“It’s too quiet,” I said, staring down at Big Blue’s shoulder as he trudged along a narrow dirt road. It was one of those gray days, when there are so many clouds you can’t even catch a glimpse of the sky. It suited my mood perfectly.
My name is Pixie. Only yesterday all I would have been saying was “be quiet.” Last night I actually got a good night’s sleep, undisturbed by the nightmares of someone else. Undisturbed by nightmares of any kind. I had never acknowledged it before, never really thought it meant anything, but my own nightmares had vanished when Thorn came along and started having hers. Every night I had been annoyed because I had been woken up by her nightmares, and now that I finally managed to sleep, it only made me feel empty.
Big Blue glanced up at me, and I saw it in his eyes, too. Grief. How the hell did one annoying little brat become so important to us?
“I keep expecting her to just pop up out of nowhere and ask one of her stupid questions,” I sighed. “And to think all I ever did was yell at her to be quiet. Thorn in my side…hell, she’d probably be better off if she had never met me!”
It was all my fault. The Wracky’s voice kept echoing over and over in my skull. “That curse was meant for you…But your little friend insisted on fighting for you. Now she pays the price in your stead.” Thorn didn’t have anything to do with that! It had been because of my past that the Wracky had come seeking revenge. It was all my fault.
“Don’t blame yourself, Master Pixie,” Big Blue said. “If she hadn’t chosen to follow us, she would only have ended up a slave to Moo.”
“At least then she would still have a chance. She’s dead, Blue!” Before he could protest, say it wasn’t certain, I added, “That curse was meant for me. Do you really think that Wracky would have let me live?”
Big Blue didn’t respond.
I swore under my breath. It was still too quiet.
Lilim suddenly paused in the middle of charging an attack. A strange vague expression crossed her face. It was as though she had heard some distant sound and was struggling to better make it out. Kyoko took advantage of the opening, swooping down and launching her Gigaray.
Lilim snapped out of it as the Gigaray hit her hard in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her and throwing her backwards into the wall. She got up slowly, resisting the urge to groan. Maybe sparring with the Vanities hadn’t been one of her brightest ideas.
“I need a break,” Lilim said, walking off before Kyoko could reply. The Vanity watched with a puzzled expression on her face as Lilim walked to the far corner of the training ground. It was the farthest she could get from where the other Vanities were sparring, and the place most cloaked in shadow. After a while Kyoko gave up trying to figure out Lilim’s reasons and decided to simply be grateful. Lilim hadn’t exactly gone easy on her, and Kyoko could definitely use a break herself.
Lilim reached the corner and casually leaned against the wall, pretending to be interested in how the Vanities were doing. In her mind she searched once more for something that had been there since the Ancient War, but came up with nothing. She checked and rechecked, but still the results were the same. It simply wasn’t there.
Lilim had always been able to sense things. Humans, monsters, each individual had their own feel, like a signature, or a signal. Most of them were very similar, easily drowned out by all the others. These she could only sense if she were standing right near the person, and then only if she tried. But some were so strong and so unique that Lilim could always sense them, no matter where she happened to be or what she happened to be doing. Nemesis had been one of these, which was how Lilim had always managed unerringly to find her.
Had been. While Lilim had been sparring with Kyoko, the girl’s signal had just winked out. The only possible explanation was that her soul was no longer in this world. But there would have been a delay. It took some time for the last traces of the signal to fade once the one who had caused it was gone. At most, it had been a day.
She wouldn’t believe it. Nemesis – no, Thorn – had been the only person to accept her for what she was in about a millenium. Thorn had known she was a little witch - a selfish, psychotic, and immortal little witch - and that she was proud of it. And Thorn hadn’t minded, had actually seemed to embrace that fact. Lilim wouldn’t believe that she was dead. Not yet. Not until she knew for sure.
Pixie…now that was going to be a tough one to find. But she was also one of the only two people who would be able to tell her what had occurred. And when the other one wouldn’t leave her side for a second…Pity their signals weren’t particularly strong. Lilim would have her work cut out for her.
Naga would probably know the general whereabouts of the traitors, but Lilim would curl up in a corner and die before she asked that snake for help. Jaba now…hadn’t he once bragged to her that he knew everything that went on in the lair? Because no one cared much what an idiot like Jaba knew, most of the baddies in the lair felt that they could talk freely in front of him. Yes, Jaba would know…and to think all she had to do was ask. Lilim smirked. Perhaps Naga had done her a favor when he let that fool annoy her.
Lilim’s smile grew broader as she heard something chime twice deep in the lair. Training time was over. Now, where was that Jaba…?
The girl sighed and sat down by the side of the road, leaning against the side of an old, gnarled tree. She shouldn’t even be here, but, to tell the truth, even she didn’t know what would happen next. And she should know better than anyone. She was the one writing the story, for cryin’ out loud! But they were real now, even though they weren’t. And even though that made absolutely no sense at all, it was true. She couldn’t control them any more than they could her. So she’d just have to talk to them. If only she knew what to say…
The girl looked up, startled, then hastily brushed her too long bangs away from her dark brown eyes.
“Lilim,” she said. “Figures you’d know who I am.”
“What happened to her?” Lilim demanded.
“You were just on your way to ask Pixie that, weren’t you? You’ll have to get the story out of her. It isn’t my place to tell it.”
“Oh?” Lilim raised an eyebrow. “And it’s your place to even be here? You’re waiting for Pixie and Big Blue, aren’t you, Lauren?”
Lilim watched as an expression of surprise crossed the girl’s face. Luckily Jaba hadn’t had any romantic nonsense prepared when she found him. He had quickly told her where the traitors had last been seen, as well as the direction they had been headed. Lilim had been looking for them when she had sensed something odd, a signal just slightly out of sync with all the others. There was only one person it could possibly be.
“How did you…?” the girl began. She seemed to have no intention of finishing her sentence.
“I know as much about you as you do about me,” Lilim explained. “Are you really that surprised? You shouldn’t be.”
“Oh.” Of course, thought the girl. Why should it be any more surprising then the fact that she knows who I am in the first place? After a moment’s pause, she asked, “Lilim, do you ever feel like you’re slipping? Like you’re no longer able to play the game? Like everything you’ve done so far has just been a waste?”
The girl blinked, her eyes the only part of her not blackened. After a moment she shook the soot off her, revealing that she was unharmed. It was impossible to hurt her here.
“That was for thinking of giving up,” Lilim explained.
“Sorry,” the girl said. “I know I have to finish this. Things have just spun out of control…you know who I am. The very fact that we’re having this conversation shows that this story isn’t mine anymore.”
The story had never been hers to begin with. It had always belonged to those who lived it. But the girl was still a key piece in the game…
Lilim waited silently. She knew the girl wanted something, otherwise she wouldn’t have come here in the first place. If the girl would only think to ask her, Lilim might manage to get rid of several troubling pieces.
“I need Pixie and Big Blue to go to Naga’s lair, not just skirt around it like they did with Gray Wolf,” the girl said at last. “But I don’t think they will on their own. They don’t have any reason to do so.”
“I could arrange that,” Lilim offered. “But, of course, I’d want something in return. There’s a few pieces that I’d like taken care of…namely Naga, Jaba, and those Vanities.”
“I’ll give you the opportunity to get rid of them all, for the time being,” the girl said. It was about all she could promise, given the current state of things. “But you have to get Pixie and Big Blue to the lair first.” This whole thing was a mess. She was making a deal with one of her own characters, for cryin’ out loud! She knew she should never have come here. But there was no other way. Maybe things would work themselves out in the end after all. Or at least she hoped like hell they would.
“It’s settled, then,” Lilim replied. “Now, what about her?”
The girl knew instantly whom Lilim was talking about.
“I don’t know. There might be a way. But it won’t be easy.”
“Is it ever?”
With those words, Lilim stepped into the shadows and vanished. After a while, the author sighed and did the same.
Lilim watched her disappear. The Pixie/Joker mix had reappeared in the air above the tree. She waited for a moment, then continued her search for Pixie. She still had to know what happened.
I alighted on Big Blue’s shoulder after a brief flight. The trees on either side of the path had begun to thin out, and I wanted to see what was waiting for us at the edge of the forest. There were so many forests. It seemed like we were always wandering through a forest. I hoped there would be a desert nearby, or at least something else that didn’t remotely resemble a forest. Forests were far too reminiscent of a certain annoying little brat who asked too many stupid questions.
“There’s a town up ahead,” I said, trying to push those thoughts away. “It looks deserted. Let’s check it out, Blue.”
Big Blue nodded and continued walking. Another deserted town…we must be getting closer to Naga’s lair. Let Genki deal with Naga, as he had with Gali and Gray Wolf. We’d try to steer clear of the lair.
There seemed to be no signs of life in the town as we arrived. Oddly, parts of the town seemed to have been blocked off by walls of gray stone that were a sharp contrast to the small, whitewashed houses. I glanced down at Big Blue.
“Well, Blue, looks like nobody’s home,” I said.
The instant the words were out of my mouth, a small girl burst out of a building in the center of town, screaming her little blond head off. A Clay (Jell/Monol) soon followed her. He didn’t bother with a chase, only raised one whip like arm and lashed the girl across the back.
The girl stumbled and cried out, but before she could fall the Clay grabbed a fistful of her long, golden hair. The baddie lifted her to him as tears streamed from her honey brown eyes, then curled his free hand into a fist. Pitiful cries escaped the girl’s lips as he began to beat her again and again.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have cared. There was a time when I would have rejoiced in a human suffering at the hands of a monster. But that was before Genki opened my eyes, before I saw that some humans could be as human as monsters, and some monsters could be as monstrous as humans.
I leapt off of Big Blue’s shoulder and flew over the Clay. “LIGHTNING!”
The Lightning struck his arm, shocking him into releasing the girl. She scrambled off into the trees as I charged another attack.
The Clay looked up at me, and I realized with a start that he was smiling.
“ATTACK!” he screamed.
All at once, the odd-looking barriers melted down into their true form: Wall Mimics (Jell/Golem). I cursed under my breath as Clays poured out of the blocked off areas. I should’ve known there was something fishy about those walls…
Big Blue charged to my side as waves of Jells oozed to fill the deserted streets. The baddies wasted no time with the usual small talk, instead rushing forward to attack us.
One of the Clays transformed itself into a top and spun its way over to me, spikes jutting out from every surface. I flew to one side to avoid it, then kept going, flying higher and higher until I was well above the battle.
“BIG BANG!” I shouted, chucking the huge ball of energy into the midst of the attacking Clays. Its impact sent a shower of dust and rock into the air, along with the bodies of a dozen Clays. Several became Lost Disks the moment they hit the ground. The others lay there stunned for a moment before getting back up to rejoin the battle.
I charged another attack. “BIG – augh!”
Something round and hard hit me from behind, square between the wings, causing them to fold reflexively. As I began to fall I glimpsed a Clay, its body still in the form of a cannon.
I tried to straighten out and open my wings, but my back was still numb from the Clay’s cannonball. My wings stayed firmly folded while the ground rushed closer and closer…
I broke my fall on a Clay, then bounced off of him to land on the hard cobblestones of the street. I lay there a moment, too stunned from the fall to get up right away. A Wall Mimic nearby saw its chance and transfigured itself into a cube, rolling slowly towards me.
Big Blue ran to my side, despite the numerous Clays and Wall Mimics clinging to his body. He punched the transformed Wall Mimic, sending the baddie flying backward into his comrades and giving me time to get back on my feet.
I struggled to get airborne again, but the Jells surged around me, lashing out at me every time I managed to open my wings. My more powerful attacks were useless at such close quarters, and I was forced to use my much weaker physical attacks. I expected the baddies to overwhelm me at any moment; if not for Big Blue’s efforts they would have done so already.
But I could see Big Blue was weakening; already he was nearly covered with attacking Jells. We weren’t going to be able to hold them off much longer…
This was the part where Thorn was supposed to summon an umbrella.
I shoved that thought out of my mind and concentrated on the battle. It didn’t matter much anyway. We were done for.
At least half the baddies surrounding me shrieked and became Lost Disks. I wasted no time in spreading my wings and taking to the air once more. The moment I was out of easy range I looked around for our rescuer. I hardly believed my eyes when I saw who it was.
Lilim smirked. “Who were you expecting? Naga?”
Then she was off, swooping down to fry more of her fellow baddies.
I charged another Big Bang, then sent it into the horde of Clays and Wall Mimics surrounding Big Blue. For now, Lilim was helping us. Why would have to wait until after the battle.
I knew we were winning when Big Blue got enough of an opening to fling the attacking Jells off of him. He charged toward the remaining baddies, while Lilim and I continued to attack from above. I was careful to keep on my guard this time, so no one would be able to surprise attack me again.
The battle ended quickly after that. At the very last moment, the half a dozen or so Clays that were left turned and ran. I let them go, flying back downwards to land gracefully on Big Blue’s shoulder.
But Lilim had no such intention. She dived down after the retreating baddies, Gigaflaming them all into Lost Disks. Then she flew casually back towards me and Big Blue, landing a few yards away.
“Pixie,” she said. “Good to see you again.”
“What do you want?” I asked.
Lilim laughed. “Well, I’m glad to see you’re not so much of a fool as to think I did this out of the kindness of my heart.” As if she even had a heart…
Then both Lilim’s voice and expression turned suddenly serious. “Where is she?”
Big Blue and I blinked.
“Nemesis. Thorn.” She seemed angry at having to clarify, as if it should be obvious who she was talking about. “What happened to her?”
I only stared at her. Thorn…something I had been trying NOT to think about. I wanted to talk about it even less.
“I may have just saved your lives,” Lilim hissed softly. “All I’m asking in return is that you tell me what happened to her. Is that really so much to ask?”
I didn’t want to tell that little witch anything. But she had just saved our lives.
I told her the entire story.
When I was finished, she said nothing, only stood there, staring into space. “It was strange, though. Thorn never has that kind of control over her powers.” It seemed like such a lame thing to say, but I had to say something. The silence seemed so painful all of a sudden. “But when she battled that Wracky, she seemed able to do anything.”
“There is a reason why she was called Nemesis.” Lilim replied almost absentmindedly, as though part of her was somewhere else entirely. “Why do you think they named her ‘righteous anger’?”
On the inside, I shuddered. Thorn had said that same thing, just before she went to fight the Wracky.
“Nemesis has a special power, fueled by her namesake,” Lilim continued. “For a time she’ll become stronger, faster; she’ll know exactly what to do and be able to do it, even if she doesn’t consciously realize it. Her attacks will cost her less than half the energy they usually take. Eventually her anger will cool, leaving her feeling empty and vulnerable, but in time she’ll be back to her usual self.”
For the first time since I had started my story she looked straight at me. “Don’t give up on her yet. There might still be a way.” And then she was gone.
“Let’s go, Blue,” I said softly. I couldn’t allow myself to hope; I knew I would only be disappointed. The only sound in the world was that of Big Blue’s heavy footsteps.
It was still too quiet.