All was quiet on the edge of the oasis as Hurricane stealthily slithered his way along the white stone walls of the temple, listening intently for anything and everything with his sharp reptilian ears. Occasionally he would taste the air with his forked tongue, hoping to detect any enemies before they could hear or see him by scent. He had heard Lexy summoned by an unknown voice, most likely an Angel, and after a few minutes of fussing with her hair and clothes, she had followed the Pixie sub-breed down the immaculate hall that lead from her room.
The Striker immediately knew that something was up. Lexy had not left her room once the in the period he had stationed himself outside of the temple. Apparently, though, today was different. His acute sense of smell had told him earlier that there was someone new in the building, something with a Joker in it's blood. The smell of battle and death were characteristic of the evil, shameless monsters, and for some reason, this one's scent was slightly familiar. Hurricane had dug deeply into his memory, but he could not recall to whom the odor had belonged.
Deciding ultimately that he ought to circle the building and maybe check out the throne room, he had proceeded to slide along silently. Reaching the corner of the large building, he flexed his claws, ready to attack if necessary. Scenting the air again, he decided that nothing was out of place, and then leapt around the corner with a small snarl. Not surprised to find no one there, he kept near the wall as he continued. Finally, as he approached the next corner, he heard the sound of voices. Recognizing immediately the girl's and the tyrant's voices, his ears perked up when he heard a third. It was smooth but sharp and cold, and it had a bitter sting of hate and venom. Suddenly he growled acidly, the name of the monster coming to him in a wave of remembrance.
"Juren…" was the almost inaudible hiss as Hurricane slashed the air, his razor sharp claws barely missing the side of the building. He checked himself, realizing that if he had hit the rock, it would have been the end of his mission. Taking revenge now would rule out any attempt of ever accomplishing his objective.
Swearing to himself, the Naga settled down, and perked up his ears. Whatever Juren had to say he knew would be worth hearing.
Aiko grabbed Holly's hand and pulled the reluctant young woman out of the cab.
"Are you sure this is where Genki will be?" asked Holly, mystified and slightly frightened by the lights, sounds, and people of the mall.
"I'm not positive, but hey, if he isn't here, we can crash some parties later. He's bound to turn up somewhere," said Aiko optimistically. Dragging Holly by the arm, the raven-haired girl brought her through the doors into the hustle and bustle of shoppers.
"My pack should be at the food court. I'll introduce you, and then we can look around. Holler if you see him."
"Okay," said Holly, but when she looked around, everyone was moving so fast and talking so loudly that she could hardly remember what to look for. She hurried, trying to keep up with the other girl, while her eyes darted back and forth, searching for the one person she knew she would feel safe with in this place.
They passed multitudes of little shops and boutiques. She found herself, more than once, admiring the clothes on the racks or in the displays in the store windows. She stopped briefly to examine a dress when suddenly she realized she had lost Aiko.
"Great," she muttered to herself. Silently she willed herself not to panic and looked around. Too many women were tall and had long black hair.
"I'll just have to wait and see if they can find me…" she thought, returning her attention to the dresses on the rack. The one that had caught her attention was a short, high-necked, sleeveless style. The deep emerald material was decorated with curling vines stitched all over it in yellow ochre and lime green. There was a fiery sunset one, with a plunging neckline, three-quarter sleeves, and a flared skirt. The color changed from light yellow to gold to an orange to bright pink down the length of the dress and the sleeves as well. The last was Holly's favorite. It was a simple midnight blue slip dress with tiny silver stars dotting it. It made her think of the night sky back in the Monster World, and suddenly she felt very lonely. Glancing around, she hoped that Aiko wouldn't forget about her when she saw three people that she had wished she wouldn't see again.
Walking slowly towards her in a small group of guys were the three young men that she had surprised in the frat room the night she had used the portal. The skinny, wimpy one looked very jittery, as if he had just pulled an all-nighter, and the muscular jock was dragging his feet, looking about ready to fall asleep. The dark man that had accosted her in the living room of the sorority house, however, looked just as cool and menacing as he had that night, but there was something about him that intrigued Holly.
She slipped behind a rack of jeans and began pretending to examine them while keeping an eye on the trio without trying to look suspicious. She willed them in her mind to pass her store by, but as if her own conscience was working against her, they slowed and a few of them entered the shop. The three, however, remained right near the clothing rack she had picked. She slowed her nervous breathing down, and proceeded to wait for them to move on.
"I told you this wouldn't work, " whined the PlayStation nut as he wrung his hands at the other two, "She's long gone Damian. I mean, she was just a hallucination, most likely a result of your overactive testosterone."
"She was not a figment of my imagination, Jones…" growled Damian, his icy blue eyes flashing fire, "I touched her. She was real, and I am going to find her."
"Why bother? I mean, you could easily wrap Lexy's entire pack around your little finger, besides the thousands of other girls in this city that would do anything to be in your little black book," said the jock, sighing. Holly cringed at the thought of girls being stupid enough to do something like that for a guy. Genki was nothing like these three.
"Maybe that's why it's so tempting," she thought, then almost smacked herself for even letting a notion like that enter her head.
"There was something about her Andrews," continued Damian, running his fingers through his jet black hair, "Something so innocent and helpless that was just crying out to me."
"She wouldn't be so innocent when you got through with her, would she?" smirked Jones, going into a fit of hysterical laughter. Damian threw up his fist as if to strike him, and Jones guffawed to a stop quickly.
"Well she obviously isn't here. Let's go…" muttered Damian, glaring at his friends. He and the others slowly strolled away; allowing Holly to finally breathe a sigh of relief and rise from her uncomfortable position crouched behind the jeans rack.
Suddenly she heard a female voice shriek behind her.
"Oh there you are!" squealed Aiko, running up and grabbing her hand. She pulled her persistently over to a tiny café table where two other girls were seated. One was short and petite, with frizzy, fiery red hair, light blue-green eyes, and a perfect smile. The other was model-proportioned with dark skin, black hair, and chocolate brown eyes.
"Holly, I'd like you to meet my other friends," chirped Aiko. "This is Desiree," she said as she pointed to the model, "and this is Chastity," referring to the redhead.
"Hello," said Holly as warmly as she could muster, considering how uncomfortable she felt. The others smiled and nodded, but didn't elaborate the greeting. Turning to Aiko, Chastity asked,
"Who's she?" in a breezy voice that screamed "ditz". Aiko just smiled.
"She's Lexy's cousin. Lexy is at her house in the country, but Holly came to the city to see her boyfriend. I practically rescued her from the bad side of town and offered to help her look for him here."
"You didn't." sighed Desiree disgustedly, "Aiko, Aiko, Aiko. How many times do we have to tell you: Lexy does not take kindly to new additions to the pack. Believe us, we had a hard enough time getting you in, let alone some strange girl from who knows where with no apparent style…"
"Excuse me!" said Holly defensively, "Who are you calling unstylish? These are Lexy's clothes! I don't see where you have a right to insult me," she continued, a little hurt, "or Aiko, for that matter."
"Figures. She sent her stupid cousin to check up on us," snarled Chastity. Holly cocked her eyebrow, slightly confused at this comment.
"What? It's not like she owns us or something," said Aiko.
"Obviously, you don't know Lexy very well, darling" laughed Desiree harshly, "She thinks that the world bows to her and obeys her every whim, her loyal pack included. I'm sick and tired of her bossing us around- even when she isn't here!"
"It sounds to me like Lexy has more enemies than friends wherever she goes," said Holly loudly, "If you want to know the truth, I'm not so fond of her either." She looked down at the tasteless clothes she was stuck in, and shrugged. It felt good to finally vent her feelings about the controlling little witch.
"Hmmm…." laughed Chastity, smiling, "Maybe another associate won't be so bad after all."
Genki and Yama both stepped back and looked around them. In a scarce 6 hours, they had transformed the old, stuffy loft into a perfect living space.
The entrance opened into the main room directly, which was painted the bright red. Yama had taken his furniture from the dorm suite; a couch, chair, and stool, all upholstered in a shiny silver material. The coffee table was black metal with a glass top, as was the lamp stand and the entertainment center. A few abstract paintings adorned the bare red walls, and ontop of the entertainment center was a small collection of Dragon figurines Genki had been given by his grandfather before he had died. On the floor was a contrasting bright blue rug, giving the area a very modern and transcendent appearance.
The kitchen was black and white, with a small five-piece wrought iron table and chairs set. They had painted the cupboards black and stocked them with plenty of food. The bathroom was now navy blue, and the two bedrooms were decorated according to either young man's preferred style.
Yama had a cooking job at the local burger joint, but Genki had never realized he had worked that hard to afford all of this.
"I'm just glad you let me in on this," sighed Genki, "A new place to live, and so… a new me, too…" Yama looked at him concernedly.
"You aren't still thinking about her, are you?" he asked, and saw that the pain in the younger man's eyes betrayed his feelings, "She didn't mean what she said. I know she didn't."
"But she did Yama. And I knew all along that she could never come to this world and adapt to it like I did to theirs. My ties here are so few, and hers there are so many, and so strong that I shouldn't have expected her to give all that up for me. I have to move on, and tonight is the night I'm going to do it. Holly or no Holly, life does go on…" Genki sighed, a long painful sigh, and a single tear slid down his cheek. Yama shrugged, and nodded.
"Whatever you say Genki. Let's start getting the food out- someone's bound to show up any minute."
"I don't like the looks of this," growled Pixie to Allegra, eyeing Professor Sakeuro and the portal to Genki's world distrustfully, "That thing looks like it's ready to explode any second, not to mention that lunatic's head!" The glass-like interior of the portal was smoking, hissing, and full of constantly changing swirls of color. Professor Sakeuro ran around madly, trying to find something in his amazingly cluttered lab. Papers, books, and blue-prints poked out from every possible hiding place, but finally, as if a light bulb went on inside his brain, the Professor, with a loud "Ah-Hah!" that startled everyone, found what he had been searching for.
"This is it! The instructions!" The Professor yelled with such fervor that it caused even Tiger to jump.
"Oh boy," said Mystique, backing towards the door.
"Now, now," chuckled Ember quietly, his head sticking inside the lab door, as the rest of him would not fit, "No chickening out now, ladies. Holly's life is at stake here…"
"Yeah, come on Pixie, Mystique," laughed Allegra, "Think of it as an adventure or an errantry."
"Yes, yes, yes!" shouted Sakeuro, as suddenly the portal flashed brightly and the colors stabilized into a blinding, sparkling white. "Come along, girls, you must go through the portal now while it's at it's peak!"
Without hesitation, Allegra leapt towards the light, and with another flash, was gone. Tiger, shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly, charged after her, and soon he too had seemingly vanished into thin air.
Mystique eyed the portal warily, and then walked forward slowly. She stuck her hand tentatively into the light, and as if by her touch, the light reached out and enveloped her, drawing her in. Another bright flash, and all that remained was Pixie. She stood stock still by the door, which was blocked by Ember's massive head and chest, eyes wide, and shaking. To see stubborn, grouchy old Pixie acting so afraid was a sight. The rest of the gang burst into hysterical laughter. Slowly, Sakeuro inched towards the Pixie, but she saw him coming out of the corner of her eye.
"Stay back, you crackpot!" she cried backing herself into a corner, "There is no way I am getting within fifteen feet of that thing!" Suddenly Hare stepped out from the rest of the crowd, smiling mischievously. He stood exactly in front of the portal close enough to feel the light beckoning, but far enough away for him to keep from within it's reach.
"Oh, poor wittle pixie, is scared to go in the wittle portal. Ha ha ha." He began using the same voice he often used to irritate Tiger to prod the purebred Pixie. Her face boiled to a beat red almost immediately.
Hare smiled and continued, waiting for the lunge he knew would come, for Pixie's and Tiger's tempers reflected each other almost exactly.
"Why you little!" came the exclamation. With a quick flick of her wings she was barreling towards him in the air, arms outstretched in prepare for a chokehold. Hare simply laughed, and just as she was about to collide with him, stepped carefully out of her way. Suddenly realizing what had just occurred, Pixie shrieked and tried to pull back, but the light had her.
"I hate you!" she cried, "I hate you all! I'll get you for this, I swear…" Her dry threat faded with her voice as the light slowly enveloped her. With a boom and a bright flash, Pixie unwillingly began her journey to Genki's world.
The seemingly unbreakable mask of calm that adorned Pharaoh's face was wearing thin, and fast. He and Jurel were still waiting for Lexy to join them in the throne room so they could get on with their plans to return Holly to the monster world and into his iron fist, but it had been almost an hour since he had sent the Angel to retrieve her.
"Where is she," he growled half to himself, half to the figure floating only a few feet away. The Joker's masked face once more betrayed his amusement with his former master as he glided over soundlessly to his side.
"Patience, old friend, she is drawing near. I sense many things coming from her, as just as you said, one of the strongest feelings is hate for the Guardian. Though, I must warn you, her desire for power is just as strong, if not stronger."
"Then we three are like creatures, are we not, Jurel?" laughed Pharaoh carelessly, misinterpreting the Odium's truthful words, "We all feel the need to be in control. But mark my words, friend, the only one with the true power in this temple is me."
Jurel laughed courteously, but the conniving look on his face could not be mistaken. Pharaoh, however, was too busy admiring his own garish things to notice the Joker's expression, or the way he practiced slicing his scythe violently through thin air, hoping very soon to contact that very blade with some royal flesh.
Suddenly a girl burst in the room, small but with a very commanding presence, her long blond hair flowing around her face, and her astonishing cat eyes pressing the two figures to look at her in awe. Pharaoh, of course, couldn't help but stare, he was easily distracted by a pretty face, but Jurel just smirked, knowing what Lexy was like beneath the surface, and knew that this girl would be trouble for Pharaoh.
"And a gold mine for me," he hissed to himself, and glided over to receive the tardy young woman with a gracious bow.
Lexy had been calm when she had walked in, ready to face Pharaoh, until she noticed the gruesome Joker floating precariously beside the golden throne. It's clown face was something right out of her childhood nightmares, and a awful gut feeling that this monster was evil made her back up a few steps as he approached her.
"I beg your pardon," said the Joker, his haughty but chilling voice echoing his devilish intent, "Do I frighten you?" An even eviler laugh escaped him and Lexy looked wide eyed at Pharaoh for some reassurance.
"Don't worry, Alexia," said Pharaoh, not bothering to get up, "Come and sit by me. You have ties to the other world that we do not, and thus you may be of some assistance to my friend Jurel."
"What do you mean?" she asked confusedly, as she daintily alighted on a cushion left on the floor next to the half-breed's throne.
"Holly has gone to your world after that idiot boy, and we need her back here. Elaborate, Jurel. I trust this will be very interesting." Pharaoh settled back lazily in his throne and proceeded to play with his gold necklace while listening to the Joker explain his intentions for extracting Holly from the other world and returning her to theirs.
"It's very simple. First, darling," Jurel said calmly, smiling as winningly as possible in the girl's direction, "I need for you to think of a place or places in the other world where the Guardian may be."
"She could be in Timbuktu for all I know," she muttered, "But if she were following Genki…" Lexy narrowed her eyes and put her seldom exercised brain to work. "Could Genki have pinpointed the teleport thing so he could end up back in the same exact spot he left from?" she asked curiously, after a few minutes.
"Yes and no," said Pharaoh, "The Professor could manage to deposit him in the general vicinity of where he had come from, so there is a slight chance that he and his friend did end up in the same area as when they traveled here."
"We were at a frat house on the college campus, so the general area consists of all the college buildings, a few apartment buildings, downtown, and the mall," she said, hoping that her musings would be of some help.
"Alright, that's very good," said the Joker, obviously pleased, "Now, I would like you to please come and stand in front of me…that's it, come on, I won't hurt you…" Lexy inched her way towards Jurel, her wild green eyes darting back and forth with her nerves. She managed, though, to take a deep breath, stand still, about a foot in front of the massive monster, and await his instructions without collapsing in fear.
"Just think very hard about all of those places, what they look like and such, and try to form a map in your head." She closed her eyes and tried to do as Jurel asked.
"Okay, I don't remember everything but I think it's pretty much all there," she said, her eyes still closed. Suddenly she felt two gloved hands slide over her faces to rest two fingers on each side on her temples. She opened her eyes quickly, and found Jurel staring intently at her.
"Close your eyes again, and start using that map you made. Start from the south and work your way north, and tell me all the ways to get from one place to another and about all the places…"
Pharaoh watched, now the one with the amused smirk, as Lexy tentatively closed her eyes and started talking nonsense about buildings, avenues, alleys, and bridges. The entire time Jurel kept his fingers pressed to the young woman's temples, gaining access to her thoughts and walking that imaginary map as if he were really in the other world. Suddenly, Alexia jumped unexpectedly as Jurel pressed violently on her temples, and closed his own eyes.
"You've found her," cried Pharaoh, jumping up.
"She's in the mall, with my friends!" cried Lexy almost in the same instant, her eyes screwed shut as the two minds, human and monster, intermingled inside of her head. "They're helping her look for Genki, and they are going to crash some parties later! She's sitting in the food court with them, gabbing, and she's wearing my clothes!"
Jurel backed away, satisfied with the girl's pinpointing ability. Lexy shook her head, and after doing this collapsed to the floor weakly. The Joker turned to Pharaoh, to find the half-breed grinning ecstatically.
"My link to the Guardian is now established, and I will be able to go with her wherever she goes. Do you wish for me to apprehend her now, or torture her a little first?"
"Wait," growled Lexy from the floor, "We had a deal! I help you find her and you will bring them both back here so I can have the pleasure of watching them both die in agony!"
Jurel looked disapprovingly at Pharaoh, knowing that what the girl said was true and that they had to go along with her whims for the time being. Pharaoh just nodded curtly, and Jurel understood.
"Very well. I will wait until she and Genki are together and then I will send her visions so terrifying she'll have no choice but to come back," cackled Jurel. He swung his scythe in a circle at his side, then whispered to himself, "And bring this golden idiot's downfall with her."
With several loud screams, howls, and the frantic flapping of three different pairs of wings, the Pixies and Tiger plunged from the ceiling and landed hard on the floor of the fraternity house living room. Luckily, no one was there at the time to see the four strange creatures appear in almost the same way that Damian's "apparition" had.
"Well," laughed Allegra, standing up and dusting herself off, "That wasn't so bad, now was it, Pixie?" Her answer came, however, in the form of an angry growl from Mystique.
"Let go!" she snarled to the purebred Pixie, who was clinging for dear life onto the Unico's back, a look of wild terror in her eyes, and her claws dug deeply into the Unico's thick tan skin. "Come on Pixie, we're here. You're going to give me permanent claw marks in my arms!" she whined precariously.
"It's alright Pixie," said Tiger, taking on a gentler tone. He smiled at her, then said loudly "I'll have to admit it, that scared me a little too…"
"Scared?" laughed Pixie haughtily, immediately detaching herself from the grateful Unico, "I wasn't scared at all." And with a quick glare at each of them, warning the three monsters with her eyes that they were not to tell about her further acts of fear, she sighed loudly and surveyed their surroundings.
"What a pretty house," squealed Mystique, back in good spirits almost at once, "I bet this cost a lot of money to build. I wonder where the stables are…?"
"Mystique, there are no monsters here, Genki's told us that many times," said Allegra almost angrily at the Unico's ignorance.
"A world without monsters…it seems so alien and unbelievable," chuckled Tiger, "No wonder Genki liked it better in the Monster World than in his home world."
"Well can you blame him, with friends like us?" smirked Pixie, looking herself over. "I guess I haven't sustained any physical damage. So how are we supposed to locate Holly in this joint?"
"Tiger, do you think you could pick up her scent…I mean, this place is so big and…"
"No problem Allegra," the wolf-like monster said, winking, and taking a big whiff of the somewhat stale air in the room, "I'd know Holly's scent anywhere, and she was here. But that was hours ago. Seems to me like she headed north."
"This is going to be like finding a needle in a haystack," said Mystique, almost too cheerfully.
"No, dear, that's where you're wrong," said Pixie, serious for once. "This is going to be like finding a needle in a stack of needles. Really, really sharp needles. I know now that there are a few humans out there that are good, like Genki, and Holly. But most of them care about only themselves, and they'll do anything to get what they want."
Allegra sheepishly looked around at how scantily clad the other two Pixies and herself were.
"I guess we should have taken the clothes that Ember offered us after all," sighed Mystique, crossing her arms to cover her bare midriff self-consciously.
"Don't worry, ladies, I'll take care of the body guard part too," laughed Tiger, "Besides, there was no point in feeling uncomfortable and looking terrible all in one shot."
"Okay then. Let's go, and girls," said Allegra, "Remember, we have to walk. We're sure to get some looks as it is, but I don't think seeing us flying will help our situation any."
"You have a point there," laughed Pixie, who folded up her pink wings nonchalantly, and followed her companions out the large oak door.
The apartment- warming party was in full swing at Yama's, and Genki was totally lost. Between sorry attempts to flirt with girls and show off in front of his friends, he was having a hard time taking his mind off Holly. As he half-listened to a group of girls chatter about their shoe sizes, he recalled the night they had reached Ember's cave. Holly wouldn't be in here in the middle of it all: she wasn't like that. Blending into the background, she would have slipped quietly outside onto the balcony for the rest of the party, maybe with a companion or two for conversation. The only problem with her wallflower tendencies was that they hardly ever helped her escape attention. Her unconventional beauty and amiable manner rarely brought her any ignorance from her peers. Those traits had drawn him in when he was younger, and so far, he had yet to get away from her intoxicating aura. Sighing deeply, he realized resistance was futile.
"I have to get out of here," he muttered, not even rattling the conversation of the ring of girls in front of him. Slipping quietly out of the sliding glass door onto the balcony, he shivered.
"Overwhelmed?" came the question from the darkness to his left. Genki turned and saw Yama sitting on the railing, his feet dangling precariously over the edge. The twenty foot drop didn't seem to phase him, however, as he swung around and faced him.
"Me too," laughed Yama, tossing his stray blond locks out of his face.
"Oh come on," said Genki, wrinkling his nose, "You overwhelmed? You're the most social person I've ever met."
"But it's so different here," the other boy said, "from there. Of course I was freaked out at first, who wouldn't be? But after that, I liked the harmony of it all- the togetherness. It's every man for himself here."
"Well, technically, when I was there nine years ago, it was worse than here. And now with this Pharaoh crap, I just don't know," shrugged Genki, "But I do know one thing. The stars just don't shine as bright here."
They looked up to the overcast sky, dirty with smog, soot, and pollution. Through all the clouds, though, a few persistent stars shone without shame.
"I guess we'll have to settle for a sad sky…" said Yama, looking across the rooftops of the city into the black beyond. ***
"I'm sorry you guys, this is the third party we've 'crashed'," said Holly regretfully, "and I can't see anyone that looks familiar here, either."
"It's okay," said Aiko, smiling, "We had to make an appearance at this particular party anyways. The football team's here," she sighed, pointing to Chastity and Desiree, who had already managed to force their way into the boys' conversation. "What's this Genki look like again?"
"Umm, he's got spiky brown hair, and brown eyes, and is kinda tall…"
"You can't be more specific than that?" asked Aiko disappointedly, "I mean there's only a million guys that look like that here."
"You've been a lot of help Aiko. Don't worry about looking for him. I can check the other rooms and you can go talk to the football team," said Holly kindly.
"Really? You're sure?" Aiko smiled hopefully.
"Yeah, if he's here, I'll find him." Holly waved to Aiko as she went to join the other two girls and set off in search of Genki. ***
Suddenly a gust of wind blew Genki and Yama out of their trance, and Genki felt a shiver run down his spine. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the red ribbon. He could feel the power radiating from it as he looked at it, then a wash of emotions overtook him.
Desperate. Searching. Hopeful, but dying inside.
"She's here," he cried, almost loosing his balance as he struggled to swing his legs back over the railing. As he turned, the glint of neon caught the auburn hair of the female figure in the doorway. She emerged slowly from the darkness, the light playing on her pale skin and sparkling brown eyes.
"Genki!" she shouted, and ran without hesitation into his outstretched arms.
He held her as if he hadn't seen her in a million years. She sobbed into his shoulder.
Far away, in another world, the time had come. Pharaoh and Jurel placed their powers together, and in an explosion of energy, they concentrated on their targets.
The ground started to shake violently in Genki's world, and the reunited couple fell to the ground. Yama barely managed to hang on to the railing as the tremors intensified.
A block to the east, Tiger's eyes flashed as his nose sent a disturbing message to his brain.
"Something's wrong! Come on, hurry," he yelped, and took off like a bolt of lightning. People looked curiously as they watched the strange blue and white dog shoot off, followed by three oddly dressed female beings, and fainted as they saw the women take flight, unfurling their magnificent pixie wings.
The building was on the verge of collapse as the three occupants of the balcony scrambled inside. At the same exact time four figures burst into the apartment, but no one paid attention as the Pixies and Tiger barreled their way to Genki and Holly.
"What's going on?!" Mystique shrieked, covering her ears as the rumbling from below the ground got louder.
"It's Pharaoh!" cried Holly, the evil cackling of the half human, half monster ringing through the crevices of her mind, "He's trying to draw us back to the monster world, and its working…" A blinding light erupted from the ceiling, and with a brilliant flash, everyone in the room was sucked from the real one into that of the monsters.
A drowsy yet calm state of mind struck Holly as she floated in suspension as she journeyed back to her own world. This was the end of everything, and the beginning of nothing, and this closing seemed inevitable.
"There is something you can do," her conscience whispered comfortingly in her ear.
"I know," she thought back silently, "But I'll never be the same, to myself, to Genki, to anyone…"
"This is a choice that you have to make," purred back her other, less hesitant self, "In the end, light will prevail. Always remember that."
With a swoosh and a thud, Holly hit something solid. More thuds all around her told her yet unopened eyes that they were there, in Pharaoh's throne room. And she only had to imagine Pharaoh's devious grin and sigh of pure satisfaction at his victory to make up her mind.
The final chapter in Holly's book was about to be written in her own hand. She would determine her fate, not anyone else. The calm aura never left her as she opened her eyes and stood up with a triumphant smile all her own on her face.
The throne room was surrounded on all sides by monsters, all Gali half-breeds, in battle stance. All the Dragons and Jells had attacks formed, while the others had looks of pure but inexperienced determination on their faces. In the center were many humans, almost all bewildered and confused, circled by these strange creatures. From the center of the group, though, came a man, a woman, three Pixies, and a Tiger, and they were not afraid. Pharaoh knew this, but his egotistical manner overshadowed his doubts with ignorance.
Meanwhile, Hurricane had reached the others, and they had started their return journey to the desert of death. Human and monster alike braved the heat and dust and sun as they picked their way rather recklessly. If they did not make it in time, there would be no use for them. If the battle was already fought and lost, they would be lost as well.
Ember flew far ahead, his fire guiding the rest like a misplaced second sun. And he knew in a second what Holly would do, and that he would have to help her. He was becoming weak, and he would die and be reborn on this day.
"You will never prevail, Pharaoh," yelled Holly over the cries of the humans that had been displaced with them.
"Oh you are mistaken my lovely Miss Holly. The hounds always catch the fox in the end." Pharaoh's golden lips curled in a sneer over his golden teeth, and he let out another evil laugh. The Odium by his side joined in, and Holly noticed him for the first time. He looked oddly familiar, just as Pharaoh had at first glance.
"The joker breed, from the Underground Ruins…" she muttered disgustedly. He had been a purebred then, but there was no mistake about it. He was one and the same.
"Poor pathetic souls…all your nightmares returning to haunt you?"
The voice held the same evil satisfaction as the others, but had a tint of vengeance tied to it tightly. Holly saw the uncanny green cat eyes before Lexy emerged fully from the darkness. The girl was wearing a similar getup to what she herself had worn not a few weeks before, headdress and all.
"Great to see you're alive Alexia…" growled a voice from behind Holly. It was Aiko, who had stood up along with Chastity and Desiree at the sight of their former leader.
"Girls!" the blonde shrieked, "I knew that you would come and back me up!"
"Think again," laughed Chastity haughtily, "Holly showed us that we don't need a selfish bitch leading us to have fun or be friends. We're with her."
Lexy looked as if she were about to explode.
"For that, you will die right alongside her. Slaughter them, and afterwards, feast! Their carcasses are not worthy of rotting in this palace!" Lexy shouted with fury, but not one monster moved at her commands.
"No," stated Pharaoh plainly. "Holly will be handed to me, and me alone. Kill the rest, and throw their bodies in the river to float to all parts of this world and signal that it is finally mine!"
"But! You said I would have my revenge!" said Lexy, storming up to the tyrant's side.
"You will. On the boy and your other human enemies. Did you really think I would ever let you kill the one thing that seals my fate as ruler of the monster world? My dear Alexia, I now know what the phrase a dumb blond truly means. Attack you fools!"
Battle cries sounded like trumpets from the four corners of the throne room. Genki and Yama placed themselves in front of Holly and the three girls, but the others had no chance. Most were dead in a few seconds, and soon they too would be just spirits unable to return to their former homes.
Genki faced Alexia; his muscles rigid as he braced himself for any blows that might come from any angle. Yama did the same beside him. Pixie, Allegra, and Mystique had Big Bangs powered up, and Tiger's energy danced on his horns in the form of lightning. Holly just stood perfectly still, her soulful brown eyes never faltering as she watched Pharaoh.
Lightning clashed, thunder clapped, torpedoes exploded and the wind howled all around them. A storm of attacks was headed their way, and they were prepared to accept it.
"This is it. We shall die, and our spirits will all reunite in heaven." Genki's words startled everyone, but they all knew that this was the only truth. They all readied themselves inside for the storm, the one that would take their lives.
A phoenix cry erupted through all the screams, howls, bangs, and shocked the great room to silence.
"Not today Pharaoh!" cried Ember, as he unleashed a magnificent shower of meteors onto the evil monsters.
No one saw Hurricane as he flipped gracefully in midair, and used his needle-like tail to stab down Jurel until the Odium hit the floor. The Joker monster took the blow without much agony, and was right back in the air within seconds.
"So we meet again, slave," cackled Jurel, "This will be amusing."
"Do not underestimate my powers, fool," cried Hurricane, lashed out his tail and knocking Jurel over for the second time, "I will not be defeated."
"And so you won't," Jurel said knowingly, as he could see far ahead what was to come, "But you will die by my hand at the same time as I die by yours." My plan will never be accomplished, and it was a foolish one at that, the Odium thought to himself.
"So it shall be," growled Hurricane, and he stabbed Jurel in the face with razor sharp claws.
Tiger hit a Dodongo full in the face with an Ice Bomb, and Grey Wolf finished the job with a lightning strike to the creature's heart. It vanished immediately, the only trace of it remaining a lost disc.
Pixie flipped in midair as she released a Big Bang at a slew of ugly Orions, taking them all out easily. Allegra sprouted a Flame from her palm and burnt a few Noble Saurians into crispy lost discs. Mystique, at her side, used a Giga Ray to down an Angel, who shriveled on her knees into a lost disc.
Steele and Jewel were in the air, using their Dive and Stomp attacks to their advantage. Scythe, the Antores, and Minion, the Crimson-Eyed had joined Pharaoh's cause on the ground, while Suezo used his Eye Beam left and right against his own kind.
Mocchi's own beam took out several baddies, while Hare and Monarch pummeled and punched their way through the enemy lines. Golem and Big Blue did not relent on their Tornado attacks and Uppercuts even as several dropped to their knees asking for mercy.
Genki lunged at Alexia, bringing her down easily. The poor girl was so stunned that she just lay there as a shower of Ember's sparks floated down and ignited her dress and hair. Genki looked away disgustedly as Alexia burned alive, dead through her own intentions.
Through all of this, Ember floated overhead, using a Fire Tornado or a Heat Beam once in awhile as he watched Pharaoh and Holly closely. The golden figure seemed to be concentrating on something, no doubt using telepathy. Ember watched as his theory became reality as the young woman and the half human, half monster disappeared in a shimmery light. Ember used his own sixth sense instantaneously, and was soon winging away to where Pharaoh had taken Holly.
The room was larger than even the throne room, and contained two giant hourglass chambers that filtered into a strange glowing prism, which in turn dumped out onto a glass enclosed platform shaped like a mystery disc. All this machinery was bathed in light, and it was ready for what Pharaoh had been planning all along.
"Have you ever seen a combining Miss Holly?" Pharaoh asked. He had teleported her a few feet away from him, so she could stand in awe of the machinery and not feel enclosed by him as a mouse is in a trap.
"It is a magnificent thing. Two monsters in the tops of the hourglass chambers, that, as the bottom opens up, fall through a freezing ray and a disintegrating ray at the same time and become particles of life. These particles travel to the prism of light in the center, which makes the matter of both creatures combine into one mass of neurons and protons and electrons. The mass takes its shape as the new matter filters out and lands on the platform as a brand new monster, with new statistics and new abilities, and with a new soul. It is truly a miracle that humans worked this technology so long ago."
"Do you consider our kind incapable of thinking in these terms, Pharaoh?" she asked, eyes never leaving the chambers.
"No. You are not incapable, especially if the entire world thought as you do. A human is an extraordinary being. Nevertheless, humankind, as a whole, is irresponsible, inconsistent, and idiotic. That is why the world needs to be filtered out, just like the bad particles of monsters in the combining machine. Only the best shall remain, and I shall make certain of that."
"That is why you wanted me? To raise an army of the dead and evil and destroy all unworthy creatures in this world- mainly humans? You yourself have human roots, Pharaoh. Why do you despise your other half so?"
"Your question is a good one. Humans are weak in strength and mind, and they often cannot see the difference between two choices until after they have discarded one and taken the other. They think too much. They left their instincts behind long ago and tried to think for themselves. Look where that got them. Taken over by a monster tyrant and nearly destroyed once, and yet they rebuilt and repopulated. Diseased scum is what humans are. Monsters are by far superior.
"We rely on the inheritance of instincts and the knowledge of our parents to survive. And survive we will, long after the sad little human beings are gone. You see, this will all be for their own benefit! We will weed them out, keep the most intelligent and beautiful to repopulate slowly and in a controlled environment, and help them become better than what they are already!
"I foresaw that you would not help me be becoming my wife, and so I had this chamber built. When you and I are joined by the souls, I will inherit all your powers and I will be able to carry out my ultimate plan. Will you go into the hourglass willingly, or will I have to force you?"
Holly did not flinch as she calmly walked to the stairwell that led to the second hourglass. Climbing up it, she betrayed no emotion as she entered the glass case, standing carefully in the center of the trapdoor that would let go and send her to a permanent hell. She would not resist any longer. Her soul was tired, and she needed to rest. Now it was up to Ember and the others, and she had pure confidence in them.
Genki gasped as Holly vanished from behind him. At once, he knew what had happened. Seeing that his side was fighting valiantly and winning easily, despite the great numbers of Pharaoh's army, he abandoned Yama and the girls as the monsters surrounding them held off any attackers. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ember wheel away from the battle and head towards an outbuilding, a tall four tiered temple sitting a ways away from the rest of Pharaoh's buildings. Without hesitation or regret from leaving the battle, he set off across the hot sand.
Hurricane had knocked Jurel from the high balcony of the temple into the sand below, and now proceeded to continue to attack him. Jurel had used a few feeble Death Blows, but now he was weakening quickly.
The Striker could tell that the Odium was holding back and retaining his strength for one last great attack, but not if he killed the hideous monster first. Using his Poison Gas, he dazed Jurel, then leapt into the air, spinning and nailing the Joker breed with his tail and slashing with his hooked claws at the same time.
Jurel hit the ground hard and didn't get up. Blood covered his mask and was pouring from his mouth as he reached for his fallen scythe.
"Don't even think about it," hissed Hurricane, who, in one smooth movement, buried both sets of claws in the Joker's airy chest. Blood spurted everywhere, all over the Naga breed as he twisted his claws and ripped them out, bringing flesh that wasn't really there with them.
But he did not know that the Joker's power lied in his mask. Jurel summoned up the last of his strength and raised his scythe over Hurricane as he was bent over, his claws ready to emerge into the Joker's neck.
The scythe came down fast, and sliced the Naga clean through at the waist. His claws jerked up, flinging the Joker's detached mask into the air. It shattered into a million pieces on the hard ground. And immediately Jurel the Odium was no more.
Hurricane lay breathing heavily as saw his other half vainly try to reattach itself. A Naga's soul was strong, and it lay spread out throughout his body. He wold live for a few seconds more without pain as his soul passed into the and left a lost disc. He had done what he had wanted, but not accomplished his true goal. He had killed Pharaoh's right hand goon, but Pharaoh himself was still alive.
"I wish that I could be whole again and do what I was created to do," he whispered to nothing as his eyes began to close. Somewhere though, something heard his last request. And it would make his wish come true.
An Angel had appeared out of nowhere and helped Pharaoh into the first hourglass. The pixie breed watched as two boxes came up on the screen, one bearing Pharaoh's abilities and statistics, and the other bearing Holly's.
"We are ready Master Pharaoh," she called into an intercom that led to the hourglasses.
"Very well. Proceed, no matter what happens."
The Angel flipped a switch and the machine began to power up its rays. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and the rays were almost charged when out of nowhere came the fierce cry of a Phoenix.
"Ember!" cried Holly, and he soared above the combining machine in all his fiery glory.
"Now Leticia! Now! You must throw the switch now!" cried Pharaoh, looking up fearfully at the legendary firebird.
"But the rays aren't fully charged- you will be killed!" the angel yelled back, although she couldn't really care either way.
Ember blasted open the door of the hour glass chamber and knocked Pharaoh out just as the rays buzzed, the sign that they were ready. Without a backward glance, the Angel flipped the switch.
Ember and Holly fell through the chamber doors and were never seen again.
Genki stood not five feet away as Holly smiled her smile one last time and disappeared forever. A Phoenix cry could be heard faintly as the Prism received all the particles and glowed more brilliantly.
"No." Genki cried, gasping as a heart-wrenching sob wracked his body.
The combining took longer than usual. Inside the prism, matter was seen swirling and dancing. White and gold intertwined and separated repeatedly as the machine tried to find the best combination.
"I thank you Ember," came the whisper as Holly's soul finally found it's place beside the Phoenix's. "You and I shall live on together Holly," Ember whispered back. The new monster began to form within a holy light on the platform inside the square glass box.
It was a splendid creature, with the body of a woman and the wings of a Phoenix, enveloped in flames and fire that danced blue, red, orange, yellow, and white. It's feathers were ablaze and so was it's body, but it's face remained cool and clear despite the heat. Its eyes were the same deep dark brown as Holly's, but now they were as cold as stars on a midsummer's night. The creature's fiery hair hung down over her body, a deep flame red like Holly's had once been.
It raised its wings and screamed a birdlike note, throwing back its head and curling it's fists.
At once a ball of energy emerged from it's breast, and it grew and grew until it could barely fit inside the little glass chamber. Then it exploded.
The glass in the room was shattered, melted, and turned back into sand all at once from the Phoenix woman's energy, for a Phoenix's power is to give rebirth to all things. The sand showered to the floor as she flapped her giant wings and left the platform.
A voice boomed from her mouth, but it sounded like neither Holly's or Ember's. It was made of fire, and Genki could tell that the creature was trying in vain to control it so she wouldn't burn the occupants of the building with a single breath.
"I AM THE GUARDIAN OF THE MONSTERS. I AM THE GUARDIAN OF HUMANKIND. I AM THE GUARDIAN OF ALL THINGS THAT LIVE AND BREATHE IN THIS WORLD."
"I am destroyed," cried Pharaoh, who had seen everything from beside the Angel. He fell to his knees in despair.
"NO PHAROAH. YOU ARE NOT DESTROYED. YET. BUT, YOU WILL BE, ALONG WITH YOUR LOYAL MONSTERS. THEN YOU WILL BE REBORN INTO GOODNESS AND KINDNESS AND YOU WILL REMEMBER NOTHING OF YOUR PAST LIVES. FOR NOW IS THE APOCALYPSE, AND ALL THINGS WILL START ANEW. ALL THE EVIL WILL BE CLEANSED FROM THIS WORLD, AND IT WILL NEVER RETURN FOR THE REMAINDER OF TIME."
Genki stood in awe, watching as the Phoenix woman spoke. Her eyes did not sparkle, but he could still see some of Holly's kindness in them. This thing would do justice to every creature in the monster world, and everyone would get a chance to start over with a clean slate. But what would become of him, or of what Holly had become?
"I HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS PLAINLY CLEAR-EYES. YOU WILL REMAIN IN THE MONSTER WORLD, AS WILL ALL OF THE HUMANS YOU HAVE BROUGHT HERE WITH YOU. THOSE PURE OF HEART WILL REMEMBER THIS AND ALL AFTER IT, BUT THOSE WITHOUT SHAME WILL LOSE THEIR BEARINGS. THEY WILL FIND THEIR WAY HOME, AS NEW PEOPLE. ALL MONSTERS WILL BE REBORN DIFFERENTLY, AND WILL HAVE TO BE TAUGHT ALL OVER AGAIN. BUT TREAT THEM WITH THE REVERENCE THEY DESERVE, ALTHOUGH THEY ARE HUMAN CREATIONS, AND THEY WILL NEVER FALTER AGAIN, LIKE MOO ONCE DID."
"Guardian," Genki asked quietly, "Does Holly know that I loved her and always will?"
"OF COURSE. AND SHE WILL NEVER FORGET YOUR LOVE GENKI, AS SHE WILL NEVER FORGET A WARM SPRING DAY OR A STAR-STUDDED SKY IN THE DEPTHS OF WINTER."
"Then Guardian, she is alive inside of you?"
"YES, HER SOUL IS COILED AROUND MY HEART, INTERTWINED FOREVER WITH THE CINDER BIRD'S. BUT SHE WILL ALWAYS BE ABLE TO SPEAK THROUGH ME."
"May she, guardian? I must speak to her one last time." Genki's eyes were filled with tears as an apparition appeared, shimmering in front of him. There Holly stood, gentle, thin, frail but strong Holly. He wanted to reach out and touch her hair, her face, but it was impossible. His hand slipped without catching right through her cloudy body.
"Genki," she whispered in her own voice, soft and sweet, with a twinge of regret, "Do not be sad. I made this decision myself and although I know what you can feel and hear in my voice, it with pass in time. So will your sorrow. You must stay in my village, with all my monsters, and keep doing what I have been for the past nine years. You will be my voice on earth, along with Yama, Aiko, my father, and the others. You must keep the monsters pure and beautiful. You must keep the humans pure and beautiful. And if you do this you will live forever beside me."
Genki stared in awe at the girl, or rather the woman she had become. He had loved her since the first day he had seen her, and he wanted nothing more than to be with her forever.
"I will, Holly, do what you say. I will wait for you…"
"And I for you," she said, a real tear falling through the air from her filmy cheek.
She vanished, and the Guardian shrieked and released another ball of energy, destroying all the buildings around them, without harming a soul.
The monsters and humans alike gathered around her brilliance like lambs flocking to a shepherd. Pharaoh cowered on the ground in front of her, and he never saw Hurricane coming. For Ember had heard his wish to be reborn, and he had soon after the Cinder Bird and Holly had been combined.
"Vengeance is mine," he cried, as he used his most powerful attack, the Turn Assault. With a flip, whack with the tail, another flip, and a stab, he killed Pharaoh in an instant.
"Atlast," sighed Hurricane, who dissolved once again.
The Guardian kept her promise though, and Pharoah ended up as a lost disc and a human baby, which Desiree picked up quickly. Hurricane's soul formed a mystery disc, and it clattered to the ground.
"YOU ALL MUST STAND CLOSE TOGETHER AND HOLD HANDS WITH SOMEONE. YOU MUST CLEAR YOUR MINDS AND HEARTS AND NEVER REGRET WHAT YOU HAVE DONE THESE PAST FEW WEEKS. ALL WILL BE FORGIVEN AS YOU ARE REBORN." Even the monsters that had followed Pharaoh got into the circle, most weeping, for they had never wanted to join Pharaoh, much like Monarch, the Prince Hare.
The Guardian lifted herself high in the air, and a white light overtook the sky, bathing everyone in a shower of sparks. They did not burn, though. They hissed and sighed and laughed as they touched the bodies of humans and monsters alike, everywhere in the monster world. The Guardian then built up another energy ball in her chest. It glowed and got as huge as the sun in the night sky, then with a Phoenix screech, it exploded, enveloping the entire world.
Genki's last thought was that of a beautiful brown-eyed woman, riding on a sooty Phoenix high in the sky, to the stars and beyond.
"Tell me the story again, Clear-Eyes, please," pleaded a little raven-haired girl as she bounced up and down on his lap.
"Which story?" he asked, smiling. His face had not changed in a thousand years, though many things had. There were no more monster tournaments, no more expeditions, and no more errantries. All the monsters on the earth lived in peace and harmony with humans and each other, and Clear-Eyes knew that the Guardian would never let it be otherwise as long as she remained in the sky.
"The one about the most beautiful women in the world," the little girl giggled.
"Well," he started, "It's seems like forever, but I still remember the most beautiful woman in the world. Her hair was the color of flame, her eyes warm and brown like hot chocolate, her skin as pale as the moon, and her voice radiating with kindness. She was the most beautiful woman in the world, and she loved me. I loved her back, and I still do. She had to leave to escape the wrath of an evil tyrant, and rode on the back of a Cinder Bird to the most brilliant star in the universe, where she lives still, and waits for the day that I will come and rescue her. Waiting was never my strong point, but I have learned to endure it. And whenever you see a ball of light streak across the sky, that is her riding the Cinder Bird to a closer star, where she can watch and wait, just like I am right now."
"That's so sad Clear-Eyes! But it's a good story."
"Yes it is. Now off to bed with you. I need to put the monsters in."
The little girl with the raven-hair climbed the stairs of the orphanage carefully as Clear-Eyes got up and went outside. The Refuge, as his ranch had come to be known, had hundreds of occupants, monster and human alike, that were up for adoption. Families came from all around to look at babies, and although many were taken to a new home every day, more kept coming. The Guardian had tried to, but could not control the human nature to abandon carelessly. And so Clear-Eyes had taken this as his life's work.
"You are tired Genki," came the whisper of a voice on the wind as Genki trudged back to the house.
"I have lived much longer than a human is supposed to. For a thousand years I have done my best to carry out your wishes, Guardian, but I cannot do this for much longer. I have watched everyone I loved die around me, with nothing I could do for them."
"Then it is time."
"Where will my soul go?" he asked tentatively, as the Guardian appeared in her full form, the magnificent Phoenix woman. Her usually cold brown eyes sparkled now.
"Inside me, to intertwine with that of Holly. Ember's soul is reborn every ten years, and so he is no longer inside my chest, curled around my heart. There you two can lie together forever, without sorrow, without shame, without a care in the world." She began to glow.
"I am coming to rescue you Holly, and then we will finally be together," he whispered as the Guardian enfolded him in her fiery wings. The fire burned his flesh into ashes, but his soul was already inside the Phoenix woman's heart, with the one he loved to remain there forever more.
The Guardian took flight soon after, feeling reborn herself. The little girl with the raven hair thought of the most beautiful woman in the world and the man that had told her the tale as a ball of light flew in a fiery halo across the star-studded sky.