Guardian of Monsters: Part 1

Genki watched the clock. It was almost five, and the professor would dismiss them any minute now. He could not wait to get out of the lecture hall and to his dorm room where he could finally relax. No one said college was all fun and games.

In a few minutes, Genki’s prediction came true when the aged professor closed up his textbook and shoved it in his already overloaded briefcase. All the other students began to file out slowly. Genki closed his notebook, gathered up his book bag, his winter jacket, and his baseball cap, and headed for the door eagerly. He deposited the cap on his head, then swung it around backwards. His hasty retreat was delayed, however, by a few of his roommates.

“Yo Genki,” yelled a tall one with baggy jeans, an old tee shirt, and wildly spiked blond hair.

“Wuz up Yama?” Genki asked, never slowing his stride while the larger guy jogged to catch up to him. Yama was a senior, and Genki was a sophomore, but that had not stopped them from becoming fast friends.

“Nothin’ much. Just bored outta my mind. What’re ya up to this weekend?” he drawled in his inner city tone. It was Friday, and Genki knew that most of the guys from his dorm would head to the frat party on the other side of the campus.

“Who knows. I’ll probably remember I have a history paper due or something at the last minute, and there goes my entire weekend down the drain…”

“Well if your memory decides to go on vacation after you here what I’m gonna tell you, don’t blame me,” sighed Yama, a sly smile on his face.

“Yeah?” asked Genki curiously; knowing that Yama often had plans that no college student could refuse.

“I say that we crash the frat freak’s party. Sources tell me she’ll be there…” Yama teased as they skirted the frozen pond in the middle of the recreation area of the campus.

“Lexy?” Genki questioned hopefully, “You ain’t tryin’ to get me all worked up for nothin’ are yah? I mean you better not be lyin’ or I’ll…” He playfully charged the older boy, who stepped back with his hands in front of him.

“Nah, it’s true; I heard it with my own ears. Says she and her entire cheerleading squad is gonna be there. No lies.” Yama and Genki continued down the hall to where they unlocked their dorm room and found it already full of other guys.

“Hey guys, could yah make a little room?” Yama called in. The younger boys backed away from the door to let the two others in.

“Wuz up y’all?” he asked as two more guys emerged from the kitchen area of the room. Genki had made several friends his freshman year, and they had all opted to stick together and get an eight-person suite the next year. Often their room, one of the largest in the building, was the center of attention.

“So much for relaxation,” muttered Genki as he exchanged several hellos with the other guys before squeezing his way through the crowd to follow Yama into the bedroom they shared.

“So you up for it bro?” Yama asked as they both threw their stuff on their separate beds.

“I’m in,” Genki agreed, “she just better be there man, or I’m gonna kill you.”

“Is that a threat?” Yama said, raising his eyebrows.

“You know it.”

An entire world away, a beautiful young woman looked out across the vast expanse of lush green forest in front of her as twilight set in. Slowly bringing the spinning wheel she was working at to a stop, she sighed and turned to look around her quaint little house on the hill. Her hazel eyes wandered over the hand carved chairs, the sturdy table, the stone and brick fireplace. She could hear her beloved father snoring softly overhead in the loft where they slept, and the hushed voices of monsters getting in one last conversation before the day was over. Why can’t I just be happy, she thought to herself as she pumped her foot on the pedal, sending the wheel whizzing softly once more.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere a long, terrible howl echoed through the house.

“Tiger,” she called warily, “Is that you?” No sooner had she spoke than the door she had been sitting near came crashing in. She flew from the wheel to the fireplace and turned to see a coal black wolf-like monster staring at her, eyes red.

“Are you the one they call ‘guardian of the monsters’?” he growled, his voice deep within his throat.

“I don’t know,” she retorted sassily, “It depends on who’s looking.”

“My name is Midnight. And you’re coming with me, oh discourteous one.”

“Holly, what’s going on?” said a blue and white wolf emerging from another door towards the back of the room. Seeing the other wolf, a Terror-Dog, the hair on his back bristled with rage.

“Now, now, no need to get all temperamental,” laughed the black wolf sarcastically, fangs gleaming bright white against his dark fur, “Give me the girl and there will be no trouble.”

“You’re crazy if you think were going to give up Holly,” snarled the other wolf, getting ready to attack.

“Tiger,” Holly whispered gently, placing her hand on his shoulder blade.

“Why do you want me?” she asked, sad eyes watching the tiger sub breed pace the floor in front of the entrance.

“The almighty Pharaoh requests your presence. Need I say more? Chop chop! He’s not exactly the most patient person in the world,” growled the black tiger.

“Pharaoh?” asked Holly. Who’s he, she thought to herself. “Not while I’m around,” came a voice from the loft. Holly’s father stealthily leapt down from the top rung of the ladder. He may have been older, but he was still in shape.

“You know, this is very amusing, but I’m not going to waste my time any more. Attack!” he roared. Suddenly from behind him jumped an Antores and a Crimson-Eyed, and they stormed past the Terror-Dog. Holly screamed as Tiger sent a Blizzard in their direction and it bounced off their thick hides to come flying at her. She ducked quickly. Tiger used Lightning, but it too bounced off, almost striking Holly’s father. The Crimson-Eyed shot a torpedo, and it his it’s target easily. Holly gasped as she watched Tiger fall to the ground, breathing shallowly. Her father rushed over and stood in front of her, but the Antores grabbed him and threw him across the room. Holly looked up into his black beady eyes.

“Please, I’ll go, just don’t hurt them anymore,” she gulped, trying to hold back torrents of tears. The Antores nodded and gripped her around the waist incredibly gently, considering his rage of before. He picked her up, sat her on his back, and without so much as a goodbye, Holly was carried off to Pharaoh’s palace in the Desert of Death.

Genki looked around somewhat nervously as he sauntered through the frat house’s door with Yama and his other friends. There was only one purpose for him to be here, and boy was she worth it, he thought. Alexia Grenichwood was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Well, one of the most beautiful at least…

“There she is man,” Yama sighed as they both put the petite and pretty cheerleader into their sights. She tossed her long blond hair when she saw Yama and Genki looking at her, and winked one of her sly green eyes. Yama, always the suave one, winked back and nodded in her direction. She smiled cutely, but turned back to her circle of friends to continue their conversation.

“She winked at you boy,” Yama said cheerfully, but saw Genki’s distressed look.

“No, she winked at you,” he said sullenly. He rolled his eyes at the thought that he would ever have a chance with this girl. “I’m just gonna go walk around,” he continued.

“Genki man, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Yama started, disappointed that Genki automatically thought his chances were over.

“It’s okay Yama,” Genki reassured, “You were just trying to help.” He turned around and stalked off in the opposite direction of the girls. Yama shrugged, then saw Genki’s dream girl walk over curiously.

“Where’d your cute friend go?” she asked, cocking her blond head.

“Over there,” he pointed, hopeful that she would follow his directions. To his satisfaction she smiled and did. Yama trailed her just in case he could be of any assistance.

Genki had ended up in the living room of the sorority house where several guys and girls were crowded around a large screen TV. Weaseling his way through, he could see that some guy from one of his classes was flaunting a disc.

“Ready to check out the most awesome video game ever made?” asked the guy cockily. He spun the disc on his finger and expertly placed it in the PlayStation.

“What is it?” Genki asked, voice raised to get past all the whispers and snickers as the player settled back on the couch amidst all his friends.

“Why don’t you see for yourself,” he said, holding up the controls. Genki accepted the paddle and sat on the floor in front of the TV, ready to be disgusted by some gun-slinging madman or an idiotic girl with an overdone hourglass figure. Instead, however, the scene opened up on something almost real, something very familiar… “Just skip the intro man,” encouraged the guy who had given him the controls.

“No way, I gotta see this,” he said more to himself than as a reply. The scene was a small village surrounded by a dense forest. As is zoomed in, you could see figures everywhere. They were monsters, all frolicking in a large field in front of one little house up on a hill. Suddenly a voice began to narrate.

“Several years ago, in this very world, an evil monster and his minions were defeated by a glorious group of rebels, lead by a courageous young boy from another world, and the help of the Phoenix and the magic stone of course…” An image of the Phoenix soared by, and a scene that Genki could never have made himself erase from his mind followed. He and the others watched as a boy, a girl, and several misfit monsters watched Moo scream in pain when the Phoenix attacked his Dragon’s body. Sad music accompanied as he watched the boy hug all of his comrades and jump through a portal back to the real world.

“…When this boy returned to our world his accomplishments were not forgotten, especially by Miss Holly. The monsters and the people were all so grateful to her for her part in the defeat that they named her “Guardian of the Monsters”. All respected her, and she and her father, who had recently been found not too long after Moo’s defeat, built a little cabin on a hill at the outskirts of a small village. They offered anyone, human or monster, in need of rest or help, their house to stay in. The rebel monsters, of course, remained with them…” The scene changed to show an older man with gray streaks in his red hair and beard standing in front of the cabin. He called to a figure down in the field. It was a girl, and when she turned to face the man Genki was astonished.

“Holly…” he murmured. The rest of the people looked at him funnily, disinterested in the lengthy history of the game.

Her hair was still the same dark shade of auburn, but it was long and hung in a braid over her shoulder. Her hazel eyes blinked sadly, and then it looked as if she had trouble forcing a smile on her face. She stooped to add one more red flower to her multi-colored bouquet, and ran up to where her father stood. They entered the house together, and the little door closed behind them.

“…That very night, trouble arose. As Holly sat gazing out the window, a ferocious Terror-Dog breaks down the door and orders her to come with him. He warns her that he is only a servant, and that his master, a monster called Pharaoh wants her. Little does Holly know that Pharaoh is not only evil, but he is half-human, adding to the problems. Tiger barges in as the Terror Dog is about to attack Holly, and ends up being the one attacked, by two other monsters that the Terror-Dog brought along just in case. Holly’s father tries to stop them, but to no avail. Soon Holly is seen being carried away by the three, never to be seen again…”

The scene changed to a desert where the sand was blowing ferociously in the wind. It zoomed in on a pyramid, where inside a figure with a long white cloak was seen staring at a map of the monster world, one that Genki knew by heart. He muttered something about conquering the Northlands, when the Terror-Dog, an Antores, and a Crimson-Eyed entered and bowed before him.

“Where is the girl?” he asked sullenly.

“She is here, great Pharaoh,” hissed the Crimson-Eyed, yanking on a long chain he had been dragging. Holly stumbled in, her braid disheveled with the dust and her face and arms dark with the sun.

Pharaoh turned, and Genki gasped as he saw the face. It was a mask, golden like a Gali’s, but looked exactly like one of the real Pharaohs from their world. He smiled and curled his lip in amusement as Holly tried to straighten up and look intimidating.

“…Now Holly is trapped, and though she is not mistreated, she is imprisoned just the same. Her father, Tiger, and the other rebels will stop at nothing to get her back, but Pharaoh has other plans…” Pharaoh’s eyes glowed blood red as he laughed maniacally, and swung his cloak around to disappear. The words “Monster Rancher- A New Evil” appeared on the screen. As the menu began to load, Genki looked up and noticed that mostly everyone had left the couch and the area surrounding it; even the guy that insisted he play. He reached and grabbed the case, looking on the back.

“The first Monster Rancher fully interactive role-playing PlayStation game. You choose from among ten familiar characters and head off on your mission to rescue the beloved Holly from Pharaoh’s evil grip. As you cross the…”

“What are you doing?” asked a female voice curiously, “The party’s out there yah know…” Genki looked up from the screen to see the blond cheerleader blink at him with her big green eyes.

“Playing a game,” he muttered as he turned his attention back to TV. The character options menu appeared. It was a choice of Tiger, Hare, Suezo, Mocchi, Golem, Holly’s father, or either of four other monsters, which Genki had never seen before. He smiled to see Mocchi among the crew, and decided he’d like to see his little monster’s point of view.

“Your name’s Genki, right?” the girl asked, sitting on the floor beside him, “Mine’s…”

“Alexia. I know.” He watched her as she picked up the disc case and started to read the back.

“Hey, my little brother has one of these games,” she said quietly as Genki went through more of the setup process, “I used to help him raise his monsters.”

“This one’s different though, more of an adventure type thing,” he replied, finally finished with the setup, and waiting for the main game to load.

“Hey y’all,” came a male voice from behind them. Yama jumped over the back of the couch to land on the seat, where he immediately focused his attention on the TV.

“You never told me there was a new Monster Rancher game out,” Genki said over his shoulder as Yama took the case from Lexy and studied the back.

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were in to the whole breeding thing,” Yama said, shrugging his shoulders, “Besides this is like totally different.”

“I used to have one and two when I was a kid,” Genki sighed as the message “Please Wait” continued to remain on the screen. Suddenly it dissolved, and Mocchi appeared, along with the nine other monsters in the group. They started talking, and Genki had to either agree or disagree about whether they should unlock the mystery disc they had just found, or carry on and take care of it later.

Something inside him snapped. Of course, he thought, this is what I’ve been waiting for all along. He hit the x button, and watched as the group headed through a shrine door. Mocchi commented that hopefully this monster would be willing to aide them on their quest to retrieve Holly as everyone watched Holly’s father place the disc in the center of the 4 pillars and let it float up in the air until it was at waist level.

“Please insert another disc,” came the voice from the TV, and Genki immediately looked around the room.

“Quick, get me a CD,” he urged Lexy, who got up and headed over to the CD rack in the far corner of the room.

“Does it matter which one?” she asked, “I heard that…” “No,” he interrupted, a little too rudely, “Just grab one. I don’t have much time.” She picked one off the top shelf and tossed it to him.

“Hey Genki,” Yama asked, a little confused about his excitement over a mere game, “It says here that the boy that disappeared was named Genki. Isn’t that funny?”

“Not really,” Genki shot back, placing the CD in the PlayStation.

“But it’s kind of weird that…”

“It’s not a coincidence, if that’s what your thinking,” he said quietly. He closed the cover and hit the x button just as Holly’s father hit the buttons in the shrine, sending both discs spinning.

“Uh, okay,” remarked Lexy as she was about to sit back down beside him. Genki stopped her though.

“You two better get out of the room, I don’t think you want to be a part of this,” he started.

“Huh?” asked Yama, now truly confused.

“Just leave okay?” he ordered. The words “Please reinsert ‘Monster Rancher: A New Evil’” appeared on the screen. Genki took out the CD and handed it to Lexy, who put it back in the case.

“The Bangles “Walk Like an Egyptian”? What planet are these idiot frat freaks from anyways?” she muttered, looking at Yama, who was still watching Genki with his eyes wide.

“Go!” Genki urged as he reached to place the Monster Rancher disc back in the PlayStation.

“I think you need to lie down for awhile,” laughed Yama, his eyebrows raised. Neither of them budged.

“Suit yourselves,” Genki muttered as he closed the cover and hit x, “I’m going back.”

“What the?” Lexy exclaimed, noticing the whole room was starting to fade out.

“I didn’t think I had that many beers…” gasped Yama as he too watched the room begin to swirl around. Genki’s eyes never left the screen.

“Genki!” two voices called as the entire living room turned into a dark pit of black. All they could see was the TV and Genki sitting in front of it, holding the PlayStation in his lap. A flash of light followed, and Genki, Yama, and Lexy were all sucked in to the monster world through the frat house’s living room TV.

A few minutes later the very same guy that had made Genki take the controls wandered back into the room. Noticing that the screen was empty, he looked around the room curiously.

“Where’d they go?” he asked himself. Shrugging his shoulders, he headed back out into the party. All through the frat house, a lot of people were asking themselves the very same question. The only problem was, nobody would ever know the answer.

Chapter 2

A large yellow eyeball monster paced back and forth impatiently on the hardwood floor of the little cabin that belonged to Holly and her father. “Oh Holly,” he muttered to himself, “Sometimes I wish you would be a little less passive and a lot more aggressive.”

“Don’t say that Suezo,” Hare said concernedly, “If she hadn’t of gone peacefully, Tiger and the old man over here would’ve been toast.”

“Who’re you callin’ old man, you dumb bunny,” growled Holly’s father, who was hurriedly shoving some necessities into his already overloaded pack. Tiger snickered at his comment, and Hare shot him a dirty look.

“Golem thinks that we should ask Pixie and Big Blue for help,” the gigantic rock monster confided quietly.

“Mocchi think so too!” exclaimed a little pink duck-like monster, who jumped up and down excitedly. They had not done much adventuring since their journey to find the Phoenix, after all…

As Holly’s father was about to reply that he had already sent a messenger to ask the two aloof monsters if they would join them, he looked up at the ceiling and noticed that slowly the wood was beginning to warp. It started to swirl, and Suezo immediately knew what was happening.

“Get outta the way!” he shouted as he skidded across the floor to stand near the wall. The rest of the crew just looked at him nervously, and made no movements. Suddenly a loud crack sounded through the little house, and one by one Genki, Lexy, and Yama came flying from out of the ceiling to land ungracefully on top of Hare, Tiger, Mocchi, and Holly’s father. A shower of strange objects followed, including a heavy candlestick that managed to conk Hare on the head hard enough to make him screech.

“I warned you,” laughed Suezo as he watched the tangled mess moan and groan and slowly stagger to their feet. He looked at the teenage boy and his companions that had fallen from the roof. He was about to ask the boy a few questions, when Mocchi leaped from the ground straight into his arms. The boy hugged the monster tightly, then smiled to all of the monsters.

“Genki?” Suezo asked, warily cocking his eyebrow.

“You know it,” Genki smiled back. Gazing around the room happily, he shook his head and laughed. I’m back, he thought, and squeezed Mocchi even tighter. I’m back.

Holly opened her hazel eyes slowly and brought her fist up towards her face to rub the sleep out of them. As her hand was about to make contact, however, something clanged, and she could feel the cold manacles wrapped around her wrists. Her eyes widened and she tried to sit up, but she could not bring her arms underneath her upper body to push herself up. She tried to pull her legs up towards her chest, but she felt the cool metal against her ankles, and knew then that she was completely helpless. The sun was shining in wherever she was chained, but all she could see was the rough cut stone that made up the ceiling and the far wall. Her head hurt badly from laying on the stone platform without a pillow. Tears began to stream unwelcome down her sunburnt face, and soon she was sobbing uncontrollably, body heaving, as the sun wandered its way a little further into her rocky prison.

“Why did we get transported here?” asked Genki as he helped Holly’s father gather up some of the last fruits and vegetables they would need to make it to Pixie and Big Blue’s hideaway in the mountains to the north. “In the game you guys were already well on your way, and you had found a mystery disc.”

“I don’t know,” pondered Hare. He too had begun to pace back and forth with Suezo as they waited for everyone to be ready. Yama and Lexy just sat off in a corner, watching with awe as the monsters milled about, before no more than figments of their imagination, now very real.

“Maybe it’s because the game realized that you had to start a little farther back to really get the grasp of things again,” sighed Tiger.

“How’s Greywolf doing?” the boy asked nonchalantly as he hoisted up a large pack on his shoulder.

“Oh he’s off gallivanting with some radical group, spreading the word about some “new evil”. Personally, I think it’s a crock, but others say that…”

“Pharaoh’s the one, isn’t he?” Genki asked nervously.

“That’s what they’re saying,” responded Suezo, “And right now he has Holly.” A shadow came over Genki’s eyes. Poor Holly, he thought, I hope she’s alright.

“So you read for another wild goose chase kid?” Holly’s father asked a worried look on his face.

“No sweat,” Genki reassured. The monsters and Holly’s father filed out of the building, leaving Genki to confront Yama and Lexy, who had pretty much blended into the background since they had arrived.

“Genki, this is…” Yama stammered.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Genki chuckled as he helped them both up from their positions on the floor, “This is the craziest and most idiotic thing you’ve ever done. All I can say is; I told yah so!”

“Come on Genki, how are we supposed to get outta here?” Lexy whined, “I wanna go home.”

“Fine, just go down into the village and find Professor Sakeuro. He can try to get you home through the portal that I used to go back, but it’s been eight years. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I’m sure he’ll be willing to give it a shot.”

“You’re not coming?” Yama asked, eyes widening.

“No way,” exclaimed Genki, a smile on his face, “I’ve waited forever to get back here, and I’m not ready to go home now!”

“Then we’ll stay too,” said Lexy determinedly, balling her fists at her sides, “after all, how bad could it be?” Yama nodded and agreed.

“Yah might just have to give us a little background on this place, so we aren’t left completely in the dark.”

“Great,” he said, smiling, “We’d better get moving. When anything to do with Holly is at stake, Suezo waits for no one.” The two other humans laughed, and generously took some of Genki’s load and strapped it to their own backs. In a matter of minutes, the mismatched group of misfits made their way out of the village and into the forest beyond.

Pharaoh’s golden face glimmered in the sunlight as he strode down the hall in his temple to a small room with a barred door. Flying closely behind him were many different varieties of Pixies, some carrying silks and jewelry, others bearing trays of fruit and bottles of numerous drinks. He easily lifted the bar and swung wide the doors, white cloak billowing behind him from the gust of wind created by the motion.

Holly eyes danced wildly as she heard voices and laughter coming towards her. Something creaked open and footsteps came rapidly to where she was held by the restraints, followed by swooshes that could have only come from Pixie wings. She vainly tried to crane her neck around so she could see what was coming, but in doing so, she felt a sharp pain in her neck. Taking a deep breath as she felt the tendon pull, she balled up her fists and waited for whatever it was to hurry up and get there.

Pharaoh smiled when he saw the beautiful girl shackled to a low platform in the middle of the room, flat on her back. Her hair was tangled and her clothes were drenched with sweat from the immense heat. What interested Pharaoh the most about this woman was not her unkempt state, but her face. She glared at him defiantly with eyes of fire and jerked her fists against the chains, as if trying to reach out and hit him. He just sauntered around the platform once, and then stopped at her head. She narrowed her eyes as he brought his gloved hand down to caress her dirty cheek. In a split second she growled and, flashing her teeth similar to an animal, bit his hand as hard as she could.

Swearing, Pharaoh jumped back from the platform, trying to wring the pain out of his hand. The Pixies, mostly Angels, were giggling in the background and whispering, but one nasty look from him stopped them short.

“Let me go,” Holly growled, jerking her limbs around harder.

“Pull one more stunt like that and I’ll have you locked up for an eternity,” he hissed, smacking her across the face with the back of his hand. She winced at the blow, trying to reach her own hand to her cheek. He grabbed her wrists and pulled her arms down to her sides.

“We can do this my way, or the hard way,” he said slyly, putting his face dangerously close to hers. She could feel his hot breath on her forehead. She tried to squirm and get loose from his iron grip, but he only tightened it, threatening to break her wrists. She screamed in pain as he pressed her arms into the stone platform.

“Stop,” she pleaded, pain enveloping her upper body, “please, I’ll do whatever you want, just…”

“That’s the answer I was waiting for,” he was about to let up on the pressure, but the agony was too great. Holly spiraled out of consciousness and into a pit of black, where she would remain for a few days.

Pharaoh, immediately released her arms, and stepped back.

“Now see what you have done Master,” cried a Mint disgustedly as she flapped over. Setting down her bundle of material, she checked Holly’s pulse and listened for her breath. Luckily, both were there.

“Poor thing,” she murmured, “You’d better get her out of this torture chamber and into a real room where she can rest in bed for awhile.” Pharaoh nodded, half amazed over his own strength, half ashamed for putting Holly through all that pain. He clapped his hands, and two Prince Hares trotted over from the hallway. They unlocked the manacles and the Mint gently lifted the limp girl and carried her off down the hall. As she flew forward she looked down at her face and wondered why Pharaoh wanted her so badly. Shaking her head sadly, she concentrated on finding a room where she could put the girl to rest, away from her master and the rest of the servants. She knew that Pharaoh would not wait long, however. Sighing, she glided around a corner and disappeared from view.

The small army of monsters and humans were gathered around a quaint campfire, enjoying some well-deserved rest after their day of what seemed like endless walking. Yama and Lexy had easily adapted themselves to the life that Genki had once loved, traveling constantly and camping out under the stars. The monsters had accepted them as part of the team, and Mocchi especially adored Lexy, who in some ways reminded him of Holly with her warm disposition.

Genki explained to the newcomers all about their mission to find the Phoenix, and Holly’s father and the monsters explained to the three humans what had happened in the past eight years.

“So, no offense or anything, but what would this Pharaoh guy want with your daughter? I mean she’s just a regular girl, right?” asked Yama curiously.

“No, she isn’t,” said Holly’s father, sighing, “She and I both possess the powers of the magic stone, except over the years she has learned to fine tune hers so that she doesn’t even have to use the stone itself anymore. She can easily sense the presence of a mystery disc, sometimes even ten or twenty feet under the ground. It’s uncanny.”

“Do you think Pharaoh wants her to find mystery discs for him?” Genki mumbled his mouth full of their fish dinner. Lexy cocked her eyebrow, and grinning sheepishly, he swallowed it. Mocchi giggled and climbed into the girl’s lap.

“Probably to build up an army. Just what we need, another hostile takeover,” growled Tiger, his head resting on his paws.

“He couldn’t be interested in her romantically could he?” Yama asked, shrugging his shoulders, “She sounds pretty enough.”

“I should hope not,” Holly’s father growled, appalled at the thought.

“Well, you never know,” said Hare in his scientific voice, “As I recall Captain Horn had quite a thing for her…” Genki rolled his eyes and growled.

“Rumor has it that Pharaoh’s part human…” sighed Suezo.

“Don’t be ridiculous guys,” he said sullenly, “Holly would never fall in love with a monster.” He got up and stalked away from the fire, leaving everyone except Yama stumped with his behavior. Should have known, the older boy snickered to himself, Genki always was the jealous type. But what about Lexy, he thought, eyeing the very attractive girl at his side. She glanced up at Yama, a concerned look on her face.

“Mocchi thinks Genki misses Holly,” the little monster said quietly, watching his human friend disappear into the thick tangle of trees. Lexy nodded and patted him on the head. I guess he has someone else on his mind, she thought, a little disappointed.

Genki wandered off into the dark, where he could be alone with his mixed up emotions. What are you doing, he scolded himself, you don’t have a thing for Holly. Do you? He shook the confusing thoughts from his head and tripped forward into the forest. Maybe some time alone will set me straight, he decided, or atleast give me something else to think about.

Holly’s eyelids fluttered open gently, and she saw a group of curious Angel faces all staring back at her. She attempted to sit up, and this time she achieved her goal. She was in a beautiful room overlooking a desert oasis. She ran her hands through her dirty hair and then over the silk pillow her head had been resting on.

“Where am I?” she asked groggily, rubbing her head. The Pixies began to chatter all at once, and she couldn’t understand any of them, they were all talking so fast. Suddenly a female voice shouted above the others, and the miscellaneous Pixies cleared out to reveal the speaker. It was a Mint, and she hovered over to Holly’s bedside.

“Are you feeling better Miss Holly?” she asked, feeling the girl’s forehead with the back of her hand. Holly blinked confusedly, but the Mint just smiled.

“You have been unconscious for almost a week,” she sighed. Holly gasped, remembering the painful ordeal with Pharaoh. She looked around again.

“Why did he put me in here?”

“He doesn’t wish for you to be tortured Miss Holly, he just lost his temper. I urged him to let you rest for awhile before he called on you again.”

“Who are you?” Holly asked, watching the Mint as she went over to a table in the corner and brought over a breakfast tray, filled with food.

“My name is Allegra, one of Pharaoh’s personal servants, and I have been put in charge of your welfare during your stay at Pharaoh’s temple,” she said. She sat gently on the side of the bed and offered her some strange type of pastry. Not having eaten in over a week, the starving girl gratefully accepted it.

“How long is he going to keep me here?” Holly questioned, eyes wavering.

“That I do not know,” Allegra said sadly, but then perked up. “However, as long as you are here, you might as well be as comfortable as possible. Go ahead and eat as much as you like, and if you want to, take a bath.” She pointed towards a deep bathtub standing in the middle of a stone island, sheer material draped from rods surrounding it. Holly looked a little uncertain.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure no one disturbs you,” assured Allegra, who got up and headed to the door, “I’ll be back in a few hours.” She smiled at Holly and flew off, leaving her alone.

Holly pushed aside the silver platter of food, then stepped out of the large four poster bed and down from the island it was perched on. She cautiously walked to the windows and drew the sheer curtains closed. Tiptoeing over to the bathtub, she examined all the perfumes, lotions, and bath oils that sat on a built-in shelf that circled around it. Not being able to resist, Holly pulled the red dress over her head and let it fall to the floor. Soon the rest of her clothes made up a small pile on the tiles, and she stepped into the steaming water happily. Reaching to the back of her head, she untied the familiar red ribbon at the end of her long braid, letting her auburn hair unweave itself onto her bare back. She sunk into the water, leaned her head back on the edge of the porcelain structure, and closed her eyes. Soon she was drifting off to dreamland, the water washing away her worries atleast for a few hours.

Miles away in a secluded part of the forest, several monsters were discussing their current situation. A purebred Pixie was perched atop a Big Blue’s shoulder, watching as a White-Hound, a Striker, a Stone-Dragon, and an Oscerot converse.

“I say we meet them halfway,” the White-Hound sighed, “With Holly’s father leading the bunch, who knows how long it will take them.”

“I agree Greywolf,” the Stone-Dragon cackled, his voice deep, “We mustn’t give Pharaoh a chance to hurt Miss Holly.”

“Stupid girl,” the Pixie muttered under her breath, “I never did like her that much. She should have learned to fight and stand up for herself.”

“Master Pixie, don’t say that,” Big Blue scolded, “She was always very kind to both of us. Besides, we will have to attack Pharaoh eventually. This just gives us an opportunity to do it sooner than we thought.”

“It does not matter to me,” the Striker said loudly to the Stone-Dragon, “As long as I get to get at Pharaoh, I’m with whatever you decide Steele.”

“I’m with them,” the Oscerot said quietly, “Greywolf, Steele, and I can go and pick up some of your friends while Pixie, Big Blue, and Hurricane look for Ember. He has to be around here somewhere.”

“Then it’s settled,” said the Pixie, flapping off from Big Blue’s shoulder, “We’ll see you in Ember’s Cavern in a few days.” The Oscerot, Greywolf, and Steele nodded to her, and watched as they headed off in the opposite direction they themselves were about to go in. Greywolf let out a long, eerie howl to let the other group know they were coming, and they were off.

Tiger’s ears perked up as he heard the lone howl he recognized as his brother’s drift over the terrain to them. Genki looked at him hopefully, and Tiger nodded with satisfaction. With Greywolf and all of his friends added to the group, they were sure to get Holly back, not to mention dispose of Pharaoh. For good this time.

Allegra and the other Pixies filed into the large room quietly, but as soon as she rounded the corner where the bed and bathtub were situated, Allegra decided to give a warning just in case.

“Miss Holly?” she called, peeking in. She saw Holly sitting, her back to them, in a frilly white bathrobe on the edge of the tub, her hair piled on top of her head in a towel. She turned at Allegra’s voice, and smiled.

“It’s okay Allegra, you can come in,” she sighed. Allegra watched her as she untwirled the towel from her head and let her hair fall in semi-dry dreadlocks on her shoulders. She was about to reach for her pants, red pullover, white shirt, and vest when a Unico stooped over and picked them up first, carrying them away.

“But…” Holly started, but Allegra interrupted her.

“Pharaoh had ordered that an entire new wardrobe be made for you,” she said smiling. Holly’s smile dissolved into a frown quickly.

“Why is he doing all this,” Holly said, shaking her head, “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“It doesn’t to us either,” piped up the Unico, who had returned to the room, “But he seems to be infatuated with you.” She took a sheet of a blue silk from another Pixie and held it up to Holly, cocking her head as she tried to form a picture in her mind.

“He wishes to dine with you tonight,” continued Allegra, amazed that this girl could question all these beautiful gifts from an admirer. Unless, of course, she had someone else that she pined for… “Please just give him a chance to explain himself.”

“It better be an awfully good explanation,” Holly sighed under her breath. She stood still as the Angels surrounded her with bolts of silk, golden trimmings, lace, sheer materials, and various articles of jewelry, and closed her eyes.

“Brother!” Tiger exclaimed as he caught sight of his silver-coated sibling trotting towards the group of travelers that were just about ready to start out again. It had taken a few days for them to meet up, but the reunion between Tiger and Greywolf was worth the rush in their journey. The two wolves attacked each other playfully, rolling and pouncing as they leapt around. A pair of dragons descended down from high up in the air to greet the other members of the group.

“Greetings,” called the Oscerot warmly, her brown, fur-covered scales shifting as she glided over. She bowed her head low and then folded up her large dark wings. “I am Jewel, and this is my friend Steele,” she continued, pointed a sharp claw at the metallic-gray Stone-Dragon that had landed beside her.

“We are acquaintances of Falcon’s” Steele shouted over the series of yips, howls, and growls that had erupted from the Tiger brothers.

“How is Falcon?” asked Genki, remembering the kind purebred Dragon that had helped them rescue Holly long ago.

“He’s is getting older, but he still likes a good romp once in a while. He declined when we asked him to come,” continued Steele, voice still loud, “When he hears you’re back, though, he might just change his mind.” Genki smiled back as Steele flashed him a toothy grin.

“So what’s our plan Greywolf?” asked Holly’s father as the wolves stopped their roughhousing, both panting with their long, pink tongues hanging out.

“Pixie, Big Blue, and our friend Hurricane are heading off to find Ember, while we tag along with you guys, maybe speed things up a little,” Greywolf chuckled. Holly’s father rolled his eyes, but secretly agreed that they had to pick up the pace, before it was too late.

“Why don’t Jewel and I fly a few of the humans ahead for the night, and the rest of you could catch up in the morning?” asked Steele, “That way we’ll have an extra couple miles gone, more than if we all traveled together, atleast.”

“Awesome,” Yama exclaimed, “You’d really give us a ride?”

“Sure thing. Hop on,” encouraged Steele, lowering himself to the ground. Jewel did the same. Lexy was a little reluctant, but when Genki offered her his hand to help her climb up on Jewel, she gratefully accepted it. Once she was on and had her arms wrapped snugly around the boy’s waist, Mocchi hopped up and settled in Genki’s lap. Hare and Suezo decided to ride with Yama on Steele, and in no time the six friends were soaring above the clouds on the dragon’s backs.

Holly looked at herself in the mirror Allegra was holding up for her and rolled her eyes.

“Mystique, I look ridiculous!” she whined as the Unico tried to make her hold still while she combed Holly’s long hair so it hung down untamed on her back. It was not her hair that was bothering her, however. It was the incredibly tall and tight headdress that she had insisted Holly wear. It came to a diamond in the middle of her forehead where a gigantic jewel sat, and the band cut around her skull to come to a peak in the back. The front extended up from the diamond about a foot into the air; long peacock feathers sprouting out from in every direction. Strands of iridescent beads hung down from the sides, making her hair seem to glow. Her bangs were pushed back under the headdress, giving her the high-foreheaded appearance of royalty.

“You look great, like a princess!” encouraged several other Pixie voices from their owners that flocked all around her, spraying perfume in her face or adjusting some part of her costume. Mystique clapped excitedly as she looked at Holly’s painted face. She had outlined her eyes and shaded her eyelids, giving her a cat-like appearance.

“Stand up for us,” Allegra giggled as Holly, sighed and leaned on her hand disgustedly. Not wanting to offend the Pixies because of all the work they had put into dressing her up, she obliged, earning several oohs and aahs from the adoring servants.

“Miss Holly, you look absolutely stunning,” cooed Mystique, flapping her wings excitedly. All of a sudden, a long brass-like sound rang throughout the room and the entire palace. The Angels picked up what remained of their silks and jewelry and hurried out of the room through the back way, leaving Holly with Allegra and Mystique, pondering what the toll meant.

The doors to the room burst open, and in marched pair after pair of Prince Hares, all with horns that they insisted on blowing loudly. Holly winced as the shrill noise hung in her ears. Finally, the Terror-Dog that Holly recognized as her one of the monsters that brought her to the temple a few weeks ago entered the room. He looked at the dolled up Holly a little confusedly at first, but then his black lips curled back into a sly smile.

“Well what have we here?” Midnight snickered as he circled Holly, “The rude little vixen magically transformed into a proud, forgetful peacock. Quite a surprise.” Holly just turned her nose up in the air and waited for the Terror-Dog to finish inspecting her.

“Pharaoh requests your presence in his Throne Room at once,” growled Midnight, stalking off towards the exit, his long black tail swishing. Holly’s eyes teared a little, but she straightened up and confidently followed. Allegra and Mystique watched in awe as the very upset girl tried to contain her sobs as she rounded the corner to await her fate.

Pharaoh sat in his lavishly decorated throne, his head resting in his hand as he waited impatiently for her to appear. He knew that all the gifts he had presented to her must have left her impressed and speechless, and he secretly hoped that she would be grateful for all that he had done. When he had chosen her as the one, her abilities with the magic stone was not the only thing that drew him in. Her beauty, even after several days spent in the hot desert sun, had astonished him, because he knew that it came from within.

As he was daydreaming, the Terror-Dog entered and bowed before him, smiling.

“Oh great Pharaoh, I present to you, Miss Holly.” He backed away, leaving the floor open. Allegra and Mystique floated in and landed to either side of him. He could here her soft footsteps as she lightly padded down the hallway.

Holly paused at the door and quickly adjusted her hair on her shoulders. What does he want from me, she thought sadly, swiping away a tear from her cheek. Taking a deep breath and straightening up her thin frame, she turned the corner and walked in slowly.

Pharaoh gasped when he saw her. She trembled terribly, but he could tell she was trying to act prominent. Her long, empire-waisted dress gathered in the middle with a large stone flowed behind her delicately. Her sheer, billowy sleeves hung down to the floor, and the elaborate headdress that sat on her head towered above her, making her seem much taller and goddess-like. He could not help but stare.

Holly saw the look on Pharaoh’s face, and practically kicked herself for letting the Pixies dress her up like a doll. She continued to walk until she was directly in front of him, then stopped and looked him straight in the face.

Pharaoh took Holly’s hand in his and kissed it lightly. The girl’s expressionless face remained unchanged, even when Pharaoh went so far as to run his fingers through her hair and correct an untidy strand. Mystique tossed her short brown hair and Allegra swished her long bushy tail. They could not wait to see this. They never had the privilege, however.

“What do you want from me, oh mighty Pharaoh,” she said coldly.

“Less than you think,” he replied quickly, giving her an amused smile, “Let’s discuss my propositions over dinner.” He clapped his hands loudly, and several of the Prince Hares that had escorted the Terror-Dog to her room surrounded Pharaoh and Holly. He reached out and pulled her close to him, a little too close for Holly’s comfort. He wrapped one arm tightly around her waist, hand pressed on her side, and with his other hand, gathered up his cloak. With one quick movement, he drew the cloak over both of them, and they vanished.

Lexy gazed dreamily from her spot perched high on a dragon’s back at the landscape zooming by below. It had always been a childhood dream of hers to meet a dragon, and she owed Genki everything for giving her the opportunity.

“Yo Genki, this is awesome!” called Yama from Steele’s back nearby. The rock dragon did a loop the loop, much to Yama’s delight, but terrifying Hare and Suezo, who were both hanging on for their lives.

“Ugh, you’re slobbering all over me,” whined Hare, disgusted that Suezo had his very long tongue wrapped around his waist. Suezo, trying to talk, only lost his grip with his tongue. He tumbled backwards, screaming bloody murder, as he was about to plummet to the earth.

“There’s no one there to catch me!!!” he screamed. Just as he did, though, Yama reached down quickly and caught up Suezo’s handkerchief that he always had around his neck. The boy lifted the monster up and set him in his lap. Suezo took a long breath in relief, and sat contentedly for the rest of the flight.

Soon they had pulled way ahead of the others, almost to the spot where the six other friends had been camped the night before. Dark had started to fall, and the Dragons were both breathing heavily from their weighty loads. Silently they glided down to the earth in a small meadow area filled with flowers.

“Golem would love it here,” commented Genki as he leapt off Jewel’s back, followed by Lexy who was carrying a sleeping Mocchi. Steele landed a few feet away, and Suezo hopped out of Yama’s lap without so much as a thank you.

“Well your welcome,” Yama called to the eyeball, who in return just muttered something about being grateful and wandered off.

“He’s just sad about Holly,” Hare said as they settled down to get a fire going, “Those two were always inseparable. The only thing I could never understand was how someone as sweet as Holly would end up with a monster like Suezo.”

“One word,” sighed Genki, “Spoiled rotten.”

“That’s two words,” Lexy corrected, laughing at his obvious mistake.

“Don’t rub it in,” he yawned, “I think I need some sleep.”

He reached into his pack and pulled out a bunched up sleeping bag. Unfurling it with a snap, he immediately climbed in and before they knew it, he was fast asleep.

Yama noticed Lexy looking a little jealously at Mocchi, who had curled up comfortably in Genki’s arms.

“You like him a lot, don’t you?” he asked inquisitively. Lexy shook herself out of the daze she was in and nodded.

“Isn’t he so cute?” she sighed, eyes starry.

“Ummm, I’ll have to pass on that one,” Yama laughed, rolling his eyes.

“It’s just too bad he’s so hung up over this Holly person,” continued Lexy, resting her head in her hands, “I mean he said she was like five or six years older than him, right?”

“Actually, I think he said three, but whatever, I see your point. Why want the older one when you could have the more experienced,” Yama said suavely, winking at Lexy. This time she was the one to roll her eyes.

“Obviously he doesn’t seem to care about whether she is experienced or not. I have a feeling it’s her personality that’s attracting him,” she muttered.

“But he said she was pretty,” Yama interjected, emphasizing words that Lexy did not want to hear.

“As pretty as me?” she asked Yama slyly, and he just shrugged. “I highly doubt that,” she snickered.

“A little jealous?” he asked sarcastically.

“Of someone I’ve never even met; No way!” she laughed airily, “It’s just that when she meets me, she’d better watch out.”

“Because…” he continued, waving his hand in the air.

“Because,” she said cockily, “Genki is mine.” She smiled a cute little smile, then took out her sleeping bag. Moving a few feet away from the guys, she rolled hers open, and climbed in.

Yama shook his head. Poor girl, he thought as he tried to formulate a picture of Holly in his head, hasn’t she been through enough already? And now that Genki’s back with another girl… Yama shook his head again, watching his version of Holly disappear. I just hope when Genki sees Holly he gets over Lexy so fast she won’t know what to do. Snickering, he pulled the top of his sleeping bag up to his chest and rolled over, drifting off into a dreamless sleep.

Holly found herself, to her own dismay, wrapping her arms around Pharaoh’s waist when he pulled the cloak over him, for she knew what was coming. As the darkness surrounded them, the floor began to move away, or actually, they began to move. Her feet lifted off the ground, and she realized that if he had not held on, she would have plummeted into the nothingness. Pharaoh was using one of the only Gali-like traits of his that Holly had seen, and that was to teleport. She closed her eyes tightly as the world started to spin. It stopped almost abruptly as it started, however, and Holly felt her feet touch the ground wherever he had taken her. He loosened his grip around her waist, and in return, she loosened hers around his. Stepping back from her, Pharaoh adjusted his cloak and held up his arms.

“Look around,” he said, his own eyes wandering around the room. She took a step towards a large window, really just an opening between two columns, and saw water below. Leaning out over the sill, she saw that they were on some sort of boat.

“It’s my private barge,” he called from behind her. She turned to see him lounging on a settee in the middle of the room, several Angels surrounding him, sitting on cushions around the couch and holding trays of pastries, fruits, and glasses of a beverage, most likely wine. “Come, eat,” he beckoned.

She wandered over hesitantly, watching as the Angels giggled and hand-fed grapes and melon slices to Pharaoh. Their expressions turned sour, however, when he pushed several of them away to make room for Holly. She perched uncertainly on a large burgundy cushion. One of the kinder Angels handed her a bunch of grapes, from which she plucked a few and placed them in her mouth. They tasted heavenly.

Pharaoh watched as the girl savored the sweet taste in her mouth before taking a few more. He clapped loudly, and the Angels immediately flapped off, leaving he and Holly alone.

She looked up at him as he clapped again. A slow, beautiful ballad wafted its way through the room like a well-known smell from the kitchen.

“Tell me, Miss Holly, why do you think I brought you here,” he said, his gold lips curling upward in approval.

“Why don’t you tell me,” she cooed, a little too flirtatiously.

“You are a very powerful woman, Miss Holly,” he smirked, “Do you realize that?”

“Am I supposed to?” she said cutely, plucking another grape from the stem and sliding it into her mouth.

“Oh, no, my peacock princess,” he said, taking a glass of wine from the tray on the floor nearby, “Apparently you do not. Why your beauty could make any man fall madly in love with you…” He reached over and grasped her chin, turning her face towards his.

“Too bad it doesn’t work on monsters,” she hissed, eyes narrowing.

“Quite the contrary. But Miss Holly,” he laughed loudly, “You forget that I am part human.”

“Just because you claim that you are doesn’t make you one inside. No one but a monster would…”

“That’s enough,” he growled, tightening his hold on her chin. Her eyes waved wildly back and forth as she felt him slide his hand up her arm and under her hair.

“You truly want to know why I brought you here,” he asked, his face very close to hers. She nodded, and he let go of her chin.

“All this could be yours, princess, if you do one thing and one thing only for me,” He said, staring deep into her eyes.

“Wh…what,” she stammered. Nevertheless, she already knew what he was going to say.

“Marry me,” he whispered in her ear. Her eyes snapped and she tried to pull away, but then found out the purpose of the hand he had placed at the nape of her neck. His cold, gold lips touched hers, and he pulled her into a fierce kiss. Despite how she struggled, he would not let go. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he broke it off and stepped away, leaving Holly to stare breathlessly at him. Smiling nonchalantly, he clapped his hands, summoning the Angels back from wherever they had gone.

“Take her back to the temple. I’m through with her for now,” he said satisfactorily, hooking an Angel’s arm in each of his. Then he was gone.

Holly felt sick. Her head felt light and airy, as if it would float away. Her hand went to her forehead, but she did not manage to hold herself up. Spiraling back into darkness, she collapsed on the floor, to the surprise and delight of the jealous Angels.

Pixie sighed as she flapped her wings gently to land on the ground at Big Blue’s feet. They had been walking for a few days, and they had finally made it to Ember’s Cavern. Hurricane slid ahead and entered the dark cave where their Phoenix friend usually stayed when he was not with them. They heard shouts from inside, and a few happy screeches. He was home.

They walked inside and instantly came into a dimly lit area. The light was coming from the Cinder-Bird, who was perched upon a high rock. He looked like cooling coals; grey with veins of reddish gold all over his feathered coat. He smiled kindly at the three.

“Welcome friends,” he laughed, “Boy have I got some news for you…”

“What? More news from the Desert of Death I hope,” growled Hurricane, balling his fists up.

“Precisely. Pharaoh has made quite a move this time,” cackled the Cinder-Bird, stretching out his fiery wings.

“Oh really,” laughed Pixie, sitting down and crossing her legs, “Do tell.”

“Well, my sources inform me…”

“Sources?” asked Big Blue, crossing his arms.

“Yes. I sent my Mint and Unico friends to join Pharaoh’s idiot bunch months ago. Luckily Allegra and Mystique were able to get in as two of Miss Holly’s personal servants, and they’ve been reporting back to me every few days…”

“Wait a minute, slow down,” said Pixie as she shook her red head, not believing her ears, “Servants? Personal servants?”

“That’s what I said. Apparently, Pharaoh has been treating her like a queen, probably because he has every intention of making her his queen…”

“Huh?” Pixie said, bursting into laughter.

“You heard me,” screeched the Cinder-Bird, tired of being interrupted, “He wants to marry her. Poor Miss Holly is so devastated that she hasn’t stopped crying in days, well that’s what Allegra said anyways.”

Pixie was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes.

“What a vain, rotten, ungrateful little human,” she sputtered between cackles, “She doesn’t even have the brains to realize she is so lucky. I would have said yes in a heartbeat if I was her.” With the last comment, Big Blue looked down sadly. Realizing what she had said, Pixie stopped laughing.

“You would never consent if your heart was somewhere else,” Ember said knowingly, looking from the Golem sub-breed to the purebred Pixie.

“So where is her heart then?” Pixie asked, throwing up her hands.

“I think we all know,” Big Blue said, frowning.

“Well what are we waiting for,” growled the Striker impatiently, “Lets go after him before he has a chance to ruin her life and everyone else’s!” Like he did mine, Hurricane thought sadly.

“Yes, we can gather up more friends, and when the others get here we’ll have a full-fledged army ready to go,” smiled Ember. The three others nodded, and the Cinder-Bird directed the conversation elsewhere. Before long loud laughter could be heard from the cave as the four companions talked about long ago.

Part 4

Genki shielded his eyes from the harsh sun. It had beat down endlessly since early morning, and they had been walking just as long. The straps of his pack were biting into his skin through his thin tee shirt, and his feet were sore from all the traveling they had done. He had thought when he first returned that he could easily transfer back to this way of life, but his childhood energy seemed to have taken a nose-dive, and now instead of leading it, he trailed the pack. “Genki needs to rest,” Golem said, picking up the exhausted teenager and placing him on his shoulder as he had often seen Big Blue do to Pixie. Genki nodded in thanks and wiped the back of his hand across his brow, which was covered with sweat.

The other human teenagers were faring the same way, and soon they both rode on Steele, who seemed to tire very little while walking. Mocchi ended up in Lexy’s arms, and Holly’s father ended up taking up Jewel’s offer to carry him. The rest of the monsters moved along sluggishly in the heat, all knowing they were very close to the arid conditions of the Desert of Death, where Pharaoh happened to reside.

“How yah holdin’ up Lexy?” Genki called to the girl, her long blond hair glowing golden from all the sun she had gotten in the past weeks. She smiled a weak smile and hugged Mocchi closer where the sun couldn’t burn his light pink skin.

“I’m alright, I guess,” she replied a few minutes later, “But if it’s this hot in the forest, what’ll it be like in the desert, where there’s no shade at all?”

“Scorching,” replied Greywolf, his tongue dangling from his mouth as he plodded slowly along beside Tiger, “I went into it for a few days once with Ember to scout for a rebel army, and when we got out I was half dead.”

“Why thank you for that lovely anecdote,” said Yama sarcastically, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think we need to rest for awhile. Steele’s starting to drag his feet.” The Stone-Dragon rolled his eyes but nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, lets,” he said raspily.

“You guys are never gonna believe this,” yelled Hare, from his position in the front.

“A lake!” exclaimed Suezo, “Water!”

“Get outta my way,” Tiger growled, running ahead to catch up with the rabbit and the eyeball, who had already taken off for the cool waters. Steele and Jewel both spread their wings and took off, while Greywolf and Golem hurried to catch up with the others on ground. When they reached the edge of the water none of them waded, just plunged headfirst into the blue lifesaver.

Holly was weeping uncontrollably again when Allegra walked in the next morning. The girl had not even permitted them to remove her makeup or any of the heavy costume jewelry, she just threw herself on the bed and started to sob. The Angels had waken her up shortly after they had returned her to the temple, and when she had started to cry after making it back to her room, the group of Angels that had helped dress her up the night before had laughed. In disgust, Allegra and Mystique had made them leave, but they could do nothing to comfort the poor out of place girl.

The Pixie quickly ran over to Holly’s bedside, but she was greeted with a hoarse whisper ordering her to “Go away”. Allegra decided that this had to be the time, and called Mystique to stand beside her.

“Miss Holly, you have to stop crying. We have something very important to tell you,” Mystique begged while Allegra drew the curtains and made sure no one was anywhere near either of the entrances to the room.

“Whatever you’re going to say won’t make any difference,” Holly sniffled, her eyes red, puffy, and black rimmed with running mascara and eye-shadow, “He’s made up his mind, and that’s that!” She broke out into fresh sobs.

“Oh, no miss, this makes all the difference in the world,” Allegra whispered softly. Holly’s eyes widened considerably despite their swollen state as she tried to swallow another sob.

“Are you friends of Greywolf’s?” she asked quietly, wiping her eyes, smearing more makeup over her cheeks.

“Well not exactly. We’re accomplices of Ember’s. Surely Greywolf has talked about him at one time or another.”

“You mean the Cinder-Bird?” she asked hopefully. Mystique and Allegra nodded happily.

“Yes. And we’ve been reporting to him ever since you arrived here. He is gathering up your friends at this very minute!” exclaimed Mystique, a little too loudly. Allegra quickly covered the Unico’s mouth, making Holly smile slightly.

“Suezo, Hare, Golem, Mocchi, Tiger, your father, Greywolf, and a few friends of ours: a Striker, an Oscerot, and a Stone-Dragon; plus some other humans that we haven’t heard of before.”

“Could you tell me their names?” Holly asked curiously, hoping that maybe others from the village she lived near would help for her cause.

“I think Ember said something like Yama and Alexia…” started the Mint.

“No one I’ve ever heard of either,” Holly sighed.

“…And one more, maybe Jen, no it was Gen…Genki I think, but…”

“Genki…” she repeated, interrupting the Mint as she was about to apologize because she had never been good with names. Her heart swelled with happiness at the sheer thought of the brave boy, now all grown up, coming to rescue her.

“Miss Holly, are you okay?” asked Mystique concernedly. The girl had been just staring off into space for around ten minutes after she had uttered the boy’s name.

“I am now,” she said quietly, more to herself than as a reply. I am now.

“Now isn’t this the life,” Genki whispered to himself from his position floating on his back in a small secluded area of the lake. His muscles rippled as he flipped over and dove below the surface. The water rushed over him as he surfaced for air, standing up in the waist deep water. He saw ripples forming and spreading out from behind him, and was about to turn around when he felt two hands slide up his back. He swung his head around to see Lexy standing there in a very skimpy bikini with a bottle of some kind of oil, rubbing palmfuls of it into his tan skin.

“You don’t want to burn,” she said truthfully as she massaged her hands back and forth over his tense shoulder blades. Relaxing, he let her finish with the tanning oil, then turned around.

“Where’d you get the bathing suit?” he asked skeptically.

“Oh, I had it on when I was at the party. Did you think the only reason I was there was to see you?” she teased knowingly, “My girlfriends and I love their swimming pool!” He laughed and smiled.

“What about you?” he asked curiously, gazing at her bare stomach, arms, and legs.

“I just need my back done too,” she cooed, sitting down on a rocky ledge that extended into the water. Dousing his hands with the slippery oil, Genki hesitantly began to repeat the same motions she had used on him. She sighed contentedly as he worked, letting his fingers linger over her soft skin.

Suddenly she leapt up and dove into the deeper part of the cove, her form making a slender arc as she came back up to the surface. He immediately did a cannonball just as she poked her head out of the water, sending a wave to splash her in the face. She grinned and kicked up a stream of water as he stood up. Shaking his head like a dog, water droplets flew from his drenched hair. She screeched and quickly took a mouthful of water and, aiming very accurately, shot it right into his eye.

“Oh I’m gonna get you now,” he growled as he rubbed his eye, then took off after her when she tried to run through the chest deep water. Taking a few strokes, he caught up with her, snared her arm, and pulled her to him. Their uncontainable laughter turned to silence as she reached up and sifted her fingers through his wet hair. Slowly their faces came towards each other, both staring deep into the other’s eyes. Their lips touched gently as Genki slid his arm around Lexy’s waist, pulling her even closer. When her tongue made it's way skillfully into his mouth he allowed it, and soon they were lost in their own little world as the sun beat down hot on their sun-screened shoulders and backs.

Holly tried to hold back the tears as she made her way unescorted down the drafty hallway of the temple to Pharaoh’s throne room. She knew in her mind that she had to do this if she ever wanted to get out, but all her heart could shout was “No!!!”

She wore a dress similar to the one she had had on the night Pharaoh had proposed, but this time she bade the Angels, Mystique, and Allegra to leave off the painful headdresses, chunky costume jewelry, and the heavy coat of makeup. Mystique had braided her hair with three strands of pearls that ran across her forehead like a crown, and she wore a single necklace at her throat. The magic stone could be one of the reasons he wants me, she reasoned to Allegra and Mystique in private. Maybe if I offer it to him as part of the bargain he’ll leave me alone, she had said hopefully. Every minute that passed, however, made her doubt that the statement was true even more and more.

Coming to the gold encrusted double doors that separated the hall from the throne room, she encountered several Prince Hares who were standing guard. She smiled to them as she made her way there, and they quickly and clumsily climbed all over themselves as they swung wide the doors. Nodding her approval, she entered the room and headed straight for Pharaoh.

Pharaoh was astonished to see the girl stalk in confidently as he was conversing with the Antores, the Terror-Dog, and the Crimson-Eyed over their next move.

“Excuse me, oh great Pharaoh, I wish to speak to you,” she said clearly, “Alone.” The three servants growled, hissed, and gave her a once over before leaving the room. Holly bowed before the Pharaoh and he raised his eyebrows as she came forward to kneel at his golden feet.

“Please, your excellency, forgive me for my behavior the last few times we met,” she said quietly, looking up at him with her pleading hazel eyes, “I was being the rash, ungrateful little girl that I thought I had left far behind in my mature age.”

“You are forgiven,” he said suavely, “Isn’t there something else you want to tell me?” He brought his hand to her cheek when she looked down quickly, summoning all the courage she had left in her.

“Yes,” she said slowly as she stood up. She reached around and unhooked the clasp of her necklace. The magic stone glowed as her fingers slid over it’s smooth surface for what she assumed would be the last time. Getting back down on her knees, she held up the stone at his eye-level.

“This is the magic stone. It points your way to mystery discs, sometimes buried very deeply underground. It’s a gift. Oh great Pharaoh, please accept it as a symbol.” The Gali/Human reached out with his golden fingertips and grasped the stone. Holly let the chain slide smoothly out of her hand.

“A symbol of what?” he asked, again reaching for her chin and turning up her face so he could stare deeply into her eyes.

“A symbol,” she whispered, shifting her eyes down, “A symbol of my consent to marry you, my king.” His eyes widened and his heart cried out joyfully, but he contained his excitement as he lifted her up to a standing position.

“You will never regret this, my princess,” he whispered in her ear as he too stood up, “We will be wed at once.” He clapped his hands loudly, and the Prince Hares opened the double doors and marched in.

“Send the word to all my household that Miss Holly will become my wife at sunset tomorrow,” he shouted to them all. At once, they scurried away.

“You may retire to your room,” he told her as he ran his hand up her bare arm, “I will send up my best Angels to help you and yours with the bridal arrangements.” He drew her in and kissed her lips delicately. This time Holly forced herself not to resist.

“Until tomorrow, princess,” he whispered sweetly as he bent over and kissed her hand. He turned and walked away quickly, his white cloak billowing behind him.

As soon as he had left, the tears welled up in her eyes. She collapsed into the large throne, sobbing a few times. Then realizing that he would find out if she did not return to her room at once, Holly turned to the impossible task of drying up her tears and preparing for the worst day of her entire life.

Ember opened one eye slowly and craned his neck around to watch the entrance to the cave he called home. He could hear something stirring outside, and he wanted to be ready in case it was something that was not welcome. Stretching out his wings, his feathers gave off a faint glow as he glided soundlessly over to the entrance.

The sun had just made its appearance in the dark sky, showing wisps of clouds floating across the horizon. As Ember glanced around, though, he noticed something else on the hill in the distance. He called shrilly into the dark cave at the sight of the other half of their army.

Pixie, Big Blue, Hurricane, and others from past adventures that had joined them in the last few days filed outside sluggishly, but when they saw what Ember had shrieked at, they too shouted joyfully to the rebels descending from the hillside.

In no time they all were reunited, now a very large congregation of monsters and humans from all over the monster world. Besides all the a fore mentioned members, they had added a Ducken, a boy and two Worms, a Monol, a Spot Dino, a Centaur and his two Centaur sub-breed friends, and many others. Falcon had finally joined the crew, bringing in his congregation, to Genki’s delight.

Pixie flapped happily over to Genki, then noticed a very content looking Lexy camped on his back.

“What’s with the luggage kid?” she asked sarcastically, as she hugged him after he had set the sleeping Lexy on the ground.

“Just a friend,” he assured as Pixie held him out at an arms length.

“Wow, I guess your not much of a kid anymore,” she laughed as she inspected Genki’s biceps.

“Well I guess that happened when I started working out at the end of high school.”

“So how old are you now exactly?” Pixie asked curiously as they sat down to chat for awhile.

“Nineteen. So you must be…”

“Too old,” she interrupted, “But not old enough to miss out on this.” She crossed her legs and saw Genki had started to stroke the girl’s hair gently.

“Just a friend, huh?” Pixie said quietly as she watched him, a smile on his face.

“Maybe not,” he whispered, then looked up at Pixie.

“Excuse me,” she said suddenly, frowning, then got up and headed in the Cinder-Bird’s direction. He was currently talking to Holly’s father, but when Pixie motioned for him to go with her, he followed.

“What is it Pixie?” Ember asked confusedly.

“Our whole plan may have just blown up in our face,” she sighed, pointing out to Genki, who was still playing with Lexy’s hair.

Ember shook his head sadly. What Pixie said was true, he thought as he nodded and returned to the conversation with poor Holly’s father. For he knew deep inside that the only one who could truly save Holly this time was Genki.

Pharaoh stroked his golden beard as he sat and looked over a large map of the monster world.

“So much wasted space,” he muttered to the Terror-Dog, who was sitting nearby with the Crimson-Eyed and the Antores.

“Yeeessss masssster,” hissed the Crimson-Eyed.

“What do you intend to do with it all once you conquer it?” asked the Antores in a raspy voice.

“First things first,” growled the Terror-Dog, “You had better marry that pretty little vixen before she causes some trouble. Then you can worry about conquering the monster world.”

“Too true Midnight,” Pharaoh laughed, “But I must start dispatching my army all over the desert. My scouts have warned me that that despicable Cinder-Bird is leading a siege to rescue my princess.”

“Foolssss,” hissed the Crimson-Eyed, “They would not lasssst a day in the dessssert.”

“Another good point Minion,” chuckled Pharaoh, “But you never can tell with these rebel idiots. They may have a few tricks up their sleeves.”

“We will be ready for them master,” the Antores said, rearing up on his hind horse’s legs.

“Go Scythe, Midnight, Minion. Make sure they wish they had never dared cross paths with the almighty Pharaoh!” Pharaoh shouted as he sent the three out the door of his private chamber.

Shortly afterwards he clapped and had Allegra and Mystique summoned to his room. They appeared in a few minutes.

“Yes master?” Allegra asked bowing.

“How does my princess fare?”

“She is readying herself for tomorrow with a heavy heart,” said Mystique sadly.

“Why does her heart ache?” he asked, confused at this statement after her complete gesture of willingness that morning.

“She is sad because her father and her friends will not be present when she is married to your highness.” Pharaoh nodded, but something inside him snapped.

“She will try to run,” he muttered, hitting his fist in frustration upon the table that sat in front of him.

“Oh master, please don’t be angry with her for missing her loved ones,” Allegra pleaded, “She may appear a sophisticated lady, but her heart still belongs to a lonely, out of place little girl.”

“You two will watch her,” he concluded, “You will stay with her all through the night and all tomorrow, and make sure yourselves that she remains here. Then she will be mine, and your services as guards will no longer be required. You may go,” Pharaoh motioned towards the door.

“Yes master, we will do exactly as you say,” Mystique promised as they turned to leave. As they were about to step outside the door, Pharaoh called to them.

“Oh and girls,” he said, narrowing his eyes dangerously, “If she escapes…you will both die,” he growled. Before they could utter shocked replies, Pharaoh stood up, encircled himself with his cloak, and disappeared.

Holly threw up her hands in frustration when Allegra and Mystique told her what Pharaoh said.

“I can’t leave now that I’m endangering both of your lives,” she whined. She was pacing back and forth across the marble floor, wringing her hands.

“Do not worry about us Miss Holly,” Allegra assured, “We have been doing things like this for years. Why do you think Ember sent us here in the first place?”

“To get me out I suppose,” Holly agreed, “But how? The Angels and Prince Hares are every where. Not to mention Pharaoh’s three idiot henchmen have armies swarming all over the desert.”

“Do you honestly think we would have come this far without a plan?” Mystique asked disgustedly, wrinkling up her Pixie nose.

“You just be ready by midnight tonight, and we’ll have you on your way in no time,” said Allegra, hugging Holly tightly, “Don’t you trust us?” Holly looked up into the kind eyes of the Mint.

“Yes. I do.” That was all the Pixies needed to hear. In seconds they were explaining the entire plan, detail by detail, to the very grateful young woman.