* * * Chapter One: Accusation * * *
"Holly, which way now?" Genki asked, glancing back at his friends.
Holly took out the Magic Stone and asked it to show them the path to the Phoenix. As it levitated above her hands, an image of a fiery bird appeared in its gleaming surface. It transformed into an arrow, pointing ahead of the group, then faded away. Holly looked up at the others expectantly.
"Okay!" Genki exclaimed, turning around and starting down the path. Mocchi raced after his trainer, and the others followed a little more sedately. As they walked along, Holly found herself glancing over at Hare, trying not to let the rabbit catch her staring at him. She still was having trouble dealing with what he had revealed to them only a week before…
"I guess I owe you guys some sort of explanation…I wish I could tell you this was just another one of my tricks, but…"
Fragments of what he had told them echoed through her mind. She shivered involuntarily as she thought about what he had said about Naga: what he had suffered at the reptilian’s claws and the baddie’s plot to overthrow Moo. How Naga had managed to find a powerful weapon he had planned to use against his leader: the Phoenix’s Tear. For not the first time, she wondered what would have happened if Naga had been able to use the crystal, or had used Hare to command it…
She glanced over at Hare, scarcely able to believe the change in the rabbit. He had also revealed to the group that he had been using the Tear’s power to hide his true age, hoping that the change would throw off Naga’s henchmen. He had kept his real age hidden from the others as well, but after he finally explained the truth to them, Genki had convinced him to drop the disguise: "There’s no need for illusions anymore," he had said.
It was strange, somehow, for her to see Hare as a child now: he had ‘been an adult’ for as long as he had been with the group. She knew that the rabbit hadn’t really changed, and that this was just the way he really looked, but she couldn’t keep herself from looking at him a little differently.
The others had been having a little trouble adjusting, as well. Genki didn’t seem to be as affected as the others were: he seemed to have already accepted the change completely, and still saw Hare the same as before. Mocchi had taken the revelations very well, and in fact was thrilled that he wasn’t the only monster in the group that was still in many ways a child.
Suezo was taking it fairly well, in a sense. After learning that simply being near the Phoenix’s Tear could help a monster learn its attacks quicker, the eyeball had decided that his best bet for mastering his Teleport was to stay near Hare as much as possible. Even now, he was walking along next to Hare, who seemed to be a little uncomfortable by the other’s staying so close to him.
Golem was walking a little too close to Hare as well, but at least his motivations were less self-centered. After learning just how much fear and loneliness the rabbit had felt, the rock monster had become very protective of him. In some ways, Hare seemed to be very grateful for Golem’s concern, but Holly couldn’t shake the feeling that he was becoming a little too overprotective and worried over the rabbit.
In her eyes, however, Tiger of the Wind’s reaction had been the worst. The blue wolf had become even more short-tempered with Hare, and had started arguing with him more often. He began making cruel remarks about the rabbit, and had even started teasing him a few days ago, calling him a freak. Hare’s reaction had triggered the Phoenix’s Tear, causing what Holly considered to be the strangest day of her life.
She shifted her gaze from Hare to Tiger, and sighed. The blue wolf was loping along at the very edge of the group, some distance away from the others. His golden eyes glittered, and Holly wondered what he was thinking about that made his expression so solemn. As if the wolf monster would let anyone else know what he was feeling. Sometimes she thought that the only emotion that Tiger could show was anger. If that was true, then she felt sorry for him.
Holly glanced back at Hare, then quickly shifted her gaze back to the road when he suddenly looked over at her. Hare sighed to himself: who did Holly think she was kidding? He already knew that she had been staring at him, glancing fleetingly at him every once in a while when she thought her couldn’t see her, her soft brown eyes betraying her confusion.
Suezo was hopping along beside him, blathering on about something or other; Hare wasn’t paying all that much attention to him. Instead, he kept looking over at Tiger, trying to convince himself that the blue wolf’s recent moodiness wasn’t connected to what he had revealed. But that was an exercise in futility. Hare could tell that it had been no coincidence that Tiger had become more short-tempered than before right after learning what the rabbit had been hiding.
Not all of it could be pinned on what Hare had revealed to them, he kept telling himself. Tiger had already started drifting away from the others after learning that his younger brother Grey Wolf was one of Moo’s generals. The blue wolf starting acting a little more distracted in battle, taking even more risks than he had before. It seemed to Hare that Tiger was being injured in battle more and more lately, and their recent experiences with the Centaurs and Melcarba had given that theory more weight. Then, when the Terror Dogs had attacked Hare, Tiger had nearly been overwhelmed by their assault. Even now the rabbit thought he could see the wolf limping from the wounds he had received in his front left leg, even though the battle had been nearly a week ago.
But Hare’s telling the others that he had been keeping a major secret from them had made Tiger’s mood deteriorate even more. The wolf was taking advantage of Hare’s being a child to treat him like one, making cutting remarks about how weak and immature kids were. It hadn’t helped when Suezo had commented that the blue wolf had been, in a sense, defeated by a child in the tournament where they had met; Tiger had nearly ripped the eyeball’s head off when he overheard that remark.
Hare sighed again, and turned his attention back to the road. It looked like they were heading deeper into the mountains, which made sense to him; according to what little information they’d been able to gather, Grey Wolf’s lair was hidden somewhere on the icy peaks. They had no idea what it looked like, but they would likely recognize it when they came upon it, especially if it was anything like Gali’s desert castle had been. He just hoped that they would be ready when the time came to fight.
* * *
The wind is howling, Tiger thought to himself as a cold breeze ruffled his fur. Something is about to happen…Grey Wolf…
* * *
The lair of Grey Wolf was a castle of pure ice; a frozen fortress that seemed to rise from the snowy peaks that surrounded it. Anyone who gazed upon it would be hard pressed to determine where the snow gave way to its gleaming blue walls: it rose from the frigid wilderness around it as if a natural part of it.
Those who knew and feared its master, however, had another theory about its origin: that it was born from the icy darkness that was Grey Wolf’s heart. The Cabalos mostly enjoyed this rumor, and often joked darkly about how true it was. Grey Wolf knew of its existence as well, but none of his warriors were certain just how he felt about it. The Cabalos were fairly sure that he found the theory to be quite amusing, but kept their jokes and comments about it to themselves, just in case. The last thing any of the Tiger/Naga hybrids wanted was to accidentally anger their master, even with something so trivial.
There were other rumors about the master as well. Grey Wolf had been acting a little differently lately, and a few of the Cabalos were beginning to worry, although they kept their concerns to themselves so they wouldn’t be seen as weak. It was a topic best suited to whispers in the night between close friends, not one ever brought up in public.
The whispers claimed that Grey Wolf was acting oddly because of the approach of the rebels. It was no secret that the seven rebels had come into Grey Wolf’s territory, and that he had been sending a few of his best units to eliminate them. Unfortunately, like his two predecessors, Pixie and Gali, all of his efforts had yielded little success thus far. After the group had decimated his Beaclon unit, he had suddenly withdrawn all of his units, sending them to patrol the scattered villages that still remained. Only his Cabalos troops had remained, patrolling near his fortress. It seemed like a grave tactical error on Grey Wolf’s part: now the rebels were meeting with practically no resistance as they made their way toward the castle.
The Cabalos didn’t understand it, but some of them claimed that they knew the cause of Grey Wolf’s actions: Tiger of the Wind. All of Moo’s forces had heard of the fact that the former thief and elder brother of Grey Wolf had allied himself with the rebels, although theories as to why varied greatly. Some of them laughed that Tiger was trying to ‘help’ his little brother by ‘liberating’ him from Moo’s control. Others claimed that the warrior of the wind was actually looking forward to battling with Grey Wolf: an opponent who would more than prove a match for his skills. A few even insisted that Tiger was really working for Moo, and would lead the rebels into Grey Wolf’s clutches, then turn on them when the time was right. This last rumor wasn’t very popular, as many of its critics pointed out that the blue wolf could have killed them a long time ago if he had so desired.
Not that this criticism kept some monsters from insisting on its truth. At that very moment, one of the Cabalos from the Darkclaw pack was trying to convince his fellow warriors of its truth.
"I swear it’s true!" Victor insisted, staring at his pack mates with intense yellow eyes. "Tiger of the Wind is truly a spy for Master Grey Wolf! I have proof!"
"Victor, shut up!" Chishi growled, glaring at the annoying wolf. "We don’t have time to listen to your pathetic stories!"
"Go ahead, Victor," Yuri prompted, ignoring Chishi’s grimace. The female Cabalos smiled secretively at her commander as she whispered to him, "Just play along and feign interest in what he says. Otherwise Victor will never shut up."
Victor didn’t overhear what she had said to Chishi. He was too thrilled in the fact that he had an audience. "Well," he began, "a friend of a cousin of an acquaintance of mine was assigned to a unit that the rebels fought, and he survived the battle. He said that Tiger started yelling at the boy human that he travels with during the fight, then snarled at the girl human when she tried to defend him. I’ve also heard that he’s attacked the rabbit and eyeball monsters from the rebels several times. So he obviously bears no love for these guys…and why would he travel with them if he hates them? One reason alone! He’s spying on them and giving the information to Moo’s warriors!"
Oh please, Chishi thought, rolling his eyes as he tuned out the sound of Victor’s voice. As the other continued to explain his conspiracy theories to his disinterested colleagues, Chishi glanced up into the sky. His sharp yellow eyes narrowed suddenly as he noticed a slender silhouette swooping toward the fortress. He recognized the shape, however, and didn’t send up the alarm. Still, he watched it as it landed with a practiced ease and entered the fortress through a special doorway.
"Night Flyer’s back again," he muttered to Yuri, who glanced up and nodded. "She visits far too often nowadays for my comfort."
"Don’t get so upset about it," Yuri whispered back, keeping a careful eye on the still talking Victor. He didn’t seem to notice that his audience wasn’t paying the least bit of attention to him. "At least her coming here means that Master Naga hasn’t forsaken Master Grey Wolf like he did Master Gali. The generals should fight together against the rebel threat, anyway."
Chishi just growled low in his throat and stared back up at the window.
* * *
"It’s good to see you again, Night Flyer," Grey Wolf said as the Pixie/Worm hybrid knelt before him. "I trust that you bear news from Master Naga?"
"Yes," Night Flyer said, getting to her feet. "The Terror Dogs have been wiped out by the rebels. Master Naga said that this might interest you."
Grey Wolf smirked. "That is what happens when one fails to recognize the power of one stronger than yourself," he commented. "But I suspect that this is not the entire message that you have brought."
"Correct," Night Flyer nodded. "The Terror Dogs were killed while trying to recapture the rabbit. We know now that he travels with the seven dissenters who have been fighting against Moo."
"It fits," Grey Wolf mused. "Continue."
"Since the rebels are heading toward this fortress, Master Naga has decided to leave their destruction in your paws. He has asked me to inform you that he wants the rabbit caught at any cost. Once you have secured the rabbit, Master Naga will come and retrieve him personally, and you will be well rewarded for your success. As for the other rebels, Master Naga has no use for them."
"Tell Naga that he needn’t bother to ask for my assistance," Grey Wolf told her, smirking. His cold blue eyes glittered "He understands that our goals are the same. I will support his plans in any way that I can. My only concern is that he allow me the pleasure of destroying Tiger myself."
"Of course, Master Grey Wolf," Night Flyer replied, bowing. "I will inform Master Naga of your willingness to support him." She turned to leave.
"By the way, Night Flyer," Grey Wolf added, "how are you doing with Vanity?" Night Flyer grimaced, and Grey Wolf chuckled to himself. "I suspected as much. Is she still trying to manipulate her way into power?"
"As always," Night Flyer told him. Her dark eyes narrowed with hatred as she thought of the Pixie/Suezo hybrid. "A better name for her might have been B-" She stopped ranting and flushed a bright crimson as Grey Wolf laughed again. "But I have no right to say such things about a comrade in front of you."
"No matter how true they might be," Grey Wolf deadpanned, causing the pixie hybrid to giggle to herself. "Try not to let her distract you, Night Flyer. If she’s able to make you forget your mission, then she’ll win. Besides, even if she does become a general, I doubt she’ll fare much better than Gali did."
Night Flyer smirked to herself at the thought and bowed to Grey Wolf again. "May you have better success than that fool had," she said as she turned and departed.
"You know I will," Grey Wolf replied.
* * *
Chishi watched Night Flyer’s silhouette as it faded into the distance horizon. A low growl rumbled in his throat again, and Yuri glanced at him warningly. Victor was still going on and on about his theory, even though his audience had long since stopped listening to him.
"I don’t trust her," Chishi muttered, glaring off to where Night Flyer had gone. "I’m not sure that Naga can be trusted, either."
"Quiet," Yuri growled. "Trustworthy or not, Naga is still one of Moo’s Big Bad Four, and the most powerful ally Master Grey Wolf has right now. If you’re overheard when you’re blaspheming him like this…"
Chishi stared at her. "Would you betray me to anyone?" he asked quietly.
Yuri paused, then shook her head slowly. "No," she answered, "but anyone else might. Like Victor," and she glanced back at the still speaking Cabalos. "You should be careful."
She pressed her muzzle up against Chishi’s neck, and he sighed, nodding agreement.
"All right," he replied, gently leaning closer to her. "I’ll try to be a little more discreet about what I say…"
A blood-curdling howl ripped through the air, cutting off his words. Most monsters would have panicked and bolted at the sound, but the Cabalos recognized it as being Grey Wolf’s way of summoning them. All the hybrids tensed, listening to the howl closely, picking out the exact inflections and tones that were the special code their master used to announce whom he wanted to see.
The Darkclaw unit. That’s my pack, Chishi thought as he got to his feet. He signaled for Yuri and Victor to follow him as he entered the fortress and made his way through the icy halls. The other members of his pack joined him as he arrived. His pack was one of the smaller ones: there were only fifteen Cabalos in it, as compared to other packs of twenty or thirty. Still, all of his members were fine, expert warriors.
"Sir Chishi, I have a job for you and your pack," Grey Wolf told them, his cold blue eyes flashing. "The rebels are coming here through Frozen Pass. I want you and the Darkclaw pack to find and eliminate them. However, I don’t want you to kill Tiger, the girl, or the rabbit that travel with them. I plan to have the desire of killing Tiger all to myself, and Moo is interested in the girl. As for the rabbit, his survival is…a favor for somebody."
"Who?" one of the more dull-witted of Chishi’s warriors asked. Grey Wolf glared at him, and the Cabalos quietly withdrew the question.
"That doesn’t concern you," he growled. "Now all of you, move out! And when you return, I expect to see those three in your custody!"
He howled, and the Cabalos echoed the cry. Chishi was the first to turn and leave, leading his warriors to Frozen Pass, his thoughts dark.
A favor for somebody? Yeah, right. Like many of his fellow Cabalos, Chishi had heard the rumors about just who the rabbit that traveled with the group was. Nobody knew why Naga was so keen on recapturing his little ‘pet’, but Chishi wasn’t about to help that slimy reptilian in any way. As his led his troops toward the pass, he mentally rehearsed what he would tell Grey Wolf: I’m sorry Master, but I’m afraid the fighting caused an avalanche. None of the rebels survived. Crude and simple, maybe, but it would suffice. As for the possibility of any of his men blowing the story, well, it would be all the more realistic if only Chishi and Yuri managed to survive the avalanche anyway…
* * *
"The wind is howling, dear brother," Tiger of the Wind whispered into the darkness. "Can you feel it, too, I wonder?"
Hare looked over at him. "Tiger?" he asked. The blue wolf shot him a withering glance.
"What, Hare?" he said with such hostility that Hare winced and unconsciously stepped back a little closer to Golem. Genki glared over at Tiger warningly.
"Don’t start," Holly pleaded. Tiger grunted and turned away, wondering why he got into more trouble than Hare did whenever they started fighting lately. The others seemed to have become more and more biased toward the blue wolf lately, or at least that was how he saw it.
Hare looked over at Tiger, worried. He was beginning to despair of ever finding a friend in the blue wolf. It was as if his revealing his secret to the others had strengthened the barrier between the two, and Hare despaired of ever figuring out a way of lowering it again.
"Don’t let him get on your nerves," Suezo told him, taking advantage of the opportunity to step a little closer to Hare. The eyeball monster wondered how he would know when the Phoenix’s Tear had given him a new attack, and if he would feel anything. Hare wondered how the others would react if he pushed Suezo away: the other monster was a little too close for his own comfort.
Suddenly Tiger stopped short, tensing, his nose twitching. "I smell something," he informed the others.
"He who smelt it…" Suezo started, but Tiger silenced him with a glare.
"Cabalos," he muttered. The other rebels tensed at the word.
"Are you sure?" Holly asked. Tiger didn’t bother to look at her, but he nodded his head ever so slightly.
"All right then," Genki said, pulling on his rollerblades. "Everyone get ready."
Mocchi walked up next to Genki and took a battle position, while Holly stepped back behind Golem. Growling softly, Tiger moved in front of Genki and Mocchi, golden eyes scanning the area. Suezo looked at the others, gulped and moved closer to Holly.
"Hurry up and get back here, Hare," he whispered. Hare just stared at him, shocked.
"What do you mean? I can fight…"
"Just get back here," Holly said. Hare looked at her and the others, stunned.
They don’t think I can fight anymore. Just because I’m a kid…
The thought enraged Hare. Hadn’t he proven his worth in battle before? Just because he’d dropped the illusion of being an adult didn’t mean that he had somehow lost his battle skills! Whirling on his heel, he stalked up next to Mocchi and assumed a fighting stance. If the younger monster could help fight, then so could he.
* * *
Chishi cursed as he watched the rebels prepare for battle. It was a stroke of bad luck that Tiger of the Wind had picked up on the scent of his warriors. Still, Chishi wasn’t about to let a minor setback like this prevent him from wiping out the rebels. Turning to his troops, he signaled for them to move him with a howl.
* * *
The howl resounded through the mountain pass, and the rebels looked around nervously as it echoed off of the thick ice walls. Only Tiger wasn’t affected by the terrifying sound, and he grimaced at the others.
"Don’t show your fear," he growled at them. Then he whirled back around and tensed as he finally caught sight of the Cabalos pack. He counted about fifteen of the tiger hybrids stalking toward them. He unleashed his lightning at the obvious leader, then dashed toward the pack.
Chishi easily dodged the blast, and his warriors scattered behind him as the lightning ripped past them. Howling, he leaped toward Tiger, and kept him busy while the other Cabalos slipped past and attacked the other rebels.
"Down with the baddies!" Genki yelled, skating forward. Mocchi and Hare raced after him, following his lead as he surged into the battle. Genki lashed out and caught one right in the mouth, and Victor yelped as he fell backward, blood dripping from his muzzle. Another one of the Cabalos snapped at Genki’s leg, grazing it, but was knocked away by Hare’s kick.
"You okay?" he asked, helping the boy to his feet. When Genki nodded, he smiled and turned back to the fight. Mocchi had unleashed his petal blizzard, and the rabbit took advantage of the temporary cover to glance over at where Tiger was fighting the Cabalos commander. The two wolf monsters were locked in combat, and neither once seemed to have a clear advantage over the other.
"TORPEDO!" Chishi screamed, then growled in frustration as it streaked over Tiger’s head as the blue wolf faded to the right and lashed out at him. The Cabalos ducked under the swiping paw and managed to strike the other’s face with his own claws.
Tiger shook off the blow, then roared at the top of his lungs, summoning a gale that pushed Chishi away. Digging his claws into the snow, the hybrid launched his lightning right into its center. Tiger’s roar was cut off as the energy surged right into his mouth, and the blue wolf fell backward, coughing and choking. Pressing his advantage, Chishi charged his lightning again.
"Tiger!" Hare cried out, starting toward the blue wolf. Hearing his shout, Chishi turned and grinned, spotting the smaller monster.
"The little rabbit," he growled, and Hare stopped short, startled.
"What?" he asked, hesitating. Was this guy one of Naga’s warriors?
Sneering, Chishi leaped toward him. Tiger slammed into the Cabalos’s back, knocking him to the ground, and dug his teeth into purple fur. Another howl ripped through the air, and Yuri unleashed her lightning on Tiger, sending the blue wolf sprawling. Hare cried out and ran to Tiger’s side.
"LIGHTNING!" Chishi called, and the energy bolt hit Hare right in the back. The little rabbit couldn’t even scream as he was flung backward and collided with the canyon wall. The force of his impact knocked some snow loose, and it showered the rabbit’s fur as he slumped down against the icy surface, eyes closed.
"Hare!" Genki called, seeing the rabbit crumple to the ground. Before he could react, however, three of the Cabalos surrounded him and used their lightning. The boy screamed as electrical energy coursed through his body.
Victor grinned to himself: Surely he and his two friends would receive some sort of promotion for this! Suddenly the smile was knocked off his face as Mocchi slammed into him, and his lightning dissipated as he lost his concentration.
His leader wasn’t having any better luck with Tiger. The blue wolf was savagely attacking Chishi, keeping the Cabalos on the defensive. Yuri turned her torpedo on Tiger, and raced to her commander’s side as the other fell back.
"We should go!" she exclaimed. Chishi glared at her with dull yellow eyes.
"Not now," he protested, trying to pull away from her. But the movement made his muscles scream in pain, and he collapsed, leaning heavily against her.
"Retreat!" Yuri ordered, helping Chishi run away as fast as they could. Victor and the other Cabalos glanced at the rebels and followed them. The fifteen warriors of the Darkclaw pack fled, some glad that all of them had survived, but most of them too enraged about having to flee to care.
Golem was the first to reach Hare. The gentle rock monster leaned down beside the rabbit’s crumpled form and carefully pulled him out of the snow. He cradled the rabbit in his massive hands as Genki, Holly, Mocchi and Suezo gathered around him.
"He’s all right," Holly said, feeling his heartbeat, slow but strong. "But I don’t know how long he’ll be out like this."
"So let’s go," Tiger interrupted, turning to leave. The other rebels stared at him.
"What?" Genki asked.
"I said let’s get moving," Tiger repeated. "The sooner we leave here, the sooner we can get to Grey Wolf’s fortress. Then I can finally settle this."
"But I don’t think Hare’s in any condition to travel," Holly said. "We should wait until he recovers, at least…"
"That’s his problem, not mine. He should have watched himself better during the fight. It’s his own fault this happened."
Genki couldn’t believe what he was hearing. "Tiger, we’re not going anywhere until all of us are okay," he told the blue wolf.
"Some things are more important than fighting," Holly added. "You’ll just have to wait."
"I’m not waiting," Tiger growled, his back still turned to them. He started to walk off, and Genki got to his feet.
"Tiger, why are you so heartless?" Genki demanded, glaring at the blue wolf’s back. Tiger froze and whirled to stare back at him, golden eyes flashing.
"Is that truly how you see me?" he whispered to himself, too soft for the others to overhear. Growling, he whirled around and dashed off, disappearing in a whirl of snow.
"Tiger!" Genki called, staring after the wolf monster’s image as it faded from sight. The wind seemed to howl for a moment, then died down to a softer breeze. Tiger of the Wind was gone.
* * * Chapter Two: Separation * * *
Hare looked around, confused. Where am I? He wasn’t in the mountains anymore, that much he could tell. He gazed around the massive chamber, astonished. The entire room looked like it was made of ice, like it had been carved directly into a glacier. A terrible chill came over him, and he blew into his paws to keep them from freezing.
His ears twitched, picking up some sort of commotion coming from nearby. Noticing a doorway, Hare walked through it and found himself in some sort of hallway. Shivering, he wandered around in the maze-like corridors, making his way toward the noise. The frozen walls loomed over him, and he got the overwhelming feeling that they somehow trapped him. Just when he began to fear that he was going to be lost and wandering in the endless passages forever, he found himself standing before a massive door of purest ice. The noise was coming from the other side. Hare pushed on the door as hard as he could, and felt a rush of relief as it slowly opened.
He froze, paralyzed by fear. Grey Wolf was standing a few feet away, his silver fur seeming to glow with the cold light that filled the massive chamber of ice. His blue eyes looked even colder than the frozen walls around them. Hare stared at him, petrified, and waited to die.
But Grey Wolf didn’t seem to notice him at all. It was like the rabbit wasn’t standing just a few feet away from him. Instead, his icy eyes were fixed on something crumpled in front of him. Hare gasped aloud as recognition hit.
Tiger of the Wind was sprawled out at Grey Wolf’s feet, but he no longer resembled his proud self. The wolf monster’s beautiful blue-white fur was scorched from lightning and stained with his own blood, the same blood that was slowly forming shallow crimson pools beneath his crumpled, broken form. His mouth gaped open in a silent scream, his jaw half-shattered.
But the most horrible thing was his eyes. The stern golden eyes were wide open with a blank terror Tiger had never shown before, staring without seeing into an endless oblivion. Hare stared at him in silent horror, unable to tear his eyes away as the wolf’s body shimmered and slowly began to change into a mystery disc.
Grey Wolf howled in triumph, and the sound sent chills through Hare’s body. Then the silver wolf finally noticed the rabbit, and leered at him. His blue eyes glittered as he slowly advanced on the petrified Hare…
* * *
"GAH!" Hare jolted awake with a start. As his vision cleared, he could see Golem’s worried face hovering over him. Hare sat up, realizing that he was cradled in the rock monster’s huge hands, and stared up at Golem.
"Are you alright?" Golem asked. "You were screaming…"
"Nothing…a dream…I’m okay," Hare replied slowly, shaking off the effects of the vision. Glancing around, he could see Genki and the others nearby, and all of them were staring at him with concern. But there was one face he didn’t see. "Where’s Tiger?"
Holly’s expression darkened, and she quietly said, "He left. He went off to face Grey Wolf alone."
"What?" Hare stared at her, wide-eyed. He struggled to stand up, saying "We have to go…" But his feet refused to hold him, and he collapsed back into Golem’s hands.
"We will," Holly assured him, "after we’re sure it’s safe for you to travel. You took a really nasty blow back there."
"Don’t worry, Tiger can take care of himself," Genki said.
"Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if he defeats Grey Wolf and comes back on his own!" Suezo chimed in.
"But he can’t!" Hare insisted, trying to block out the image of Tiger’s beaten body at Grey Wolf’s feet. He went to stand again, and Suezo moved to stop him.
"Hey, now don’t try…" he started to scold as he tried to make the rabbit lay back down again by pushing him down gently with his leg.
The words froze in his mouth, lost the moment he made contact with Hare’s body. A series of images flooded his mind, nearly overwhelming him. Visions of icy halls and endless passages…and of Tiger. Suezo gasped aloud, and stumbled backwards. The second he stopped touching Hare, the flood was abruptly cut off.
"Suezo?" Holly gasped, seeing the haunted expression on the eyeball monster’s face. He turned to look at her, color slowly returning to his face.
"Hare’s…right," he choked, near tears. "I saw it…"
"Suezo?" Holly asked, glancing at Genki, Mocchi and Golem. The others seemed to be equally taken aback by the sudden change in the eyeball’s attitude.
"We have to find Tiger," Hare repeated, "or Grey Wolf will kill him. Tiger may be a warrior, but he’ll never be able to murder his own little brother. If we’re not there for him when Grey Wolf attacks…"
Holly went pale and looked at Suezo. The eyeball monster nodded slowly, his expression unusually solemn.
"I saw it," he repeated, his voice faint. "Tiger really was…"
"Then let’s go find him!" Genki exclaimed, leaping to his feet.
"But…" Holly faltered, glancing back at Hare as the little rabbit struggled to stand up again. His face was flushed bright red from the effort, and it was painfully obvious to even Genki that he was in no condition to travel.
"All right. Hare, you stay with Holly and Golem," Genki decided. As Hare stared up at him and started to protest, Genki said, "No, don’t start. I won’t risk you getting hurt. Mocchi and Suezo will come with me. We’ll find Tiger, don’t worry about it!" he finished with a wink.
At any other time, Suezo would probably have protested being told to follow Genki into such obvious danger, but the image of Tiger’s dying body was freshly burned into his memory. Instead of arguing the point, he simply nodded, then turned to Golem and asked him to make certain that Holly would be safe. Golem quietly promised that he would.
"Be careful, Suezo," Holly told him. "You too, Mocchi. Don’t let Genki get too out of control."
"Huh?" Genki stared at her while Suezo laughed and assured her that he’d try, but he wouldn’t make any promises. Then Genki turned and started off toward where Tiger had gone, Mocchi and Suezo behind him.
"You guys?" Hare asked, his voice soft and weak. "You guys be careful…you guys…"
Then his eyes slowly shut, and Holly and Golem exchanged worried glances.
* * *
A howl of rage echoed through the cavern.
"Why did you force us to retreat? Victory could have been ours!"
Yuri returned her leader’s gaze defiantly, and her voice was much calmer than his was as she replied, "The battle was going badly. You may have knocked down one of them, but the others were on the verge of destroying some of our pack. I sounded the retreat to avoid losing them. Are you saying that I was wrong to aid our tribe-mates?"
Chishi growled darkly, unable to reply, and the other Cabalos exchanged glances. One of them, an experienced fighter with scars covering his legs and chest, leaned over to the hybrid closest to him and whispered, "This is gonna be good."
"Quiet, Scar," his companion warned him.
"Pack members shouldn’t fight one another," Victor lamented, staring at Chishi and Yuri with an increasing sense of worry. "If only we’d been able to defeat those rebels…"
"What do we do now?" Reno, a younger Cabalos, piped up. As Chishi and Yuri continued their battle of wills, the other twelve Cabalos stared at the youngster and exchanged worried glances. What, indeed? Master Grey Wolf would not be pleased that they had failed in their mission…
"Look at your warriors," Yuri whispered to Chishi. "They fear Master Grey Wolf’s reaction to our defeat, and rightly so. As leader, you should find a way to assuage their fears."
Chishi grimaced at her: like it or not, she was right. But he had no idea how he would do that. Grey Wolf would have their necks if they had nothing to show for their mission…A noise outside distracted him, and his ears perked up. The other Cabalos heard it too, and they fell quiet as they listened to the far-off noises…
"Tiger! Tiger, where are you?"
"Tiger of the Wind! Come on out!"
Chishi’s grimace twisted into a grin, and he turned to face his warriors. "I have a plan…" he told them…
* * *
"Come out, come out wherever you are," Suezo called, scanning the area around him. All he could see was Genki, Mocchi, and snow. Lots and lots of snow, spreading out in all directions, a seemingly endless landscape of white. The only other things he could see were the mountains that rose on either side of them, blocking his view. No sign of anything blue.
"Hey Tiger!" Genki yelled, and Mocchi echoed the boy: "Tiger-chi!" Their voices resounded through the cliffs, and the three strained to hear any answer that might be coming. Nothing. This was quickly becoming more than a little discouraging for them. Suezo began to wonder if he should have stayed with the others: at this point, he would have gladly preformed an ‘aerial search’ with Golem’s help if it had meant catching a glimpse of Tiger of the Wind.
"Let’s keep moving," Genki ordered, and as the three trudged on, Suezo’s mood worsened. His body type just wasn’t meant for trudging through waist-deep snowdrifts, and he kept thinking that he could feel ice cracking beneath him. If something gave way and he ended up falling, there wasn’t much of a chance that Genki or Mocchi would be able to save him. He had a suddenly vivid vision of himself plummeting down a mountainside, with his two companions watching him helplessly as he fell farther and farther away from them…Suezo quickly cut off that line of thinking before it could make him even more nervous than he was already.
Genki was calling out Tiger’s name again, and Suezo felt a sudden rush of anger toward the blue wolf. It was all his fault that they were out here; him and that lousy temper of his. Tiger didn’t even really seem to care about them anymore, anyway. Ever since learning that his brother was a baddie, and one of Moo’s top warriors at that, Tiger had become awfully harsh toward the others. Suezo couldn’t help but think that maybe it was for the best that he had left…
Scratch that. Tiger was their best fighter, and Suezo knew that they were at a serious disadvantage without the blue wolf’s battle skills. Oh sure, Genki was a pretty decent fighter, even if the kid did tend to rush into things, and Mocchi and Hare were very skilled considering their ages. Even Suezo could get a few good blows in from time to time, if the others were already fighting.
But Tiger was different: Tiger was the expert fighter in the group. When the blue wolf was fighting, Suezo became painfully aware of just how powerful their companion was, and how much of a difference he made in the group. The eyeball had thought that constantly during the encounter with the Centaurs, in particular, and he couldn’t shake the thought now.
And there was the little matter of the vision. Suezo shuddered with the memory. How the heck had that nasty little image gotten into his mind anyway? He’d certainly never allowed himself to think that any of his companions might die before; at least, not when they weren’t fighting for their lives against the baddies. So how…?
The group of two monsters and one kid froze. "Is that what I think it is?" Suezo stammered, his eye wide with fear.
His answer came in the form of a bum rush, as fifteen Cabalos surged out of a nearby cave and toward the group.
* * *
Hare gasped, his eyes snapping open. When had he fallen asleep? He groaned and sat up, still cradled in Golem’s massive hands. For crying out loud…that’s been happening to me way too often lately, he thought to himself.
Golem had noticed that his charge had woken up. "Are you okay?" he rumbled. Hare groaned in reply and covered his ears: the rock monster’s voice was gentle, but far from being quiet. Realizing his mistake, Golem fell silent again.
"Feeling better?" Holly asked, and Hare looked over at her. The girl had managed to start a fire nearby, and was trying to warm her hands. Since Golem had been holding him so close to his own body, however, the rabbit wasn’t really cold, and remained sitting in the rock monster’s palm.
"They haven’t got back yet?" Hare asked, trying to hide the fear in his voice and failing. Holly shook her head.
"They should be back soon," she told him, although all three of them knew she had no way of guaranteeing that. Sighing, Hare slumped back down into Golem’s hands. He wasn’t in any pain anymore, but he was still a little tired.
Surely there wasn’t anything to what I dreamt, he thought to himself as he forced himself to relax again. He started to drift back to sleep…
When a blood-curdling howl shattered the quiet air.
Golem was on his feet at once, picking up Holly from her place beside the fire. She looked at Hare for a moment, eyes betraying her sudden fear, and then the two carefully peeked out of the safety of Golem’s hands.
"Hear me, searchers!" a commanding voice howled, and Golem pivoted to face in the direction where it had come from. Standing some distance away from them was a Cabalos, his yellow eyes gleaming as he glared at the group. Golem grimaced and tensed up, waiting to see what would happen.
"Hear me, and listen well, rebels!" the baddie called to them. "I am Chishi, leader of the Darkclaw pack, and I bring you a message from Master Grey Wolf! It concerns Tiger of the Wind!"
Holly gasped, and she and Hare exchanged frightened looks. Golem’s expression grew even sterner, and he moved his arms slightly so they would shield his two friends a little more.
Chishi leered at the group as he said, "Listen well, searchers. We have captured the boy Genki, as well as your other two monster friends. However, we have not killed them…yet. Master Grey Wolf is very generous, and will give you a chance to save them." That made the Cabalos grimace: he had wanted to kill the three, but Yuri had insisted that they take them back to Grey Wolf, and the master had taken up matters from there.
"Master Grey Wolf wants Tiger of the Wind to be at his fortress before sundown. You’ll find a trail that leads there if you keep heading this way. Master Grey Wolf wants to see his beloved elder brother again, and…catch up on things."
Holly winced: she recognized the true meaning of the words.
"Tiger of the Wind must be at Master Grey Wolf’s fortress before sundown," Chishi continued, "or the master will have to focus his attentions…elsewhere. At sunset, if Tiger has not arrived, then the boy dies. After that, we wait again until sunrise before killing one of your little monster friends. Then the other will die by the time the sun completes its journey through the sky one more time. Master Grey Wolf is very kind: even if you are late, you will still have a chance to save at least one of your friends."
The three travelers were staring at him, stunned. Good. It pleased Chishi to no end to see the fear in their eyes. Throwing back his head, he howled once more, then was gone into the swirling snow.
Hare, Holly and Golem were alone in the mountains, staring at one another in silent horror. None of them needed to speak; the question hung over them like the chill in the air.
* * * Chapter Three: Revelation * * *
"Tiger! TIGER!" Holly called.
"Holly, it’s no use," Hare said bleakly. "He could be anywhere in this mountain range. Statistically speaking, our chances of finding him before the sun sets are…" he glanced at the sun, which already hung low in the sky, "about nil."
"Don’t say that!" Holly screamed at him, even though she knew that he was right. Tears of helpless frustration were rolling down her cheeks, and she swirled back around and screamed the blue wolf’s name again. Hare and Golem exchanged worried looks.
"Tiger of the Wind, you get back here right now! We need you…please Tiger, you can’t abandon us now! Mocchi…Genki…Suezo…!" Sobbing, Holly fell to her knees in the snow and cried out her rage and frustration. She began to pound her fists on the soft snow, her shoulders shaking as she choked out, "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?" She repeated the word over and over, like some sort of hopeless mantra.
"Holly…" Golem murmured, leaning over and gently lifting her from the ground. Hare slid off of his perch on the giant’s shoulder and placed his paws on the girl’s trembling shoulders.
"Holly…I have a plan," he told her gently.
Holly stopped sobbing, and she lifted a tear-streaked face to gaze into his eyes. "W-what?" was all she could manage.
"We have to rescue the others, Tiger or no," he said. "I think I can find a way to sneak into Grey Wolf’s fortress."
"How?" she asked, and Hare shuddered involuntarily.
"Naga used to send spies to the castles of the other members of the Big Bad Four," he explained. "He kept maps of all the secret entrances and such that his spies found. He wanted to be prepared in case any of them tried to oppose him while he was taking over. I used to look at those maps myself, in case I ever got a chance to escape while he was visiting one of them. I’m pretty sure I can remember the one he had for Grey Wolf’s castle well enough to find us a way in."
Holly’s face lit up for a moment, then fell again as she said, "But you’re not strong enough…"
"Since when?" Hare suddenly snapped, glaring at her. Holly and Golem stared at him, taken aback. "Since when have I been too weak to help out? Ever since you found out I was a kid?"
"What?" Holly stammered. "What do you…"
"Ever since I told you guys that I wasn’t an adult, you’ve been treating me like I was somebody else!" Hare exploded, finally saying what he had suspected for nearly a week. "Okay, so I’m not as old as you thought I was! So I was hiding some of my powers from you because I didn’t know how you’d react! But that doesn’t really make me any different than I was before, does it? Now all of a sudden I’m ‘just a child’, too weak to fight anymore? All of a sudden I’ve become practically useless to you guys. You don’t really listen to me anymore, you ignore my plans, and you treat me like some sort of helpless child!"
Hare was the one sobbing now, his shoulders shaking violently as he cried out all of the frustration that had been building inside of him for nearly a week. Holly and Golem exchanged guilty glances.
"Even Mocchi gets to help out, but you won’t let me anymore," he said miserably. "I’m just not seen the same by you guys anymore…"
"Hare…" Holly said, gently reaching over to the crying rabbit. Her fingers ran over his cheeks, brushing away his tears, and he looked up at her. "You know…you’re not that weak," she told him.
"We’re just worried about you," Holly replied, her smile a little sad. "I admit that I have been treating you a little differently; we all have. It’s just that it’s a little hard to adjust to such a major change in you. But I know that you’re the same as you always have been. You just look a little different now…"
Hare brushed away his tears and looked up at her, then over at Golem.
"If I made you feel like you were unwanted, then I’m sorry," Holly apologized. "But we really do need you, Hare. You’re a part of the team, and nothing will ever change that."
"Promise?" Hare asked.
"Yes, I promise," Holly said, smiling. Golem nodded his agreement, and Hare’s expression brightened for a moment. Then the rabbit’s face became serious again.
"We should get going," he said, looking toward the slowly sinking sun. Holly and Golem nodded, and the three started off toward Grey Wolf’s fortress.
* * *
"Ninety-nine bottles of sake on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of sake, take one down, pass it around, ninety-eight bottles of sake on the wall. Ninety-eight bottles…"
"Do you have to sing that silly song?" Genki asked. Suezo glared at him.
"Well, at least I’m doing something," Suezo snapped, "instead of waiting until the baddies decide to kill us."
"That stupid song won’t help us out," Genki insisted, getting to his feet. "There’s got to be a way out of this!"
"Good luck. We tried everything you could think of earlier. Unless you have another brilliant plan," Suezo mocked.
"At least I thought of something, and didn’t just start singing some stupid song!"
"Knock it off-chi," Mocchi interrupted. "You sound like Tiger-chi and Hare."
Suezo and Genki both stared at the little monster, much chastened. "Sorry," they both mumbled, and retreated back to separate corners of the frozen cell. After a few moments of silence, a soft mumble came from Suezo’s direction.
"Ninety-eight bottles of sake on the wall, ninety-eight bottles of sake…"
* * *
"…Take one down, pass it around, sixty-six bottles of sake on the wall," Victor sang to himself as he stared out into the mountains. The sun was hanging low in the sky, and there was no sign of anything moving out there.
"I’m bored," he groaned. "Bored bored bored bored bored. I wish something would happen…" After a few more moments, his head drooped down and he began to snore.
* * *
"Looks like the coast is clear," Hare informed Holly and Golem as he led them to a certain spot against the ice fortress’s wall. He ran his paws over the smooth surface, and smiled as he felt something give. Nodding to the others, he pressed the hidden switch and stepped back as it swung open.
"This way," he said, and led the others in. Golem had to duck his head to fit into the passage, but was pleased to discover that the hallway widened shortly after they entered.
"How will we find where Genki and the others are?" Holly asked.
"I’m…not sure," Hare faltered. "When we rescued you, we used one of your scarves to give Tiger your scent. But…we’ll just have to wing it this time."
"Oh," Holly said quietly, and she unconsciously gripped the Magic Stone. Hare stared at her, his eyes lighting up.
"That’s it!" he whispered. "Holly, can you ask the Magic Stone to show us the way to where the others are?"
"I don’t know, I’ve never used it like that before," she replied.
"But you said once that the Magic Stone reacted when you met each of us," Hare persisted. "It can’t hurt to try."
"That’s right," Holly nodded, and she closed her eyes to concentrate. Hare and Golem watched intensely as she quietly bade the Magic Stone to point them in the right direction. Hare quietly gripped his own pendant and prayed that this would work.
For a moment nothing happened, and Holly felt her confidence start to slip. Suddenly it lit up, and the fiery image of the Phoenix flickered inside of it. Holly felt a rush of elation as the bird became a pointing arrow.
"You did it, Holly!" Hare told her, matching her excitement. "Let’s get moving!"
The three plunged deeper into the fortress, navigating its frozen halls with the help of the Magic Stone. However, Hare began to get a strange feeling that he’d done this before…Suddenly he froze, his throat tightening as he remembered. Holly and Golem stopped to look at him, confused.
"Hare?" Holly asked.
"My dream…" Hare breathed. "I was here before in my dream! The one where…" he froze, then whirled to face the others and said, "I have to find Tiger."
"He’s here, I know it!" Hare insisted. "This is exactly where I was when I dreamt about his being killed! He’s here right now, fighting Grey Wolf!"
"But Hare…" Holly started to say.
"I have to find him," he said, staring up at her with pleading eyes. "You guys go find Genki and the others; let me look for Tiger. Please…"
"Let him go, Holly," Golem spoke up behind her, and his two companions looked up at him, surprised.
"Golem…thank you," Hare said, turning to run. As he left, it called back, "I’ll meet up with you guys later."
"Be careful," Holly called, staring after him as he raced off.
* * *
It was just like the dream. Hare could remember every twist and turn in the fortress as clearly as if he had lived in the fortress all his life. When he arrived at a massive door of pure ice, he flung his shoulder against it, forcing it open.
What greeted him was a scene from a nightmare. Grey Wolf was there, slowly advancing on an obviously injured Tiger of the Wind. The blue wolf bled from several wounds on his back and legs, although he had managed to avoid any fatal blows. He watched as his younger brother slowly advanced on him, growling, but unable to bring himself to attack the silver wolf.
"Where is all your strength now, big brother?" Grey Wolf asked, leering at Tiger. His cold blue eyes glittered in the dim light, giving him all the appearance of a demon. Lightning coursed around his horns, and he opened his mouth to call out his final attack.
And Hare screamed at the top of his lungs. "NOOOOO!"
Grey Wolf’s head jerked up, and the silver-furred monster stared at the rabbit. Behind him, Tiger gave Hare a look similar to the one his little brother was giving him.
Hare felt the Phoenix’s Tear burst into light, and he cried out in shock, stumbling backwards as pure energy coursed out of it.
Grey Wolf screamed as the beam struck him full in the chest and the glowing red flames encased his body. Hare watched in morbid fascination as the silver wolf’s pelt seemed to ripple and change colors under the light.
"You idiot, what have you done?" Tiger howled, whirling on the little rabbit. Hare threw him a blank, helpless look, struggling to indicate that he wasn’t trying to do this. The blue wolf snarled at him, then jerked his gaze toward Grey Wolf and cried out, "Little brother!"
Grey Wolf howled again, his fur now clearly becoming two separate colors under the magical fire. The beautiful silver fur seemed to be slowly melting away, and both Hare and Tiger gasped as they saw the rich purple shade beneath it. The ice blue eyes flashed gold, then purest crimson, then blue, then gold again, as if unable to decide on a certain color.
Hare stared at the sight, petrified, and even Tiger had frozen, staring at what was looking less and less like his younger brother. The light flashed brighter and brighter, blinding, and the two squeezed their eyes shut. Grey Wolf’s scream echoed around them.
Then suddenly the light vanished, and what had been Grey Wolf collapsed in a heap on the cold ice floor. Tiger and Hare stared at the crumpled form for a few moments, stunned, and then finally the blue wolf reacted. A growl escaped from his lungs as he howled, "What have you done to my brother?! What have you done to Grey Wolf?!"
The crumpled form groaned and twitched, then opened dark golden eyes to stare up into Tiger’s enraged face.
"What have you done to my brother?" Tiger growled again, glaring down at the sprawled out Cabalos. "Who are you? Where’s my brother?"
The Tiger/Naga hybrid smirked up at the blue wolf, despite the pain it obviously caused him to do so. "The name is Kaze, whelp," he hissed.
"What happened to my brother?" Tiger repeated, striking the Cabalos across the muzzle with his claws. "ANSWER ME!"
Kaze ignored Tiger’s half-hysterical demands, and instead gazed over at Hare, a leering grin on its bleeding face. "Sooo…you’re Master Naga’s ‘little rabbit,’ huh? Not much to look at…but I understand now why he wants you back so badly."
Hare shivered and involuntarily stepped backward. He froze as he felt a presence at his back, and whirled to run, only to stare into Genki’s face. The boy stepped protectively in front of the rabbit, and the others took positions between the Cabalos and him as they arrived.
Tiger glared down at Kaze. "ANSWER ME!" he demanded again, lightning dancing around his horns in a warning.
"Think you can frighten me?" Kaze laughed, coughing up blood. "I hold no illusions about escaping from your sorry band with my life. But," he added with a leer, "I’ll go ahead and tell you anyway. You might as well find out about my master’s genius…"
"What do you mean?" Genki asked, staring at the dying baddie. Kaze just smirked at him.
"Master Grey Wolf is dead. He has been for months," he told them.
"WHAT?" Genki, Holly and Suezo exclaimed in unison. Golem and Mocchi stared at the Cabalos, stunned.
"It can’t be!" Tiger growled, striking the purple wolf’s muzzle again, sending blood splattering over the ice. Kaze grinned up at him.
"Oh, but it is," he said with a superior smirk. "You see, Master Naga never was very found of that silver wolf, as I’m certain your little rabbit could tell you." He leered at Hare, who had gone totally pale at his words. "Grey Wolf interfered too much with Master Naga’s plans…thought that he was a lunatic."
"He is," Hare mumbled, shivering. Holly draped her arms around the rabbit’s neck, and he leaned up against her, staring at Kaze.
"Grey Wolf was proving to be a real annoyance," Kaze continued. "He may have even become an impediment to Master Naga’s grand ambitions. So Master Naga secretly murdered that stupid silver wolf, and had an illusion cast on one of his most devoted followers to make him look like that fool." Kaze’s sneer grew wider, more distorted.
"A illusion?" Holly gasped.
"A very effective illusion, one that fooled even Master Moo himself," Kaze told them, "although some of that can be attributed to my acting skills. With me controlling Grey Wolf’s forces, Master Naga has become even more powerful. He needs only one more thing to ensure that his revolt against Moo will succeed…"
He glanced over at Hare, who winced and buried his face in Holly’s tunic. The girl glared at the Cabalos, and Genki moved to stand a little closer to them, eyes never leaving Kaze.
"Who would have thought…the damned Phoenix’s Tear…could dispel my illusion," Kaze wheezed, his breath coming more slowly now. "I never…thought of that…an oversight on my part. I had thought…I could easily defeat…Tiger…thanks to my being…his ‘little brother’…" A sneer came over his face, and he leered up at Tiger, his vision dimming.
"Naga will triumph!" Kaze howled suddenly, then gasped hard, his chest heaving. "The power…the ‘little rabbit’…and this world…will belong to Lord Naga!"
"SHUT UP!" Tiger ordered, growling, his golden eyes flashing. The Cabalos leered up at him.
"Never…’brother’…" he mocked, then began to laugh, a horrible, wheezing laugh that resounded off the frozen walls and chilled Genki’s blood. Tiger roared, and the room echoed with the explosion from his lightning.
"Still laughing?" Tiger growled at the lost disc. He paused for a moment, then hissed, "I thought not…"
The fortress of Grey Wolf was eerily silent for several heartbeats. Tiger stood with his back toward the others, glaring off into the distance. The only noise that could be heard was Hare’s sobbing as he clung to Holly, trembling. The girl wrapped her arms tighter around the rabbit, and then she looked up at the others. No one spoke.
Finally Tiger of the Wind muttered, without turning to look at the others, "Holly. Check the Magic Stone."
An awkward silence fell over the rebels again as Holly quietly nodded. She gently released Hare’s shoulders, but allowed the rabbit to keep holding onto her for comfort as she pulled out the Magic Stone. It glowed brightly as she called upon its power, and after a few seconds an image of the Phoenix appeared. It transformed into an arrow, pointing the way. She tucked it back into her tunic and gazed at the others, expectantly.
"Let’s go," Tiger growled, and he turned and stalked out of the chamber. The other rebels followed him quietly, and for once Genki didn’t race to the head of the group. Instead, he walked close to Holly, keeping an eye on Hare. The rabbit still clung to Holly, and the girl draped one arm around his quaking shoulders as they followed Tiger of the Wind out of the frozen fortress of Grey Wolf.