"I am Moo! I am Hatred! Nothing you can do will ever fully destroy me!" raged the titanic beast, as he struggled to move. Genki and Pixie began to summon the power for their strongest spells, secure in the knowledge that he was held by the light Holly's Stone gave off. Around them, Genki heard the sounds of Tiger, Hare, Golem, Big Blue, Moochi and Suezo holding off Moo's legions, trying to give them time to finish off Moo.
Together, they finished the spell; the blasts of power raced toward Moo, joining into a sphere of energy. They shielded their eyes, as the spells became one, blazing into a single, painfully bright light, and then suddenly exploded apart, the Phoenix appearing from the center of the explosion. The sounds of battle faded away, as the firebird screamed her birth and began to spread her wings. The light began to grow still brighter, as Moo roared in pain.
"I will not be defeated by the likes of you!" he shouted in defiance, struggling as best he could, but the Magic Stone held him tight. Almost contemptuously, the Phoenix swept her wing over him, and with a final, echoing scream of pain, Moo's entire body caught fire. As if his fur was dry tinder, the flames raged higher impossibly fast; in only a few moments, what had been Moo was only a small, smoldering pile of ashes. The Phoenix issued a cry of triumph, and then her feathers of fire began to burn even brighter than before, until they were so dazzling Genki had to cover his eyes with his arm…
His alarm clock went off, and Genki groaned as he sleepily swatted at the off button, finally managing to hit it on his fourth try. "Man… That same stupid dream again…" he muttered. An almost painfully bright 5:30AM blazed at him from the alarm clock, and for a moment he tried to remember why on earth he'd wanted to get up so early today. His mind slowly began to click into gear, though offering no insights about why he'd set his alarm for so early in the morning, and he sat up. As he did, he felt a slight tug at his neck, as the Magic Stone fell to the bottom of its leather cord.
For a moment, he paused, quiet in the darkness of his room, remembering what had happened after the dream ended. The Phoenix restored the Lost Disks, and washed away the hatred that had turned so many monsters into Baddies. Then she had told him that if they - Holly, Genki, and the others - returned to the place where he'd been pulled into that world, the Magic Stone would be able to re-open the portal back to his world. There had been a catch, though: Genki had to wear the Stone as he stepped through, else without it he might become lost in the limbo between their worlds.
When he'd asked why he'd been able to come through the first time without wearing it, the Phoenix had explained that the Stone had simply pulled him to it, which was easier for it - the Stone could do that without needing to physically touch him. Unfortunately, though, since they were in the same world, and trying to reach another this time, it had to guide him, and to do that it had to be in contact with his body. Then the Phoenix had said good bye, and vanished in a puff of flames.
He had been willing to try without the stone, not wanting to take away Holly's last link to her village, but she had refused to let him. She'd told him that she'd rather lose the Stone than chance him becoming Lost himself. Besides, she'd reasoned, the Stone had already done all it could to help them; if it could now help him, then she would give it up without reservation. He'd argued against it, but in the end, even he had found himself admitting that it was just a foolish risk to take the chance of not having it, as the Phoenix had instructed.
Genki smiled sadly. He missed her; he missed all his friends from that world. Holly, Tiger, Hare, Golem, Moochi, Suezo, Big Blue… Pixie… He sighed. Returning to his world had broken their bond again, and he could still remember his last sense of her, before the portal had closed all the way. Though she'd been smiling, Pixie's sense had been very… lonely. He sighed again, and lightly touched the Magic Stone; it flickered slightly, just as it always did when he thought of his friends. It seemed sometimes that it could sense the sadness he felt over not seeing them again.
"Genki! You better get up, you don't want to be late for your last day of school!" came his mother's call. Blinking, he stood and flicked on his bedroom light, glancing at his calendar.
"Oh yeah… Man, I can't believe it's already Graduation day," he said in surprise. He could still remember when every day at school felt like a hundred years. Genki grinned slightly, and wondered when he had decided that he liked school enough that time went by too fast to notice. And next week was his nineteenth birthday, too. He paused, blinking; it had been seven and a half years since he'd come home…
"Mom says hurry and get cleaned up so we can go to breakfast before the Graduation ceremony." Genki started as his door swung open, and his baby sister stepped in. Frowning, he lobbed a small pillow from his bed at her; she batted it away and stuck her tongue out at him.
"Outta my room twip. Tell her that I'll be down in fifteen minutes," he said. Megumi grinned at him innocently.
"Dunno what all the fuss is about. They don't graduate half-wit brothers from school anyway, only smart sisters," she told him, and then dove away, giggling, as a second, larger pillow flew through the space that she'd just inhabited. Genki sighed, shaking his head with a wry grin. Only thirteen, she reminded him too much of himself at that age. Way, way too much energy, and never enough forethought. With the same black hair and brown eyes that he had, she looked a lot like a too-pretty younger version of him too. Shaking his head again, he grabbed a change of clothes and crossed the hall to the bathroom.
His mother had given birth to Megumi when he was only six. Born a month premature, she'd still turned out to be surprisingly healthy. She was a tough little brat, and a real tomboy too; taller than a lot of the boys in her class and skinny as a reed, she could also out-play most boys in every kind of sport, from football to hockey. It still caught him off-guard sometimes when she could actually knock him down with one of her tackling hugs, because tall as she was, she was still only half as tall as him. "Too much like me at that age," he muttered wryly, laughing.
Washing off the soap, he dressed quickly and ducked into his room long enough to snag his graduation cap and gown and his rollerblades. Then he went down the stairs, grinning as a Polaroid flash went off. "Mom!" he complained. She gave him a wide smile.
"Can't a mother be proud of her son?" she asked, handing him the photo as it started to develop. Megumi snickered, and Genki glanced at her.
"Keep laughing twip. Your day will come," he said, glancing down at the photo. A grinning young man looked back up at him… but his eyes seemed a bit lonely, too. Genki sighed, losing some of his grin. Pixie, he realized, hadn't been the only one feeling lonely that day. I hope you found somebody to keep you company, Pixie… I sure haven't, he thought to himself.
"What's wrong, Genki?" asked his mother, proving once again that she, like all mothers, really could read his thoughts.
"Nothing, Mom. I was just… thinking of some old friends I wish could be here today," he replied. She nodded, and squeezed his shoulder.
"What, you mean you actually have friends?" asked Megumi, in a mock-shocked tone. He favored her with a scowl for that one, and even his mother raised an questioning eyebrow at her. The problem was that she was a little too close to the truth for his tastes with that quip. He hadn't made many friends, and the small number that he did have weren't as close as they could have been, save a select few. For some reason, since getting back, he'd just had problems relating to other humans. Megumi grinned apologetically - which was a surprise in itself; usually she just shrugged, expecting him to get her back some other time - as his mother turned back to him, smiling gently.
"Where ever they are, Genki, I'm sure that they are proud of you," she told him, "because they are your friends." After a moment, Genki smiled, and nodded.
"Yeah Mom, I know," he said. She smiled at him.
"Are you ready to graduate?" she asked him. He nodded again.
"Been ready for years," he told her, grinning. "But first, how about that breakfast you sent Megumi up to tell me about?"
Pixie dove, as a fire blast flew by just over her head, and risked a glance behind her. Close on her tail, the Pirate Dragon began to inhale for another shot. Rolling over to fly backwards, she launched a salvo of lightning at him. Most of the blasts went high, but one clipped him on the snout. Startled, he reflexively snapped his mouth shut, swallowing back his attack. In spite of herself and the situation, she laughed as he got an ill look on his muzzle, and smoke started streaming out of his mouth. Then she fired again, this time hitting his wing; the dragon plummeted from the air.
Dropping low, she glided just above Holly, who was riding Tiger of the Wind, and the others. "We're almost there, but I'm getting kinda tired here. I'm not sure I'll be able to hold off another attack like that!" she called. Hare, running not far behind Tiger, nodded.
"Once we reach the ruins, Golem and Big Blue should be able to hold off the dragons while we're inside!" he replied. Pixie nodded, and then scowled as more roars sounded behind them.
"Persistent, aren't they?" shouted Tiger. Pixie didn't reply, as she let a thermal carry her back up. Two more Pirate Dragons had caught up to them; groaning, she wearily began to charge up another salvo of lightning. Even this relatively untaxing spell began to take its toll after fighting off over two dozen dragons. Before either of them could attack, though, three red-scaled dragons flew up from behind her, two of them darting forward to engage the pirates. The third dropped in beside her, and looked at her; she grinned in relief as she recognized Falcon.
"We've got these scavengers Pixie, get to the ruins!" he said. She nodded.
"Thanks Falcon. That's two I owe you now," she said. He grinned slightly.
"Just find the kid, and we'll call it even," he told her. A roar announced the arrival of still another dragon, and he growled. "Go! We'll hold them here as best we can!" he said, before flashing forward to intercept it. She watched him go, and then swooped back down to Holly and the others.
"Falcon has us covered for now," she said.
"Let's just hope that the Oracle was right, and that the Gateway really is still open," replied Tiger.
"If it isn't, we'll be up a creek without a paddle, Tiger," Hare reminded them. They raced on, to the ancient ruins where, years before, Genki had first been pulled into their world, and then returned home. She shook her head. Had that really only been seven years ago that he'd gone? It felt… far longer. Far, far longer than any other period of her life, even her time being a slave. Pixie sighed. She never would have thought back then that she'd miss him as much as she had. She hadn't just lost her bondmate… she'd lost one of the closest friends she'd had, no matter how hard she had fought at first to keep him from becoming just that.
"There are the Ruins!" shouted Holly, pointing ahead. Irritably, Pixie berated herself for not paying more attention; if one of Nightstorm's minions had attacked right then, she'd have been done for. Dropping to a light landing and folding her wings, she followed Holly, Tiger and Hare inside. Golem and Big Blue took up defensive stances before the door, eyes probing for any dragons. Holly slid off Tiger's back, and ran over to the control pad, pressing buttons quickly. Even so it would take her a few moments to start it running and open the Gateway. If it was still there. She thought back, to their short visit with the Oracle.
"The one with clear eyes… that one will end Hatred's reign forever. Seek the Gateway; it remains open for Hatred's bane." That was what the Oracle, an ancient triumvirate of Monol, had told them. It had been Golem that had remembered them and taken their small group to them. It had to be Genki they had spoken off; almost the first thing most people had always said about him was that he had clear eyes. They had also had another thing to say, something that had caught Pixie off guard. "You must go to the human world, Pixie. There are lessons you must learn that can be learned only there." She didn't understand that; though she no longer had the burning hatred of humans she'd once held, before Genki had shown her that not all humans were evil. What lessons could she learn in the human world, and what lessons must she learn? She sighed, and shook her head; why couldn't Oracles just say straight out what they meant?
"Cross your fingers, everybody!" called Holly, before beginning to enter the final sequence. A hum began to fill the air as she did, and then the ruins began to shake. "Unlock!" Holly pressed the final key. The shaking redoubled; a few stones fell from the already damaged ceiling. But in the center of the room, the device that usually unlocked Mystery Disks activated. With a flare of brilliance, a shimmering portal began to open, into what looked like a back alley.
Before it had even finished forming, Holly started around the control panel toward it. They'd agreed on this; there were no monsters in Genki's world, and since she was the only human in their group, she'd have to go. Pixie didn't like it; she knew that she could track Genki down faster alone than with Holly tagging along. Abruptly she winced. She knew very well that Holly was surprisingly capable for her somewhat slight frame, and that she was quite able to defend herself, but she didn't see the need for her to go. They'd both be stepping into a completely unknown situation, and Pixie was simply better equipped to deal with any problems. She wasn't alone in her opinion; Tiger absolutely hated the idea of Holly going, but then, Tiger had always been protective of her, and had grown even more so over the last seven years. Pixie suspected that a good deal of his displeasure was that while Holly would fit in, and Pixie could pass off as a human if she hid her wings, tail and horns, there was absolutely no way to disguise the fact that Tiger was a monster, so there was no way he could go.
The portal finished opening, and Pixie turned toward it as Holly reached it. Tentatively, the young woman reached out to touch it; the surface rippled like water, but her hand went through without resistance. Holly pulled back a moment, opening her mouth to speak, but as she did, the ruins tolled like a gong. The ground leapt under them as a massive explosion went off from outside, and a large rock, loosened by the earlier shaking, fell, hitting Holly on the head. She toppled bonelessly to the ground. Tiger was at her side so fast that it seemed he hadn't even bothered with the space in between, Pixie only a split second later.
"Holly!" he exclaimed. Pixie knelt beside Holly's still form, gently reaching out to check the wound.
"It's not that bad," she said, and Tiger relaxed visibly. "She's out cold though. I'll heal her, but I don't think we have the time to wait for her to wake up, so I'll go through alone," she finished, looking at them.
"But-" began Hare. Tiger growled, cutting him off.
"But nothing Hare. You know she's right. She can pass off as a human if she's careful, but somehow I doubt they'd miss a six-foot tall rabbit," he said. Hare frowned, but then sighed.
"Translation, you don't want her going anymore than I do, and this is a good excuse to keep her here," he agreed quietly. Pixie shook her head; apparently Oracles weren't the only ones that didn't understand how to just come out and say what they thought. Drawing up some of her energy reserves, she cast her healing spell. Holly groaned, but the wound vanished and now she seemed to be only sleeping, if very deeply.
"Holly should wake up before too long, and I'll be back with Genki as soon as possible," Pixie told them, rising. Tiger nodded, as he lay down beside Holly so that he was between her and the golem-guarded entrance.
"We'll be waiting here for you to get back… And Pixie…" he said. She glanced at him.
"Take care," he told her. She smiled slightly. Who would believe that the first time they'd met, they'd been mortal enemies?
"Yeah, you too," she replied, before raising her voice. "Keep'em outta trouble, Blue!" she called. If he replied, she didn't hear him, because she immediately pivoted and jumped through the gateway. A strange, tingling sensation passed through her as she did, one that left her feeling very odd.
She touched down on the other side, and automatically turned around to be sure that nobody was behind her. All she found was a tall, blank, red-brick wall; above her some clothes hung on a line strung between the two buildings that formed the alley. Curious, she reached out to touch it; her nail tapped solid brick. "I hope that the Gate reopens when we're ready to go back through," she said, her words sounding just a trifle nervous to her ears. The Oracle had told her that she needed to come to this world, but she hadn't been planning on an extended stay.
Pixie turned back around, and took a step forward - and then staggered, as her bond to Genki suddenly snapped into a sharp, bright focus. For a long moment, she was so startled that she could scarcely breath, much less move. A sense of him washed over her; she couldn't help but notice that he seemed as healthy as ever, and in a good mood. He seemed quite proud of himself, in fact, and Pixie wondered what he was doing. After a few seconds had gone by, the bond dimmed back a little, until it rested, nestled in the back corner of her mind. A moment later, a sudden understanding came to her. Pixie had always thought that, when he returned to his own world, their bond had been severed. To the contrary though, she should have known by what the Oracle had said - the Gateway had never closed, never fully sealing off their link. It must have gone dormant, the bond strong enough to keep them linked even though they were in different worlds, but not enough to continue to sense each other.
Slowly, she started to notice something else too, though. Genki didn't seem to have noticed the reemergence of the bond. She was sure that he would have tried to contact her through it, or at the very least felt surprise, but all that she could sense was that same strong feeling of pride in himself.
-Genki!- she called. But there was no answer. That didn't surprise her too much; most bonded could only speak telepathically over a short distance; little more than two hundred feet, usually, though sometimes especially strongly bonded pairs could be much farther apart. Her grandmother and bondmate had been one such pair, and she and Genki had been beginning to develop a good range when he had had to return to his world. Instead, she tried to send a surge of emotions over the link; that at least he should sense. Bonded could sense what their bondmate was feeling no matter how far away they were. But once again, there was only that self-satisfied pride. She frowned, confused. Could he be blocking it, as she had once done? Or was there some other reason?
Shaking her head, she reminded herself that it didn't matter if he knew she was coming or not. Even if he couldn't sense her, she could sense him - and what direction his was in. She could follow that sense right to him. Nodding slightly, she spread her wings, and received her second major shock of the day.
Her wings were gone.
Stretching, she felt frantically at her back, but all she could feel was smooth, unbroken skin. For a moment, she felt the blood drain from her face, and then, slowly, a lurking suspicion began to form. She patted her head, and found that her horns were missing as well, and she knew that if she checked her tail would be gone too. Pixie thought again of that odd, tingling sensation that had passed through her as she'd gone through the Gateway, how it had left her feeling so odd.
Had the Gate, in addition to sending her to the human world, turned her into a human? Was this part of the lessons that she could only learn here? Quite suddenly, Pixie found herself shivering, abruptly feeling very afraid. She was alone, in the human world, without the ability to fly, and apparently no way back to her world. The only thing she had was her bond to Genki, and even that seemed to be not fully working. Pixie looked around, and then firmed her expression. She'd been in worse messes than this, and it certainly wasn't the first time she'd ever been alone.
Centering on Genki's direction, Pixie moved in the only direction she could; down the alley to where another building formed an intersection. Like the two that formed the alley she was already in, this one was tall enough that it blocked out the sun, throwing the alleyway into deep shadow; she could see perfectly, but humans wouldn't be able to see her unless they were practically on top of her. Reaching the intersection, she looked around; to the left was a dead end, but to the right was a patch of bright sunlight; she angled for it, sticking to the deepest shadows.
As she reached the end of the alley, she slowed, and stared in pure disbelief. When Genki had described his world to her, she hadn't really believed some of the things he'd told her. Buildings that towered so high they touched the clouds? Iron Birds big enough to carry hundreds of people at a time? Machines called cars, that moved faster than chariots pulled by the strongest, swiftest horses. Surely, she'd thought, he was exaggerating; after all, he was just a kid.
Now, as she got her first real look at the human world, she realized that, if anything, he'd been holding back. What Genki had described as 'cars' filled the street, flashing by almost faster than she could follow, and humans packed the sidewalk, some walking, others wearing rollerblades like Genki, still others riding short boards that rested on wheels. Across the street, a steel and glass titan of a building soared into the sky, the top vanishing in its own reflected sunlight. She caught herself backing up, craning her neck to try to see it's top, and shook her head. She didn't think she could have flown to it's roof even if she did have her wings; it was just too high, and the air there would have been too thin, even for her. "Pixie," she said weakly, "you are in way, way over your head."
Ducking back into the alley to be sure none of the humans caught sight of her, she frowned. They had all been wearing considerably more clothing than she was. She had been planning to fold her wings forward around her like a cloak, but she could see now that wouldn't work here. Not only was the style of clothing far different than in her world, it seemed to vary from person to person, one wearing a formal looking suit, another looking like they'd just stepped out of a windstorm. Pixie sighed. Humans… she'd never understand why they chose to wear such restrictive garments. They'd be far more comfortable if they wore less. Then again, she thought to herself, they also didn't have wings or tails to get in the way of their clothing - and neither did she, for the moment. Frowning again, she suddenly remembered the human clothing that had been hanging out to dry near where she'd appeared.
"It's a start; I have to stay inconspicuous enough to find Genki," she said to herself, as she moved back to where she'd seen the clothes.
Genki got out of the car, rubbing his temples. Earlier that morning, he'd gotten a headache, and had taken some Tylenol. It had gone away for a few hours, but now it was back, and with a vengeance. His skull was filled with a pounding, painfully loud buzz that had been getting worse and worse since about an hour ago. It felt like his head was trying to split clean apart - and he was starting to wonder if that might not make it feel better! Shaking his head, he reached back in and grabbed his gown and cap, glancing at his mother as she stood up.
"Is that headache back, Genki?" she asked, from the other side of the car. "Do you want some more Tylenol?" Genki shook his head again.
"No, I'll be fine Mom. It's probably just a last minute case of the jitters," he said, grinning slightly. "I gotta get to the gym and meet up with the rest of my class. I'll see you in just a little bit, ok?"
"If you don't get lost on your way onto the stage, that is," agreed Megumi, grinning.
"Yeah, yeah. Like I said, your day will come, twip," he told her. Their mother forestalled any further comments.
"We'll see you on the stage," she said, smiling. Genki nodded, and, tucking his cap and gown under his arm, walked into the school. Inside, people bustled about; teachers directing students toward the gym or chatting with those that had been in their classes. Other students spoke to one another, some already wearing the cap and gown, others in shirts and pants, their graduation wear held like Genki's. Signs and posters hung everywhere, some congratulating the students, some directing them toward the gym, and still others thanking the teachers for a job well done.
"Hey Genki, wait up!" He turned, and grinned slightly as he saw Jayson Carlton coming toward him. Jay was an exchange student, here on a sponsorship from some company or other in the US. Shorter than Genki, he also had a stockier build, dirty blond hair and green eyes. He was also one of the few that Genki considered a good friend. His grin faded. In a week, Jay would be returning home; another friend that he'd likely not see again because he came from a different world than Genki. At least he could write Jay, though. Pixie and the others were out of reach forever.
"Hey Jay," he replied, as he came to stand beside Genki, grinning mischievously.
"Man, have I got a story for you. You know that snot Chisa, from class 4-C?" he asked. Genki nodded; she was a snobbish, stuck up, obnoxious little spoiled brat, but she was also one of the hottest girls in the senior class. Every girl knew her and hated her; every guy knew her and laughed about her behind her back. She was petite, but the rumor mill had it that she actually bought her clothes two sizes too small so that she had a good excuse to get out of them when she was on dates - which were practically nightly. Genki could almost believe it, too; she always looked like she'd been poured into her outfits. He'd never really looked at her twice, though, figuring that if he wanted to talk to a rude girl, all he had to do was go home and knock on Megumi's door.
"Yeah, who doesn't?" he replied. Jay grinned again.
"I'm in the office, picking up my graduation stuff. Chisa comes in, all snobbish and whiney, and says that somebody stole the clothes she'd been planning on wearing and her graduation gown. She's in there right now, trying on the spares, but I gotta tell you man, they all hang off her like burlap sacks - they're way too big," he laughed. Genki laughed in spite of himself.
"Stole them? Who'd want to try to squeeze into that stuff anyway? They'd be a tight fit for Megumi!" he said. Jay smirked.
"Hey, you never know. Maybe it was a homeless midget that grabbed them. I heard her saying something about seeing a flash of really bright red hair going around the corner of the alley just before I left the office," he said. Genki shook his head, feeling guilty for laughing over it, but unable to resist none the less. He didn't particularly like Chisa; she was the kind of person that always had a little in-crowd bustling around her, regardless of her personality.
"I feel sorry for who ever stole them; it wasn't worth their time," he said. Jay smirked again.
"What, no sympathy for poor Chisa?" he asked, affecting a mock-stunned face. Genki held up his hand, thumb and forefinger so close together a sheet of paper wouldn't have fit between them.
"About this much," he replied.
"Going a little overboard, aren't you Genki? Ah, you always were the sentimental one," laughed Jay. Genki gave him a dry grin. "So, are you going to the all night party after the graduation ceremony?" he asked. Genki shook his head.
"Naw, I got a really bad headache, I don't think I could take a whole night of party. I was thinking about blading home through the park, see if some fresh air would help clear my head," he replied, and then paused as an announcement came over the speakers.
"All students, please assemble in the gymnasium for the commencement march." He looked at Jay, as he unfolded his robe and pulled it on over his head.
"Well, here we go, finally," said Jay, pulling on his own gown. Genki nodded.
"Yeah," he agreed. They filed down the stairs, and into the gym, along with the rest of the senior class. Out of the corner of his eye, Genki noticed Chisa, wearing a gown that looked to be about two sizes too big, and shook his head, hiding a smile. Jay split off to his row, while Genki walked a bit farther up. The vice principal bustled in, wearing the black and gold trimmed faculty version of the cap and robe, checking to make sure they all had their tassels on the right side and their gowns on straight. From outside, Genki heard the school orchestra begin to play; the vice principal, satisfied that everything was ready, led them outside.
As the first rows of parents came into view, they erupted into thunderous applause. Genki grinned; it was almost louder than the pounding in his head. Actually, he realized, his headache had begun to subside a little. Maybe skating home through the park wouldn't be such a bad idea; he didn't get out like that very often anymore. As the class made their way past the bleachers, Genki saw Megumi and his mother waving. He smiled at them, and kept moving.
They were led to theirs seats, and then the speeches began. Genki sighed in boredom, and idly fished out the Magic Stone as they droned on. Challenges… he'd forgotten who they introduced the current speaker as, some sort of city official, he thought, but he was talking about challenges. Genki stared deep into the stone, remembering the challenges he'd faced. He remembered first appearing in their world, and saving Holly and Suezo. He remembered meeting Tiger, and managing to slowly win his trust and friendship. He remembered the loss he'd suffered at Pixie's hands the first time they met, and he remembered throwing himself over her in what would have been a vain attempt to protect her as the ruins began to collapse above them, had Big Blue not been there. He remembered when the Phoenix had first shown herself, through him and the Magic Stone, resurrecting Pixie, Tiger and Big Blue. Challenges… Yes, he'd faced challenges in his life, challenges nobody else could have.
He was spooked from his reverie as the student beside him tapped his shoulder. With a start, he realized it was his row's turn to get their diplomas. Standing, he followed them up, smiling widely, and proudly. It had been a different sort of battle than the one he'd fought against Moo to earn this, but by far, it had been the more difficult. Walking up the steps, Genki accepted his diploma, and shook hands with the vice principal and principal.
As he sat back down in his seat, grinning at the diploma - his diploma! - he saw the Magic Stone abruptly flicker, albeit very weakly. He blinked; it glowed faintly now and then, when he thought of his friends, but never when he wasn't actually touching it. But at the moment, he was leaning forward slightly; the Stone was hanging freely on it's cord, away from his body. After a moment, it flickered again, this time a little stronger, and for a split second, it almost looked like the Phoenix had been starting to appear, before the light guttered out again. Startled, Genki quickly hid the Stone under his shirt, not wanting it to flare to life with so many people to see. The stone was warm against his skin, almost hot, rather than its usually cool touch.
The ceremony ended; Genki removed the tassel from his hat, and joined his class in flinging it into the air. Grinning and feeling quite proud, and quite satisfied with himself, he none the less wondered what was up with the Stone. The class began to disperse, and Genki made his way over to the bleachers, to where his mother and sister were waiting. Putting a hand on the guard railing, he vaulted over it to them, landing lightly.
"I'm impressed, you actually managed to keep from tripping over your robes and falling on your face!" said Megumi, grinning and daring him with her eyes to make a come back. His mother tapped her nose.
"Let's just hope for your sake you're as graceful as Genki when it's your turn to graduate, brat," she said, smiling to take the sting out of her words. Megumi blushed slightly, as his mother turned back to him. "Congratulations Genki." She laughed, and hugged him tightly. "I'm so proud of you!" she gushed. Genki grinned again as they started making their way toward the car, and was about to speak when her beeper went off. She blinked, and pulled it out of her purse. "I told them not to page me unless it was an emergency," she said, frowning and scrolling through the message. Genki and Megumi looked at each other, as her eyes widened. "Oh, dear…"
"Emergency," they said together. Genki looked back at her. "What happened?"
"One of the managers at the main headquarters had a heart attack, I'm needed there," she said. Genki grinned, and nodded.
"No worries Mom. We can celebrate when you get back," he said. She smiled at him, as she unlocked the car door.
"I'll take you home, and then I have to leave; I'm sure that they already have me booked on the next Skimmer over to Tokyo," she said. "It could be a couple of days," she said, in an apologetic voice. Genki grinned.
"Don't worry, I'll have the girls out of the house and Megumi back from the pound before you get home," he said, winking at her. She laughed, nodding; Megumi sniffed loudly and looked pointedly away from Genki.
"Get in," she said. He shook his head.
"Just take Megumi home, I wanted to blade home through the park. I was thinking some fresh air would get rid of that headache," he replied, taking off his gown, and exchanging it for his rollerblades. She gave him a concerned look.
"Are you sure, Genki?" she asked. He nodded.
"Yeah. For awhile there it was getting better during the ceremony. My head only felt like it was coming apart at the seams, instead of exploding from inside," he replied. She gave him a doubtful look, but finally nodded.
"Alright, but don't be out too late. I'll put Megumi to bed before I go," she said, as he tugged off his boots and put on the blades.
"Awww, Mom! It's summer, why can't I stay up?" complained Megumi from the backseat of the car. His mother sat down in the driver's seat.
"Because you were up early this morning…" Her voice was cut off, as he tossed in his boots and closed the door. She waved as she pulled out of the parking space, and then drove away. Looking around to make sure nobody was near, Genki pulled out the Stone. For a moment, it was dark, and then, slowly, a weak, flickering Phoenix appeared. It flapped its wings a moment, and then became an arrow, pointing, to his surprise, toward the park. Genki frowned, as he slowly tucked it away. The park… well, he had to go that way to get home in any case, and as long as he did…
"So, decided to blade home through the park after all, eh Genki?" asked Jay, as he brought his skateboard to a stop beside him. Genki grinned at his friend.
"I thought you'd already left; I didn't see you after the ceremony," he said in surprise. Jay shrugged.
"I figured a ride through the park might not be a bad idea, and I had my board in the Ausakura's trunk, so I figured what the heck," he told him. "Mind the company?" Genki paused a moment, thinking. It seemed something had awoken the Stone… The problem was, most of the time when it had pointed the way in their world, it had also pointed them straight into trouble. Somebody to watch his back might be a good idea.
"Yeah, sure. Just try and keep up on that rusty old thing you call a skateboard," he said finally, grinning. Jay smirked at him, but didn't comment. Shifting his weight, Genki took off toward the park, Jay close behind.
He noticed, as he did, an odd, strangely familiar sensation in the back of his head, but with the pounding of his headache, he just dismissed it as imagination.
"Master Nightstorm. We have sent Holly and her friends to the ruins as you ordered," said the nearest of the three Monol. They had been known collectively as the Oracle, once; now they were simply another pawn for him to play or discard as he pleased.
"And the portal? You have altered it as I requested?" he asked.
"Yes, Master Nightstorm. When Pixie passes through it, she will become human, but only so long as she remains there, in that world," they replied. He nodded.
"Once she passes through it, it will close. Only the Stone can re-open it, but they will not find the boy in time. By the time that they do, we will be ready to step into the human world," he said.
"What of their friends?" asked one of the Monol.
"What of them? Without Holly or Pixie to direct them, they will be lost. Leave them alone for now, let them think that they have gotten ahead. Then send the Pirate Dragons tomorrow to destroy the ruins. They will scatter, believing that Holly and Pixie can not return," he told them.
"As you wish, Master Nightstorm."
Pixie frowned slightly, looking around, and irritably adjusted the shirt that she'd 'borrowed.' How DID Holly stand wearing things like this? It fit well enough, though the pants that she'd grabbed felt almost like a second skin. But the collar of the shirt hugged to her neck not-quite-uncomfortably, and the sleeves positively refused to stay unbunched and loose. The most irritating thing about it was that the material was just thin enough that it wasn't quite opaque, which, unless she'd missed the entire point of wearing clothing, defeated the entire purpose of wearing it! If she'd wanted people to look at her, she wouldn't have bothered with the clothes, just gone with what she already had.
The confusing part about it, though, was that most of the humans - with the occasional exception of the men - never looked at her twice. Now and then one of the younger men would glance at her, and then pause and look back up. One or two even flashed smiles that would have made tigers wary, when they saw that she was alone. Pixie kept her face carefully neutral, passing them by in silence.
She'd been in the human world for about three hours now, she thought; it was difficult to judge time by the sun because there were so many tall buildings around, partly blocking her view of it. She'd done her best to contain her amazement over the marvels all about her, but it was very difficult to not walk around, gawking like a little kid. Things were so different here… she'd begun to get an appreciation for how out of place Genki must have felt in her world. The sheer number of people was absolutely mind boggling; she couldn't help but feel a bit phobic. Humans had scarred her deeply, and now she was literally surrounded by a sea of them. The knowledge that she appeared to physically be a human, and thus, one of them, was a scarce comfort.
To her surprise, she came to a wide, open area; a rolling field of grass that led to a forest growing in the middle of the city. Humans walked along paths; families chatted idly on blankets spread on the grass, children tossed balls back and forth. Pausing, Pixie checked her sense of Genki again for his direction. To her great relief, it led her into the woodland, and away from the human-packed sidewalk. She gladly left the noisy roadside and strode toward the trees. This, she understood; nature, growing things.
She made her way along at an easy clip, following the bond's direction. As she left the sound of the city bustle, she found herself finally beginning to relax a little. The human world was a little overwhelming. But, she was beginning to realize, in some ways it was not so different as she had once thought. Men, women and children moved, enjoying the silence of the forest after the noise of the city.
Idly, Pixie began to wonder how much Genki had changed from the boy that she had known. Humans were odd; for years they remained relatively small, growing, but only very slowly. Then, in about their thirteenth or fourteenth year, they abruptly began to grow and change amazingly fast, seemingly becoming fully matured overnight. Genki had been about that age when he'd left; surly in the seven and a half years that he'd been gone he'd experienced much the same. Certainly it had happened to Holly; she'd grown into quite a beautiful young woman in their world.
Pixie shook her head. She'd finished maturing more than two hundred years before; she could hardly remember how awkward it had been at times. Granted, in some ways she'd tried to forget about it; she had tried hard to forget all of her years as a slave. She'd been very successful in some ways; not successful enough in others. And then, there were some pains that she wasn't sure she wanted to forget. She sighed.
Gradually, she became away of the fact that it was beginning to get darker. She passed humans less and less often, which, she had to admit, suited her well enough. To her surprise, she noted that Genki seemed to be coming toward her now, though he was apparently still unaware of her and their bond having reformed. Pixie grinned slightly, wondering if he would recognize her as she was. Then she paused a moment, realizing that the reverse was also true; would she recognize him? She might be missing her wings, horns and tail, but he would have grown into a young man, completely different from the child she'd known.
By now night had fully fallen, though to her eyes it still seemed light enough to only be early evening, even in the darkness of the woods. Genki had veered somewhat to her right; she compensated, stepping off the beaten pathway, and let herself be entirely guided by the bond. She was getting fairly close to him now; maybe close enough to reach him telepathically, but… there was an odd shimmer to his sense that she'd begun to notice as they got closer, as if something was trying to interfere with their connection. Maybe she was just being paranoid, but it made her decide not to try sending him another message just yet.
As Pixie passed one particularly dense thicket of bushes, she heard sounds of a scuffle. Pausing, she frowned, curious. She was pretty far off the path, and hadn't seen any humans for some time now. Deep into the forest as she was, there was very little light for a human's eyes. Frowning again, and noting that Genki was still moving toward her, she cautiously approached the thicket, and spread some branches to look through. What she saw made her scowl.
On the other side of the bushes, a young, weakly struggling girl was being held down by three older men, as a forth began to unbuckle his belt; Pixie immediately identified him as the leader. Some kind of silver cloth had been placed over her mouth, silencing her beyond small, incoherent sounds of fear. Her eyes hadn't been covered, though, and they were wide with terror as she attempted to thrash her way out of their grip. Her struggles were to no avail, though; there were too many of them and too little leverage for her.
Pixie straightened, and stepped into the thicket without a second thought. "Get away from her!" she ordered, summoning up every shred of menace she'd ever had as one of Moo's Big Bad Four. The one that had been unbuckling his belt turned to her, startled - Pixie noted the sharp-looking knife he held in his left hand - and then he smirked, squinting against the darkness at her.
"Lookie here guys, looks like we've got another cutie wanting to join us for the fun!" he said darkly; the other three laughed, one rising and joining the leader. Mentally Pixie prepared to fight, readying the words of a lightning spell. Just a minor one, she thought to herself; take down this group's head, and the body would scatter.
"This is your last chance," she said evenly. "Leave now, and I'll let you live." They looked at each other, and burst into laughter.
"Ah, man, I'm so terrified! This little girl will let us live if we leave now!" said the leader mockingly, before suddenly lashing out at her with the knife. Surprise bloomed on his face, though, as she easily caught his wrist, halting his attack. Planting her foot, she drove a kick into his side hard enough that she heard a rib pop, and then punched him hard in the nose as he grunted in pain and doubled over, sending him reeling backwards. Recovering slowly, he straightened, one hand held over his shattered nose, snarling.
"Shit, the little bitch can throw a punch! Don't just stand there, get her!" he growled. Pixie backed up slightly, watching them warily as the two men holding the girl sprang up. Perhaps seeing her chance as the leader paused to cough up a wad of blood, the girl suddenly scrambled away, narrowly avoiding the leader's grasp. The man turned to her, scowling. "Well, since you seem so interested in our little get together, and made our main entertainment run off, I think we'll let you fill in," he snarled.
"Thanks but no, I think I'll pass," she replied flatly, as they began to spread out slightly.
"Oh, I don't think you understand… We weren't planning on giving you a choice," he sneered. Pixie gave him a devil-may-care smirk.
"Better think again," she said, bringing her hands up and casting her lightning spell, as the man nearest sprang at her.
Pixie understood immediately her likely fatal mistake. The portal had made her human, and humans didn't have magical attacks. Desperately, she tried to dodge back, but it was already too late; she felt the air forced from her lungs as a knee was driven into her stomach. Dizzied, she somehow managed to suck in a deep breath as she punched out blindly. Her fist came into solid contact with a jaw; she stumbled backward trying to clear her head, only to have a strong pair of hands grab her arms roughly from behind. The third came toward her, grinning darkly as he saw that his friend had her.
His expression was short lived, though, as Pixie used her captor's hold to her advantage and brought her foot up hard, talons extended, into the crotch of the one before her. His eyes rolled back into his head as he opened his mouth in a soundless scream; not wasting time as he fell, Pixie planted her feet and shoved backwards as hard as she could, pushing her captor back. Luck was with her, and they slammed into a tree, loosening his grip enough for her to pull free, pivot, and drive a sharp jab into his solar plexus. Gasping for breath, he dropped to his knees; a double fisted blow over the back of his neck finished him off. Pausing to wipe away a few beads of sweat, Pixie turned back to the leader.
She was just in time to see the stone descending on her forehead.
Genki frowned as he reached the park, and looked around. Contrary to his hopes, his headache had been getting worse and worse the closer to the park that he got - and for some reason, he didn't think it was a coincidence that the Stone had been directing him there. It had taken them longer to get over to it that he'd thought it would; the sun was just starting to slip under the horizon. In a few minutes, it would be full dark. Most people had already left the park, and the few that were still there were moving toward the parking lot. Genki shrugged; that was probably in his favor. Jay was following not too far behind him, but Genki wanted to see if he was still going the right way. He pulled the Magic Stone out from under his shirt; it was still pointing ahead, though even as he saw it the arrow started veering a little to the left. Whatever it was, it must be close, and moving on its own.
"Whoa, since when does your pendant glow like that?" asked Jay, as he came up beside him on his skateboard. Genki winced in spite of himself. When had he stopped paying attention to things around him? There had been a time when people couldn't sneak up on him like that.
"It's… a long story," he said after a moment. "Sorta a momento from some friends I had a long time ago," he continued, as he moved to tuck it away again. Then he thought better of it and left the Stone hanging free; hiding it would only make Jay more curious than he already was. Jay frowned at the glowing Stone with a thoughtful expression.
"Does it run on batteries, or what? We've got a way to go yet," Jay reminded him. Genki grinned weakly, wondering how to explain away how he'd gotten it. He was just about to start trying when a girl with an absolutely terrified expression crashed into him. They landed hard in a heap on the ground.
"Hey, are you ok?" he asked her, as he got his bearings straight again. To his surprise, she shuddered and then started to sob uncontrollably; he blinked as he recognized her from one of his classes. What was her name? Natti? No, it was Naomi. "Hey, Naomi, calm down, what happened?" he asked. She started, and looked at him, her eyes wide.
"Genki?? Oh god they were going to rape me and then that girl came out of nowhere and told them to get away and I was able to get away," she babbled. Genki and Jay looked at each other, as Genki gently took hold of her shoulders and pulled her up to her feet with him.
"Slow down a little, it's alright now, your safe. Who was going to rape you? Where? What girl?" he asked gently. Sniffling, she looked at him.
"It was Ikari and his little gang. I was walking home, and they grabbed me and dragged me to a thicket - it's over there, not far from the path," she said, pointing. Genki wasn't surprised in the least to see that it was the same direction the stone was directing him in. "They put some tape over my mouth to keep me quiet, but before they could start some girl walked up and told them to leave me alone. Ikari tried to attack her, but she knocked him down in two shots. I got away in the confusion." Genki looked at Jay again.
"Did you get a good look at her? What did she look like?" he asked. Naomi shook her head.
"It was too dark, and they were holding me down, until she took down Ikari. After that the only thing on my mind was escape," she told him. Genki nodded, as he bent to check his roller blade straps. The stone had been leading him in this direction; he had no doubts that it had wanted him to help. Jay was apparently thinking the same thing, having seen the Stone's arrow, as he gently placed a hand on Naomi's shoulder.
"I think I'll stay here, show the lady to the phones; Genki, you better see if the other lady needs any help," he said. Genki nodded again.
"Right," he replied, before skating down the path, glancing down at the stone now and then to be sure he was going in the right direction. Before long the arrow disappeared, and became the simple red glow that meant he was all but on top of whatever it was leading him to. It was pretty obvious what Naomi had been talking about; even without the Stone's guidance, he could hear angry voices well before he actually saw the thicket.
"Oh, this little bitch is gonna pay but good!" Genki sped up, spying a hole in the bushes and aiming for it. As he made it through, he took a quick stock of the situation; the girl was laying face down, and so were two of Ikari's gang. A third was rubbing at his jaw while Ikari himself was holding a rock with a dark stain on it. He was hunching over slightly, and his face was a bloody mess from his shattered nose; Genki smirked. It couldn't have happened to a nicer person. Ikari had enough time for a surprised expression before Genki leapt over the girl and crashed into him shoulder first. The brute was knocked flat; Genki landed lightly and spun, driving one rollerbladed foot into the stomach of his partner. Then he came to a stop between them and the girl, dropping into a defensive stance.
"Hope you mind me crashing your party, Ikari!" he said, before wincing slightly as the pulsing in his head redoubled. Ikari scowled.
"What is this, Amateur Hero night?" he snarled, standing up slowly with one hand clutching his side. His other companion labored his way up, and gave Genki a calculating look.
"Man, fuck it! This bitch isn't worth another beating! I'm outta here!" he said finally, before turning and stumbling off into through the bushes. Out of the corner of his eye Genki saw Ikari's other two henchmen starting to crawl off too, and raised his eyebrow at the bully. Ikari growled at him, and opened his mouth to say something. Before he did though, his eyes suddenly went wide, as the Magic Stone suddenly flared into a brilliant light.
"Holy… What the hell is that!" exclaimed Ikari, as he turned and scrambled away. Genki spun, and then stared himself. Strange ripples had begun to form in thin air, and from the center of them a dark sphere appeared. At his feet, the girl groaned and started to slowly move. Keeping a wary eye on the disturbance, he bent down and carefully rolled her over, getting his first good look at her in the light of the Stone. Her hair was startlingly red - the same red, he thought, as Pixie's had been. She looked to be about his age and was somewhat pale, though that was probably due to the ribbon of blood running down from her temple. She was breathing well, though, so she seemed to be in no danger - well, ignoring that weird whatever-it-was in the air before them.
Abruptly she took a deep breath, and her eyes fluttered open. Her gray eyes; eyes that he knew well. He saw them, after all, almost every night in his dreams. She searched his face for a moment, wonderment in those gray eyes. Then she slowly reached up, and lightly touched his cheek with a soft hand. "Gen… Genki… I found you…" Then her hand fell away, and she passed out once again. Genki found himself staring in shock. She was human; her horns, wings and tail had vanished, but he'd know those gray eyes in any face. Then he groaned, as his headache grew impossibly worse. Slowly, with great effort, he managed to force a single word through it.
"Pixie…" he breathed, stunned.
"Kid, I really wish that you hadn't recognized her." Genki started, as the headache quite abruptly simply ended, leaving behind, to his amazement, a sense of Pixie. It was troubled; random images of fire, and of an elder male pixie and young female pixie being taken away flashed in the back corner of his mind, but nothing could have made him more overjoyed. The bond was back… It had come back.
He wasn't alone after all.
Above them, the distortion began to shimmer; he looked up at it, frowning as the Stone's light began to flicker out. "Who are you?" he called, instinctively readying himself to fight. The dark sphere at the center of the ripples suddenly began to grow, brightening. After a moment, Genki realized that it wasn't entirely circular; it seemed to have a tail as well. Then abruptly he blinked, as he recognized what - or rather, who - it was. "Suezo!" The giant eyeball dropped to the ground, something distant in his expression.
"Master Nightstorm wasn't expecting her to actually find you, even though he only sent Holly and her here to get them out of the way. He sent me though, just to make sure; looks like it's a good thing he did, too," he said quietly. Genki frowned, suddenly wary; something was very wrong here.
"Nightstorm? Who the heck is that? Suezo, what's going on here?" he asked. The eyeball didn't answer, only began to squint at Genki and Pixie. Gasping as he suddenly understood, Genki scooped up Pixie, and dove away from the spot Suezo was watching. A split second later, the ground where they had just been fountained into a shower of dirt. "Suezo, what are you doing? It's me, Genki, I'm your friend, remember?" he exclaimed, shifting his hold on Pixie so he wasn't so off balance.
"I know it's you, that's why I'm going to kill you!" snarled Suezo, squinting again. Genki dodged away, clods of dirt peppering his back. What had happened to Suezo that would make him attack them? What had happened in their world? Had Moo returned? No, Suezo had said some Nightstorm guy had sent him. Genki dodged several more of the psychic blasts, before finally stopping and gently putting Pixie down.
"What the heck's gotten into you Suezo?" he asked, as he skated directly toward him. The Suezo that he remembered had always had trouble with head on attacks because of his poor depth perception; he just hoped that it was still true. Leaping, Genki aimed a kick at Suezo's iris.
Just before he connected, the eyeball teleported away, and Genki sailed through thin air, landing hard. Suezo reappeared, already squinting; Genki prepared for the blow, but just before Suezo let it fly, Jay sailed over the bushes on his skateboard and slammed into him from behind. Genki scrambled up as Suezo tried to recover, and tackled him again. As he did, the Magic Stone came into contact with him. The Phoenix flared to life within the stone once again, and the giant eyeball shouted in pain. Genki blinked, as his form began to tremble. Suddenly, a dark shadow seemed to split away from Suezo, though it retained his form. The Magic Stone floated up after it, shining still brighter. The apparition shivered, and then suddenly burst apart as if it was a bubble.
Genki blinked - that was it. It was a bubble of evil that had taken over Suezo. The light of the stone faded away, and it fell back to the end of its cord. Genki stood, watching Suezo warily; Jay was staring at them both, looking like he'd just gotten his first real look at what Suezo was.
"Ooh… What the heck happened to me?" groaned the giant eyeball, as he pushed himself up on his tail with his tongue. Unsteadily, he looked around. "Where am I? Where's Holly!" he exclaimed. He saw Genki, and hopped over to him, scowling. "Hey you, kid, where am I? Have you seen a real good looking girl with brown… Hey, wait a minute…" He trailed off, staring at Genki. At the stone, he realized suddenly; of course he'd recognize that even if he didn't recognize Genki. "That's the…" Genki grinned as Suezo did a double take, his eye going wide. "Genki?!?!"
"Uh… Genki… Do you know this thing?" asked Jay slowly. Genki looked at him.
"You remember that long story that I mentioned?" he replied, before he skated over to Pixie's side, leaving Suezo staring, his mouth working but no sound coming out. Jay retrieved his skateboard and walked over beside him.
"Somehow I get the feeling that it's going to be a lot more unbelievable than I thought," he said. Genki knelt, and gently got his arms under Pixie, then rose, cradling her to his body. Jay frowned, as he looked at the head injury. "Man, she needs to get to the hospital, fast," he said. Genki shook his head; besides, he knew that she was in no danger. The bond would have told him if she was.
"No - she can't go to the hospital Jay," he said.
"But she might have a concussion! That's bad news. My first aid class covered those by saying, 'Get the hell outta the way and let the real doctors do their work,'" he said. Genki looked at him.
"You gotta trust me man. She'll be alright, and she can't go to the hospital." He glanced at Suezo, and Jay followed his gaze. "She's not exactly from around here, if you get my drift," he said. Jay started.
"You mean she's one of… those?" he asked. Genki shook his head, grinning in spite of himself.
"No - but she isn't human, either. Just trust me," he said. Jay slowly nodded.
"Would somebody please tell me what the hell is going on, and where in the hell I am, and how you're here, Genki?!?" exclaimed Suezo suddenly, as he hopped over to join them. He looked at Pixie, and then blinked, looking again. "Pixie is here too? But she's human? Oh, I'm really getting confused…." Jay looked at him.
"Well… where do we go?" he asked slowly.
"My place. Mom got called out of town for a couple days and Megumi should be asleep by now," replied Genki, before looking at Suezo as the eyeball opened his mouth again. "Look, can you just relax Suezo? I don't know all that's happened, but you're in my world, somehow, and so is Pixie," he said. Suezo stared at him.
"Ah, Genki, I hate to point this out, but people are going to notice a giant yellow eyeball hopping around town," said Jay. Suezo started, and then grinned slightly.
"No they won't," he said smugly, before abruptly vanishing. Genki grinned as Jay started.
"Finally learned to use your mental abilities, eh Suezo? Come on, my house isn't far," he said, starting away. Pixie stirred slightly in his arms, whimpering at a fever dream, but remained unconscious. Genki held her a little closer and sent reassurance through the bond to her. After a moment, she stopped whimpering and fell back to calmness, a peaceful expression appearing on her face. Genki smiled, and skated on.
"Daddy! Sister!" Pixie stretched out toward her family, but it was no use. They were being dragged away from each other by something that she could not see, and it held her too tightly for her to get away. Her head was throbbing, and she felt an immense pressure on her stomach. "No! Come back! Come baaaack!" She couldn't move; she was unable to reach them. As her father and sister vanished into the darkness, she became aware of a distant buzzing; like the sound of many bees.
There was an odd quality to it though, as though she was hearing it from the other end of a long tunnel, the sound echoing many times before actually reaching her. But she thought that she must be moving through the tunnel, because the sound was slowly becoming more distinct. She also had the oddest sensation, as though she wasn't alone in her own mind. There was somebody that was with her, yet… Wait - a name pushed its way through the throbbing in her head. Genki? It meant something to her… Briefly she saw a vision of a human child, perhaps eleven or twelve years old with clear brown eyes. Then it was replaced by an image of an young man that had the same clear, gentle brown eyes. Genki… Was this Genki?
Other images began to flicker through her mind, as that odd buzz grew more and more distinct. Another human, holding a hand over a shattered nose. A girl struggling to get away from three older men. A building taller than any she'd ever seen before. A stone bouncing off a human woman's head, and a dragon saying something to her…
After a minute, the buzzing became clear enough for her to recognize it as three separate buzzes, and then became three voices. Slowly she realized that the weight pressing down on her were some kind of bed covers, and, if the purring was any clue, a cat that had curled up on her stomach. Now she remembered - she'd come to the human world in search of Genki, and had found those men trying to rape that girl. She'd stopped them, but their leader had gotten her over the head with a stone.
Groaning, she slowly opened her eyes and tried to sit up. A wave of nausea forced her back down flat; the cat looked up at her curiously. The voices cut off, and a moment later, Genki's face appeared above her, the concern in his eyes matching what she could feel flowing through the bond from him. "Pixie? Are you ok?" he asked gently. For a moment, she just stared at him, not quite able to believe how much he had changed since she'd last seen him. He'd grown out of his boyhood awkwardness into rather a handsome young man. His hair was a bit longer; less unruly. The last of the baby fat had disappeared from his cheeks. His eyes were still the same, though; still the same, gentle dark brown that she remembered, always sparkling with good humor. Funny, she thought to herself suddenly, it's been seven and a half years… but now, it doesn't seem so long as it did yesterday. "Are you ok? Pixie?" he repeated. She abruptly noticed that her cheeks were burning hot.
"Genki… What hap… happened? Where… Where am I?" she asked slowly, trying to sit up again. The nausea wasn't as bad this time, but still enough that it pushed her back down. Relief flooded through the bond as she spoke, and a well remembered smile spread across his face.
"That girl you helped - Naomi - ran into me while I was blading home from school - literally. I followed the stone to the thicket, and found you after running off the guys that had attacked you. I gotta admit, I was pretty surprised when I realized who you were. Then Suezo appeared -" Pixie sat bolt upright, shock washing away the nausea generated by the sudden movement. The cat, startled, jumped off of the bed and then glared at her indignantly. Suezo, here?
"Suezo! But he's-"
"Right over there. The Magic Stone broke Nightstorm's control over him," said Genki soothingly, pointing. Staring, she turned, to see the giant eyeball grinning at her weakly from the opposite side of the room. Not far from him, another human man lounged in a chair, grinning slightly.
"Heya Pixie," said Suezo weakly. She turned back to Genki.
"Where are we?" she asked him, gingerly touching her head where the rock had hit her. She found bandages there; Genki nodded.
"You've been out for about seven hours now. I brought you to my house - we gotta keep quiet, my little sister is sleeping in the next room over. How did you get here? And what happened to make you human?" he asked, and then paused as she started laughing softly, shaking her head slowly. "What?"
-What? I was supposed to find you, and yet, you wound up saving me before you even knew that it was me. Not exactly what I'd had in mind,- she replied mentally, glancing at the other human. Genki shook his head.
"Jay knows, Pixie. You can trust him, he's one of the few real friends I have here. I've been telling him what happened while we were waiting for you to wake up. He's the one that dressed your head wound," he told her, grinning. She blinked, and touched the bandages again.
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Pixie," said the young man cheerfully. Pixie nodded at him slowly.
"What has been happening, Pixie? Suezo told us about this Nightstorm guy's attack, but he doesn't remember anything after that," said Genki. Pixie frowned.
"How convenient for him. Much like I was one of Moo's generals, Nightstorm made Suezo into one of his. Holly, Hare, Tiger, Blue, Golem and I managed to escape his first attack, but Suezo and Moochi vanished. The next time that we saw Suezo, he was leading Nightstorm's troops. You said that the Stone freed him? How?" she asked. Genki nodded.
"Yeah. When it touched him, I saw a shadow separate from him. The Stone seemed to attack that shadow, and after it was destroyed, he was back to his old self again. He was telling us about the attack, but the last thing that he remembered from it was seeing a flare of light. So who is this Nightstorm?" he asked. She shook her head.
"Nobody knows for certain. We think, though, that he may have been behind Moo all along. You remember how Moo said that he was Hatred?" she asked. Genki nodded.
"How could I forget?"
"Nightstorm controls his minions in much the same way. The only difference is that once they follow Nightstorm, they can't break free," she said quietly, looking at Genki. He nodded; she'd joined them only after Genki and his friends had defeated Big Blue and her.
"Until now - the Magic Stone has the power to break his control," he said. "Suezo is proof of that." Pixie nodded doubtfully; she personally intended to keep an eye on the eyeball. Genki grinned at her slightly; she knew that he knew what she was thinking. "Ok… So Nightstorm is the new Moo. That still doesn't explain how you're here, or how you ended up as a human. Suezo said something about Nightstorm sending you here to get you out of the way." Pixie blinked, as Suezo looked at them.
"I did?" he asked. They glanced at him, Genki grinning.
"Yeah, and you also tried to flatten us both, but that was before the Stone freed you," he said.
"The Oracle - Golem told us about them, and we asked them how to defeat Nightstorm. They told us that the one with clear eyes would end Hatred's reign, and that the gate remained open for Hatred's Bane. They also said that I had to go through. When I got through the Gateway, I was as you see me now," said Pixie, frowning. "But… if Nightstorm was trying to get us out of the way by sending us here, then that means that the Oracle was in on it - and that he knows where Holly and the others are," she said, as she turned, and unsteadily began to get out of the bed. At least, she tried to, but as she started to rise a bad wave of nausea washed through her head. Only half-way up, she found herself suddenly toppling forward. Then, just as suddenly, she'd stopped; it dawned on her that Genki had caught her, and that they were all but nose to nose. For a moment, they just stared at each other; he seemed more surprised than she was, if his eyes and their bond was any indication. It came to her again how handsome he'd grown over their years apart.
The moment passed, as Jay said, "Paging Pixie and Genki, you're needed back here on Earth please." They both started, and Pixie felt her cheeks start to burn again. She was able to take a little consolation in the fact that Genki was blushing too, though.
"Ah… shall we try that again, a bit slower this time?" he suggested after a moment. Pixie nodded, and - slowly - straightened, forcing down her nausea. This time, she actually made it too her feet, and although her head was swimming a bit, she was pretty sure that she could handle it. As if to give her the lie, her knees wobbled a little, but she stubbornly forced them stiff again. She would NOT let herself fall in front of him.
After a moment, Pixie realized that she wasn't sure if she meant Jay, or Genki.
"I'm going to make sure Megumi is still out, and then we can all go to the Gateway," said Genki, before frowning. "Hey Pixie, just where did you come through, anyway?" he asked. Pixie started, blinking.
"I don't know - it was in a back alley, but I have no idea of how to get back there."