* * * Chapter One: Desire * * *
"Why? Why, why, why, why, why?"
The eyeball monsters sweatdropped as they watched their leader rant and rave. Eyes blazing verdant flames, the pixie hybrid sprayed crackling bolts of golden lightning across the massive chamber. Her servants cringed as the energy bolts ricocheted off of the gleaming crystal walls and bounded around wildly before finally striking any of the eyeball monsters unfortunate enough to be in their path.
"I’ve pulled out all the tricks. I’ve blackmailed, backstabbed, and manipulated my way into becoming a respectable monster in Moo’s army, and yet he refuses to bestow upon me the honor of being one of his Big Bad Four! Why, why, why, why, why? I am perfectly suitable for the position…perfect in every way! So why does he refuse to give me that honor?"
The monster slammed her fists down on the arms of her throne, glaring down at the rabble cowering at her feet. Many of them were unable to bring themselves to gaze upon her face. The being might have been extremely attractive if her elegant features were not screwed up in an expression of uncontrollable rage. A fine-boned face with delicate features, a shapely body, and a graceful gait could not conceal the hatred and anger that boiled within her.
Vanity caught a glimpse of her grimace in her magic mirror, a small, round looking glass that she kept constantly floating near her, usually before her face. Her frown became even deeper, but she quickly schooled her features into a more pleasing expression. The half-Pixie, half-Suezo began to preen, brushing the stray strands of platinum gold hair away from her face.
"You may go now," she dismissed her loyal minions with a wave of her slender hand. The Suezo-types hurried to comply, several of them hastily uprooting the lost discs she had created during her magical temper tantrum and hauling them away. Vanity ignored the sight; it mattered little to her that her loss of control had cost some of her servants their lives. She could always find more of them; it certainly wasn’t like Suezos were all that rare.
Sighing, the pixie hybrid leaned back in her crystal throne, stretching her body sensuously. She caught a glimpse of her many reflections in the multi-faceted walls of the clear crystal room, and she smirked. The sight of her gorgeous body always lifted her spirits. She certainly lived up to her name: she was obsessed with herself, even more than she was with power.
Vanity bit delicately on a knuckle, her eyes narrowing into slender glittering slits. How could she get Master Moo to notice her ability? Or, more importantly, how could she impress Lord Naga?
She smirked to herself as she thought of the reptilian. The purple fool actually believed that he had her wrapped around his little talon, just like that wench Night Flyer was. He had no idea that she was the controller, that she was the one using him to get closer to Master Moo. Naga had been quite helpful so far: it was with his influence that she had finally managed to secure this wonderful crystal tower, her Tower of Mirrors. Even the information that her eyeball monster spies had brought to her hadn’t gotten her as far as he had.
But still it was not enough, and Vanity was beginning to find the reptilian harder and harder to control. She grimaced, thinking of an incident from a few days before:
"Lord Naga, come with me," she had pleaded with him, drawing him closer to her bedchambers. She wrapped her slender arms around his muscular chest, arching one eyebrow suggestively. She had carefully adjusted her silken outfit a few moments before: experience had taught her just the right amount of bronze yellow skin to expose.
"I have no time for your games," was his reply, and he shoved her roughly away. "The time is drawing ever closer; I must be ready to strike when the moment comes to overthrow Moo!"
Vanity pouted, her perfect ruby lips trembling. "But Lord Naga…" she pushed, reaching for his arm.
She had pushed too far. Naga’s hand tore across her face and sent her spinning to the hard, cold marble floor. Her cheek burned, and she hastily brought her hands up to her face.
"Stupid pixie, you cannot understand the importance of this mission!" he thundered. "The little rabbit and the Phoenix’s Tear must be in my possession when the time comes!"
Then he stalked off into the darkness, leaving the stunned Vanity alone in the cold hallway.
Vanity’s fingers gently massaged her cheek, her eyes hard as jade. She was extremely fortunate that he had not scarred her perfect face. So, too, was Naga.
The pixie hybrid sunk deeper into her chair, fingers drumming against its cold arms. All he cares about anymore is that damned rabbit. If I could only get my hands on it…But I’m not about to fight those rebels! Not with their reputation. Plus, I could break a nail… The thought of that made her shiver. No, there had to be a better way to capture the pesky little rabbit…
Sighing, Vanity gazed into her gleaming mirror. The magical looking glass was one of her most prized possessions; she had owned it since her unlocking by a mere wisp of a girl who had believed that the pixie would become her dearest playmate…ugh! As if I would ever want to be tied to a snot-nosed little brat so obsessed with her dolls and her toys! Still, the child had freed her, and Vanity had repaid her assistance by simply sneaking away one night instead of murdering the little idiot while she had slept
No, I am destined for much greater things than being some child’s playmate, Vanity thought to herself. I am destined to rule this world alongside dearest Master Moo!
Her magic mirror had shown her this destiny long ago. The looking glass held many special powers now, thanks to an enchantment that Gali had put on it for her. Vanity sneered, remembering the now-lost monster: she had possessed more control over him than she had even over her Suezo-type soldiers. The fool had actually believed that she loved him, and had eagerly made a gift for his ‘golden-skinned beauty’.
As she gazed into her mirror, she idly asked it to show her what was currently occurring in the rebel’s camp. The smooth glass shimmered, and then an image slowly began to appear upon it. Vanity watched as the image slowly became sharper, clearer, and voices began to echo in her ears as she allowed the vision to flow into her mind’s eye…
* * *
"I am soooo tired!" Suezo announced at the top of his lungs, flopping down on the ground. The other searchers sweatdropped as they stared at him.
"Obviously not tired enough to shut up and get some rest while you can," Hare observed dryly. Suezo glared at the rabbit, muttering under his breath.
"Well, we’re setting up camp now," Holly reassured her friend, even as she started working on getting a campfire going. Genki started helping her, and after a few moments, a cheery blaze burst into life. The searchers started to gather around as Holly started cooking some soup for them.
* * *
These are the dreaded searchers? Vanity thought, a disbelieving smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth. Still, she knew better than to make the mistake of underestimating them: too many monsters had died doing the same. Instead, she studied each of the members critically, trying to gauge each one’s abilities.
The rabbit, she knew, was the same one that her dear ‘Lord’ Naga was searching for so desperately. While, at the moment, he didn’t appear to be all that threatening, Vanity knew from reports that he was truly able to control the Phoenix's Tear, even if he rarely used that power, even now that his friends knew about it. She frowned, puzzled; how anyone could possess so much power and not want to use it was beyond her understanding.
Shrugging off her confusion, she turned her attention to the youth beside him. Vanity grinned; now, this was a fine young man indeed! She suddenly had a clearer understanding of why Master Pixie had abandoned her post as one of Moo’s generals after meeting the boy. While he was still young, she could see that his childish features held the promise of a man who would be quite handsome after becoming a little older. Although he would never become older if he continued to oppose Moo…she sighed, a little regretfully.
The little pink fluffball that was next to the boy, she barely glanced at. He was a worthless baby, with the eyes of a kitten that has just learned to walk. There was no reason to concern herself with him.
Nor was there anything particularly interesting about the girl, other than the fact that Vanity knew that she was somehow related to Master Moo. It certainly didn’t show: the maiden she saw in the looking glass bore little resemblance to the pixie hybrid’s beloved master.
The stone giant…Vanity sighed, looking over the monster’s sculpted muscles, staring at his solemn face, gazing into his deep, dark eyes…What the heck am I thinking? Blushing, she quickly tore her gaze away from him and focused on the blue wolf.
Yes…this one will be a real problem, she told herself, wincing a little as she noticed the long, jagged scar that marred the side of the blue wolf’s face. What a horrible fate, to carry such a horrid scar on such a handsome face…uh oh, I’m doing it again. Shaking her head, the pixie moved on.
Ah yes…the Suezo. Emerald eyes glittered as Vanity narrowed her eyes, looking over the eyeball monster. He was currently engaged in a heated argument with the little pink monster over something, she wasn’t quite certain what. The eyeball was screaming such nonsense that she wondered if he had any idea what he was saying anymore.
Something moved at the very edge of her sight, and Vanity started with surprise. She could barely glimpse something moving near the rebels’ camp. Mentally, she ordered her mirror to focus on the movements.
The scene rippled, then morphed into a new image. Vanity could now see clearly what was moving around, and a grin spread over her face. I can use this, she told herself, and she called out a mental command. With a flash of light, she vanished from the room, leaving behind the cold glittering walls of crystal.
* * *
Chishi growled low in his throat, leading his warriors closer to the rebels’ campsite. The pack of fifteen Cabalos slunk forward, following his every movement.
I’ll make the rebels pay for murdering Master Grey Wolf, Chishi thought grimly to himself. Raising his head, he howled out a battle cry.
* * *
The rebels jerked as one, and Tiger of the Wind leapt to his feet, snarling, "We’ve got company, people!"
"Gee, what was your first clue, Tiger?" Hare quipped as he got up, paws balling into fists. The blue wolf glanced back at him with a growl, but had no time to reply as the baddies rushed toward them.
"I’m in the zone!" Genki called out, smashing his foot into the snout of the nearest Cabalos. The others reacted normally: Golem scooped up Holly and stepped away from the battle, protecting her; Mocchi mimicked Genki and flung himself into the battle; Tiger launched his Torpedo attack; Hare landed his Guru-Guru punch on another purple wolf’s muzzle; Suezo panicked and ran in the opposite direction of the battle.
"Hey, look out!" Hare called, knocking one of the Cabalos away as it leaped at Suezo’s back. The eyeball monster blanched as the baddie went flying past him.
"Why don’t you use the Phoenix’s Tear?" he asked Hare as the rabbit stood at his back. "You could blast all of these guys at once!"
"Because I don’t want to, that’s why!" Hare screamed back at him, a little too loudly. Suezo stared at him, backing up, and the rabbit muttered something along the lines of, "You wouldn’t understand," and turned back to the fight.
You’re damned right I don’t understand. I’ve seen how much power that pendant gives you; you could take out an entire army of monsters with one attack if you wanted to. So why don’t you?
My thoughts exactly, Vanity thought as she materialized behind Suezo with a small smirk on her face. Her narrowed eyes glittered like twin pieces of jade, and she mentally reached out to the eyeball monster, whispering his name.
"Huh?" Suezo turned around, confused. Something was behind him, but even his incredible eyesight was unable to make it out. That registered in his mind as being truly odd, and the eyeball felt a distinct sense of dread as he called out, "Who’s there?"
And then the most beautiful woman he had ever seen stepped out of the darkness. Suezo felt his mouth fall open, and he gaped at the sight. The woman smiled, her bronze-yellow skin gleaming golden in the soft light from the moon, and her verdant eyes glittered like two finely polished emeralds. Brushing shimmering golden hair away from her perfect face, she gestured for him to come closer.
Suezo felt his body move forward, almost beyond his control, and he moved closer to her, his eye widening as a glassy fog slowly spread over it.
She was so beautiful.
She was so beautiful.
She was so beautiful.
The thought filled his head, and he moved farther into the darkness, all other things forgotten.
* * *
Chishi heard another one of his warriors cry out, and he snarled out, "Retreat!" As much as he longed to take revenge for his dead master, he had no desire to sacrifice any of his pack members. The fifteen Cabalos fled, explosions from Tiger’s torpedoes and lightning at their heels.
"Come back! Cowards!"
"Let it go, Tiger," Holly told him, smiling as the others began celebrating. Genki and Mocchi were already cheering, dancing around Golem’s feet as they shouted out victory cries.
Hare smiled and laughed, seeing the excitement of the two, and was about to make a comment to Tiger when he suddenly felt a presence at his back. The Phoenix’s Tear grew warm, something that often signaled danger to the little rabbit. Whirling around, he smiled in relief as he spotted Suezo behind him.
"Hey, buddy, where you been?" he teased. Turning back to point at the others, he said, "See, look, the fight’s over already. You missed out on all the fun, pal. Although that probably doesn’t bother–"
Hare’s words were cut off with the abruptness of a slamming door as he felt white-hot fire erupt across his back. A choked off scream erupted from his throat, and the other rebels turned as one to see what was wrong. Holly gasped, covering her mouth in shock, and Golem reached out to steady her as he stared in mute horror. Genki exclaimed something, and Mocchi echoed it, his eyes wavering as they took in the scene.
Suezo’s mouth was locked around Hare’s back, half-engulfing it. The moment seemed to freeze in time, each detail searing itself into the rebel’s shocked minds: the sight of the eyeball monster’s white teeth digging into the rabbit’s brown fur, drawing blood. Hare’s shocked expression, his eyes wide, his mouth open in a now silent scream, his entire body rigid. And the glassy, dark green-gold pupil of Suezo’s eye, as cold and hard as jade.
Time slowly unfroze, and Suezo released his hold on the rabbit. Hare dropped to the ground, eyes closing, his body becoming limp as he slipped into a merciful faint. The eyeball monster raised his chilling gaze to the others, a strange, neutral expression on his face. No hint of remorse or regret showed in his darkened eye, and an almost demonic smile played at his lips. Even Tiger winced slightly as the rebels saw the bloodstains on the eyeball monster’s teeth.
"WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING?" Genki demanded, on the verge of leaping forward to smash in Suezo’s face. Only the fact that the eyeball monster was supposed to be a friend kept him from knocking some of those horrible reddened teeth out of that grinning mouth.
"Whatever I tell him to do," an alluring female voice replied. The rebels glanced around in confusion, and Mocchi cried out as a golden-skinned pixie stepped out of the darkness and strode up behind Suezo. A haughty smirk twisted her ruby lips, and she leered at the group triumphantly.
"What do you mean?" Genki asked, his hands balling into fists. Vanity’s eyes glittered like sparkling emeralds, and she grinned at the boy.
"I mean that your dear friend Suezo is now my dear servant," she replied, enjoying the shocked reaction from the rebels. She ran one hand along the eyeball monster’s side lovingly, saying, "You see, all of his kind exist only for one purpose: to lay down their lives for my beautiful self. I merely awakened this desire inside of him."
"What?" Genki exclaimed.
"No…Suezo…" Holly breathed, her wavering chestnut-brown eyes locked on her friend. Suezo gazed impassively back at the girl, no emotion at all in his clouded, green-gold eye.
Vanity smirked again, and she crouched down next to Hare, lifting the rabbit’s body from the ground in one smooth movement.
"Don’t touch him!" Tiger snarled, his torpedo racing toward her. Vanity merely glanced at it, unconcerned, as it streaked toward her.
"Power reflection," she whispered, and her magic mirror glowed as it suddenly moved between her and the missile. The torpedo raged right into the smooth glass surface and vanished, the looking glass shimmering with its light for a moment.
"What the he–" Tiger’s question went unfinished as a bolt of silver energy shot out from the mirror and streaked back at him. The blue wolf howled as he was blown backwards, the beam lancing through his shoulder.
"TIGER?" Genki and Holly cried out in unison, and the rebels turned toward their fallen friend for a moment. As the blue wolf struggled back to his feet, Vanity took advantage of the distraction to yank Hare off of the ground, wrapping her arms tightly around his body. The little rabbit groaned, and his eyes fluttered open.
"Wh…what hap…happened?" he asked, his voice weak and trembling. The rebels whirled back around, and Vanity quickly sent a shockwave into the rabbit’s body to keep him from reviving. However, it had the opposite effect, and Hare’s eyes shot open as he saw Tiger still half-sprawled on the ground.
"Ti-GAAAAAHHH!" he screamed as the pixie hybrid shocked him again. Realizing what was happening, he started struggling to break out of her grasp, to no avail as Vanity tightened her grip and started to back away from the group. Screaming at her to stop, Genki dived at her, Mocchi beside him. The two passed through empty space as Vanity levitated herself upward, hovering over the group.
"Sorry, rebels, but I’m afraid I can’t grace your sorry group with the honor of my presence any longer," she told them, a haughty laugh escaping from her. Glancing over at Suezo, she ordered, "Come!"
A silver light enveloped the eyeball monster, and he suddenly floated up toward where Vanity hovered above the others, Hare still squirming in her arms. Golem shouted something and tried to grab him, but Suezo was already out of even the stone giant’s reach.
"Come back, you damned coward!" Tiger snarled, his bared teeth flashing as he struggled to support himself.
"Suezo!" Holly cried out, eyes wavering as she stared up in a stupefied horror at her unresponsive friend.
"Hare!" Genki shouted, his eyes locked on the trio that floated over him.
"GENN-KIIIII!" Hare shrieked, wavering eyes overflowing with tears as he reached one hand helplessly, imploringly toward the group. The cry hung in the air as the three teleported away, Vanity’s mocking laughter echoing with it. The rebels stared into the sky, now empty except for the stars that still shone down upon them, unchanged.
Genki felt his trembling hands slowly ball into fists, and his clear eyes shone as he continued to stare at the space where they had been mere moments before. At his side, he could hear Holly begin to sob softly, and behind he could hear Golem bend to comfort a terrified Mocchi. Golden eyes locked on the sky, Tiger of the Wind slowly padded up next to Genki.
"It looks like we have a real problem now, kid," he growled softly in his throat.
Genki nodded, his gaze never leaving the sky. A soft breeze whistled through the clearing, the only other sound other than the soft sobbing from Holly and Mocchi in the valley. It ruffled Tiger’s fur, and Genki’s bangs waved in the slight wind, unnoticed by either of them.
* * * Chapter Two: Mirror, Mirror * * *
Golem stared into the blazing fire, the warm flames no longer seeming as bright as they had been before. The stone giant’s face was tear-stained, just like the faces of all of the other remaining rebels, except for Tiger of the Wind, of course. An unnatural silence hung over the glen, broken only by occasional sobs from either Holly or Mocchi. The two were curled up next to Golem, and Holly’s arms clung to a couple of his stone fingers for comfort.
I can’t…believe it, Holly thought, tears misting her eyes as she tightened her grip on Golem’s fingers. I never dreamed that… Chestnut eyes wavered, then closed in silent agony. Suezo…how could you betray us?
The unspoken question hung over the group like a pall; nobody needed to give it voice to know that it was what the others were thinking about. Mocchi’s entire body shook as the tiny pink monster cried into Golem’s leg, and Holly bit her lip to keep herself from doing the same.
I promised myself…that I’d never cry again…
And I also promised Suezo that we’d never be apart, no matter what. What has that amounted to?
The girl’s shoulders quivered, and she let her soft brown bangs fall over her face, masking her expression. Everything happened so quickly…the battle went so well for us. There was no warning.
For what wasn’t the first time that night, her mind replayed the images that had seared themselves into her memory. Images of Suezo, but not the funny, loyal companion she had known ever since she had unlocked him over two years ago. Instead she saw him with his teeth buried in Hare’s fur, leering at her with a bloodstained mouth, floating beside Vanity above her and the others, his eye always the same chilling shade of unfeeling green-gold.
Genki glanced over at Holly as she buried her face in her palms, her shoulders shaking convulsively. His clear brown eyes were filled with tears, and the boy stubbornly wiped them away.
Doesn’t anything ever upset you, kid?
Suezo had asked him that, right after they had narrowly escaped the crash of the Iron Bird. He could still remember the disgusted, exasperated expression the eyeball monster had on his face as he asked that.
Nah! Even if it did, I’d just cover it up with a laugh. Ha ha ha…
A sad smile played over Genki’s lips as he remembered his reply, and how he and Mocchi had started laughing so loudly that the others had all sighed in disbelief. He wiped away his tears again with the back of his hand, but his eyes still wavered as he stared back up at the star-filled sky.
We have to find a way…to get our friends back. Both of them.
* * *
Vanity stretched luxuriously as she danced around in her throne room. She had changed into one of her favorite outfits, a flowing silken robe of purest white that billowed and swirled around her shapely body. She felt that it suited her beauty very well, and always wore it during special occasions. The pixie hybrid swayed and danced, her short blond hair waving and swirling gracefully as she moved, her ivory dress fluttering around her form.
Not far away, Suezo watched her with a strange expression on his face. While, from a distance, it seemed as if he was admiring her dance, if one could get closer to him, they would realize that no emotion showed in the glassy surface of his eye. If one gazed deeply enough into it, one could see the faint, greenish-gold tinted reflection of the dancing pixie in the blank, pupiless eye.
Vanity’s dance was almost finished, and the pixie hybrid slowed to a graceful stop, ending in an alluring position. Brushing golden blond hair away from her face, she walked past Suezo with barely a glance toward him. Instead, her eyes were focused on the smooth surface of the crystalline wall directly behind her throne. One of the sections stretched up from the floor to just above her head, and a raised border sparkled around the area, singling it out. Vanity placed her hands up against the smooth, gleaming crystal wall, and she chanted an incantation under her breath.
"Crystalline spire, greatest of mirrors, allow me to see past the reflections and reveal to me the secrets hidden behind your beautiful illusion."
The surface shimmered, then rippled like a pond with a single stone cast into its glimmering depths. As the glowing ripples faded away, Vanity’s hands now rested on a translucent crystal wall, and she could see into the small chamber that was hidden behind its depths. Smirking, she tapped on the glass-like surface, trying to attract the attention of the small, brown-furred figure that huddled in the corner farthest away from the mirror entrance.
Hare looked up at the sound, his expression half-hidden by his long, drooping ears and the dark fur that fell in bangs over his face. Still, even at this distance, Vanity could clearly see the unmistakable loathing and fear that shone in his dark, wavering brown eyes. His knees were up against his chest, and his arms were wrapped around his legs as he stared over at Vanity. There was no longer any sign of the bite that Suezo had given the rabbit at her command.
"You used the Phoenix’s Tear to heal yourself," she said, more a statement than a question. Hare made no response, his eyes locked on Vanity’s sneering face. Knowing that he would not answer, she continued, "What other powers can you command?"
Hare’s expression hardened, and he suddenly leapt to his feet and leveled his paws toward her face. A stream of crimson fire flashed out and streaked toward the pixie hybrid, only to reflect off of the mirror entrance. Vanity watched with a pleased expression, her emerald eyes gleaming as the flames ricocheted away and faded into nothingness. She swung her gaze back toward Hare, calculatingly, while the rabbit slumped back down to the gleaming crystal floor, struggling not to show his obvious disappointment.
"Interesting," she mused, smiling. "No wonder Naga is so intent upon retrieving you." Hare blanched at her words, and she smirked as she noticed his fear. "Well…maybe I’ll hand you over to him…and maybe I won’t."
That caught Hare’s attention, and he raised frightened eyes to stare at her as she mused, "If I hand you over to Naga, then that reptile will convince Master Moo to promote me to being one of his Big Bad Four. You do realize, of course, that Master Moo is recruiting new generals to take over those…vacancies you and your friends created?" When Hare didn’t answer, she shrugged and continued, "But…if I hand you and the Phoenix’s Tear over to Master Moo himself, and tell him of Naga’s plot to overthrow him, then he may be so pleased by my loyalty that he’ll make me his betrothed. We could rule this world together…"
She sighed, her expression longing and lovesick, and Hare shuddered at the mere thought that anyone could be attracted to Moo. I bet she loves his power, not him. Still, the look on her face seemed to be genuine, and the rabbit nearly gagged at the sight of her apparent adoration of the evil master. After a moment, however, she suddenly frowned, and added, "Of course, I don’t know exactly how Moo will react. He may decide that I am a traitor just like Naga, and kill me as well…" She grimaced for a moment, then shrugged again and said, "Well, I’ll take some time to think about it. After all, I hold all the cards now, and nothing’s going to happen until I command it."
She turned away, and as the illusion reappeared again, concealing the entrance once more, Hare hugged his knees to his chest and began to tremble. Tears ran down his cheeks as he thought about the last few moments that he had seen his friends, and what he had learned from the haughty Vanity after she had brought him here.
"Leave…leave my friends out of this…please," he sobbed, his voice soft and pleading. "Don’t drag Suezo and the others into this, please…Leave them alone…"
* * *
"We have to go rescue them," Genki said.
"But how? We don’t even know where they went," Holly told him, raising her tear-streaked face to look at the boy.
"Holly…the Magic Stone…" Golem said slowly. Holly glanced up at him, her fingers straying to her pendant even as she shook her head.
"But…it won’t work…it can only find mystery disks…"
"In Grey Wolf’s fortress…" Golem gently reminded her. Genki, Tiger, and Mocchi stared at the two, not understanding what that meant, even though Holly got the message. Nodding, she pulled out the Magic Stone from under her tunic.
"I…I’ll try," she faultered, then she wiped away a tear and closed her eyes to concentrate. The Magic Stone levitated over her outstretched hands, and the familiar glow came over it, but no image appeared. The girl’s face became solemn with concentration, she prayed with all her heart that this would work.
* * *
Hare stopped sobbing for a moment and opened his eyes. There was a familiar warmth at his chest, and he quickly uncovered the Phoenix’s Tear. The pendant was glowing brightly, and Hare wrapped his paws around the gleaming crystal, smiling sadly despite the tears in his eyes.
The others…are coming. I should have known…
Closing his eyes, Hare tightened his grip on the Tear and mentally reached out toward where he could just barely make out the presence of the others.
Here…I’m here. We both are.
* * *
"It worked!" Genki cheered, seeing the familiar image flickering in the Stone. A relived grin came over Holly’s face, and as she broke off her concentration, she hurried after the others, who had already turned in the direction that the Magic Stone had indicated. Naturally, Genki soon raced into the lead, his legs pumping hard as he skated forward, Mocchi clinging to his back. Tiger of the Wind was right beside him, a blue-and-white streak of fur, and Golem brought up the rear, Holly in his arms.
A glittering eye watched them leave, then swiftly vanished.
* * *
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT THOSE SEARCHERS ARE COMING HERE?" Vanity shrieked at the unfortunate messenger that had relayed the news to her. The Suezo-type cowered, fearing her wrath. However, the pixie finally decided after a few moments of ranting that she would allow him to leave, and he hastily departed. The golden-skinned pixie flopped back into her throne, her eyes dark glittering slits of emerald light as she considered her next move.
"If I send out any of my warriors, I might be able to wear them down," she mused. But she knew from the stories that the tactic had already been done to death –literally– by those before her. She cared little for the lives of her warriors, but the last thing she wanted to do was suffer a major loss at the hands of the rebels. Master Moo might not look upon her as kindly if she lost a great number of his warriors, even if the worthless eyeballs did somehow manage to bring down the rebels.
No, she needed something a bit more unique, something the rebels would never expect. Her gaze fell on Suezo, who still lurked in the shadows near her throne, close to the concealed chamber…no, that was a bad idea. While the rebels might not enjoy fighting their friend, they would probably expect her to use that against them. Better to wait until the time was just right…then she would use Suezo to seal their fates.
No…she had a much better scheme in mind. Vanity smirked as the plan slowly came to her, and she reached out to take hold of her magic looking glass once more. She bid an image to appear, and soon a vision of Genki and the other rebels heading toward her tower faded into view. A haughty smile spread over her lips: yes, they would arrive soon. As soon as they entered, the real games would begin…
Her mocking laughter echoed through the tower, filling the chambers. Suezo watched her expressionlessly, while Hare raised his head as the sound came to his ears, his eyes wavering with sudden fear.
* * *
"Look at that, chi!"
Genki, Holly, Tiger, and Golem followed Mocchi’s gaze, and the five stared in silent awe at the gleaming crystal spire that rose before them. Genki’s mouth dropped open, Holly’s eyes widened, and even Tiger looked more than a little impressed by the sight of the glittering tower sparking brilliantly in the starlight.
Genki recovered first, and he glanced back at the others as he asked, "Think they’re in there?"
The answer was obvious. Holly and the three monsters nodded in unison, and the five travelers moved closer to the spire, looking for an entrance. The smooth surface of the crystal bore no marks, however, and there were no paths to mark any sort of doorway. Tiger sniffed the air, attempting to pick up on the scent of those that had gone before them, hoping to discover the way they had taken. After a moment, however, he lowered his nose and shook his head, golden eyes glittering with frustration.
"Nothing," he snarled, grimacing. "I bet that sorry witch just teleports herself and anyone else she wants to have visit in and out."
"Hey, what if Su…" Genki quickly shut up, but too late; Holly and the others already figured out what he had been on the verge of suggesting. The blue wolf’s eyes gleamed with remembered outrage, and Holly’s eyes wavered with barely contained tears. Golem just shook his head, a little surprised that the boy had actually forgotten for a second, yet his eyes shone with sympathy.
"Sorry…Holly, are you okay?"
"I-I’m fine," Holly insisted, turning away so the others wouldn’t see the tears that brimmed in her eyes. "I just…got something in my eye, that’s all…"
Yeah, they’re called tears, Tiger thought, but he said nothing. Leave the attempts at humor to Suezo and Hare; that was the way things normally went. But the blue wolf didn’t even want to consider the possibility that it would never be that way again.
* * *
"Interesting," Vanity commented, watching as the image of Holly in her mirror wiped away a tear. "So she puts a value on the eyeball, hmm? Perhaps…perhaps a little reunion is in order…"
Smirking, the pixie made a gesture with one slender hand.
* * *
Something flickered behind the group, just at the edge of their sight. Holly barely had time to glance toward it before the light flashed toward her, engulfing her.
"Hey–!" she exclaimed, the cry cut off as the light enveloped her and lifted her off of her feet. The others shouted with shock, and Genki screamed her name as he reached toward her. The silver light flashed violently for a moment, then was gone.
"Holly? Holly!" Genki called out. Tiger cursed, snarling as what had just happened sunk in. Mocchi grabbed onto Genki’s hand, and Golem growled in outrage.
"Hey, look-chi!" Mocchi suddenly said, pointing back toward the tower. The others turned to stare in surprise as a section of the tower lit up, and a doorway formed. Genki and Tiger exchanged glances.
"What do you think, Tiger?" Genki asked.
"Looks like we’re being invited in," Tiger mused, a grin suddenly spreading over his muzzle for a moment. "Let’s take advantage of this…"
And the blue wolf raced into the crystal tower, Genki directly behind him. Mocchi and Golem glanced at one another, then hurried to follow along. As the stone giant vanished into the darkness inside, the entrance vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
* * *
Vanity smirked, pleased. So far, things were going well for her. The rebels had no possible way of defending against her trap. As for the girl…she had special plans for her…
* * *
Holly’s eyes fluttered open, and she propped herself up on her arms, confused as she looked around at glittering crystal walls that seemed to extend into darkness. Am I…in the tower? she wondered. There was no sign of the others, and she got to her feet slowly, looking for some hint as to where they were.
I’m all alone. There’s nobody else here…I have nobody.
Holly shivered, biting her lip. Her hand found where her dagger hung at her side, and she wrapped her fingers around its hilt. The feel of the smooth metal under her palm helped her to relax, and she forced herself to take a closer look at her surroundings.
A staircase glittered nearby, beckoning. Taking a deep breath, Holly began to climb up it. Maybe she would find the others. Maybe she would find Suezo…
* * *
"Hare! Holly! Suezo!" Genki called, the echo of his own voice his only answer. He and the others kept walking forward, keeping their eyes open for any sort of passageway or sign of their missing friends.
"Stop," Tiger suddenly growled, coming to a halt. Genki glanced back at him, and the blue wolf stared past the boy.
"There’s something there," he warned, motioning with his head for the boy to come back closer to the rest of the group. Genki obeyed, and lightning danced around Tiger’s horns as he ordered, "Come out!"
Something sparked to life in front of the group, and Tiger gasped. He was staring at another tiger monster, one with dark blue fur, cold gold eyes…and a scar that stretched down the side of his face. As he gaped, the other tiger smirked back at him, energy crackling around his horns.
Other figures stepped out of the shadows, and the rebels stared at each of them in turn. A lumbering giant of gray stone, solemn eyes hard as granite as they locked with Golem’s own. A small, rose-colored monster with bright, shining eyes and a playful smile, slowly walking toward Mocchi.
And a boy with wild brown hair and clear, gleaming eyes who skated forward, a grin on his youthful face as Genki gaped back at him.
The four ‘rebels’ –not the rebels– moved in, each singling out the one they resembled.
* * *
Vanity’s haughty laughter rang out again, and the pixie hybrid sprung lightly to her feet, a sneer on her face. Turning back toward the wall where the hidden chamber was sealed away, she repeated the spell from before. As the portal flickered back into existence, still covered by translucent crystal, Hare looked up at the pixie, his expression betraying both anger and fear.
"Why have you revealed the chamber again?" he asked.
"Why, Hare," she teased, her eyes mock innocent, "don’t act like that! I just thought that you would be pleased to see one of your friends again."
"What do you mean?" Hare demanded, getting to his feet and walking toward the sealed entrance, his eyes locked on Vanity’s sneering face. He didn’t like what he thought he saw glittering in those verdant eyes.
"I brought Holly into my tower," she informed him, grinning. "The girl’s currently making her way here, no doubt looking for you and her dear friend Suezo. She’s going to arrive soon enough. And when she does…"
Vanity trailed off into a laugh, and Hare’s eyes widened with comprehension. Screaming in protest, he ran up and smashed his fists into the clear crystal, wincing as they crashed into the hard, diamond-like surface with no effect. He pounded on the wall, ignoring how Vanity simply laughed at his vain struggles, her eyes twinkling with amusement. After a few moments of mocking him, the pixie hybrid turned away, not the least bit concerned by his outrage. She knew that there was no way he could break the crystal; it was impossible from inside the chamber.
"Don’t you dare drag the others into this!" Hare screamed, eyes wavering as he smashed his paws into the clear, impenetrable crystal. "If you try to hurt the others, I’ll kill you, I swear it! Do you hear me? If you so much as touch Holly, I’ll kill you!"
* * *
Holly reached the top of the glittering staircase. In front of her, a massive door stretched up into the shadows above her, its crystalline surface engraved with a breathtaking mural depicting a lovely pixie flying across a star-studded sky. The pixie’s shapely figure was inlaid with streaks of gold, leaving little doubt of just who this was supposed to be a picture of.
Holly rested one hand against the door’s surface, closing her eyes as she took a deep breath. Her other hand tightened around the hilt of her father’s talisman, her father’s dagger…Slowly, she eased it out of its sheath. Opening her eyes, she glanced down at it, weighing it in her palm. Then, she raised her gaze back to the entrance and pushed the heavy doors open. Heart pounding, she stepped inside, letting the doors swing shut behind her.
* * * Chapter Three: Holly’s Tears * * *
Holly gasped as she burst into a massive, crystalline chamber, nearly stunned to silence by its sheer beauty. Several feet away from where she stood, a staircase that looks like it had been carved out of pure diamonds led up to a towering platform, upon which Holly could make out a figure sitting in a throne.
"Holly!" Hare cried. The girl stared up in the direction of his voice; she couldn’t see him sealed behind the crystal mirror from where she was standing. But he could see her clearly, and he pounded on the enchanted glass to get her attention.
Holly’s gaze wandered up the towering staircase before her, and she gasped as she finally saw Vanity standing at the top. The blond pixie’s ivory-colored robes billowed around her slender form, and her green eyes glittered like twin emeralds as she sneered down at the human girl. Only the haughty smirk on her delicate face marred the illusion of what otherwise looked like a goddess looming over her.
"Holly, isn’t it?" she sneered, eyes raking the girl critically. She arched an eyebrow, commenting "A simple name for such a common-looking girl. But then, I suppose that the stresses of traveling do play havoc on a lady’s features. Such a pity…"
Holly felt her face turn as scarlet as her tunic, and she self-consciously looked down at her feet. The blond pixie giggled at her discomfort, completely ignoring the now coldly furious Hare glaring at her back.
"Don’t listen to her, Holly!" he shouted. "She’s just trying to distract you! Look out!"
"Huh?" Holly snapped her head up in time to see a bolt of silver lightning streaking down toward her. She instinctively dodged away, letting the bolt strike the ground where she had been standing and fizzle out.
Vanity grimaced, and flung a nasty look behind her at Hare. "Spoilsport," she hissed under her breath. Hare responded by pulling on his eyelid and sticking his tongue out at her.
Holly got back to her feet and glared up at Vanity. Determined not to let herself be distracted again, she called out, "You may look pretty on the outside, but you remind me of the old saying that beauty is only skin deep. You’re nothing more than a vain old hag!"
Wow, I didn’t know that Holly could slam people like that, Hare thought. Vanity looked just as thunderstruck by Holly’s words: her face paled to a faint yellow, but quickly darkened to deep saffron.
"Hag? You called me a vain old hag?" she fumed, her eyes flashing violently. She quickly regained her composure, however, and sneered down at Holly again, saying, "Well, why don’t you come up here and discuss that little notion with my dear servant?"
She gestured invitingly with one hand, and a figure hopped out of the shadows next to her and into Holly’s view. The human girl stared up at him, and she breathed the name like a helpless prayer.
Vanity draped her arms around the yellow eyeball monster, smirking down at Holly. Her slender fingers caressed the monster’s skin, playing with the all-too-familiar medallion she had pinned onto him. Emerald eyes glittered as they drank in the sight of Holly’s wavering brown eyes.
"Why, whatever is wrong, poor dear?" she mocked, arching an eyebrow. "I thought you’d be delighted to see your old friend again."
"Suezo!" Holly cried desperately. The eyeball glared down at her, his expression cold and uncaring. There was no sign of his former love and devotion to her in his darkened, green-gold eye.
Suddenly Holly was running, her boot heels clacking against the crystalline steps as she dashed up them. She had to get to Suezo, had to talk to him, had to somehow make him tell her what was happening…Vanity was sneering at her, mocking her, and her voice rang in the human girl’s ears as she ran.
"You poor, poor dear," the pixie was saying, "you must feel so abandoned! Your dear friend seems to have chosen this ‘old hag’ over you! Why, imagine that!"
"Suezo didn’t choose anything, you hag!" Hare’s voice suddenly cried out, slicing through the fog of emotions engulfing Holly. "You forced him to choose you with your charm magic! You’ve turned him into a mindless zombie!"
"Your point being?" Vanity replied, glancing back at the rabbit. Holly felt something snap inside of her, and as she reached the top of the stairway, she yanked out her father’s dagger and lunged toward the pixie.
Vanity easily dodged away from the flashing blade, and Suezo fell back as Holly whirled around and lashed out blindly at the golden pixie. The female monster smirked at her, keeping just out of arms reach, taunting her, while Hare looked on in silent horror.
Suezo suddenly lashed out with his tail, and Holly cried out as she was knocked backwards, her back of her head throbbing. The girl’s foot slipped, and she and Hare screamed together as the human girl fell over the edge of the platform, back down the stairway. Her scream was abruptly choked off as her back collided with the cold crystalline stairs, and she tumbled down to the floor far below. Suezo watched her body as it rolled down the stairs and skidded to a halt at their feet, his cold eye emotionless.
"Holly!" Hare shrieked, tears springing to his widened eyes. He pounded against the cage’s smooth, transparent surface with trembling fist; his gaze locked on Holly’s motionless form. "Holly. Get up, please! Holly!"
The brown-haired girl made no response, lying sprawled out at the foot of the stairs. Hare stared down at her, half-blinded by tears. Vanity’s mocking laughter rang in his ears.
* * *
"TORPEDO!" Tiger called, cursing as the other Tiger of the Wind –not him– reflected it with his own attack. The blue wolf risked a quick glance over at the others; they were having the same problem he was. The two Genkis were skating circles around one another, one or the other occasionally darting in to try and attack the other boy, only to miss every time. The two stone giants were locked in a grappling match with no apparent advantage over each other, while the two Mocchis were trading Cherry Blossom Blizzards –neither hitting their marks.
"Any luck, you guys?" the real Genki called. Tiger knew it was the real Genki because, as they had discovered shortly after meeting ‘themselves’, the doubles were completely mute. But that was the only difference between them, and didn’t really help either side gain a foothold.
"No matter what I throw at this guy, he always dodges!" the blue wolf complained, launching another attack even as he spoke. The other Tiger leaped to the side, and the real Tiger cursed again. "He knows all of my moves!"
"Wait a second…that’s it!" Genki shouted. He suddenly broke off combat with his double and raced toward where the two Mocchis were fighting. "Mocchi, cover me!" he yelled.
"Chi?" asked the real Mocchi, who took one glance over at the rapidly approaching Genki, freaked out, and scrambled to get out of the way. Genki flashed past him, and the real Mocchi exclaimed in surprise as the boy sank his fist into the face of the pink double, sending it flying backward.
"Help each other out!" Genki yelled triumphantly, scooping up the real Mocchi in his arms. "Don’t waste time fighting yourself!"
"Got it, kid!" Tiger shouted, and he launched his Torpedo attack at the back of the fake Golem. As the double roared and let go of the other’s hands, the real Golem stumbled backwards, a stunned expression on his face. Smirking, Tiger leaped at the fake Genki, his claws raking the double’s shirt.
Genki screamed and skidded to a stop, dropping Mocchi as he folded over, holding his stomach. Tiger glanced over at him, startled. Did one of the other doubles hit him?
"Tiger, look out-chi!"
Tiger looked up just in time to see the double Mocchi leaping toward him. Snarling, Tiger unleashed his lightning, blowing the fake back.
Behind him, Mocchi screamed. Tiger whirled around and raced to his side, looking around for whatever had attacked him. None of the doubles seemed to be nearby; instead, the only thing near the little pink monster was Genki, still doubled over in apparent pain. The boy lifted his arms, and Tiger gasped silently.
A row of scratches had torn the boy’s shirt open. As Tiger stared at it, Genki raised his gaze and stared at something behind the blue wolf. His clear brown eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to shout a warning.
Too late. Tiger turned around just in time to receive a wicked kick from the double Genki across his muzzle. Snarling, the blue wolf coughed up blood, and a thin trickle ran out the side of his mouth as he glared up at the fake, his horns glowing as he charged his Lightning.
Suddenly his golden eyes noticed something else, and widened with shock. The fake Tiger was standing just behind the fake Genki, snarling at them.
And a thin trickle of blood was coming out of his mouth.
Tiger stared at his double, comprehension dawning at last. The real Golem lumbered up behind them, breathing hard, and the blue wolf knew that the stone giant’s back was bothering him.
"If we hit them, we get hurt," the stone giant rumbled darkly.
"And if they hit us, they get hurt," Tiger finished, staring at the doubles bleakly as they slowly advanced upon them. Despite himself, he began to feel his hope drain away, and only his stubbornness kept him rooted to the spot as the fake rebels drew closer to them.
* * *
"Holly!" The human girl was still sprawled out, motionless, and for one terrible moment Hare considered the possibility that her neck had snapped during her fall. He tore his gaze away from her body and glared at Vanity. The blond pixie hybrid was still laughing, eyes gleaming as she gazed down at the fallen girl. Beside her, Suezo stood at mindless attention, waiting for her next command.
Vanity stopped laughing abruptly and stared down at Holly’s body. Hare followed her gaze, and felt his eyes widen as the girl slowly got to her feet. He breathed the girl’s name, eyes wavering.
Holly propped herself up on one knee, gasping for breath. Her normally soft brown eyes were hard and cold as she fixed her gaze on the startled Vanity, who was still standing at the top of the stairs staring blankly at the human girl.
"How…how is that possible?" the pixie breathed.
"I’m…not giving up," Holly gasped, her breath coming hard. "My friends are counting on me…" Her fingers tightened around her father’s talisman, her father’s dagger, and suddenly she yanked it out of its sheath and raced up the stairs.
Vanity exclaimed, and hastily summoned a fireball to her hands. But before she could fire, Holly was suddenly in front of her. The girl knocked the pixie down, and the fireball fizzled harmlessly out of existence as Holly held her father’s blade a fraction of an inch away from Vanity’s neck.
"Holly!" Hare cried out, and Holly flicked a startled glance over at him without moving away from Vanity. The rabbit’s eyes wavered, but he still managed to cast a meaningful look over at Suezo, who was still standing mindlessly nearby, a completely blank expression on his face. Understanding his concern, Holly tightened her sweaty grip on the dagger’s hilt and held it closer to Vanity’s neck.
"Let them go. Now," she commanded, struggling to keep her voice from cracking. The golden-skinned pixie looked up at her, emerald eyes wide.
And then Vanity started laughing.
Holly and Hare stared at the crazy pixie, stunned. Vanity didn’t appear to be the least bit concerned by the edge of the dagger hovering so dangerously near her. Instead, she smiled up at Holly with what looked like an almost admiring expression.
"So, you are a fighter," she said. "I truly underestimated you. I apologize. Now, if you’ll let me get up, I’ll show you how to free your friend from my charms, as well as the others."
Holly held her dagger close to the pixie’s neck, biting her lip as she considered. Vanity continued to smile at her, a winning grin that slowly began to ease the human girl’s fear. She allowed Vanity to get to her feet, although she kept her blade hovering close to the pixie’s neck. Hare watched the pixie closely, the Phoenix’s Tear slowly becoming a warm sensation under his kerchief. He had a bad feeling about this…
Vanity turned to face Holly and Suezo. Smiling, she began to make a series of strange movements with her slender arms, and a silvery light surrounded Suezo. Holly stared at her friend, throat constricting as the glimmering mist wrapped around him.
Too late Hare realized what was happening. "Holly, look out!"
Holly gasped as the silver mist spread to her, engulfing her. Coughing, she instinctively tried to cover her mouth, only to find that she could not raise her arms. In fact, her entire body had become rigid, and she was unable to move anything other than her eyes and mouth.
"What’s happening?" she cried out, terrified. Her own body had become her prison. Vanity’s haughty laughter rang in her ears again.
"Why, I’ve set Suezo’s mind free of my control," the pixie leered at her. "Now, he’s merely in a special trance. He won’t feel a thing until I break off this spell. Besides, I couldn’t very well control him and you."
"What?" Holly exclaimed. In response, Vanity raised her arm, and Holly gasped as she felt her own arm raise in exactly the same way. Smirking, the pixie lowered her arm and began to sway in a sort of dance. Unable to resist, Holly’s body mimicked the moves perfectly, while Hare watched in silent horror.
"I’ve always loved this spell," Vanity commented, her ivory dress billowing and swaying as she moved, her blond hair swirling around her face. She cast a glance over at Hare as she added, "This will be the perfect spell for me to use later when I present you to either Naga or Master Moo; I haven’t decided which one I’ll go to yet. Either way, they’ll be extremely pleased that I can control the Phoenix’s Tear…even if it is through you."
Hare gulped, trying to harden his expression so that neither female could see the fear that statement caused to well up inside of him. He looked over at Suezo, who was still standing motionless inside of the silver mist, his eye fogged over.
Vanity continued her strange dance; Holly unable to resist moving in synch with the pixie’s every movement. After a moment, the dancing had maneuvered Holly in such a way that she was now facing Suezo, staring right into his blank, pupiless eye. As Holly felt tears of sympathy for her friend spring to her eyes, Vanity made a sudden swipe with her hand.
Holly gasped as her arm flashed forward, and she felt something hard in her hand sink into something soft, then rip back out. As her hand came back toward her, she nearly screamed as she realized that her dagger was still in her hand.
But now its edge was stained in blood. Holly stared at Suezo’s face, her throat constricting as she spotted the bleeding gash that had just been created down the side of his face. She would have trembled, but her body was no longer hers to control.
Vanity’s mocking laughter rang in her ears again. "Nice slice, Holly dear," she complimented the human girl, continuing her dance. "Too bad you missed his eyeball. But then, I can correct that whenever I want…"
She swept up her arm, and Holly screamed as she felt the dagger rip through Suezo’s flesh again, this time tearing a gash in his side. Vanity proceeded with her dancing, and Holly’s body followed the moves, circling around the paralyzed Suezo, her dagger flashing out again and again. Helpless tears ran down Holly’s face, and she struggled without any success to break free of the terrifying control that Vanity had over her.
Hare pounded against the hard, unyielding surface of the crystal doorway, ignoring the fact that he was making no progress whatsoever. Over and over again, his fists slammed into the translucent barrier, while he screamed at Holly to fight back, that she could break free of this spell. Angry tears stained his fur, and his paws throbbed painfully, but he refused to stop trying to break free.
Vanity maneuvered herself so that she was standing in front of the crystal chamber, and she smirked over her shoulder at Hare. "Don’t worry, little rabbit," she leered at him, "This’ll be over very soon."
Hare glared at her, his eyes wavering with a mixture of fear and loathing. His paws finally stopped beating against the transparent barrier, but they remained resting against it as he stared out at what was happening.
Vanity whirled around, and Holly turned to stared right at Suezo. The pixie forced her to back up a few steps, her gaze locked on the eyeball monster, and she raised her arm. The bloodstained edge of her dagger glimmered as she raised it, bringing her arm back.
"Let’s see how good your aim is, dearie," Vanity mocked, a smirk twisting her lips. "You’re going to try and hit the center of the target. Try and make a Suezo’s eye, girl!"
She laughed at her own joke, and Hare gritted his teeth in disgust. As Holly brought her arm back, taking aim, he clutched the Phoenix’s Tear tightly in his paws.
Underneath her tunic, Holly felt the Magic Stone become warm, and she realized that it was glowing. Staring into Suezo’s pupiless eye, the human girl felt something snap deep inside of her, and her eyes became hard with determination.
"Now!" Vanity called, sweeping her arm forward.
Holly pivoted on her heel and flung her dagger forward with all of her might.
"WHAT?" Vanity shrieked at the sight of the slender blade flashing toward her. The blond pixie leaped to one side, exclaiming as she felt the sharp edge graze past her cheek. Behind her, Hare cried out and flung himself to the floor as the blade crashed into the clear mirror. The sound of shattering crystal echoed through the room.
Holly fell to her knees, gasping, trembling, finally freed from the control spell. Sweat rolled down her face and back, and for a moment she simply reveled in the fact that she could move out of her own free will again.
Holly raised her head, her eyes wavering as her gaze fell on Suezo’s fallen body. The eyeball monster was crumpled beside her, blood trickling from numerous cuts, and she pulled herself to his side. His eye slowly focused on her, and Holly could feel his anguish.
"Hol…ly…" he choked, tears flowing down his wounded face. "Wha…what I did before…it wasn’t me…I couldn’t stop myself…I couldn’t control…"
Tears misted Holly’s eyes, and she draped her arms around her friend’s body, pulling him closer as she whispered, "I know, Suezo. I know."
Vanity, meanwhile, was stroking her right cheek with slender, trembling fingers. Her emerald eyes were wide with shock as she traced over a thin line, and she drew back her hand to stare at bloodstained fingers.
"You cut…my face," she breathed, her shoulders shaking. Her eyes fixed on Holly and suddenly narrowed. "You cut my beautiful face!" she shrieked, and a ball of crackling energy pulsed to life in her hands. Vanity launched it toward Holly and Suezo, screaming, "You little bitch, I’ll kill you!"
Holly tore her gaze away from her friend’s wounds just in time to see the lightning ball surging toward them. Her eyes widened, and she froze, rooted to the spot by her own fear. Her arms tightened around Suezo in a vice-like grip.
The glittering yellow light streaked toward them, only to suddenly vanish in mid-air as a crimson radiance sprung to life around them. As Holly watched, stunned, a flickering shield glittered around her and the eyeball, and she heard Vanity curse in a very unlady-like manner.
"It’s over, Vanity."
The pixie hybrid whirled around and glared behind her. Hare was standing in front of what remained of her shattered hidden doorway, his fur gleaming with a fiery aura similar to the shield around Holly and Suezo. The Phoenix’s Tear flashed bloodfire at his throat, no longer hidden by his kerchief.
"I’m not going to let you hurt my friends anymore," he told her, paws balling into fists.
Vanity just glared at him, unmoved. In her eyes, he didn’t appear to be so threatening. She could see shards of crystal glittering here and there in his fur; he hadn’t managed to completely avoid getting cut when Holly’s dagger had struck the cage. In her mind, this little rabbit was no match for her beauty and power, even with the Phoenix’s Tear.
"You’re out of your league, little rabbit," she hissed, green eyes glittering. Hare frowned, and pointed his paws at the pixie. A stream of crimson fire flashed out toward her.
Smirking, Vanity raised her mirror. The blaze roared into it and vanished, the mirror glowing as it absorbed the power. Hare’s eyes widened in shock, and Vanity leered at him as she leveled the mirror with him and sent the energy back at the rabbit.
Something glinted at the edge of Hare’s vision, and he glanced over at Holly’s dagger, still lying in the shattered remains of the crystal chamber. As the energy raced toward him, he darted toward the blade, seized its handle, and turned and flung it back at the blond pixie, all in one smooth motion.
At the same moment when the explosion from the energy ball flung Hare toward where Holly and Suezo were, the dagger struck Vanity’s magic mirror.
Holly paid no attention to Vanity’s outraged scream; her terrified gaze instead followed Hare’s body as the little rabbit skidded to a stop beside her. She called out his name, and for a moment got the sinking feeling that he would be unable to answer her. After a breathless moment, however, she heard a soft moan, and Hare slowly propped himself up on his arms.
"Did it work?" he asked groggily.
Before Holly could reply, Suezo suddenly flung himself against her back, screaming, "Down!" The two crashed into Hare and a moment later, she heard a muted thump, and felt Suezo twitch once. Hare shrieked the eyeball monster’s name, and Holly gasped as she opened her eyes to see her father’s talisman sticking out of Suezo’s side, the blade buried in his body.
"Hol…ly…are you hurt?" he asked, his eye fogged over with pain.
"I’m okay," Holly managed to reply, her eyes wavering. She attempted to pull the dagger out of his side, but her trembling fingers refused to close around the hilt. Then Hare was suddenly beside her, and he swiftly yanked the blade out, holding one paw against the wound to stop the flow of blood that followed. The dagger clattered to the floor as the rabbit suddenly whirled around, the crimson energy shield flickering around them again.
"Damnit…I missed," Vanity sneered, energy forming around her clenched fists. Her tattered silk robes billowed around her form, and her short blond hair swayed around her sneering face. Eyes as hard as jade were wide with a demented glee as she slowly approached them.
Hare moved to stand between her and his friends, trying to keep Suezo and Holly shielded behind him as much as possible. A few shards from the crystal chamber still glittered in her fur, which took on a crimson luminance as he summoned the fire aura. Its faint flickering light cast shadows over Holly’s stricken face as she cradled Suezo in her arms.
Vanity’s smirk grew wider, distorting her face. The new scar in her right cheek throbbed slightly, but she ignored it. Judging by the paleness of that aura, the little rabbit’s much weaker than he’s trying to appear. Well, isn’t that just too sad…
Her fingers tightened around her magic mirror. It had deflected the rabbit’s pathetic attempt to hurt her with the dagger before, and now she would use it to destroy him and his two friends with their own powers. She raised the mirror, clutching it in both hands, and leveled it with the three, waiting until she could see their reflections in its center.
She failed to notice the hairline crack that stretched across its otherwise smooth surface.
Breathing hard, Hare pointed his palms toward Vanity. He gritted his teeth, wincing as he forced energy to form in his outstretched paws. As he released the thin beam of light, he fell back to his knees, the fiery aura flickering fainter and fainter.
"POWER REFLECTION!" Vanity shouted, letting the weak energy bolt strike her mirror and be absorbed.
A sharp cracking noise echoed through the crystalline room. Vanity screamed as her magic mirror shattered, and the released energy flowed into her body.
Hare gasped, and the aura around his fur faded away as he stared at the pixie hybrid. Behind him, Holly slowly got to her feet, Suezo leaning against her, her eyes wavering as she watched Vanity suffer.
"No! Not me!" Vanity shrieked, the energy coursing through her veins. Her beautiful ivory robes billowed around her writhing form, soon burning away to charred strands. Her skin glowed as if lit from within, and Vanity groaned as she dropped to her knees. Her magic mirror clattered to the floor, a huge crack nearly splitting it in two.
"Why? I was so close…" she wailed.
"You’ve brought this upon yourself," Holly answered softly, her soft chestnut eyes misting with sympathetic tears. "All of your scheming…your disregard for others…this is the end result."
Vanity’s dimming green eyes locked upon Holly’s face, and she reached one trembling hand toward the human girl. Holly lowered her eyes, draping her arms around Hare and Suezo. Vanity wailed again and dropped to the cold crystal floor, her form still glowing. She felt all of her spells slip away, broken.
* * *
Genki and the others gasped in surprise as their doubles suddenly vanished into midair, blown away like a candle’s flame in a storm. The chamber that they were in shifted and changed, morphing into a new room. A crystal staircase appeared before them, and the four quickly moved toward it, knowing that it would lead them to the others.
* * *
Holly pulled Hare and Suezo closer to her, and the three watched silently as Vanity’s glowing form shrank and twisted. The light faded, leaving behind a lost disc where the pixie hybrid had lain. Beside it, the cracked magic mirror lay abandoned. Holly slowly walked over and picked it up.
"Beauty means nothing if your heart is not beautiful too," she murmured, eyes wavering as she gazed at her broken reflection in the glass. "I’m sorry that you never learned that."
The magic mirror glimmered once, then slowly crumbled into shimmering dust. Holly let it flow out of her cupped hands, watching as it trickled to the floor.
The silence was finally shattered when Suezo let out a soft groan and nearly collapsed. Hare jerked and quickly scrambled to support the eyeball, the Phoenix’s Tear gleaming as he used what little spare energy he had left to seal the worst of Suezo’s wounds.
Holly walked back over and gently helped Suezo steady himself. Her gaze fell on the medallion still fastened on him, and she rested her palm on it for a moment. Then, in a sudden, convulsive movement, she yanked it off, the chain snapping sharply. She turned and flung it as far away as she could, letting it slam into the far wall.
Suezo and Hare just watched her, eyes wavering. The girl trembled for a moment, then turned back toward them. She knelt and picked up her father’s dagger from the ground, sliding it back into its sheath. Then she walked over and stood on Suezo’s other side, letting her friend lean against her for support. The three walked out together to rejoin their friends, leaving behind the echoingly empty crystalline room.