“Don’t worry, I won’t threaten to eat you this time.”
My name is Thorn. And I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that I was tired, there was a dull pain in my chest, and my body didn’t want to wake up just yet. But I forced my eyes to open anyway. “Methigras…?”
The Stone Dragon looked down at me, and chuckled. “Well, I’m glad to see somebody recognizes me!” He turned back to Pixie, Big Blue, Holly, Suezo, etc, who all looked ready for a fight. I saw Pixie relax and fly back to Big Blue’s shoulder as she realized who it was. “Is this any way to greet a friend?” Methigras asked.
Genki blinked a few times, then looked up at Pixie. “You know him?”
Pixie nodded. “We helped defend his home against Naga’s troops.”
“So why didn’t ya threaten to eat us this time?” I asked. I tried to sit up.
“Ahh!” Three sharp lances of pain shot through me, and Holly rushed to my side. She eased me back to the ground again.
“Be careful,” she said. “You shouldn’t be moving.”
Methigras gently reached down and stroked my hair, watching me in concern. “What happened to you?”
What had happened to me? I remembered being held captive in the floating castle, and being brought before Moo…acting crazy – well, crazier than usual, at least – trying to throw him off guard…teleporting them out of there one by one…escaping myself, just as Moo was about to attack me; I hadn’t seen whether or not he had succeeded, but I didn’t feel anything…Pixie staring at me…blood red snow…darkness.
He must have succeeded…but why wouldn’t I have felt it?
“Moo scratched her up pretty badly,” Pixie answered when I remained silent. “She just woke up now.”
Was it because I was in the middle of teleporting when he attacked me? Maybe…it was as good an explanation as any.
“She had a run-in with Moo?” Methigras asked. “In that case, she’s lucky to be alive.”
It was very frustrating, not being able to sit up. It felt weird, talking to someone while lying down. And I felt helpless. I hated being helpless.
I sighed, and shook my head to clear it. I’d only end up getting mad at myself for no good reason if I kept thinking like that.
“Methigras…what’re ya doing here? Don’t ya need to protect your forest? How’s Annie?” I asked, partly to distract myself.
“Annie’s better than she’s ever been. Her sister Kyoko came back, with a bunch of other Vanities who had joined Moo. They said that Naga had been defeated, and if they went crawling back to Moo, well…” Methigras paused, as though giving us all time to realize what he wasn’t saying. “They begged me to allow them to stay in the forest, and swore they would protect it with their lives. I couldn’t refuse them…I love Kyoko as if she were my own daughter.” He paused again, seeming to consider his words. “I thought I would try to find you…to give you whatever help I can, now that I know the forest is safe. Not as though you’d need my help.” Methigras grinned and shook his head. “Surviving Moo with just some scratches…”
“We need all the help we can get,” Holly said.
“Welcome aboard,” Suezo half shouted.
“Wait.” Everyone turned to look at Tiger. “How do you know you can trust those Vanities?”
“I don’t,” Methigras answered. “But I do trust Kyoko, and her judgement. She wouldn’t have led them there if she thought they would betray us.”
“Okay, then! Methigras, right?” Genki asked. The Stone Dragon nodded. “I’m Genki, and I’m the Monster Champ!”
“I’m Mocchi, chi!”
“Hare’s the name!”
“Tiger of the wind.”
“My name is Holly.”
“Hey, Holly, what does the stone say?” Genki asked when they were finished introducing themselves.
Methigras looked puzzled. “A talking stone?”
“Holly’s pendant is magic,” Genki explained. “It doesn’t talk, but it does show us what direction the Phoenix lies in. We’re gonna revive it, and beat Moo and the baddies!”
“Genki…I think we should sleep here for the night, then press on in the morning,” Holly said. “We’re all pretty worn out, and Thorn needs more time to recover.”
“I’m alright,” I protested. I hated to think I was slowing them down…
“And it’s also getting pretty dark out,” Holly continued, ignoring me. I got the feeling she was making up excuses just so I wouldn’t feel bad. But it wasn’t like there was anything I could do about it.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Genki agreed.
“Mocchi is hungry!” complained the little monster out of nowhere.
Holly giggled. “Okay, Mocchi, I’ll fix us something to eat.” She looked up at Methigras, taking in his colossal size.
Before she could say anything, Methigras noticed. “Don’t worry about having enough for me.” He grinned. “I’m a vegetarian, really. Besides, I’m on a diet.”
Suezo stared at him, eye wide in disbelief. “A Dragon that big is a vegetarian? Now I’ve seen everything.”
“Are Plant type monsters really plants?” I asked. “Or are they animals? Or are they just a category all their own?”
“That’s an interesting question,” Methigras commented. “I stay away from them myself, since I don’t know…but I’m pretty sure they aren’t vegetables.”
I fell asleep almost immediately after eating, and was both relieved and disappointed when no dreams came.
When I awoke, I got the distinct feeling that I was moving. I opened my eyes to find myself in Big Blue’s arms, being carried through a network of caves. I didn’t feel cold, which was weird – ice coated every wall I could see, and Big Blue’s hands weren’t usually warm. Then I tried to move and realized that someone had wrapped a blanket around me.
“Where’d ya get the blanket from?” I asked.
“About time you woke up,” Pixie said from above me. She was riding on Big Blue’s shoulder, as usual. “You’ve been sleeping through nearly half the day.”
Holly glanced back at me. “Thorn, you’re awake! How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay,” I answered. I guess no one had wanted to wake me up…I stopped myself there. No point in going down that line of thought again… “Big Blue, could ya put me down now? I can walk.” Or at least I hoped I could…
Holly shook her head. “You shouldn’t be moving. It’ll only make your wounds worse, and they’re pretty deep as it is…you’re lucky to still be alive.”
I sighed, and gave Big Blue a wry smile. “I guess it’s no use asking ya to put me down anyway, huh?”
Methigras chuckled from somewhere behind me. “Don’t want to let a few scratches get the better of you, eh?” He chuckled some more. “Save that strength for when you need it; don’t waste it on being recklessly stubborn.”
Good advice…but I still didn’t like the idea of being wrapped in a blanket and toted around like somebody’s luggage.
“According to my calculations, we’ll soon be beneath Mt. Kairis,” Hare announced.
Tiger stopped for a moment, looking at Hare. “Isn’t that where Moo’s ancient body is supposed to lie buried?”
Holly looked thoughtful. “When Moo used the stone, it showed him Mt. Kairis…”
“Do you think we’ll run into Moo down here?” Suezo asked nervously.
“Well…” Hare said, scratching his chin. “How far did Thorn take us from the floating castle?”
I didn’t know the answer to that one myself.
“I was just trying to get all of ya out of there,” I said. “I wasn’t paying much attention to where we were going.” I tried to remember what I was thinking when I began that teleport. “I took us far enough.”
Mocchi blinked and looked up at me quizzically. “Far enough for what, chi?”
“Far enough so that Moo couldn’t catch up to us too quickly…I think.”
“You think?” Hare asked. “Don’t you know?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think I was thinking too clearly then…I just don’t know. I don’t even know if I was able to pick the destination, or if it just happened.”
“Moo might be close by,” Golem said. “We must be careful.”
“Yeah,” Suezo agreed. “I wouldn’t want to run into that guy again, no siree.”
“C’mon, you guys!” Genki shouted. “If we run into Moo, we can beat him, if we all work together!”
“You seem to have forgotten that we lost before, and quite badly, might I add,” reminded Hare.
“They just got lucky,” Genki said dismissively. “Besides, now we have Methigras to help us.”
Methigras gave him a toothy grin. “I may be a vegetarian,” the Dragon said, “but I wouldn’t mind sinking my teeth into Moo.”
“Methigras is strong, chi!” Mocchi exclaimed.
“See, guys?” Genki asked. “That’s the spirit!” He looked around at everyone. “Am I right?”
In the silence that followed, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear a few crickets chirp in the background. Hmm…what was the probability of a cricket surviving in a place like this?
“You’re right, Genki,” Holly said. She looked up from where she had been staring at the floor, brooding. “We can’t let one defeat get the better of us. We will find the Phoenix, and defeat Moo. I know it.”
She was clasping that dagger she always wore…I couldn’t remember if I had ever seen her use it. She sounded like she had just been crying and was struggling to hide it.
Genki smiled at her. “And we’ll get your dad back, too. That’s a promise.”
There was a chorus of agreement from the other Searchers, and Holly nodded gratefully. “Thank you, Genki…everyone.”
Her…dad? Wait…hadn’t Moo said something…? It was while I was gathering my energy, preparing for that mass teleport…he had called Holly his daughter. That was it. I hadn’t been paying much attention; it took nearly all of my concentration just to pull off our escape. But Moo couldn’t be Holly’s father; Holly was just too nice. The thought that Wyvlo was technically my father sprang up unbidden – I pushed it aside. Moo must’ve used Holly’s father’s body when he couldn’t reach his own. That had to be it. Holly’s father was just a vessel to Moo, a temporary form he could use until he uncovered his own, more powerful body. For a moment I wondered how deep a darkness Moo had cast him into, and if he had any influence at all. Or was he hiding, in some corner of his mind, like I had often tried to do? And what would happen to him once Moo did find his own body, and didn’t need to use him anymore?
“I have no further use for you,” Moo said, turning away from the trembling man in the corner.
I tried to retreat, to withdraw into myself. Moo controlled my body…but I didn’t want to witness this.
“But I’ve told you everything! Everything you asked!” The man’s eyes were wide with fear. He looked beaten and bloodied. Moo had tortured him…with my help.
I couldn’t retreat. When you see a horrible sight, somehow you just can’t look away.
Moo turned his gaze toward me, and I saw that he was leering. “Nemesis, kill him.” His features slowly twisted into a grin. “Make it painful.”
He didn’t need to say it out loud. He was just doing it to scare the man…and me.
I tried fighting, trying to stop this, even though I knew it wouldn’t work. I hoped it would at least distract me from what I was about to do.
No such luck.
The man’s trembling increased as he watched a green aura of energy build up around me.
“Please…” he begged, staring at me, unable to tear his eyes away from his own death. The look in his eyes was almost too much to bear. “ I know you don’t want to do this…I can see it in your eyes. Please…”
Whatever he saw in my eyes, it wasn’t enough to save him.
I heard his screams all night.
“What’s wrong with Thorn, chi?” Mocchi peered up at me in concern.
I tried to smile, if only to put the little monster at ease. “Nothing, Mocchi. Just a bad memory.” I didn’t want to go into any more detail than that. Not yet…maybe not ever. And certainly not when Holly was anywhere nearby.
“Hey, what’s that up ahead?” Hare asked suddenly.
I lifted my head a bit to look. There was a thin, jagged crack in the wall of the tunnel a few yards ahead of us. Flickering orange light seeped through it, as though there were many torches on the other side.
In an instant, Hare, Tiger, Holly, Golem, and Suezo were peeking through, while Genki and Mocchi jumped up and down behind them, running this way and that to try and get a better view. Methigras ambled over to them, and Big Blue followed. He held me at just the right height so that I could see what was going on.
“That’s Moo’s ancient form?” I heard Pixie whisper from above me.
It was there, poised in mid-motion in the center of a spacious cavern, ringed by Weeds and Jells carrying lanterns, picks, and a few other tools that I didn’t know the names of. There were a few relatively small chunks of ice still clinging to its pink fur, but it was mostly clear of debris.
Moo stood, facing his old body in the center of the ring. If he had a mouth in his current form, I was certain I would have seen that same evil grin on his face. The body he was in began to change as black energy streamed off of it and into his ancient one.
Holly gasped when the transformation was finished. “Father!”
The Dragon Moo began to move, haltingly at first. His lips were twisted permanently into a demented evil grin. He took a moment to regard Holly’s father, who was lying unconscious at his feet. Then energy began to build near his mouth.
In the blink of an eye, there was only a crater where Holly’s father had been. But in the explosion, no one had noticed a quick flash of green light…
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Holly screamed.
Moo’s head turned abruptly, as though jerked by an invisible string, and I swore he was looking at me. Then he charged.
“Go! I’ll hold him here!” Methigras cried. Then several things happened at once.
Methigras pushed the others back, throwing himself protectively in front of them, just as Moo broke through the wall of ice separating us. As Moo plowed into the Stone Dragon, Holly’s father appeared in a flash of green light, dropping into Golem’s arms. My vision began to blur as most of my energy left me, and from then on I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on.
There was a lot of shouting and running, and being bounced around in Big Blue’s arms. Every second seemed to set my wounds on fire. I remember getting one clear glimpse of Methigras as Moo tore into him, remember crying out his name…Methigras was one of the largest Dragons I had ever seen, but he wasn’t even half the size of Moo.
More running…Holly noticing, gasping “Father! But how-?” Methigras not with us…gone, Moo behind us…passage narrowing, Moo unable to follow…keep on running, fire following us, Moo struggling, ground shaking…heat, too close for comfort…shattering ice beneath, falling through, flames passing overhead…ground sealing above us?…jarring landing, searing pain, everyone on top of one another…too dark to see…enough. I lost the slight grip on consciousness I had, and wasn’t aware of anything anymore.