There was a flash of green light, and an umbrella clattered to the ground. I glared at Thorn, who only smiled.
We were surrounded by at least 200 of Naga’s baddies – mixed troops, made up of Golems, Zuums, Tigers, and Beaclons…a group that didn’t have an overall weakness. The seven Searchers, Thorn, Big Blue and I had just helped to defeat the last of the Big Bad Four. Helped, because someone else had killed him: a little witch who enjoyed using Gigaflame…
With the Searchers on our side, we might have taken the baddies. But with Moo’s floating castle heading towards us as well, it was only a matter of time.
Thorn laughed when I continued to glare at her. “Alright, alright,” she said, laughter coloring her voice. “I’ll do something useful.”
A green glow enveloped about a quarter of the baddies. In a flash, no trace of them remained. Thorn, suddenly tired, leaned against Big Blue for support.
“I didn’t kill them,” she said quietly. “Just sent them elsewhere.”
“Well,” Tiger said. “That should even the odds a bit.” He tensed, then sprang into battle, the other Searchers not far behind him.
“We’re still vastly outnumbered, Tiger,” Hare reminded, a determined grin on his face. “But I’m right behind you. DRAGON KICK!”
“Ready, Blue?” I asked, although I already knew what the answer would be.
Big Blue nodded, and I leapt off his shoulder, leaving him free to enter the fray. I saw Thorn wearily pick up her umbrella and get ready for any baddies that came her way.
I flew straight up, trying to get clear of the bulk of the baddies and get enough space to use a Big Bang without harming my allies. The instant I thought I was far enough, the troop of Bethelgeus set upon me. I Lightninged the closest, then turned quickly to Torpedo one who was trying to attack me from behind. I spun to attack a third…just in time to see his pincers come down hard on my head.
“What is it with baddies and darkness?”
I opened my eyes slowly, to find Big Blue peering down at me anxiously, cradling me in his arms.
“Ya’d almost think that darkness itself is evil, the way they act,” Thorn continued.
“Master Pixie, are you all right?” Big Blue asked softly.
“Or do ya think they all just happen to like things that way?”
“I’m fine, Blue,” I answered. ~Besides having a splitting headache, that is…~ I added to myself. I sat up and turned to Thorn. “Be quiet. No one’s listening, anyway.”
We were once more being held prisoner in Moo’s floating castle, this time in a somewhat larger cell. The seven Searchers were with us, as well; they all looked badly beaten and devoid of energy. Even Genki wasn’t his usual hyper, self. He kept glancing at Mocchi, who didn’t seem to even have enough energy to do anything other than lie there. I had a feeling that the little monster hadn’t quit struggling until Naga’s troops had beaten him senseless. Thorn and Big Blue were in a pretty sorry state as well…I imagined I looked just as bad. Even though that didn’t stop Thorn from being her usual, cheery self…she would smile at Death itself, and ask it one of her ridiculous questions, too.
“Would ya rather sit around with nobody saying anything?” she asked. “That would be kind of depressing, wouldn’t it?”
I only sighed.
“I’m surprised Moo left us alive,” Tiger said after a moment of strained silence.
“Well, Tiger, don’t be,” Hare replied.
Tiger gave him a death look.
“We’ve defeated all of the Big Bad Four,” Hare continued. “Moo has to acknowledge that we’re pretty strong by now.”
“So?” Genki asked sullenly, still looking at Mocchi, as though that might help his friend recover.
“So what, chi?” Mocchi echoed in a small, weakened voice.
“So, Moo would rather have us alive than dead,” Hare explained. “It’s hard to turn dead monsters into baddies.” He paused a moment to let this sink in. Then he looked over at Thorn. “What I’m still trying to figure out is whether Thorn here counts as a monster.”
“Moo tried to turn me into a baddie once,” Thorn said. For once she wasn’t smiling. “It didn’t work.”
I was worried about myself and Big Blue. I had seen what Gray Wolf had become; he had lusted to kill his own brother for Moo. Would Moo be able to change us like that, even after we had broken free of him?
It was an unsettling thought.
“Now, I thought Moo could turn any monster into a baddie.” Hare scratched his chin. “Or am I mistaken?”
Thorn shook her head. “All I know is that it didn’t work on me, about a thousand years ago.” She paused for a moment, looking thoughtful for once in her life. “It felt like he was searching for something he needed inside of me, but for some reason he couldn’t find it. And then he couldn’t go any farther.”
Hare scratched his chin, musing. “Hmm…now what could Moo have been searching for?”
“Moo feeds on hate,” Golem spoke up.
Holly was staring at her dagger, and didn’t look up when she spoke to us. “Monol said that Moo draws out and amplifies the darkness in monsters’ hearts.”
“But if there was no darkness to begin with…” Suezo began, peering at Thorn.
“The Moo wouldn’t have been able to do anything!” Hare concluded.
“Is that even possible?” Tiger asked. He looked directly at Thorn. “To have no hatred, after everything that had been done to you?”
“I forgave them.”
That was all Thorn said.
I stared at her. I had heard as much of her past as she remembered…it sounded as horrible as mine. I could never forgive the ones responsible for my misery. How could Thorn forgive those responsible for hers?
It explained why Moo had been able to turn me into a baddie, but hadn’t been able to touch Thorn.
“Alright! All of you, on your feet!” barked a voice.
I turned, a bit startled but not surprised. It was one of the Bethelgeus from before. It seemed Moo had finally grown tired of keeping us waiting.
Tiger tensed and snarled. “And who’s going to make us? You?”
The Bethelgeus shifted a bit, allowing us to see past him, to where the rest of the baddies who had defeated us were waiting.
“You couldn’t defeat us before, when you were at full power,” the baddie replied with a sneer. “What makes you think you have a chance now?”
Tiger growled, but said nothing. He knew the Bethelgeus was right.
“Why do ya baddies always try to insult or intimidate us?” Thorn asked out of nowhere.
“Nemesis, I presume?” asked the Beaclon.
“The name’s Thorn. What’s yours? And why don’t ya answer my question?”
“My name is Dacon. And I was going to.” He paused for a moment, then shrugged. “It’s part of the job. Kind of a tradition, even. And who would I be to break tradition?” He inserted the key into the lock, and slid the cell door open smoothly. “Now, come on. Master Moo is waiting.”
“Agh!” Dacon was knocked backwards a bit from the unexpected assault, and Tiger sprang forward, seizing the opportunity to attack.
The Beaclon neatly sidestepped him, then clobbered him with one large pincer as he flew past. The blue wolf hit the floor so hard that cracks spread up around his impact. He didn’t look like he was getting up anytime soon.
I heard groaning, and glanced behind me to see Genki helping Mocchi to his feet.
“DOUBLE POUNDER, MOCCHI!”
Dacon didn’t even flinch. He only turned to watch in barely concealed amusement as Genki and Mocchi slid off his hard shell to land spiral-eyed on the floor.
Again the baddie dodged, letting Hare’s own momentum send him slamming into the wall.
Dacon sighed as Suezo slapped him again and again, apparently doing very little damage. He swiped the eyeball away almost absentmindedly.
It was becoming more and more apparent that we couldn’t win. In the state we were in, a half-dead Ducken could’ve gotten the better of us. But I wasn’t giving in without a fight. I attempted to ignore the pounding in my skull as I rose into the air, and aimed at the Bethelgeus. “LIGHTNING!”
Dacon cried out in pain as the lightning struck him, but swiftly retaliated with a stream of energy that he shot from his horn. The headache seemed to dull my reflexes…I couldn’t move as fast as I normally did.
I almost managed to dodge the beam – but almost wasn’t good enough.
“Master Pixie!” Big Blue caught me in his arms, then set me down gently. He then joined Golem in a double Tornado attack.
The Beaclon dodged, somehow, and signaled to the Shell Saurians that had accompanied him. The Zuums pummeled the two Golems with various fire-breathing attacks, forcing them to stop.
Dacon looked around at us…it must have been a pathetic sight. We had barely been in any condition to fight beforehand; I could only imagine what we looked like now.
“Does anyone else care to try?” the baddie asked mockingly. “Or are you finally through with being foolish?”
An umbrella bounced off his head. Dacon turned to glare at Thorn, who was smiling.
“Can ya really expect me not to be foolish?” she asked.
Her only answer was a Heavy Punch.
We were half-led, half-dragged to the room where Moo was waiting for us, then roughly shoved inside. None of us had the energy to retaliate. The baddies filed in after us…probably to prevent us from escaping, as we had twice before.
“So,” Moo said. “You’re finally here.”
Thorn looked up at him, still smiling. “So?”
Moo blinked, taken off guard, but he recovered quickly. “Oh, yes. Nemesis. I see you haven’t changed.”
Thorn’s smile broadened, and could almost be called sweet. What in the world did she hope to accomplish?
“Do ya really think that? And didn’t I already tell ya that my name was Thorn?”
Moo’s crimson eyes narrowed at Thorn. “You will always be Nemesis, despite what you choose to call yourself. And sooner or later, I will find a way to control you once again.” His words had a convincing air of finality to them.
I watched Thorn’s face, wondering if she would rise to the bait. I should’ve known better; it was obvious that Moo wasn’t getting through to her. Her smile hadn’t wavered once. Moo noticed as well, and changed tactics.
“Or perhaps I should simply force your friends to become baddies, and order them to destroy you.”
Thorn laughed, and I was certain Moo was making a conscious effort not to sound puzzled when he asked, “What do you find so amusing?”
Thorn stopped laughing and grinned broadly, confidently. “I have one advantage over you,” she declared.
“Oh? And why is that?”
Thorn clasped a hand over her heart “Because…” . For a moment I thought we might actually make it out of there alive. Then there was a flash of green light, and an umbrella clattered to the floor. “…I have an umbrella, and you have nothing.”
Thorn just stood there, smiling smugly, as if this was a perfectly normal thing to do. Glancing around, I saw that everyone else wore an identical expression, including Moo: O.O;;;
“Well,” Suezo sighed. “Thorn has gone bye-bye.”
I was inclined to agree.
Suezo turned to Hare, and in a lowered voice asked, “Okay, Hare, what’s the plan?”
“Well, according to my calculations…we’re doomed.”
Suezo rolled his single eye. “Great planning, Hare…now figure out a way to get us out of here!!!”
“I would…but I just don’t see any possible way to escape!”
“C’mon, Hare, we can’t give up now!” Genki shouted. To me, it seemed just as useless as attacking Dacon. Everything we had tried seemed so futile…helpless anger was the only thing we had left, and even that was pointless.
“Genki’s right, Hare,” Holly chimed in. “We have to at least try, don’t we?”
Moo turned his gaze on her the moment she spoke. “Oh, yes. Holly…my daughter.”
“Holly, is that true?!”
We weren’t all quite so vocal, but we were all staring in shock at Holly, wondering the same thing. Except for Thorn, who hadn’t taken her eyes off Moo and was still smiling.
“So, you haven’t told them,” Moo continued. The thought seemed to amuse him. “It must be painful, knowing that your own father slaughtered your village. You must truly hate me.” He began advancing towards her. “Come, Holly, give into your hatred. We can be a family again.”
“Stay back!” Holly cried. Suezo hopped in front of her, as though he could protect her from this. Moo only chuckled.
That was when I noticed what was happening to Thorn.
She was immersed in pale green light, her hair blowing in a breeze that seemed only to effect her. In an instant the light burst out from around her, surrounding us, but shying away from Moo and the baddies. The moment we were all within its scope, the light rapidly contracted inward. I saw each of the Searchers vanish as the light washed over them.
“No!” Moo slashed downwards at Thorn, trying to stop her…then light flooded my vision, and I wasn’t in the floating castle anymore.
The first thing I was aware of was cold. Then, as my vision cleared, I was able to make out a frozen landscape. We were standing in a vast, snow-filled, valley. White mountains rose around us. We had to be somewhere near Mt. Kairis.
The seven Searchers were scattered around in the snow. I noticed Tiger take off, probably to scout out the area. Big Blue was beside me. Thorn…I didn’t see Thorn anywhere.
Suddenly she was there, still smiling. “Ya all thought I had lost it, didn’t ya?”
I stared at her. She didn’t seem to notice the three large slashes across her torso, or the snow around her turning red from her blood. She was still smiling when she suddenly passed out, and fell face down in the snow.
“Thorn!” I turned her over, brushing the snow off her face. She was still breathing. I turned my attention to her wounds. I was no healer, but they looked pretty bad…and pretty deep.
“What happened to her?”
I looked up. Holly was beside me.
“Moo attacked her before she could get herself away,” I answered. “She used a lot of her energy just to bring us here.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Holly said, already beginning to tend to Thorn. She shivered a bit. “It would help if we could get her someplace warm…”
“Holly!” Tiger came trotting up to us. “We’ve found a group of caves at the base of one of the mountains. It may not be much, but at least we’ll have some shelter.”
Holly nodded. “Right.” She turned to me. “Let’s bring her there.”
I nodded. Big Blue gently picked up Thorn, and I flew to his shoulder. He trudged after Tiger and Holly, following them to the cave.
The others were already there when we arrived. The cave was spacious, and dimly lit by a strange, soft white glow emanating from the stones. There seemed to be several different passages leading off of it; there was no telling how far they went.
No one said anything aloud, but we all agreed; we would rest here for some time before even considering moving on.
Holly took care of Thorn while she and the other Searchers talked quietly, trying to come to terms with the fact that her father was Moo. Big Blue and I were mostly silent, although at one point I did ask them about what had happened after they had found Thorn and before she was reunited with us. She had never been able to finish telling it herself…
“So, Pixie, are you going to join us this time?” Genki asked suddenly.
I hadn’t been planning on it. Big Blue and I could never fit in with this cheerful little group. But Thorn had been injured too badly for Blue and I to care for her on our own…
“Until we know that Thorn is alright, we’ll stay with you, Genki,” I answered. “After that…we’ll see.”
A strong gust of wind suddenly tore screaming through the cave, chilling me to the bone. From the entrance of the cave came the loud crunch of something heavy landing on stone. I swiftly assumed a battle stance, holding a Lightning attack at ready.
“W-w-what is that thing?!” Hare exclaimed.
The creature loomed in the entrance to the cave and shook the snow off of its stone-encrusted wings. It surveyed us with slanted, feral eyes, then grinned, baring row upon row of sharp, white teeth.
“Don’t worry,” it said. “I won’t threaten to eat you this time.”