "What do you want me to say to her? 'Well sorry, I'm afraid ya offed ya parents.'"

"Might be best," Dean speculated. "The sooner she knows what she's capable of, the better-"

"NO, DEAN!" countered Elli. "You have no idea about a child's psyche. Pressure like that can drive her mad, or worse."

"Well, you're going to have to tell her something," Dean insisted. "You can hardly take Nuri back to parents who are no longer alive …"

"And what?" asked Elli irritably.

"Well, come up with something," Dean countered, shrugging his shoulders. "Either you tell her or I will."

"It's-it's okay…," Elli meekly conceded defeat. "I'll tell her that her parents are dead… But… I won't tell her how they died …

It took several hours before Nuri woke up again. Dean only caught the conversation from a distance and didn't hear everything that was said, but he saw Nuri finally getting wide eyes and running back to her room. He heard the door slam. And how Nuri cried…

Professor Voss was rather sad at the moment. Although they had managed to prevent Astra from breaking out, their other research subjects had disappeared after the emergency power had failed, thus overriding the security measures. The more powerful had apparently banded together to free all the facility's inhabitants. That had been a bitter blow to some of the IMBW's projects, but had also provided some amazing data about sociological aspects of dealing with the gifted. So it hadn't been a complete loss. They would bounce back and continue researching.

The professor in his true form was a truly huge individual, completely hooded under leather clothing. Even his head was hidden under a motorcycle helmet. He viewed everything in the world as a potential guinea pig, that included himself, and the decades of testing and experimentation had disfigured his body to such an extent that he had to cloak himself, preferring to interact with other humans using androids remotely controlled from a chip in his brain, the RTI titans, so as not make them uncomfortable.

He usually used this method with clients, but this one had wanted to speak to him directly. And so, he waited in his office/lab/study, whose operating table was currently occupied by a barely-alive horned demon, who had been a nice gift from another guest.

An Asian woman with high cheekbones and noticeable amounts of black mascara and eyeliner on her face entered the room. She wore a black blazer with a white shirt underneath, along with pants with a black and gold pinstripe pattern. The blazer was slightly baggy at the left hip.

Voss ignored that out of politeness, as well as what came into the room with her.

"Ah, Ms. Sato," the professor greeted the woman, who slammed her hands on the table in front of him.

That might have been intimidating if Voss hadn't still been taller sitting down than most people were standing up.

"Where is it?" the woman hissed, not bothering with anything as mundane as a greeting. Voss gathered from her expression that she was relatively upset.

"Oh?" he began kindly. "Do you mean our lovely Nuri Jeong? I don't recall you entrusting us with an obj-"

"Where. Is. The girl?" repeated Sato through clenched teeth.

"Would you like to sit down first?" offered Voss. "I'll tell you everything I know, but you're not helping anyone by going through the roof. Would you like some coffee? Cookies? I've got chocolate on hand, too."

After the lady seemed to realize that she could not intimidate Voss, she took a deep breath and let herself sink into the leather chair in front of Voss' desk. The way she sat there, she looked like the cover of a business magazine, Voss thought. Or that of a BDSM magazine, he'd done some research on that …

"I don't need anything," she hissed.

"Very well," Voss concluded the matter, moving on to the real problem with the friendliness of a salesman trying to sell a freezer to the Inuit. "Well, as we've already told you, there was an outbreak, and unfortunately Nuri got away."

"What about her tracking chip?" snapped Sato. "We left you a receiver."

"Which doesn't seem to be working, though," Voss countered, placing said device on the table. "You're welcome to try it out. Nuri doesn't appear on it. Either the tracking chip was destroyed or she's in a location from which the chip's signal can't reach us."

Sato accepted the receiver and frowned as the professor's statement was confirmed.

"That's impossible," it escaped her. "It should be able to be detected anywhere in the universe. Did you look for it immediately after her escape?"

"Not immediately; unfortunately, we had to prevent Central Europe from being enriched by a very large and ugly crater. Of course, we started searching immediately after the problem was under control, but even then we had no signal. Was maybe an hour and a half. Well, given what you just said, however, it seems plausible to me that Nuri could not be detected."

"Why?" blurted Sato.

She may have been trying to express femininity with the makeup, but her facial expression reminded the professor of an English bulldog. Albeit with far fewer wrinkles. Yet the woman would have looked stunning if she had only smiled

"She was last seen in the care of a certain person, everything was we found on her only identifies her as Elli, but as far as-"

"ELLI!?", Sato snapped, rising from her seat. "You lost our loan to this bimbo?"

"I wouldn't have described her in that exact manner, but it's quite accurate," Voss confirmed with a shrug. "You know her?"

"Oh, yes," Sato growled. "Many senior members of us are well aware of her… And since we're unlikely to see our investment again, we need a replacement… HEKATE! SIC 'EM!"

The creature, previously invisible to normal eyes, suddenly became visible. Voss, who had already suspected something like this, saw only a swirl of white fur and several tails before grabbing the creature's deformed snout with his right hand without standing up. He had no hold, however, and was rolled backward in his chair until he hit the wall. Voss still didn't let go, or at least change his posture, much to Sato's obvious dismay.

"I guess I'll have to explain the contract to you again," he mused.

Nuri had grown up in the small town of Leimen in Palatinate, surrounded by the Palatinate Forest. The circumstances under which she now returned were not at all the ones she wanted. Elli's portal opened in a door near the local cemetery. Nuri had asked her to do so. With her age, she had an inadequate understanding of the concept of death, but even she knew that the dead should be visited at their graves. And this here were her parents.

Elli had gone out earlier to get a few more things for Nuri, since she had no clothes available in Nuri's size. Nuri was now wearing a black shirt with pants and shoes of the same color. Her tail was sticking out through a hole in the back. Dean wore a gray funeral suit, Elli a black dress with a high leg slit and a black hat with a wide brim.

The sun was setting when Elli found the relevant gravestones for Nuri, for she herself, as mentioned earlier, could not yet read. They had apparently cremated her parents, Dean explained to her, because the communal grave that Mom and Dad had to share with three complete strangers was far too small to hold five bodies unless they were buried on top of each other.

"Mommy, Daddy, I'm here …"

Tears rolled down her cheeks and she began to cry again. Dean and Elli stood silently behind her, while Nuri fell to her knees in grief.

It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair! She didn't even know how she had ended up with the bad guys. Surely they had been the ones who had made her parents dead. Because that was what bad guys did.

Night had fallen when Nuri finally calmed down.

Elli and Dean were still standing patiently behind her.

"Can we-" she sniffled briefly. "Can we go to the edge of the forest?"

"To the edge of the forest?" repeated Dean, confused? "Not to your house? At this hour?"

"I don't want to go to the house," Nuri objected. "We used to go to the meadows by the woods in the summer."

Elli and Dean exchanged a glance, then shrugged in sync.

They walked because the cemetery was right next to the woods. The streetlights of the village were starting up by now, giving white light. But the forest itself was in darkness. Unlike the meadows in front of it.

"Oh," Dean said in surprise. "Now I understand why you wanted to come here.

Over the meadow swarmed countless fireflies. On the ground they glowed, too, hidden in the grass. Mommy and Daddy had brought Nuri here the years before. She had always tried to catch the little bugs until her parents held her back so she wouldn't step on those on the ground. The sight had apparently captivated Elli and Dean as well, because they had stopped at the edge of the meadow.

One particularly bright glowing specimen caught her eye, which had remained on the ground. Elli and Dean behind her continued to let the view sink in, paying no attention to Nuri for the moment as she approached the insect. And disappeared …

"The ones in South America glow better, but European fireflies have their own charm," Elli noted.

She liked these insects because their dance had its own geometry that humans couldn't imitate.

May En come to get you!

Elli looked around in confusion.

"Did you say something, Dean?"

Dean shook his head.

Elli tilted her head in confusion. She was sure she had just heard someone talking, no, cursing ….

"Nuri, did you- Nuri?"

Elli looked around in alarm. It wasn't so dark that she couldn't have seen Nuri, especially against the backround of the fireflies, but she was gone. Dean, who had also noticed Elli looking around frantically, began looking as well.

"She was here just a minute ago," he wondered, running across the meadow.

Elli followed him until Dean suddenly stopped.

"Ugh," he made in disgust.

"Did you run into dog poo?" asked Elli, taking a step back as a precaution.

"It's not quite that bad," Dean disarmed. "I stepped on a mushroom."

"Oh, whew," Elli went on.

Then she frowned as she looked at the grass.

Next to Dean's foot, more mushrooms sprouted from the ground, left and right. They formed an entire ring.

"A mushroom ring?" she muttered, rummaging in her pocket.

Rings of mushrooms were nothing unusual in themselves, the only thing that could surprise one was the fact that they were usually a single organism, a fungus whose mycelium had spread in a circle in all directions and at whose borders fruiting bodies were now sprouting. In this particular context, however, it was the commonly known name these formations bore that caused Elli concern.

Fairy rings.

And indeed, she could detect remnants of thaumaturgic energy.

"That's a fay gate!" she exclaimed.

"Do you think Nuri opened it?" asked Dean, frowning.

"No, she can't do that. In fact, I don't even think it existed until a few minutes ago," Elli objected.

Anger boiled up inside her.

"Are we moving in their territory here?" wondered Dean, looking around.

"No, Dean. The fairies have abandoned this place, most of them can't stand the iron that exists in the city. I guess we'll have to pay a visit to the community in the local forest …"

Nuri suddenly found herself in a forest clearing. A full moon hung above her, and the plants around her fluoresced a dull turquoise.

"Tough day, huh?" asked a raspy voice behind her.

Turning around, Nuri became aware of a tall old woman. She was spindly and wore a green dress with matching hat adorned with a few wax fruits. Her gray hair was tied in a knot.

"Who are you?" asked Nuri, looking around, "and where am I?"

"I am your fairy godmother." the old woman explained with a smile. "And you are here in Wonderland. This is where all the children go who have lost everything."

Nuri looked around again.

"Where are the other children?"

The old woman shrugged her shoulders.

"You're the first one to get here in a long time," the woman explained sympathetically. "These days, you can always find someone to take care of children who have been left alone. I've already considered closing down Wonderland."

She put on a strangely harried smile, but it completely passed Nuri by.

"But you're here now."

"Thanks, but I'd rather go back to Elli," Nuri replied, a little worried.

"But why, we're here, aren't we?" a familiar voice said from behind Nuri.

She gasped in shock.


With renewed tears, she fell into the arms of her mother, who had been standing behind her.

Next time on Nuri:
The Wonderland, Part 2

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