Black energy arced around pulsing crimson light, and Hare winced as sweat rolled down his face and into his eyes. His friends crouched behind him, staring up at the towering dragon that hovered above them; the image tinted scarlet by the flickering dome that protected them from his wrath.
"I don’t know how long I can keep this up, guys!" Hare warned, keeping his voice low enough to keep Moo from overhearing him. The last thing he desired was to alert the monster to his weakness. Another blast of ebony flames crashed into the shield, and the little rabbit screamed in agony. For a moment he swayed where he stood, and nearly crumpled to his knees. Biting his lip, Hare forced himself to remain standing, keeping his stance as firm as he could with his waning strength.
A low growl rumbled from Tiger of the Wind’s throat, and golden eyes flashed as the lupine monster glared daggers up at Moo. "I can’t stand cowering here like a helpless child!" he snarled, and his entire body tensed as he prepared to dash toward Moo.
"No!" Golem quickly brought his massive hand down over Tiger. He knew better than to actually grab the blue wolf, but the fact that his palm hovered mere inches above the lupine monster was signal enough that he would grab him if he tried to attack.
Holly bit her lip and tightened her sweaty grasp on the mystery disc that she and the others had just located a few minutes before. The smooth stone had a strangely comforting warmth to it, and somehow the girl knew that this was what they had searched for so long: that this contained the body of the Phoenix. She had sensed it the moment they had uncovered it, and so had all the others.
But now…so close to their goal…it appeared that it was all over.
Holly’s soft brown eyes suddenly became steely, determined. No. Things would not end this way. Not while she lived. Gritting her teeth and tightening her arms around the mystery disc, the girl suddenly broke away from the others and darted out of the safety of the shield. The others gaped at her, but none of them dared call out her name. They all realized what she was up to, and prayed that she wouldn’t be noticed.
But their hopes were shattered as Moo pivoted on his heel and glared directly at the running girl.
"What are you doing, Holly dear? You should know better than to try something like that."
Ebony flames crackled in his gaping maw, and crimson eyes gleamed as the dragon craned his neck for a better shot.
"HOLLY!" All of the searchers screamed the girl’s name in unison, and she turned in time to see the torrent of jet-black fire as it surged toward her. Her bronze eyes widened in terror, and her mouth opened in a soundless scream as the blazing stream swept toward her. Hare vainly tried to cast a shield around the girl, even though he already knew that it was too late; she was too far out of range.
Suddenly something darted past the rebels and slammed into Holly’s side, pushing her away from the blast. Hugging the precious mystery disc to her chest, the girl gazed up at her rescuer with a mixture of shock and thankfulness in her shimmering eyes.
"Genki," she breathed, gently stroking the boy’s cheek with one hand. The youth grinned back at her, and tightened his grip around her body as he skated toward the temple. The other rebels cheered in relief, and Hare felt a shaky smile come to his face as the two humans rushed off to revive the monster locked within the hidden disc.
Moo was considerably less pleased with this turn of events. The monster let out a thundering roar of outrage, and whirled toward the two humans.
"NO! You will NOT revive the Phoenix! I will NOT be defeated again!"
"So that really does contain the Phoenix’s body," Hare said quietly, glancing back at the others to see if they had caught Moo’s little slip of the tongue. The exuberance he glimpsed on their faces was sign enough, and the little rabbit grinned slightly as he turned his attention back to strengthening the barrier. A hopeful thought flashed into his mind, and he whispered, "We might just pull this off yet…"
"I will not be destroyed again!" Moo raved, and flames gushed from his mouth toward the fleeing humans. Genki gritted his teeth and swerved to avoid the blasts, which seemed to strike closer and closer to the two each time. Holly clung to the Phoenix’s mystery disc desperately, and as a streak of ebony fire lanced past them, she flinched and leaned closer to Genki’s body, one arm wrapped around his shoulders.
"Come on, kid," Tiger growled, and Hare glanced worriedly at the blue wolf before whirling to look at the two humans again. Suezo whispered Holly’s name, twisting its sound into a sort of prayer, and Mocchi’s eyes wavered with fear as he watched two of his closest friends dodge the fiery attacks. Golem stared at the duo in silence, unable to put his longings for their safety into words.
Suddenly a nagging in the back of the rabbit’s mind made him turn to glance up at Moo. The towering monster’s frustrated grimace was twisting into a smirk, and Hare felt his confidence take a sudden plunge. He knew that look: it was the same expression the leader of the baddies had worn in all of his nightmarish visions, moments before…
"Oh no, LOOK OUT!" Hare shrieked, eyes wide with a nameless terror and anxiety. The sound of his desperate plea was nearly lost in the roar as Moo’s maw gaped open and sent a volley of ebony beams streaking toward the two humans. Genki started to turn around, and Hare caught a glimpse of the boy’s startled expression right before the flash of black light temporarily blinded the searchers.
Time slowed to an agonizing crawl and instants stretched into eternity. The two humans seemed to have been suspended in midair, as if held there by the beams of ebony light that lanced into their bodies. Genki’s head was flung back, his clear eyes wide and blank with pure shock. His hat fell to the ground, knocked off by the force of the blow, and his short, unruly brown hair waved slightly. Holly floated beside him, similarly skewered by the dark beams, and the sparkling remnants of her tears were scattered around her pale cheeks. She hugged the broken mystery disc to her shattered chest with a grip that refused to loosen even after death.
Hare heard himself screaming their names, felt his wavering eyes widen with horror as the two humans dropped slowly to the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Mocchi’s terrified face, and all the color drained out of the little pink monster’s face as realization slowly dawned on him. Suezo started screaming, his pupil dilating as it focused on the two dead children. Hare could not see the expressions on Tiger and Golem’s faces, nor did he want to.
Moo’s victorious laughter echoed around them, mocking, triumphant. "So much for your valiant quest for the Phoenix," he sneered, a demonic smirk tugging at his ghastly features. Soulless eyes swept over the five monsters, and he boomed, "So…which one of you wants to be next? If you don’t want to volunteer, I’ll just have to choose one of you…"
A sudden flash of blue-white streaked past Hare, and the rabbit stared at the blur as it darted toward a laughing Moo.
"Stop it, Tiger!" Hare heard his own voice scream. "You can’t defeat Moo on your own!"
"I DON’T CARE! MOO HAS TO PAY FOR WHAT HE’S DONE!"
The blur slowed down, and Hare caught a glimpse of flashing golden eyes as Tiger of the Wind raised his head and summoned his Lightning. Electrical energy pulsed around ivory horns and surged into the frightful dragon’s flank. A deep laugh rumbled from the towering monster, and Moo’s eyes gleamed blood red as he brought one of his hands sweeping down. Hare screamed Tiger’s name as one ebony claw clipped the lupine monster’s side, and crimson blood began to soak into cerulean fur even as the blue wolf leapt away and landed on his feet, breathing hard.
"BLIZZARD!" Tiger roared, a gust of frigid air erupting from his mouth and blasting the massive paw. Moo ignored the attack, even as his claws were coated with ice, and leered down at the attacking monster as he took another swipe at him. The other four rebels watched in horror as the blue wolf’s body was sent reeling back toward them, and Tiger skidded to a stop mere inches away from the barrier.
"Tiger…let me heal you, at least," Hare pleaded, staring at the deep gouge in the lupine monster’s side. The blue-furred wolf shook his head slightly, even as he struggled back to his feet. Crimson blood oozed down his side and dripped steadily to the ground, yet Tiger managed to lurch back to his feet and lunge back toward the laughing Moo, energy crackling around his horns.
Hare heard the soft whisper behind him, and barely recognized Suezo’s voice. Tearing his gaze away from the terrible fight, the little rabbit turned to see the eyeball monster still staring blankly at where Holly’s body lay, his pupil a single, foggy dot of green. Slowly, however, the incomprehension so clearly etched on Suezo’s face began to twist, reflecting agony for a few moments, then turning into a fierce glare. His eye became startlingly cold, gleaming with hatred none of the other searchers had ever seen in the eyeball monster before.
And then the eyeball monster lunged forward, moving with a speed that none of the others had ever known that he possessed. Maybe his newfound speed was born from the sudden rage that boiled within him. Before his startled friends could react, Suezo had surged past them and charged directly at Moo. Even the massive dragon seemed to be slightly surprised, and the eyeball monster’s tail slammed into the baddie’s cheek with a deep thwack. Roaring, Moo brought one huge paw around and swatted his attacker away, even as Tiger charged at the dragon again. Suezo skidded to a stop a few feet away, and the eyeball monster coughed up blood as he struggled to stand again.
Suddenly something stepped past the little rabbit, and Hare stared up at the stone giant in open-mouthed terror as Golem moved toward Moo. Hare screamed the rock monster’s name, and Golem glanced back at his two friends.
"Golem go too, chi?" Mocchi asked, tears still running down his pink cheeks. The stone giant nodded in reply, and then stomped off, raising a fist to slam it into Moo’s side. The two youngest rebels watched in horror as the baddie swiped at Golem and sent him sprawling away.
"Golem, Suezo, Tiger, please stop! You’ll die…" Hare choked, watching the fight helplessly from behind the shield. He flicked a glance over at where Genki and Holly still lay motionless on the rocky ground. The rabbit longed to rush to their side, to try and heal them if it was possible, but he couldn’t just leave Mocchi defenseless. His shield was the only thing standing up against Moo’s power…
"Chiiiii…" Mocchi breathed, watching the battle. The pink monster’s eyes wavered in fear, then abruptly hardened as a new determination filled them. Taking a deep breath, Mocchi began to walk forward, toward the battle.
Suddenly Hare shrieked, "NOOOOO!" and grabbed the little monster by the shoulders. Mocchi stared at the rabbit, stunned, as he choked out, "Please, Mocchi…you can’t go! If you try to fight Moo, you’ll be killed! Please, just stay here where’s it’s safe until I can think of some sort of plan…I don’t want to lose…any more friends…"
"Hare-chi…" Mocchi whispered, eyes wavering as the rabbit trailed off into sobs. After a moment, a slight smile crossed over the younger monster’s beak, and he gently pulled away from Hare’s grasp. As the little rabbit stared at him, Mocchi said, "Mocchi be okay, chi? Mocchi be really careful. You help Genki and Holly, okay, chi?"
"But Mocchi…it’s not safe…"
"Nobody said this would be safe, chi." Hare gaped at Mocchi, slightly taken aback by the solemn tone that the pink monster said this in. Smiling bravely, Mocchi stepped out of the safety of the shields. Turning to take one last glance at the stunned rabbit, the youngest member of the rebels curled into a ball and bounced toward Moo and the main battlefield.
"CHERRY BLOSSOM BLIZZARD, CHI!"
The small pink blossoms swirled through the air, and a few stray petals wafted toward the glimmering crimson shield. For a moment, Hare watched the blossoms flit past him, an expression of complete shock and sorrow on his face. Then, as a new determination filled his wavering brown eyes, the rabbit turned away and sprinted toward where the two humans had fallen.
Oh man, they’re worse off than I thought, the rabbit thought, wincing as he skidded to a stop next to the two humans. The tears that already brimmed in his eyes threatened to spill out, and he quickly squeezed them shut, both to keep himself from losing control and to shut out the sight of the shattered chests of his friends. A crimson aura flared around his body, and healing energy poured from his willing paws into the two unresponsive bodies.
"Come on, come on," Hare murmured, reaching out mentally to the two humans, trying to find some spark of life left that the flames of the Phoenix’s Tear could amplify. Instead, he only felt a terrifying cold sensation from both of his friends, a numbness that would not be warmed by the heat of his healing magic.
* No…NO! Come on, you two, please wake up! *
"RAAAUUUGGGHHH!" Tiger howled as he was blown backwards once more, his yelp mixing with the cries of the others. The blue wolf stumbled back to his feet, gasping for breath. One entire side of his body was soaked in his own lifeblood now, the same blood that continued to slowly drip from his tangled fur and stain the ground. The other three fighting monsters were in similar shape: Golem limped noticeably, as did Suezo, whose entire body was covered in scratches and blood. Mocchi’s soft pink skin was scratched up as well, and all four monsters looked like they were on the verge of collapse. And yet, still, they continued to fight, even as Moo laughed off half of their attacks.
Hare saw all of this, and recognized it. It was the same scene he had seen played out so many times at night, when terrible nightmares flowed into his mind. Turning away from the sight, he attempted to focus solely on healing Genki and Holly. At the same time, however, he could tell that it was hopeless: the two humans were already far beyond the point where his admittedly meager skills could help them.
Wait…there was one thing left he could try. Closing his wavering eyes, Hare tightened his sweaty grip on the Phoenix’s Tear. The thousands of thoughts that flashed through his mind began to take focus, and an idea slowly began to form in his mind.
* If the power of the Phoenix’s Tear is truly linked to the Phoenix, then maybe I can use it to revive Genki and Holly. I have to do something, at any rate. I can’t…I won’t let everyone else die! *
Shutting out the sounds of the battle that raged nearby as best he could, Hare began to pray. His paws clenched around the Phoenix’s Tear, remaining tight even as the smooth crystal became blisteringly warm. Part of his mind wondered briefly at the fact that the fur on his palms wasn’t catching on fire from the intense heat, but he soon pushed that thought out of his mind.
"Phoenix’s Tear, please heal my friends," he pleaded, the sound of his soft voice lost in the roar of the battle behind him. Nothing happened to Genki or Holly, so he tried saying, "Bring them back…bring Genki and Holly back…"
* Please work *
"Phoenix’s Tear, restore them!" No response.
* Please *
"Life Restoration!" Nothing. "Flames of Life!"
* Work please work please work *
"Revive! Come back!"
* Come back, don’t leave me alone, work please work please *
"Phoenix’s Tear, please guide the spirits of my friends…"
* I won’t be able to live if you end up dying please come back *
"…Back to their bodies, Phoenix’s Tear please…"
* Bring them back, make them come back *
"Phoenix, guide my friends back safety…"
* Oh Goddess Tiger just screamed Tiger never screams unless he’s really hurt badly please come back please *
* Genki Holly Mocchi Golem Suezo Mocchi Tiger don’t let them die please protect them please *
"I said Revive! Bring them back! Please!"
* Please *
As Hare continued to search for the words that would trigger the spell he wanted, the Phoenix’s Tear began to pulse with a fiery red light. His wavering eyes were squeezed shut in concentration, so he failed to notice as the Magic Stone that still hung around Holly’s pale neck was beginning to glow with a similar light, a soothing verdant aura. The shattered mystery disc that was clenched in her lifeless arms was bathed in the two glows, and for a moment seemed to glow with an inner light of its own.
Mocchi raised his head slightly to glance toward the source of the two shimmering lights. The little pink monster was bleeding from numerous cuts all over his body, yet he still struggled to regain his footing, ready to attack Moo once again. All around him, he could hear the groans and coughs of the other monsters as they attempted to rise.
Moo opened his mouth, and their world erupted into fire. Mocchi felt his body be lifted into the air by the force of the black flames hitting the ground, and as his skin blistered from the intense heat, he looked back at the only source of light left: the flickering reddish glow just at the edge of his vision.
"Hare…chiii…" he sighed, wavering eyes slowly closing as a soft light the color of cherry blossoms began to form around his body. The glow slowly intensified, pulsing brighter and brighter, as Mocchi slipped into unconsciousness.
"Holly…" Suezo murmured, tears falling from his eye as a saffron light surrounded his limp body.
"Genki…" An aura the same deep sapphire hue as his fur blazed around Tiger of the Wind’s broken form.
"Gol…" Soft gray eyes misted with tears as a silvery light enveloped Golem’s body.
The four auras blazed fiercely for a moment, then streaked away from the bodies they surrounded and toward the crimson light. The Phoenix’s Tear began to change colors in rapid succession; red, pink, yellow, blue, silver, and finally a blazing white. Hare didn’t notice this, and the rabbit sobbed as he flung back his head, screaming out one last attempt to get the spell right:
The pieces of the shattered mystery disc burst into violent white light, enveloping the bodies of the two humans. Hare opened his eyes with a gasp, staring at the sight, then was forced to shield his eyes when the light became too intense to bear. At his neck, the Phoenix’s Tear pulsed and flared with crimson light, and the fiery aura surrounding his body intensified. As the pillar of white light before him rose into the air, a scarlet beam shot from the startled rabbit’s body and surged into the glowing mystery disc, which was suddenly whole once more.
"What?" Moo exclaimed. Even the mighty dragon was forced to shield his eyes, and he cried out in agony. "This light…this terrible light! It burns! It BURNS!"
He screeched in pain, and four more beams of light shot out from the forms that were still suspended in the air before him. The four auras –faintest rose, brightest yellow, deepest blue, and purest silver– joined the crimson light in pulsing around the pillar of blinding white light. Shielding his wavering brown eyes from the blinding light, Hare could barely make out Moo’s shrieks of agony.
And then a new cry echoed through the air: the clear, piercing call of a bird.
Hare’s eyes widened, and he stared up at the blazing light before him as a massive figure rose from the pillar. Massive wings churned the air, wings the color of blazing flames dusted with the slightest hint of gold. Wide, wild eyes glowed with a white light, and the figure craned back its regal head and let out another musical cry.
"The…Phoenix…" Hare breathed, awestruck. Then, as the incredibly beautiful avian rose from the light and flew toward a screaming Moo, he felt all of his strength suddenly abandon him. As he dropped to the ground, Hare continued to stare dully up at the firebird, even as his sight dimmed and faded.
At his neck, the Phoenix’s Tear blazed with intense crimson light before shattering.
* * *
The first sensation that Hare became aware of as his eyes fluttered back open was the fact that a gentle breeze was stirring his fur. It felt amazingly refreshing, and the rabbit soon forced his eyes to open completely. As he sat up, he felt something smooth and rocklike drop off of his chest, and he glanced down in confusion.
He gasped in shock. The Phoenix’s Tear had completely shattered. The largest piece was still hanging limply around his neck, but it no longer glowed with the same faint inner light that he had become used to. Not only that, but it was no longer even the slightest bit warm, but as cold and lifeless as any ordinary crystal. Hare cradled the pieces in his paws for a few moments, stunned into silence.
"…Genki? Holly? You guys?" he called out, raising his head to look around. There was no sign of the other six searchers anywhere. Getting shakily to his feet, Hare slowly began to wander around, scanning the area in confusion as he continued to call out the names of his friends.
"Genki? Holly? Mocchi? Tiger? Golem? Suezo? Where are you guys? Won’t you please answer me? I–"
Hare gasped, and his wavering eyes widened as he stared disbelieving at the scene before him. Genki and Holly lay motionless on the cold, rocky ground, the boy’s clear eyes staring blankly into the sky, the girl still hugging the shards of the mystery disc to her chest. And nearby…Hare’s entire body began to tremble, and he slowly shook his head, trying to deny what he saw.
Four lost discs surrounded the dead children, circled around their bodies almost protectively. Hare knew in one terrible instant just who those four discs had once been, and tears streaked down his face. His shaking legs suddenly refused to support him any longer, and the rabbit fell to his knees, unable to tear his eyes from the sight.
"No…it isn’t possible…" he breathed, eyes wavering. "The Phoenix…did the Phoenix lose?"
But no, that was impossible. Hare could no longer sense Moo’s presence anywhere, and besides, he would have died long ago if that was the case. The rabbit raised his tear-streaked face to stare up toward clear cerulean skies, felt a calm breeze ruffle his fur as it swept through the quiet valley. Everything seemed to be completely peaceful, a scene that clashed with the agony in his heart. The evil had been banished; the world was free and peaceful again, just like in all those fairy tales. So why didn’t this feel like ‘happily ever after’?
Hare felt his shoulders quiver, and he bowed his head and wept unashamedly. Tears poured down his cheeks and stained his fur, a few drops splashing against the shattered remains of the pendant that still hung at his throat. Hare gazed at what was left of the crystal teardrop and felt outrage begin to boil inside of him. The thin cord snapped as he yanked it from his neck, and the jagged edges bit into his palm unnoticed as he tightened his fingers around it.
"Why now?" he shouted, half-blinded by tears of rage and grief as he glared at the shattered crystal. "Why did you have to break now? After all that time where I could use you and didn’t want to, why is it that when I need your powers the most that you fail on me?"
Raising the crystal into the air, he shrieked, "Heal them! Bring all of them back! Don’t make me have to lose them now!"
Hare paused, waiting for the familiar rush of energy, willing with all his heart for the power to come racing into his veins one last time. Only silence was his answer. The Phoenix’s Tear remained a cool, unchanging weight in his paws, with none of the glimmering aura that he remembered so well. The glow that had always remained around it as long as he touched it was gone, and the only light came from the sun’s rays reflecting off of its smooth surface.
Hare slowly lowered his arms, still cradling the useless crystal in his paws. Tears of grief still misted his eyes, and he hugged the shattered pendant to his heaving chest as he began to weep anew.
"It’s not fair…I need magic to save my friends," he sobbed, wavering eyes closing as more tears stained his cheeks. He tightened his grip on the Phoenix’s Tear again, ignoring how the sharp edges tore into his palms, and he repeated, "I need magic!"
~ Do you honestly believe that, little one? ~
Hare jerked with surprise, and slowly raised his tear-misted gaze up to meet the shimmering eyes of an indescribably magnificent firebird. He gasped in shock, and jumped backward, staring at the avian as she cocked her head slightly to one side, regarding him with a faint hint of amusement in her gleaming eyes.
~ Don’t be frightened, little one. I am the one that you and your friends have been searching for so long. ~
"You…you are…the Phoenix…" Hare breathed, reaching toward the firebird in an almost dreamlike trance. Suddenly, his eyes widened as comprehension hit him, and he glared at the Phoenix as tears blurred his vision once more.
"You let them die!" he accused, glaring at the mystical bird. "Why aren’t you reviving them? You’ve got to…you have to bring my friends back!"
The Phoenix bowed her head, and a female voice echoed in Hare’s mind once more.
~ I cannot. ~
Hare gaped at her in shock, mouth working soundlessly. The Phoenix regarded him sadly, her glimmering eyes fixed on his pale face.
"W…why not?" he finally managed to demand. The firebird stared directly down at him, beautiful eyes solemn.
~ Little bunny…let me tell you a story. Then you may be able to understand. ~
The last thing Hare wanted to hear right now was a story, yet something in the Phoenix’s gaze kept him from protesting. Instead, he stared up at the firebird, waiting.
~ Long before you were born, small one, I fought against Moo to save this world. During this fight, I cried for all that he had destroyed during his senseless rampage, and one of my tears crystallized, becoming the pendant that you wear now. ~
"At least it was," Hare murmured, absently gripping the shards in his paws.
~ At last, I managed to defeat Moo. However, the human scientists who remained did not want any strong monsters to exist anymore, so they used the Final Gate to separate Moo’s mind and body. My own spirit and body were separated as well. ~
"You mean it wasn’t an accident?"
~ No. The humans were afraid that I might someday lose control like Moo, so they tore me apart at the same time that they tore apart Moo. My body was sealed away and lost to time, while Moo’s body was locked in ice and buried beneath Mount Kairis, and his mind sealed in a black disc and trapped in an underground ruin. However, my spirit remained free, and was eventually reborn in the pure hearts of certain monsters. I continued to survive by sending my spirit from body to body, protecting those I could, always searching for kindred spirits… ~
~ Monsters who possessed special, unique abilities all their own, even if they did not realize it. After endless searching, I eventually discovered one who shared my love for others, a powerful young monster who possessed great strength, yet refused to use it to fight and spread destruction. A compassionate soul who loved indiscriminately, despite the fact that he lived with others who did not share the same views as he did. That young monster was a purebred stone giant who lived in a beautiful, serene valley in the forest… ~
~ Yes, that child was the one you know now as Golem. Part of my spirit was permanently born into him when he was unlocked, and I stayed with him for many years. However, a sorrowful event happened: the monsters of the valley went to war, and there was a terrible massacre. Even though I gave him my aid, unleashing a great deal of the slumbering power within him, I was unable to prevent the deaths of his friends and family. At the end of the battle, Golem was the only survivor, and because he could not remember completely what had happened when I unleashed his power, he blamed himself for their deaths, and vowed to remain watching over his lost friends for all time. ~
~ Unable to bear my own guilt, I moved on, although part of my spirit remained locked inside of him. Years passed, and another one who was destined to carry my power was born. His life was not as ideal: the master who locked him and his younger brother was a cruel young boy, completely obsessed with furthering himself and his own dark ambitions, and mindless of those who suffered as he moved along. I did all I could to keep the darkness that swelled in the pup’s heart from overwhelming him, yet he still rose up against his trainer one night and murdered him in a rage, fleeing with his little brother into the night. ~
~ With time, the wolf cub and his brother learned how to fend for themselves. The hardships and tragedies that they faced each day hardened his heart over time, gradually forcing him to hide his emotions away, until he practically forgot how to let them show at all. Yet I remained with him, since part of his soul remained pure with his inner strength.
~ However, I knew that all was not well. I had sensed that Moo had found a new host for his spirit, but was not fully aware of how strong that bond was until he suddenly attacked. My presence with the one whom held part of my spirit in his own had inadvertently drawn the evil one directly to me, and he attacked. Again, I attempted to take control of Tiger’s body the same way I had with Golem during his own fatal battle, but the darkness in his own heart warred with me, and Moo took advantage of this weakness, murdering many of the wolf’s friends and kidnapping his beloved brother. Stricken with guilt and grief, I moved on once more, and set off in search of the place where Moo had come into contact with his new host in an attempt to discover some clue as to how to defeat him. ~
The Phoenix paused in her narrative for a moment, blinking her shimmering golden eyes as they misted slightly with remembrance. Hare noticed this, but said nothing, waiting patiently for her to continue.
~ I stumbled across the next one who could bear part of my spirit quite by accident. My search led me to a small, secluded village, where I became interested in a pure-spirited young maiden by the name of Holly. I sensed a great power within her, and her loneliness over the loss of her parents. I was already aware of the identity of the one Moo had bonded with, and that only increased my sympathy for the girl, and I watched over her for a few years. Gradually, I became aware of the fact that a great power slumbered within her as well, and that her destiny would eventually become intertwined with the ones who shared ties with me. Knowing that, I remained with her, until she unearthed a mystery disc of her own. Sensing that the one held within could bear some of my spirit as well, I bonded with the eyeball monster as he emerged, and quickly departed from the town thereafter, hoping that my stay there would not lure Moo there. Unfortunately, since that village was where he originated from, my hopes were in vain, as I sensed two years later.
~ By that time, I had learned that there were two more that were destined to carry my spirit. One was you, little bearer of the crystal tear, and the other was not fated to be unlocked until a few months later, when the strength of my bond with you and the other three enabled me to open a portal and pull a certain youngster through to our world at last. ~
"Genki…so is that why he was brought to our world? Simply because he was needed to unlock Mocchi?"
~ Not entirely. You see, all of you searchers have always had special traits and abilities, in addition to carrying part of my spirit. Indeed, it is because of your uniqueness that I was able to be reborn at all. In Genki’s case, he has the rare and special talent of getting others to trust and believe in him. His innocence and determination was needed to draw you and the others to one another, and to hold you together throughout the many trials that lay before you, until your hearts and minds were able to bear the shock of releasing my spirit. Then, and only then, could I truly be reborn. ~
"But…but I still don’t understand what went wrong," Hare protested, glancing sadly at the bodies and lost discs behind him. The Phoenix closed her eyes in silent pain.
~ That was Moo’s doing, I’m afraid. They were not supposed to die when my spirit rose from their bodies; they should have been able to bear the shock. But Moo wounded them all extremely badly, and the energy of my spirit rising from them and reuniting with my body…was too much of a shock for their bodies to bear. Since you were not injured as badly, and the Phoenix’s Tear took the force of most of the energy, you were able to survive… ~
"But the others weren’t," Hare finished sadly, lowering his gaze to the shattered pendant at his chest.
~ I’m sorry, little one. It wasn’t supposed to be like this… ~
"And there’s no way you can…bring them back?"
The Phoenix shook her head, and Hare stared up at her in dull shock. Brown eyes wavered with fresh tears, but he did not allow them to fall. Instead, he reached down and fingered the shards of the crystallized tear silently. The firebird could barely hear his soft, resigned whispering.
"If only the Phoenix’s Tear hadn’t shattered…then I’d be able to help them…I wish…"
~ There is a way to repair your pendant, if you truly desire it. ~
Hare’s head jerked up, and he gaped at the firebird in surprise. She nodded, but her golden eyes were extremely solemn, and her voice was equally so as it echoed in his mind once more.
~ I can repair it, but only if that is what you truly desire in your heart. You must allow yourself to think clearly, without clouding your mind with the thought of your allies. Remember everything that has happened to you, all of the things that have occurred because of your holding this power. Remember all of the events triggered by its presence in your life, both good and bad alike. Only if your heart and mind have completely consented to wielding this power, with all of its benefits and drawbacks known to you, will I be able to restore it. ~
Hare nodded, and his eyes slowly closed as he remembered. Images flashed through his mind, recalling everything from the moment of his escape from Naga to this point in time. He thought of his terrible visions, and how they had forewarned him in time to change what they foretold. He remembered the fear, the guilt, and the moments of depression, and also the fleeting moments of peace and tranquility that came so briefly to him and the other searchers at times. He thought of how it felt to shoot fire from his hands, dealing death, and of the rush of triumph he felt when he learned that he could heal as well as hurt. After a while, his eyes opened again, and he looked directly at the Phoenix.
"I’ve decided," he told her confidently, "that I want to be able to use the Phoenix’s Tear again. I know that it’s difficult, and I know that I’ll never be able to be exactly the same as normal monsters, but…it’s a part of who I am. I don’t think I ever really understood that until just now. As hard as it’s been for me before, I still know that this is right; this is a part of me now, just like everything else. And…even in the hardest of times, as bad as things might get, I know that I’ll be able to bear it now, because I have my friends…true friends who will always be there for me. Even if we’re separated, it won’t really matter, ‘cause I’ll always know that they truly care for me, and love me for who I am! That’s all that really matters…"
The Phoenix nodded, and her mental voice held a tinge of pride as she spoke once more.
~ Then so it shall be. ~
Her fiery wings churned the air, and Hare stared up at her in curiosity as she launched into the sky, circled once, and suddenly dived back toward the earth at a dizzying speed. She streaked back toward him, and for a moment he thought that she would crash directly into him, yet he somehow found the courage to remain standing firmly in place as she lanced toward him. She crashed into him like a blazing spear, and the rabbit’s eyes widened in surprise: instead of knocking him to the ground, she seemed to pass directly through his body, and he felt his entire body glow with an inner warmth as she flew through him. The heat concentrated at his chest, and as the last of her tail feathers swept back out of his back, he looked down to see a brilliantly glowing crystal shaped like a teardrop blazing at his neck. He raised his paws up toward it in disbelief, and suddenly the musical voice rang out once more in his mind, piercingly clear.
~ Now, little one! I will support your power with my own! Call out to your friends! ~
Hare nodded, and tightened his paws around the blazingly warm crystal, raising it into the air. The words formed in his mind, and he called them out at the top of his voice.
"Phoenix! Give me strength! AURA REVIVE!"
The familiar crimson light erupted around his body, and for the first time in his life Hare felt a rush of excitement as it flashed into being instead of fear. Closing his eyes, he silently willed the energy that built around him to branch out and envelop his friends. The four lost discs and two lifeless bodies that lay before him were bathed in the soft radiance, and were slowly levitated into the air. Energy coiled around the humans, enveloping them, and scrapes and dried blood faded out of existence, leaving behind clear, unmarked skin. The four discs began to glow with inner brilliance of their own: pink, yellow, blue and silver lights that shifted and grew.
Clear brown eyes slowly opened, and Genki looked around in childish confusion as he was gently set back down on his feet. A slender hand slipped into his, and he looked up to see Holly, who was staring around at the others as they gently alighted on the safe earth. He heard Mocchi’s gasp of surprise, and saw the strange expressions on the faces of four monsters as they regained their senses.
"We’re…alive?" Suezo asked, looking around at an equally stunned Golem and Tiger of the Wind. Then all six of them heard a soft gasp of joy, and turned to see Hare standing a few feet away, staring at all of them. Genki took one look at the rabbit’s wavering brown eyes and knew that the fighting was over.
"You guys…" Hare said, taking a hesitant step forward, reaching out with a trembling hand, "I…I thought I’d never see you again!"
And then everything became a happy blur, as the seven searchers suddenly flung themselves into each other’s embrace and began to talk all at once, shouting hellos and shrieking with joy. Seven voices chattered and cheered, sobbed and laughed, until the sound rose into the sky and filled the air. There was scattered laughter as Golem hauled all of his friends into his arms at once, lifting them off of their feet, and laughter became a merry shriek as he suddenly toppled onto his back, and they tumbled out of his arms into the fresh grass.
Suddenly Holly gasped, and the others followed her gaze at once. Genki felt his mouth fall open, an expression mimicked by Suezo and Mocchi, and all of the searchers gaped up at the Phoenix in astonishment. The mythical firebird cocked her head slightly to one side, and her golden eyes twinkled with amusement. Hare laughed merrily, seeing the shock on his friends’ faces.
"It’s really the Phoenix, you guys," he confirmed as Genki turned inquiring eyes back to him. The boy stared at the rabbit, and back at the Phoenix, and they jerked in surprise as her musical voice chimed in all of their minds at once, tinged with laughter.
~ Pleased to make your acquaintance. I hate to break up this happy reunion, but I’m afraid that it’s time. Genki…you must return to your world now. ~
"What?" the boy gasped, staring up at the firebird in shock. Mocchi clutched at the boy’s hand possessively, eyes wide as he stared up at his friend.
"Genki have to go, chi?" he asked, near tears. Holly looked at them sadly, bronze eyes wavering, and she leaned against Suezo slightly. Tiger and Golem exchanged a strange look, then turned their attention back to the Phoenix.
~ Please do not be upset with me. This world is not Genki’s native world; he has family and friends back home that he must return to. You must understand this. ~
Genki bowed his head, letting his bangs fall over his face and mask his expression. Mocchi clung stubbornly to his hand, choking back sobs. Hare stepped up beside them, and laid one paw on the pink monster’s shoulder, and Mocchi glanced up at the rabbit.
"Does Genki have to go, chi?" he pleaded.
"Yeah, he does. ‘Till next time, at least," he added with a knowing wink.
"Next time?" Genki and Mocchi asked in unison. The Phoenix’s voice echoed in everyone’s minds once more in reply.
~ Genki must return to his world while I am reviving those who have been lost or turned evil by Moo’s power. However, once that is finished, I will be able to use my power to establish a permanent link between the worlds. Once I have done that, he will be able to visit at any time that he chooses. The time frames in both worlds will become synchronized, so he will be able to come here in his free time, whenever he desires, by calling upon the power of this talisman. ~
As she spoke, the Phoenix leaned forward and nuzzled Genki’s neck with her beak, and a single gleaming feather fell into his hands. Genki clung to it, weighing it in his hands, and raised wavering clear eyes to the Phoenix as she turned around, kneeling.
~ Now, Genki Sakura, climb on my back. I will transport you back to your own world. Do not worry, I will contact you when I have finished my work, and you can return. ~
"What will happen to you then, Phoenix?" Holly asked, stepping forward.
~ I will return to my slumber once more. But if you ever should have need of me once more, the hopeful song that unites your spirits will awaken me once more, and I will return to you. Until then, I wish you all farewell, and will watch over all of you always. ~
Powerful wings churned the air, and Genki clung to the firebird’s back as she lifted into the sky. As they rose into the air, he waved back to his friends on the ground, and they waved back, shouting their farewells as he faded from view. They rose higher and higher, soon becoming a fiery blaze of light on the horizon, and then they were gone. Mocchi slowly stopped waving, and lowered his arms as his eyes wavered with tears. Hare gently squeezed his shoulder again, and the little pink monster looked up at the rabbit as he smiled and winked.
"Don’t worry. No matter how far away you might be at times, you’ll still be in one another’s hearts. Nothing can ever change that."
Mocchi nodded, the grin that spread over his face like the first rays of a new dawn on the world. The little pink monster returned the firm grip, and the two young heroes looked back toward the horizon with their other friends, ready for whatever awaited next. The knowledge that they would always have each other’s friendship, and that of their other friends, was reassurance enough.