Pain. Darkness. That was all there was, all that existed.
My name is…I can’t think, can’t even try to remember. It hurts too much, and I can’t think, can’t even try to remember why.
Please, help me. Somebody, anybody, just help me, please…
Deep in the darkness between the realms, the chained Power stirred in its sleep. Groggily it awakened from its nightmare to the darkness that had surrounded it for far too long. The darkness that would surround it forever, even if it were freed.
~Please, help me. Somebody, anybody, just help me, please…~
There it was again, the voice that had awakened it. The Power mused over whether or not to heed it. Decisions of this sort were few. If the voice thought to make it a command, and to add the Power’s name, it would have no choice. But as it was the voice was merely pleading, and to nobody specific.
The Power moved through the darkness toward the voice. There were so few who did not order these days. Best to look out for those few, before they became even less.
~What help do you ask?~
I heard the voice through the pain, but I couldn’t answer. Couldn’t think, couldn’t know, couldn’t do anything but suffer…
The Power sighed. Nemesis seemed unable to answer. The Power should have known it was Nemesis from the beginning. She was the only one who would never command, knowing full well what it was like to be forced to obey.
The Power reached out and touched the girl’s mind. Nemesis was too weak to make more than a feeble attempt to pull away.
So much had happened…Nemesis was now Thorn, and Thorn had gotten into the biggest mess of her life. The Power studied the Wracky’s curse for a moment. Small wonder the girl had been unable to answer; she must be nearly out of her mind with the pain.
The Power dispelled the curse – child’s play, compared to what it was used to doing – then gave both itself and the surrounding darkness something of a physical form. Before returning her to her world, the Power wanted to speak to Thorn. It flat-out refused to do the old echoing voice of an all-powerful being cliché. The only reason that had become so popular was because most of the Powers were too lazy to create a suitable form.
The pain slowly vanished, and the darkness around me began to solidify, until it seemed that I was standing in a pitch-black room. A girl who looked about my age carefully materialized in front of me, as though she was taking pains to create the proper image without being dramatic. She was wearing ripped up jeans and a faded pink T-shirt. Her shoulder length dark brown hair concealed most of her face, and her eyes seemed permanently cloaked in shadow. An aura of darkness surrounded her. I could see her and distinguish the dark aura perfectly, even though there was only blackness all around me. It was just like that time with Adrian…
My name is Thorn. I had been battling a Wracky, and I had won. Then darkness had swallowed me, and I had ended up here, in too much pain to even wonder where here was. Now that the pain was gone, I could think clearly again.
“How did ya rip up your jeans that bad?” I asked.
The girl laughed. Her voice sounded just like any other person’s. I knew her, I knew who she was…Se Ilissed…I shook my head. It was useless trying to remember more. I never remembered when I tried to, anyway.
“You asked the same question the first time we met like this,” the girl explained. “The answer hasn’t changed. I choose the way I wish to appear. This form isn’t real…at least not in the sense that things in your world are real.”
She paused for a moment, then continued.
“I am the Se Ilissed, the Power of Darkness. I was chained by the other Powers, and forced to do the will of whomever summons me. It is the link you and I share that allowed Wyvlo and Moo to control you. That link has been weakened, but not so much that I am unable to hear you. I heard your cry for help, and came to your aid.”
“I guess I owe ya one,” I said.
“All I ask is that next time you summon me, you ask and do not order,” the Se Ilissed replied. She smiled slightly, a rare expression to cross her face. “Although I know you would do that anyway. You know too well what it is like to be forced to do something against your will.”
I nodded, then glanced at the surroundings. I couldn’t distinguish anything but the blackness. “So, where are we?”
“In the space between your world and the Forbidden Realm,” the Se Ilissed answered. “Time has no business here, but then, neither does anything else. There is only me…and the darkness. By sending you here, the Wracky meant for you to suffer for all eternity.”
“Are ya sure there’s nothing else I can do for ya?” I asked. I owed her big time, if that was the case. It was only right to repay her somehow.
“No,” the Power replied. “You’ve done enough by allowing me to choose whether or not to answer you. There is nothing more I want from you. Now, it’s time for you to return to your world.”
The floor abruptly opened up beneath me, and I fell through the darkness. I landed in the middle of a dirt road, back in the world of light and color. The sun was just beginning to rise, its light diffusing through the numerous clouds in the sky. It lit everything with a soft rosy glow. Tall trees surrounded me on either side. Oh, joy, another forest to wander through. Well, at least this one had a road through it. I got up and started walking. It wasn’t like I had anything else to do.
Lilim’s eyes flew open as Thorn’s signal blazed back into life. So, she had managed to find a way around the curse.
Lilim smiled to herself, then scowled as a stray beam of sunlight pierced the shadows of her cave. It was time to train those idiot Vanities again.
Lilim rose and walked to the mouth of her cave, stretching her wings. At least if the author kept her part of the bargain, she wouldn’t have to deal with the Vanities, Jaba, or Naga for much longer. But she’d need Kyoko’s help if she was going to get Pixie and Big Blue to the lair…and she just may have to move a very dangerous piece in the game as well.
Lilim spread her wings and took off, gliding away from the rising sun. How ironic that she needed the help of the Vanities in order to get rid of them…
I was terribly and horribly bored. There was no one around to ask stupid questions to. No one to be annoyed or amused. Hell, I would’ve felt better even if there was someone who did nothing but ignore me.
I sighed and kicked some dirt up from the road. I had to find Pixie and Big Blue again; things were just no fun without them. I had been able to feel them somehow when they were captured by Crab Dragon…maybe I could do that again. But my powers never worked when I tried…
Out of sheer boredom I made an umbrella appear in the air above me. It bounced off my head and landed in the dirt. I barely even felt it. Now I knew why Pixie was always so exasperated when I did that. It was about the only thing I could do when I tried to, and I couldn’t even use it when it was raining.
Suddenly I found myself choking as the collar of my shirt was forced against my throat. I kicked wildly at the empty air as I was lifted off my feet by a hand clutching the back of my shirt. I was spun round to stare into the leering green face of a Tropical Ape (Ape/Plant). His grin grew broader at the expression of startled fright that must have been on my face. He chuckled and fingered the crest of Moo he wore before dropping me to the ground.
“What’d ya do that for?” I asked, straightening my shirt and picking my umbrella up off the ground. “Do ya always harass random travelers before breakfast? Is that, like, tradition for ya?”
The Tropical Ape ignored me.
“She’s the one, alright,” he said.
“Don’t ya know it isn’t polite to talk about somebody like they aren’t there? Who’re ya talking to, anyway? The Wubbles?”
I immediately regretted asking that when an entire troop of Tropical Apes stepped out from the trees on all sides, blocking any possible way out.
The captain turned to the one who had grabbed me. “Are you certain?”
“Of course,” the Tropical Ape replied. “She matches the physical description perfectly, and the Wood Hoppers reported that she made an umbrella appear out of nowhere. And everyone who’s gone up against her and survived mentioned her useless questions.”
“What didja do, devote your life to studying about whoever ya think I am?”
They both ignored me. The captain grunted in response to his underling, then turned to me. “You, girl, are you Nemesis?”
“Actually, the name’s Thorn. Are ya always this rude? Or do ya think I’m only here when ya want to ask me a question?”
“And they say she’s been calling herself Thorn,” put in the baddie, whom I decided, for no reason whatsoever, to dub Ned. If he knew so much about me, I should at least have something to call him by besides “the baddie” or “the Tropical Ape”.
“But don’t they also say she’s travelling with the traitors?” asked the captain. “Girl, where’s Pixie and Big Blue?”
I shrugged. “Why do ya think I know? And how come ya keep ignoring my questions? Ya seem to hear my answers well enough.”
“Captain, the last time the traitors were sighted, she wasn’t with them,” stated Ned. At this point I was starting to believe that he really had devoted his life to studying me. “They may have been separated,” Ned added.
The captain squinted at me and straightened his helmet. “Then she is the one. Best to get this over with, then.” He cleared his throat. “Tropical Apes, ATTACK!”
He hardly needed to shout, as none of the Tropical Apes were more than ten feet away from him. As one the baddies rushed over the few steps that separated them from me, despite my attempts to hold them back with my umbrella.
The first to reach me whacked me with such force that I went flying towards one on the other side of the ring. He also whacked me, and I was bounced toward another Tropical Ape. This went on for quite some time, during which I swore never to play Ping-Pong again, until…
One whole side of the ring was electrocuted, and I collapsed to the ground. It wasn’t Pixie – this voice was deep and masculine. But at least it was somebody…
“You okay, kid?”
I looked up into a pair of golden eyes, framed by white and blue fur.
“Tiger…yeah, I’ll be alright,” I replied. I tried to get up and managed, with a great deal of pain, to get to my knees. Then I suddenly found I couldn’t go any further. I must’ve been battered and bruised all over, because any attempt to lift myself further caused a searing pain to shoot through my entire body.
“Stay here, kid,” Tiger said. “We’ll take care of the baddies.”
By this time the Tropical Apes had managed to regroup.
“It’s one of the rebels!” shouted the captain, even though shouting was as needless as it had been before. “Get him!”
“I’M IN THE ZONE!”
“Gaah!” yelped the captain as Genki firmly planted his roller blades in the baddie’s back.
“CHERRY BLOSSOM BLIZZARD, CHI!”
“MACHINE GUN PUNCH!”
Mocchi, Hare, and Suezo ran up from behind the Tropical Apes. Tiger rushed forward to help them.
I didn’t pay much attention to the battle, focusing more on trying to get to my feet, or at least find a way to lessen the pain I was in. That being the case, I didn’t notice the Tropical Ape until he had jumped on top of me.
“Oof!” I exclaimed as the breath was knocked out of me and I fell back to the ground.
Golem rushed up behind me and flung the Ape away. Holly came running up at the stone monster’s heels.
“Are you alright?” Holly asked as she knelt down beside me. With her help, I managed to get back to my knees, but I still couldn’t find the strength to stand.
“I’ll be okay,” I assured her. I had been hurt worse than this…hadn’t I? Although this was the first time Pixie and Big Blue hadn’t been there to help me recover…
It seemed to be only a few minutes before Genki exclaimed, “ALRIGHT! GOODIES RULE!”
I looked up to see a bunch of Lost Disks littering the road, with Genki, Hare, Tiger, Suezo, and Mocchi standing triumphantly over them.
Holly looked up and gasped. “Genki! Behind you!”
Genki stupidly turned to look as a Tropical Ape jumped out of a tree at him, ready to flatten the boy with a Thwack.
Before anyone else had a chance to react, I stretched out a hand toward the baddie. Pale green light surrounded him, and for a moment he was suspended in mid-air, kicking and flailing his arms to try and escape. Then he was flung in the opposite direction, far away over the treetops. Even if he survived the fall, it would take him a long, long time to catch up to us.
Then the attack took its toll, and I slumped back to the ground, almost completely drained of energy. Holly caught me and helped me into a sitting position. She had to hold me up; I didn’t have any strength left, not even to support myself. When I finally recovered enough energy to look, I noticed everyone staring at me.
Suezo was the first to speak. “H-h-how did you do that?”
“Yeah, Thorn, that was awesome!” Genki chimed in.
“How did you do it, chi?” Mocchi asked.
“You guys, can’t you see she’s exhausted?” Holly scolded. “Give her some time to recover!”
“No, it’s okay,” I insisted. I could talk, even if I couldn’t do much else. “But it’s a long story. Have ya seen Pixie and Big Blue?”
“We haven’t seen them since you rescued us from those Vanities,” Hare replied.
“Did something happen?” Golem asked.
“The Tropical Apes said, or as good as said, that Pixie and Big Blue are alright,” I replied. They had mentioned “the last time the traitors were sighted”, so they hadn’t been captured or killed or anything. Well, not by the baddies…and no one else had any reason to hurt them. Unless there was something else like those Wrackies…I mentally whacked myself in the head. It was useless and stupid to think that way. If nothing had happened, I was worrying over nothing. If something had happened, there was nothing I could do about it. And I owed Golem an explanation still.
“We just got separated,” I said at last. “Would ya mind if I stuck with all of ya until I find them again?” Anything was better than being alone. It was really lucky Genki and his friends had come when they did, otherwise I’d have been toast. And they had been willing to help me before…
“Sure!” Genki exclaimed with his usual energy. “And you can tell us your story on the way!”
Golem knelt down beside me, holding out one huge hand. “Thorn, may I…?”
“I…” I bit my tongue and choked on the words “I can walk”. I couldn’t even stand, but the protest was nearly automatic. I tried to smile, then nodded. “Thanks.” And to the others as well… “All of ya.”
Holly released me, allowing Golem to scoop me up. I began telling my story as we walked.
The chimes came, signifying the end of the training, but Lilim didn’t leave.
“Kyoko,” she said. “I have a favor to ask.”
“What is it?” Kyoko asked warily. ~Why do I get the feeling that I am not going to like this?~ she thought.
“I need you and your Vanities to drive the traitors to the lair. Attack swiftly if they move in the wrong direction, then retreat. And no, I don’t expect you to do this for nothing. In return, I’ll make sure Naga will never kill you or any of your Vanities, and I’ll even do things your way during training.”
Kyoko blinked. “What?”
Lilim sighed. “I know you understood me. I have my own reasons for asking you this. The question is, will you do it?”
Kyoko stared at her for a few moments. Yes, she understood, but…what in the world did Lilim want them to do that for? The Vanity stalled for a little more time to think things over.
“I take it Naga has nothing to do with this?” she asked.
“Naga isn’t going to have to know about this, now, is he?” Lilim asked in a way that clearly conveyed that she would charbroil anyone who tried to tell him.
That decided her. There was just no way Kyoko could trust Lilim. Even when the Pixie/Joker mix was following Naga’s orders she was untrustworthy. And when she was acting on her own…Kyoko didn’t want to think about it.
“Oh, and did I mention that if you refuse, I’ll make all of your lives miserable?” Then Lilim leaned in close, speaking so only Kyoko could hear. “And that includes that little Dryad of yours. Annie, I believe her name was?” She smirked at the Vanity’s shocked expression. “It wasn’t that hard to find her. That fool Naga may miss things, but I do not. I could find her no matter where you tried to hide her. And as she’s not under Naga’s protection…”
She’d kill Annie. Lilim didn’t have to finish her sentence for Kyoko to understand her perfectly. The little witch had left her no choice.
“Very well, Lilim,” Kyoko hissed through gritted teeth. “But I can’t speak for the others.”
One of the Vanities, who had been talking amongst themselves about Lilim’s proposal, spoke up suddenly.
“We’re all behind you, Kyoko,” she said. The others nodded in agreement.
“Good.” Lilim smiled, baring her two small, white fangs. Then she turned and strode out of the room.
The Vanity who had spoken before moved closer to Kyoko the moment she was out of earshot. “And later, we’ll get the most out of Lilim’s little deal.”
“Now, let me see if I have this straight,” Hare said when I had finished my story. I hadn’t given as much detail as I had to Pixie and Big Blue, and had left out everything that I thought would only make the story more confusing. But even a summary was pretty hard to believe at first.
Hare paced around the small clearing where we had stopped for something to eat. The magic stone had taken us off the road, supposedly leading us toward the Phoenix.
Hare scratched his chin and continued. “You’re almost as powerful as Moo, but you have practically no control over your powers, and they take a lot out of you whenever you do manage to use them. Furthermore, you were created during the Ancient War, then put to sleep. You woke up centuries later, with no memories of who or what you are, joined up with Pixie and Big Blue, and slowly regained your memory. You still don’t remember everything, but you have a pretty good idea by now of what happened to you. Am I right?”
“That is one crazy story,” Tiger remarked.
“So, how did you get separated from Pixie and Big Blue?” Genki asked.
“It’s another long story,” I said. “Are ya sure ya want to hear it?”
“Of course we’re sure!” Genki exclaimed, nearly bursting with enthusiasm.
“Chi!” Mocchi exclaimed, echoing Genki’s energy.
“Okay,” I replied. “Here goes…”
Lilim strode down the corridor toward Naga’s throne room, trying to resist the urge to strangle Jaba. She fantasized a moment about stuffing the words of whatever love song he was trying to sing down his throat. She couldn’t even recognize the song, the fool was singing so horribly off key.
Lilim began charging a Gigaflame, then let it fade. Instead she stored every bit of anger and frustration away. In a few moments, she was going to need all of it.
She hadn’t thought Kyoko would be so easy to persuade, so she had needed to find some way of convincing her. The fact that Kyoko had said she was not afraid for herself, but would not say who she was afraid for had given Lilim somewhere to start. Adding that to Lilim’s suspicion that Kyoko had a friend on the other side had made all the pieces fall into place.
Lilim had gone through quite some trouble to locate whoever it was Kyoko was afraid for. She had known what general direction the Vanity had returned from when she had been missing, and had figured that Kyoko would only be that concerned for family, or one as close as family. Knowing that, it hadn’t been hard for Lilim to find the Dryad. Her signal was nearly identical to Kyoko’s. And now that Lilim knew her signal…Annie couldn’t hide from her. Lilim would always be able to find her. It might take some time, but Lilim would always find her in the end.
She finally reached the ornate double doors that led to Naga’s throne room, and Jaba faded discreetly into the background.
Lilim smirked. If she was going to make sure Naga wouldn’t get rid of the Vanities, she may as well do this right…
Naga drummed his fingernails on the arm of his throne, listening to Jaba’s off key singing. He waited to hear the roar of flames and the sound of a pot getting blown backward, but Lilim did not retaliate. Naga’s serpentine features settled into a frown. Had the little witch actually come to tolerate the Jaba? And she hadn’t seemed all that upset about training the Vanities…
The double doors burst open violently, and tongues of flame shot into the room. Lilim strode up to him in the wake of the inferno, her crimson eyes blazing with wild fury.
“Find someone else,” she hissed, the remnants of the Gigaflame licking the air around her, seeming almost to caress her. It made her look like a demon from some ancient legend. But Naga did not believe in demons.
“Lilim,” he said, trying to keep his voice normal. He could not allow the little witch to intimidate him. “To what do I owe this…visit?”
“Find someone else,” Lilim repeated, her voice rising in volume as she spoke. “Or I swear I will roast every single one of those airheaded Vanities.”
Naga choked back a cackle of glee. There was no telling what Lilim might do to him if he laughed at her in the mood she was in. Although Moo would make her regret it later, Naga doubted that Lilim would leave him alive to see it happen. But on the inside, he exulted. Finally, the Vanities were getting to the little witch!
“Now, now, Lilim, I’m afraid there is no one else,” Naga replied in a mock soothing tone. “Those Dainas were the only other Pixies I had, and the rebels destroyed them. You’re the only one left besides the Vanities themselves.”
“Then I suggest you find a healer.” Lilim’s voice had gone dangerously soft. The flames still curled around her, their light reflecting in her two small fangs. The little witch smiled slowly, baring them all the more clearly. “Otherwise none of those fools will survive the week.”
Lilim turned and stalked out of the throne room, the flames slowly dying as she passed through the charred double doors. She had accomplished her purpose. Now that Naga thought the Vanities annoyed her that much, he would go through considerable trouble not to kill them. It was somewhat humiliating to pretend to lose control in front of Naga, but it would be worth it. If she could only get rid of that bloated lavender snake, it would be worth it. And with Jaba and the Vanities thrown into the deal…it would be more than worth it.
“Mocchi’s confused, chi,” Mocchi said when I had finished.
“This just keeps getting weirder and weirder,” Tiger sighed.
“I don’t get it,” Genki said. “If the Se Ilissed is the Power of Darkness, why was she being so nice?”
“Darkness isn’t evil, and light isn’t good. They just are what they are,” I said. “ ‘In lumen eo est caligo; in caligo, lumen. Nemo stat solus.’ In light there is darkness; in darkness, light. Neither stands alone.” Everyone blinked, including me. “And I have no idea where that came from. I just, sort of, said it. Stuff like that happens sometimes. I’ll remember these little bits and pieces by saying them, then having no idea where I heard them from.”
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. I wanted to hug Suezo when he broke it.
“Well, let’s not sit around here all day,” he said, hopping up. “We’ve got a Phoenix to find.”
“Yeah, gang, LET’S GO!” Genki shouted, leaping to his feet.
“CHI!” Mocchi shouted, following suit.
One by one the others got up, ready to continue their journey. Golem knelt beside me, ready to carry me again.
“Hang on, Golem,” I said. “I think I can walk.”
I got up slowly, carefully, using a nearby tree for support. I still ached quite a bit from the beating I had taken from the Tropical Apes, but it was nothing I couldn’t deal with. Besides, when I found Pixie and Big Blue, I didn’t want to appear helpless. I had been helpless too many times already.
I slowly followed after the others, Golem lingering by my side. I wanted to tell him to go ahead, that I’d be fine, but I didn’t want to be rude to him. I owed him a little politeness, at least, for what he had done. Besides, it was nice knowing that he was there to help me if I needed it. Big Blue would’ve done the same, but he wouldn’t have made it so obvious. I guess being around Pixie so much had taught him just how far he could go without insulting her strength.
Pixie and Big Blue…with any luck, I would find them soon. If not…I wouldn’t stop looking until I did.