“We have the Phoenix!” Genki shouted, holding the glowing Disc aloft. The multitude of Mews stared up at it in captivated wonder. “Please, you have to let us use your shrine!”
A soft murmur rose up around us as all the Mews began whispering amongst themselves.
We had given them plenty to whisper about. We had just landed in the middle of their peaceful little village in the dead of night, riding on top of a huge Iron Bird, no less. The Metalners it belonged to had kindly dropped us off there after we narrowly escaped the eruption of the volcano where the Phoenix’s Mystery Disc was stored.
There was a ripple of movement in the sea of Mews as an old Bowwow (Mew/Tiger) made his way to the front of the crowd. For a long moment, he stared up at Genki, searching the boy’s eyes. Then he bowed his head slightly. “You have clear eyes,” he said. “It would seem that the legend has finally proven true. Now, at last, the Phoenix will awaken, and drive Moo’s darkness from our land. Go now, with our blessing.”
For a moment, Genki seemed at a loss for words. “Thanks,” he said when he recovered. “But how do we get there?”
The Bowwow looked back into the crowd. “Pantsy!” he called. A young Mum Mew (Mew/Pixie) hopped forward. The Bowwow turned to address Genki again. “Pantsy will be your guide.”
“C’mon, all of you!” Pantsy squeaked in an annoyingly cute, piping voice. “The shrine is this way!” She began to hop off, a smile plastered on her feline face.
The sound erupted behind us. I looked back and was forced to shield my eyes as a huge white dome of destructive energy exploded into being. I was tempted to plug my ears as well, as a high-pitched scream ripped from Pantsy’s throat.
The light soon faded, but Pantsy did not stop screaming. In an instant I saw why. Moo was there, in his gargantuan Ancient form, advancing on the crater his attack had made.
“Hurry!” Genki shouted. “We have to get to the shrine before Moo gets here! Pantsy, c’mon, you have to help us!”
“But, but we’ll never make it!” the Mum Mew exclaimed, having just recovered from her scream. “The shrine’s too far away! Moo will catch us before we’re halfway there!”
I glanced at Moo. He was moving unnaturally fast for a Dragon of his size. Pantsy was right. He would be within range of the village in moments. I looked at Blue, and he nodded.
“Genki,” I said. “Take the disc and get to the shrine. We’ll hold Moo off here.”
“Pixie...” The young boy’s eyes were wavering. He swallowed hard, and when he next spoke, his voice was determined. “We’ll unlock the Phoenix! That’s a promise!” He bent down and strapped on his roller blades. Then he straightened, and turned to the Mum Mew. “C’mon, Pantsy, take us to that shrine!”
“Alright, just...hurry! I don’t want to end up as Dragon fodder!” Pantsy hopped off again, this time considerably faster than before. The seven Searchers plus Yosho followed.
“Let’s go, Blue.” I didn’t know what I was doing. Moo would kill us. It was insane.
...and all for a little boy with clear eyes and a determination to do the impossible...
Well, it had gotten us this far. Maybe it would get us just a little farther...far enough not to become Lost Disks forever.
“Do ya have to look so serious? I mean, ya always do, but now ya look even more serious. It’s a little scary, actually.”
I looked down into a pair of spring green eyes and sighed. “Thorn, what are you doing?”
Thorn stared straight back at me. For once, there wasn’t a hint of a smile on her face. “I told ya there was no getting rid of me,” she said at last. “I meant it.” Then she smiled again. “Besides, who would ya yell at to be quiet without me?”
I sighed again. She would just get herself killed with us. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop her from following me. I never had been. “Come on, then.”
Thorn’s smile grew a little broader, and she continued walking beside us.
Big Blue stopped suddenly a few moments later. The Bowwow from before was standing in our path.
“We will fight beside you,” he said. He grinned wryly, glancing back at the fast approaching Moo. “It’s not as though we have any other choice.”
I nodded to him, and we continued on. We made a strange barrier in front of the little village. Big Blue and I were leading, with Thorn standing beside us, to my left. The entire village seemed to have gathered behind us.
Moo could have flown right over us. But then, Moo had never passed up a chance to toy with those weaker than him.
He landed in front of us, glaring at us through evil crimson eyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Thorn fall as the earth shook from his weight.
“Pathetic little creatures,” he said, his mouth unmoving, his expression permanently frozen into a twisted grin. “Do you really think you can stop me?”
I didn’t think we could stop him. The point was to stall him...at any cost. If our lives bought enough time for the Phoenix to be revived, we had won.
“Now, Mews!” the Bowwows shouted. As one, the Mews surged forward to attack. I leapt off Blue’s shoulder, leaving him free to charge forward as well. As I flew toward Moo, I saw an umbrella appear out of thin air and land on his head.
“BIG BANG!” I shouted.
Moo roared in pain as my attack struck his forehead. He lashed out with his tail, turning most of the Mews he hit instantly into Lost Disks. Blue was knocked away as well. He broke through both walls of a nearby house and lay outside it, unmoving. I couldn’t believe it. I had seen him withstand so much...to see him swatted away so easily...
I didn’t even realize Moo was attacking me until I felt his claws rake against my leg. I turned toward him as the warm blood began flowing from my wound, only to see him clutching at one of his eyes. An umbrella was embedded within it. I glanced down at Thorn as I gathered energy into my hands. She looked relieved. She must have used her power to throw off Moo’s aim...otherwise, that blow might have been fatal.
I launched another Big Bang, and inwardly smiled when I heard Moo roar in pain. He would pay for what he had done to Blue. The Dragon turned to face me, white-hot energy building up in front of his mouth for an attack. I tensed, ready to dodge. He would never be able to hit me.
Suddenly he turned, unleashing his attack directly at Big Blue’s inert form.
“Blue! No!” I unleashed another Big Bang, hoping to block Moo’s attack. But I knew already that it would be too late.
I saw Thorn get thrown back from the force of the explosion, but it didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did. Blue was dead. Moo had killed him.
With blackness filling my heart, I dove at the monster below me.
I didn’t need to get up and look to know what had happened. Big Blue had become a Lost Disk. And I hadn’t been able to do anything to prevent it...
I thought I saw Moo grow bigger as Pixie dove at him. It was as though her hatred of him were something palpable, and he was feeding off of it.
I couldn’t feel hatred. I never could. Maybe I was created that way. I didn’t want to think that, but I couldn’t say with certainty that it wasn’t true. Even when Moo swatted Pixie away, and I saw her body start to glow when it hit the ground, I only felt numb.
I should do something...I had to do something. The Mews didn’t stand a chance. The handful remaining were gathered in a cluster around the old Bowwow. As if on cue, they all took a deep breath and began to sing.
Moo stepped on them.
It might almost have been funny, if I didn’t know they were hurt. If I didn’t have to see Moo scraping the Lost Disks off the bottom of his foot.
“What’s wrong, Nemesis?” Moo turned to look down at me. It would have made a very strange picture. There I was, this tiny, insignificant little girl, facing a huge dark Dragon with irritatingly pink hair in a field strewn with Lost Disks. I searched inside of me, but there was nothing there. I was just empty inside. I had no powers, and there was no one left to save me.
Why should there be? I had let all of them down...I should have been able to do something...shielded Big Blue, healed Pixie, anything...I was supposed to be nearly as powerful as Moo. And yet I was powerless to save those I cared about most.
Was there really any point in getting depressed at a time like this?
“You should have joined me when you had the chance,” Moo continued, interrupting my chain of thought. “Why do you bother to resist me? It will only bring you death, in the end.”
I just stared up at him. For some reason, the thought crossed my mind that he was innocent. In a way, somehow, he was. He had been created as a weapon...created to hate and destroy. Just like me. But unlike me, he had never known anything else. Would he ever know anything else?
“I forgive ya,” I said.
“What?!” Moo roared, as if in pain. For a moment, I thought he had gotten smaller.
“I forgive ya,” I said louder. “Ya enslaved me, killed the only family I ever had...but I can’t hate ya for it. Maybe it’s because ya remind me too much of myself...what I might have become...Has anyone ever cared about ya, Moo? Has anyone ever gave a damn about whether ya lived or died?”
Moo only growled and brought his claws down on me. I didn’t move. There didn’t seem to be any reason to move, not with Pixie and Big Blue gone. I expected to join them at any moment.
Only I didn’t.
The blow landed, and I felt pain...enough to make me wish I had tried to dodge. But it wasn’t a killing blow.
I searched his eyes. Somehow, I was still standing. His expression didn’t change, couldn’t change, but...maybe it was just wishful thinking. But I thought I saw something there in his eyes, something other than anger or hatred.
I thought I saw the beginnings of a tear there.
“You’re going to see your precious Phoenix defeated, and your friends deaths become permanent. Or perhaps I’ll raise them again as baddies and have them tear you apart. Then, see if you can forgive me.”
He started off on foot before I could react, heading in the same direction Genki and the others had gone. He was taking his time, causing as much damage to the Mews’ village as he could on the way.
I went after him, but I couldn’t move very fast. And I was still powerless.
Genki and his friends had better have reached the shrine by now...
“Oh, no!” Pantsy shrieked. “He’s coming again!”
The Searchers and Yosho stopped to look back. Moo was indeed advancing upon them again.
“Then that means...” Holly’s eyes wavered. “Pixie...Big Blue...Thorn...everyone...they’re...”
“C’mon,” Genki said, unable to keep a little sadness out of his voice. “We have to keep going. Otherwise they’ve done all this for nothing.” The group started off again, but Tiger and Golem stayed where they were. “Tiger, Golem, what are you doing? We have to unlock the Phoenix!”
“Go on, champ,” Tiger said. “I’ll wait right here. Moo and I have a score to settle.”
“Unlock the Phoenix,” Golem said slowly. “We will be here.”
“You guys...” Genki’s eyes were wavering again.
“GO!” Tiger shouted.
Genki swallowed hard and nodded, then turned and skated off.
I came across the place some time later. “No...” I whispered. “He can’t have...” I moved closer, looked all around...there were only two Lost Disks. The others must be ahead somewhere. Maybe they were unlocking the Phoenix even now.
~Please...he can’t win now.~ I looked up at the sky. It was dark. Why was it that the sky was always dark when someone faced off against a great evil? Why couldn’t the final battle take place on a bright, cloudless day?
The final battle...yeah, I guess it was the final battle. And we were losing.
I forced myself to start moving again, using what was left of the village for support. Moo couldn’t be too far ahead. And I had to help the others...somehow.
Yosho glanced over his shoulder. “He’s still coming...”
Genki’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Tiger...Golem...”
Pantsy glanced at the faces around her. All of them were close to tears, and yet...they were still determined to unlock the Phoenix, and defeat the evil Moo. It was the only way their friends had a chance...the only way they had a chance. She looked ahead of her once more. Then she saw it.
“There it is! There’s the shrine! It’s just a little farther!” she shouted.
Hare suddenly ground to a halt.
“Hare, what’s the big idea?!” Suezo shouted at him.
“According to my calculations, Moo will reach us before we reach the shrine. Maybe I can delay him here,” the rabbit monster replied bravely.
Suezo slowed, and looked behind him. “You’re right...” Then he stopped. “I’m staying, too!”
Holly’s eyes widened in shock. “Suezo!” Suddenly her arms were around him, her warm tears falling on his brow.
“Holly, you have to go on,” he said gently. “The Phoenix can’t revive you if you get hurt.” He nudged her away, and she released him.
“Be careful,” she whispered, then turned and ran after the others. Suezo watched her as she got smaller and smaller, ultimately vanishing in the distance.
“Ready, Suezo?” Hare asked, getting into a fighting stance.
“As I’ll ever be,” the eyeball monster sighed. He turned reluctantly and got ready to fight.
More Lost Disks, but only two more. I wonder...if I died, would I become a Lost Disk? Or am I somehow more human than monster?
I forced myself to think about what was important now, but it was getting harder than usual. With each step, I wanted more and more to just lie down and close my eyes. Whatever happened would happen, with or without me.
No. Moo was just up ahead. I could see him now, although he was still far away. I would catch up to Moo, do whatever I could to stop him...then I could rest. Then it would be over.
“Finally...made it!” Genki gasped as he scrambled up the steps to the shrine.
“Genki!” Holly shouted, running after him. “Moo’s right behind us!”
“I know!” He pushed the double doors open and skated into the shrine. He pulled the Phoenix’s Mystery Disc out of his backpack and placed it in the center of the shrine, while Holly hurriedly prepared the unlocking sequence. Genki skated to her side just as she reached the unlocking button.
Holly closed her eyes and concentrated. The pillar of light formed, slowly growing brighter and brighter. When it was at its brightest, she pressed down the button, shouting “UNLOCK!”
There was a bright flash of light, and the colossal bird of flame appeared in the center of the shrine. They watched it expectantly, waiting for it to rise up and beat back Moo. But the Phoenix didn’t move. To all outward appearances, the legendary bird we had been seeking for so long was asleep.
“C’mon, Phoenix, get up!” Genki shouted, dashing over to it and tugging on its wing. “You have to get up and defeat Moo! Then all the baddies can become goodies again, and all the lost monsters can be revived! Please, Phoenix, come on!”
“Genki...” Holly said, her eyes wavering.
“It’s not even breathing,” whispered Yosho.
“I guess it was just a legend after all...all this time we’ve spent...everything we’ve gone through...for nothing,” Holly continued.
“No! That can’t be! The Phoenix is here! We just have to get it to wake up, that’s all!” Genki shouted. He turned to the legendary monster again. “Please, Phoenix, you have to get up!”
Holly didn’t seem to have heard him. She was holding the Magic Stone in her palm, just staring at it. “I should never have tried to use the stone...all I’ve done is let everyone down...I led us through so much pain...and for what? It’s all been meaningless!” She tore the Magic Stone off of her neck and flung it away. It rebounded off of the Phoenix’s head and clattered to the floor of the shrine. Holly fell to her knees and collapsed into sobs as the great bird still did not stir.
“Holly...” Genki said gently. He started forward, then stopped as Yosho put his arms around her.
“Holly, please don’t cry,” Yosho said in a comforting tone. “None of this is your fault.”
A high-pitched scream pierced the air as Pantsy came sailing into the shrine. The Mum Mew went skidding across the floor, coming to rest against the sleeping bird of fire. Her stitching was torn, and stuffing poked out of multiple tears in her body. She looked a little deflated, as though most of the stuffing had already been ripped out of her. “I’m sorry, Genki...” she squeaked. “We tried to stop him...” Then she looked up, and noticed what she was sitting against. “You unlocked the Phoenix...” Hope shined through her eyes, and she smiled faintly. “Everything will be alright, then...” Her body began to glow softly. Within moments, a Lost Disk rested against the monster who was supposed to revive them all.
“Chi!!!” Mocchi came flying into the shrine as well, landing beside Pantsy’s Lost Disk. He looked even worse than she had. “Genki...chi...”
“Mocchi!” Genki ran to his best friend’s side. “Mocchi, don’t you go, too...”
“Don’t worry, Genki...the Phoenix, chi...”
There was a sudden roar from outside. Moo’s clawed hand reached into the shrine, seeking out one of the humans within. It’s claws were nearly at Holly’s throat when it encountered a barrier of green light. Moo roared again in frustration and swiped again and again. Each time he was blocked. Holly didn’t even appear to notice. She just kept sobbing into her father’s shoulder.
“All this time...it was all supposed to turn out okay...but everyone’s gone, Daddy...and the Phoenix can’t help us. We might as well just give up now! Moo’s won!”
Light suffused Mocchi’s body, and Genki found himself cradling a Lost Disk in his arms. “No...” he whispered. He stood up slowly, facing the door where Moo was waiting. “I’M NOT GIVING UP!”
Holly looked up as the shrine was filled with warm, golden light. Genki smiled at her, the same confident grin he always used when about to go into a battle he was sure of winning. The light was coming from him. Before her eyes, his body faded into the great bird behind him...and the Phoenix’s eyes snapped open.
I fell, too exhausted to bother catching myself. The two little monsters had fought bravely, but they had been no match for Moo. I had wanted so badly to help them, but I hadn’t been able to do anything until Moo had delivered a finishing blow to both Pantsy and Mocchi. I just hoped it would be enough...enough time for them to revive the Phoenix.
I watched as Moo attacked my barrier wildly. He wouldn’t get through, just as long as I could stay conscious...something that was getting harder by the moment.
Suddenly Moo stepped backward, roaring and shielding his eyes from the light that was now pouring through the cracks in the temple. I heard the cry of a bird from within. Then, the rood of the shrine split open, and wings of flame brushed the air as the legend soared into the sky. The Phoenix had risen.
The battle took place in a blur. Moo threw himself at the Phoenix, ripping and tearing at its golden feathers. For a moment, the Phoenix took the blows. Then it spread its wings wide, sending a wave of lava toward Moo. The dark Dragon cried out in pain as it washed over him.
That was the way the battle went as the sky gradually turned from black to red. Moo attacked desperately, but nothing he could do seemed to phase the bird of flame. Even when he fried the same powerful energy attack that had finished Big Blue, the Phoenix merely pulled its wings around itself and blocked it. Finally, Moo’s body turned black and shriveled into a Lost Disk. A jagged shadow fled from it, vanishing over the western horizon.
I closed my eyes, picturing what would be happening all over the world. Moo’s symbol would fade from all the baddies left alive. And all the lost monsters would be revived...
Crab Dragon would rise up out of his lake, no longer forced to serve Moo, to be greeted by a joyful Dixie...
And I could just picture Annie’s face.
“Kyoko, look! Everyone’s coming back again!” the little Dryad shouted. She looked up at the sky expectantly, searching. “Methigras!” she shouted as she spotted the Stone Dragon winging overhead. She flew up happily to embrace him.
And all the rest, the baddies we had defeated...
Jaba pulled himself out of the rubble around him. “Lilim! Lilim? Are you here?” He heard a sound behind him, and turned to see two glaring yellow eyes. “Oh, hello master Naga...”
Pixie and Big Blue would be revived, too, with the Mews...and all the Searchers...
As all the world rose to greet the sunrise, I slipped into the darkness that had been with me since my creation.
I was dreaming. I had to be. Blue wasn’t alive...Moo had killed him.
“Master Pixie, are you all right?”
I opened my eyes. “Big Blue?”
A smile broke out on his face. He nodded slowly. The world fell into place around me once more. But a part of me couldn’t accept that it was real.
“But you can’t be...Moo...”
“Master Pixie,” he said gently. “Moo is gone. Look.”
“Huh?” I followed his gaze. For a moment I saw the Phoenix, silhouetted against the crimson sky. Then it disappeared in a flash of golden light, revealing the rising sun behind it. I smiled slightly. “So, they actually did it.”
Blue nodded his agreement. “Mm-hmm.”
I stood up slowly, surprised by the lack of pain. I glanced down at my leg. The wound Moo had given me was gone. And that wasn’t the only thing. The baddies’ symbol was gone as well. I took a closer look at Big Blue. He no longer wore Moo’s symbol, either.
I flew up to his shoulder, surveying the village of Mews that was just becoming reoriented around me. “Blue...where’s Thorn?” She should be here...unless the Phoenix was unable to revive her.
“Perhaps she’s with the others, at the shrine,” he answered.
How could she have gotten there? Moo would’ve killed her...but any hope was better than none. “Let’s go.”
When we reached the shrine, Holly was already kneeling over Thorn. The rest of the Searchers were clustered around Genki.
“I don’t believe it,” Suezo said. “You mean you were the Phoenix all along?”
“Yep,” Genki said. “It explained everything while we were fighting Moo. It said that when its mind was separated from its body, it ended up in Holly’s Magic Stone. But it couldn’t stay there, because if Moo got his hands on the Magic Stone...so, when Holly unlocked that Mystery Disc, it opened a portal to my world, and sort of stuck with me. It put Mocchi onto the disc I had with me, so he wouldn’t be lost.”
“So, instead of totally taking over like Moo did, the Phoenix just sort of hitched a ride?” Hare asked.
“Why didn’t it just use Holly, chi?” asked Mocchi.
Holly looked up. “I think the Phoenix wanted someone more like it,” she said, smiling at Genki. “Someone who would never give up, no matter what happened.” Then she noticed us. “Pixie! Big Blue! You two are okay!”
I didn’t return her smile. Instead I looked at Thorn. “How is she?”
“She’ll be just fine,” Holly replied. “I’ve never seen anyone recover faster.”
“Why are ya so worried?”
Thorn’s eyes were open, staring up at us. There was a weak smile on her face.
“I told ya there was no getting rid of me...”
I didn’t know what to say. I was relieved that she was fine, but...
Pixie didn’t say anything, but that was okay. I didn’t really expect her to. She was Pixie, after all.
The awkward silence was broken by Genki.
“There’s something else the Phoenix told me,” he said. “It can take me home, but its powers aren’t as strong in my world. I might not be able to come back.”
Mocchi looked shocked. “Genki’s leaving, chi?”
“I don’t want to leave you guys,” Genki said. “And especially not you, Mocchi. But, you have to understand...my folks are going to be worried about me. I can’t just leave them.”
“It’s alright, champ,” Tiger said. “We all have to go home. I have a brother to get back to...and my pack would be lost without me.”
“Golem must go back to his castle,” Golem said. “And I promised Undine I would return.”
“Even I have a home to go back to,” Hare said. His ears drooped suddenly. “I’m not sure if they’ll want me back, though.”
“And Holly and I have to go back to our village,” said Suezo.
Yosho looked down sadly. For a moment I wondered why. Then I remembered. Holly had once mentioned that he had been exiled from their village.
Holly stood, and put a hand on his arm. She smiled when he looked down at her. “Come with us, father. I know the villagers will forgive you. Please.”
“For you, my daughter...” Yosho said. “Anything.”
“I guess it’s settled, then,” Genki said sadly. “I have to go home, too.”
Mocchi suddenly threw his arms around the boy’s legs. “Mocchi will go with you, chi!”
“Mocchi...you can’t come to my world. You don’t belong there.”
“Mocchi doesn’t care! Mocchi stays with Genki! Friends forever, chi!”
“Mocchi...I can’t take you with me. You have to understand.” Genki knelt down and carefully pried Mocchi off him. “Go with Holly and Suezo. I’m sure you’ll be welcome there.”
“That’s right, Mocchi,” Holly said. “We’d be happy to have you along.”
Mocchi glanced at them, then turned back to Genki, tears rolling down his pink skin. “Genki, chi...”
The boy stood up. “Our hearts will always be together!” He turned and skated off quickly, beads of moisture falling through the air behind him. “ALLY-OOP!” He leaped up and was suddenly gone.
“Goodbye, Genki...chi,” Mocchi stared after him sadly. Holly came up behind him and offered him her hand.
“Come on, Mocchi,” she said with a smile. “Let’s go home.”
“Chi...” Mocchi placed his hand in hers. One by one, the Searchers began to leave, first saying their goodbyes to one another.
“We should be going, too, Blue,” I said. Big Blue nodded and gently lifted Thorn off the ground.
“Hey, Pixie!” Suezo shouted up at me. “Where are you going? You don’t have to run from Moo anymore, so why don’t you come with us?”
I shook my head. Blue turned and began walking off.
“Whatever,” Suezo muttered.
“Pixie...ya remember how I said I didn’t care where ya were going, I wanted to come along anyway?”
I glanced down at Thorn, nodding slowly. She had said that the very first day we had met, when I thought she was nothing more than an annoying human brat.
“Ya never told me where we were going, so...where are we going?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t belong with the Searchers...and Blue and I don’t have homes to go back to.”
“Neither do I, but...the two of ya are the closest thing to family I’ve got. I belong wherever ya are. That’s home enough for me.”
Home...maybe that’s what we had been searching for all along. Or maybe that was only part of it. The search wasn’t over yet.
Maybe it never will be.
I smiled, and sat up in Big Blue’s arms. “Ya can put me down now, Big Blue. I can walk.” Everything was alright now. Pixie and Big Blue were alive...I was home.
Big Blue gently set me down, and I slowly began to move beside him. The final battle had been won. The only thing left to do now was to walk off into the sunrise.