Another day of searching for the Phoenix had come to an end, and while the courageous seven had nothing to show for the day’s travels, all in all, things had not been entirely bad for them either, Golem mused as he looked down at his sleeping companions. For one thing, they had not been attacked at all for nearly a week now, meaning that they had not had to fight needlessly. That fact alone was enough to raise the peaceful stone giant’s morale, and only Tiger had appeared to be upset by the lack of action, although Golem thought that part of his anger was faked for their benefit. After the battle with Naga, Tiger had not exactly been in the best of shape, with his shoulder nearly completely smashed in, the wounds on his chest reopened, and a bruised windpipe from the reptilian’s attempt to choke him to death.
That was another thing to be thankful for; Tiger had completely recovered from his injuries, and Hare was also doing much better than he had been. The little rabbit had exerted an incredible amount of energy during the fight with Naga, defeating most of the reptilian’s warriors as well as completely leveling his fortress, and the effort had left him drained and weak. Immediately afterwards, he had passed out and gone into a coma, slipping in and out of consciousness while the others watched and fretted over him. They had been forced to move quickly, and Golem had taken it upon himself to watch over the little rabbit until he recovered, carrying him in his arms and keeping a close eye on him, even after he had reawakened.
Even after he had finally come to, Hare had been terribly weak and sickly; it was like he had drawn upon reserves of energy he had not even possessed during the battle, and was now paying for that with interest. He couldn’t move on his own very well, and often stumbled or fell when he attempted to walk. Oftentimes, his feet seemed to completely refuse to carry him, and Golem had continued to carry him without comment, as if this was the way they had always traveled.
Hare didn’t seem to be too pleased by the fact that he couldn’t take care of himself, and Suezo’s teasing him at first had not helped, although Holly quickly took the eyeball monster aside for a little ‘discussion’ that apparently had convinced him to shut up. As for Tiger, the blue wolf had surprisingly chosen not to comment on Hare’s situation at all, something that the others were silently grateful for. The last thing Hare needed at this point was to get into a fight with Tiger.
Finally, though, it looked like Hare had recovered, at least enough that he was able to walk on his own again instead of being carried by Golem. The stone giant had needed to scoop him up later on, however; Hare had been so determined to prove that he was okay now that he had kept walking until he had used up all of his energy and fallen asleep. Fortunately, by that time, it was late enough in the day that the others had decided to go ahead and set up camp.
Now it was nighttime, and the stars sparkled brilliantly above the small clearing they had chosen. Golem gazed up at the sky, a soft smile on his stone face. Back when he was a child, the night sky had always fascinated him for some reason, although he couldn’t quite put a name to it. Some of the adults in his village had joked that it was simply because it was a sort of forbidden sight back when he was young; the children were supposed to be fast asleep by the time the stars came out, even though that didn’t stop any of them from trying to stay up at least once.
Golem doubted that this was the cause, however. Probably it was just the sheer sight of it that awed him; a million points of light shining in the darkness, like candles flickering in the darkened halls of a house, meant to guide those who lived there with their light, however faint it might be. Light against the darkness, shining through despite the fact that it should have been overshadowed, standing out in the blackness…
A sudden noise caught his attention, and the stone giant glanced around the campsite. After a moment, his gaze rested on Hare, and a concerned frown creased his lips. The little rabbit was whimpering softly in his sleep, and occasionally kicked the air restlessly in what might have been an attempt to run, or maybe to fight off whatever it was that was in his dream. Golem knelt next to his friend and gently took one of the rabbit’s paws in his hand: it looked small and fragile against the hard rocky skin that covered his palm.
A few moments passed, Hare groaned in his sleep and shifted again, his paw tightening slightly around Golem’s little finger. Tears brimmed in his closed eyes, and Golem stared at him in concern, wondering if he should try to wake him up. If he was having a bad dream, then perhaps it would be best to…but if he was having a vision, would it be wise to awaken him before he reached the end? Before he could reach a decision, Hare decided for him.
"Mommy…" he whimpered, a tear rolling down his cheek as his wavering brown eyes slowly opened. He looked up at Golem’s concerned face in confusion for a moment, then pulled his hand away suddenly and hid his face in his arms, folding his ears back so that they cast shadows over his face.
"What is wrong?" Golem asked, making his voice as soft and gentle as he could. "Why were you crying?"
Hare’s only reply was to bury his face further into his arms and murmur a reply so faint that Golem couldn’t hear it. The stone giant frowned slightly with concern, then attempted to bend down so that he was at eye level with the little rabbit, rather difficult considering the major difference in their sizes. Finally, he was forced to make do with simply lying on his chest, arms crossed in front of him, and even then he still was looking down at his friend.
They remained like this for some time, Golem watching the little rabbit carefully and Hare keeping his face hidden in his folded arms. Finally, Hare glanced back up at him, realizing that he would not leave him alone until he got some sort of reply.
"………My mother…" He relented in a soft whisper, and Golem’s eyes misted with sympathy. That, really, was all that needed to be said for him to understand, and probably a bit less painful than if his friend had tried to elaborate. Rather than forcing him to, Golem remained respectfully silent, and for a few moments silence reigned once again in the clearing.
"………What was your home like?"
Golem looked slightly taken aback for a moment, then smiled in understanding. Sometimes the best way to forget your own experiences was to listen to someone else’s. Hare had raised his head enough to gaze up at the stone giant’s face, and he watched as his friend looked back up at the stars, his eyes slowly becoming distant as he began to speak quietly, beginning with his earliest memory…
* * *
A swirl of blinding white light slowly faded away, sharpening into the features of a large room of gray stone walls. Gray eyes blinked, unused to sight, and the newly unlocked monster looked around in curiosity, drinking in the novelty of life. As more details came into view, he studied them with rapt interest: the four pillars with strange carvings at their tops, the intricate pattern etched in the floor beneath his feet, and in particular the small group of figures that stood behind a raised platform, studying him with as much interest as he did them.
"A purebred golem," one of them, a shapely creature with scaly green skin and a leaf green tunic on announced, a slight grin on her face. It did not seem strange to the newly born monster that he could understand the words; it seemed perfectly natural to him. However, he could not recognize the breed of monsters, only that this woman –for he somehow sensed that this creature was female, whatever that meant– was somehow similar to him.
"I told you it would be a purebred," a small monster with large eyes and even larger ears trilled, beaming as it did a triumphant back flip. Its short pink-and-white fur shimmered in the light coming from a wide opening behind them, but the young monster found himself watching the small monster as it jumped and cavorted, saying, "Didn’t I? Didn’t I?"
"Whatever, Fairy Hopper," a dinosaur-like monster with red plates on its body said, rolling its black eyes. "You guessed it would be a purebred, but just remember before you try to collect on that bet that I said it would be some sort of golem. We were both right, so nobody truly lost."
The smaller monster’s mood seemed to sour slightly at that remark, and it slumped down on the dinosaur monster’s back, muttering, "Don’t be such a jerk, Crab Saurian, I was just saying that I was right. I don’t even care about the stupid bet."
"I bet," Crab Saurian replied with another roll of his eyes. The female monster glared at both of them, frowning.
"Listen to you two; how can you bicker like that in front of a child? We’re being incredibly rude to our new arrival…" and here she stepped forward, smiling apologetically at the stunned youth. "Well met, not-so-little one. I am Dixie, a Pixie/Zuum, and these two are my friends, Fairy Hopper the Hopper/Pixie and Crab Saurian the Zuum/Arrow Head. We welcome you into the world, and to our humble village."
The new monster blinked down at her, completely confused. For the first time, it registered in his mind that he was looking down at them, and he glanced down at his feet. Indeed, he was taller than they were, although not by much. This struck him as both being odd and somehow right at the same time. As if sensing his confusion, the female monster –she had called herself ‘Dixie’, hadn’t she? – smiled reassuringly up at him.
"Forgive Fairy Hopper and Crab Saurian for their rudeness, child," she said, walking up to him. She wrapped her delicate arms around one of his fingers, and again he was taken aback by the difference in their sizes. However, it didn’t appear to startle her in the slightest, and she led him off of the raised platform toward an opening in the far wall. The other two monsters had stopped their ‘bickering’, as she had called it, and stepped out of that portal into a blazing light, one almost as bright as the one that he vaguely remembered from a few moments before.
He hesitated before the opening, shielding his eyes from the light with his free hand. However, Dixie was gently insistent, and she crooned reassurances to him, urging him out into what she called the ‘world’ with promises of a ‘peaceful’ ‘village’ to ‘live’ in, and ‘many new friends’ close to his own ‘age’. He wasn’t fully aware of that those terms meant, but the tone of voice which she spoke of them in hinted that these were good things.
So he chose to follow her, and blinked several times as he stepped ‘outside’ and into a new world that assaulted his senses. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he was startled to see bursts of bright colors spreading out in every direction; from his short time in the ‘shrine’, as Dixie called it, he had thought that the entire world must be as gray as he was. But no, this new place was full of vibrant colors, a dizzying assortment that staggered his young mind. Strange, pleasant scents wafted up to him on the cool breeze, and he kept staring down at the ground as they walked, particularly entranced by what was so far beneath him: a floor the same vibrant green shade as Dixie’s scales, and softer to the touch, far softer than the stone had been.
And then there were the flowers. Bursts of color against the verdant grass, they dotted the landscape surrounded them almost more than the towering trees that stretched their branches into the sky. The newly unlocked monster was entranced, and he longed to stop and bend down to get a closer look at these pretty things, to feel them, to smell them, but the gentle yet firm grip on his hand led him on.
As they walked on, the he noticed a strange pair of lumps on Dixie’s back, and he couldn’t keep from staring at them. Again, she noticed what was holding his attention, and laughed brightly. The two strange lumps suddenly extended from her back, stretching out to their full size. They looked like long, thin pieces of skin, and he continued to stare at them, unable to comprehend what they were.
Then, she sprang into the air, and the young monster’s mouth formed an ‘O’ of surprise. Dixie was now suddenly eye level with him, only how was she doing it? There was nothing beneath her to support her, yet she remained firmly in one spot as if she was standing on something. She laughed gaily, turned around, and then he finally noticed that the unusual things on her back were pumping in a set rhythm, and that was apparently what was keeping her suspended in midair.
"These are called wings, little Golem," she explained, "and they allow me to fly."
To demonstrate this, she began to do a series of dazzling flips and turns in midair, while the young Golem watched in open-mouthed amazement. Earlier, she had appeared to be much smaller than he was, but now, as she cavorted above him, she seemed much bigger than him. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her, not until she alighted back on the ground and smiled back up at him again, smaller once more.
She took his hand again, and continued to lead him forward once more, chattering about how much he would like the village once they got there. He ignored her without even knowing it, still thinking about what she had done.
‘Flying.’ It sounded so wonderful, and looked so fantastic. Furtively, he glanced at his own back, trying to see if he had what she had called ‘wings’ too. Nothing came to his searching eyes. He felt a keen pang of something, but was still too young to know that it might be called ‘sorrow’.
Then they had apparently arrived at their destination, for Dixie suddenly stopped and released his hand once more. As he looked around in childish awe at the strange stone structures that were propped up between the tall trees surrounding the clearing, Dixie clapped her hands and whistled sharply, calling out.
"Everyone come out! I want you all to meet our newest member!"
"Come on out!" Fairy Hopper added, flapping up. Golem noticed for the first time that the tiny monster with the big ears also had the gift of wings, although his looked very different from Dixie’s slender, leathery ones. Confused, he wondered if all monsters were supposed to have wings, and if he was somehow flawed.
Then he took a good look at Crab Saurian, and decided that he was wrong: the red-plated dinosaur also lacked wings of any sort, so he probably was not flawed at all. Some monsters did not get to be able to fly… For some reason, however, that thought did not comfort him.
Other monsters were poring out from the stone structures now, and all of them were peering up at him curiously, examining him. Golem felt what seemed like hundreds of pairs of eyes boring into him, and he shifted nervously under their gaze, looking down at the ground, trying not to see any of them. Some of them turned away to talk in hushed whispers to one another, and he longed to know what was being said. Newly unlocked, he was all too rapidly learning what it felt like to be nervous and worried about the opinions of others.
"This is Golem, a purebreed," Dixie was saying, gesturing toward him as if he was on display. In a sense, of course, that was exactly the case. Several of the smaller monsters were particularly interested in him, and many of them crept up to him, staring up at his face with a mixture of curiosity and fear on their faces.
One of them in particular caught his eye: a small girl-child who in many ways resembled Dixie, only smaller. Her skin was a much lighter, softer green shade, and her short orange hair was pulled back into ponytails that bobbed slightly as she tugged on the older pixie’s arm.
"Dixie-mama," she asked, staring up at her with huge verdant eyes, "Is this the new friend you told us that you were going to unlock?"
"Yes, Serinity," Dixie confirmed with a nod and a grin. "His name is Golem, and he’s going to be living with us in the village now."
Serinity turned her wide-eyed gaze on Golem again, and he returned her stare. She had the precious gift of wings as well, although hers were much smaller than Dixie’s and were folded up against her back. After a moment, she smiled, and he managed a shaky, nervous smile in return.
That seemed to calm the other monsters as well, for suddenly they began to chatter normally amongst themselves. Golem heard a soft sigh, and turned just in time to catch Dixie shaking her head and grinning. Apparently, he had been accepted. The younger of the monsters were gathering around him now, loudly introducing themselves in their high-pitched voices.
"Hi, my name’s Rocky Fur, but everybody calls me Rocky…"
"I’m Mustardy, nice to meet ya!"
"Hee hee, my name’s Pink Hopper!"
"I am Balon, pleased to meet you…"
"I’m Aqua Mew!"
"Call me Fly Eye, big guy!"
"My name is Serinity…"
* * *
Within a few days, he had learned all of their names. All of them were the younger members of the village; like him, they had been unlocked only recently, and many of them were still just beginning to learn the ropes and rules of their hometown. From what he could tell, Balon was the eldest of them, although the Tiger/Gali hybrid was still several years younger than the other members of the settlement were. At any rate, Balon quickly took it on himself to help Golem out, and within a few days, the young stone giant knew the basic rules he had to follow.
"Never leave the valley unless you’re with an adult. If you are with an adult and leave the valley, do everything they tell you to do. No questions asked, and no protests. Just listen to what they say, and obey. …Why is it like that, Balon?"
"I don’t really know, it’s just the way it is," Balon replied with a soft sigh. "You’re not supposed to argue about it, anyway. You’d just be getting in trouble, and if you get in trouble, I get in trouble too, since I’m the one teaching you all of this. So don’t question it, just do it."
Golem nodded to show he understood, but privately he decided to try and talk to Dixie later and she if she could explain to him just why they had to stay in the valley all the time. So far, out of all of the adult monsters here, she seemed to be the one that cared most about the younger monsters. Hopefully, if he waited long enough, his new friend Balon wouldn’t get blamed. Not that it would be fair for them to get mad at his friend just because he had a question. That wasn’t right, was it?
* * *
Another bright day, and the young stone giant raced after one of his friends as she cavorted in a field of flowers. Her short hair was caught up in twin ponytails that bobbed and bounced wildly as she ran in front of him. Her eyes were the same brilliant green shade as fresh green leaves, and they twinkled brightly in the sunlight. She executed a few somersaults, sending up a spray of petals around her, then giggled wildly as she rolled onto her back, watching as the scattered blossoms floated gently in the breeze.
It was at times like this that Golem thought that Serinity was exactly the right name for her. He wished he could join her, just frolicking in the beautiful fields without care, but he knew that he could not. His body was simply too heavy: he would only end up crushing the fragile blossoms, and not for the first time he felt a sharp stab of some strange emotion in his heart as he watched the small pixie play in the very same fashion that he longed to, but could not. It wasn’t jealousy; at least, it didn’t feel like jealousy to him. It was more a certain feeling of longing, a lingering regret that he was not more like her.
"Hey Golem!" Serinity turned to stare up at him, verdant eyes flashing. The stone giant jerked slightly and looked down just in time to catch a glimpse of something colorful she quickly hid behind her slender back. She grinned up at him, and motioned for him to kneel down.
"Come on, Golem, kneel down and close your eyes," she prompted, giving him a look which he vaguely remembered Dixie calling ‘puppy dog eyes’. Not knowing what else to do, he shrugged and knelt, obediently closing his eyes, shutting out the sight of the small pixie’s smiling face. Something slid over his head and settled lightly around his neck, and Serinity’s tinkling chime of a giggle rung out.
"Okay, you can open your eyes now!"
Again, he obeyed, and for a moment stared blankly down at the garland of flowers hanging across his chest. Serinity grinned up at him, wide jaden eyes sparkling with laughter.
"So do you like it? I thought you might…I know how much you like flowers, so I figured you would like this…I hope you do, I worked hard on it… It’s pretty, isn’t it?"
Golem could only nod, fingering the delicate chain of blossoms delicately, looking down at the young pixie hybrid for a few silent moments. Her delighted grin grew wider, and she giggled again, then she turned away and skipped off, stopping a few feet away from while the stone giant still knelt. Glancing over her shoulder, she flipped a stray strand of orange hair away from her flashing eyes and gestured for him to follow.
"Come on, Golem, hurry up!"
Golem gazed over at her, and slowly rose, a shaky smile on his face, and he hurried after her, his longer legs enabling him to quickly close the distance between them. She apparently hadn’t counted on this, for she let out a small shriek –not of fear, more of shocked delight– and took off running, giggling wildly. He ran after her, sending a spray of rainbow petals into the air with each step, and to his surprise heard a second laugh join with the sound of her own. The thing that surprised him the most was the fact that the laughter belonged to him.
* * *
"Why is it that we cannot leave the village, Dixie?"
The pixie with the scaly green skin sighed, and she looked up into Golem’s curious face. The young monster had asked her this question many times before, as well as the other adult monsters. Always he had been answered with a curt "Don’t ask silly questions," or just as likely, "Wait until you’re older; you’ll understand when you’re older."
But he had never been happy with this answer, and she knew that he would continue to push until he got a more satisfying one. If he didn’t get one soon, she feared that he would do something that would get him in major trouble. That didn’t seem too likely; he had always been one to follow the rules, even when he didn’t quite understand them. But still, there was always the chance…
"Golem…do you know what the term ‘evil’ means?"
A confused look appeared on the stony face, and Golem slowly shook his head no. Dixie sighed again and rubbed her forehead slightly for a moment, trying to decide how best to explain the word to him.
"Okay…well, do you know what it means to be ‘bad’, then?"
Golem nodded: he recognized that term. He had heard the adult monsters use it several times to refer to Mustardy’s tendency to pull pranks on everyone.
"Well, do you remember back when Mustardy thought it would be funny to push Rocky Fur in the lake?"
Golem nodded again; that little incident he remembered only too well. Mustardy had sneaked up behind Rocky Fur while the rabbit hybrid was arguing with Aqua Mew, Pink Hopper and Serinity, insisting that he didn’t want to go in the water. Of course, he had ended up in it anyway after the dinosaur monster gave him a sudden shove with his tail, sending him sprawling into the water. Everyone had laughed, even Golem, hesitantly, and they waited for him to emerge and start yelling at Mustardy.
Only he didn’t come up right away. The next thing Golem knew, Balon was screaming something about Rocky not knowing how to swim, and that sent everyone into a panic. While Fly Eye went running for help, Serinity, Balon, Aqua Mew and Pink Hopper hauled the sputtering stone rabbit out of the water. Golem had stood by in stunned horror, able only to watch as Mustardy anxiously stood over his friend, screaming and sobbing for him to get up while Serinity worked on reviving him. By the time Fly Eye had come back with Dixie and Crab Saurian sprinting behind him, Rocky had finally opened his eyes, and was trying to calm a visibly upset Mustardy.
"I didn’t mean to hurt you!" he had shrieked over and over again. "I didn’t mean…I never meant to hurt you! Are you sure you’re okay? I never meant for you to almost…I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry…"
Now Dixie was saying, "Well, ‘evil’ would be like if Mustardy had really meant for Rocky to get hurt when he shoved him in. You know, like he had wanted him to drown…"
A shock ran down Golem’s back at that. That…that didn’t even seem possible to him. Mustardy had been so upset, so upset… To imagine that he might have meant for something terrible to happen was unfathomable.
"I…I don’t understand…"
Dixie just nodded, her emerald eyes darkening slightly as she studied his shocked face.
"I thought you might not. I had hoped that…never mind," and with that she turned and walked away, leaving the young stone giant alone with his raging thoughts.
* * *
Crab Saurian grunted as the emerald-tinted electricity struck him full in the chest. Sliding back a few steps, he gritted his teeth in suppressed agony, then raised his head to fire a burst of flame at his attacker.
"Aah!" Dixie cried out involuntarily, shielding her face with her arms. As the scales on her arms threatened to burn away, the hybrid bit her lip until a droplet of red blood stood out on its surface. Panting, she nevertheless smirked at the red-plated dinosaur, asking, "Is that the best you can do? LIGHTNING!"
Crab Saurian roared again as green energy surged through his body again, and he slumped to the ground with a grunt of pain. A trickle of blood oozed out of his mouth, and as he lay sprawled out before her, Dixie slowly advanced, verdant energy arcing around her fingers.
"Get up," she hissed. When Crab Saurian only groaned in reply, she grimaced, and her foot shot out, slamming into his side with a dull thud.
"Get up, damn you," she ordered, eyes startlingly cold as she glared down at the crumpled dinosaur. "You can’t give up now, we’ve barely begun to…"
Startled, the scaled pixie whirled around to spot Golem and Serinity standing behind her. Both of the young monsters were staring at the crumpled Crab Saurian with widened eyes, and then Serinity screamed, breaking the awkward silence. The younger pixie stumbled forward, falling to her knees beside the wounded dinosaur.
"What-what’s happened to you?" she sobbed, shaking the older monster’s crimson-plated shoulders. "Please…please get up!"
Crab Saurian groaned, and the dinosaur monster slowly got to his feet, half-supported by Serinity and a still stunned Golem. Shaking his head slightly, he looked up at Dixie, and the two elder monsters exchanged a strange, knowing look.
"I’m fine," he muttered, curtly. Then he added, in a tone so low that neither of the children could hear him, "Why did you have to interrupt us? I swear, it’s getting harder and harder to…"
He let his voice trail off, and descended into a dark sulk as he allowed the younger monsters to care for his wounds and help him home. Dixie trailed behind them, solemn jaden eyes veiled behind lowered eyelashes, thinking thoughts that would have frozen the blood of those innocent children that walked before her, if they had been able to hear them.
* * *
Golem’s heart leaped in his throat when he heard the hushed whisper behind him, and he had to bite his tongue to keep from crying out with shock. Whirling around, he sighed with relief as he looked down into Serinity’s youthful face. Her eyes seemed to glow with an inner luminescence of their own as they reflected the pale light of the moon.
"Be quiet, or we’ll get caught," she hushed him with a quick whisper. Turning away, she gestured for the stone giant to follow after her. The two youths crept as silently as possible away from the village, Golem ducking low in an attempt to compensate for his height. Being big made it very difficult to sneak around unnoticed, and once again he wondered why he had agreed to come with Serinity tonight. The younger monsters were all supposed to be asleep after night fell; if they were caught, they would get into a lot of trouble…
"This way," Serinity whispered, interrupting his thoughts, "we’re almost there."
"Almost where?" Golem asked, as quietly as he could with his naturally booming voice. Serinity looked back at him in alarm and the two tensed for a few moments, half expecting to hear Dixie yelling at them. When no scream came, they sighed silently, and then Serinity led Golem further away from the village, only stopping when they came to a valley of flowers. Golem looked around; it was the same field they played in during the day, but it looked different in the dark.
"Serinity, why did we come here?" he whispered as best he could, confused. The pixie hybrid turned and looked up at him, huge verdant eyes sparkling in the moonlight.
"I wanted to show you something," she murmured, then added, raising her hand to point at the sky, "Look up there!"
Confused, Golem raised his eyes to the darkened sky, and the stone giant gasped softly. Suspended above them were countless points of light, shining against the darkness that seemed to cover everything. He stared up in silent awe, not knowing what to think, and Serinity quietly murmured, "It’s pretty, isn’t it?"
"What is it?" he asked, not knowing what to think.
"I’m not really sure," Serinity admitted, staring up at the sky. "I think they’re called ‘stars’. I heard Dixie talking about how pretty they are once. But she said they only appear at night. That’s why I wanted to come out here tonight; to see what they looked like."
"Oh…so why did you want to bring me out here too?"
"Well…we do lots of things during the day together, right? So I thought we could do this together too. Besides, it’s pretty, isn’t it?"
The two young monsters fell silent then, gazing up into the sky with wonder. The sparkling stars above them shone brightly against the blackness of the sky. They stayed that way for most of the night, until finally Golem noticed that the sky was beginning to lighten.
"Uh oh…Um, Serinity, I think we should be getting back soon," he whispered, reluctant to break the spell the stars had cast over both of them. Serinity blinked, startled, and gave him a blank look before glancing back up at the sky again and nodding.
The two crept back as quietly as they could, careful not to wake anyone in the village. Only when they were safely back in the large building used as a bedroom for the younger monsters were they able to relax. As Golem tried to feign sleep, Serinity whispered something so softly that he had to strain to hear it.
"…Golem? Do you think…do you think that maybe we can do this again sometime?"
The door creaked open, and Golem and Serinity hastily closed their eyes and pretended to sleep. Dixie walked in, clapping her hands to rouse everyone.
"Wake up, everyone! It’s a beautiful new day!"
Golem and Serinity answered with a duet of groans, and Dixie arched an eyebrow in surprise, but said nothing. Instead, she simply continued to clap her hands and call for everyone to awaken, ignoring the protesting going on.
* * *
Time continued to pass as it always does, as those living in the sheltered village grew and prospered. Yet, somehow, as Golem got older, he began to wonder if it would last for much longer.
He had no idea why he was beginning to think such things. The town seemed the same as it always did: the elders continued to guide the younger ones, even as they passed from the simplicity of youth into the awkwardness of adolescence. Those he had grown up with became bigger, stronger, faster than they had been before. He himself had grown into a hulking giant of sorts, his thick muscles as hard as granite. Serinity had aged gracefully as well; though her body had become more lithe and graceful with time, her verdant eyes still retained their youthful, mischievous sparkle. She now looked more and more like Dixie, although the difference in their sub types kept them from looking exactly alike.
While everyone’s appearance had changed, though, that didn’t mean that things weren’t the same…or did it? Golem wasn’t certain; he didn’t know what was causing him to feel so uneasy lately. On the surface, nothing had really changed with time, but somehow…he couldn’t quite put words to what he was feeling. A strange uneasiness…a sense that the village was not as calm as it seemed. Lately…he could sense an unusual tenseness from the elder monsters, one that hadn’t existed before.
Or was it that this uneasiness had always been there, and he had just been unable to notice it as a child?
Golem didn’t know. Certainly, the tenseness he felt around the elder monsters was something that seemed far along, like it had only grown worse and more pronounced with time. But if that was the case, what was causing it? And how could he, how could any of the younger monsters, help to assuage it?
Something else had been nagging at him too, something he had noticed lately. The adult monsters were acting markedly different than they had before. Suddenly, it seemed like they were having the younger ones perform more and more drills; menial tasks that grew only more difficult with time. He and Serinity had less time to do other things they enjoyed now, since they were usually forced to repeat certain tasks over and over again. Now, most of Serinity’s time was spent attempting to strike discs of wood thrown into the air by Fairy Hopper with her energy beams, while Golem found himself being instructed to smash apart rocks and boulders again and again. Rocky Fur and Mustardy sparred together; Balon, Aqua Mew and Pink Hopper often had to run races against one another, leaping from tree branch to tree branch, while Fly Eye had mediation drills which might take days at a time. With all of this work, there was little time for other things…
…Like finding mystery discs to expand the village.
Golem stopped short, startled by that realization. He had never noticed before, but it was true: there were no longer any expeditions to find mystery discs anymore. In fact, now that he thought about it, he had never even been on an expedition with the others! He was the youngest monster in the village; no others had been unlocked after him.
It was during another one of his drills, a few days after his sudden realization, that he received an answer of sorts to that question. He was training hard at the time, despite being distracted by his own confusion and wondering about what he had discovered. Suddenly Serinity’s voice came to his weary ears, in a frightened shriek that instantly made him forget his fatigue.
"Somebody come quick! Melon’s been hurt bad!"
Golem felt a cold chill run down his spine; Melon was one of the adult monsters, a Suezo/Zuum hybrid who was very close to many of the children, particularly Fly Eye. Forgetting his assigned drills at once, the stone giant ran to where he heard Serinity’s continued screams for help.
The scene that greeted his widened eyes was almost too much for him to grasp.
Serinity crouched on the ground, tears streaking her face as she knelt by the crumpled form that barely resembled the beloved elder they knew. A huge gash stretched down the suezo hybrid’s side, nearly detaching his leg from his body, and a puddle of crimson blood stained the petals of the flowers beside him. The normally cheerful, sparkling golden iris was fogged yellow with pain, and the venerable monster seemed to be barely aware of where he was. Between sobs, Serinity was struggling to cast her healing spell, even though it didn’t appear that anything could seal that horrible gash away.
The other villagers slowly gathered, forming a murmuring circle around their fallen friend. Somehow, they all sensed the proper distance at which they should stand from them, and as they milled around anxiously, Golem looked around in dazed confusion, desperately wondering what he could do.
There was a scream, and suddenly Fly Eye thrust past the other monsters and dashed to Melon’s side. Falling to a crouch beside Serinity, the younger hybrid howled almost incoherently, begging his old friend to rise up and get better.
"You’ll be okay…Melon, you’ll be okay," he repeated over and over again, as if saying this constantly would make it true. "You’ve just gotta be okay, old guy, you’ve gotta be! Don’t give up on me now…we need you…"
"What happened?" Dixie shouted, flying up to the crowd. Not knowing what else to do, Golem pointed to Melon’s body, and the elder pixie let out a short gasp, then ran to her friend’s side. Kneeling beside Serinity, she gently stroked Melon’s bleeding face, whispering, "Melon? Come on, Melon, answer me."
The suezo hybrid moaned, and his foggy eye seemed to focus on Dixie’s concerned face. As Fly Eye choked back tears, Dixie continued to brush Melon’s side, ignoring how his blood stained her hands red.
"Melon, what happened?" she asked, a strange insistence in her voice. Melon coughed again, obviously struggling to speak.
"They’re coming…" he rasped at length, then, more urgently, "Dixie-chan, they’re coming! They’re coming to end it!"
"When?" Dixie asked, voice cracking.
"Right now! Dixie-chan…they want to end this today! I saw them heading this way! I tried to sneak off, but one of them…they spotted me, and really worked me over…I barely made it here, but I had to warn you…had to warn you…"
"Too many for me to count. Dixie-chan…I’m sorry…I wanted to warn you…I had to let you know…"
"We’re warned now. Thank you, Mel-kun," Dixie sobbed, using a nickname that Golem had never heard before. Staring at her, he noticed that her cheeks were streaked with tears, and she continued to stroke Melon’s face even as his eye slowly closed.
"Mel…Melon? Melon?" Fly Eye choked, eye overflowing with tears. A sullen radiance pulsed under the elder suezo’s skin, and then a flash of white light hid him from sight. When the light receded, Golem stared blankly at a single gray disc, swathed in reeds, which stood where Melon’s body had been.
Serinity gasped. Fly Eye choked on his own tears. The other villagers cried out and began to murmur amongst themselves. Golem just continued to stare at the lost disc, somehow knowing what it meant although he had never seen one before. After several moments, Dixie slowly stood; solemn gaze fixed on what lay before her.
"So it begins," Golem overheard her whisper. "I always prayed that it wouldn’t come to this, but I knew that it would. Still…it’s too soon; the children are not ready… But there’s no time for regrets now. Now, all we can do is fight, and hope that we can win…"
Spinning on her heel to face everyone, Dixie clapped her hands three times, the signal she had always used to get everyone’s attention. As all eyes turned to her, the pixie hybrid took a deep breath, then fixed her piercing gaze on all those before her.
"Listen to me, everyone!" she shouted. "We are in grave danger! We have to all prepare for a fight!"
"A fight? What’s going on?" Rocky demanded, staring around at the adult monsters, who didn’t appear to be as startled as the younger monsters were by this. Dixie paused, then turned to stare at him, studying his face carefully for a few moments as if trying to detect something there. After a while, she turned her gaze to the other adults, and something seemed to pass unspoken between them, for she finally nodded slightly and sighed.
"I had hoped that none of you children would never need to hear any of this," she murmured quietly, shaking her head a bit. "But it appears that there is no choice…you have every right to know all of this."
She paused, took a shuddering breath, glanced over at the adult monsters again, then sighed again and closed her eyes for a moment before speaking again, slowly and deliberately, as if weighing each word for impact in her mind.
"Some time ago…long before any of you were unlocked…when I myself was just a child myself…humans lived in this village."
"What’s a human?" Pink Hopper asked, blinking her wide eyes in confusion.
"Humans are creatures that look somewhat like Dixie and Serinity, only without wings and less vibrantly colored skin and hair," Fairy Hopper offered in explanation.
"They are very weak things, too, with no magical abilities or strengths at all," Crab Saurian added with a disdainful snort. "Rather pathetic creatures..."
"Weak or not, the humans in this village still lived side by side with us monsters," Dixie continued, shooting Crab Saurian a murderous glare. "We lived peacefully enough together, working side by side with the humans without many problems. Certainly, there were occasional arguments and such between certain individuals, but never anything too serious."
"Depends on what your definition of serious is," Crab Saurian muttered.
"However, all this suddenly changed when I was about three or four years old. During a training session, one of my friends, a Tasman, suddenly went wild and attacked a human child. In saving the youngster, the humans were forced to…kill Tasman. There was no other option available…he had kept the child fairly pinned against the wall, and not allowed anyone to get his victim away from him, barring his own death. They…had no real choice…"
"There is always a choice," one of the elders muttered, but Golem couldn’t tell just who it was. He was more focused on listening to Dixie’s tale at the moment.
"After this, things began to change. Many of the monsters were deeply shocked and upset by the idea of the humans murdering one of their own; the humans said that it was necessary to save the child’s life. Some of the monsters accused them of valuing the lives of other humans more highly than those of monsters. Things continued to get worse and worse, until…"
Dixie faltered for a moment in her narrative, taking another deep breath. Her eyes closed in silent pain as she spoke again, her voice soft and sorrowful.
"One night, some of the monsters of the village got together and…massacred the humans. They had no chance to fight back; many of them were murdered in their own beds, their own homes. Those who resisted, who managed to force their assailants out of their homes and lock them outside, had their homes burned to ashes. No one…not a single human survived the attack. Everyone of them…men, women, children…were murdered, wiped out of existence by some of those that they lived with and trusted."
A terrible silence followed her words. Golem stared at her in shock, unable to fully grasp the meaning of her words for some time. The concept was totally alien to him. Dixie’s eyes opened slightly again, and he could see sorrow shining clearly in their shimmering depths.
"Those who had not participated in the massacre were unable to stop it from occurring, but managed to round up and drive out those who were responsible afterwards," she continued after the silence had become unbearable. "Since those who had killed the humans were tired and weak, they were unable to fight back, and those who were not killed were driven out of the village, banished from it. If any of them ever tried to return, they were informed, they would be killed on sight. Those of us who remained, the ones who had not murdered our former friends the humans, remained and attempted to rebuild the village. With time, we began to seek out mystery discs to expand our numbers. Although we knew that life would be different without the humans around, we hoped that we would still be able to live peacefully…"
"But that, unfortunately, is not the case," Crab Saurian spoke up again. "Those who were banished did not die in the wild, as we had thought they would, and instead lived in secret, striking out at us whenever they could. Since we sided with the dead humans instead of them, they saw us as traitors, and have tried to kill us many times. That’s why we have always been careful to keep you younger monsters in the safety of the village whenever possible. But now…"
"Now, they’re bringing the fight to us," Fairy Hopper finished, his wide eyes startlingly solemn. "Looks like they’re tired of waiting."
"Yes…" Dixie nodded, then she looked around at the stunned faces of the younger monsters and sighed again. "As I said before, I hoped that you would never need to know any of this…that the past would not end up affecting your lives as well. But now it’s too late for such concerns. If I thought you’d be able to make it, I’d tell you to escape…but from what Melon told us, I doubt that anyone who attempted to flee would live very long. I’m sorry that all of you have gotten caught up in this. I only hope that none of you will have to pay with your lives for what has gone before…I’m so sorry."
Golem stared at her sorrowful face, felt his mouth open to speak, and had no idea what he could say to comfort her. What could he say that could possibly take away the pain of what she had just confessed to them?
He was spared having to come up with anything by the chilling roar that came from the woods. The villagers froze, then turned as one to face their enemy as best they could. Eyes glowed in the branches, then suddenly unfamiliar monsters burst from the trees, and the world became a whirl of fury and fighting…
Golem had never seen a battle before in his young life. True, he had witnessed the occasional scuffles between friends, seen the other children roughhousing with one another, but he had never joined in. The worst injuries he had seen prior to Melon’s death were the scrapes and bruises that came with being a child at play, never anything serious or life threatening.
Now, though, he looked, and he saw. Moments of horror, frozen in time; Fairy Hopper being overwhelmed and dragged to the ground, Crab Saurian burying his teeth in the soft flesh of another saurian’s back, Dixie screaming as an energy bolt tore though her right wing, shredding it. Friends dying, strangers dying, those who were managing to live being horribly injured, some drenched with their own blood or that of others, often both.
One of the new monsters, a golem who looked almost exactly the same as him except for the green scales that covered his body, leapt at him, thick hands grasping for his throat. Instinct took over, and Golem lashed out with his fist, catching the stranger in the gut and knocking him into the river. Even as a spray of frigid droplets of water splattered his face, he turned and slammed his other arm into the face of another golem hybrid; this one was colored blue and white, and he fell backward as well, roaring in anger.
"Golem! Look out!"
As Golem’s mind registered that scream as being Serinity’s, a thin blast of light green lightning flashed past him and struck the face of the Scaled Golem, who had emerged from the river and was on the verge of striking him from behind. Golem glanced back at him in shock, then whirled to see Serinity soaring nearby, her fingers still glowing slightly. Before he could thank her, his eyes widened as he saw something she didn’t, and he tried to scream a warning.
Too late. The fireball struck the slender young pixie full in the back, and as her mouth opened in a soundless scream, the orange fire engulfed her body, crackling and burning. She fell, her tattered, scorched wings no longer able to support her, and Golem stumbled forward to catch her, somehow managing to snatch her from midair before she tumbled into the fray below.
Her eyes fluttered open, and a faint smile touched her lips as she gazed up at him. Tears blurred Golem’s vision, so thankfully he could no longer see the spreading crimson stain darkening her short orange hair or the awkward angles at which her limbs were bent. All he could see was her gentle smile, the dim glitter of her sparkling eyes.
Then those fresh green eyes drifted closed, and the hybrid sighed softly, releasing her last breath gently. A faint smile still lingered on her pale lips, even as her broken frame began to glow. Golem stood paralyzed with shock, unable to move, unable to even call out the name his heart and mind shrieked, as the white radiance spread over her form, changing it. As it faded away, he stared at the lifeless stone disc resting in his cupped hands.
Then a fiery heat began to grow in his chest, building into an overwhelming rage, and as his eyes began to glow with an unearthly white light, he knew only anger, then no more.
* * *
Golem’s voice trailed off, and as the thread of his tale drifted away, Hare blinked a few times in a futile attempt to clear the tears from his eyes. He stared up at the stone giant, saw that his friend’s soft gray eyes were misted slightly with remembrance. Golem gazed up toward the stars, and for a while neither could find the words to speak.
"…That is all I remember," Golem finally said, softly. "I remember after the battle, when I discovered I was the last one left alive in the valley, but the battle itself…"
"…I’m…sorry…" Hare whispered, unable to think of anything else to say. Golem glanced down at him, and smiled sadly.
"Do not be," he said. "I miss my friends, but that is why we are searching for the Phoenix. One day we will find it, and then I will have my new friends meet my old friends."
He fell silent again, and gazed back up at the stars. Nothing else was said for the rest of that long night.
* * *
"Come on everyone, wake up! Let’s go find that Phoenix!"
Genki fairly bounced around as he yelled for his friends to awaken. As Suezo muttered darkly about being too perky in the morning, Hare blinked in surprise and got up with a start. He did not remember falling asleep at all, yet he apparently had, and he glanced worriedly over at Golem. The stone giant was quietly helping Holly to her feet, then turned and noticed Hare looking up at him. He smiled reassuringly, although his smile had a touch of sadness to it, then he looked down at Holly as the girl checked her pendant.
Suddenly she gasped, and as the others watched in startled amazement, her pendant began to glow brighter than it ever had before. The radiant light arced around the Magic Stone, and Hare felt the Phoenix’s Tear grow warmer under his kerchief, reacting to the light as well. A beam of white light seemed to shoot outward, pointing forward before fading away, and the Magic Stone returned to its normal state.
"What…was…that?" Suezo asked, his eye wide.
"I guess…we’re really close to where the Phoenix lies asleep?" Holly offered, giving the others a hopeful look. Grasping the Phoenix’s Tear, Hare could only nod in agreement.
"All RIGHT! Then what are we waiting for, people?" Genki demanded. Whirling on his heel in the direction that the light beam had gone, he shouted, "Let’s GO!"
"Yeah!" Holly, Hare, Golem, Suezo and Tiger shouted in unison, and the seven searchers ran off, hearts considerably lighter, all of them certain that their quest was nearing its end at last.
* * *
Not far away, blood red eyes opened as another monster awoke. Craning his long, furry neck, the creature looked around, stirred awake by his sensing another’s imminent awakening.
"No…" he hissed, crimson eyes glowing faintly, "No, Phoenix, you will not oppose me again. I have finally regained my real body…you will not defeat me again. I will not allow you to…"
Spreading massive wings that nearly blotted out the sun, Moo rose from his palace and took flight for the first time in ages, ready to fight again. And this time, he vowed silently, he would win.