“This isn’t the end. This isn’t even the beginning of the end. But it might just be the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill.
“Psst!” Suezo whispered, glancing furtively around with his single eye. “Hare, Mocchi, come over here!”
It had been almost a year since the defeat of Moo, and the evidence of his brief resurrection was quickly vanishing from the land. Villages that he and his baddies had decimated were beginning to thrive again, and theirs was no exception. In addition to the revived monsters, human survivors whose homes had also been wrecked by Moo were calling the village home. Mocchi seemed to be enjoying his life here, too, though Suezo sometimes heard the little monster call out Genki’s name in his sleep.
Suezo didn’t blame the kid, though. Genki wasn’t someone who was easily forgotten. All of them missed him; the first few days after he had left them, Holly had walked like someone in a dream, saying little and worrying them all. Thankfully that had ended once they reached home and she was caught up in the reunions and the rebuilding of the village. It was a week before Suezo himself could sleep late again. It took a while before he stopped waking up at the crack of dawn, wondering why no one was shouting “LET’S GO LET’S GO LET’S GO!” He had even caught Hare reminiscing.
Hare…Suezo couldn’t understand why he had come to their village. He had just strolled in one day, looking for all the world as he did before the defeat of Moo, wandering around with all his possessions bundled up in a handkerchief. After the initial hearty welcomes, Suezo had pulled him aside and asked “Hare, what are you doing here?”
“Well, Suezo, I went back home, and instead of treating me like a thief and a runaway, they gave me a hero’s welcome; all the food I could eat and anything I could ever want (except maybe a sack full of money). News of what we did must have spread quicker than I thought. But I didn’t want to just sit around at home all day…I wanted to fight! So I packed up my bags and left. And here I am.”
Despite his professed wanderlust, Hare had stayed with them for weeks now. But that was a good thing, considering what would be happening soon…
“Holly’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks,” Suezo whispered as the two monsters walked curiously over to him. “Why don’t we surprise her and throw her a birthday party with all the friends we met along our journey?”
“Great idea, Suezo, chi! But how will we find the others, chi?” Mocchi asked loudly.
“Quiet, Mocchi!” Suezo hissed, glaring at the little monster with his single eye. “It won’t be a surprise if Holly hears you! Anyway…” He fixed his gaze on Hare. “Hare here is the only one who can leave without making Holly suspicious.”
“Me?” Hare asked, regarding Suezo with a raised eyebrow. Then his expression softened. “Well, if it’s for Holly…I’ll even face Tiger of the Wind to make her happy.”
“Thanks, Hare,” Suezo said. “Leave as soon as you can, alright? This has to be ready before Holly turns sixteen.”
“According to my calculations, I’ll have more than enough time if I set out tomorrow,” Hare replied. “I’ll just get my things together tonight, then I’ll be on my way.”
One week later…
“Master Pixie, wake up.”
I opened my eyes when Big Blue gently shook me, and began scanning the area for enemies. Though Moo was gone, his followers were not…some, it seemed, had been genuinely loyal to him. Occasionally one would find us and attack, blaming us for the defeat of their master. For the most part, they were easy to defeat, for even the largest group we had encountered only included a dozen ragtag monsters. Weakened from refusing to mingle with any who no longer supported Moo and being driven out of towns when they tried to take what was no longer theirs, scattered all over the continent….none of them even stood a chance.
“What’s wrong, Blue?” I asked when I saw no immediate threat.
“Master Pixie, the money we won in that tournament is gone.”
We didn’t usually have much use for money, more often making do with the food and shelter the land we traveled provided. But there were times when circumstances forced us into a human town. It was for those times that we tried to always carry a little coin, usually won from free-for-all monster tournaments. I refused to enter any of the more official matches, since they required that a monster have a trainer as well…Thorn would *not* get a chance to act that part.
A familiar laugh rang out over the hills around us. “Looking for this?” Hare stepped into view, swinging the pouch of our money from one paw.
Energy crackled around my hands, and I took aim…
I awoke to the sound of a scream and an explosion. I sat up and rubbed my eyes to see Hare, eyes wide with fright, dancing as he tried to avoid Pixie’s Lightning attacks.
It had been nearly a year since I had last seen one of the Searchers. We had parted after the final battle. It felt like it had been years ago and only yesterday. I remembered standing before Moo after he had killed Pixie and Big Blue as though I had done it just a moment ago. But it seemed like I had been traveling with them both for the better part of forever.
“Alright! I’m sorry!” Hare yelped. “I’ll give it back! Please, stop!”
I turned away from Pixie and the pleading Hare to see if Big Blue was up yet. He was. There was a red bird perched on his shoulder. “What kind of bird is that?” I asked. Big Blue turned to look at it, but the movement frightened the bird and made it fly off. Big Blue watched it for a moment, and then shrugged.
“You wouldn’t hurt a poor orphan, would you?” Hare asked. “Yikes!” He leapt to one side as a ball of Lightning sped by his face.
“Morning, Pixie!” I called to her. “Didja sleep well?”
“Quite,” Pixie replied, sending another Lightning towards Hare.
“Thorn, help, please!” Hare shouted. “I just came here to give you an invitation!”
“What?” Pixie asked, letting up on her attacks.
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Hare said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Now, as I was saying…ack!” Yet another Lightning exploded at his feet.
“The money, Hare,” Pixie said evenly.
“Oh, right. Well, of course I was going to give it back to you…gaah!” Hare hastily produced the pouch and flung it towards us another Lightning attack whizzed past his face. Pixie caught it easily and handed it to Big Blue, then settled in her usual place on the stone giant’s shoulder. I wondered how Hare managed to get his eyes to go that wide, especially since they were so small all the time. I had asked him once, but he never told me…we were too busy running from molten lava at the time.
“Anyway, Holly’s birthday is exactly two weeks from today,” Hare continued. His eyes had gone back to their normal size now. “Suezo wanted to throw a surprise party for her, inviting all our old friends, yourselves included.”
“You expect *me* to go to a birthday party?”
Pixie sounded like Hare had asked her to dress up like a Joker and talk like a Mocchi all day. I guess she had never been invited to a birthday party before. Wait…what was a birthday party?
was all I saw, just like one of my nightmares.
Why did it have to be so dark? I
mean, I wouldn’t have minded if it was a little dark, but I didn’t like not
being able to see anything. At least
thought I’d be spending my birthday like this…”
“What’s a birthday?” I asked.
“You don’t know?”
I shook my head, then realized he couldn’t see it. He took my silence as a “no”, anyway.
“A birthday is the day you were born,” he explained. “It’s supposed to be a special day…it usually doesn’t involve fighting off werewolf/Golem things.”
I was about to ask what a special day usually involved when all the things roared as one. The cave began to crumble slightly.
I didn’t have a birthday…I hadn’t even been born. Scalar might know the day I was created, but I was never going back there.
I brought my broken sword up as one of the things leapt at my face.
Hare was waving a hand in front of my face. Why did people always do that to tell if you were awake? Even if you were, what would that do? Wouldn’t it just annoy you instead of confirming you were awake? Well, I guess if you yelled at the person doing it, then you could definitely be called awake…
“How long have ya been doing that?” I asked.
“According to my calculations, about three minutes,” Hare replied. “What’s going on? Are you feeling alright?”
“I’m okay. I was just remembering something.”
“Anything important?” Pixie asked.
I shook my
head, knowing by now what Pixie meant by important, mostly by trial and
error. When I asked her what was
important, her answers were never specific enough for me to tell. “Not really,” I elaborated. “I was with
“As I was saying, a birthday party is a celebration of the day you were born. And I know it would make Holly happy if all of you were there. So, whaddya say?” Hare asked brightly.
Pixie looked as though she was about to refuse.
“Do ya think the Wubbles will be there?” I asked.
“Be quiet,” Pixie snapped, automatically as always. She knew I wasn’t going to be quiet, but she always said it anyway. I guess it had become a habit, by now.
“Can we go, just in case? It might be fun, even if they aren’t.” I wanted to go. Holly was nice, and I wanted to see the others again. Besides, I couldn’t remember ever having been to a party. What was it like?
Pixie glared at me, but she didn’t say “no.” I took that as a good sign.
“Why don’t you take a day or two to decide?” Hare suggested. “In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop by Undine’s lake and tell Golem about the party. You seemed to be heading that way anyway, so…GAH!” Hare’s eyes went really really wide again as another Lightning attack exploded at his feet. “Nevermind! Uh, bye now!” He ran off faster than I could blink.
I had never realized how beautiful a sunset by the water could be.
Blue had taken us to Undine’s lake. I hadn’t realized where we were going until it was too late to say anything.
“You don’t mind?” he asked softly.
“No, Blue,” I replied. “I don’t mind.” I glanced over at Thorn, who looked like she was captivated by the golden ripples. “It looks like I’m outnumbered, anyway.”
“Golem, what’s wrong? Something’s troubling you. Aren’t you happy here?”
I lifted my eyes from the water and saw Golem and Undine conversing farther along the shore of the lake. They were so focused on one another that they hadn’t noticed us.
you are…my soulmate.
Golem wants to stay here, with you.”
The stone giant paused, and his shoulders slumped. “But…I have friends that died long ago. I guarded the stones, and searched for the
“I see,” Undine said, turning away. “Then you must go, to your friends.”
“Undine…I don’t want to leave you here alone.”
“You know I can’t leave this lake.” She bowed her head. “Golem, I understand. I know you will return…but your friends will want you to stay, and so will you…I don’t want you to be hurt because of my selfishness.”
I wasn’t close enough to be sure, but it sounded as though there were tears in Golem’s eyes.
“Why don’t ya just move the lake?” a cheery voice interrupted.
Both Golem and Undine started, then turned to stare at Thorn, taking in Big Blue and I as well. I mentally sighed. Thorn apparently didn’t know when not to interrupt a conversation.
“How long have you three been standing there?” Undine asked, accusation in her voice.
“Long enough to get the gist of things,” she replied, still cheerful. “You two don’t want to be apart, but Golem has to go back to wherever, and Undine can’t leave the lake to go with him. So, why not just move the lake to wherever Golem’s home is?”
“Thorn…a lake…” Golem began, but she interrupted him before he could explain that it was impossible to move a lake.
“Do ya want to do that?” she asked, looking at Undine.
“If it means I can be with Golem…” Undine nodded. “Yes.”
“Okay!” Thorn grinned and clasped one hand over her heart.
Green light spread out from me, slowly enveloping the lake, Golem, and Undine. Wait, I should include Pixie and Big Blue, too. I didn’t want to leave them behind.
Where was I taking all of us, anyway? And why did I never think of these things beforehand? Maybe it was all the Wubbles’ fault…
It was there, then, an ancient castle in the middle of the forest. Why was it always a forest? Wouldn’t it make more sense if it was someplace more populated, like outside a town or something? Unless it had been there so long that the forest had grown up around it. Where’d that image come from, anyway? Oh…Golem. He knew; he was thinking of it. Home…
It was so beautiful, there in his mind. Green and sunny…laughter…so soft and young and happy. I took a closer look, and the memory changed.
The sky was dark and strange. Why did it always get like that whenever something really bad happened? I mean, didn’t bad things happen on sunny days, too?
They were attacking…who was attacking? Them. A shadowy them. No one really knew, no one really expected…everyone just died. So much screaming…so much blood, everywhere. Why? Fighting…dying. Everyone…except for him/us/me. And one other…a little Angel with warm brown eyes, trying to get away. A sword, thrust at her, ready to disembowel her…without any thought to myself, a stone hand out to shield her. Metal broke against unyielding stone, shattered into a million pieces…
I fell into the water, coughing and sputtering. Before I could even wonder why the sunlight looked so beautiful piercing the blue, Undine found me and pushed me to shore.
“Thorn, are you all right?”
I looked up at Golem and coughed a little water out of my lungs. Why had that happened? I didn’t think I had swallowed too much…
“Yeah,” I replied as soon as I could stop coughing. “Guess I should watch where I teleport myself, right?”
I looked all around. We were in the courtyard of the castle from Golem’s memory. The lake had ended up at the foot of an ancient tree, the only one within the castle walls. I saw a lot of soaked monsters pulling themselves out of the water, laughing and crowding around Golem. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had fallen in.
One of the monsters, a Tiger/Dino, brushed passed me. I shivered, even though I was warm. That Tiger had died in Golem’s memory, even after fighting for all he was worth.
A Datonare (Tiger/Zuum) snarled at me, baring his teeth. He looked as though he would tear my throat out if I gave him any excuse.
I wanted to say something, make some peaceful gesture, but I couldn’t. Moo wouldn’t let me.
“I’m here to see your mistress,” I heard my voice say coldly. “I have a message from Master Moo.”
“Dentros!” a voice shouted from behind the rough double doors the Tiger was guarding. “Let her in.”
The snarl died in his throat. “Very well.” He moved aside and motioned for me to enter the room.
I pushed open the double doors only to see Lilim, lounging on an armchair. I blinked. An armchair? Well, I guess it was more comfortable than a throne...
“Lilim,” I heard myself say in the same cold voice. “Master Moo commends you on your victory in the Papas region. He wishes you to move on to Kawrea. He has also received reports that these natural disasters are becoming worse, and more frequent. Be cautious. Master Moo does not want his forces being wiped out by a volcano.”
“You can tell Moo he needn’t bother with the third person,” Lilim replied. “I know he’s behind every word that comes out of your mouth.”
“That’s Master –”
“I don’t call anyone master, nor does anyone under me call me mistress. Moo is welcome to kill me for it if he likes. I’d die gladly.”
No one noticed I had zoned out. They were all busy talking excitedly to Golem, begging him to tell them everything from how he had been the past (how many years had it been, anyway?) to who his sweetheart was. Only Pixie and Big Blue were watching me with concern…something they stopped doing the moment they realized I had noticed. I looked around at the crowd of other monsters, recognizing more faces I had seen in Golem’s memory. But the little Angel didn’t seem to be there…I wonder if she knew they had all been revived?
Glory struggled with the heavy package, trying to hoist it into the cart before it became too heavy for her to hold up and fell on her head. She thought that she was about to lose it when the package suddenly became much lighter and slid into the cart, seemingly of its own accord. The Angel sighed in relief, then jumped as she noticed the Lilim beside her.
“Oh,” Glory said, unused to strangers. “Thank you.”
The Lilim smirked, as though she had forgotten how to genuinely smile. “It was nothing. Although I would recommend training in power a bit more…your long range attacks may be your strength, but it’s useful to be able to defend yourself at close range. It’s saved my life more than once.”
Glory smiled, starting to feel more at ease with this stranger. The Lilim sounded like an experienced monster…she must be on her way to a tournament somewhere. “Oh, I don’t have to worry about that much. I never enter the tourneys, and it’s pretty safe around here.” Very safe, considering the Lilim was the first stranger to have visited this town since…what was it…a year and two months ago?
She watched as the Lilim looked around the small, isolated town. The homes were well-built and sturdy, in spite of (or perhaps because of) their plain, simple design. A few monsters and a couple of humans could be seen walking the streets together, talking animatedly about the upcoming trip to the city, which was nearly a three weeks’ journey away.
The Lilim turned back to Glory. “You live here?”
The Angel nodded. “All my life. No one really comes here if they don’t…” She suddenly realized that she didn’t know the Lilim’s name. “I’m sorry, I should introduce myself. My name is Glory.”
“I’m Lilim,” the other replied as she shook Glory’s extended hand. The she smirked again. “Original, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Glory replied sarcastically. “But, it’s better than some of the names I’ve heard. Some trainers tend to get overly creative. For instance, there’s a Suezo here named Frog.”
“Frog? I think I’d die if I were called Frog…” Lilim sighed. “But I suppose he’s happy about it.”
Before Glory could reply, one of the humans, a gray-bearded man with coarse, stiff hair waved to her. “Hey there, Glory! Did you finish loading the cart?”
“I sure did!” she called back.
A Serenity (Pixie/Plant) broke away from the others and came running up to her. “Goddess, Glory! I’m so excited! I can’t believe John is taking us with him this time!”
Glory’s smile grew broader. “Yeah, this is going to be an adventure, eh? We get to see new places, new people…” She suddenly remembered Lilim. “Oh, Midori, this is Lilim. Lilim, this is Midori, my best friend in the whole world.”
Midori blinked at her, a very puzzled expression in her bright blue eyes. “Glory, who are you talking to?”
Glory turned to where the stranger had been and imagined she looked even more puzzled than Midori. The Lilim was nowhere to be seen. It was as though she had simply vanished into the shadows…