“Just give in, Nemesis,” the dark dragon commanded. “You know struggling is pointless. Come here.”
In my mind I screamed and fought him, but my body walked forward regardless.
The dragon laughed, glaring at me through evil red eyes. That laugh, those eyes…I checked the dragon’s hair. It was pink. So this was Moo’s ancient form.
“You see how futile it is, Nemesis?” Moo asked. “You’re only wasting your energy. I control you.”
In my mind I struggled frantically to break free, to regain control. Then the darkness swallowed me whole.
I awoke, gasping for breath. There was only the normal darkness of the night, held at bay by the light of the moon and stars.
“Must you always have these nightmares?!” Pixie asked.
“Ya think I like it?” I replied.
Big Blue yawned and sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “What’s going on?”
“Thorn had another one of her nightmares,” Pixie informed him.
“Oh,” he said. “Darkness again?”
“There’s always darkness,” I said. “But this time there was more than that.”
Pixie and Big Blue stared at me, waiting for me to continue. I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to, but… “Moo was controlling me. Not the Moo we know today, but Moo in his ancient form.”
There was a prolonged silence, then Big Blue asked, “DO you think it could be a memory, and not just a dream?”
“I guess it must be, huh? I mean, the others all seem to have turned out that way,” I said. I wished I could say that it was just a dream. It had never happened and it never would. But I knew that wasn’t true. How else could Moo have known about me?
“So Moo controlled you in the Ancient War,” Pixie said. “Any idea how you’re still alive, since you lived during the time of the Ancients?”
I shook my head. “No clue.”
“Well…just try to get some sleep,” Pixie said. Her and Big Blue lay back down.
“Goodnight, Big Blue,” I said. Silence. “Goodnight, Pixie.”
I smiled, and then I went back to sleep.
“Come on, people, work with me here! Let’s go find the Phoenix!” Genki shouted.
“Mocchi is tired, chi,” Mocchi complained. “Aww, Mocchi!” Genki sighed.
“How are we supposed to find the Phoenix if we can’t even get enough sleep?” Suezo grumbled.
“You should talk, Suezo!” Hare shouted. “It was your snoring that kept me up all night! You’re almost as bad as Tiger!”
“What did you say?!” Tiger snarled.
A huge cloud of dust arose as the two monsters began to fight.
“Fighting…is…bad,” Golem said.
Everyone but Hare and Tiger sighed and nodded in agreement.
“Where have all the Wubbles gone?” I asked.
“What?!” Pixie snapped.
“Never mind.” The Wubbles had never existed in the first place, so they hadn’t gone anywhere. Lame, yes. Stupid, yes. But that was the whole point.
Pixie sighed. “If you’re going to ask stupid questions, at least ask ones that make sense!”
“But it makes perfect sense,” I said.
“Oh, just be quiet.”
“Did you hear the latest? Kyoko got promoted,” the Vanity gossiped to the others in her troop. After learning Lilim’s dislike of their kind, Naga made sure to always keep a troop of them on hand.
“That little oddball?” another asked.
The first nodded. “The very same.”
Kyoko, standing apart from the others, suddenly became very interested in the wall.
“How could Naga promote that little Miss Misfit and ignore the rest of us?” a third asked. “What has she got that we don’t?”
“Try brains,” came a voice out of nowhere.
Dead silence reigned for a moment as Lilim stepped out of the shadows.
“Oh, what’s wrong?” Lilim asked, smiling and baring two small, white fangs. “Did I frighten you? I’m so terribly sorry,” she said, making it clear that she wasn’t. “Naga has found the whereabouts of the rebels. Your orders are to destroy them.”
Inside, Lilim was boiling with rage, although her features remained calm. That stupid snake! Sending her to give the Vanities orders when she wasn’t even part of the mission! The nerve! But maybe she could use this… “The traitors and Nemesis are also nearby, and are also to be destroyed. And I know the perfect way to destroy them both…”
“So, Holly, what’s the stone say?” Genki asked.
Holly checked the Magic Stone. “The Phoenix lies to the north.”
“Well, north it is, then!” Genki exclaimed. “LET’S GO!”
The group headed off to the north, when suddenly…
Before they had time to react, they were hit from all sides by the attacks. In a heartbeat, the rebels were out cold. “That’s enough!” Kyoko shouted. “We need them alive for the next part of the plan!’
“I can’t believe we’re actually trusting Lilim,” one of the Vanities said. “Everyone knows she hates us.”
“Lilim serves Master Moo, as do we,” Kyoko said. “And we’ve all agreed her plan was ideal. Now, let’s get on with this.”
“Heads up, traitors!” A Vanity swooped by overhead, dropping something on her way. Pixie caught it, and Big Blue and I glanced up to see what it was. A bright orange cap with the letter “G” on its front. Genki’s hat.
“If you ever want to see the boy and his friends again,” the Vanity continued. “Come to the ruins to the west.” And she flew off again.
“What do we do now, Master Pixie?” Big Blue asked. “It’s obviously a trap.”
“I know, Blue, but…” Pixie began.
“But we can’t just leave Genki and the others,” I said.
“Hmm…” Pixie stared at Genki’s hat, deep in thought. “We’ll head north, then circle around to the west. At least that way, we’ll be coming from an unexpected direction.”
Big Blue nodded, and we started off.
When we reached the ruins, I gasped in surprise.
“Thorn? What’s wrong?” Pixie asked.
“Do you see anyone?” asked Big Blue.
“No, it’s not that,” I said, shaking my head.
“Well, what is it?” Pixie asked.
Maniacal laughter came out of nowhere. “Looks like someone’s remembered what this place is.” Lilim stepped out of the shadows, then vanished.
Pixie and Big Blue looked at the spot where Lilim had been, then turned to stare at me.
“This is where I was…created,” I explained. It felt so strange, saying that, even though I knew it was true. I wondered if I would ever get used to the idea. I mentally whacked myself in the head. That wasn’t important now! What was important was rescuing Genki and co. before it was too late.
“There’s a back door that we could use to sneak in,” I said. “Come on, I’ll show ya.”
The lab was still pretty much intact, except for a few crumbling places here and there, a few vines creeping up the walls, and a huge hole in the roof. The main doors had been blasted open. Whether or not it had been done recently was impossible for me to tell.
“Are you sure I’ll be able to fit?” Big Blue asked, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“Ya should be,” I replied. The back door looked barely big enough for him to squeeze through. It seemed to be a solid, rust-covered piece of metal.
“Better yet, how does it open?” Pixie asked.
At the word “open”, the door made a strange whirring noise. “Password?” came a mechanical voice.
“Puppy chow,” I said.
Pixie stared at me as the door slid open. “Puppy chow?” she asked.
“Wyvlo chose the password,” I explained. I walked into the lab. Pixie got off Big Blue’s shoulder, then the two of them followed, Big Blue leaving a few new dents in the doorway. The door slid shut behind him.
“You must’ve led us to the wrong door,” Pixie said. “There’s nothing here.” It was a small, bare room with just enough space for the three of us to stand comfortably.
“I’m sure this was the way in…” I began, then suddenly the floor opened up beneath us, and we fell down into the darkness.
Big Blue hit the ground first with such a loud thud I was sure he had broken the floor. He caught me on my way down and placed me gently on the ground. Pixie had spread her wings and came gliding down, gracefully landing on Big Blue’s shoulder.
“I guess you couldn’t have warned us about that?!” Pixie shouted.
“How am I supposed to warn ya when I don’t even remember myself?” I asked in reply. I looked around. We were in a dimly lit corridor, part of the network built under the lab as another outlet for Wyvlo’s eccentricity. In fact, almost everything in the lab was just another outlet for Wyvlo’s eccentricity. This included the wallpaper, which featured bright pink teddy bears with wings.
“Nemesis!” a voice exclaimed. A green shape came bounding toward us.
“Scaler?” I asked in disbelief. “But…how…?”
“So you do remember me,” Scaler said. “Lilim said you didn’t remember anything. You remember Lilim, don’t you?”
I shook my head. “Nothing that makes any sense.”
“That’s not surprising,” Scaler commented. “Nothing about Lilim does make any sense. But I think it’s best that you remember on your own.” It was no use asking him anything, then. Scaler was adamant once he had made up his mind about something. And just where did that little memory come from? I shook my head. That didn’t really matter now.
“Wait a minute, Scaler, how are ya still alive?” I asked.
“I’m a living extension of the lab itself, remember?” Scaler replied. “As long as the lab still stands, I’ll be here. Anyway, Nemesis…or is it Thorn, now?”
“It’s Thorn,” I said. “I like it better than Nemesis.”
Besides, Nemesis was the name Wyvlo had given me. I didn’t want anything to do with him.
Scaler shrugged. “Thorn, then. Are you going to introduce me to your friends?”
It suddenly occurred to me that I should have done that in the first place. “Oh. Scaler, this is Pixie and Big Blue. Pixie and Big Blue, this is Scaler. Ya happy now?”
Scaler nodded. “Aren’t I always?”
“I hate to break up this little reunion, but some friends of ours are trapped here,” Pixie said.
“I know, Lilim told me,” Scaler said. “Naga sent out the Vanities to destroy the rebels, so Lilim decided to make it a bit easier for you to rescue them. She said something about owing you one. In any case, they’re in Wyvlo’s room.”
“Wyvlo’s room?!” I exclaimed. I giggled. I remembered Wyvlo’s room.
“What’s so funny?” Big Blue asked.
“Wyvlo didn’t live or work in his room,” I explained. “It was his playground. Ya can’t even walk in there without setting off some kind of booby trap.”
“Lilim told them about the net at the front door, which they were planning to use to trap you three. I’ve deactivated the other traps in the room and throughout the lab temporarily,” Scaler said. “Now, if you’ll follow me, there’s a passageway right underneath Wyvlo’s room.” He bounded off down the hallway, and the three of us followed.
“How do we know we can trust this Lilim?” Pixie asked. “She nearly got us all killed!”
“You can always trust Lilim to do what’s best for Lilim,” Scaler said. “But I basically control this lab now that the humans are gone. No one can do anything here without my knowing about it. Lilim won’t be able to pull any tricks.”
We were passing a small alcove off the main passage when I felt compelled to stop and stare.
“I can’t take this anymore, Scaler!” I shouted.
“Nemesis, calm down,” Scaler said. “Things can’t be that bad. Lily seems to treat you well, at least, and everyone else but Wyvlo is at least nice to you.”
“They all look at me like an object, no matter how nice they are,” I said. “And Lily treats me like a pet, not a person. Sometimes I hate her.”
“Better a pet than a puppet,” Scaler said. “Lily’s the only thing standing between you and Wyvlo.”
I sighed. “I know, Scaler, and sometimes that’s the only thing that keeps me from blowing up on her. You’re the only one I can really talk to. I’m so sick and tired of this! I wish Moo would just come here and wreck the whole place! I think I understand why he’s doing all this, now. He was created as a weapon, his only purpose to destroy. I bet there wasn’t one person who looked at him as anything more than a tool. Maybe I should go find him, and tell him to come here, and make everyone else’s life hell for a change.”
Scaler looked horrified. “Don’t even think that! Do you know what would happen if Moo ever got his hands on you? Do you think he wants a monster who can’t even control her own attacks? If he found the way to control you, he wouldn’t hesitate to use it.”
“So what am I supposed to do then?! I can’t keep living like this!”
“What do you want me to tell you, Nemesis? Go on a rampage? Join Moo? Try and kill Wyvlo? You and I both know that any of those would only make things worse. The best thing you can do right now is play along with Lily, and don’t do anything rash.”
“I’m tired of playing along!” And with that I stormed out of the lab, the one place Scaler couldn’t follow me.
“Thorn?” Pixie asked, noticing that I wasn’t beside her and Big Blue anymore.
I shook my head to clear it. “I just remembered something. It’s not important. I’ll tell ya later.”
We continued walking until we came to a short row of shattered glass tubes, each big enough to hold an average sized monster inside, and I had to stop again.
I stood at the door to the room that held the glass tubes, for lack of anything better to do. Scaler had told me that this was where they kept the wild monsters they caught before they brainwashed them. I thought maybe I could talk to one of them, once the scientists left.
I hadn’t waited long when a group of scientists came out, talking in low voices amongst themselves. They instantly stopped when they noticed me.
“Why, hello, Nemesis,” greeted one of them, a stout, jovial old man. “Come to see the wild monsters? There’s a Lilim in there who’s trying to roast herself.” He laughed, as though he had made some great joke. I glared at him.
“I don’t see what’s so funny about someone desperate to escape.”
He stopped laughing, looking as though he’d been struck. As he walked off with his colleagues, I heard them all whispering amongst themselves.
“Wyvlo’s done a good job on her, eh? You’d almost think she’s human.”
“No matter what she looks like, she’s still a monster. I wonder what Lily sees in her.”
“Maybe she’s right,” said the one who had spoken to me. Until then he had been silent, as if lost in thoughts of his own.
“Lily? Lily thinks she’s human, and we all know better.”
“Not Lily. Nemesis. Maybe she’s right. In that Lilim’s position, wouldn’t you be doing the same?”
“Don’t talk crazy. They’re only monsters.”
And then they were out of earshot. I stepped into the room. There was the Lilim, in the center tube. Her skin looked charred and blackened, as though it had been burnt.
“GIGAFLAME!” she shouted.
Flames shot out of her hand, but instead of breaking the glass the attack merely circled back around toward her. She screamed as the flames wrapped around her and crumpled to the bottom of the tube.
When the flames died down she got back up again. “GIGAFLAME!” I waited until she was finished. “Ya aren’t gonna get anywhere like that,” I said.
“No one asked you,” Lilim said, glaring at me. “GIGAFLAME!”
I waited once again. “I was just saying that because I could get ya out of here.” Scaler would never approve of this, but, well…oh, to hell with what Scaler thought. I couldn’t just leave her there.
“Oh, really? A human, helping a monster? GIGAFLAME!”
“I’m not really human. Haven’t ya heard them talking? About a monster called Nemesis?”
“That would be you, I suppose. The monster who looks like a human, who could be made into a puppet. So what do you get out of this? GIGAFLAME!”
“Do ya really think that’ll work, or do ya just like doing that?”
“I asked my question first. GIGAFLAME!”
“The same thing ya get: freedom. And could ya stop doing that? It makes it kind of hard to talk to ya.”
“Freedom? And what happens when the humans catch up to us, and Wyvlo decides to control you? And you seem to be talking just fine. GIGAFLAME!”
“We’ll worry about that when it happens, but if it does I suggest ya run.”
“Fine. Now hurry up and open this thing! GIGAFLAME!”
It had never occurred to the scientists that someone inside would free the wild monsters on purpose. And certainly no one outside could get past all of Wyvlo’s little “toys” as he called them. The sequence to open the tube was clearly labeled.
“Alright, you know this place, so lead the way,” Lilim said once she was free.
I nodded. “Okay. If anyone sees us, just act like ya’ve been brainwashed.”
“How about, if anyone sees us, I’ll Gigaflame them.”
“Well, ya can do that, too.”
Miraculously we made it out of the lab without being spotted. Lilim turned and faced the main doors. “GIGAFLAME!”
I heard a huge explosion. Molten metal dripped to the ground. I gaped at Lilim. She had just burned a whole through the solid metal doors.
Lilim grinned at me, baring her fangs. “Okay, Nemesis. Let’s get outta here.”
“Remember something else?” Pixie asked.
I nodded. “Yeah…this is where I met Lilim. They were going to brainwash her…but I helped her escape, and escaped with her.”
“It couldn’t be the same one,” Big Blue said.
“It is,” Scaler said. “Don’t ask me how, or why, but she’s been around since the Ancient War. Maybe even before that. She may very well be immortal. It would make as much sense as anything else about her.”
We walked for a few minutes more, until we came to a room with a huge trampoline in the center. “Well, here we are,” Scaler announced. “Let me brief you on my plan. Then, we’ll set it in motion, and let the fun begin…”
The rebels were tied up together in the center of the room. Genki struggled against the ropes. “You’re not going to get away with this, you hear me!” he shouted.
The Vanities ignored him. “Where are they?” one asked. “They should be here by now.”
“Pixie was one of Moo’s Big Bad Four,” Kyoko said. “You can’t expect her to just walk into a trap without having some sort of plan.”
Suddenly, the floor opened up beneath the rebels. “WAAH!”
The trapdoor closed automatically behind them as the seven of them fell onto the trampoline. Like an idiot I climbed up onto the trampoline to help untie them. There were a few moments of chaos as we all bounced around, until Pixie flew up and simply clawed through the ropes, dropping Genki’s hat in his hands.
“Thanks,” Genki said, putting it back on.
“Yes, thank you for saving us,” Holly said, as soon as we had managed to scramble off the trampoline.
“We were just passing through,” Pixie said.
“Now, what are we going to do about those Vanities?” Tiger asked.
“That’s being taken care of,” Scaler said with a grin. “Let’s watch, shall we?”
He gestured with his paw, and an entire wall lit up with a picture of what was happening in the room above.
“Where did they go?” a Vanity asked. The baddies made a quick search of the room, but found no trace of the trap door. “Now what?”
“Well…” Kyoko began, but was cut off by a series of strange noises.
The Vanities glanced from side to side, trying to locate the source of the noise. Then a gooey substance began to drip down the walls, and there was an especially loud “QUACK!”
The Vanities screamed as an invisible force lifted them off the ground and slammed them into the wall. They stuck there, embedded in the gooey substance.
“Eww, yuck!” one exclaimed, struggling to break free. She only succeeded in sinking deeper into the goo.
“How are we supposed to get out of here?” asked another.
“Try using your attacks!” Kyoko shouted. She tried charging up her Lightning attack, but it was no use. The goo caused it to fizzle out as soon as she could summon a spark.
“They won’t be getting out of there anytime soon,” Scaler commented. “Oh, by the way, I’m Scaler.”
“Nice to meetcha,” Genki said. “I’m Genki, and this is Mocchi, Hare, Tiger, Suezo, Holly, and Golem.”
“Hey, Scaler, we’re on a journey to defeat Moo,” Suezo said. “So why don’t you join us?”
Scaler shook his head with a sad smile. “I would, but, unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to leave this lab. For all practical purposes, I’m a part of it.”
There’s a story behind that, I thought. It wasn’t always that way for you, was it, Scaler? I wracked my brain, but the memory refused to come.
“Must be…lonesome,” Golem said.
“Lonesome?” Scaler laughed. “Don’t worry, I won’t be lonesome. I have all these lovely ladies to keep me company.” He gestured to the wall that displayed the Vanities, still trapped in the goo.
Suezo turned to us. “What about you guys? Are you ever going to join us?”
“Hmph,” Pixie said. “Let’s go, Blue.” They trudged off down the corridor, and I followed.
“I’d better show ya the way out,” I said softly. “We can’t exactly go the way we came in.”
Pixie nodded, and the three of us walked out of the lab.
Scaler watched them go. “I wonder…” Then he shook his head. “No, she’s still the same.” He turned to the rebels. “I’d better guide you out of here. This place is practically a maze.” He bounded off, and Genki and the others followed.
Lilim materialized out of the shadows and smirked when she saw the Vanities stuck to the wall. She had been furious with Naga for sending her to see what had become of the Vanities, but now she was glad. This would be fun…
“Oh, dear, are the poor little Vanities stuck?” Lilim asked.
“Lilim, please, get us down,” Kyoko begged.
“Oh, I’ll get you down,” Lilim said, grinning demonically. “GIGAFLAME!”
The Vanities screamed as the flames washed over them, melting the goo in the process. They collapsed to the floor. Some of them lay there, twitching in pain, while others slowly got to their feet, sobbing about their beautiful faces being ruined. Kyoko stood up carefully and regarded Lilim.
“Thank you, Lilim,” she said. “You’ve single-handedly traumatized my troop.”
“They’ll get over it,” Lilim said. She stepped back and disappeared into the shadows.