"Alright, what's wrong?" I asked angrily.
Thorn looked up at me, confusion in her spring green eyes.
"You haven't asked a single stupid question in three whole days," I said.
"Something must be wrong."
She looked away again. "I thought ya were the one who always wanted me to be quiet, Pixie," she said. "So why are ya complaining now that I finally am?"
I sighed in frustration. "It's this whole Nemesis thing, isn't it?" I asked.
Thorn remained silent.
I probably should just leave her alone. It was none of my business, anyway. But much as I had always yelled at her to be quiet, her actually doing so was…unsettling. Thorn being quiet was like a Zilla flying; it just wasn't natural.
"Look, Thorn…" I began, and then I suddenly couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Don't be upset," Big Blue said.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't be," Thorn replied.
She had a point there. She had just found out that she had been created as a weapon during the Ancient War. I knew what it was like to be treated like an object. Upset didn't even begin to describe what that could do to a person.
Suddenly Big Blue froze in mid-step, jarring me out of my thoughts. "Big Blue, what's going on?" I asked.
"Master Pixie! I can't move!" he exclaimed.
"Neither can I!" Thorn said.
I tried to leap off Big Blue's shoulder, but I couldn't. I strained every muscle, but nothing happened. It was as though some invisible force held us in place. Then everything started spinning, slowly at first, then faster and faster.
It stopped abruptly, and we were somewhere else, several feet off the ground. We came crashing to the floor and I was flung from Big Blue's shoulder, dizzy and disoriented. The floor felt like it was spinning beneath me. We were in a cell of cold, gray stone, but instead of bars a thick glass wall separated us from the rest of the room.
I struggled to lift myself upright and discovered I could move again. As I got to my feet I heard crazed laughter. An Odium (Joker/Bajarl) wearing Moo's symbol floated on the other side of the glass. As I looked up at him he swung his scythe, and I felt myself being thrown back into the wall. Then the cell seemed to disappear.
"Master Pixie!" Big Blue shouted as both Pixie and Thorn flew into the wall, then crumpled to the ground, seemingly unconscious. He stepped protectively in front of Pixie and began pounding on the glass, trying to break through and attack the Odium. But the Odium continued to float there, unperturbed, never ceasing his laughter.
I stood up and gasped as I recognized my surroundings. This was Northtown. Worse, this was Northtown as it was when the humans still ruled.
I looked around, searching for Big Blue, but all I saw was Thorn. Annoying human brat…in that moment I hated her more than anything else.
"Before you say anything," I said to her coldly, "Just be quiet."
Thorn looked at me, and I could see the questions in her eyes. But she turned away and said nothing.
The scene changed and we had a bird's eye view of a room in the castle.
A room I knew all too well…
The human ruler was a sadistic pig who enjoyed seeing us monsters suffer.
Occasionally he would select one of us to torture for his own amusement. I was one of his favorites.
He stood confidently in the center of the room. Even after all this time, I still felt the fury and hatred rise within me, as strong as it ever was. What he and the other humans had done to us monsters was unforgivable.
There was a sharp knock on the door, and he grinned demonically. "Bring in the slave," he commanded, as though he would somehow debase himself by acknowledging I had a name. I knew what was coming, and I tried desperately to think of some way to stop it. But it was Odium's illusion, and there was nothing I could do but wait until he chose to end it.
The door was kicked open, and two burly guards dragged in a younger version of myself. They hoisted me up and slammed me down onto a table. I watched as they tied me there by my wrists and ankles, then looked away. I had already lived through this nightmare once. I didn't need to see it again.
I winced as I heard myself scream again and again. I glanced over at Thorn, who was looking slightly sick.
"Can I ask a stupid question?" she asked.
"You just did," I replied. Bad enough she had to be here. Bad enough for her to see me like this. Now she was going to start pestering me again.
"What are we, part of the wall or something?"
"Just once, will you-"
"Be quiet. I know," Thorn said, bowing her head.
For a while the only thing we heard were my screams.
"I feel like such an intruder, being here," Thorn said quietly. "Ya didn't even want me knowing about this. That's why Odium brought me here and not Big Blue. Ya'd probably feel better if Big Blue were here. But me, I'm only making this worse. I'm just a thorn in your side. Hell."
She was right; I would have given almost anything to have Big Blue by my side. He would have understood, and I wouldn't have needed to say a word. Instead, Thorn was here. I had never wanted her knowing about my past as a slave in Northtown. Her presence here really was only making things worse.
But it still hurt me to hear her talk about herself that way.
"Don't beat yourself up," I said. "That's my job."
Thorn looked at me and nodded gratefully.
On the table below, I screamed louder than ever.
"How can someone do that to another person?" Thorn asked. "It just isn't right."
"You'd be surprised at how cruel people can be," I said.
Thorn looked thoughtful, then shook her head. "No. I don't think anyone could do that to someone they thought of as a person. They reduce people to objects in their minds; they see them as cheap and expendable. Only then can they do things like this." Thorn sighed. "Wish I could fry that guy," she said.
"Too late," I said. "I already did."
For a long time, neither of us spoke. I still couldn't bring myself to watch the scene below, even though I had stopped screaming. I heard myself begin to whimper.
Then I heard Thorn gasp, like she had just awakened from one of her nightmares.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I just remembered something," she said. "I guess it's only fair I tell ya, after seeing this." She took a deep breath, then began.
Thorn's flashback (Thorn's P.O.V.)
The first thing I remember is a blinding flash of light. I staggered forward, purple spots blocking my vision.
"Wyvlo!" I heard a voice exclaim.
"Yes," another voice replied. "This is Nemesis. Do you like her, Lily?"
"But she's…but she's…" the first voice stammered.
"Human?" asked the second voice. "Well, at least she appears to be."
My vision slowly cleared, and I saw three people standing around me. One was a woman with her frizzy brown hair tied back in a ponytail. Glasses with large square frames obscured her hazel eyes, and she was wearing a white lab coat.
"Hello," she said when she saw me looking at her. "I'm Dr. Lily. And this…" She gestured to a man with hard green eyes and hair silvered from age. His lab coat was neon purple. "…Is Dr. Wyvlo." She didn't bother to introduce the Scaler (Hare/Dino) who also stood nearby.
"Come, Lily," Wyvlo said, turning and walking away. "We have work to do. Scaler will explain everything to her."
"But…" Lily lingered for a moment, looking at me. Then she turned and ran after Wyvlo.
"You're probably wondering what that was all about, right?" Scaler asked.
"Actually, I was wondering why Wyvlo's lab coat is purple," I said.
"Wyvlo isn't the sanest person around," Scaler replied. "In any case, your name is Nemesis."
"It means righteous anger. "
"Well, whatever. So are ya going to tell me what that was all about?"
"I was getting to that. We're in the middle of a war, Nemesis. No one remembers how it started, or why, but everyone is determined that their side wins. There are a number of labs across Pangea that create monsters, mainly for the purpose of fighting this war. You and I are standing in one. About a year ago, a lab in the IMA area created Moo, the most powerful monster ever. Whoever could control Moo could win the war. But Moo didn't particularly like that idea, so he began his own war. He can draw forth and amplify the darkness in the hearts of monsters, turning them into his servants. He has built up an army, and is trying to conquer the world. If he keeps up like this, though, there may not be much of a world left to conquer. Wyvlo doesn't care much about any of this. All he got out of this whole story is that someone created a more powerful monster than he did. So he set out to create a monster just as powerful. Namely, you."
"Me?" I asked, incredulous. I didn't feel at all powerful.
"Well, we don't know how strong you are yet," Scaler said. "But we should soon." He stood very still for a moment with one ear straight up, as though he was listening for something. "Yep, there it is. Hmm…interesting."
"Huh? What is?" I asked.
"You see, Nemesis, I'm not an ordinary monster," Scaler explained. "I'm like a living extension of the lab itself. Wyvlo and Lily were testing you, and I just got the results. You aren't quite as strong as Moo, but you're pretty close, well, Int. wise that is. It seems that whatever Wyvlo did landed you with a pretty interesting system of techniques. Most monsters - which is to say, every monster other than you - have certain attacks they can learn and use over and over again. Your abilities seem to depend on the moment and disappear as soon as you use them."
"What?" I asked.
Scaler ignored me and looked upward, as though there was something on the ceiling only he could see. Then he looked at me and smiled. "You're lucky. Wyvlo's decided to keep you," he said. "There have been others before you, but none of them were strong enough. Wyvlo sent them to the front lines of the war, which is as good as sending them to their deaths."
"But I thought ya said I wasn't that powerful."
"You may not be as strong as Moo, but you're one hell of a lot stronger than the others. And your techniques are flexible. Besides, there's another reason."
"You'll find out soon enough," Scaler said, almost sadly. "Now, follow me, Nemesis. Wyvlo wants to see you." He hopped off down the hallway where Wyvlo and Lily had gone. I followed.
We passed a variety of monsters, but they seemed…strange. Their eyes seemed blank and unfocused, and their faces were expressionless. They moved as though they were sleepwalking.
Scaler saw me staring at them. "They were ordinary monsters, once, but they've been tampered with," he said. "They've all been brainwashed. They don't have any thoughts of their own anymore, but they obey the humans without question."
"That's terrible," I said. To not even be able to think for yourself…I felt something stir within me, and, without thinking, I touched a passing Ferious (Centaur/Pixie). Her eyes snapped into focus, and she looked straight at me and smiled.
"Thank you," she said. "I will not forget this." Then she turned and galloped off.
"You freed her!" Scaler gasped. His eyes widened as he glanced down the hallway. "You shouldn't have done that…"
Pain slammed into me suddenly, and I screamed and fell to the floor.
"Little wretch!" Wyvlo shouted from behind me. "You'll pay for this!"
He clenched his fist, and the pain grew more intense. I screamed again.
"Wyvlo, stop!" Lily ran into the corridor. "How can you do this to her?! She's a human!"
Wyvlo rounded on her. "And you would feel better if she was a monster, would you? That's why she was made this way in the first place, to show us what hypocrites we are! To show the world what a bunch of idiots we've been!"
The pain grew even greater, and the darkness closed in.
When I awoke, Lily was leaning over me. "Are you all right, Nemesis?"
"You shouldn't have done what you did. Those monsters were meant to be that way," she said.
"It isn't right," I said. "Ya can't just turn people into mindless zombies!"
Lily seemed unconcerned. "They're only monsters."
Only monsters?! Well, she was only human. Did that give me any right to brainwash her? No. Then why should it be any different with monsters?
A door in the back of the room slid open, and Scaler walked in. "Nemesis. Good to see you awake," he said. "Dr. Lily, Dr. Wyvlo wishes to speak with you."
Lily stood up. "Yes, of course," she said, walking toward the door. "Scaler, take good care of Nemesis." With that, she left the room.
I sat up, and Scaler bounded over to me. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I said. "How did he do that to me?"
"That's the other reason Wyvlo chose to keep you," Scaler said quietly, carefully looking everywhere but at me. "It's something he's been working on for a long time. A way to ensure that no monsters go out of control like Moo."
I stared at him, wide-eyed, as he continued. "At any moment, anyone could just reach in and control you, provided they knew how and you were in their line of sight. That's how Wyvlo hurt you, Nemesis. And what's more, they can control what attacks you use, while without them you have no control over what abilities you have when. And without being controlled, your attacks will cost double the energy."
"So you're saying…what? That I'm virtually useless if I'm acting of my own free will?" I was scared. Any time Wyvlo chose, I could become little more than a puppet.
"Wyvlo may see it so," Scaler replied. "It would not be wise to do things so openly as you did with Ferious, much as I applaud you freeing her. Lily seems to be holding Wyvlo in check, but another incident like that and you may force him to control you. I like you, Nemesis, and I don't want to see that happen. So please, think before you act, alright?"
I nodded. "Ferious. Did she escape?" I asked.
"Yeah, she escaped," Scaler said.
Scaler straightened one ear, like he heard someone calling his name. "I have to go," he said. "Nemesis, be careful." And with that he bounded out the door.
"And that's it," Thorn said. "That's all I remember."
I didn't say anything. There was nothing to say. Thorn's past seemed to hold a lot of pain. She probably would have been happier if she never remembered.
In the scene below us, I screamed again.
"Pixie…about this…" Thorn gestured toward the illusion.
"I don't need your sympathy," I said harshly.
"Will ya accept understanding?" Thorn asked softly.
Maybe she did understand, if only a little. She had just remembered what it was like to be treated as a slave. Because of her lost memory, she had to go through that hell twice.
"Only if you will," I replied.
Thorn smiled slightly, something she hadn't done since facing Moo. Then she nodded. "Fair enough."
For a short moment the silence was broken only by my screams. It was really starting to get to me now. I needed a distraction.
"Thorn," I said. "Ask a stupid question."
"There must be something wrong with my ears," Thorn said. "I thought I just heard ya tell me to ask a stupid question."
"You heard right."
"Really? Can I launch into a tirade?"
"Go ahead." Just as long as it took my mind off of this.
"Okay, just remember, ya asked for it," Thorn said, then launched into her tirade. "Why, why is Moo's hair pink?! I mean, really, he's the most powerful and evil monster in the world, and he's got pink, poofy hair! What the hell were those scientists thinking?! 'Oh, let's make a big, scary monster who is really really powerful, and let's give it pink, poofy hair'?! I mean, really, people! And what kind of a name is Moo, anyway?! Okay, so it literally means nothing. So?! Who cares?! It's ridiculous! Moo is a lot of things, but he certainly isn't nothing! So what's the big idea?! The scientists who created him must have been drunk!"
She paused for breath, and I heard myself scream again. It seemed to be getting to Thorn, too.
"Now this is getting ridiculous," Thorn said. "Is it really that interesting to torture us?!"
In reply, the Odium's crazed laughter echoed over and over again, an eerie accompaniment to my screams.
"That does it!" Thorn said. She closed her eyes and clasped her right hand over her heart.
There was a bright flash of pale green light and the sound of shattering glass. Northtown vanished, and we were back in Odium's cell. Thorn was getting to her feet amidst shards of broken glass, looking drained. I was slumped against the wall myself.
The glass wall had been shattered, and the whole place was beginning to shake. Small bits of rock were falling from the ceiling. The building was collapsing.
I got up and saw Big Blue throttling the Odium. As I watched he turned and slammed the baddie into the wall. He was probably finished, but, just for good measure…"LIGHTNING!" And the Odium was just another lost disk.
"Master Pixie!" Big Blue exclaimed as I flew onto his shoulder, trying to avoid the small bits of falling rock. "This place is falling apart!" I had noticed…
"Thorn! Come on!" I shouted.
Thorn took a few steps toward us, then stumbled and fell. Big Blue grabbed her and ran. He ran through innumerable hallways, turning so often I soon lost all sense of direction. For a moment I thought we would wander around in there until the building collapsed on top of us. But finally we did make it out of there. We stood and watched as it collapsed behind us.
I turned to Thorn. "Next time, try not to blow up the building!" I shouted.
Thorn laughed. "Guess I overdid it a little, huh?"
"Oh, well, it was ugly anyway," I said. Thorn smothered a giggle. I sighed. Well, at least she had gotten over being upset. Now if only she would stop asking such stupid questions all the time…nah; knowing Thorn, it'll never happen. "Let's go, Blue."
Hopefully, I'll get the next part of Before done soon. It shouldn't take me too long to write, but I can never be sure (I thought that about "Crab Dragon's Sacrifice", and it's my longest one yet) I'll try to get it written as soon as I can, then start working on the next part to the Thorn series. I want to write as much as I can before school starts.