A Monster Rancher fanfic

By: Jumper Prime

Disclaimer: I don't own Monster Rancher or any of the characters therein, I'm just trying to share my personal vision so please don't sue me.

It was a morning like any other. Genki, Holly, Suezo, Golem, Tiger, Moochi, and Hare were all sleeping as the sun came up over the horizon. However, there was one part of the morning routine that Genki and the monsters knew nothing about. As the sun peeked over the horizon, Holly awoke quietly, glancing around the camp to be certain that her traveling companions were still asleep. As Genki and the monsters continued to snore, Holly got to her feet and crept out of camp without making a sound. A short time later, Tiger awoke with a feeling that something was wrong. He looked around and it took him only a moment to determine the source of his unease.

*Holly's gone!* the canine monster thought, already sniffing for her scent *Something's off here. I can smell Holly clearly but I can't smell anyone who might have taken her. Even Hengers have an easily identifiable scent. That means she must have wandered off on her own. No point in waking the others just yet. I can find her faster on my own, anyway.*

Tiger stalked out of camp, as silently as Holly had left, following her scent. He found her in a nearby clearing, within shouting distance of the campsite, in fact. The human girl was gong through a complex series of movements, punching and kicking the air. Tiger had seen this sort of thing back in his bandit days, from humans who considered themselves skilled in unarmed combat. Of course, none of them had been a match for him. They always ended up handing over their valuables after Tiger gave them a lesson in human vs. monster combat, though one or two had actually managed to defeat one of the other Tiger-types who made up his merry pack of thieves. Tiger entered the clearing and cleared his throat, causing Holly to immediately stop her kata and spin to face him,

"Tiger!" she exclaimed "I… uh."

"So," Tiger said calmly "How come you never let any of us know you knew how to fight?"

"Because it doesn't matter that I know how to fight. Humans are no match for monsters."

"Try telling that to Genki."

"Genki's different."

"Yeah, he's not lazy."


"Yes, lazy. Genki's always right in the thick of it when we fight the Baddies and he's a human. Have you ever fought a monster?"


"And how did you do?"

"Well, alright, I guess. But Suezo was backing me up and there were only one or two Baddies at a time. That is, until we ran into that pack of Black Dinos right before we met Genki at the Shrine."

"So as soon as Genki popped out of that Mystery Disc, you swore off fighting?"

"No! I was all set to do my part in fighting the Black Dinos, about to attack, when Genki grabbed me and we skated out of the shrine faster than I'd ever gone before. When we went back to the Shrine to try to unlock the CD-ROM Genki had with him, me and Suezo held off the Black Dinos while Genki unlocked Moochi, though we were losing ground before the unlocking happened. It all happened behind his back."

"And you decided to let him and Moochi do all the fighting without letting anyone know you could help if you wanted to. And Suezo went along with it."

"I woulda just gotten in the way and gotten clobbered myself. No way I could've been able to help in the fights with Pixie or Gali. I told Suezo my decision and he agreed not to tell anyone."

"I was wrong. You're not too lazy to fight, you're scared stiff. You haven't got the courage to fight. You're just a big coward! Lucky for you, you're the only one who can make the Magic Stone work or we'd have no reason to keep you with us at all."

"I'm not a coward! Remember when we had to choose three of us to fight Centaur, Celius, and Dragoon to determine if we all could go free? You were hurt, Moochi was too young for us to let him fight one-on-one, and Hare and Suezo were afraid to fight. I volunteered to take the third spot with Genki and Golem. If Hare and Suezo hadn't fallen into the fountain and run afoul of that tradition Centaur and his friends had about fighting after bathing in its waters, I would've been one of the ones fighting. With Hare and Suezo compelled to fight, the only one I could've replaced would've been Genki, and like I said, he's a much better fighter than me."

"And how would you know that? You've never tested your skills against his, so for all you know, there's a possibility you might be the better fighter. He's got more battle experience, yes, but that's because he's brave enough to fight whenever and wherever the Baddies pop their heads up while you… The one and only time you offered to pull your own weight battlewise was when you knew there would only be one opponent and he would be abiding by predetermined rules. A real fight rears its head, and you chicken out. In my book, there's nothing worse than someone who can fight, but refuses to while their friends fight the enemy." Tiger turned to walk back to camp "I won't tell the others, but you've lost some of my respect. You'll only get it back once you get over your fear and pull your weight in battle, but when you do, I'll respect you more than I did before."

Tiger started walking back to camp without looking back. Holly just stood and stared for a minute as he disappeared into the trees separating the clearing from their camp. Then the girl slowly walked back to camp. Noting Tiger had assumed a pose that looked much like he was sleeping, she got back into her bedroll and closed her eyes just as Genki awoke with a shout, officially starting the group's day. She and Tiger pretended to be just waking up as Suezo, Hare, Golem, and Moochi awoke for real. The day proceeded as any other. Holly made breakfast, which they all ate, and then they packed up the campsite. Holly checked the Magic Stone for the direction the Phoenix was, and they started walking that way.

They had been walking for several hours when a ball of energy hit the ground in front of them and exploded. Genki and the monsters immediately braced themselves for a fight as two winged forms descended before them. Both were decidedly female. One had a furry blue tail and the other had purple skin but the detail which caused everyone's eyes to widen in surprise was the fact that neither wore the crest that marked its wearers as Baddies.

"Who are you?" Tiger demanded "If it's a fight you want, it's only fair to warn you that you're about to bite off more than you can chew."

"You males are always so confident in yourselves." The purple-skinned one chuckled "I am Allure and this is Mint." She indicated the Pixie/Tiger next to her. "We are subjects of
Queen Daina, ruler of these lands, charged with protecting royal lands from intruders, and any male found within the borders who is not a subject of the crown must be taken into custody and brought before the Queen prior to being inducted into the slave-class."

"Look lady, we ain't nobody's slaves!" Suezo responded angrily

"Slavery is wrong!" Genki snarled

"Wrong, chi!" Moochi echoed

"Mathematically speaking," Hare began calmly "We outnumber you six to two. The odds are against you defeating us, much less dragging all of us back to wherever your queen is, and the chances of you being able to hold us should you manage to get us there are remote in the extreme."

"Six?" Mint blinked "But there are seven of you. Oh! Of course, one of you is a noncombatant. I know, it's the pink baby bird."

"No, sister," Allure disagreed "It must be the eyeball. No arms or legs to fight with."

"Hey!" Suezo was indignant "For your information, I fight just fine without arms or legs!"

"Moochi fights too! Chi!" Moochi got as close to a snarl as the young monster could get.

"Holly, stay behind Golem." Golem said in his usual calm manner as he interposed himself between the girl and the hostile Pixie-types.

"The girl is the one that doesn't fight!?" Mint blinked in shock "Typical males. I wonder what her dagger's for then, if she doesn't fight."

"It matters not, sister." Allure said "One human, even a female, has no chance against both of us, anyway."

"You seem to have forgotten about the rest of us." Hare reminded them

"No, I have not."

Allure started to sing a siren's song. The bodies of Genki and the monsters started to relax as Allure's song numbed their minds. Their pupils dilated as their will to resist left them.

"Guys, are you alright?" Holly asked worriedly as her companions turned into zombies

"They can't hear you." Mint said as Allure continued to sing "My sister's song renders helpless all men who hear it."

"Then tell her to stop." Holly stepped out from behind the paralyzed Golem, drew her dagger, and got into a fighting stance

"So, you can fight. Shows how stupid men are, not wanting you to fight."

"What's this thing you've got about men?"

"Women are superior in every way to men. I suppose spending your entire life in male- dominated lands, you've been carefully brainwashed to assume you are inferior to them, your skills ridiculed because they are afraid of your superiority. Those days are ended for you now. Females, even human females, are accepted as superior in Queen Daina's kingdom. Come with us, and begin your new life."

"I'd rather keep my old one, thanks. Now let them go!"

Holly charged as Allure finished her song and both Pixie-types soared into the air to avoid her. Realizing Allure had stopped singing, Holly glanced back at her friends to find they were still standing there with blank expressions on their faces.

"I don't get it!" Holly muttered "She stopped singing, why are they still under her spell?"

"Silly girl," Allure laughed "My song remains effective for some time after I stop singing. If it wore off as soon as I stopped singing, I'd give myself laryngitis trying to bring troublesome males before the Queen."

"Well, you're not taking my friends!"

"Oh, but we are. You, big one. Golem, isn't it? Grab your rather determined friend, would you please?"

Without speaking, Golem enveloped Holly with one gigantic hand and lifted her into the air.

"Golem!" Holly cried out "Let me go!"

"He can't," Allure smiled "Not unless I tell him to. He is my puppet, with no will of his own until my song wears off. Come, all of you. Follow Mint and I to the castle."

Under Allure's control, Genki and the monsters, with Golem carrying a struggling Holly, followed the two Pixie-types across the countryside, soon entering a walled city. As they walked through the streets, Humans, Pixies, and various other monster types looked on in fascination. Or at least, the females did, the males simply averted their eyes and continued their tasks, pulling carts, carrying packages, and other mundane jobs, under the supervision of females giving them orders. Soon, they arrived at the castle located at the center of the city and the guards, seeing Allure and Mint leading the group, allowed them inside.

It wasn't long before they arrived at an opulent throne room with a Daina(Pixie/Dragon) sitting on a gold throne and wearing a silver tiara with a diamond in it. The Daina looked up as they entered.

"Allure, Mint," she greeted "Found some more trespassers I see."

"Yes, your highness." Mint answered as she and Allure knelt on the ground, heads bowed before their queen

"But who's that in the Golem's hand?" Queen Daina frowned as she looked into Holly's eyes and saw an angry stare returned

"Their traveling companion, your highness. She was… unwilling to allow us to take them."

"Allure, order the Golem to release her."

"A word of warning first, your highness." Allure said "She has a dagger in hand and considers herself a fighter."

"Guard," Queen Daina motioned with her finger "When the Golem releases the girl, relieve her of her weapon."

"Golem, put her down."

Golem set Holly's feet back down on the ground and released her from his grasp. As soon as he did, the guardswoman snatched the dagger from Holly's hand and stepped back.

"What is your name, girl?" Queen Daina asked

"I'm Holly." Holly answered "Why do you want to make my friends slaves?"

"It is the law."

"Well the law is wrong! We had no idea we were trespassing. There wasn't a single sign. It's not fair. We're on a mission to find the Phoenix so we can stop Moo. Let my friends go!"

"You have fire in you girl. Allure says you are a fighter, is that correct?"

"I know a bit about fighting."

"Hmm. I have an idea. Janne! Come here!" Queen Daina yelled. When a Pixie-type wearing white armor entered the throne room, the queen continued "Janne here is the reigning champion in our fighting arena. I propose that the two of you fight in the arena, with the freedom of your friends at stake. If you win, they go free. If Janne wins, they shall be slaves for the rest of their days. What say you?"

Holly looked over at the blank faces of her friends and immediately made her decision.

"You've got a deal." She said "I'll fight for my friends' freedom."

"She will hardly be a challenge, your highness." Janne said in a matter-of-fact tone "Though perhaps it will be better sport for the masses if some restrictions are imposed."

"What do you propose, Janne?" Queen Daina was intrigued

"That we make it a ground-battle under melee rules."

"What does that mean?" Holly asked, somewhat suspicious

"It means that both flight and ranged attacks, including Janne's innate powers, will be prohibited." Queen Daina explained "The battle will be fought on the ground, with fists, feet, and melee weapons such as staves, swords, maces, and daggers. This will considerably enhance your odds of winning as Janne's only advantage will be her strength, speed, and skill. It will be much like fighting another human, a very strong and skillful human, but at least you won't have to worry about your opponent hovering in the air, out of your reach, while she throws lightning and fireballs at you. I assume you agree to the conditions?"

"Alright. I guess it'd be stupid to throw away my only chance of winning."

"That it would be, but you strike me as the kind of girl who is brave, rather than foolish. Scribe!" Queen Daina called and a somewhat aged human woman walked up, bearing a pencil and a sheet of paper. "The following to be announced immediately: Tomorrow, at midmorning, our champion, Janne, will face a new opponent in a ground-battle under melee rules. All subjects of the crown are invited to attend in the arena."

At a nod from Queen Daina, the scribe scurried off to have the announcement distributed to the town criers for conveyance to the masses.

"Gee, the whole city watching. Talk about pressure." Holly grumbled

"I always find that I fight better before the masses than in private sparring." Janne comforted Holly "Add that to the fact that you are fighting for your friends' freedom, and you might just have a chance."

"Until tomorrow," Queen Daina began "You shall be a guest of the crown with the run of the city. You may want to familiarize yourself with the arena before your battle, Janne has fought in the arena many times and could navigate it blindfolded if she had to."

"Thank you, your highness." Holly answered respectfully "You're being more than fair."

"A ruler who is not fair, should not be a ruler at all. My mother told me that little pearl when I was but a girl and I have always tried to live by it. Allure, take the males to the dungeon and keep guard over them. Guardswoman, return Holly's dagger to her, she will likely need it tomorrow. Mint, you shall be Holly's guide for the duration of her stay in the city. Now off with you all, I'm a busy monarch and have other things to attend to."

As Allure led Genki and the others out of the throne room, Holly was given back her dagger, which she returned to its sheath at her side. Mint then led Holly back outside.

"I'll wager you're a bit hungry by now." Mint said in a conversational tone "I know a nice inn near the castle, and it's close to the arena as well."

"Alright." Holly responded with a sigh "I guess I am hungry." Holly looked around as Mint led her down the streets. "Mint, what's the name of this city, anyway?"

"It is called Amazonia. Queen Daina's grandmother named the city upon its founding."

"Are all the men in the city slaves?"

"Most of them are. There are some who are free, but free or not, they all do menial labor, freeing the women to do jobs which require intelligence, skill, and judgement."

"Are there any female slaves?"

"Of course not! Women do not deserve the indignity of being owned like property."

"Then you're no better than the men you claim to be superior to. Men can be as intelligent as women, but every male in this city is forced to do menial labor while the women are free to pursue more intellectual paths. Don't you see the wrongness in that?"

"Amazonia was founded on the axiom that women are superior and all who live here know that fact in the core of their soul. Your mind has been clouded by your life outside these walls, where men have control and do all they can to suppress the power of women by making them think they have none."

Mint steered Holly into a building they had reached just as she finished speaking. Inside was a busy inn, with tables filled with customers, mostly females, but a few males as well. Mint and Holly walked straight to the counter and sat down. Wiping down the counter was a Pixie-type wearing a tuxedo shirt, a red bow tie, and a black top hat. She stopped wiping and looked up as Holly and Mint sat down.

"Well now," she said with a bit of an accent "What can ole' Jilt get for ya?"

"Umm, do you have some stew?" Holly asked

"That I do. Mint, you want your usual?" After Mint nodded, Jilt yelled the orders to the back room. "Harriet'll have those ready in a few minutes. So girl, I haven't seen you around before. New to the city?"

"I… just arrived today."

"Thought so. And Mint, where's your other half? Last time I saw you without Allure was when she was in the hospital after getting hurt bad by a pack of Cabalos during that big attack on the city a year or two back. She didn't get banged up again, did she?"

"No," Mint answered "Just a bit of guard duty, keeping watch over some males we brought in this morning."

"Glad to hear it. I just bought some more gunzel berries for making blood pie and Allure's the only one who ever eats it. Must be that Naga blood of hers, I guess. So, you get moved over to driving the welcome wagon while Allure's on guard duty?"

"No, the queen assigned me personally to be her guide."

"Really?" Jilt looked at Holly closely "Funny, she don't look like no princess or diplomat or anybody else that'd warrant a royal guard as a guide."

"Has the announcement about Janne's battle tomorrow gotten out yet?"

"Yup. A ground-battle under melee rules. But it didn't say her opponent's name. That tells me it's nobody we've seen in the arena before."

"Quite right. Janne's challenger is sitting right next to me."

"You girl?" Jilt took a closer look at Holly "Hmmm, I could believe that you're a fighter, but you don't strike me as the hardcore gladiator-type that would first enter the city this morning and challenge our arena champion before lunch."

"I didn't issue any challenge. It was all the queen's idea." Holly said with an edge in her voice

"Holly's traveling companions were the males Allure and I brought in this morning." Mint explained "The law says they must become slaves, but Holly refused to accept it. The queen proposed a wager. If Holly defeats Janne tomorrow, her friends go free."

"I'm gonna need a miracle tomorrow." Holly sighed "Even though she won't be allowed to fly or do stuff like throw lightning bolts or fireballs, she's gotta be stronger than me since she's a monster and I'm human and she's the arena champion, which means she's the best gladiator in the entire city. Plus she's part Durahan, which means fighting comes naturally to her, another strike against me."

"Girl," Jilt said sternly "You keep thinking like that, and you really won't stand a chance. Janne comes in here every now and then, and whenever she does, someone asks her what it takes to be a great gladiator. You know what her answer always is?" Holly shook her head and Jilt continued "Confidence! If you think your opponent will beat you then she'll beat you, hands down. Before you can defeat your opponent, you have to defeat your own self-doubts, that's what my mama always said. She was a gladiator like Janne, I think she actually trained Janne, at the start, before she really started to shine like she does now. Mama said she was disappointed in me when I told her I didn't want to be a gladiator like her, she said I'd never succeed at anything outside the arena. I didn't believe that for a second. I got myself a job as a serving girl in an inn, and I worked hard, always believing I could succeed, and now I own this place!"


"Really. I think you've got a chance, and you have to too or you'll have no chance at all. As a matter of fact, you've got an advantage Janne doesn't."

"I find that hard to believe."

"Believe it, girl. For Janne, this is just another fight for the enjoyment of her adoring fans. But you're fighting for your friends' freedom. When someone's fighting to help or protect her friends, it lights a fire inside her. It's like she suddenly gets stronger and tougher when her friends're in danger. She hits harder than she usually could, she takes hits that should put her down for the count and instead just keeps on coming. You've got to remember that your friends are counting on you to win their freedom and harness that fire inside you."

"Jilt, do you really think that I, a human with practically no battle experience, can beat Janne, a Pixie/Durahan who's fought and won I don't know how many battles against other monsters to hold the title of best fighter in this entire city?"

"It doesn't matter what I think, girl. All that matters is whether or not YOU think you can win. If you don't, then you might as well call off the fight right now and apologize to your friends for not getting them their freedom. Just think a second. Her main advantages, her ability to fly and offensive powers, are neutralized by the rules of the fight. It'll be like fighting another human."

"A really strong and skilled human."

"I don't know what you've been taught, but it is possible for humans to defeat monsters in combat. One of the best gladiators in the history of Amazonia was a human, and only a few of her battles were under melee rules."

"I know. My friend Genki is a pretty good fighter and he does great when fighting Baddies. He's also a human. Ever since Genki and Moochi joined me and Suezo, I've kept my fighting skills secret. This morning, when he caught me practicing at the crack of dawn, Tiger said I did it because I was afraid of a real fight. He called me a coward and I think he was right!" As she spoke, Holly's eyes started to tear up.

"Hey now, don't cry little darling." Jilt said soothingly as she produced a handkerchief and used it to dry Holly's tears "Now's your chance to set things aright."

"Even if I win, it won't be enough." Holly sobbed "Tiger says a fight against a single opponent with predetermined rules, like in the arena, isn't a real fight. When he found out I knew how to fight but didn't, I lost some of his respect. This won't get it back."

"Don't be so sure, girl. Your fighting will win your friends' freedom. Maybe that will get you his respect back and, even if it doesn't, from the way you talk, it sounds like you & your friends get attacked a lot so you can get it back by fighting the enemy the next time you're attacked."

"I hope so. The things Tiger said after he found out I could fight, they hurt worse than I imagine one of his Torpedo attacks would."

Just then, a Pink Jam(Jell/Pixie) came out of the back room with a bowl of stew and a plate of food, setting them both before Holly and Mint.

"Dig in, girl." Jilt smiled at Holly "You're gonna need every bit of your strength tomorrow, in the arena."

While Holly talked with Jilt, Genki, Moochi, Golem, Suezo, Hare, and Tiger had awakened from their song-induced trance in the castle dungeon. Allure had informed them of their situation.

"They want Holly to fight the best gladiator in the city with our freedom at stake!?" Genki grimaced as he summed up their situation "That's not fair! Holly's no fighter, she won't stand a chance!"

"Chi." Moochi nodded in agreement

"Holly," Golem said slowly "Cannot fight."

"I don't know." Tiger said calmly "She just might surprise us."

"Tiger?" Suezo blinked his single large eye "What do you mean by that?"

"Hmm? Oh, nothing."

"Well, what if Holly does manage to win, but this Queen Daina decides she still wants some new slaves and pulls a doublecross? We gotta bust outta here!"

"But, Holly made a deal." Golem countered "If she wins, we are free. If she loses, we are slaves. It would not be fair to escape."

"We didn't have any say in that deal and I am not going to be a slave! Hare, you have to have cooked up an escape plan in that furry head of yours by now, start outlining so we can get out of here."

"I'm afraid any escape plan I come up with would be useless." Hare replied sullenly

"What're you talking about Hare?" Genki was surprised by the rabbit-like monster's uncharacteristic defeatism. Hare hadn't talked like this since Moo easily trounced them all and kidnapped Holly "Your plans always work!"

"Not this time. Genki, how do you think we ended up here when, mere moments before, we were about to attack Allure and Mint out in the countryside? Think back to the last thing you remember before we found ourselves locked in this cell."

"Well, the last thing I remember was Allure starting to sing…"

"Yes. I hadn't thought the stories were true, but obviously they are. It's the only explanation for our situation."

"What stories, chi?" Moochi asked

"There are stories that say the song of an Allure can nullify the will of any man who hears it. Allure simply sang her song and we were helpless. On her own, Holly stood no chance of stopping two Pixie-types from carting us off in our insensate state."

"So what's stopping us from escaping now?" Suezo asked

"Need I remind you that Allure is on guard outside this cell? No matter what we try, Allure will have enough time to start singing, effectively ending our escape attempt."

"I could dig us a tunnel out of here." Tiger offered "If I'm quiet and careful enough, she won't know we're escaping until we're out of earshot."

"Listen." Hare pounded on the stone floor with his fist, producing a dull thud. "Solid rock, going down who knows how far. We'd have to smash or blast our way through the rock, and Allure would hear that for sure and stop us."

"So all our hopes," Golem said calmly "Rest on Holly."

"Then we've got practically none." Genki moaned "We gotta bust outta here!"

"I wouldn't try if I were you." Allure's seductive voice came in through the door "If you try to escape, you won't succeed and you'll be separated to be sure no more attempts are made."

"Separating us would be a mistake." Hare replied "If you separated us enough to make a group escape impossible, you would be unable to foil an individual attempt via singing. You can't be in several places at once, after all."

"Silly males, do you think I am the only Allure in Amazonia? If necessary, enough members of my species can be brought in to give each one of you your own personal guard. And you might as well forget about plotting an escape in secret, my ears are quite sensitive. I have heard your entire conversation and I am very surprised that Holly even tolerates your presence, eyeball."

"Hey!" Suezo growled back "I'll have you know that I'm Holly's best friend! She's the one who unlocked me, in fact."

"Oh, so that's why she keeps you with her. She feels responsible for you because she unwittingly unleashed you on the world."

"Look, Holly can't beat a gladiator," Genki said before Suezo could send back a nasty retort "Much less a champion gladiator. Any one of us would put up a better fight than her. In fact, I'll bet that Tiger would tear your champion apart with ease. Why not let one of us fight, instead of Holly?"

"In the entire history of Amazonia, no male has ever set foot on the arena floor except to clean it. It shall not ever be sullied in such a way. Should any male set foot on the arena sands with the intention of doing battle, the law states that he must be put to death immediately, and by immediately, I mean struck down where he stands that his blood may cleanse the sands of the filth he brought to our most sacred place."

"Because you are afraid a male might beat your best female gladiator." Golem suggested

"No, because males are too violent. They cannot control themselves in battle. They become wild animals, intent on tearing out their opponent's heart. Combat in our arena is not to the death. Great care is taken by the gladiators that they do not kill their opponents. Men are not capable of that kind of discipline." Allure let out an exasperated sigh "I've wasted enough of my breath on you. You may go back to conversing amongst yourselves, but remember that I can hear everything you say."

Later, Mint had taken Holly to see the site of her upcoming battle with Janne, the arena. The arena was a majestic structure, made from white marble, with enough room in the stands to seat half the city's population around a sunken circular ring, large enough for Genki and the gang to fight an equal number of Baddies within its confines, with two portcullises at opposite sides of the fighting ground. If Genki were there, he would liken it to the Roman Coliseum as it must have been at the height of the Roman Empire. Holly stood in awe in the middle of the fighting area, Mint standing beside her.

"It's amazing." Holly whispered

"It is, isn't it?" Mint smiled "C'mon Holly, I have something else to show you."

Mint led Holly through an open portcullis and down a passageway under the stands until they reached a room with a table, a full-length mirror, and changing screen. Also in the room was Jilt, who was carrying a package in her hand.

"Jilt, what're you doing here?" Holly asked

"Is that any way to talk to your second, girl?" Jilt replied

"My second?"

"Of course. Every good gladiator has someone to carry their gear, get em psyched up before the big fight, and generally make sure they've got everything they need to win. Anyway, I figured that, since you've been keeping your fighting skills secret from your friends, you don't have much in the way of battle gear besides your dagger. So, I brought you a present." Jilt handed Holly the package, which the girl then unwrapped.

"Jilt, it's beautiful."

"Don't just stand there gawking at it girl, go put it on."

Holly stepped behind the changing screen then changed out of her usual clothes and put on the contents of the package. She then came out from behind the screen to let Mint and Jilt see how she looked. Holly was now wearing a leather jerkin that covered her torso but left her arms bare, a pair of leather bracers that covered her forearms, a leather skirt, and a pair of leather boots. She also wore her dagger in its sheathe in the same manner that she always did.

"Now you look like a gladiator." Jilt smugly declared

"They fit perfectly, Jilt!" Holly smiled as she admired herself in the mirror "Where'd you get them?"

"I've had em for a long time, actually. Mama had em made for me before I told her I didn't want to be a gladiator. I figured you were about the same size I was back then, and it looks like I was right."

"What? I don't know if I can accept these, Jilt. It sounds like they're too precious to you, and I only met you today."

"Nonsense, girl. I was supposed to wear those when I fought my first battle in the arena. Of course, since I didn't want to be a gladiator, I never wore them. They've just gone to waste, sitting in a chest all these years. Please wear them in your battle tomorrow, I was never the kinda gal who liked letting things go to waste. Maybe you wearing those in your first arena battle will help put to rest my guilt over not being what Mama wanted me to be."

"Well, alright. If it means that much to you, I'll wear them tomorrow."

"Now that's more like it, girl. And don't worry if they get torn up or dirty tomorrow, the fight is what matters."

"Y'know, I think I'm actually starting to believe I could win tomorrow."

"That's good. Like I said earlier today, half the battle is defeating your self-doubts before you face your opponent."

That night Holly slept in a bed in Jilt's inn while Genki, Moochi, Suezo, Golem, Hare, and Tiger spent the night in the castle dungeon. The last two of the group left awake were Tiger and Suezo.

"Tiger?" Suezo said quietly so as not to wake the others "What did you mean earlier?"

"You mean about her surprising us?" Tiger answered softly "I think you know exactly what I was talking about. You're just as responsible as Holly for keeping us in the dark about her fighting skills. I just hope they haven't atrophied after all this time. So how'd she learn to fight in the first place?"

"When she unlocked me, she was already getting lessons from Blue Hare. I got the impression that she bugged him until he agreed to teach her."

"And when exactly did she lose her nerve?"

"She never lost her nerve! She just… lost her confidence. I guess it started the night our village was destroyed by Moo's troops. When we came up out of that cellar and found everyone but the village elder dead, and him dying right after he told us about the Phoenix, Holly was devastated. She was convinced that, if she'd been with the others fighting, things woulda been different."

"That's ridiculous. Your entire village was wiped out down to the last man. Even if I'd been there that night it probably still woulda been the same. Holly couldn't have changed that."

"I know. It took me two days to snap her out of it and then we started looking for the Phoenix. We fought a few Baddies over Mystery Discs, only one or two at a time until we ran into a certain pack of Black Dinos. Holly did amazing fighting Baddies, maybe on the same level as Genki, but she always attributed our wins to me, saying that without me she wouldn't have stood a chance. But with most of those fights, she woulda been just fine if I had just sat on the sidelines."

"What does the destruction of your village have to do with that?"

"I was getting to that. It wasn't just that she couldn't do anything to save our village, it's that the elder wouldn't allow her to even try. He knew there was no chance of beating Moo's troops so he made sure Holly would survive to guard the Magic Stone, but Holly couldn't seem to see that. All she saw was the elder telling her she wasn't strong enough or skilled enough to help. I just couldn't make her see that that wasn't what the elder meant when he ordered us down into that cellar. Every time we fought, I could see her hands shaking right before we started.

"I think she was afraid that each fight would be the time she failed, that her 'inadequate' skills wouldn't be enough to beat the Baddies. When we saw that pack of Black Dinos heading for us right after we'd found a Mystery Disc, Holly thought we, or rather she, didn't stand a chance against that many and said to run for the Shrine we'd passed a few hours back. When Genki popped out of that Mystery Disc and then displayed his fighting skills, Holly saw a way out. She asked me not to tell him or Moochi that she knew how to fight. I didn't like it. I wanted to hop right over to them and tell them just how great a fighter Holly was, but she begged me not to. She didn't want us to depend on her because she thought it was only a matter of time before she hit her limit and made us lose to the Baddies. I just couldn't say no to her, I kept my big mouth shut."

"And you put us all in danger. How much easier would the battles with Pixie and Gali have been if Holly had been pulling her weight? And all the other tough fights?"

"I know, I know. I wanted to speak up, but I just couldn't betray her. At least I managed to get her to keep practicing, even if she did do it in secret."

"Get some sleep, Suezo." Tiger closed his eyes "We may need to make a quick exit tomorrow, whether or not Holly wins."

Tiger and Suezo joined their friends in slumber and the night passed without incident. In the morning, they were rudely awakened and loaded into a wagon, with the exception of the massive Golem, who was far too large and heavy and walked behind it. Before being loaded into the wagon, they had been told that they were being taken to the arena so they could watch Holly's fight with Janne. They had also been warned not to attempt to escape or they would be separated and brought back to the dungeon to await word of their fate.

"Hare." Tiger said in an extremely soft voice, so soft that even though Tiger was right next to him, Hare had to strain even his sensitive ears to hear him "Nod if you can hear me." Hare nodded and then Tiger continued in the same quiet voice. "When we get to the arena, I want you to keep track of the locations of every Allure in the place. If Holly loses or the queen pulls a doublecross, be ready to yell out the Allures' locations to me and Moochi. Me and him are the only ones who can deliver effective firepower at long range, but we'll depend on you to tell us where to aim. Remember, if we can't neutralize all the Allures in short order, our escape will be doomed from the start." Hare nodded solemnly

As Genki and co. were being hustled out of the wagon and into the arena, Holly was in the room underneath the stands, already in her battle garb, going through a kata with her dagger. Her sleep had been filled with memories of watching her father practicing with that same dagger when she was a small child, and now she went through those same motions as Jilt looked on.

"I think you're as ready as you're gonna be, girl." The Pixie/Wracky said at length

"I'm a little frightened." Holly responded "What if I lose and condemn the guys to being slaves for the rest of their lives?"

"Girl, if you're afraid, you gotta take that fear by the horns, wrestle it into a small box, and lock it tight. Fear's another of a gladiator's enemies, just like self-doubt. It saps your strength and dulls your reflexes, but if you don't let it control you, it's powerless to hurt you." A horn echoed into the room through the corridor. "That's the signal girl, time to head for the portcullis." They started walking down the corridor "Remember, your friends're counting on you. You're the only one who can save them. You've got to reach down and pull up all the strength and toughness you've got and use it in this fight."

"Right." Holly nodded

"Remember, the only way to win is to either knock Janne out or make her surrender, and make sure you don't let her do either of those to you."

"I know, Jilt."

As they reached the portcullis, an announcer's voice could be heard.

"This is a special challenge match," the voice echoed throughout the arena "It is a ground-battle to be fought under melee rules. Introducing first: Our arena champion, undefeated in 57 battles," the portcullis opposite Holly and Jilt opened up "Janne!"

The crowd went nuts as Janne majestically walked into the arena through the open portcullis, holding a gleaming sword. She raised her sword straight up in a salute to the crowd, whose cheers increased in volume, if it was possible.

"And now," the announcer continued "Introducing the challenger: Making her debut in the arena," the portcullis in front of Holly rose into the ceiling "Holly!" Holly slowly walked through the portcullis to stand opposite Janne.

"Don't just stand there, girl." Jilt hissed from the closing portcullis "Do a little flourish, get the crowd behind you."

After a moment, Holly drew her dagger in one quick motion and pointed it at Janne, drawing cheers from the crowd. Holly glanced up at a crowd and saw her friends standing on a balcony overlooking the arena.

*If I fail them, they'll know immediately.* Holly thought to herself *Tiger and Jilt are right. I have to conquer my fear and self-doubts or I'm useless. Genki wins against monsters all the time, I can do it too. I can beat Janne. I must beat Janne!*

"Perhaps I'll have a decent fight, after all." Janne said softly as she saw the look in Holly's eyes

"You'll have more than that." Holly said back with similar volume "Your winning streak is about to end."

"We'll see about that."

"Gladiators ready!" The announcer's voice rang out and both Janne and Holly immediately got into ready stances. "Fight!"

At the announcer's signal, both Holly and Janne charged at each other, Janne's sword and Holly's dagger meeting with a clang of metal on metal. Their weapons clanged against each other again and again as each tried to find a gap in the other's defenses. Janne finally broke the stalemate with a kick to Holly's side, knocking the human girl to the ground. Holly rolled out of the way as the sword blade hit the sand where she had been a moment before and got to her feet. They rushed at each other again, slashing as they passed. A moment later they both stopped and turned to face each other again. Holly had picked up a shallow cut on her upper arm from the exchange while Janne now had a nasty gash in the armor covering her right arm.

They clashed again, their blades locking together, neither combatant willing to give an inch. This time Holly broke the stalemate with a punch to Janne's face, staggering the Pixie/Durahan. Holly immediately followed up with a slash to Janne's midsection, creating another jagged gash in her armor. Janne parried Holly's next attack and slashed Holly's leg, drawing blood and causing Holly to hiss in pain.

As Holly's friends watched the fight, it took most of their self-control not to leap down and help their now wounded friend. However, they knew it was impossible for them to help her. They had been warned that any interference would result in the death of the intervener and the others would forfeit their freedom. Tiger watched with a practiced eye, appraising Holly's skills. Suezo paid close attention as well, silently cheering as Holly was giving as good as she was getting. Genki, Moochi, Hare, and Golem watched with a look of disbelief on their faces. Prior to this day, they had no clue that Holly was such a skilled fighter. They had expected the fight to be a one-sided affair but Holly, whom they had long thought of as helpless and defenseless, was holding her own against the best gladiator in the city.

Even as blood started to ooze from her injured leg, Holly swung her dagger at Janne. The Pixie/Durahan moved her sword to block but was very surprised when the blade was shattered by Holly's dagger. Janne cast aside her useless weapon as a collective gasp echoed from the crowd and prepared to fight at a disadvantage. All were surprised when Holly sheathed her dagger and assumed an unarmed fighting stance. A cheer thundered from the crowd at this show of good sportsmanship.

"Honor and skill." Janne said softly "I greatly underestimated you, Holly."

"I'm full of surprises." Holly answered and jumped at Janne, leg extended for a flying kick.

Janne threw herself to the side and managed to avoid Holly's flying kick, immediately attacking with a punch that was blocked. Holly retaliated with a punch which was itself blocked. The two female fighters traded punches and kicks for a short time, some blocked or dodged, some striking their target. Soon, Janne had a black eye and Holly was bleeding from the mouth. Holly hit Janne with a tornado kick, knocking her off balance, and then followed up with a crescent kick to the face that sent the monster to the ground. Janne's eyes widened as she saw a fist descending towards her face and just managed to roll out of the way so that the fist hit only the sand.

Holly stomped at Janne, who kept rolling to avoid Holly's booted feet. Suddenly, she stopped rolling and swung her legs through Holly's knocking the human to the ground. Janne got to her feet and drew back her fist, intending to drive it into the face of her prone opponent and finish the contest. Without warning, Holly kicked her foot up into Janne's gut, making the Pixie/Durahan bend over, gasping for air. Holly jumped to her feet and immediately brought her knee up into her opponent's face. The crunching of bone could be heard as Janne straightened up and fell backward from the force of the blow.

Holly stood there, her breathing ragged as her opponent lay on the ground unmoving. Janne's eyes were closed and her nose was obviously broken with a trickle of blood coming out one nostril, the rise and fall of her chest the only indication that she was still alive.

"Janne is unconscious!" the announcer's voice declared after a moment "Holly is the winner of the battle!"

Cheers poured from the stands, though no individual cheers were louder than those of Genki, Moochi, Suezo, Tiger, Golem, and Hare. Holly gazed up at her cheering friends and smiled.

"I did it." She whispered to herself then fell to her knees, only now allowing herself to succumb to the fatigue and injuries sustained during the fight.

Jilt rushed out to help Holly as Janne's second came out to aid the fallen fighter. While the seconds tended to their fighters, Queen Daina stood up from her seat in the royal box, unfurled her wings, and soared out into the air high above the fighting area.

"People of Amazonia," she called out in a clear voice that could be heard throughout the structure "My loyal subjects. There was more to this spectacular battle than a simple challenge made to our champion. Yesterday morning, six males were found within the borders of our land and taken before me. The law stated that they were to become slaves, but their traveling companion was determined to prevent it by any means possible. I proposed a wager: If she defeated Janne in the arena, her friends would be free. That traveling companion was Holly, the very girl who we have just seen defeat our champion in fair combat. In accordance with the wager, Holly's friends shall be free."

As the queen flew back down to her box, Mint and Allure came forward from the entrance to the balcony Genki and the others had watched the fight from.

"Holly will likely be taken to the arena's infirmary to have her wounds tended." Mint stated

"We'll take you there." Allure continued

Mint and Allure led Genki and the others down a series of corridors until they reached a room with several beds, two of which were filled by Janne and Holly respectively. Genki, Moochi, Tiger, Hare, and Suezo rushed through the door to Holly's bedside, with Golem delaying only a moment to squeeze through the doorway.

"Holly, you were incredible!" Genki declared

"Incredible, chi!" Moochi echoed

"I never would have predicted that you would win," Hare admitted "But I was very impressed by your skill."

"Holly, great fighter." Golem said

"Thanks guys." Holly said wearily but with a smile on her face "I didn't want to let you down."

"Well, you sure didn't." Suezo said gleefully "Now do you see how good a fighter you are? I kept telling you and telling you but you'd never listen. You were always boohooing that you were no good at fighting when you were the one who trashed that Kung Fu Hare that gave us trouble a few days before we met Genki."

"You helped with him, Suezo."

"Yeah, but it was mostly you."

"Suezo?" Genki turned to glare at the eyeball "You knew Holly could fight and never told the rest of us?"

"Well..." Suezo stammered "I.. Uh..."

"I asked him not to tell you." Holly sighed "I thought I'd only get in the way."

"You got in the way alright." Tiger said reproachfully "By not fighting you made things more difficult for the rest of us. If you don't want to get in the way, pull your own weight."

"That's Tiger's way of saying he also thinks you're the kinda fighter he'd want to fight alongside." Hare smiled

"Holly, you're an awesome fighter." Genki said "Why would you think you weren't?"

"Because the elder wouldn't let me help defend the village when Moo's troops attacked. He thought I'd just get in the way."

"No one could have changed what happened." Golem countered sagely "The elder trusted your skills enough to give you the Magic Stone to guard. If Moo got it... Not good."

"I've been trying to tell you that for a while now," Suezo agreed "But you never listened. Maybe now that you've beaten a champion gladiator, you'll accept that what I've been telling you is true."

"I guess you're right." Holly conceded "It wasn't until Tiger and Jilt talked some sense into me that I got over the fear and self-doubts that were stopping me from fighting."

"So that's what you meant!" Hare exclaimed, glaring at Tiger "Why didn't you tell us Holly knew how to fight? The waiting sure woulda been a little less stressful for me if I'd known beforehand that she actually had a chance."

"I only found out the morning we were captured and I didn't see the point in telling you if she was too scared to fight." Tiger replied calmly

"Shoo, all of you." An Angel(Pixie/Gali) made her presence known, shooing Holly's friends away from her bedside "She's had a tough fight and needs her rest. You can visit her again later." As Holly's friends reluctantly walked away, Angel checked the bandage on Holly's injured leg.

"C'mon boys," Jilt said to Genki and the others as they left the room "You can get something to eat at my inn, it's not too far from here. Holly'll still be here when you get back."

When Jilt and the guys were gone and Angel had finished with Holly's bandage, Janne opened her eyes and looked over to Holly.

"Those're some good friends you've got, kid." the Pixie/Durahan said

"Janne! You were awake the whole time?" came Holly's surprised response

"Yup. Figured I shouldn't interrupt their celebration. Men get so few chances to celebrate here, you know."

"Umm, thanks. I... uh, I'm sorry I-"

"What're you apologizing for? You didn't cheat. Hell, you coulda kept your dagger out & slashed away and it still woulda been inside the rules."

"It didn't seem right to use a weapon when yours was broken. Besides, I'm more used to unarmed combat anyway."

"That must be some dagger. Where'd you get it?"

"From my father. I think it's a family heirloom."

"Quite an heirloom. Y'know, if you're interested in becoming a gladiator, you could go pretty far. Might even become champion one day."

"No thanks. My friends need me. I'm the only one who can make the Magic Stone work, and the Magic Stone is the only thing that can locate the Phoenix."

"Magic Stone?" Janne asked quizzically. Holly reached into her jerkin and pulled out the Magic Stone, throughout the fight it had been around her neck as it always was.

"This." Holly showed the Magic Stone to Janne "An ancient artifact from my village. I concentrate on it, and it shows the way to the Phoenix."

"You really think you can find a legendary monster that can eliminate Moo and his Baddies in one fell swoop? Yeah, that's the sorta determination I saw during our fight. I can't believe you've shirked battle for as long as you've known your friends. You've got the fighting heart of a Durahan inside you and it beats as strongly as mine."

"Oh, I don't know about that..."

"Nonsense! You defeated me, didn't you?"

"If you hadn't been under such a handicap I wouldn't have stood a chance."

"If it hadn't been under melee rules, you would have been allowed weapons that would be effective at a longer range. A weighted net, javelins, some throwing daggers, a long rope, anything you wanted that you thought would even the odds. How do you think Jalana won the championship a generation ago?"

"She was a human?"

"Yes, and one of the greatest gladiators in the history of Amazonia. You don't think all her fights were under melee rules, do you?"

"I guess not. You really think I'm that good?"

"Your technique's a little rough, but that's to be expected since you haven't fought in a long time. A few good battles and you'll be as sharp as that dagger of yours. Your teacher was a Hare-type, right?"

"How'd you know?"

"Thought so. Every type of monster fights differently. Your style was very much like that of a Hare-type, although your dagger technique is completely different, no style I've seen before."

"My dagger 'technique' is just some moves I remember watching my father practicing when I was a little girl."

"You've got a good memory, then. I didn't see any major flaws in your dagger technique. It would be a waste for you to go back to being the meek, helpless little girl your friends have apparently known for as long as they've been with you, and from the sound of it, an extra fighter in your little group could make all the difference."

"I know. I think I'm over the feelings that have kept me out of the battles. Next time the Baddies show their face, I'm gonna get right in it!"

"That's the spirit! A true warrior is most alive when they're in battle, and if you're not a warrior, I don't know what you are."

"Thanks Janne. When I was younger I dreamed of being a warrior like in the stories my mother told me, and I even talked Blue Hare into teaching me to fight, but when my village was destroyed and me not allowed to even try to help save it, I guess I lost my way for a while. When it was just me and Suezo fighting the Baddies, every second in battle, my hands were shaking and I was thinking 'Is this the moment I fail, our mission to find the Phoenix over in disgrace because I wasn't good enough?' and it was the same when I had defend myself that time we were attacked by Joker and an army of Evil Hares in an underground cave. But during our fight today, I didn't feel any of that. My mind was clear, my hands steady as a rock, and I refused to accept defeat because it would doom my friends to slavery."

"That's how you won. You conquered yourself before taking me on. If you hadn't, I would have defeated you as easily as I thought I would. Jilt always has been the master of the pep talk."

"I thought Jilt was just an innkeeper? And how'd you know she gave me a pep talk?"

"JUST an innkeeper?" Janne chuckled "Kid, Jilt may be an innkeeper, but you wouldn't believe how many rookie gladiators she's talked out of quitting after losing their first fight. Even though Jilt never took up a weapon, she spent her girlhood around the arena, her upbringing geared toward preparing her for life on the arena sands, so she knows the ins and outs of the art of battle. It's also rather obvious that she was your second and if she gives a pep talk to a rookie gladiator who clumps into her inn, contemplating quitting, then why not the rookie gladiator she's the second for?"

"I guess that makes sense."

"Now rest kid, you need to get your strength back and let that leg heal."

As Holly lay back and followed Janne's advice, the Magic Stone, still lying on her chest, glowed bright red for a minute before returning to its usual green color. Holly, Genki, Suezo, Tiger, Golem, Moochi and Hare spent the remainder of the day and all of the next in the city as Holly recovered from her grueling battle. Suezo and Hare took the opportunity to replenish the group's supplies while the others enjoyed the city. On the evening of the day after the fight, the group, including a fully rested Holly who was again wearing her normal clothes, attended a banquet at the castle in their honor.

"You are very brave." Queen Daina said as the banquet began to wind down "To oppose Moo on your own is no easy task. We of Amazonia have been able to repel several assaults from the Baddies in recent years, but we have the full might of a standing army and many brave citizens to defend our walls, while you are only seven."

"Thank you, your highness," Hare replied courteously "Though I'm not sure we've ever had to deal with forces of the same magnitude as obviously are required to assault Amazonia. The fact that we are constantly moving would make it difficult for Grey Wolf to get such a large number of troops in position to attack us."

"Not to mention that, for us, it'd be considered overkill." Tiger added

"Still, I wish you luck in finding the Phoenix." Queen Daina continued "May you find the legendary firebird and return peace to all the lands everywhere."

Queen Daina and the noblewomen seated at the table raised their goblets in a toast, followed a moment later by Genki, Holly, and the others. They all drank and soon the banquet broke up. The next morning found Genki, Holly, Suezo, Moochi, Tiger, Hare, and Golem at the city gates, Janne, Jilt, Mint, and Allure watching as they prepared to leave.

"You're sure you won't change your mind, Holly?" Janne asked hopefully "Your skills are excellent and the crowd loved you. You could be one of the greatest gladiators ever."

"It's a tempting offer, Janne, but I can't." Holly politely turned her down "Unless the Phoenix rises to defeat Moo and turn all the Baddies into Goodies, the rest of the world will be under Moo's control forever and eventually even Amazonia will fall."

"I understand. If you fight the Baddies with the same ferocity and determination you showed in the arena, they won't stand a chance."

"She's serious, girl." Jilt added "If you ever start to feel that fear or doubt seeping into you again, just remember how you won your fight with Janne a few days ago and remind yourself that your friends are counting on you to do your best. If you wimp out you could doom them."

"Don't worry Jilt," Holly smiled "I'm over my fear and doubts. From now on, when battle beckons, I'm gonna be right in there with my friends, bashing the Baddies and making them sorry they crossed our path."

"Now THAT'S the Holly that unlocked me!"Suezo cheered "Always going on about how she wanted to be a warrior and right wrongs. If the Baddies thought we were trouble before, just wait until they find out Holly's over her wimp stage and ready to kick butt!"

"Oh, Suezo." Holly blushed

"Mint, Allure," Genki said "Amazonia's a nice place, but it's time for us to: HIT THE ROAD!"

Genki jumped in the air to put the exclamation point on his announcement, and then the seven walked through the city gates, waving to their new friends, following the call of the Phoenix. The next day, they were hiking along the road. Genki was humming a tune, Holly had a spring in her step that had not been present before, all seemed peaceful. Suddenly, the peaceful sounds of nature were shattered by a scream from up ahead and the group broke into a run. As they reached the top of the hill, they saw a village below, a burning village. The culprits terrorizing the village were shaped like Zuums, but their color was jet black.

"Black Saurians!" Suezo identified them, his keen eyesight allowing him to see them as though they were right beside him "And they're definitely Baddies!" he continued as he caught sight of the Baddie crest around the neck of each one.

"Well then," Genki said as he pulled on his rollerblades "Let's save that village!"

Genki raced down the hill at fantastic speed on his rollerblades, Moochi clinging to his back. Tiger sped down the hill beside them at equal speed, conveyed only by the swiftness of his own four feet. Holly, Hare, and Suezo ran after them, with Golem slightly behind them. Down in the village, the Black Saurians(Zuum/Monol) were in the process of laying waste to the village when they heard a human voice shout.

"Rip It Up!" Genki shouted as his rollerblade-clad foot slammed into the head of a Black Saurian at the same time that a pink and green ball struck another Black Saurian.

"Lightning!" came Tiger's bellow as he gave some more Black Saurians a shocking experience

"Tail Attack!" Suezo cried as he spun through the air to cannonball into a Black Saurian tail-first

A Black Saurian who was about to dig its claws into a prone human suddenly was sent tumbling by a flying kick from Hare while another was literally flattened by Golem's foot right before it could catch up to a fleeing human. As the others took on a mass of Baddies, Holly found herself face to face with a Black Saurian wearing spiked shoulder guards.

"Well, well." Captain Black Saurian said smugly as he looked her up and down "Looks like I drew the gold nugget. I've read the intelligence reports on your little group. Holly, isn't it? Do us both a favor and don't bother trying to run. Just surrender to me now so I can hold you hostage to stop your friends from decimating my troops.

"Oh, I won't run." Holly said calmly, getting into a fighting stance "But you're not going to find it easy to take me hostage."

"Oh please, I've read all about your little group, little girl. Your friends are formidable fighters who have defeated two of Master Moo's Big Bad Four, but you are just a little girl who functions as their compass in their search for the Phoenix. I am the strongest of all Black Saurians, give up and I won't hurt you."

"There's something missing from those intelligence reports. I'm a good fighter and I've beaten monsters before. You're next."

With a shout, Holly charged Captain Black Saurian. The Zuum/Monol hybrid swung at her with his tail, but Holly flipped over the attack and kicked it in the side. The monster cried out in pain, but it immediately recovered and took a swipe at her with his claws. Holly drew her dagger in a fluid motion and used it to parry Captain Black Saurian's claws before she kicked him in the side and delivered a strike to the Black Saurian's face with the heel of her hand. As Captain Black Saurian tried to gather his wits, Holly leaped up and did a spin kick, her foot striking his head full-force. The Baddie fell to the ground, groaning in pain, and lay at Holly's feet for a minute before it started to crawl away.

"Black Saurians!" It cried out as it struggled back to its feet "Retreat!"

At their Captain's panicked command, the Black Saurians that were fighting and losing against Genki and the monsters turned and ran like chickens, as did their Captain. The gang watched them go as the surviving villagers, as well as a few friendly monsters, gathered around them.

"Thank you." The headman said "You've saved our lives."

"Why were the Baddies attacking you?" Hare asked

"I'm not sure. For years, we've paid tribute to Grey Wolf. We give him a share of our crops and his Baddies leave us more or less alone."

"What happened?" Suezo asked "Come up a little short this year?"

"No. We had the tribute wagons ready and full to the brim," the headman indicated several wagons full of food near the edge of the village "But instead of collecting them, the Black Saurians ran right past them and started tearing up the village and attacking our people."

"While I was fighting one of them," A somewhat injured Stripe Shell(Niton/Kato) began "He said something about Grey Wolf personally ordering the village destroyed."

"But why?" asked a Fairy Hopper(Hopper/Pixie) "We've never done anything to provoke the Baddies!"

"Whatever the reason," Tiger said "He wants you all dead. The only way you'll survive is to defend yourselves."

"But he'll send more troops! We can't possibly win!" a woman cried out and there were some murmurs of agreement from other villagers "Maybe if we send a messenger to Grey Wolf to beg forgiveness for however we've offended him-"

"The messenger will be dead by the time he finishes delivering the message, if not before."

"He's right." Holly agreed "I recently learned that the first step to defeating your enemy is to get over your fear of not being able to win. You can defend yourselves. We can help you set up some defenses that'll help."

"They're right." the headman declared "Grey Wolf wants our village destroyed and I don't know what would make him change his mind. Our only options are to fight or to run, and I for one don't want to leave my home behind."

"Yeah! Let's fight!" someone yelled

"We won't let the Baddies take our homes away!" came another shout

Soon all the villagers were shouting their agreement.

"Alrighty then!" Genki responded with his usual enthusiasm "Let's get started! No time like the present."

And so work began to establish defenses against attacks by the Baddies. Golem, Tiger, Hare, and some villagers set to work building a defensive wall around the village while Genki, Moochi, and Holly set to work teaching the villagers how to defend themselves when attacked. Every little while, Golem took a short break from the work on the wall in order to throw Suezo skyward so he could check to make sure there were no Baddies approaching the village. Fortunately for Suezo, Golem managed to catch him each and every time. When Holly went to the village well to get a drink of water she felt a tug on her shorts as she reached the well. She looked down to see a young girl looking up at her.

"Hello there." Holly greeted the young girl "My name's Holly. What's yours?"

"I... I'm Annie." the girl said hesitantly "Um... What kind of Pixie are you?"

"Wha!?" Holly blinked in shock at this question "I'm not a Pixie. I'm a human, just like you."

"But I saw you fight that bad monster. You beat him up good. My friend Mickey says only monsters are strong enough to beat up other monsters and since Pixies are the only monsters that looks sorta human, you had to be one."

"Well your friend is wrong. Take a good look at me. Pixies have horns, wings, and a tail. I don't have any of those."

"Mickey says you hid em real good."

"Have a look for yourself. Feel through my hair to try to find any horns, and pat down my back to try to find wings."

Holly knelt down to allow Annie to perform her inspection. The young girl ran her hands though Holly's hair several times and then throughly patted down her back. Annie repeated the actions several times before looking at Holly with a puzzled expression.

"You really don't have horns or wings!" Annie said in disbelief

"That's right." Holly responded "I'm as human as you, unless you're really some kind of Pixie." Holly smiled wryly

"I'm not a Pixie! I'm a girl!"

"And so am I."

"But then how'd you beat up that bad monster?"

"A good teacher and a lot of practice. Plus the realization that just because I'm human doesn't mean I can't fight a monster and win. My friend Genki is human too and he's been taking on monsters and winning for as long as I've known him."

"Those bad monsters are so mean. Every year they take a whole lot of our food and any Mystery Discs we don't hide. Up until now everybody's been too scared to fight. I wish I could fight them, but even when I'm all grown up, I'll never be strong enough."

"With that attitude, you never will be. A very wise person told me that if you believe your opponent will beat you, they will. You have to defeat your own fear and self-doubts before you can ever win a fight. For a long time, I thought I wasn't good enough to beat a monster. I thought that if I tried to help my friends fight, I'd just get in the way."

"What happened?"

"We wound up in a situation where, unless I fought and won alone, my friends would have been slaves forever. That's when I met that wise person I just told you about. She helped me overcome my fear and I put everything I had into the fight and I managed to beat Janne, a Pixie/Durahan."

"Wow! I've heard of Durahans. They're really strong and their bodies are made of armor. Janne musta been really tough!"

"She sure was, but I couldn't let her win because I knew what that would mean for Genki, Suezo, and the others."

"Gee, I sure wish I knew how to fight. I want to be as good a fighter as you one day! How'd you learn to fight so good, anyway?"

"Well, I learned when I was younger from my friend Blue Hare. Hey, I just got an idea! I saw a few Hare-types when we arrived, do you know any of them?"

"Yeah! Me and Fairy Hare are great friends! She's part Pixie, which is why her fur looks so pretty. She's a good fighter too, during the attack, she saved me from one of those bad monsters that wanted to hurt me."

"OK, if you really want to learn to fight, ask her to teach you. And if she says no, just keep bugging her until she agrees. That's how I got Blue Hare to teach me."

"Really? Thanks! I'll go ask her right now!"

"Good luck!" Holly called to Annie as the young girl ran off to find her friend.

Holly got her drink of water and then returned to help Genki and Moochi with teaching the villagers to defend themselves. Soon, the wall was finished and all the adult villagers had been taught some decent moves to defend themselves with, as well as. After one last aerial check by Suezo(who wound up embedded in the ground after Golem got distracted by some kids playing nearby) the seven heroes waved goodbye to the people of the village and headed off again, following the glowing arrow within the Magic Stone. As they passed the outskirts of the village, Holly caught sight of a pink-furred Hare-type teaching some basic moves to Annie. Holly smiled at this sight and the group continued on, continuing the search for the Phoenix.


Grey Wolf's lair

"So, how long did it take you to destroy the village?" Grey Wolf asked the group of Black Saurians before him, noting with a frown that many were quivering in fear of something, and Grey Wolf didn't like what that implied

"Umm... Errr." Captain Black Saurian stammered "We... Er... Didn't get to finish destroying it."

"Why not?!" Grey Wolf snarled in anger "Don't tell me a bunch of farmers and a few scruffy monsters defeated you!"

"It was the Searchers, Master Grey Wolf! We were in the process of destroying the village and slaughtering the townsfolk when they caught us by surprise!"

"You know the price of failure." Grey Wolf spoke menacingly as electricity started to arc between his horns.

"Wait Master!" Captain Black Saurian cried out in a panicked voice "There was something different from the intelligence reports! The girl, Holly, she's a fighter! A very skilled one! She caught me by surprise! I wasn't ready for her or I would've captured her!"

"A good hunter never underestimates his prey. Too bad you won't get a chance to try to put that advice into practice. TORPEDO!" Grey Wolf unleashed his attack on the entire group of Black Saurians at once. Within moments, they were all Lost Discs. Grey Wolf then turned to one of his Cabalos who had once again witnessed the price paid for failure "Send a messenger to Master Moo. He should be informed of this new development. Send one to Naga too, wouldn't want him to think I was intentionally hiding information from him. Better for him to continue to think I'm being totally honest with him, that way he'll be rather surprised when I take over some of Pixie's and Gali's old territory for myself."

"Yes, Master Grey Wolf." the Cabalos answered quickly and ran out of the cave to dispatch the messengers.

"Six fighters or seven," Grey Wolf mused to himself "It matters not. Tiger will be the only one able to give me a challenge, but I shall show my brother how much stronger I am now, and he will either join me, or die."

The End

Well, this story's finished, but I've got plans for a sequel already. The next one will be a multi-chapter epic following the story of Monster Rancher with some changes. It will definitely be for Holly fans, just like this one. Unfortunately, I can't say how long it'll be before this sequel comes out since I have a bunch of other stories in need of work already.

It seemed natural to me for Holly to be a fighter. There were some tiny bits in the actual series that supported this. In the first episode, right before Genki grabs her and skates out of the Shrine, it looks like she's doing a martial arts yell just prior to going all kung-fu on the Black Dinos. Then there's "Underground Adventure"'s big fight scene where there's a shot of Holly apparently throwing an Evil Hare over her shoulder. I remember reading somewhere that in the original version of "Battle of the Big Bad Four" Holly actually stabbed Naga on camera. I don't know if it was in the American version or not because the episode has only ever been broadcast once and I forgot to set my VCR that day. Why those &%$^## idiots at Fox Family Channel refuse to show two of the most important episodes of Monster Rancher("Tiger's Battle with Destiny" featuring the death of Grey Wolf and "Battle of the Big Bad Four" featuring the death of Naga and Moo rejoining with his Ancient body) is beyond me, as is why so much stuff is cut from the American versions of Anime. There are some glaringly obvious cuts in Monster Rancher and in some places Dragon Ball Z was positively butchered. I'm not even gonna mention Vision of Escaflowne or Card Captor Sakura, both of which make me glad the original versions of those series are available on DVD.

Ahem. Getting back to evidence for Holly being a fighter, I draw my final example as a pointer to the fight with End Bringer, the first warrior sent after our heroes by Evil General Durahan. This is, I think, the best example of them all, as she first buys time for her and an injured Genki to escape, after the monsters are all blown elsewhere by End Bringer's attacks, by causing some damage to its leg with her dagger. She then goes out and fights End Bringer alone, and does reasonably well, I think, considering how powerful that Henger/Joker is, before the others regroup.