Part 5

It was pitch black as the rebel army made it’s way blindly into the Desert of Death. Now that they were in Pharaoh’s territory, there would be no rest. They would have to keep both eyes open wherever they trod, no matter what time of the day or how tired they were. Danger lurked stealthily behind every dune.

Lexy, being the only human female in the group, was assigned to stay very close to both dragons, who could defend themselves and her easily, plus take off with her if needed. Yama proclaimed he had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and after a painful demonstration on Holly’s father, the others decided he could hold his own in a battle. Holly’s father stayed with Lexy, where he too could be protected if necessary, and where he could help any that might be wounded. The rest of the monster army crept along in a somewhat deformed circle, the strongest to the outside, the less advanced in the center with Lexy, the dragons, and Holly’s father. Genki, Pixie, Ember, Tiger, and Greywolf led the pack. Big Blue, Golem, Yama, Hurricane, Falcon, and his dragons took up the rear in case they were attacked from behind.

That first night in the desert was so un-desert-like it was as if they were in the Northlands all over again. The picture of the towering snowdrifts and the sounds of the whistling arctic winds were still vivid in Genki’s mind. The scenes as they made their way to what they had believed to be the final battle ground. Then an image of himself lying in a bed after the defeat of Moo, a bandage around his head and a sling on his arm. A younger teenage Holly sat at his bedside, holding a damp cloth to his cut forehead. He could still remember her gentle touch as she cleaned his wounds. Suddenly he shook the memories out of his head angrily.

Why is this happening, he thought, as he glanced ahead into the dusty sand that stretched on forever. How can I have feelings for Lexy, when I have felt so strongly about Holly since the beginning? And now that Lexy and I have made out, he thought sadly, how do I explain to her that I wasn’t thinking straight? Who knows if I’m thinking straight now, he thought as he shook his head. Trying to push away feelings of guilt and confusion, Genki focused his energy and mind on the landscape around him.

Out of nowhere a lone wolf howl bounced off the surrounding sand dunes, sending fear into their hearts. Holly’s father had told of the merciless Terror-Dog that had come for Holly weeks ago, and they all knew the howl must have come from him. Nevertheless, Genki was taken completely by surprise when in the desert air before him a black, shaggy Tiger materialized, fangs bared and aimed straight for the boy’s throat.

Holly crept through the halls of the temple, soundlessly and undetected. She had recovered her original clothes and waited anxiously for midnight to come. It had eventually, and she, Allegra, and Mystique had taken as many of the things they could fit in a small pack so the girl could have something to trade for food or shelter if it became necessary sometime during her escape.

She had almost climbed out the window and took off, when she realized that Pharaoh still had the magic stone in his possession.

“I have to go,” she told the Pixies pleadingly, “ but I can’t leave here knowing that he still has it. I promise I’ll just go get it quickly, and then I’ll be gone.” Allegra and Mystique reluctantly agreed, and they had followed her as far as the end of the hall leading to Pharaoh’s private chamber. Then she was on her own.

Two Prince Hares guarded the door. Taking out one of the jewels she had coveted, Holly tossed it into the air where it landed on a step up above. Seeing something sparkling on the staircase, one pointed to the other and mouthed something, then both looking around to make sure no one was watching them, they tiptoed over to the stairs. Given just enough time, Holly skidded across the marble floor, unlatched the doors, and closed them softly behind her.

Inside it was pitch black. She felt her way along a long wall and rounded a corner, where a soft candle glow and more open column windows emitted light. She stepped quietly over to the window and peered out.

Suddenly a whirring of wings startled her, and she almost shrieked. Catching herself, she placed her hand over her mouth and crouched down. A Pixie alighted on the ledge, and at once called out her name softly. It was Allegra.

“Allegra,” Holly hissed from her position near the floor. Allegra smiled apologetically, and motioned her to hurry up. Regaining her confidence, Holly made her way to where Pharaoh slept soundly on a giant settee. She saw the magic stone lying bait-like on the pillow beside his head. Reaching across his body, she gently grasped the pendant and drew back. He did not stir.

Suddenly movement behind her made her freeze. Mystique’s high-pitched voice whispered for her to not worry. Turning to face the Unico, Holly gasped. In her hands she held a dagger, not unlike the one Holly had once carried herself, unsheathed.

“It’s the only way,” Mystique whispered, “He won’t be able to hunt you down or send anyone after you.”

“No, it’s not right,” Holly said shivering.

“Holly,” Allegra whispered from the window, “Don’t you want to be free?” Holly sighed and hesitatingly took the dagger handle in her hand. The Unico guided her over to his side, where she stood, a pleading look on her face.

Holly slowly, but surely, raised the dagger high above her head, focusing on putting the blade deep in his chest, right where his heart lay. As she was about to bring it down she felt an overwhelming sense of guilt, and then the sting of the sin she was about to commit. She had never killed anything in her entire life. What made the Unico think that she would start now, she thought desperately. But if it’ll make him leave me alone, she pondered, lifting the knife up once more. Again she hesitated as she lowered the dagger towards Pharaoh’s chest, which slowly heaved up and down with his short, choppy breaths.

“Holly,” hissed Allegra, urging her to hurry up and get it over with. But Holly knew deep inside that even if she had to go through hell and remain here forever, she could never kill another living, breathing creature.

“I can’t,” she said softly, handing the blade back to Mystique, who shoved it back in its sheath grouchily. Holly just grasped the magic stone tighter, taking one longer look at the sleeping Pharaoh.

Sighing, she turned to leave when she heard the creaking of the double doors. In a matter of seconds, Prince Hares began to stream in. Allegra and Mystique took off out of the window. Standing motionless, Holly tried to make her brain work, but she remained frozen. Finally, she stepped to run over to the window, when suddenly out of the corner of her eye she saw an arm snake out. The hand closed tightly around her wrist, threatening once more to break it. Screaming she was yanked back into Pharaoh’s clutches, the Prince Hares surrounding them and some leaping out onto the window ledge to see if they could spot the escaped Pixies.

Holly was sobbing uncontrollably as Pharaoh slapped her hard across her pale face. Not wanting to bruise his bride on the day of the wedding, he stood up and wrenched the magic stone from her clenched fist, then held both of her arms behind her back as he marched her back to her room. When they entered, he shoved her onto the ground, where she cowered against the step that led up to the island her bed stood on, eyes cloudy and cheeks stained red.

“I knew those two were not of my breed of monster, and you,” he growled maliciously, “I knew you would try and escape, my princess.” He lowered himself so he could stare directly into her teary eyes.

“You were a crafty little vixen, dear girl, but even the smartest of foxes fears the rage of the hunt, the cry of the hounds. And yet you defied the dogs and kept your scheme at it’s best, even when they growled and nipped for your heels,” he symbolized slyly. Holly listened, eyes wide, as he grew quieter and quieter with every sentence, until his voice was no more than a whisper. “But now,” he cooed, narrowing his eyes, “the intelligent animal has been outsmarted, and finally the hounds have made their catch. Making the kill was a challenge, princess, and I hate challenges. And I intend to make sure it never happens again.”

Holly cringed as he reached out and grasped her arm, pulling her up to a standing position. Two Prince Hares ran over, thick sets of chain dangling from their hands. Pharaoh laughed mercilessly as Holly tried to plead with him as the two Hares chained both of her wrists to the headboard of her bed, leaving her only enough leeway to lie down in a curled up ball.

“Post others around this entire room and at both of the doors. In the morning, I will send my Angels to take over the watch and help her prepare for our wedding at sunset,” he called as he was about to throw his cloak up and disappear.

“Why would you still want to marry me?” Holly asked defiantly, interrupting his concentration.

“Because, my princess,” he shot back, staring at her with red eyes, “you are my prize, my best catch. I want the entire monster world to know that the “guardian of the monsters” is wed to their next tyrant.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” she hissed, realizing the calamity that could result all over the continents if all the inhabitants were to think she had willingly allowed a dictator like Pharaoh to take the thrown and conquer mercilessly, let alone that she had consented to marry him.

“Oh I would, princess,” he sneered, his nose in the air cockily, “and after sunset tomorrow, there will be nothing you can do about it.” With one last maniacal laugh, he made his grand exit, leaving the stunned Holly to settle into her hunched position on the bed and cry herself to sleep.

Before Genki could react to the flying mass of black fur hurtling at him, Tiger leapt in the Terror-Dog’s way and shocked him with a lightning attack. The black Tiger dodged the zap skillfully, and in a last minute attempt Tiger ran into the young man and sent him skidding away from the assault.

The Terror-Dog let out another long howl as he and Tiger matched their quick movements while they jumped, dodged and out ran most of the attacks they happened to throw at each other. In the meantime, it seemed to the others that they were doomed. Hundreds of miscellaneous monsters began to pour out from behind the sand dunes. At the head were a large group of Gariels, Amenhoteps, Balons, and Bazulas, followed by masses of Noble-Saurians, Noble-Jells, Mask Worms, Orions, and Bossies, and all held an evil glare in their eyes as they charged forward.

“Does this Pharaoh have an obsession with anything to do with Galis or what?” asked Holly’s father, who was on the back of the Stone-Dragon. Steele just replied with, “He’s supposed to be half Gali himself,” and turned his head to concentrate on the battle.

Falcon and his crew were the first to jump in and take out several of the Bazulas, who were sluggish and needed too much time to aim. The lost discs shriveled to the ground and the purebred Dragons turned their firing squad attacks to other varieties of monsters.

Hurricane, although he was a Naga sub-breed and had no legs, managed to take out many of the faster Balons. Yama did a spinning kick and nailed an attacking Orion in the eye, sending him flying back, knocking over more that were heading for him. Golem’s and Big Blue’s tornado attacks crashed through groups of Amenhoteps as Ember’s fire beams and flaming cannonballs set the other less powerful monsters scattering to avoid the energy the attacks released when they made contact. Pixie merely flamed or zapped any monster that happened to wander in her direction.

Genki quickly recovered from the shove that Tiger had given him, and jumped to Yama’s side just as a trio of Orions had him backed against a wall. Both displaying several non-traditional karate moves, they managed to add three additional lost discs to the garden that the others had created.

It seemed like it took forever, but finally the enemy army was reduced to a sliver of the population it had maintained before. To the anger of the Terror-Dog, most of the remaining Noble-Saurians, Gariels, Bossies, and Orions had disappeared, and only four or five watched his back.

“You cowards, come back and fight,” Greywolf called triumphantly as they watched some of the last of the Terror-Dog’s warriors run away. The black Tiger stood his ground however, displaying the stubborn trait that was occupied by most of the Tiger sub-breeds.

“You fools, you dare try to reckon with Pharaoh’s mighty forces,” Midnight hissed, baring his bloody fangs.

“You’re the fool to capture Miss Holly. She would never marry your idiot leader, and you know it,” snarled Falcon, who had landed with his troops nearby.

“Oh am I?” asked the Terror-Dog haughtily, sticking his long nose up in the air, his black fur glistening in the budding sunlight, “You just wait. After sunset today you will all regret ever trying to defeat Pharaoh.”

“Ooh, I’m so scared,” laughed Hare, making a sarcastically frightened face. For once Tiger nodded in agreement with him.

“Before we destroy you, what’s happening today at sunset,” Holly’s father asked, stepping forward, hoping it was not what he thought it was.

“At sunset,” Midnight snickered, “your beloved daughter will become Pharaoh’s wife.” Before he could echo another maniacal laugh, Genki’s kick sent the Terror-Dog spiraling into oblivion.

Holly woke up suddenly, a pleasant dream that had gone wrong haunting her. When she opened her eyes, however, she saw indeed that the nightmare was real. She was not gazing out over fields of flowers as in the beginning, but was lying chained to her bed, just as the revelation had ended. Her hands were pulled up over her head, and she could only turn slightly.

Seeing that she stirred, a Prince Hare who was acting guard came over. When he observed the painful position she was in, he held his fingers to his lips.

“Now promise me you won’t escape,” he whispered. Holly nodded her head hopefully, and the Prince Hare pulled a long skeleton key from under his gold collar. He gently took her wrists in his paws and unlocked the shackles.

“Thank you,” Holly whispered. The Prince Hare just nodded, his white ears bobbing up and down, and returned to his post. The girl just lay back down and found a more comfortable way to curl up in a ball. She felt so lonely and longed for some familiar companions.

Then she remembered what Allegra and Mystique had told her when they had explained their supposedly foolproof plan of escape. “Once we get outta here,” Allegra had said, “we’ll just meet up with Ember and your father and all the others on the other side of the oasis.” That meant they were coming for her.

If only I hadn’t have gone back for the magic stone, she sighed, then I could be out of here, on my way home. Then her mind snapped to an image of Genki, the much younger version that she had known. Her eyes teared up with joy to think that Genki, her Genki, was coming to rescue her, a poor prisoner of an evil monster. Then she remembered the other two names that Allegra had mentioned. Lexy sounded an awful lot like a girl’s name, a girl’s name from Genki’s world… Trying to push the negative thoughts out of her aching head, Holly found herself wondering what was taking them so long. She knew she was being very selfish at the moment, but she reasoned that she had never asked anything from the monsters in so long, it was the least they could do. Her conscience scolded her brain for letting a theory like that enter completely unguarded, and she wrestled these impulses into the recesses of her mind and tried to get some sleep.

A while later the Prince Hare padded softly to the prisoner’s bedside to check and see if she was comfortable enough. Finding her peacefully asleep, he pulled the blanket that had been tossed on the floor nearby up snugly around her chin. Stirring slightly, the girl muttered something incomprehensible, then flipped over onto her side, her back to him. Not giving it another thought he smiled, adjusted his collar, and was about to walk away when she whispered, just loud enough for him to hear.

“Where are you Genki…where are you?” she called into the night air, her body still asleep but her mind wide awake with the thoughts she could just not brush away. Frowning and feeling sorrier than ever for the young woman who had nowhere to run, the Prince Hare shook his head and solemnly trotted back to his station at the edge of the platform, the sun’s early rays just beginning to make their way over the palm trees and the sand dunes that he knew she would never be able to call home.

Part 6

Genki woke up to the hot desert sun. He was floating incredibly high over the sand below, and for a minute he thought the battle at dawn had been a failure and he was looking down from heaven for his dead body. Then he felt a presence underneath him; warm feathers that, if the owner was provoked, could burn. He had been stretched out peacefully on Ember’s large expanse of back.

The Cinder-Bird felt the boy stirring, and decided to strike up a conversation. With a few flaps of his gigantic wings, he rose higher into the atmosphere, where it was cooler.

“So you finally woke up, eh?” Ember cackled, creating several more refreshing air currents with the flaps of his wings. Genki sat up and stretched out his arms, breathing in the cool air.

“What happened?” he asked confusedly, “The last thing I remember is cornering that stupid Terror-Dog.”

“Well,” started Ember, “He must of said something that made you very upset, because you destroyed him. The impact left you unconscious and the Terror-Dog as another lost disc to litter the ground.”

“I did?” Genki asked, “Do you remember what he said?”

“Yes…but please don’t take it out on me when you hear it…”

“Hear what!? Come on, tell me!” growled Genki, growing very impatient. He had the slightest glimmer of what Ember was about to spit out, but he just couldn’t put his finger on it…

“Pharaoh… Pharaoh is going to…” Ember paused in the middle of his sentence, his head cocked, listening for something he knew was there.

“Going to what!? Ember!” Genki shouted, wanting desperately to know the vital information that had made him kill the Terror-Dog mercilessly. Suddenly, however, he heard what Ember was listening to. A faint call, that sounded like a Pixie’s voice…

“Ember,” it echoed from beyond where the sun blocked their view. Then he saw something reflecting in the sunlight, something speeding towards them. Ember squinted his big red eyes and immediately zoomed in on the thing that was calling his name. Screeching, and almost dislodging Genki, the Cinder-Bird plummeted towards the earth, wings outspread.

Genki gripped some of the Phoenix’s feathers and held on for his life. Soon he could see the other monsters and humans below, all trudging along slowly in the heat. Seeing the Cinder-Bird dive at them, they quickened their paces and scrambled out of the way, just as Ember touched down on the scorching sand.

“What is it?” asked Holly’s father excitedly, still on Steele’s back.

“It’s Allegra and Mystique,” Ember screeched, “and hopefully, they have your daughter!”

Genki perked up at the suggestion that Ember’s Mint and Unico allies were bringing Holly away from that awful prison. Lexy, somewhat disgusted, growled deep in her throat. Jewel cocked her head and looked confusedly at her, but the girl pretended to be overly interested in the condition of her sun-bleached ponytail when she saw the Oscerot’s concern.

When the two Pixie sub-breeds swooped down for a landing, however, their faces were long, and Holly was nowhere to be seen.

“What happened?” Ember asked, looking in the distance as if he would see the girl they were searching for materialize out of the sand dunes.

“We…tried…to get her out,” panted the Unico. Their wings drooped and their shoulders sagged from the long, tiring flight.

“…But she went back for the magic stone…” sighed the Mint, breathing heavily.

“…And he caught her,” finished Mystique, her eyes shifting down.

“We tried to go back and get her, but they put guards all around her room, even on the window ledges. We’re so sorry everyone…” Allegra apologized sadly. The excitement of the two friend’s arrivals had quickly shifted to uneasy silence. Until a small voice spoke up.

“Mocchi thinks we can still find Holly!” shouted the little monster, hopping up into Lexy’s lap, his pink fist in the air.

“Mocchi’s right,” exclaimed Hare, “After all, we defeated Moo. How hard can rescuing Holly be?”

“We’ve done it before,” added Tiger nonchalantly, “I’m with Mocchi. I say we attack the temple, and get Holly back.” Greywolf howled and nodded his head.

“I will help however I can,” voiced the Striker from the back of the pack, “You just leave Pharaoh to me.”

“No problem,” laughed Falcon, “I’m only concerned about one thing, and that’s Miss Holly’s safety.” His dragons echoed agreements, and Jewel and Steele promised to help in any way they could.

“What about you Pixie?” Ember asked, “Considering you never liked her that much you sure have done your share of fighting.”

“Count me and Big Blue in,” she sighed, rolling her eyebrows, “It’s not like there’s anything else to do.” Big Blue smiled at her sarcastic comment, and she smiled back.

“Golem will fight to protect Holly.” Everyone nodded as Golem voiced his opinion on the matter.

“You will never know how grateful Suezo and I are to you all,” Holly’s father praised, “Holly is our world, and without her, our lives are pretty meaningless.” Suezo nodded solemnly, hoping their mission would be successful, not just for Holly’s sake, but for the well being of the entire monster world.

“Well Yama, Lexy?” asked Ember, chuckling, “Are you disappointed with your adventure so far?”

“No way,” said Yama cheerfully, “This has been the best vacation I have ever taken!” Lexy just smiled and patted Mocchi on the head.

“What about you Genki?” the girl asked solemnly.

“I’m in.” he muttered, shifting his position on Ember’s back.

“Well that’s everyone. It’s unanimous. Pharaoh, here we come!” laughed Ember, taking off. Allegra and Mystique’s somber moods lightened quickly as they took off to fly ahead of the Cinder-Bird, leading the way. Falcon, his dragons, Jewel, and Steele also took to the air to scout for the temple prison where Holly had been held for almost three weeks now.

Genki stayed on Ember’s back, somewhat comforted by the thought of rescuing Holly, his Holly. Then his old feelings of confusion flooded back into his head. Getting angry, he slammed his fist hard into the fiery feathers. Feeling the sudden pressure, the Cinder-Bird knew that Genki was dealing with problems of his own, and they were anything but physical.

“Is something the matter?” he asked quietly, to avoid anyone else hearing them.

“I’ll say,” Genki growled disgustedly.

“I can see why you might be confused. They both are very beautiful…”

“But why am I so mixed-up Ember? Why can’t I decide? I mean the only reason I went to the stupid sorority party was to see Lexy, but when I started playing that game all I could think about was Holly. And then a few days ago, Lexy and I, well, you know…”

“Made out?” Ember asked curiously, “That was the word that Yama was using.”

“You guys were watching us!?” Genki squealed, overly embarrassed.

“If I may, I’d like to quote Pixie: ‘It’s not like there was anything else to do’” Ember shot back coyly, gaining altitude as he flapped a few more times.

“She’s a great kisser too…but that’s not the point!” he exclaimed, ashamed that he had allowed himself to utter that outloud. Ember just smiled to himself.

“Looks like you’re going to have to make a decision sooner or later, because Lexy will not want to stay here forever, and if you choose Lexy, who knows how Miss Holly will react.”

“Holly has feelings for me too?” Genki asked curiously, thinking all along that his efforts were mainly one-sided.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. Allegra and Mystique told me that the reason she even considered escaping was that they mentioned your name. They said her eyes lit up as if she actually had hope of getting away from that maniacal monster…”

“Did they say what he wants with her?”

“You really want to know?” questioned Ember, preparing himself for another blow on the back. Genki breathed deeply and answered yes.

“Just please tell me. I don’t want Holly to get hurt.”

“He plans on making her…he wants to marry her,” Ember spit out reluctantly, bowing his head. The slam from Genki’s fist did not come, however. The boy sat there stupefied, his eyes wide. Ember sighed.

“I was expecting a violent reaction like the one that came over you last night. You really pounded that Terror-Dog, after he said just that.” Genki did not answer, though, and Ember reasoned that this conversation was most likely closed. Sighing again, he leveled out and glided along with a soft air current.

It was around a half an hour before Genki finally uttered the words that Ember was waiting to hear.

“I swear if he hurts her, I’ll make him pay,” he growled lowly, shaking his fist, “I’ll kill him.” Ember nodded in agreement and knew instantly that there was no way they would lose this battle now, especially with Genki on their side.

Holly stared around the room she had called her own for almost two weeks, and knew this was it. This was surely the end of life as she knew it. The minute that she joined hands with Pharaoh would be the exact moment of her death, and her descent into Hell’s fiery pits.

Why me, she asked herself desperately, why is all this happening to me? I have never done anything wrong in my entire life, never sinned so horribly that I would deserve this. Or have I? Her mind jumbled with the thoughts that she had condemned herself to an eternity of sorrow as terrible as this. Suddenly a loud bell tolled, and she was snapped out of her cruel thoughts and back to reality. She looked down at her garments, all made of silks and laces fit for a princess. But she was far from royalty, and she knew it. All these things made her look like a porcelain doll that Pharaoh would order dressed up whenever he wanted.

Her empire-waisted dress was similar to the one before, but was adorned with thousands of ribbons that streamed from the gold band that cinched underneath her chest, colored gold, white, ivory, and a baby blue. The front was low cut and tied at her shoulders, leaving her back from the nape of her neck to her waistline uncovered. Strands of pearls hung across her bare skin, and a thick choker of pearls and crystals encircled her throat. Her hair was braided into tiny cornrows, all which hung separately on her shoulders, each woven with a string of pearls and tied off with a long ribbon of white, blue, or gold. The final touch was the delicate ivory crown that sat on her head. It peaked in the front with a magnificently detailed mini-sculpture of a swan, and the band thinned as it disappeared to the back of her head. From the crown lacey layers of sheer material billowed veil-like, giving the appearance of a private breeze that blew only for her.

Studying her elaborate dress, jewelry, and crown, she knew very well that she would never look more beautiful in her entire life. If only I were marrying someone else… The mere thought of her secret longing brought tears to her eyes.

As she examined herself in a long wall mirror that hung to her left, the bell tolled again impatiently, and two Angels burst in to find Pharaoh’s bride completely dressed and ready to accept her fate. Or so they thought. As they got closer, one pointed out to the other the seemingly selfish girl’s tears.

“Oh boo hoo,” one mocked disgustedly, rubbing her fists beside her eyes to imitate Holly’s mood, “You should be grateful you stupid girl.”

“You know how much one of us would kill to marry master Pharaoh?” the other growled, both hovering around her. Holly’s eyes flashed.

“Then why doesn’t he just marry one of you then?” she shot back furiously, pushing the Pixies out of the way. She stormed a few feet, then turned on her heel to yell some more at the astonished Angels.

“He’s half human,” one sighed, “Why would he want one of us?”

“Well being half human on the outside sure as hell doesn’t make him one on the inside. If he had any human-like qualities at all he would not be treating me like a prisoner and forcing me to marry him against my will,” Holly cried, more tears sliding down her cheeks.

The Angels just glared back at her, her words making an unexpected impact on their impression of their master.

Eventually, after several minutes of staring each other down, Holly regained her composure and the Angels remembered their reason for entering her room. The bells tolled long and loud a third time. “You are wanted immediately in the Throne Room where you will wait until Pharaoh is ready for you,” they ordered. Holly sighed, dried her eyes and gathered all the courage she had in her soul. Unhappily, she followed the grouchy Angels down the long hall, the sun just beginning to dip below the hot surface of the sand dunes in the distance.

The tall cloaked figure paced angrily back and forth in his private chamber, waiting anxiously for the return of his most trusted minion, the Terror-Dog.

Suddenly a Gariel burst in, hitting his holographic head on a vase on his way to his master, knocking it over and watching it smash into a million pieces. Fumbling to try and clean up the mess, the Dragon sub-breed knocked over another large vase, which also crashed on the marble floor in several chunks.

“Nevermind that you idiot!” Pharaoh yelled impatiently, “Have you any news from Midnight?”

“Well master, that might be a bit of a problem…” the Gariel groveled.

“Why!” screamed Pharaoh.

“He’s been annihilated!” exclaimed the Dragon, waiting for a blow to the head that never came. Pharaoh was too stunned to even swipe at him.

“He’s been defeated?” he asked, astonished.

“Yes! The rebels came, and they number over thirty!”

“His army was well over two hundred!” cried the Gali/human, slamming his fist on the nearby table as he stopped pacing.

“But master, they are strong, stronger than most of our armies. They dodged our ruthless attacks and fought back daringly themselves. Soon enough our numbers were cut down severely, mostly because their were too many of us to escape from the wide range of torpedoes and cannons and whatnot. It was a one-sided battle, master.”

Pharaoh could not believe his ears. His best army, with over two hundred top-condition monsters, was defeated by a rag tag group of rebels that claimed they would rescue his bride-to-be if it was the last thing they did?

“Go at once to Scythe and Minion. Tell them of your embarrassing defeat, and make sure they have sentinels of atleast fifty stationed around every possible entrance to the temple. Then report to me before the wedding ceremony commences. Go!” Pharaoh commanded forcefully, sending a shiver down the Gariel’s spine.

“Ye…ye…yes master,” he stuttered, spinning around and leaving as quickly as possible.

“These imbeciles just won’t give up, will they?’ he growled under his breath, slamming his fist into his open palm, “Well I’ll ruin there hopes of ever getting Miss Holly back, “ he continued slyly, “Because when I marry her, she will belong to me.” Squinting his red eyes and laughing dementedly, he envisioned the poor helpless girl under his complete control. Smiling suavely, he gathered up his cloak and with one quick flick of his wrist, disappeared.

Suezo watched as Holly’s father stared blankly into the distance; eyes fixated on the oasis that they were approaching. Ember had warned them that at sunset Pharaoh was going to make Holly his wife, and if they didn’t get there and stop the wedding, or have someone atleast stall it long enough for the entire squadron to get there, there would be nothing that they could do. Holly would be lost forever, and Suezo knew deep in his heart that the reason he was alive was her. Sighing, he hopped along as fast as he could on his foot, making sure that he did not stumble and slow the pace. If they were going to pull off a major stunt, they would have to do it fast, he reasoned. The sun had already submersed itself in the hot sand and only a sliver was left visible.

Part 7

Holly stood awkwardly in the middle of the temple’s throne room, surrounded by masses of Angels, Prince Hares, and other sub-breeds with Gali in them. The entire time she had spent in the temple she had never known there were so many inhabitants. If only she knew why they had suddenly appeared from the mists.

The Angels fluttered around her again, adjusting any part of her dress or hair that they thought was out of place. In addition to all the trinkets she was adorned with from head to foot, several Balons trotted in, dragging behind themselves carts full of rare and fragrant flowers. Angels hurriedly began plucking petals from roses, lilies, and irises to scatter on the marble floors as they headed the precession to the outdoor pavilion the wedding was supposed to take place on. Several others selected perfectly shaped flowers from endless baskets of richly colored lilies, winding some into her braids, then picking some apart to litter on the long train that stretched from the back of her dress.

The tasks were accomplished in a short while, due to the many workers slaving away at them. Suddenly all the servants scattered away from her, and a light fog began to encircle the part of the room she was standing in. Slightly frightened, she turned around to face the opposite direction, but nothing was there. She looked around frantically and saw the Angels laughing at her insecurity in a situation they were very much used to.

All at once she felt something slide across her skin, a sensation she had never felt before. It was unearthly, and cold as metal. It glided over her body, and in a second, she could feel the warm caress of fingers on the back of her neck. Spinning around, Holly found herself wrapped in Pharaoh’s embrace.

Confused, she blinked a few times, and he just grinned.

“Don’t worry princess, you’ll get used to my entrances,” he said suavely, stepping away from her.

“Open the doors,” he yelled to the Prince Hares at a set of large double doors Holly had never noticed before. They swung to reveal a massive crowd of monsters, all milling around a long stone pathway leading to a raised platform. In the center stood a High Priest, the Antores, and the Crimson-Eyed.

“Right this way,” he laughed, extending his arms towards the exit. Before Holly could take a step, however, an Angel with a large basket of petals proceeded to the doors, followed by a dozen others.

“Go ahead. I’ll be waiting for you,” he smiled, his golden lips curling upwards satisfactorily. Taking his cloak in his grip, he vanished again, leaving Holly unexpectedly alone in the large, dark room.

Thinking she had a chance, she turned to run, but a furry hand caught her upper arm, pulling her back. It was the Prince Hare that had guarded her the entire night.

“Please mistress,” he begged, getting down on his hands and knees and looking up pitifully, “Don’t try to runaway. It will only make him want you more. And when he catches you next time, I know the punishment will be twice as severe.”

Holly looked deep into the large brown eyes.

“But you can help me,” she cried, extending her hand to help him up from the crouched position, “We can escape together.” The Prince Hare blushed a deep red, but stood his ground.

“It would be impossible. Pharaoh has guards posted at every possible exit. Please Miss Holly. You can learn to love it here, if only you will try. Surely it is better than death?”

“Why would Pharaoh dispatch sentinels all around the temple?” she asked, ignoring his question and looking the Hare in the eye. He shriveled under her gaze.

“There is a rumor…” he started.

“What kind of a rumor?” she asked pleadingly.

“That your friends are coming to get you,” he sighed. Holly’s heart leapt with joy. They were coming to save her? Genki was coming to get her? If only it was true.

After a few long seconds, she bent over and kissed the Prince Hare on the cheek.

“Thank you,” she said, “for everything. Now atleast I have hope to cling to.” The Prince Hare smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head.

“Your welcome,” he laughed, his true Hare qualities emerging. Holly turned to face the walkway, a smile erupting on her face, and the last glimmer of sunlight enveloping her in a beautiful aura as she made her way to the high pavilion, to Pharaoh’s astonishment. He did not see the guard that had gave her the life-saving news scamper off to join the crowd, and vainly thought the smile had everything to do with marrying him.

The silhouette of monsters, all different shapes and sizes, could be seen in the waning sunlight as they marched steadily into the oasis area. Surprisingly, they found no armies lurking in the palm trees or submerged in the deep pools. The answer came when they viewed the temple for the first time, however. A chorus of “Oh my Gods” was heard as they laid their eyes on the clutter of monsters that surrounded the entire edge of the building. There must have been over two hundred, screaming and cheering, for who knows what.

Suddenly it dawned on everyone. It was the marriage ceremony they were shouting about.

“Let’s move!” shouted Genki at the top of his lungs. Their forces began charging forward quickly, sounding very much like a stampeding herd of elephants. Falcon, his dragons, and Ember took to the air.

“Everyone except Falcon and I attack from the ground. Try to divert their attention from Miss Holly and Pharaoh. Genki and I will make our move while Falcon comes in from behind! We don’t have much time!” screeched Ember from the air. Genki clung on, gripping the feathers as hard as he could, as the Cinder Bird shot straight up and leveled out at a very high altitude. Falcon and his crew remained a little below them, ready for the Cinder-Bird’s cue.

As Ember glided closer, Genki squinted and focused on a large platform standing in the middle of the masses. It looked as if there were only a few figures standing there, facing the opposite end towards the building. The images became clearer as Ember increased his speed, flapping with all his might. The boy could see two men in robes, and two monsters, an Antores and a Crimson-Eyed, standing there, fixated on something stalking towards the platform. In an instant, he knew. It was Holly.

“Hurry Ember,” he shouted, his breath raspy. They were too high up; the air was too thin. He knew he would need his full strength to accomplish the task that lay before him now. The Cinder-Bird noticed the boy’s voice, and immediately dove a few feet, to where Genki’s oxygen supply was more adequate. They both watched as their comrades attacked the edge of the mass of monsters, sending most scattering away from the pavilion. Ember nodded to Falcon, who’s cackle echoed off the clouds.

“Let’s go get ‘em boys,” he laughed, diving full speed at the cowardly lingerers near the platform.

Holly was sashaying her way down the walk when all of a sudden a battle cry to end the world pierced the crisp cooling air, stunning her into a motionless state. There were monsters, familiar monsters, attacking the crowds from the outside, breaking up the masses and sending them scattered. She found herself searching the sky for some reason, going with her gut instinct. In a second, she saw what she was looking for. On the back of the illustrious Cinder-Bird Allegra and Mystique had told her about was the one she had been waiting for for so long. It was Genki.

Before she could stop herself, she was running towards the pavilion, calling out his name frantically, not noticing Pharaoh’s angry howls at his day being ruined or the Crimson-Eyed slithering after her. She let out a terrible scream when, as she was about to fling herself from the platform into the sand below, the Crimson-Eyed stretched out his long black arm and grabbed her fiercely by the waist. His long claws tore into her soft flesh as he dragged her back to where Pharaoh was standing with the priest. He grabbed her wrists as her arms flailed around, and his grip, adding to the sting of the wounds she had received from the Crimson-Eyed, sent her into a series of long, quiet whimpers.

“Do it now,” Pharaoh growled at the Priest, forcing the girl to stand upright. The Priest, a full-blooded Gali, was reluctant to begin, but Pharaoh’s growl grew louder and deeper, encouraging him to make it quick. Holly broke out into heavy sobs, interrupting the Priest’s words, and in his anger Pharaoh reared back his hand and slapped her hard across the face.

Genki had zeroed in on Holly, and for some reason he relished in the fact that she was running and calling out his name desperately. Until he saw the Crimson-Eyed go after her. Ember immediately knew what he was thinking and went into a full speed dive, right at the monster as it dragged the poor girl back to the center of the platform.

Ember was gaining speed, and Genki waited for the right moment. Even though they weren’t as close as he had wanted to be, when the man he assumed was Pharaoh slapped Holly it was the last straw. Summoning up all the strength and courage he could find, he leapt off Ember’s back, careening right towards the Priest.

Something caught the Priest’s eye as he stumbled through the speech he was trained to recite, and he gasped when he saw a large object falling from the sky towards him.

“You fool, keep going. It’s not like we have all night here!” yelled Pharaoh. But the Priest didn’t utter a word, just stood there transfixed on the presence plummeting towards him. When he finally realized what exactly it was, it was too late. Genki landed feet first on top of him, squashing the Gali to the ground and ending his life. A shriveled lost disc loomed in the place he had once stood, and now it was Pharaoh’s turn to get smacked.

Before Genki could demonstrate his newly acquired prowess in kicking butts to Holly, however, Pharaoh let out a blood-curdling scream, and flinging his large white cloak around Holly and himself, vanished into thin air, taking the Antores and the Crimson-Eyed with him.

The biggest battle Genki would ever see was raging just a few feet from him, but he would never remember it. The attacking Gali sub-breeds or the powerful hits his friends took for each other’s sake just didn’t register with him at the moment. He had one thing on his mind, and that was getting to Holly before Pharaoh had a chance to hurt her any more than he already had.

Genki joined Ember, who had been torpedoing several Prince Hares with helmets on and spears when suddenly one dropped to his knees in front of the boy.

“Oh please, spare me! I’ll help you any way I can,” he squealed, wringing his hands.

“Where did he take Holly?” Genki snarled, picking up the Hare by the golden collar he wore around his neck. The Prince Hare squirmed around, gasping for breath.

“Your choking him Genki. We’d never find out the answer to that question if you kill him,” Ember warned, his eyebrows raised. Genki sighed and dropped the Hare into a furry heap. He gulped a few times but managed to get up and regain his breath.

“Quite a grip you got there,” he coughed, rubbed his paw around his neck.

“Thanks. Now do I need to strangle you again! Where did that demon go?” he growled impatiently, glaring at the Hare.

“No, no, that’s quite alright. Don’t worry, I don’t think he would leave the desert without a couple hundred body guards, especially since he isn’t particularly well-liked now that he took Miss Holly. He’s probably only looking for the other resident Priest, probably on his barge.

“Great, so he can finish the job,” Ember said angrily.

“Where’s the stupid barge,” Genki asked, “can you take us to it?”

“Absolutely, but we might have to fly,” he said, motioning to the moat that encircled the temple. Ember nodded and Genki immediately sprung up on his feathered back. He helped the Prince Hare up so he was positioned in front of him, and the Cinder-Bird took off gracefully, leaving behind him a charred pile of rose petals and several new lost discs.

The second that Holly felt her feet on solid ground she screamed and pushed away from her captor, breaking free from his grip. She saw they had ended up back on the lavish barge, reached for the nearest heavy object, which happened to be a large vase, and with difficulty, flung it in Pharaoh’s direction. It smashed on the wall beside him, but he didn’t wince at all. He just narrowed his blood red eyes and moved towards her. Holly shrunk back in fear; the deep cuts on her abdomen throbbing and her head spinning wildly.

“Touchy, touchy,” he laughed, rubbing his hands together, “What’s the matter? Pre-wedding jitters?” He glared at the two monsters he had transported with them and growled lowly, “Hurry and find the other resident priest. Leave her to me…” The Antores and the Crimson-Eyed quickly skidded and slithered away. Pharaoh just moved further forward.

“Stay away from me, you…you…you monster!” she shrieked.

“Oh,” he sighed, clasping his head in his hands in a sarcastically shocked position, “What an insult. I hope you know my heart is completely and utterly shattered!” He threw up his hands, as if in despair.

“Whatever happened to the sweet girl I once observed, so quiet and forgiving. Now she has become a bitter, raging adult.”

“Excuse me?” Holly asked confusedly, staring at him as he kept coming towards her.

“Oh, I was wondering how long exactly it would take you to recognize me! I guess I thought you were smarter that you are…”

“Recognize you? From where?” she interrupted, backing up even more, but this time into a dead end. Her knees bent forwards as they slammed into a settee, and she slid down onto it ungracefully.

“Tisk, tisk, princess. You honestly do not remember me? Or should I say, my Gali half…” Something clicked, and Holly immediately placed an image with the thought she was forming. It was a picture of little Mocchi, using his Cherry Blossom Blizzard, to attack a rather peeved Gali, who was attacking with a strike of his own. She gasped, remembering the mask breaking, and even a lost disc forming in the place of the monster.

“It’s not possible…” she spit out, looking up, surprised to find Pharaoh leaning over her, his face very close to hers.

“But it is, dear Holly, it is! Don’t you see? When that little pink nuisance of yours broke my mask, he let the demon inside of me out, free to escape the imprisonment in my Gali body. The body may have shriveled up, but the demon lived. After a few years of wandering, possessing anything it felt worthy, it settled in a young man about Genki’s age, and combined with him. That boy was me, and look what I have become!”

“You were…a human? You…you don’t have any regrets?” she asked, mouth ajar.

“Once upon a time, yes. But the demon made me complete! He gave me more powers than I had ever dreamed, and countless opportunities otherwise,” he snickered, “And this is one opportunity I’m not going to pass up,” he whispered in her ear. She tried to squirm away, but he grasped her head in his hands and pressed his lips hard on hers.

“What’s the matter, princess? Cat got your tongue?” he murmured as he forced her mouth open, pushing his own tongue in . Thinking quickly, she bit down as hard as she could into the slimy flesh, drawing blood.

“You little dog!” he screeched, jumping back, his speech impaired. He spat out a mouthful of blood onto the spotless marble floor.

“I thought I was a fox,” she retorted, getting up and grabbing a large champagne bottle.

“It’s going to take more than a measly bottle of dressed up liquor to stop me you stupid girl,” he growled, taking menacing steps back towards her. Holly just glared back uneasily but determinedly. Luckily, she would never have to use her weapon. Before Pharaoh could come any closer, Genki’s well-known war-cry rang out through the misty river air, and a violent fireball came whizzing in, connecting with Pharaoh’s back and sending him flying into the hard marble wall a few feet away.

“Oh Genki,” Holly gasped, her head spinning. She slumped to the ground, dropping the bottle of champagne and sending bits and pieces of glass shattering in all different directions. With a contented sigh, her head lolled back, leaving her milky white throat exposed to reveal the absence of the magic stone she had not taken off for years.

“Holly!” Genki ran to the girl he had missed so much, but he watched her fall as he moved. He knelt down and gently scooped up her limp body, and felt the blood oozing from the deep gashes in her side wet against his fingers.

“She’s bleeding! We have to get her to her father as quickly as possible!” he yelled to Ember, who had stayed about fifty feet away, trying to keep his voice above the shouts and cries from the battlefield that raged unchecked into the night air.

“The magic stone is gone,” called back Ember, “You have to retrieve it!” Genki’s eyes flitted back and forth across the room, and then focused on the unconscious half human monster stretched out on the floor nearby. He handed Holly to the Prince Hare, who was just happy she was not dead, then ran over to Pharaoh.

“He’s still breathing,” Genki yelled back to his companions. Ember shook his head.

“Just get the magic stone!” he cried, looking around, “The Antores and the Crimson-Eyed could return any minute!” Genki quickly knelt by Pharaoh, wishing he could end his life for what he had done to Holly. But there was no time. He could hear the clatter of hooves on marble and several hushed voices coming down the hall towards them, and in desperation, he pulled the green stone from under Pharaoh’s golden collar.

“I’ll get you next time,” he vowed.

Running back to Ember, and taking the girl back into his own arms, he brushed a long, disheveled braid off of her delicate face. Looking deeply at the unconscious expression temporarily housed on her mouth, he touched her lips. Were they as soft and luscious as Lexy’s had been, he wondered. Silently he vowed that if it was the last thing he did in this world, he would find out the answer to that very question.

The Prince Hare noted the loving way that the boy looked at his almost former mistress, and came to a quick conclusion.

“You must be Genki,” he smiled, snapping the boy out of deep daydreaming.

“Yeah, how’d yah know?” he asked curiously, turning his head to face the rabbit-like monster.

“The way you were looking at her. And the look on her face when she saw you. I remember last night when I was watching her that all of a sudden she started whisper the name Genki over and over, asking why he didn’t come. When she looked up from where Pharaoh had landed and you were running towards her, she had a completely relaxed facial expression, as if she knew everything would turn out alright in the end.”

“With our crew, I guarantee you it will,” Genki chuckled, smiling back. Turning to look ahead again, he couldn’t see very many monsters left standing, let alone fighting. Ember spiraled down quickly, sending Holly’s layered dress to catch the air and float into billowy masses. When the Cinder-Bird descended upon the standing members of the rebel army, it seemed as if they had gone after a princess, and come back with a fluffy cloud in exchange.

Allegra lifted her head weakly, her bluish black hair sliding back over her ears and away from her eyes. She blinked a few times, bringing the world around her back into focus. Her blurred vision cleared, revealing a very concerned looking Unico and a few faces she couldn’t place staring at her intently.

“Oh thank goodness your alright!” shouted Mystique, hugging her roughly.

“Where are we? What happened?” she asked groggily, rubbing her palm on one of the many sore spots that now adorned her head.

“We retrieved Miss Holly…or rather that boy did, I can’t remember his name…anyways they brought her back a few hours ago, she was cut really badly…you must have been knocked out sometime during the fighting because we found you unconscious, and…” The Unico continued to jabber on incomprehensibly, but Allegra only cared about the first thing that had come out of her mouth. Holly was safe.

“Where are we again?” she asked rudely, interrupting Mystique, who seemed a little hurt at first that her charge would not listen to the story she had formulated in her mind while waiting for her to awake. She shrugged it off, however, and replied cheerfully that she had no idea where they were positioned at that exact moment, only that they had retreated into the desert oasis after they had recovered the coveted girl.

“Maybe you should ask Ember, I think he would know,” she suggested hopefully, trying to act a little less annoying. Allegra nodded and groaned in semi-agony as she stood up. Her wings ached from all the flying she had done in the past few days, but she managed to flap hard enough to raise herself a good six inches off the ground, and took off to find her commander.

As she flew by she noticed groups of monsters huddled together, and turning by a bush covered with dark flowers, she found three men, a woman, and the Cinder-Bird crouched and standing over what she deducted to be none other than Miss Holly.

Dipping down to walk quietly up, she noticed the other human girl standing, or rather leaning, aloofly to the side, preoccupied with the condition of her cuticles, or finger-nails, or some other thing that Allegra reasoned was associated with staring so zealously at one’s hands. The rest of the people were concerned over some matter with Holly at the moment, but no one seemed to really care that Lexy was not as attentive to the girl as they were. Shaking her head, the Mint realized that there was probably no worse a reason for Lexy’s less than exited behavior over Holly’s return than sheer boredom, but she had to wonder.

“Ah Allegra,” cooed Ember, looking up quickly and acting sarcastically surprised to see her up and about, “We were wondering how long your little nap would last.”

“You took quite a knock in the head, as I recall,” Holly’s father laughed, he too looking up.

“Yeah, that was some hit yah took for ole doc here,” sighed Yama, scratching his head and in the process ruffling his wild blond hair back into it’s normal state. The heat and the excessive sweat everyone had poured out had caused it to slick down as if he had poured a large bucket of grease over his head.

“No thanks necessary,” she said, smiling sheepishly. Her voice turned serious, however, when she spoke again.

“Is she okay?” she asked softly, stepping into the circle they had protectively formed around the girl. Upon leaning over and hearing the soft sound of somewhat shallow breaths and seeing the peaceful smile on Holly’s face, she got her answer.

“She had some large gashes on her abdomen from where the Crimson-Eyed grabbed her, and she spit out some blood when she woke up for a few minutes a little while ago, but I can’t see where she would have any internal injuries. Other than the scratches, I think she’s perfectly fine. Thank God,” Holly’s father added after the analysis of his daughter’s injuries. Allegra nodded.

“I’d better go check on the other monsters,” he said gravely, standing up and dusting some sand off of his knees. Grabbing his large sack full of the medical supplies he had not needed until now, he nodded to everyone, leaned down, kissed his daughter gently on the forehead, and slowly stalked off.

“C’mon Lex, lets go get somethin’ to eat,” said Yama persuasively. When she tried to protest he responded by tugging on her upper arm and looking sternly at her. Sighing long and loud, she turned and accompanied him out of the little thicket they had been standing in.

“Ember, I came to find out our position,” Allegra said quietly, motioning towards the bush from which she had come from behind.

“Well, you see…”Ember started in his professor-like voice, bobbing after Allegra.

Genki was the only one left, but it wasn’t like he had noticed the others there in the first place. The entire time that Holly’s father had dressed her wounds and the group had stood their conversing, all he could do was replay scenes in his head, scenes from the past.

When it finally hit him that the others had exited the dark sanctuary, he gazed down at Holly’s sleeping body. Her head and shoulders lay flat on the ground, but her back was twisted so that the side where the cuts were deepest was untouched, her legs pulled up towards her chest in a fetal manner. One arm was flung up above her head carelessly, and the other was folded in towards her stomach and rested gently at her throat. And despite the strange, tangled position she was laying in, there was a content smile on her lips, which parted every so often to let a breath come spiraling out like a gentle breeze. He leaned in over her face, letting her breaths sift through his unkempt hair. His fingers wandered to her tight cornrows, which he wanted to unweave to let her hair fall loose and full, but knew that he might disturb her if he tried to pull out the mass that her head rested on top of.

He laughed in spite of himself. How could something this beautiful have feelings hidden deep inside her heart for him? Then he remembered what the Prince Hare had said about the way she had looked when she saw him leapt out of the air onto the barge. She had looked contented. She had looked as if she knew everything was going to be all right because I had arrived. Smiling to himself, he sighed happily, and turning his attention back to the girl, he sat for the longest time comfortably, just watching and listening to her breath.

Part 8

Greywolf howled loudly to his brother, who was on the other side of the bubbling springs in the center of the oasis. Tiger howled just as zealously back, a signal that the area on the other side of the pool was clear. Turning and nodding back to Ember, the silver-coated wolf leapt down from his perch on a high ledge gracefully, landing on his feet in a balanced position outdone only by a cat. Swishing his white tail, he sniffed the night air to check Tiger’s intuition. Not that he didn’t trust his brother’s senses, it was just the nagging feeling that this was the night that made a difference. They could not be caught, and the dark cloak that the black of the evening had thrust over the oasis presented their keen eyesight with a challenge. Watching for a flicker of a reflection on an evil eye, or a sudden movement of brush, Greywolf led his pack stealthily forward into the enveloping nothingness.

Ember followed behind, his cautiousness getting the better of him, too. He glided soundlessly from palm tree to sand dune, from prickly pear to saguaro, always keeping his red eyes from reflecting off any of the numerous cactuses, not wanting to fool Greywolf into thinking they were being ambushed.

Hurricane came next, hungry for a chance to get to Pharaoh, knowing in his heart it was wrong to wish for another encounter with their enemy, but pining for it just the same. He slithered along, his wolf’s ears pricked high in an alert manner; his nose too searching the air for the scent of monsters he did not know.

Allegra, still sore from the battle, and Mystique walked a short distance behind the Naga sub-breed, flanked closely by a very perturbed Pixie, who insisted on grouchily protesting their move the entire way. Despite the fact that she claimed she was mad because she wasn’t getting her well-deserved sleep, Allegra knew very well that Pixie was truly concerned with everyone’s safety, especially Holly’s, even though she would never admit it. Her soft spot for the girl had grown considerably since the beginning of the trip, although she put on arrogant airs about never liking her very much.

Jewel and Steele followed, Yama on Steele’s back and Lexy on Jewel’s: both humans fast asleep at the moment. Hare, Suezo, the Prince Hare from the temple, and Falcon with his dragon crew were next. Suezo’s high-pitched whining could be heard over chuckles from the elderly dragon and his team, and Hare philosophized with the Prince Hare, who’s name turned out to be Monarch, over money-making tactics.

Holly’s father strode along hastily behind them, and Mocchi hopped along happily next to Genki, who was carrying the sleeping Holly. Golem and Big Blue, and others that had joined the cause brought up the rear of this large procession.

As Genki trudged along he didn’t mind the extra weight that he had to carry: after all he had carried Holly millions of times before when they were escaping some group of baddies, masses of falling rock, or whatnot. The thing that was bothering him the most at that moment was something that Lexy had cooed in his ear hours earlier.

“Meet me alone when we stop for the night. I need to talk to you,” she whispered, before they had set out to move their base camp farther into the oasis where Pharaoh would have less of a chance of finding them.

He wasn’t stupid. He had seen the jealous look on her face when he had carried poor Holly to the back of their camp to be bandaged, he had heard her long sigh when Yama finally convinced her to leave him and Holly alone, and he had often heard from other guys that had witnessed her out on dates that she was extremely possessive of whoever was on the other end of the leash she seemed to operate so expertly. But he was still confused. Why doesn’t she just back off, he thought, if she knows I have feelings for Holly? His thoughts were disrupted, however, by another long, low howl: the signal to stop for the night.

They had come to a dense part of the oasis, filled with palm trees, cactuses, and high brush that could easily hide them from their enemy, but just as easily hide their enemy from them. Despite this setback, if Tiger, Greywolf, and Ember deemed it safe, Genki knew they should not worry. They had, or so he had heard, led many raids and expeditions against another monster who had threatened a hostile takeover a few years before. Whoever it was, however, had never attempted such a tactic as capturing the Guardian of the Monsters and trying to force marriage upon her. Genki could not help thinking that Pharaoh knew exactly what he was doing.

Holly’s father beckoned to him from another thicket type area like the one they had kept the girl in before, and Genki made his way over to set her down gently on a blanket of palm leaves and long grass.

“Thank you Genki,” Holly’s father said as he laid Holly down on the makeshift bed gently, trying not to disturb her peaceful slumber, “I don’t know where we would have gotten without you.” Genki looked up, a little confused at the sentence. Did he mean on this excursion, or the one long ago, that he knew even Holly was forbidden to mention to her father?

“Your welcome,” he offered back, smiling slightly. Holly’s father just nodded and turned his gaze down to his sleeping daughter. Taking the hint, Genki wandered out into the main clearing where many of the monsters were settling in for the night. Mocchi attacked him playfully almost at once, and he picked up his little pink monster.

“Is Holly okay, chi?” he asked cutely, his big black eyes staring gently at his master long missed.

“She’s gonna be all right,” he said reassuringly, more to himself than his friend. He could not shut out the scene of Holly running towards him, only to be snatched by the Crimson-Eyed forcefully. It replayed repeatedly in his mind.

Looking around, he spotted Pixie helping Mystique and Allegra pile up some leaves and grass for what looked sort of like a giant bird’s nest. He sauntered over to say hello, but before he could get there Lexy jumped out of nowhere and landed in front of him.

“Lets talk now,” she insisted bossily, taking his hand and tugging it. Deciding it was better now than later to have to let her down easily, he shook his head okay and she proceeded to drag him away from the hustle and bustle of the camp site.

“I like the other set better,” Pixie called to him. He glanced over his shoulder inquiringly to see the purebred Pixie staring at him, hands on her hips, looking disgustedly at Lexy yanking on his arm. Oh yeah, luggage, he remembered slowly. Me too, he thought, me too.

Before Lexy could coax him any further, however, Yama too popped out of nowhere, and raising his eyebrows at Lexy’s whining pleas to get Genki moving, asked him if he might have a word. Genki sighed and told Lexy he would be right back, and took about five steps to the side where Yama stood, waiting.

“What are you doin’ man?” he asked in a semi-whisper, emphasizing his level of disappointment, “First it’s makin’ out, now you’re sneakin’ away…”

“Oh come on Yama, did you have to tell the entire camp what we were doing?” Genki asked grouchily, noticing several monsters eyeing him and then Lexy, making the connection, “I’m gonna tell her tonight. I’m gonna tell her I wanna be with Holly!”

“Well it’s about time,” said Yama sarcastically, though obviously happy that Lexy’s little seduction scheme wasn’t going to work the way she planned, “She’ll get over it, eventually,” he added, smirking. Genki couldn’t help but picturing steam spouting wildly from Lexy’s ears, her tan complexion stained red with embarrassment, and he too laughed.

“Go get her, Tiger,” Yama laughed, pushing Genki towards Lexy, who was standing with her arms crossed impatiently. She smiled, assuming Yama had just given the inexperienced boy a small pep talk. Genki smiled back, knowing what she thought, and knowing she was dead wrong.

Holly’s ears unplugged long before she was willing to open her brown eyes, and she listened casually to all the noises that surrounded her. At first she had almost started up in fright, afraid that she was back in Pharaoh’s temple, and the slaves were busily trying to salvage what was left of the wedding ceremony and piece it back together again. Before she could react, however, her face must have twisted in fear, for the next thing she heard was her father’s deep voice booming from somewhere in the black, talking to her soothingly. He told her that she was safe, that they had just moved to avoid another confrontation with Pharaoh’s troops. The words lulled her back into slumber, but not for very long. This time she opened her eyes.

Her father was looking at her intently as she stirred. She blinked a few times, refocusing her eyes and struggling to sit up. He helped her by bracing her back with his strong arm. She brought her fingers across her eyes and then down over her cheeks and onto her throat as she looked around the clearing. She could hear movement and laughter coming from beyond a group of cactuses, but the spot she sat in was totally isolated otherwise.

“You’re awake,” he said, smiling deeply. She hugged him, and then asked where they were.

“We are in the center of the oasis, where we will rest for the night.”

“Pharaoh hasn’t…” she started, but he stopped her quickly.

“No, we got as far away from that monster as possible.”

“Thank God,” she muttered under her breath. She looked down at her clothes, and she still wore the billowy white dress she had had on at the temple. Not wanting her memories of her experience to be lengthy ones, she shook her head.

“Please father, did you bring any other clothes with you? I can’t stand the sight of this…” she said, stretching out the long sleeves, “I don’t even care if they are men’s clothes. Just as long as I get out of this fashion disaster…” Her father looked at her skeptically, knowing that since she was young she had always coveted a dress such as the one she had on, but he complied, eager to make his daughter happy.

“Lexy said you could use some extra clothes of her’s,” he said, “Though who knows, maybe you’d be better keeping that dress on,” he laughed, tossing her a satchel, and as she rummaged around in it, he exited the clearing.

Dumping the contents onto the bed of leaves, she discovered a pair of shorts, made of a strange material, a camisole, and a short hooded sweatshirt. Cocking her head, she held up each item in turn.

“Well, doesn’t look like I have much to choose from…” she sighed, shrugging her shoulders.

Minutes later Holly had peeled off the filmy dress and put on the camisole and the shorts, her nose scrunched up in disgust at how short the shorts were and how low cut the top was. Quickly she grabbed the sweatshirt and tied it around her waist, then remembered about her other half. She untied the jacket, and put it on, then with her hands on her hips, looked over her shoulder at the shorts. Growling, she grouchily yanked on the sweatshirt and stretched it down behind her, only to discover she had pulled the front up around her neck.

“I just cannot win,” she laughed, smoothing out the sweatshirt. Laboriously she untangled the cornrows and set aside the ribbons, beads, and crushed flowers, substituting them with a single navy one that she tied back her crinkled hair with. The only things that she kept on from the palace were the lace-up sandals, reasoning that most likely bare feet weren’t the best thing for tramping around on hot sand.

Taking one long look at the empire-waisted dress, and after making sure nobody was watching her, she stuffed it, the hair-things, and even the unharmed flowers into the leather satchel. Sighing, she stood up and stepped out into the clearing.

Her father was stationed right outside the thicket, and greeted her happily again, though he frowned at the clothes immediately. Suezo, Hare, and Monarch strode over.

“Don’t worry, I won’t be moving too much while I’m in these clothes,” she joked, catching her father’s expression.

“It’s great to see you’re alright Holly,” said Hare thoughtfully, “I don’t know how much longer we could have held out if Genki and Ember wouldn’t have returned when they did…”

“Thank you Hare,” she said wisely, interrupting him, knowing that the purebred rabbit-like monster could go on philosophizing forever if permitted. She looked inquisitively at the Prince Hare who stood beside him.

“You were the one at the palace, right?” she asked, a sign of faint recognition in her voice.

“Yes, and I too am glad to see you alive and well. I helped the young man and the Cinder-Bird locate you,” he said proudly. She nodded in return and turned to Suezo, who was beaming with joy that his master was finally back where she belonged.

“I missed you Holly!” the eyeball said loudly, hopping closer. She bent down and hugged her companion tightly, reminding her of another person she wanted to thank.

“Father, have you seen Genki?” she asked, standing back up. He looked around the campsite, but saw no trace of the boy anywhere. Suddenly Monarch spoke up.

“I think I saw him and the other human girl walking away from the camp to the east about a half an hour ago,” he piped up, pointing in the direction he had specified.

“Oh, okay,” she said, a tinge of jealously rising in her blood when the Prince Hare spoke of Genki and Lexy wandering off together. She reasoned to herself, however, that she had to thank him for saving her, and off she went.

As she crossed the small camp area, many of the monsters nodded in her direction, showing their approval that she was up and about. She waved to Mystique, Allegra, and Pixie, who were constructing something out of grass and leaves. The Unico and the Mint zealously returned the wave, but Pixie just watched her aloofly, her gaze following the girl as she shrugged, turned and set off in the exact same direction Genki and Lexy had gone in not too long ago.

“Wait a minute, what if…” Mystique started, hands to her mouth.

“Leave her alone. I think she should see this,” said Pixie, tossing her reddish hair and stretching out her wings. Both Pixie sub-breeds looked at her in shock.

“How could you say such a thing! Her poor heart will be broken,” Allegra exclaimed, truly astonished that the purebred Pixie could be so cold. She just shook her head in return.

“As if it hasn’t been for the past eight years,” she retorted back, “Please don’t get me wrong. Maybe this will open up someone’s eyes, and whether it’s Holly seeing that she is too late and rejecting Genki when he comes begging, or Genki seeing that he cannot bear living without Holly and has to live with the guilt that he allowed himself to be seduced for the rest of his life, doesn’t matter to me. As long as that idiot girl from Genki’s world gets her just desserts.” Both Pixies looked on in astonishment at their comrade’s amazingly lengthy speech. Knowing deep down that she was right, they curbed their consciences that were urging them stop the girl, and went back to whatever it was they had been doing.

The blonde girl would have to settle for a clearing a short walk away, mostly because Big Blue had warned them as they edged out of the campsite not to stray to far. Genki had merely nodded in agreement, earning a puzzling look from the Golem sub-breed. Seconds after Genki saw Pixie fly over and perch on his shoulder, no doubt explaining their haste to exit the public place.

“Lexy, I…What do you want?” he started, shaking her hands off his wrist and stopping in his tracks. She wasn’t discouraged by his abruptness, and only took a few seconds to sidle over, sliding her palms up over his chest and down his back.

“You know what I want,” she whispered devilishly, her lips curling in a satisfied smile, “I want you.” She brought her head forward and her tongue slid in his mouth. In disgust, he pulled back from her embrace, wrinkling up his nose. Lexy looked at him in alarm, and then her gaze turned to that of total hatred.

“It’s that stupid girl, isn’t it? Holly. That’s her name, that damsel in distress you just had to rescue! Before you ever knew that she was in danger of being married to someone other than you, you were totally crushing on me! But no, you just had to jump in and save her, that little…” Lexy’s eyes were hot and her words were hotter. Genki could not believe she was flying off the handle, even though he had actually pictured it a few seconds ago. But never as bad as this.

“Lexy, get hold of yourself! That’s exactly what it was: a crush! Nothing more!”

“You were just jealous, jealous that you couldn’t have her,” she snarled, “So you had to go take out your emotions on me, taking advantage of my nurturing side, thinking you could drag me out as long as you wanted! Well think again Genki! You’re mine, and there’s nothing that conniving little witch can do about it!” At this moment, she had become so enraged that she was hissing and growling like an ugly cat, her fists balled up, her hair in wild disarray from her temper tantrum. To add to the effect, she placed emphasis on many of the more important words by stomping her foot furiously on the soft ground.

“Lexy, come on…Holly is a wonderful person, and I…I love her,” Genki spit out, turning his head. He could feel Lexy’s eyes burning into his temples, willing him to take back what he had just said. Nevertheless, Genki stood his ground.

“And what’s with this? What, do you throw a temper tantrum every time a guy dumps you?”

“I have never been dumped before,” she hissed wildly.

“Well I’m sorry, but I’ve heard differently. No wonder Yama warned me about you being too possessive…you can’t let it go!” Genki looked angrily at the girl, who was by now way past the point of no return. Suddenly something caught the corner of her green eye, and she looked to the side quickly. Before Genki could see what she had glared at, however, she grabbed him and drew him in for a long, forced kiss.

Genki pulled back, but Lexy had an inhuman grip, and he could not break away. Finally she slackened her hold, and Genki wiped off his lips in disgust, throwing her arms off of his and backing away. Despite these actions, it was too late. A snicker from beside him and a restrained cry from the path told him exactly what had happened. A tall figure was standing at the edge of their thicket, her silence cold and vicious. Raising her head, the moonlight catching her face, he could see her dark brown eyes marred with fresh tears and her hand clutched at her chest where her heart was.

He just stood there, it had taken him a second to recognize her, but now he knew what had happened. He couldn’t react, couldn’t move. She had seen the kiss, but had she seen before that, when he had tried to get Lexy to leave, when he had confessed his deepest darkest secret and said she was the one he loved, not the selfish blond girl?

The girl drew in a shallow, shaky breath, and her eyes welled up with more tears, the old sliding down her pale cheeks in streams. She hadn’t.

“Holly, please…” he started, trying to catch her eye, but she looked away before he could finish his sentence.

Balling up her fists suddenly, she let out one quiet whimper, turned quickly, and took off down the path back to the clearing, her cries trailing behind her like lost children trying to find their way home. As they made their way to Genki’s ears he knew that he had to go after her now, or he may never have another chance.

Running blindly, he almost tripped when Lexy grabbed hold of his arm, begging him to reconsider in the nicest voice she could muster. Instead of hearing what she wanted to hear, she received a sharp smack across the face as Genki regained his pace and shot off after the Holly.

Lexy stood in shock, and she slowly brought her hand up to her cheek. It hurt, but not as much as it did inside. How could he do this to me, she asked herself repeatedly as she stalked back and forth across the clearing. Why would he choose an unshapely stick like Holly when he could have me, curves and all? Why would he want a girl that had no experience with guys whatsoever, when he could have someone like me, who he had actually made out with?

As Lexy pondered these things, an idea began to formulate in the back of her head. Something clicked, and she knew exactly what she would do to cause Holly to squirm and make Genki madly jealous.

She snickered to herself and grinned slyly. This’ll show them, she thought, cocking her head. This’ll show them all.

Holly ran straight past Big Blue, who was gathering some large logs to split into pieces for a fire, and whizzed by Golem, Allegra, and Mystique, who were chatting about something or other. She didn’t stop when Suezo yelled her name, or let her father pull her into a hug when he reached for her arm. She yanked her limb away, and tore through Hare and Monarch, who had noticed her flight. Dashing madly for the other side of the camp, she had no idea who or what she was looking for, she just knew that’s where it was. After shoving a stunned Tiger and Greywolf out of the way, she could see Ember and a few other monsters conversing around a large nest of some sort. She was heading in one particular monster’s direction, and before she knew what she was doing, Holly was running straight into a confused Pixie’s outstretched arms.

Parts 9-??

Parts 9-???
Read on!