“Pixie! Big Blue!”
I looked up, shielding my eyes against the glare of the midday sun. It couldn’t be…was it?
“Thorn?” I called uncertainly.
A cloud passed over the sun, and I could see the girl clearly now. It *was* her. She was running toward us, with Genki and co. not far behind her.
Big Blue and I blinked as Thorn suddenly fell into a pit. Something about this seemed very familiar…
“Haha! Gots ya!”
I turned quickly to where the voice had come. “LIGHTNING!”
I got a glimpse of a yellow Zuum, leaping away from my attack.
“Oopsies, gots to go!”
There was a yellow blur, and the Mustardy was gone.
Thorn, by this time, had managed to haul herself out of the pit. She ran up to us, apparently unfazed by what had just happened. That same annoying smile was still on her face.
“So, didja miss me?”
At first, I wasn’t sure what to say to her…what could I say? When I finally spoke, I tried to keep how glad I was to see her out of my voice. “That has got to be one of the stupidest questions you’ve ever asked…”
“It’s good to see you again,” Big Blue said. “Alive.”
“Hey, didn’t I tell ya there was no getting rid of me?” Thorn asked, grinning from ear to ear.
I didn’t get a chance to reply, for at that moment Genki and the others came within earshot.
“Pixie!” Genki shouted, quickly closing the distance between us. “Hey.”
Tiger glanced back at the pit, then at us. “It was that Mustardy again, wasn’t it?”
I only sighed.
“But how’d it get all the way up here?” Thorn asked. “Do ya think the Wubbles took it?”
“Enough with the Wubbles!” I snapped. Then I sighed. We hadn’t been reunited for five minutes and already I was yelling at her.
Thorn smiled and laughed softly. “Would ya believe that it’s actually a relief to hear ya say something like that? Ya know I almost gave up asking stupid questions because ya weren’t around to tell me to stop? I can’t tell ya how good it feels to have things back to normal…”
I sighed. “Just be quiet…”
Thorn’s smile only grew broader, but she did stop talking…for now. Knowing her, that wouldn’t last very long…
“Did you guys come to fight Naga, too?” Genki asked, interrupting my thoughts.
Great. I now had two hyperactive kids on my hands…three if you counted Mocchi. Not that I wasn’t glad to have her back…but I had a feeling I would miss the silence.
“We didn’t have much of a choice,” I answered. I looked up to where the jagged spires of Naga’s lair loomed against the otherwise bright sky. Somehow the land seemed darker around it, the stones of the crooked, narrow path leading to it gradually growing blacker and blacker until they were the same blue-black of the lair itself. “And Naga’s not going to just let us pass without a fight.”
“Then help us!” Genki exclaimed. “We’ll fight Naga together, and we’ll beat him, too!”
“Genki…” He actually believed that it would be that easy, that he and his friends were invincible, so long as they were together. One of these days, he’d end up learning the hard way how wrong he was…But right now, we were going to end up fighting Naga no matter what we did. “…alright.”
“Yeah, that’s the spirit!” Genki shouted. “Let’s go!”
“Why are ya so excited?” I heard Thorn ask. “Somebody’s going to die.”
I’m not really sure why I said that. I was usually the one to make light of things…why in the world would I say something like that?
No – I was sure. Genki acted like it was no big deal, something to be glad about, to look forward to. But someone was going to die. Whether it was Naga, one of us, or some anonymous baddie…I had fought a lot, killed quite a few…but I never looked forward to it. Somehow, it just bothered me that Genki did.
He stared at me. I wondered if it was possible that the thought had never occurred to him before.
“They’re just baddies,” Genki said at last. “And, besides, the Phoenix will revive all the lost monsters once we find it.”
“Just baddies?” I echoed. “So…just because they choose to align themselves with Moo, their lives are expendable? I can’t see how ya can believe that, especially after saving Pixie.” I should just have left it alone, just let him believe what he wanted to believe. It would be so much easier for him that way…but I couldn’t.
“That’s not it at all!” Genki argued.
“Then why did ya say ‘just’ baddies?”
“Thorn, I know what you’re trying to say, but we have to fight them! Besides, it’s not like we’re really killing them…the Phoenix will revive them all! And we have to fight them in order to find the Phoenix, and free everyone from Moo!”
“Ya don’t know what I’m saying! Listen, Genki. Whether or not the wrongs are righted, it doesn’t change the fact that they were committed…”
“What is that supposed to mean?!” Genki turned away from me, towards Naga’s lair. “Let’s just go.”
Lilim watched the scene with interest, hovering some distance away. Funny the way no one thought of looking upwards and behind them…
So that was why the author had needed Pixie and Big Blue to get to the lair…she had needed some way for them to be reunited with Thorn.
Thorn…Lilim smirked as she listened to the argument between the girl and Genki. Both of them were full of contradictions…Genki didn’t seem to mind killing baddies, regarding their deaths as almost nothing. And yet the boy had risked his own life in order to save Pixie. Could he really be so ignorant as to believe that she was the only one worth saving? Thorn now…she laughed and asked her stupid questions, while she fought and killed as much as Genki – had killed far more than that during the Ancient War. And yet she was arguing that Genki didn’t understand what he was doing? The one person who was always cheerful was upset because someone else was…
People made no sense, sometimes, even to themselves. And they never had.
As we started up the path to the lair, a smudge of bright purple appeared against the darkened stones. I felt so vulnerable just waltzing up to the front door like this, but nobody had any better ideas. It was virtually impossible to approach the lair any other way, unless you could fly, so Hare had decided that our best and only choice was to march in head on and hope Naga was arrogant enough to fight us himself.
I glanced up at Pixie, perched on Big Blue’s shoulder as usual. I felt a lot better now that they were beside me again. Things were back as they should be, even if we were marching towards Naga’s lair.
I turned to look at Genki, who was pointedly not looking in my direction. I probably shouldn’t have said all that to him…
I turned back to watching the purple smudge, which was now close enough for me to see clearly what it was. A squadron of Marble Guys (Golem/Naga) was marching toward us from the lair. And they didn’t look happy.
“Hold your ground,” Hare said to no one in particular. “We’ll just have to try and rush past them.”
We continued marching toward the Marble Guys as they continued to march toward us. When we were only a few yards apart, the baddies took one step forward in unison…and fell into a pit.
“Haha!” a voice rang out. “Gots yas!”
While I was looking around for Mustardy, Genki suddenly charged forward. “Now’s our chance, c’mon!” He sprinted over the pit, using the dazed Marble Guys as stepping stones, and soon was on a clear path to Naga’s lair. The rest of us followed suit, and within moments we were standing before a pair of impressive double doors.
“Hey, Golem, Big Blue!” Suezo shouted up to the stone giants. “Wanna knock?”
Golem and Big Blue drew their arms back, focusing their energy, and simultaneously punched the doors. There was a moment of stillness, then both doors abruptly fell over.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Genki asked. “Let’s GO!”
To say that Jaba was nervous would be an understatement. The unfortunate Bajarl was pacing back and forth, his shivering clearly evident by how badly the pot at his waist was shaking. After a moment, Jaba himself noticed, and clamped a hand over it in an attempt to keep it still. But it was no use.
Jaba had faced many opponents before, but always he had known they were weaker than he was, or at least roughly equal in strength. But these were the rebels who had crushed every baddie in their way thus far. And the traitors and Nemesis were supposed to be with them…
Jaba and Lilim had been assigned to guard the front door. Unfortunately for him, Lilim wasn’t there.
If the rebels made it past him, Naga would face them. Alone. Naga was confident his strength would be enough to destroy the rebels…but he was taking no chances. The Vanities were being kept in reserve, in case the rebels tried to escape or Naga needed to retreat. There were other troops about the lair…but Jaba had not been told how they had been deployed. And one of the first things Jaba had learned was never to question Naga…
Quite suddenly the doors fell down, and Jaba looked up, eyes small in fear. He couldn’t even see them clearly, the glare from the sudden light impairing his vision temporarily. In that moment, he forgot all his training and experience as a baddie.
“Umm…hi,” he said.
*This* is what Naga had left to guard the entrance to his lair? Some dumb Jaba who could only think enough to say “hi”?
I sighed as Thorn returned the greeting. Let’s see…just how long would this carry on before one of them realized we were supposed to be fighting?
“How are ya?” Thorn asked.
“I’m…fine,” replied the Jaba. “A bit nervous, but fine, I guess…how are you?”
“I’m okay,” said Thorn. “Could be better, but I’m okay.”
“Um…nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it has been pretty nice lately…” Thorn glanced around the room for a moment, then looked back at the Jaba. “How come it’s so dark in here? It’s nice and bright outside.”
“I don’t know…” Jaba shrugged. “I guess Master Naga just likes it that way.”
Tiger suddenly growled. “If you two are finished, why don’t we just get down to business?”
Thorn looked at Jaba. “Are we finished?”
“Um…uh…” Jaba began, but Tiger wasn’t waiting anymore.
“Cold, cold, cold!” Jaba shook his now frozen arm frantically, trying to get the ice off of it.
I flew off Big Blue’s shoulder. Best to finish this… “LIGHTNING!”
“Ouch!” Jaba yelped. “That hurt…”
Jaba finally had enough sense to move, but he wasn’t fast enough. The beam grazed his waist, shattering the pot that hung there.
Jaba watched, horror-stricken, as the broken fragments clattered to the ground. He cried out as he felt something within him shatter with it. The Bajarl looked up at the monster who had done this…and suddenly remembered how to fight.
“MYSTIC COMBO!” Jaba cried, pummeling the small pink monster with his attack.
“MOCCHI!” Genki cried out as his friend slammed into the far wall.
“Chi…” Mocchi groaned weakly, trying to get up.
Genki spun angrily toward Jaba. “You’ll pay for that! All attack formation!”
Genki, Tiger, Golem, Hare, and Suezo charged the baddie as one. Big Blue and I fell in alongside them. Holly and Thorn stayed back with the injured Mocchi.
“BEST FOOT FORWARD!”
The attacks all hit at once, and I heard the Jaba screaming. When the smoke finally cleared, all that remained was a Lost Disk.
“Alright!” Genki shouted. “On to Naga! Down with the baddies!”
I couldn’t see why he was so cheerful. Someone had just died…yes, I guess it was alright to be glad they had won, but still…
What was wrong with me? I never thought like this…thinking like this only made things harder.
I pushed all those thoughts back – back to wherever they had been before coming to the surface. They’d always been there, and always would be, but I had to stop thinking them – at least until this was over.
Holly had helped Mocchi up, and the two of them started after Genki and the others, who were already heading deeper into the lair. I tried my best to look cheerful again, and followed.
Something was definitely wrong. The lair should have been swarming with baddies. But we were unchallenged as we headed toward Naga’s throne room.
“I don’t like this one bit, Blue,” I murmured. “Naga’s up to something.”
Big Blue nodded. “We need to be careful.”
“It’s an old trick,” Thorn said.
Big Blue and I turned to stare at the girl, who had just caught up to us.
“Um…don’t ask,” she said. “I don’t remember.”
I sighed. It looked like Thorn’s memory hadn’t improved…we’d just have to deal with Naga’s trick when it came.
“What happened to you?” I asked, rather than try to make her remember. That never worked, in any case. “We thought you were dead…”
Thorn smiled. “Ya can’t get rid of me that easy. It’s a long story…”
I was about halfway through my story when we reached a pair of ornate double doors that looked as though they had been through an explosion recently.
“Well, no turning back now,” Hare said. “Um…Genki, why don’t you go first?”
“No!” Suezo shouted, bravely hopping forward. “Naga was the one who destroyed our village. I’ll face him.”
Everyone stared at Suezo in shock.
“We’ll do it as a team, Suezo,” Genki said at last.
The yellow monster was already straining to push against the doors. After a moment or two they creaked open, and the ten of us nervously walked inside.
“So, you’re finally here,” hissed a voice. Naga lazily rose from his throne and began to slither towards us. “Do you really think – WAAH!”
I burst out laughing as Naga fell through the floor, and was soon joined by another voice.
“Haha! Gots ya!”
Naga began climbing out of the pit, and Suezo decided to take the lead. He began hopping forward. “Naga, you – WAAH!”
Mustardy, wherever it was, continued laughing. So did I.
“Enough foolishness!” Naga shouted, having managed to get back on solid ground. “Rebels! Let’s settle this once and for all!”
Tiger grinned. “My pleasure.” He rushed at Naga with all his speed…and fell into a pit.
The battle soon erupted into chaos. Each time someone would run forward to attack, they would fall into a pit. After a while, I just couldn’t take it anymore; I fell over and rolled around on the floor laughing.
Of all the things I’d imagined the battle with Naga would be, this hadn’t been one of them. Mustardy’s laughter rang over the battlefield, drowned out occasionally by the shouts of “WAAH!” Thorn, too, was laughing her head off. I glanced at the girl just in time to see her roll into a pit, then continue laughing at the bottom.
Naga plummeted through the floor once more, and I took the opportunity to fly by, launching a barrage of Lightning attacks at the reptilian. It seemed to hurt him badly, as he was already weakened by falling into those accursed pits.
I didn’t expect him to retaliate with a Wicked Bomb.
I heard a crash as I was sent flying by Naga’s attack, and I was certain Big Blue had fallen into another pit.
I flared my wings, stopping myself just before I hit the wall. Naga had gotten out of the pit and was charging another Wicked Bomb.
“TAIL ATTACK!” Suezo suddenly appeared behind Naga. His attack didn’t do much damage, but it pushed Naga forward just the slightest bit…into another of Mustardy’s pits.
A Wicked Bomb blew Suezo aside, and Naga hauled himself to solid ground once more.
Watching from the shadows, Lilim could see that Naga was near the end of his strength – one more good blow would finish him. And the snake knew it, too. Already he was taking a breath to call the Vanities to him.
~Well, we can’t have that, now, can we?~
Lilim smirked and vanished, then reappeared in the shadows behind Naga.
Naga didn’t scream as the burst of flames engulfed him from behind. He only turned to face her, his eyes wide from pain or surprise.
“You…” he hissed, then began to glow. Lilim didn’t let up on her attack until he had shriveled into a Lost Disk.
Lilim regarded the reptilian’s smoldering remains, then, with a satisfied smirk, vanished into the shadows.
I stopped laughing when I felt the ground shake beneath me. I stood up and realized I had fallen into a pit myself.
“What’s happening?!” I heard Genki shout as I was hauling myself out of there.
“All these holes must have weakened the structure of the lair!” Hare yelled back. “It’s collapsing!”
I managed to climb out just as Genki skated past me, heading for the exit. I glanced back, and saw the others heading the same way…all I saw of Naga was a Lost Disk, smoke rising lazily from its surface.
The lair shook violently, nearly knocking me off my feet, and I started running.
“The lair is crumbling!”
“Why hasn’t Master Naga called for us yet?!”
“Do you think the rebels…”
“They couldn’t have!”
“They got Grey Wolf…”
“Everyone!” Kyoko shouted. The Vanities continued chattering in quick, panicky voices. None seemed able to keep still, so they flew in short bursts, never really going anywhere. They kept glancing from side to side, wondering what they ought to do. “LISTEN!”
The Vanities stopped and stared at her, while the lair was falling around them.
“We have to get out of here,” Kyoko continued. “We’re no good to anyone if we’re dead. C’mon!”
She flew toward the door, but at that instant a section of the ceiling collapsed, burying it in rubble. The other Vanities stopped short behind her. Kyoko hovered there a moment, fighting back her rising panic and trying to think. Then it came to her.
“This way!” she shouted, speeding toward the far wall, the one she was certain led to the outside. “GIGARAY!”
A small hole was blasted in the wall, letting in light from the outside. The other Vanities caught on, demolishing the wall with their own attacks. Within moments, Kyoko was flying out of the lair, her troop following her. She glanced downwards and to her left, where the path to the lair lay, and saw the rebels fleeing the collapsing lair. Master Naga didn’t follow them.
“Phew!” Genki wiped his brow. We had all paused some distance from the lair to get our breath back. “That was close!”
“Ah!” I cried out as I felt the ground shudder beneath me. Looking back, I saw Naga’s lair collapse into ruins.
We all regarded the sight in silence for a while.
“Well,” Hare said at last. “So much for the Big Bad Four.”
The Vanities also stared at the rubble that had once been the lair of the strongest of the Big Bad Four.
“Master Naga is dead,” said a Vanity hovering somewhere behind Kyoko, fear quivering through her voice.
“Now what do we do?” asked another, her voice quiet from uncertainty, but loud in the face of the others’ silence.
“Maybe…maybe we could go to Master Moo?” suggested still another.
“Fool!” a fourth cried vehemently. The one who had spoken cringed. “Did you not see what happened to the Cabalos who survived Grey Wolf?!”
They all remembered. They all had been within the lair that night; they had all heard his scream when Naga flung him to his death.
“But…but…” the third stammered. “Where else can we go?”
“I know a place,” Kyoko said quietly. She looked away from the ruins of the lair, and turned to face her fellow Vanities. “But only if you’re willing to turn your backs on Moo.”
“So, Pixie, are you going to join us this time?” Genki asked as we began walking along.
“Yeah,” Suezo chimed in. “After all, we just beat Naga. All that’s left now is Moo.”
I looked up at Pixie, waiting for her answer. She never got the chance to give it.
I nearly fell over as the ground rocked violently beneath us, and the Marble Guys from before stepped out of their hiding places, surrounding us. They were soon joined by a large group of Velvets (Tiger/Monol) and Shell Saurians (Zuum/Worm). A score of Bethelgeus (Beaclon/Dragon) hovered just above these troops.
“Surrender!” demanded one of the baddies, a Shell Saurian, I think. I couldn’t be sure about where in the crowd the voice was coming from.
“Never!” Genki shouted back.
“Um…Genki?” Hare tapped the boy on the shoulder.
Genki turned. “What, Hare?”
“According to my calculations, we’re outnumbered at least twenty to one, if not more.”
“Well, poor little Hare,” Tiger snarled mockingly. “He’s scared because the baddies have an advantage.”
“Hey, what’s that?!” Suezo shouted suddenly.
“What’s what, chi?” asked Mocchi.
“There, up in the sky!”
We all turned in the direction of his gaze.
“Oh, no,” Holly gasped when she saw it. “It’s Moo’s floating castle!”