Bonds of Trust
Disclaimer: The characters from Monster Rancher do not belong to me, and I do not take any credit for their creation or usage, beyond in this fanfiction. Please do not sue me. Please, feel free to MST this fanfiction if you please, but notify me before you do, and send me a copy when you are done. -Grin- I like to see what others can do to my fics.
Special thanks to War-Ouki for pre-reading and running commentary.
Comments, criticism, thoughts, flames, and random death threats may be sent to Platinum_Dragon@usinternet.com; I do try to reply to all messages.
This fanfic takes place after the episode 'Melcarba,' WARNING: There are spoilers for the show here. Enjoy!
"Genki…?" Slowly, he opened his eyes, wondering who was trying to wake him up. Hadn't he just fallen to sleep a few minutes ago? He was certain of it… Holly, Tiger, all of them had just stopped for the night, and he had only just lay down.
"Genki…?" After a moment, he became aware of the fact that he wasn't laying on the stone that he'd picked out for the night. For that matter, he wasn't laying on anything. He only floated in a vast darkness, nothing else in sight. He blinked, looking around, slowly. But… then who, or what had woken him up? Was he awake? For some reason, he wasn't entirely sure. It felt like he was, but at the same time, there was a sort of dreamy surrealness to it that precluded him being awake.
"Genki!" He turned - without being aware of turning - as he heard a voice from behind him.
"Pixie?" he asked, blinking as his mind put a face to that voice. But there was nobody behind him, only more of the same formless void. Cupping his hands to his mouth, he took a deep breath and shouted, "Pixie! I can't see you! Where are you?" The shout was strangely muted in the darkness, the words robbed of their energy before they were even out of his mouth, and there were no echoes to carry it on. More and more, he was certain that this was a dream, but… somehow, it wasn't just a dream. It… felt too real to be entirely a dream.
Abruptly, he realized that he had begun to move. There was no wind to feel it by; nothing he could see to go past, he just… knew that he was not still anymore. It was a sense that he was going somewhere else, and a presence that he was slowly beginning to feel drawing near, the first thing that he had felt here.
After what seemed a long time in that nothingness, his eyes gradually began to pick out a very small, flickering light far ahead of him, and understood that that was where he was going. That was what he was moving toward… no. He wasn't moving toward it, he was being pulled toward it. The light was pulling him in. As he got closer, the light slowly grow bigger, though no more bright, and still it flickered regularly. Suddenly he saw that the flickering was caused by a dark shape that was floating around the light. As it passed between Genki and the light, the presence would dim, as if weaker, and every time the shape completed an orbit, the light did grow dimmer, and the shape got closer.
He was nearly to the light now, almost close enough that he could have reached out and touched the edge of the light. "Genki…" came Pixie's voice again, weakly, from the light. He understood, suddenly, that the light was Pixie; her representation in this dream, and for a moment, the light grew slightly brighter. Almost painfully slowly, he started to reach out toward her. "Pixie, I'm almost-"
The dark shape crashed into him, and for a long moment, he couldn't breath, as a thousand voices screamed into his mind all at once. "Paindeathslavehaterevengefeardarknessfathersisterpaindeathslave…" Slowly, the voices quieted, dimmed as the shape moved past him again, leaving one almost silent voice in its wake that was somehow louder then all the others together. "Forgive me…" it whispered. Then even that contact was gone, and he could suddenly breath again. He sucked in a startled breath, as his hand touched the light-
-Genki stared, disbelieving, at what he had found in the far back of the cave. He heard Tiger saying something behind him, but he was too stunned even to understand his words, much less respond to them. No, it can't be, his mind tried to rationalize. They can't be… Slowly, he stepped forward, until the light from his torch fully illuminated what he'd not wanted to see.
Two Lost Disks, one with the image of a golem, the other with an image of…-
-Pixie's light suddenly flared brightly, as if startled by his momentary touch, and then he was thrown away from her, tumbling end over end. He had a glimpse of the darkness closing in on her, and her light suddenly dwindling away, faster than he could believe. And then…
"Genki! Genki! Come on, wake up you lazy kid!" shouted Suezo, pushing at his shoulder with his tail. Startled awake, Genki sat up abruptly, accidentally knocking the giant eyeball off balance, to fall off his perch on the edge of the stone Genki had gone to sleep on. He barely noticed, though, as he stared around himself. Holly was over by the firepit, already cooking breakfast; Tiger and Hare were squabbling over something, as usual. Golem was frowning up at the sky, which looked like it was getting ready for another downpour, and Moochi was still asleep, not far away from him. "Hey, what was that for?!?" complained Suezo, as he jumped back up beside Genki. He blinked at the eyeball.
"Oh… sorry Suezo. You just startled me awake, I didn't mean to knock you off," he said, after a moment. Suezo muttered something about hyper-active kids, and then hopped down and over to Holly. Genki sat there for a moment, frowning over the last image of his dream. It wasn't fading away; he could still see the Lost Disks as if they were right there in front of him.
How long had it been, since they'd last seen the red-haired Pixie now, anyway? Nearly a month and a half, he realized, since the Scaled Jells had attacked them and he and Pixie had made their promise. Nearly a month and a half, now, since Big Blue had carried the bruised and battered Pixie off. It seemed as though it had been a lifetime ago suddenly. He shook his head, trying to clear the nightmare away. That had to have been what it was, just a nightmare because they hadn't heard from her in so long, he told himself.
"It's nice to get a break after that whole Melcarba thing," said Hare, as he and Tiger came over to sit near the firepit and Holly. She glanced at him and nodded, smiling as she stirred whatever it was that was cooking.
"Yeah, it's too bad that it was malfunctioning so badly. We could have really used its help against Moo," she replied, before grinning. "Oh well - come on everybody, breakfast is ready." Out of the corner of his eye, Genki saw Moochi scramble up at her call. Shaking his head again in a vain attempt to clear away the vision, he sighed, and then followed the little pink monster over. Holly served out the plates. "So, where does the map say we are today, Hare?" she asked. Hare paused in eating long enough to produce the map Captain Horn had given them.
"Well, assuming that the Melcarba factory was on the northern edge of the forest, then we should be pretty near the exit from this forest. According to the map, there's a village about a day from the treeline," he said. Holly nodded, as Genki frowned slightly.
"Hare," he asked suddenly, "are there any mountains or hills nearby where there might be some caves?" Everybody blinked, and looked at him in curiosity.
"What would you want with some musty old caves?" asked Suezo. Genki shook his head.
"Nothing. I'm just… wondering if there are," he said slowly. Hare shrugged after a moment.
"Well, there is this line of bluffs about half way between here and the village. But they're at least a day out off the path that we're following," he said. Genki nodded slowly. Could it just be a coincidence?
"Hey, what is it Genki?" asked Holly, sounding a little concerned. Genki shook his head, and grinned.
"Nothing Holly. Really! Everything is just great!"
Pixie sighed, as she extended her wings - biting down a wince of pain at how stiff the joints were. Frowning, she inspected them for the umpteenth time, and, also for the umpteenth time, sighed again at their sad state. For some reason, they seemed to be taking forever to heal. It had been nearly a month and a half since she'd gotten them slashed and torn up, and they were still barely half healed. She should have been able to glide on them by now, at least. "I hate tending wing injuries!" she said, to the empty cave she was sitting in.
At least her ankle had finally healed up. It had seemed like only a minor sprain, but until the week before, she'd still not been able to put her own light weight on it without lances of pain flying up and down her leg. She could walk around again, which was more than she had been able to say a few weeks ago. She'd barely recognized the sun, when she'd stepped out of the cave she and Big Blue shared. But waiting for her wings to heal was going to drive her crazy. She couldn't even use her healing magic to speed it up; the thin membranes were too delicate for her admittedly crude abilities in healing. Perhaps she'd have put more practice into them, if she hadn't been a slave for the better part of her life. Pixie sighed one more time, and let her wings fold back up.
She looked around at her 'home.' A cave big enough for Big Blue to stand up straight in, and deep enough that it was always cool, but not cold. "How the mighty have fallen," she said wryly, and without nearly as much bitterness in her voice as she might have had before the Scaled Jell attack. Before she'd flown down to catch Genki when the Jells had knocked him off the cliff, and wound up with her wings so badly damaged, and her ankle sprained. "Pixie, of the Big Bad Four. Yup, anybody who saw me now would believe it." All that had ended when Genki and his friends had defeated her and Big Blue, and they had become renegades.
Her mind wandered slightly, to after she and Genki had landed. As much as she hated to admit it, she'd never have made it away without his help, not with her wings so badly damaged and her sprained ankle. She'd tried to anyway, though, but Genki had been too stubborn to just leave her alone, despite her protests that she hadn't wanted a human's help. She had to give the kid credit; once he had his mind set on something, there was just no stopping him. Pixie shook her head, and smirked ruefully.
"Aww, you might as well admit it Pixie. You actually miss the little twerp," she said aloud.
"Miss who, Master Pixie?" She jumped, startled, as Big Blue spoke, feeling her cheeks go hot as the golem gave her a curious look. Mentally she berated herself for not paying attention. Golem weren't exactly known for moving silently, but she'd never even heard him coming in.
"Next I'll let a mouse bite me in the ankle," she muttered, willing her blush to go away. Naturally, her body chose to ignore the order, and her cheeks grew hotter still. "Genki, I was just thinking that it's been awhile since we last saw them. At the rate they were moving, they should have been to this area by now." Her long-time friend and companion simply nodded.
"I see, Master Pixie," he said, almost but not quite dryly. She gave him a scowl that should have given even the golem a shiver, but he merely nodded again. Pixie winced; she had the feeling that her blush was even redder than her hair, now. After a moment, he asked, "How are your wings?" With a grateful look for the change of subject, she sighed.
"Better. Still no where near repaired enough to fly, but better. I think maybe a few more weeks-" A few more weeks! She was going to go nuts! "- and I'll at least be able to glide," she said. He nodded again.
"That is good to know, Master Pixie. Shall I prepare the morning meal, now?" he asked. She grinned wryly at him.
"You do realize that you aren't my servant anymore, don't you? You don't have to do everything for me, Blue," she reminded him. The barest hint of a smile came to the golem's stone face.
"Of course. But then, you've never gone out of your way to break me of the habits, not that I mind," he replied. Pixie had to laugh at that.
Genki was skating along quietly, thinking about his nightmare, when Holly dropped in beside him, smiling slightly. "Ok Genki, you've brooded long enough. What's the matter?" she asked him. He blinked at her, but grinned.
"Brooding? What do you mean? Everything is A.O.K!" he exclaimed. Holly grinned at him.
"Then why aren't you at the head of the group like you usually are, instead of way back here?" she asked. Genki laughed.
"What? Of course I'm…" He trailed off, as he looked around and noticed that Golem was a good ten feet ahead of him - and Golem was always the one to bring up the rear. He sighed. "That obvious, huh?" he said. Holly nodded.
"When you didn't bounce around camp this morning like you usually do, we got a little worried," she told him. Genki grinned weakly.
"Would you believe that I just didn't sleep well, and was just kinda tired?" he asked her. Holly grinned, shaking her head.
"Not really, but I'll tell you what. If I can guess in… say, three tries what you're worried about, we'll talk about it. If not, then I won't bring it up again unless you want to talk about it," she suggested. He gave her a sideways look, a little suspicious, but couldn't resist her offer. Besides, he knew that she'd never guess what was bothering him.
"Alright," he agreed, grinning. Holly smiled.
"Ok… Are you thinking about your home?" she asked. Genki laughed, shaking his head.
"Nope, that's not even close. That's one," he told her. She looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Are you… thinking about what will happen once we catch up to Gray Wolf?" she guessed. Genki shook his head again, a little more solemnly this time.
"Uh-uh. I am a little worried about Tiger, but I know we'll defeat Gray Wolf when we meet him," he said. "That's two, only one guess left, Holly," he said, grinning. She nodded, smiling a little secretively.
"One guess left," she agreed. "Hmmm… What could it be…" He laughed.
"You might as well give up, Holly. You'll never guess," he said. Holly's secretive smile widened slightly.
"I wonder… Could you maybe be worried about Pixie?" she asked suddenly, as if the idea had just occurred to her.
"Nope, I'm…" he started, before trailing off as he really heard what she'd just said. "Hey, how did you…?" Holly smiled again, a little apologetically this time.
"Tiger said that he thought he heard you muttering her name just before Suezo woke you up this morning," she admitted. Genki frowned at her.
"Cheater," he complained, before sighing. Holly's expression turned a bit more serious.
"Well? Even if I did have a little help, we had a deal. We're all worried about you Genki, what's wrong?" she asked him. Genki sighed again, and looked at her.
"I dunno Holly. Last night I had a really bad nightmare, except that I can still remember every bit of it. I was floating somewhere, and then I saw this light, and a dark shape floating around it. But as I got closer, I realized that the light was actually Pixie. Then the dark shape touched me…" He shivered. "I don't know what it was, but it… frightened me. After I got past it, I managed to touch her…" He paused, and looked at Holly again. "I saw myself in a cave, and at the back of the cave, I saw two… Lost Disks…" he finished quietly. Holly blinked, and frowned in concern.
"I hope Big Blue and she are alright… It's been a long time since we last saw them," she said. Genki nodded.
"Yeah, I know. That's what's got me so worried. I mean, I'm sure it was just a nightmare, but… it's still all so clear. And… I think that she was calling for me," he told Holly quietly. She looked at him in surprise.
"Calling for you?" she asked. He shook his head.
"Yeah, only, it wasn't like she expected or even knew I was there," he said. Then suddenly he had an idea. "Holly, can you ask the Magic Stone where she is?" he suggested. She blinked, but slowly nodded.
"I… don't know if it can locate a single monster, unless it's very powerful, like the Phoenix and Moo," she told him. "But I'll try," she added, as she stopped, and drew the pendant from its hiding place under her clothing.
"Thanks, Holly," he said quietly. She nodded, and then closed her eyes, cupping her hands under the smooth green stone.
"Magic Stone… Please, show us the way to find Pixie," she asked it. It began to glow, gently floating out of her hands and then paused, searching. After a long moment, though, it slowly settled back into her hands. She sighed, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Genki. I just don't have fine enough control over it to find them," she said, as she moved to put it away. By now, the others had noticed that they had stopped, and were watching quietly from a short distance. Genki lightly caught her wrist, and she blinked at him.
"Wait - Can I try? Just once? I know that it probably won't work, but… I have to make sure," he said. Slowly, Holly nodded, and unclasped the pendant.
"It can't hurt to at least let you try, Genki, but you have to really focus," she said. "It took me a lot of tries, before I finally managed to find Suezo's Disk," she warned him. He nodded, as she handed him to stone. Genki stared at it for a moment. He'd seen Holly do this dozens of times now, since coming here, but he also remembered the first and only time he had tried to use it. The smooth green stone hadn't even flickered, much less shown him where a disk was. But this time was different, he told himself. This time, he had to have its help… and he knew that he'd grown up a lot, since then. The first time he'd tried, he'd still thought of all of this as just a game. Now, after all that they had been through… He held the stone up, and concentrated on it, aware of the others' gazes on him.
"Please… show me how to find her," he asked quietly. For a long moment, the stone just sat there, and Holly watched in silence. "Please… I need your help… Pixie needs your help. Just show us where she is, Magic Stone."
Slowly, very, very slowly, the stone rose out of his hands, very faintly beginning to glow. He saw Holly's eyes widen as it did, but forced himself to stay focused on the gem. Dimly, in the back of his head, he could feel it, stretching out to look, stretching as far as it could… But finding nothing. Slowly, it started to pull back. "Don't give up yet, she's close, I know it," he whispered. The stone seemed to hesitate, and then the sensation of it stretching out grew even a little bit more than it had before. And then suddenly, he felt her. She was just barely close enough for the stone to touch; very briefly he felt sleepy confusion and surprise. Then suddenly the link broke, and he found himself laying on the ground, Holly and the others standing over him with concerned expressions, still holding tightly to the stone.
The Phoenix was pointing toward the line of bluffs Hare had said were ahead of them.
Pixie's eyes fluttered open, as she suddenly woke up. "Huh?" She had the strangest feeling that somebody had just called her name, except that she was alone with Big Blue. She shook her head, wishing she knew why she'd been sleeping so much in the last month; if she hadn't been, maybe she would have heard the caller. Pixie looked around, sitting up, but the only thing that moved were the flickering flames of the fire. Blinking, she slowly stood and walked out to the cave entrance, shielding her eyes from the bright sunlight. There was nothing in sight that might have woken her up. "What the…?"
"Master Pixie?" came Big Blue's deep voice. She glance back.
"Up here, Blue," she called, before looking back toward the low hill that led up to their cave. There was no cover here for anybody to sneak up through. She could see clearly all the way to the forest in the south, and the abandoned village in the north. Big Blue came up beside her.
"Is something the matter?" he asked her. Pixie glanced at him briefly, frowning.
"I'm not sure. You're certain Gray Wolf and his pack don't patrol here?" she asked. He nodded.
"Yes. They ran off all the monsters and sent the humans to us. I… spoke with several of them," he said. Pixie sighed. He meant that he had interrogated or tortured some of them. Well, they both regretted some of the things that they had done at Moo's command. Most of the things that they'd done at his command, she amended, and they had both done what they could to atone. If it was possible to atone for their crimes. Sometimes, she wondered.
"Hmm… I must have just been imagining things," she said, frowning out at the landscape one more time. She'd been so certain she'd sensed someone nearby… "Just in case though, let's get everything together. For some reason, I don't think we should stay here anymore," she said.
"There is another cave above this one that would suit us well. We will be able to see this cave from it, Master Pixie," he told her. She nodded.
"I trust it is suitably out of the way," she said. He nodded.
"It is a bit of a climb, but once your wings are fully healed, you'll easily be able to fly to it," he replied. She smirked.
"If they ever heal," she muttered. "Good. Let's be sure to leave behind some proof that we really are gone," she suggested. Big Blue nodded.
"Yes, Master Pixie."
"So, what do we do next?" asked Tiger, giving Hare a glare. The giant rabbit shrugged.
"If Genki is right, and Pixie needs help, then we should follow the Magic Stone to her. After all, they've helped us out a number of times… We do owe them," he said. Tiger nodded grudgingly. He hated admitting it when Hare was right. The problem was that Hare usually was right. It irked him to no end, but it was true, unfortunately.
"Pixie and Big Blue have been searching for friends since we defeated them, but are afraid to trust again because of Moo's betrayal," rumbled Golem softly. Granted, softly for a golem was a bit louder than a small avalanche, but still, the difference was there. "They fear their trust will again be broken, and so, are reluctant to take the chance." Tiger had to give the big guy credit; he had a way of seeing into a person's soul. Tiger doubted he would have given Undine the time of day, but Golem had seen into her truer self. Most people would have called Golem slow, or perhaps stupid. Quite to the contrary, Tiger knew. He liked to think things out, wary of hurting others with quick words or actions. It was a quality Tiger had never quite mastered, and envied.
"Can you really blame them?" asked Holly, sadly. "In a way, they lost their whole world because of us." She sighed, and they were all silent for a moment. Tiger frowned. Once, he'd been much like Pixie and Big Blue as well. Tiger of the Wind, master thief of the badlands, and one of the most feared and hated monsters around. His pack had been powerful, respected… and then he'd met Genki, Holly and the others, and the Black Dinos had destroyed his pack, turning them to lost disks. It hadn't been their fault, but for a long time, he'd blamed them, if secretly. His pack had been his family, much like Moo's followers had been Pixie and Big Blue's.
"Whether they trust us or not is beside the point. They've helped us a lot of times, even though they didn't have to," said Genki. Tiger glanced at the young boy - no, Tiger corrected himself, the young man. No matter how young he might be physically, he'd grown quite a bit since Tiger had first met him. Then again, mused Tiger, so had he. Once, he wouldn't have waited for the team. He'd just have gone. He'd made that mistake not long ago, and it had almost cost Holly her life when she'd jumped between him and the poison dart the black worm had shot at him. In truth, he still felt guilty over it; it never would have happened, if he hadn't been so hot-headed. All because he hadn't wanted to believe that his brother could possibly be the leader of Moo's forces in this area.
Gray Wolf… how could you let him corrupt you? he asked himself for the umpteenth time. But he knew his brother had just been surviving - exactly how Tiger had taught him. No matter what, survive. No matter the consequences, no matter the sacrifice, do what ever you must to survive. No matter who it hurt. Tiger remembered that lesson all too well. "Genki is right," he said quietly. Everybody blinked, and looked at him, and no wonder; he rarely spoke up in a planning meeting except to insult Hare. "They didn't have to help us, and shouldn't have, after the pain that we caused them. How can we claim to be fighting for good, but leave them for whatever might be after them?" he finished. For a long moment, they were quiet. Then Holly lifted the Magic Stone, on which the Phoenix was still pointing the way. It seemed to have been locked onto Pixie, for now.
"We'd better get moving, then," she said, standing. They all followed suit, but before they could start out, there was a crash from ahead. Tiger was in a ready stance immediately, stretching out to hear, smelling the air. Listen to the wind, smell your prey on it. That was another of his lessons for Gray Wolf. What ever was coming… he blinked, as a slight breeze brought him the scent.
"It's a human," he said quietly, though he didn't lower his guard. Holly glanced at him, and nodded, before cupping her hands to her mouth.
"It's ok, we're not Baddies! You can come out!" she called. For a moment, there was silence, and then…
"You… you're Human? Not evil monsters?" came the tentative call. A moment later, a small girl's face peeked out from behind a tree. It was filled with fear, and just a little surprise. She was fairly young; in fact, she looked like she was even younger than Genki.
"Relax," said Holly, smiling and beckoning her toward them. "We're Goodies," she said. Slowly, the young girl came out from behind the tree, and took a few cautious steps toward them. She had an air about her of a deer ready to flee. "My name is Holly, and this is Genki, Tiger of the Wind, Hare, Suezo, Golem and Moochi. What's your name?" she asked gently.
"I… I'm Claira. How… how did you stay free of Gray Wolf and his pack?" she asked slowly. Genki grinned.
"We're on a journey to stop Moo," he told her. "He's tried to capture us before, but we've beat him every time!" Claira's eyes widened.
"You… You're the Searchers? My family and I have heard about you, from other groups that managed to stay free, and that you freed," she told them. Genki and Holly looked at each other, and then Holly looked back at Claira.
"Where is your family?" she asked, smiling comfortingly. For a moment, Claira stood there, and then suddenly she burst into tears.
"At… the village. Some of Gray Wolf's Baddies captured them," she sobbed. "Mama pushed me away and told me to run as hard as I could. A couple followed me, but I think I lost them in the woods." Tiger glanced at Holly.
"I'll go make sure she did," he said. She nodded, and he lopped out into the woods, as she moved forward to comfort the little girl, who was rubbing her face with the sleeve of her neatly arranged dress.
Genki sighed as Tiger trotted back into the camp, shaking his head when Holly asked him if there had been any followers. Claira was not far away, having fallen asleep, exhausted. He looked back at Holly. "We'll have to split up. You guys go to the village with Claira and free her parents, and I'll go find Pixie," he said. Holly gave him a surprised look.
"You can't go alone, Genki," she said. Genki shook his head.
"If you have to fight, then you'll need everybody. I can get there faster alone anyway, and warn them. Between Pixie and Big Blue, we shouldn't have any troubles," he told her. "I'll be alright." She frowned, and looked like she was about to argue when Tiger moved over beside him.
"I'll go with him Holly," he said quietly. Genki blinked, and looked at the wolf-like monster. Holly frowned for another moment, before sighing and nodding.
"Alright," she agreed, and after a pause, added, "Here, take the stone with. Since it seems to be locked on to Pixie, it'll be easier for you to find her." She unclasped the pendant carefully, and handed it to him. Genki nodded quietly.
"I'll keep it safe, Holly, I promise. We should be back in a couple days," he said. Hare wandered over.
"Better keep a close eye on Tiger, Genki," he said, for once sounding serious. But Genki recognized the glint in his eye all too well, and as usual, Tiger took the bait.
"Yeah, like you care if I actually come back," he muttered.
"Tiger, I'm hurt! Of course I care! After all, without you around, who would I have to torture!" laughed the giant rabbit. Tiger growled something under his breath that Genki was sure he was better off having not heard.
"Alright you two, that's enough," said Holly after a moment. "Seriously, Genki, Tiger. Be careful out there." They both nodded.
"Don't worry about us, Holly," said Tiger. "Just keep clear of Hare's hair-brained schemes, and we'll see you in a couple of days." Holly nodded, as Hare frowned at Tiger. Meanwhile, Genki chalked up another point for Tiger. He didn't think that he'd ever understand their strange friendship. Absolute respect for each other one minute, nothing but jibes and insults the next.
"We can meet up at the village," she said. They nodded again.
"We'll see you then," said Genki. Then he and Tiger dashed off. As the camp faded behind them, he glanced at Tiger. "So, what made you decide to come along?" he asked. Tiger glanced at him.
"Somebody's gotta cover your back," he replied, with the faintest hint of a smirk on his muzzle.
"Keep me outta trouble, you mean," said Genki, grinning.
"Thanks, Tiger," he said, after a moment. Tiger merely nodded, and kept running.
Holly watched until Genki and Tiger disappeared into the distance, and then turned to Hare. He smiled at her for a second. "They'll be alright. You know Genki. The harder somebody tries to stop him, the harder he pushes onward. And as for Tiger… Well, you get the idea, anyway," he said. Holly nodded, smiling slightly.
"I know, but that's not what I was thinking about, Hare," she told him. He looked at her uncertainly.
"What is it, then?" he asked. Holly looked back in the direction the two had gone.
"The Magic Stone… It asked to go with him," she said. Hare blinked, and started at her.
"I shouldn't say that it asked to go with him, but that's the only way I can think of describing it. I don't know, I've always had a sense of the stone, and when Genki wanted to split up… It wanted to go with him," she explained.
"So that's why you sent it with him," he said. She nodded.
"I wish I understood how he was able to use it in the first place. The first time he tried, there was no reaction at all, and if he could use it, it would have at least reacted to him," she told him. Hare frowned in thought.
"Do you remember when Gali hit us with that energy drain attack in his palace?" he asked. Holly nodded slowly. They'd all been completely drained, even Genki. Only Moochi had escaped the attack, and had gone on to win the battle for them. "You remember how we suddenly got that burst of energy, just in time to escape?"
"Yeah, I do. I always wondered where it came from," she said. Hare nodded.
"I think that it came from Genki, Holly. Just before it hit us, I heard him shout energy, the way that Tiger or I might have cast a spell or called an attack," he told her quietly. Holly stared at him.
"How could that be possible? He's not even from this world, and besides, no humans have magical attacks like monsters do," she said. He nodded again.
"Right. So how did he get here in the first place? It had to have been something other than just both of you unlocking a magic disk at the same time. It's simple logic. As rarely as it happened in your area, disk unlocking was a fairly common thing. Think about Monol's story - they had whole factories that did nothing but locking and unlocking disks," he said. She nodded, slowly. "There had to have been an uncommon factor that made it not so simple. And even if that wasn't it, why Genki? Why somebody that just happens to have the ability to use the stone, even if only under a very specific circumstances? Coincidence? Maybe, but still…" He paused a moment. "You said the stone seemed to guide you to Golem, Tiger and me. I wonder… Does the stone know something about Genki that we don't?" he asked. They looked at each other silently for a moment, and then both turned to look in the direction Genki and Tiger had gone.
"What… What exactly are you suggesting, Hare?" she asked finally. He shook his head.
"I'm not sure, Holly. But I can't shake the feeling that we're overlooking something that should be obvious. So far, we only know of four people that can use the stone. You, your father, Moo, and now Genki," he said. That's only three, Holly thought to herself sadly, because Moo possessed my father. "There has to be a link between all four. It's obvious between you and your father - family. But Moo? And now Genki?" He shook his head again. "There has to be something you all share that allows you to use the stone - something that the stone itself is able to sense." Holly frowned in thought.
"But what?" she asked. Hare sighed.
"That, unfortunately, is the sixty-four trillion gold question," he replied. "In any event, we have our own mission to see too far now." Holly nodded.
"Yeah," she said, as she turned back to the camp. "We should probably get moving, shouldn't we?" He nodded.
"I'll talk to Claira, and see if I can't figure out what kind of monsters we'll be up against," he told her.
"Right," she agreed, as she knelt beside the little girl and gently shook her awake. She looked up, blinking.
"Holly?" she asked. Holly smiled.
"Do you think you can show us where your family is, if we go to the village?" she asked. Claira nodded slowly.
"I - I think so," she said. Holly nodded.
"Ok. Hare, Suezo, Golem, Moochi and I are going to set them free, ok?" she said, smiling at her. Claira's eyes widened.
"Really?" she asked. Holly nodded again, and smiled.
"Really," she told her. Claira laughed in delight, and hugged her.
"Oh, thank you Holly!" she cried. "But what about Genki and Tiger? Aren't they going with too?" she asked after a moment. Holly smiled again, reassuringly.
"Tiger and Genki had to go help some other friends of ours, but they'll be back," she told her. The little girl's face fell a little.
"Oh…" Holly gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"Don't worry about them. Genki and Tiger will be alright, and we're going to set your parents free. Everything will be alright, ok?" she asked. Claira grinned, and nodded enthusiastically.
"O. K.!" she exclaimed. Smiling, Holly turned to Moochi.
"Will you stay with Claira, make sure that she stays safe" she asked. The little pink monster nodded.
"Yes-chi!" he replied. Holly nodded.
"Alright." She stood up. "Everybody ready to go?" she asked, raising her voice a little.
"Let's get going then!"
Genki slowed to a stop, as the line of bluffs came into view, and pulled out the Magic Stone again. The Phoenix was pointing a little to the left now, toward the far end of the bluffs. He glanced over at Tiger. "What do you think? Rest here for the night, or keep going?" he asked. The blue and white furred monster shrugged, looking at him,
"I don't know, Genki. We might not get a chance to rest once we get there, but on the other paw, if we rest now, we might be too late," he said. "It's your call. Personally, I'd probably go on." Genki frowned a moment.
"Let's get a bit closer, and then rest for a couple hours. We won't be any help if we're too tired to fight once we get there," he said finally. Tiger nodded, as they started moving again.
"What did happen between you and Pixie, while the rest of us were out looking for you?" he asked after a moment. Genki glanced at Tiger. He still hadn't told them everything that had happened, or about the promise he and Pixie had made.
"Why do you ask?" he countered.
"Because there's been something… distant about you since then. I don't think that the other have noticed yet, but I have," he replied. "And now, seemingly by chance, you get a dream about her needing help. I'm sure Hare could come up with a dozen ways of explaining it, but me, I'm betting it has something to do with the Jell attack, and the time that you were alone with her." Genki frowned at him. He didn't like lying to his friends, but he didn't want to embarrass Pixie by telling them about what had happened.
"Nothing happened, Tiger. She hurt her ankle and wings, and I helped her stay away from the Scaled Jells," he said. Tiger looked at him sideways, with a faint smirk in his eyes.
"I believe that about as much as I believe Suezo will ever be able to use his Teleport ability whenever he wants. Something else happened, too, and it was something that Golem said that made me notice. 'Pixie and Big Blue have been searching for friends since we defeated them, but are afraid to trust again because of Moo's betrayal,'" he quoted.
"Yeah, so?" asked Genki. Tiger glanced at him again.
"So, when we found you two after she'd blasted the Scaled Jells, she trusted you. Something had to happen to bring that out," he said. "She always respected you - even if she didn't show it - but until then, like Golem said, she'd been afraid to trust," he finished. Genki looked at him for a long moment.
"If I tell you, will you promise me that you won't tell the others?" he asked finally. Tiger nodded.
"It's not my place to tell them, only yours," he replied. Genki nodded slowly.
"I think that I caught her off guard. She didn't want my help to get away, even though it was obvious that she couldn't alone, and I wouldn't take no for an answer. I don't think that she understood why I didn't just leave her there," he said quietly. Slowly, Tiger nodded.
"Like other humans had done to her in the past. Like she'd grown to expect, after how she and the other monsters had been used as slaves by that king," he said. Genki nodded. Of all of them, Tiger would have the easiest time understanding what he was saying, Genki knew; he'd been mistreated by humans as well.
"Yeah, that's what I realized that first night. She kept saying that she didn't want a human's help or pity. Actually, in a way she reminded me a lot of you when we first met," he said carefully. "Too proud to admit that she needed help."
"And afraid of what it might cost her," added Tiger quietly. Genki nodded again.
"The whole second day, it was as if she expected me to either run off, or blame everything on her," he said, before pausing. He hadn't told them this part yet, mostly because he didn't like to think of how… vulnerable she had looked then. It just didn't fit in with his image of Pixie. "About halfway down the day, I tripped over a root and we both tumbled down a small hill. We weren't really hurt, but we landed in a pit of quicksand. I'd landed near a tree, and managed to get out by grabbing a vine, but when I reached back for Pixie, she hesitated. I think… that at first, she didn't care if it swallowed her up, as long as she didn't have to trust me to pull her out. But… I think that she may have finally realized that I wasn't helping her because I expected to get something out of it. That I was helping her because she was a friend." He paused a moment. "Just before you guys finally caught up with us, we made a promise; she promised that she and Big Blue would join us, someday," he finished quietly. Tiger frowned a moment.
"So that's what that pinkie thing was about," said Tiger. Genki nodded, and Tiger looked thoughtful for a moment. "I don't know Genki… I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong about humans, but Pixie was hurt by them a lot worse than I was. For some reason that I don't understand, she's built some sort of a bond with you, when she would have probably killed anyone else. It's a talent you seem to have, making friends where others wouldn't, but I'd still be careful, if I were you," he said finally. Genki nodded.
"I know, Tiger. But… When we beat Moo, if Monsters and Humans still don't trust each other, will we really have won? Maybe Pixie is only one monster, and I'm only one human, but the trust has to start somewhere, doesn't it?" he asked quietly. Tiger merely nodded at him in silence, as they raced on toward the bluffs.
Pixie glanced up from the fire, as Big Blue pulled himself up to the entrance of the new cave. The 'short climb,' as he had put it, was a good fifty foot drop. The cave was above and to the left of their old one; there was a bit of a ledge that they could look over and be reasonably hidden. "Find anything?" she asked. He shook his head.
"Nothing has approached the cave, Master Pixie. I did see some activity in the village, though," he replied. She straightened, tensing.
"Gray Wolf?" she asked. Maybe she'd been right after all…
"No. I could not tell at that distance what they were, but it was not Gray Wolf and his pack. Do you want me to go closer tonight and find out?" he asked her. Pixie frowned, and stretched out her wings again to check them.
"Bah… If my wings were healed, I could fly there and be back in five minutes," she complained. Finally though, she shook her head. "No. As long as they don't come near, just leave them be. What they don't know can't hurt us," she said. Big Blue merely nodded, and then sat down
"If I may ask a question, Master Pixie?" he said. She looked at him, and shrugged.
"You've never had to ask my permission before," she reminded him. Big Blue nodded.
"What is it that has been troubling you? You have been… restive the last few days," he rumbled. Pixie frowned at him for a moment, and then sighed.
"I'm not sure, Blue. Something has me unsettled, but I can't put my finger on what," she replied, glancing in the same direction that she had the day before, when that something had woken her up. The more that she'd thought about it, the more that something had seemed familiar, and since late the night before, she'd had a vague sense of a presence in the distance, one that was even now drawing nearer. Instead of making her uneasy, though, it was almost… a reassuring presence. She sighed again. "I'm probably just going a little stir crazy from all this sitting around waiting for my wings to heal!" she said. The problem with that was that it still didn't explain that vague sense in the far back corner of her mind, the one that was getting closer. If I could only get a better grip on it, I'd know what it was!
"A better grip on what, Master Pixie?" asked Big Blue, and she winced as she realized that she'd spoken her last thought aloud. There was no trying to dismiss it now.
"I… don't know, Blue. It's what woke me up yesterday, before we moved up here. There's something… familiar, something I can feel now, in the very back of my mind. It…" There was a subtle change in the sense, and abruptly she knew that what ever was coming closer was a he. "He is coming this way. And fast, too," she said.
"How do you know this? Who is he?" asked the golem, a slight note of concern in his voice. She shook her head.
"It doesn't work that way, Blue. I didn't even know it was a he, until just now - for that matter, I don't know how I know it is a he. I just do," she told him, and then pointed. "I can't say how I know that this is the direction that he's coming from either, but I do. Somehow, I know that I'm pointing straight at him," she said, before shaking her head. "And what's got me the most off balance is that I don't feel like I'm in danger - just the opposite, the closer he gets, the safer I feel. It's a most disturbing sensation," she said quietly.
Big Blue remained silent a moment, frowning thoughtfully. Then, slowly, he said, "That's toward where Genki and his friends would come out of the forest, isn't it?" Pixie blinked, and stared at the golem.
"You aren't suggesting what I think you're suggesting, I hope," she said, frowning. He spread his huge hands in a calming gesture, shaking his head.
"I would not, Master Pixie, but… Did you not once tell me that the pixie could not use the full of your powers unless bonded to a human? That the power draw was too great to survive, without the shared life-force to draw upon?" he asked. Then carefully added, "You have damaged your wings worse than this before, but I do not remember them taking so long to heal… as they might, if the one you had bonded was not near enough to share their life-force with you, thus forcing you to rely on only your own to fill both your magic stores and heal with." She shook her head, frowning.
"But that's not possible, both myself and the bonded would have had to make a conscious choice to bond, saying our intent, and I certainly didn't," she said. Big Blue looked at her.
"Is that the only way?" he asked. She shook her head again.
"Yes…" Then she paused, remembering a story her grandmother had told her. "Well… no. When I was very young, before…" She paused again, as she unwillingly remembered when her entire village had been enslaved by the Slave Masters, remembered the faces of her father and sister as they were led away from her. After a moment, she managed to shake it off, and then continued. "Before the Slave Masters came, I remember my grandmother telling us that sometimes, the bond could form without a conscious choice, if both the pixie and the human would normally have been willing. But it could only happen under certain extreme circumstances," she said slowly.
"Extreme circumstances - like having no other way to survive an attack by Scaled Jells than through magic you could only use if bonded?" he pointed out quietly. She opened her mouth to retort sharply, but then paused. He was right, she couldn't have used those two spells unless she'd been bonded, and the situation would definitely have been extreme enough… She thought again, of how often she'd been tired, and how long it had taken her ankle to heal.
"But I would have known!" she protested. "You know that I've bonded humans before, just long enough to use that attack, and the sense was always immediate." Bonded them, and then broken the bond immediately, so that it didn't become permanent. He nodded.
"I know… but you were exhausted at the time, and I carried you away immediately. Perhaps it was before you were rested enough to actually notice it - you did pass out almost as soon as we were out of sight of them," he said. Pixie frowned.
"Ok… Let's assume - just assume! - for a moment that you're right, and I did bond…" She trailed off, with a sigh. If he was right, and she had bonded, then the only one she could have bonded was… "Genki. Why not sense him before now? I should have been able to feel him as soon as I had rested a little." He shrugged.
"You know more about the bond than I. Perhaps you were too far away, and he only recently came close enough for the bond to finish forming. Or perhaps it finished forming before our groups separated, but with your energy drained, you did not have the strength to feel it," he said, before pausing and looking at her. "Or… you did not wish to acknowledge it before it was too late to sever it," he finished carefully.
"Why in the world would I want to be permanently bonded to a hyper-active twelve year-old brat!" she railed at him with a glare. At least, she had intended it to be a railing and a glare. It came out sounding more like a frantic denial and with a look that would have made a timid mouse laugh. Admit it, said a small voice deep inside. If you would have chosen willingly to bond with any one human, it would have been Genki. It was true, no matter how much she wanted to say that it wasn't. If not before the Scaled Jell attack, then from the second he'd refused to leave her behind, it had been so. Pixie wouldn't have trusted any other human to share something so… for lack of a better word, intimate with. And somehow, she knew Genki wouldn't have hesitated to agree. Just as he hadn't hesitated to fight with her when they'd first met, though she was clearly the stronger. Just as he hadn't hesitated to jump over her to try to protect her when she'd tried brining the ruins down on herself, even though it would have only ended in him being crushed as well, had Big Blue not been there to shield them both.
Just as he hadn't hesitated to stay with her, no matter how she protested, no matter how much danger he wound up in because of her condition. Genki had stayed with her, and that was the one thing that she had needed most - someone that wouldn't betray her or leave her behind because she was too proud… too afraid to let them help. Pixie let out a long sigh. Had she really wanted to be bonded to him enough to subconsciously block out the bond long enough that it became permanent? Because distance didn't make any difference beyond the sense becoming vague. Once the bonded were close enough to each other, they could reach the other's thoughts to a degree, but no matter how far apart they were, there was always a general sense of the other's emotions. She also couldn't have been too weak to not feel it, because energy had nothing to do with the bond. She let out another long sigh.
"Bonded to a hyper-active twelve year old twerp," she groaned, bringing her hands to her temples and beginning to massage them. "I'm already starting to get a headache."
"Jeeze," said Genki, rubbing at his temples, "I've sure got a headache all of a sudden." Tiger glanced at him.
"With the amount of bouncing about you do, it's a wonder that you don't get them more often," he said dryly. Genki gave him a flat look, and then frowned.
"It's kinda weird though, like it's not really my headache," he said, before shrugging. "Now it's gone. Odd."
Tiger looked at him again, and without missing a beat, said, "Probably all in your head." Genki laughed at that, and Tiger smirked. "Are we still going in the right direction?"
"Yeah, we're not very far away now," he said, without even slowing. Tiger only nodded, and remained silent. That was the fourth time that he'd asked, and Genki had only actually checked the stone once. Tiger was sure that if he asked Genki to look at the stone, it would point straight ahead, just as it had earlier when he'd mentioned it. There was something different about Genki since they'd woken that he couldn't put his paw on. Something in his scent, a jumble of emotions that didn't seem to be his. Tiger didn't understand how that could be - a person's scent was their scent, and that was that - but Tiger had the feeling that it had something to do with how the boy suddenly seemed to know exactly where Pixie was, without the stone's help. What he did know was that that second scent got stronger with each step, and that it was female - and, at the moment, both irritated and somewhat amused.
The simple fact was that the second scent was female was what had his suspicions up, as he tried to remember every scrap about the pixie that he could. Unfortunately, he knew that he'd been on the wrong continent; there had been no pixie unlocked there, only the occasional few that came through before Moo's reign had begun. But he was certain that he'd heard something… Something that had to do with a pixie's most powerful spells and attacks, and their trainers… It was just out of reach. Frowning, he set it aside to think about later. If nothing else, he could ask Pixie about it when they found them.
"Hey, look!" said Genki, pointing. Tiger glanced ahead, and saw what he was talking about. A large cave, laying open on the bluff wall. Off to one side was a small stack of wood for a fire. Tiger nodded, looking at Genki.
"What does the stone say?" he asked. Genki fished the pendant out; it was suffused with the red glow that it usually had when they were all but on top of a Magic Disk that it had led them to. Tiger nodded again, and asked, "Do you still have one of those torches from when we went through that cave and fought Joker?" Genki nodded, shrugging off his backpack.
"Yeah, but nothing to light it with," he said. Tiger nodded at the stone wall nearby.
"Hold it next to the stone," he said, lifting his paw and extending his claws. Genki grinned.
"I get it - you'll try to strike some sparks," he said.
"Bingo." Genki did as Tiger had directed, and he scraped his claws across the wall. A shower of sparks rained down, and a couple of them caught onto the torch, making it burst into flame. Genki grinned again.
"Cool! Ok, let's go," he said, turning and moving to the cave entrance. Just before he was about to follow, Tiger caught a taste of another, faint scent, and glanced in the direction that it seemed to lead - straight into the wall. Tiger blinked, and looked up, but all that he could see was the bluff, rising almost straight up above him. "Tiger, come on, you aren't going to be able to keep me out of trouble out there," called Genki. With a final frown, he trotted over to the cave; as soon as he stepped near, he could smell Pixie's scent, though it was at least a day old.
"She's definitely been here," he told Genki. "Her scent is all over the place." They moved into the cave, and torch's flickering light illuminating the passage.
"It's big enough for Big Blue to walk through," said Genki. Tiger nodded.
"Yeah, not what I would have expected from Pixie. An entrance this big would be tough to defend, even for the two of them," he said, looking around.
"You know what, though? I'll bet that they chose it for just that reason. Nobody would have expected them to hide somewhere so obvious," pointed out Genki. Tiger gave him an approving look.
"You're learning. 'Sometimes the obvious isn't.' Maybe I'm not wasting my time on you after all," he said. Genki grinned in appreciation of the rare compliment. Around them, the passage abruptly widened, into a large chamber, big enough that the torchlight didn't illuminate the whole cave even for Tiger's eyes. Looking around, he saw what looked like the remains of a firepit, the embers dead for awhile; not far away from that was some disarranged bedding, and scattered through the cave was some small, seemingly random clutter. He frowned; it was a little messy, for someone as methodical as Pixie usually was. He trotted over to the bedding, sniffing; her scent was heavy on it, but again, the freshest of it seemed to be at least a day old. "This is definitely where they were staying, Genki, but I don't think that they're here anymore. This fire has been out for at least a day, and the freshest scent that I can find is more than a day old, too."
There was no response from the boy. "Genki?" Tiger looked over to see him staring at something his body blocked from view. Frowning, Tiger moved toward him. "Hey, didn't you hear me?" he asked. Slowly, Genki pointed ahead, still silent. Tiger turned in the indicated direction, and felt his throat abruptly tighten, as he too saw what had silenced Genki. There, just at the edge of the torchlight, were a pair of Lost Disks, supported by the strange, half dead, half alive branches that marked out a Lost Disk from a locked one. Suddenly, the disarrayed bedding, the random seeming clutter fell into place. They had been sleeping, and somebody had surprised them, cornered them…
They were too late.
"She can't be gone," mumbled Genki softly, almost too low for even Tiger to hear him. "I can feel her…" Tiger slowly looked at him, frowning slightly.
"What do you mean, Genki?" he asked quietly.
"The… Magic Stone. I think that it did something to me, when I asked it to find her - I can feel her, in the back of my mind. I know that she's still alive…" he said. Tiger slowly nodded, and then frowned again, at the Lost Disks. He moved closer, inspecting them, and then blinked.
"Genki, bring that torch over here," he said. Slowly, with confusion on his face, Genki did so. Tiger looked at the disks again; there was no mistaking it. There was a small notch, like a piece had broken off, on the nearer one. "Hey, I don't think that this is real Lost Disk!" he said, in surprise. Genki started, and then stared at him.
"What?" he asked. Suddenly, Pixie and Big Blue's final minutes took on a new light, and slowly, Tiger started to laugh.
"Look," he said, grabbing the nearest one in his jaws, and pulling it off the branches. He dropped it on the ground, and then raked his claws across it, leaving long, splintered wooden furrows across its face. "It's a fake. Disks can't be damaged, not by a simple clawing, Genki. This is just a carved imitation."
"But why…" started Genki, and then paused, before suddenly grinning, and looking around. "Of course - what better way to get away then to die?" he said. Tiger nodded, smirking.
"Right - maybe they thought Gray Wolf's pack was closing in, and left these here to trick them into thinking that they were already Lost. And if the Magic Stone says we're close -"
"Then they must be hiding somewhere they can watch this cave," finished Genki. Tiger nodded again.
"And I think I know where, too, or at least where to look."
Genki followed Tiger, as the wolf-like monster led him back out of the cave, and looked around a moment. "There it is. Almost missed it this time, she must have only done this once," he muttered to himself.
"Done what, Tiger?" he asked. Tiger glanced at him.
"Climbed this wall. Her scent was too weak to recognize the first time I caught it, but it leads right to this - there must be another cave up there, hidden from view," he said, as he looked back up, frowning slightly. Genki looked up too.
"I should be able to climb it without much trouble, but will you be able to?" he asked. Tiger smirked, and lay a paw on the wall. His claws slid out of their sheaths, and into the stone itself. He looked at Genki, as he started to walk straight up the wall.
"I'll have less trouble than you," he said dryly. Genki grinned, as he looked at the wall, and started up as well. They made their way upward, Tiger pausing now and then to use his claws to cut Genki a hand hold. The higher that they got, the more clear the strange knot of emotions that he could feel in the back of his head got. Now that he'd thought about it, he realized that he should have known the Disks were fakes - he could sense her above and to his left. For a moment, Genki frowned, and wondered why the stone had done this to him, instead of just leading him to her. But then, this was probably the first time the stone had been used to locate a single monster - maybe this was normal. Maybe-
The thought was so sudden, so clear, so… not his own that for a moment, he froze, staring ahead, forgetting to secure his foothold. With a yelp of surprise, he found himself suddenly hanging by his finger nails. For a moment, he scrambled his feet to try and catch back on, and then Tiger was stretching down to catch his backpack in his jaws.
"There are better ways to make an impression than by falling to the ground," he said around the reinforced strap. He pulled Genki up far enough that he found his foothold again. He laughed weakly, as his heart settled back into his chest.
"I'll… try to keep that in mind," he said after a moment. "Thanks, Tiger. I owe you one." Tiger nodded.
"What prompted you to try out your Suezo impersonation?" he asked dryly.
"Pixie - I heard her say my name, but it was a thought, not a voice. It startled me," said Genki. Tiger blinked at him.
"In your head?" he asked. Genki nodded. Tiger blinked again, and frowned. "Try saying her name - err, thinking her name," he said after a moment. Genki blinked, but slowly nodded. It couldn't hurt to at least try, he supposed.
-Pixie?- he thought slowly. A heartbeat passed, and then…
-Genki,- came a relieved thought. -For a moment, I thought I'd startled you right off the wall.- Blinking, he stared at Tiger.
-How are we talking like this?- he asked. He got a mental impression of a sigh from her.
-I'll… explain everything once you get up here. You don't have much farther to go. Look up.- Genki did, and saw Big Blue leaning out from what seemed to be thin air. Slowly, he looked back at Tiger.
"This just keeps getting weirder."
"There's the village," said Hare, shading his eyes and peering into the distance. Suezo hopped up on Golem's shoulder and squinted.
"See anything?" asked Holly.
"Looks like… nobody is there - wait. There they are, I can see somebody through a window. Looks like they're tied up," he said.
"Any sign of the monsters?" asked Hare. Suezo shook his head.
"Not that I can see," he said, jumping down. Hare turned to Claira.
"You're sure that you can't tell me anything else about them?" he asked her gently. The little girl shook her head.
"Uh-uh. All I remember was that they seemed to change shape, and they made a squishy sound when they moved, like shoes do when they've got water in them," she said. Hare nodded, and sighed.
"Probably they're some kind of Jell of Clay," he said, looking at Holly. "We gotta remember, we're down two fighters today, so watch out." They nodded, and Holly sighed.
"I wonder how Genki and Tiger are doing?" she said.
"By now, they've probably reached the bluffs. Who knows, maybe they've already helped Pixie and Big Blue, and are on their way back," said Hare. Claira blinked.
"Pixie and Big Blue? But, they're Baddies! Why help them!" she asked in surprise. Holly shook her head.
"Not anymore. When we defeated them, they decided to leave Moo. They're Goodies now, too. Well, sorta, anyway…" she said, smiling. "They've helped us out a couple of times. Genki had… a bad dream that made him worry about them, so he decided to see if they needed help, and Tiger went with so that he wouldn't be alone." Slowly, Claira nodded.
"And that's why they went to the bluffs? Because Pixie and Big Blue are there?" she asked. Holly nodded again.
"That's where the magic stone said they were," she replied.
"Oh," said Claira. "Magic Stone? What's that, can I see it?"
"Well, I loaned it to Genki so that it'd be easier for him to find Pixie and Big Blue, so I don't have it right now, but it's an ancient stone that my village protected for centuries. It helps us find Mystery Disks, or the way to go," she said. And what else can it do, she wondered briefly. We already know, thanks to Moo, that it can show an image of a location, and track both Moo and the Phoenix's ancient bodies. And now, apparently, it can track individual monsters, and lock onto them… Or do its abilities change with who uses it? Is that why I couldn't find Pixie, and Genki could?
They traveled toward the village quietly, watchful for the monsters that had trapped Claira's family. Luckily, it seemed that they weren't really patrolling the area - probably, they weren't expecting to find anybody else. That certainly fit in with what she knew about Jells. Tough to hurt, but not exactly sticklers for being thorough. Beside her, Holly noticed that Claira seemed to be getting more and more nervous the closer that they got to the village. She couldn't blame her - after all, this was where her family had been captured.
"That's a really pretty dress, Claira," she said after a moment. Claira blinked at her.
"Your dress - I like it. It is very pretty. Did your mother make it for you?" she asked gently. It really was a nice dress. It was made of blue material, a little faded from use, but with a bit of flowering embroidery on the hem. Claira smiled, blushing a little.
"Oh… Thank you. My mother used to be a seamstress, before… you know," she said, slowly. Holly smiled.
"I've never really had any luck with needle and thread," she said. "The one time that I tried sewing, I managed to sew my thumb to the fabric." Claira giggled and winced at the same time.
"Gee, that must have hurt!" she said. Holly grinned.
"A little. After that, I decided to leave the sewing to my mother," she said. Claira giggled again. At least now she's relaxed, Holly thought to herself.
"Alright everybody. Suezo said the building he saw somebody in was in the center of town. Ready?" asked Hare. They all nodded. Holly took Claira's hand.
"Stay with Golem and me if a fight starts, alright?" she told her. Claira nodded.
"Ok, here we go," said Hare, once they were all set. Slowly, they made their way into town. Holly looked around herself a little sadly. Once, this village would have been full of people, much like her own. Over there, in that square, there might have been children playing, or over there, near the fountain she could see, a family might have had a picnic. So much like her own village, before Naga and his troops had destroyed it. How many innocent children had lived here, before Moo… before her father had come? Now, many of the buildings were run down, cracked, some partly caved in. The cobble-stone street was badly damaged, and the fountain that must have once sprayed water into the pool around it was so eroded it was difficult to tell it had once been a pixie. Holly paused, blinking. The horns were missing, and a wing had broken off, but the face was still in surprisingly good shape; it almost looked familiar.
"That statue… looks like Pixie," said Golem suddenly, startling her. She blinked, and looked at it again.
"Yeah, actually. But she's older, and her hair is longer than Pixie's… Who knows, maybe she was a relative of Pixie's?" she suggested. Hare shrugged.
"Maybe," he said. "We aren't far from the center of town now, heads up." She nodded, giving Claira's hand a reassuring squeeze and getting one in return. They turned a corner, and there it was. Unlike most of the other buildings, it still appeared to be fully intact, with only a minor bit of wind and water damage at the corners and edges. One huge window seemed to make up the front of the building; a couple of panes had cracks, and one was broken out entirely, but on the whole it was in surprisingly good condition. There was one large glass door, just barely big enough for even Golem to duck under.
"It must have been the town hall, once," said Holly. They made their way toward it; slowly, Hare pushed the door open. Inside, the floor was covered in dust, but in the center of the single, large room…
"Mama! Papa!" Claira slipped her hand out of Holly's, and ran over to the two adults in the middle of the room. After looking around for a moment, Hare followed her in, and then came Holly, with Moochi, Suezo and Golem behind her.
"We hoped you'd gotten away, but why did you come back?" Aside from Claira and her parents, the room was empty; no guards or anything. The hairs on the back of Holly's neck started prickling.
"Not even Jells are this sloppy," said Hare, at the same time she asked, "No guards?" They looked at each other, as Golem ducked under the doorway and stepped in. Holly looked down at the floor.
"If they're in the center of the room, Hare, then-"
"How is the only set of tracks in the dust ours and Claira's?" he finished grimly. Slowly, they crossed to Claira and her parents. Holly reached out to touch the girl's shoulder.
Quite abruptly, Claira, her parents, and the entire building shivered, and then began to melt. That was the only way Holly could describe it, as what had been Claira a moment before stretched out and wrapped around Holly, immobilizing her. Although she couldn't turn, she could tell from the sounds of struggle behind her that the others had been caught too. The building finished changing, and a small blob dropped down before her. It quivered for a moment, and then stretched and grew until Holly was looking at a cruelly smirking copy of herself.
"So much for the mighty Searchers. After hearing that you beat Centaur and Gali, I thought you'd be harder to catch than this," she said, before frowning. "Although I had thought there were seven of you…" The one holding her writhed for a moment, and then Claira's head appeared, supported by an impossibly long neck.
"They boy and Gray Wolf's brother went to the bluffs to find Pixie, Captain. She said that some stone told them she was there," she said. The double smirked.
"Ah, the famous Magic Stone… So that's why she doesn't have it," she replied, nodding.
"What are you?" demanded Holly. Her double smirked again.
"Don't you know a doppelganger when you see one, Holly?" she asked, her smirk widening. "Oh, don't be surprised. I know everything about you, now. That little village… Your father being driven out… everything." Not everything, Holly thought to herself. She didn't know that Genki and Tiger had gone until Claira had told her, and Claira had only known because Holly had just told her. The doppelganger captain looked at Claira.
"Gone to help Pixie, huh? We'd score big with Master Moo if we took her and Big Blue down with the Searchers," she said, before her form shivered suddenly. Holly couldn't help but wince as she saw her own face become bruised and bloody, her clothes torn. "Genki, Tiger, we were ambushed, I managed to escape, but the others… oh, boo-hoo…" she laughed. Then she smirked. "Watch them… I'll take care of this myself."
Genki squirmed as Big Blue set him down with a frown, and then reached back down to get Tiger. The wolf-like monster gave him a disdainful look, and walked the rest of the way up the wall to the little ledge that had been hidden from view from below. Genki looked up at the golem, and grinned. "Thanks," he said. Big Blue gave him a short nod.
"Master Pixie is inside," he told him, before looking at Tiger. "A moment, Tiger of the Wind. I would speak with you about Gray Wolf," he said. Tiger blinked.
"About what?" he asked suspiciously. The golem frowned, and Genki looked at Tiger.
"Tiger… I think that he's trying to say Pixie wants to talk to me alone for a few minutes," he said. Tiger frowned at Genki for a moment, and then sighed, looking at Big Blue.
"I suppose I can manage to talk for a bit," he muttered. Genki nodded.
"Thanks, Tiger," he said quietly, before heading down into the cave. His eyes adjusted to the darkness surprisingly quickly; he had no trouble seeing in the dim light from the entrance, and saw the flickering of a campfire from around a corner ahead of him. He made his way down to it, and as soon as he got around the corner, he saw her.
Pixie was frowning down at the fire, but even as he saw her, she said, "Hello Genki," in an oddly subdued tone. The packet of emotions that he'd started to associate with her was… resigned, but at the same time, it seemed a little excited. "We've… got a lot to talk about," she told him awkwardly, but finally looking up at him with a slight smile.
"Pixie," he blurted out, "I'm sorry, I think that the Magic Stone may have done something to us when I asked it to find you." To his surprise, she just started laughing. "Pixie?" he asked uncertainly. He'd never heard her just laugh, not like this. She'd laughed before, of course, but that laugh had been a cruel, bitter laugh, one flung at him almost like an attack. This laugh was just… her. A slightly throaty, relaxed, good-natured laugh. And in the back of his head, he could feel that same amusement… pulsing in time with her laughter.
After a few moments, she shook her head, and her laughter faded, though a bit of a grin did remain on her lips. "The Magic Stone… Genki, sometimes I forget that no matter how mature you may act most of the time, you really are just a kid," she said, wryly. Shaking her head again, she continued. "It wasn't the Magic Stone that did this, although I could almost wish that it had. This is… something much different than what the stone does. Would you sit down? I don't intend to get a crick in my neck talking to you," she said. Blinking, Genki slowly sat on the ground, looking at her.
"If it wasn't the stone, then how… what…?" He trailed off, for once at a loss for words. Pixie shifted slightly, so that she was looking more directly at him, and frowned, her gray eyes thoughtful.
"My kind - pixie - have something of a disability. Though we have very powerful magic, we can't use much of it, not normally," she began.
"But that lightning attack! And that fire wall… and what about the shield and attack you used against the Scaled Jells?" he interrupted. Pixie shook her head.
"That lightning attack, and that fire wall are children's attacks; all pixie can do them. Mine are powerful through sheer repetition; I've used them thousands of times. I could cast them in my sleep! But, the spell I used to block the Jells with, and the spell that I used to blast them are much more advanced spells. A pixie alone can't cast them, because they take too much power - unless a certain condition is met, just trying would have killed me," she said.
"Yeah, I remember how tired you were after," he said slowly, and then blinked. "But wait, if just trying would have killed you, then…"
"Pixie have another… ability, although in some ways it too is a disadvantage. In order to use the strongest attacks and magics, we must…" She paused a moment, frowning. "…link ourselves to a human. Bond them, so to speak, and it was known as the Bonding," she said, the capital B clear in her voice. "Once that happens, both the pixie and human gain a number of benefits. If they are close enough to each other, they heal faster; share energy; can go longer without sleep or food. The human gains an ability to see far better in the dark than one not bonded; the pixie the ability to use those more advanced magics and attacks." She paused, and then looked at him. "They also… gain a sense of the other. Which direction their bonded is in, how far, what they are feeling; if they're near enough to each other, a limited ability to read the other's mind and… speak telepathically," she finished quietly. Speak telepathically…
"Like… you did while Tiger and I were climbing up here," he said, his eyes widening in understanding. Pixie nodded. "But… when did this happen? How?"
"Usually in order to bond, both the pixie and the human have to make a conscious, spoken choice to bond. But sometimes… very rarely, and under certain extreme circumstances, the bond has been known to form by itself. Both still would have had to have been willing in the first place, but the conscious choice doesn't have to be made," she said.
"The Scaled Jells - that super ray they fired at us. That's what did it, right?" he asked. Pixie nodded.
"Rather, it was me starting to cast the shield spell - I think." He blinked, as she blushed slightly. "It may have formed even a little before that; the simple truth is that I'm not entirely certain, because whenever it formed, I seem to have blocked it out. That's why neither of us felt it before now." She paused, and then sighed. "It's… also too late to break it. The bond would have become permanent about a month ago now. The only way to close it off now permanently - there are ways to close it away for short periods - would be if one of us died," she said. Genki nodded slowly.
"So, in other words, we're kinda stuck with each other now," he said. Pixie nodded.
"In simple terms, that about covers it," she replied. Genki thought about all she had told him for a moment, and then, slowly, grinned.
"I guess that means that now, your really are a part of our team, doesn't it?" he said. Pixie blinked, and stared at him in surprise.
"That's it? No questions? No complaints about being bonded?" she asked. Genki shook his head, and gave her a solemn look.
"Look… you said that, even without us both saying we wanted to be bonded, we still would have had to agree to be bonded to each other normally, right?" he asked. She nodded slowly. "So, that means you would have had to agree too, and I know that I would have agreed if you had suggested it - not to get away from the Jells, but because you're a friend. So, if we both would have chosen to bond, and we can't change it now, why not make the most of it?" he said, before grinning. "Besides, I'm already kinda getting used to feeling you back there. Actually, I'm kinda surprised that you aren't angry about it," he told her. She gave him a flat look.
"Who says that I'm not?" she asked blandly, but that little packet of her in the back of his head was actually a little relieved. Genki tapped his head, grinning.
"You do," he said. "Actually, I do have one question, now that I think about it," he said. She looked at him.
"Now that you and I are bonded, are you and Big Blue finally going to join the rest of us? We really could use your help," he said. Pixie looked at him a moment, but then slowly shook her head.
"I don't know Genki. I promised you that we would someday, but I just don't know if it's time yet," she said quietly. He nodded, and they were quiet for a moment, her sense… regretful. Then, "Speaking of the others, where are they?" she asked him.
"Oh! Man, I almost forgot why I came here in the first place," he said. He told her about the dream that he'd had; the Magic Stone pointing to her; running into Claira and splitting up, Genki and Tiger looking for her, and the others going with Claira.
"Something dark circling me?" she said, raising her eyebrows. He nodded.
"Yeah… The closer that it got, the weaker that you looked," he said. Pixie frowned a moment, and then shrugged, her sense unworried.
"It might have just been the bond finally starting to manifest itself. I remember a lot of bonded humans talking about getting a dream not long after first bonding that seemed to indicate their pixie being in danger, or if they were separated for long periods of time." She paused, gray eyes turning a little distant. "My grandmother thought that it might have something to do with the way we - pixie - usually have to sleep more, and take longer to heal when the one we're bonded to is a long way away." She stretched out a wing to illustrate her point. Though they were in far better condition than they had been when he'd last seen her, they still looked like they had a ways to go. "By now, I might be able to glide, when I should be able to fly already. On the other hand, now that you're here, given a couple days they should be fully healed again."
"I'm glad, Pixie," he said. She nodded slightly, and then tapped her own head.
Tiger glanced up idly from where he was laying, curled up by the fire, as Genki abruptly laughed at something. Not far away, Pixie's lips were twitching as though she were fighting off a laugh of her own. He looked over at Big Blue; the golem just shrugged at him, understanding as much as he did. Tiger sighed. In hindsight, it should have been fairly obvious what had happened. The extra scent - which he'd finally recognized as Pixie's, how Genki had known where she was without looking at the stone. Now that he could actually see Pixie, he could smell Genki's scent rolling off her in much the same way that her scent was coming off Genki. It was… odd, to say the least.
Since their arrival two mornings before, Genki and Pixie had had their heads together most of the time, speaking softly enough that Tiger only caught occasional snippets of what they were saying. Not that he understood most of what he did hear, but then, he didn't particularly care for the idea of being bound to somebody for the rest of his life, either. Still, he supposed it would have its advantages, especially for Genki. Faster healing, didn't need as much sleep… Tiger smirked slightly. Come to think about it, that wasn't much of a change.
"Were you two planning on letting us in on the joke?" he asked dryly. Genki and Pixie glanced at each other, and Pixie shrugged, grinning slightly.
"It was just an offhand thought about tricks and old dogs," said Genki. Tiger favored him with a scowl as they both chuckled.
"Next time, I won't ask," he muttered. He'd noticed a bit of a change in Pixie; she was… a bit more outgoing than she had been, although still not exactly a socialite. He blinked suddenly. More outgoing - more like Genki. And Genki had had a distance, a seriousness about him since the Jell attack - as Pixie had been. Shaking his head, Tiger grinned slightly. Again, in hindsight, it should have been obvious. A slight mixing of personalities, and in this case, for the better. Pixie not quite as withdrawn, and Genki a bit more serious. Maybe there was something to this bonding after all.
Yawning, Tiger shifted slightly, so that the fire warmed his other side. "Well, one of your quips beats one of Hare's any day," he said. Genki and Pixie glanced at each other again, and Genki grinned. Tiger decided to take his own advice, and didn't ask.
"Speaking of Hare, I wonder how he and the others are doing. You suppose that they've gotten Claira family free yet?" asked Genki.
"They should have reached the town by now. As long as Holly didn't let Hare do the planning, they're probably just waiting for us to arrive," answered Tiger.
"The family was caught in the town?" asked Big Blue, glancing at Pixie.
"Yeah, that's what Claira told us," said Genki.
"That town is a ruin. It's a wonder they survived to be captured," said Pixie quietly. Tiger looked at her, frowning. Sadness was rolling off her scent, and loneliness. "It has been for nearly two hundred years." Tiger blinked. How would she…? Genki beat him to the obvious.
"That's where you were unlocked, isn't it?" he said, and Pixie laughed, just a touch of bitterness in the sound.
"Born, Genki, born. Not all monsters around today were unlocked from Mystery Disks. Myself, my parents, their parents, and their parents before them were all born in that little burg." She abruptly grinned slightly. "You didn't realize that, did you? That we could be born just like humans." She shook her head. "I suppose that I should try to remember that you aren't from this world, and don't have monsters in yours."
"I think I understand something better now," he said, after a moment, and Pixie nodded. "Wait a minute - if you lived in that town before it was a ruin, and you said that it has been like that for nearly two hundred years… Just how old are you, Pixie?" he asked. Tiger groaned in spite of himself.
"Don't you know there are two questions you never ask a woman kid?" he muttered under his breath. Pixie just started laughing - so did Big Blue, to Tiger's surprise. Genki frowned.
"Hey, what did I say that's so funny?" he asked, looking around at them. After a moment, Pixie shook her head.
"You humans, so rooted in your idea of time and age… Depending on how you look at it, I'm younger than you are, Genki," she said, finally. "I'm two hundred and forty-three, but that's about the same as saying eight, because of our natural lifespan." He stared at her.
"But… But… You look like you're eighteen! Not even that, you look like-"
"-I'm not much older than you," she finished, nodding. "Appearances can be deceiving. I'd never have thought a twelve year old kid would have had the guts to punch me because I broke a promise," she pointed out, touching her left cheek lightly. Genki winced in spite of himself.
"I did apologize for that," he grumbled. Pixie nodded.
"Something else that I wouldn't have credited to a kid - or most monsters, for that matter," she said dryly. "In any case…" Abruptly, she paused, cocking her head. Genki turned slightly too, frowning. Listening for something. Tiger lifted his head; his hearing was better than theirs. For a moment, there was nothing but the crackling of the fire, and then…
"Tiger! Gen… Genki!" It was distant, but he was on his feet as soon as he heard it.
"That's Holly!" he said, turning toward the exit. Big Blue rose as well.
"I will check it out, Tiger," he said, before walking out. The heavy sounds of his footsteps faded quickly. For a moment, Tiger was about to go after him, but he knew that Big Blue was probably safer alone - with his coloring, he should be nearly invisible from below. He heard her call again; closer this time. Then a moment later, Big Blue called back, "Master Pixie, Genki, Tiger, come quickly, she is badly injured." Eyes widening, Tiger looked at Genki, and then dashed out of the cave and down the wall. He saw her right away; stumbling in their general direction. Her dress was torn, and a ribbon of blood ran down the side of her face. He ran to her; she collapsed over him as he reached her side.
"Holly!" came Genki's shout from the ledge above.
"Tiger… reached town… ambushed… made it away… but others…" She trailed off into ragged tears.
"Just hang in there, Holly," he said, carrying her toward the cliff wall, where Big Blue was climbing down. As he reached it, Big Blue stretched down and gently lifted her limp form to his shoulder, before climbing back up. Tiger followed him a bit more slowly. As the golem had picked her up, he'd gotten a good taste of her scent, and something about it seemed wrong. There was something… missing in it. It was Holly, but… They reached the ledge, and Big Blue carefully set her down. Pixie knelt beside Holly, frowning.
"There's something strange about these wounds," she said, just loud enough that Tiger could hear her. Holly moaned in pain, as Pixie began to cast a healing spell. Something strange about the wounds… Frowning, Tiger sniffed at her again. The sent was Holly's… frightened, saddened, disoriented… but not in pain or injured. He growled deep in his throat, using a paw to break Pixie's spell off.
"That's not Holly," he said, scowling.
"What are you talking about Tiger, of course it's Holly, who else could it be!" exclaimed Genki. Tiger glanced at him.
"Her scent is Holly's, but it's not injured. This isn't Holly," he said. Genki opened his mouth to argue again, but then blinked at Pixie.
"Are you sure?" he asked. She nodded, as Tiger frowned.
"Who are you?" he growled, at Holly's double. She stopped moaning, and opening her eyes, smiled evilly. That expression was so wrong on Holly's face that he almost attacked right then, but Genki lightly touched his shoulder.
"Me?" she asked, her voice twisting just slightly from the real Holly's gentle tones. "I'm anybody I want to be!" she finished, before her form suddenly writhed, twisting, changing and growing. Pixie scowled, jumping back.
"Doppelganger!" she hissed, raising her hands to cast a spell. The doppelganger swung out a huge arm, knocking her aside to bounce off the wall. Tiger froze, recognizing who the doppelganger was changing into.
"More than just a normal Doppelganger," he boomed, with a sinister laugh. "I have sampled the Master himself."
Genki stared in disbelief, as what had been Holly grew, and became Moo. Pixie raised her hands to cast a spell, and he contemptuously swatted her away. Genki staggered, catching a backwash of pain through the bond as she was hit and then again, as she bounced off the stone wall to land in a heap on the ground. Big Blue bellowed, and grabbed the doppelganger, attempting to crush him; Genki recovered from the phantom hits and charged him, jumping up to attack. The doppelganger twisted, lifting Big Blue's enormous weight behind him, and Genki ended up bouncing harmlessly off the golem's back.
Bellowing again, Big Blue set his feet, and strained with all his might. Slowly, the Moo doppelganger was lifted from the ground, though he struggled against it. There was a sound of stone under enough stress to shatter it, and then with an abrupt heave the golem had raised the doppelganger over his head. Turning deliberately, Big Blue shifted and moved to toss him off the ledge. Before he could, though, the doppelganger morphed again, flowing down the golem's arms to the ground. Caught off guard by the sudden change of weight, he lost his balance and fell forward landing with a crash just short of going off the ledge. The doppelganger began to turn back into Moo.
"Blizzard!" Tiger's ice attack slammed into the half-formed doppelganger, freezing it solid. After a moment, though, a crack appeared in the ice. Genki tensed, ready to attack, but before he could a fireball crashed into it. The doppelganger was blasted back into the rock wall.
"Let's see how you like getting slammed into a wall," growled Pixie, as she limped over to Genki.
"Are you alright, Pixie?" he asked. She nodded slightly, keeping her eyes on the staggered doppelganger.
"I twisted my ankle again, but I'll live," she said, as the doppelganger shook off the hit and slowly began to reform into a panting double of Pixie. Pixie raised her hands, spell energy crackling into life. "Had enough?" The doppelganger took a few more breaths, before snarling suddenly.
"If I can't capture you, then I'll kill you all right here, my troops know enough to take Holly and the others to Master Moo!" she yelled, as she raised her own hands and laughed. "DIE!"
In the back of his mind, Genki registered Pixie's shock and surprise at the same time the doppelganger began to cast the spell that she had used against the Scaled Jells. Tiger launched a torpedo attack at her, but the doppelganger just let it hit her, laughing even as she fell, finishing the spell. For a split second, he saw the energy gather into a glowing silver-teal ball as it had when Pixie had cast it. Then Pixie, standing beside him, shoved him hard enough that he went off the cliff, only just barely managing to grab onto a vine before he fell too far. The cliff face jumped like a struck bell, as above him the spell went off, and it was all he could do to hold onto the vine.
Quite abruptly, his sense of Pixie was severed.
The cliff stopped trembling, and the light faded away above him. Stomach twisting into knots, Genki scrambled to find some steadier hand and footholds, and climbed back up as quickly as he could to the ledge. Hoping against hope that he wouldn't find what he was certain he would. Praying that it would be different.
If the sudden severing of his bond to Pixie hadn't been proof enough, then the four Lost Disks he found, as he pulled himself up and over the edge, could leave no doubt.
Genki stared at them numbly for a moment, mechanically reaching out and touching the Disk that stood where Pixie had stood, where he himself had stood only moments before… Before Pixie had pushed him off. An eerie sense of déjà vu came to him, as he remembered only two days before, when he and Tiger had found the fake disks. This time, he knew, there would be no Tiger to show him that they were only wood, not real.
Tiger was one of the Lost Disks, this time.
"No… It's not fair," he mumbled softly. Tiger, Lost. Big Blue, Lost. Pixie… His heart wrenched, as he shouted, "It's not fair!" His knees suddenly buckled under him, and he felt his eyes start to water, as he punched at the ground. "This isn't right, it's not the way that it should be." Genki looked up at Pixie's disk again, and lightly touched it. "It's my fault," he said softly, as his tears slowly began to fall, staining the stone. "It's my fault, not hers!" he shouted, and then finished in a hoarse whisper, "Somebody help me, please…"
Under his shirt, the Magic Stone stirred.
Holly sighed in frustration, and looked around at her companions. Two of the doppelgangers had reformed into one big cage for them while the other two stood guard. At least they could move about, though; it was a small comfort. Slightly better was the fact that it turned out there was a real Claira, and that she and her parents were alive. The doppelgangers couldn't copy somebody that wasn't alive, apparently. She sighed, and looked toward the line of bluffs that was just barely visible in the distance. "Genki, Tiger, please… Don't believe her when she says that she's me…" Have came over, and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"They'll be alright Holly. You know those two," he said quietly. Holly nodded sadly.
"I wonder if this is why the stone wanted to go with them, if it knew that we were going to be captured," she said. Hare frowned a moment.
"I don't know, Holly. Maybe it did - we've never really split up like this before, have we?" he said. "Actually, I've been putting some thought into why Genki was able to use it. I think I may have figured out part of it, at least," he told her. She looked at him.
"I think it may have something to do with what everybody keeps saying about it. Golem, Tiger, Centaur, Falcon, even Pixie. All of them, at one point or another, have said he ha clear eyes," he said. Holly nodded slowly.
"Yeah, I know. It's kinda strange," she said. Hare nodded.
"Well, I got to thinking… Just what do clear eyes imply? One obvious one is an unclouded soul, and another might be purity of heart," he said, before frowning. "But I had another idea, too, one that isn't so obvious. Clear eyes imply innocence."
"Innocence?" asked Holly. Hare nodded.
"Yeah… Think about it. When it comes right down to it, how many times has Genki done something that somebody older - somebody that wasn't truly innocent anymore - probably wouldn't have done? Like when Pixie broke her promise to let her hostage go after we surrendered, and Genki hit her. You and I would never have done that, because we knew that she was probably lying, but Genki really believe that she'd let him go," he said. Holly nodded slowly.
"So the stone senses innocence? But then how could Moo have used it?" she countered. Hare shook his head.
"As strange as it may seem, in a way, he's innocent too… Moo was created to destroy, he never really had any other choice. It's all that he knows how to do," he said quietly. Holly blinked, and frowned in thought. As unsettling a thought as it was, it was true. Moo was… innocent. "Maybe the stone reacts to that innocence," he finished.
Before she could reply, the ground suddenly began to shake, jumping under her feet so suddenly that she stumbled into Hare. "Earthquake??" she exclaimed, as the earth jumped again, tolling like a bell, knocking them both down. A moment later, Golem's huge hand came down and scooped them up, holding them safely above ground. Slowly, the tremors began to fade away, but they hardly noticed it. Their eyes were turned to the line of bluffs visible in the distance.
A pillar of flames had appeared, shooting higher and higher into the sky, the base of it appearing to be rising from the bluffs. Holly's heart stopped, for a long moment, as she and Hare looked at each other. Genki! Tiger! The ground began to rumble again, although not as violently as before - to the contrary, it seemed almost to be resonating to something. Then suddenly Suezo gasped.
"It… can't be," he breathed, his single eye wide as it could go. Holly looked at him.
"What is it, Suezo? What do you see?" she asked. Suezo didn't answer her, only stared on in awed disbelief.
"Look!" exclaimed Hare, pointing. Holly turned, and felt her own jaw drop.
Spreading its wings from the pillar of fire was the Phoenix.
Moo turned slowly, as he felt his ancient enemy awaken, and looked to the south, where he could feel her. "Has she found you? Have you awoken so soon, my 'old friend?' Has the time truly come again, now?" he laughed.
After a long moment, the sense of the Phoenix faded away, as though she had returned to sleep, and he turned back to his brooding. No, now was not yet the time for their final battle. They both still had pieces to play.
Pixie opened her eyes slowly, wondering why she felt so very strange, and looked around. Not far away Tiger was standing up, shaking his head as if confused, and Big Blue was frowning, looking down at his hands. She sat up carefully, shaking her own head and frowning. The last she could remember, she'd pushed Genki off the ledge, hoping that he'd catch... She paused, blinking, as she saw him laying beside her, the Magic Stone gripped tightly in his hand. He was breathing, though, and his sense was…
Pixie blinked again. She couldn't sense him. Even if he was unconscious, she should be able to feel something, but all she felt was emptiness - and to her surprise, a pang of loneliness. She was alone in her own mind again. But… that wasn't possible, unless one of them had died… In her mind, a few images played themselves back. She pushed Genki over the edge, and then the doppelganger's spell crashed into her… and then she'd woken up with this strange feeling and Genki out cold beside her, the bond apparently broken. After a long moment, she reached down and touched her ankle, expecting to jump at a burst of pain, but all she felt was the cool softness of her own skin. It had been healed, though she'd only twisted it a few moments before. Abruptly, she noticed that the sun was nearly to its setting point; hadn't it been just past noon, when they'd fought? She felt her mouth dry.
What had happened to them?
Genki stirred, and weakly looked up at her. Slowly, he smiled. "Pixie… You're… alright…" Then, he passed out again.
"Would somebody mind explaining to me what exactly just happened, and why I feel… like I'm younger than I was this morning?" asked Tiger slowly. She started, and stared at him. Like he's… younger? That strange feeling slowly began to focus, to make more sense. She felt… there seemed no other way of describing it. She felt… younger than she had before… before the spell had hit them, and they'd all blacked out. Or had they blacked out? Had something happened to them?
Had they become Lost Disks, and Genki and the stone had somehow brought them back? It would explain the breaking of the bond, and that strange, youthful feeling… After a long moment, she rose, picking up Genki as she did, and led Tiger and Big Blue back into the cave.
A few hours later, Genki slowly began to wake up, and looked around as if confused. Pixie glanced up at him in silence, otherwise remaining motionless. Tiger was asleep by the fire, and Big Blue at the entrance, keeping watch for any more Baddies. In her hand, the Magic Stone was cool, giving no indications that it was anything but the smooth, green stone it looked to be, but now, she had her suspicions. She didn't know what had happened that day, but she thought that she had a good idea. Pixie gave Genki a few more moments to wake up, as she thought about how strange it felt to not be able to feel him the back of her head. Maybe it had been for only a few days, but… She'd gotten used to it, odd as it felt to admit it. Finally though, she cleared her throat, and he turned to her, surprised and relief in his eyes.
"Pixie… you're alright! And Tiger - wait, where's-"
"Big Blue is up keeping watch, Genki," she told him, and he relaxed visibly. She lightly tossed the Magic Stone to him, and he blinked at her in surprise. "When we came to, you were out cold beside me, holding onto that like your life depended on it," she said. For a moment, he looked at her, eyes far off as he remembered.
"When I climbed back up after you pushed me off, I found four… Lost Disks," he said. She nodded slowly, as he confirmed part of what she'd already guessed. Then, for a time, they truly had been dead, or as good as. That was why the bond had broken.
"I thought that might have happened. The bond is gone," she said quietly. Genki blinked, and then nodded.
"That's why I feel so weird," he said. "I remember… feeling it being severed, now." He paused suddenly, frowning. "I can't remember what happened, after finding the Disks. It's just… a blank," he told her. Pixie looked at him a moment, and then shook her head. If she was right…
"It's not important, Genki. We're all alright, after all, aren't we?" she said. Whether she was right or not, the fewer that knew, the better, because even the suspicion would put him in far greater danger than he was in now. She grinned at him slightly. "Looks like your dream came true after all, and you got your chance to save Big Blue and I," she said, and silently added again. She paused, and then frowned. "But, if that doppelganger was copying Holly, then they've been captured. Your friends need help, now." Genki started.
"I've got to go help them!" he exclaimed, standing, and going over to Tiger. If she was lucky, he wouldn't put any thought into what had happened, now, just assume that the stone had exhibited another of its seemingly endless powers. Pixie stood, as Genki shook Tiger awake.
"Finally woke up, eh kid?" he said, as he stood up and stretched out. "It's about time." Genki grinned at Tiger.
"Like you weren't asleep just now, either," he said. Tiger smirked at him.
"Listen," said Pixie. "When doppelgangers copy somebody, they learn everything - and I do mean everything - about them, except what happened in the last two weeks or so."
"So if the ones holding Holly and the others try copying them, we'll know which is which by asking them about something that happened in the last couple weeks - like when we fought the Melcarba," said Genki, understanding. Pixie nodded.
"Right," she said. "We'd better get started, then, if you want to get there before they learn about that, too." Tiger and Genki both started, and stared at her.
"You're coming with us?" asked Genki in surprise. Pixie smiled slightly.
"You and Tiger alone can't free them all," she said, and then paused. "And… I wouldn't be much of a friend, if I didn't help," she finished, after a long moment. Funny… she thought to herself. I would have thought that would be a lot harder to say. Genki gave her a wide smile.
"Thanks, Pixie," he said. She nodded slightly.
"Yeah, well… If it comes down to a fight, if they get hit hard enough, they fall back into their natural form. When they're in that state, they can be frozen," she said. Tiger nodded.
"Between your magic and my attacks, we should be able to freeze them all; there can't be very many of them," he agreed. Genki grinned.
"Lightning!" Holly started, as their cage shuddered under the sudden attack and stared in surprise as Pixie swooped down, launching a volley of ball lightning. Staggered, the doppelgangers that had formed themselves into their cage began to lose their shape. A moment later, Big Blue, Tiger and Genki rushed out, Tiger and Big Blue each taking down one of the two guards. Taken by surprise, they didn't have time to react, and had to fall back. Their cage melted away, and laughing, they ran to Genki.
"Genki, Tiger! You're safe!" exclaimed Holly, as she reached him. Genki grinned.
"It'll take more than a doppelganger to slow us down, right Tiger?" he said, laughing. Pixie dropped lightly to the ground beside them, wings folding up as she did.
"Can the five of you fight?" she asked. Hare nodded, as the doppelgangers finally began to recover, and started to change. One grew into a twin of Golem, and immediately started toward them. The real Golem looked at Big Blue, and they nodded at each other; Big Blue moved to intercept the fake while Golem took up a protective stance over Claira and her family.
A second became a sneering Genki, and beside him another turned into Tiger. The last wavered for a moment, and then settled on Hare's form. Genki glanced at them, and said softly, "If we get mixed up, as a question about the Melcarba - they don't know what's happened to us in the past couple weeks." They nodded, as he skated forward to meet his twin, Hare and Tiger close on his heels.
The ground shuddered, as the two golem squared off. The fake frowned at Big Blue, and then started coming apart in preparation for a Tornado attack. Big Blue drew back with one huge fist, and then slammed it solidly into the fake's chest. Only half separated, the fake was thrown backwards, shivering as it flew and changing back into the jell-like state that seemed to be its natural form. Beside her, Pixie raised her hand as it started to reform.
"Freeze Arrow!" A sphere of icy blue energy formed, and then streaked toward the doppelganger. Striking it while it was only half-formed, the spell froze the doppelganger solid. Pixie nodded. "One down. They can't stand being frozen," she said. Holly nodded.
"Pixie… did you see the Phoenix yesterday, during that earthquake?" she asked. Pixie glanced at her, but shook her head.
"No. We were too busy trying to stay on our feet and fight off the Doppelganger Captain," she said, in a tone that made it clear that was the only answer Holly would get. After an awkward moment, Holly nodded, and turned back to the last three fights. I wonder what she knows, and why she doesn't want to talk about it? Could she know why the Phoenix appeared yesterday? Frowning, she made a mental note to ask Genki and Tiger after this was over.
As she thought of the two, one of the Tigers growled and then launched a Torpedo attack at the other. It slammed into him, and he was thrown back, bouncing off a partly crumbling wall and losing his shape for just a moment. Tiger roared, flinging a blizzard attack at the doppelganger, and the second was frozen. Not far away, Hare landed a solid shot on his double's jaw, and then followed that up with an uppercut, knocking him down. He struggled to get up a moment, and then flickered, melting down to jell-form. Pixie raised her hand, and froze it.
They turned to Genki and his double, who were rolling around on the ground, punching and kicking each other as best they could. How are we supposed to tell them apart? she asked herself. "Stop, both of you!" she shouted. "We've got you beat, there isn't any need for this!" After a moment, they separated, both bruised and breathing hard. The one nearer to her pointed.
"That's the fake, Holly!" he said. The other Genki sighed, and shook his head.
"Do you have any idea how pointless it is to do that? After all, I have proof that I'm the real Genki," he said, reaching into his shirt and grinning. "Because I'll bet you can't copy this!" he finished, pulling out the Magic Stone. The double stared, as he patted at his chest in alarm.
"How did you get that off me!" he exclaimed. Holly frowned. It was almost certainly proof that the nearer Genki was the fake, but with all the rolling around that they'd been doing… Apparently, Pixie had the same idea.
"Genki… why don't you tell us where you found Big Blue and I?" she asked, looking at him. The nearer Genki grinned abruptly, and nodded.
"Better ask the fake first, because I don't want him to get the right answer from me," he replied. The Genki with the stone frowned.
"I found you in your cave, at the bluffs," he replied. Tiger growled low in his throat, as the other Genki laughed.
"In the first cave Tiger and I checked, we found two Lost Disks, fakes, that Pixie and Big Blue had left to fool Moo's troops into thinking that they were dead if they came looking for her. But Tiger realized that they were fakes, and followed Pixie's scent up the wall to a second cave, where you really were," he said, grinning at his double in triumph. Pixie nodded, smirking.
"And what did I say, to the first thing you said?" she asked. Genki's grin grew even wider.
"You laughed, and said that sometimes you forget that I really am just a kid," he replied. As he finished, the fake scowled, and turned to run. On his second step, both Pixie and Tiger's ice spells crashed into him. The real Genki walked over, and plucked the Magic Stone from his double's frozen hand. Then he turned back to them, grinning. "So much for the mighty doppelgangers!" That broke the tension, as they regrouped, laughing. Still, as Genki carefully handed the Stone back to her, she had to wonder… Why had the Phoenix appeared? And how?
And why did Pixie not want to talk about it?
Genki glanced up, as Holly sat down beside him, smiling. The real Claira and her family were not far off, sleeping, as were the rest of his friends. Big Blue and Golem had carried the frozen doppelgangers to the river; eventually they would thaw out, but by then they'd be so far down the river that they'd never catch up. "Hey Genki," she said quietly. Tiger, Pixie and he had decided not to tell the others about what had happened on the bluff; not yet, anyway.
"Hi Holly," he replied. They had also decided not to tell them about his brief bonding to Pixie. Since it was gone now, there was no reason to. "What's up?" he asked. She smiled at him slightly.
"Nothing, really. I just noticed that you were awake still, and thought that you might like a little bit of company. It's been kinda a hectic few days, hasn't it?" she said. Genki nodded.
"Yeah, I guess that it has. Pixie in trouble, you guys in trouble… You got to kinda wonder about the timing of it all though. I mean, if Tiger and I hadn't split off to look for Pixie, we all would have been caught. But at the same time, Pixie wouldn't really have been in danger, if we hadn't gone to her." He paused, shaking his head. "It makes me kinda wonder how things might have been different, if we'd made different choices along the way, you know?" Holly nodded.
"Sometimes I wonder too," she said quietly. "I wonder what would have happened to Suezo and I if you hadn't been pulled into this world. I wonder if this all might have been avoided, if…" For a second, she paused, and then shook her head slightly. "…if Moo had never surfaced. But, that's not what happened. Moo did surface, and you were pulled into this world," she said. Genki nodded.
"I know, and like I've said before, although I miss my mom and my friends, if I had the choice today of going back and staying here, I'd stay here. I think that this is where I really belong," he said quietly. Holly smiled at him, and they sat quietly for a few minutes, thinking.
"Do you think that Pixie and Big Blue will join us, now?" she asked, after awhile. Genki looked at her a moment, but then, finally, shook his head.
"Not yet. But they will, someday. Pixie promised me that they would," he told her. She blinked at him.
"She gave you a promise?" she asked. Genki nodded, looking at the fire and remembering.
"She promised me, and I trust her. This time, she'll keep her word, I know it. We just have to be patient, and be ready to welcome them when they do come," he said quietly. "After all… When we beat Moo, if humans and monsters still don't trust each other, then we haven't really won yet. If we have to take the first step, and show blind trust, then that's what I'll do." Holly nodded after a moment.
"You won't be alone," she said quietly. He nodded, and then looked around.
"Hey… Where is Pixie, anyway?" he asked. He couldn't see her sleeping anywhere near, although Big Blue was a shadowed mass under an over hang. Holly frowned a moment.
"I think that she said something about her grandmother before walking off. That was a couple hours ago, though," she said. Genki rose quietly. "Where are you going?"
"Just for a walk, Holly. I'll be back in a little bit," he said. Holly paused, and then nodded.
"Say hello to Pixie for me," she said quietly. Genki nodded, and then turned, moving away from the small camp. He had kind of a guess of where she would be; earlier Holly had told him about the statue that looked like her but wasn't. Pixie had said that this was the town she'd been born in… maybe that statue was her grandmother. He shook his head. He was probably reaching just a bit, he knew, but it was his best guess.
The moonlight shone down through the decayed streets, giving him plenty of light to see by. He looked around, wondering what the town had really looked like, when Pixie had been young and growing up here. She hadn't really said much about it, like she hadn't cared, but… When she'd first told them that this was where she'd been born, her sense had been a maze of pride, pain, fear and fury. He wondered abruptly if this was where she'd been taken as a slave… Genki sighed. Having come to this world, and seeing and hearing of the things that humans sometimes did, he found himself wondering sometimes who the monsters really were. Was it the various creatures that humans had created and then exploited, or humans themselves? He wasn't as sure of the answer now as he once might have been.
His thoughts slowly turned to his own home. Was his mother looking for him? His friends? What was happening back there? Or had any time passed at all there? Would he get back to find everything just as he'd left it? He sighed, shaking his head. He hoped that they were all alright. Abruptly he grinned slightly. At least he didn't have to go to school.
Genki slowed down, as he reached the square that Holly had described to him. He saw the fountain that Holly had been talking about right off, but no Pixie. Slowly, he walked over to it. Holly had been right, the statue really did look like Pixie. She was older, though… her face a bit more gentle. She looked… like a grandmother, and made him think of his own grandmother, who had passed away a few years before.
Looking around again, he sighed softly, before turning to head back to the camp. As he did, he heard a soft sound from the other side of the fountain. Pausing, he slowly walked around the pool. Genki blinked, as he saw Pixie sitting on the ground, knees drawn up to her chest and head down, slowly rocking herself back and forth. On the verge of announcing himself, he suddenly thought better of it. Somehow, he didn't really think that she wanted to talk at the moment. Quietly, he turned to leave again, but managed to kick up a partly overturned cobblestone as he did. Pixie's head shot up as it clattered away, eyes wide in surprise as Genki froze. He felt his own eyes widen, as he registered the tears on her cheeks. Pixie had been… crying? The very notion of it caught him completely off guard… because he would never have thought of her as somebody who would let herself cry, even in private. He felt his heart sink. And now he had intruded on that privacy… Until that point in time, he'd never understood what a person meant when they said they wished they could melt through a crack in the sidewalk.
They stared at each other for a moment, and then, to his surprise, Pixie sighed, shaking her head. "She would have to send him as an answer, wouldn't she?" she muttered softly, making no move to wipe away her tears. Genki slowly unfroze, and shook his head.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you, Pixie. I'll just go back to-" Pixie shook her head, and, to his surprise, patted the ground beside her.
"No, Genki… To tell you the truth, I've been half expecting you," she said, her gray eyes flickering up to the statue for a split second. "Do you intend to stand there all night, or are you going to sit?" she asked, patting the ground again. He blinked, but slowly lowered himself to the ground next to her.
"What did you mean, 'send him for an answer?'" he asked quietly, curiosity getting the better of him at least. Pixie glanced at him, and then looked upward.
"When I was a little girl, and this village was still alive, my grandmother and I would sit here, under this old fountain, and watch for shooting stars at night. I never got tired of it, not really. We'd sit here, until I fell asleep from exhaustion." She paused, shaking her head. "One night, my entire family came out here. It was a special night, you see; there was going to be a meteor shower. The sky was clear, and it was a new moon, so there was nothing to block the view. The whole town was out; there was dancing, singing; a couple of the wealthier families even set up a potlatch."
"The shower started not long after dusk, but nobody was watching it. We were too busy fighting. The Slavemasters had come, to take us as slaves. They had planned it for when we were the most off guard." Genki glanced at her, as her voice cracked slightly. She was still looking skyward, but her tears had started again, and one hand had clenched into a tight fist. "It didn't take them long to overwhelm us. Most of the pixie weren't bonded, and the few who were, like my grandmother and mother, were killed outright. The Slavemasters had known exactly when and how to hit us. The last I saw of my family, my father and sister, they were being dragged in the opposite direction as me."
"Did you ever find them again?" he asked quietly. She shook her head.
"My sister, never. But after Moo freed us, I did find my father, or at least where he'd become a Lost Disk. I also found out, from the few villagers there that were still alive, how the Slavemasters had known all that they had. The man my grandmother-" her voice cracked again, and she shuddered slightly, as though fighting to keep control of herself "-had been bonded to, somebody I'd known all my life, had told them." She paused a moment, shivering, and then continued. "I swore that I'd never trust a human again, after that," she finished quietly. Genki was quiet a moment, not sure of what to do.
"Is… that why you blocked out the bond until it was too late to sever it? Because of what he did?" he asked, finally. She nodded ever so slightly.
"Probably. Somewhere, I knew that you wouldn't do the same, so instead of acknowledging it, I blocked it out until I had no choice." She laughed bitterly. "And it was still severed, in the end." Genki looked at her, and then took a deep breath. He knew that he didn't have anything that could compare to that, but…
"When I was eight, my grandmother passed away. I remember asking my mother at the funeral how come she didn't wake up. My mother told me that she was taking a different kind of nap than what I would take, one where she was in a special dream that let her watch over me." He paused, and smiled sadly. "It took me awhile before I realized that meant that she wouldn't be waking up ever again, but whenever it really got me sad, I remember what Mom told me. I mean, I know now that she's dead, not asleep, but that doesn't really matter… because as long as I remember her, she's always gonna be with me," he said. Slowly, she looked down from the stars and at him, curiosity in her gray eyes.
"Don't you miss them? Your family, and your world?" she asked him. He grinned.
"Of course I do, Pixie, just like you miss your family. But like my grandma, as long as I remember them, they're always with me, and I know that they'd be proud of me, if they knew what I'm doing here," he said. Pixie looked away, shaking her head.
"If my family knew all that I've done, they'd never look at me again," she said bitterly. Genki frowned.
"That's not true, Pixie. They wouldn't be your family, if they didn't forgive you - that's one of the most important things about a real family. They forgive you for mistakes, and besides… I don't think you ever really wanted to hurt anybody. Nobody could really blame you for what happened, after what you went through," he told her. "And… I've been thinking. If you were a Lost Disk, and then the Stone brought you back, doesn't that mean that you've… I dunno, been reborn? Given a second chance? You wouldn't have been given that, if you didn't deserve it," he said. She blinked, and looked at him.
"A second chance?" she asked, a touch of wonderment in her voice. Then she shook her head again. "Nobody could believe in me enough for that, Genki. Not after the stains I've put on my hands, and soul," she said quietly, turning away from him. He was silent a moment, and then, slowly, placed his hand on her shoulder. She started, and looked at him.
"I believe in you enough," he said softly. She stared at him, and opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, he spoke again. "Pixie, will you bond with me again? I am willing, if you are." Pixie stared at him, disbelief in her gray eyes. She was silent for a long time, before answering.
"I…" she began, and then paused, swallowing hard and wiping away the sudden tears forming once again in her eyes. "I…"
Tiger yawned, and squinted against the early morning light. Holly was slowly going about fixing the morning meal, Hare was sleepily peering about, Golem and Big Blue were both thoughtfully chewing on stones, and Suezo and Moochi were still asleep. He blinked - where was Genki? He looked around again - oh, there he was, over talking with Claira, her family and Pixie. Yawning again, Tiger rose and walked over to them. Claira was staring up at Pixie with a sort of giddy awe- for that matter, so were her parents. As he got near, he caught the tail end of their conversation.
"There is a cave about a day north of here where you could stay for awhile. It has some food and water, and firewood in the cave for fire. Moo's forces don't patrol up there; the only reason those doppels were here was because Genki and his friends were on their way up," said Pixie.
"When you're ready to move on, head south, though the forest to the coliseum. Tell Centaur that we asked them to help you; they are our friends, you can trust them. When you reach the sea, Captain Horn will take you across. You'll find free humans there," added Genki. Claira's mother smiled gratefully, nodding.
"Thank you, for everything," she said, and then looked at Pixie. "My grandmother used to tell me stories about this town - she was born here. That's why we came… I hope that someday, the stories she told me will live here again." Pixie looked at her a moment, and then smiled slightly.
"Someday, they will," she said. Claira's mother nodded, and smiled in understanding.
"We should start moving, if we want to reach that cave before nightfall. Thank you for your help," said Claira's father. Then they turned, and started moving away, as Genki waved goodbye.
"Good luck!" he called. They disappeared around a street corner, and were gone. Genki and Pixie turned to each other. "They should be fine, if they lay low for a little while," he said. Pixie nodded.
"I'm surprised you sent them to Centaur. Even if you did defeat him, he still will be serving Gray Wolf and Moo," she said. Genki grinned.
"Didn't you say the same about yourself? They will help them… they have honor," he said. Pixie looked at him a moment, expression unreadable, and then nodded slightly in agreement. Genki grinned again, and then blinked, as they finally noticed Tiger. "Oh, hey there Tiger. Good morning," he said. Tiger nodded at them, and looked at Pixie.
"Speaking of my brother, do you know how far from his lair we are now?" he asked. Pixie nodded.
"Not very. If you keep moving like you have been, you will reach it in about two weeks. He won't be easy to defeat," she said quietly. Tiger nodded.
"I know. I'm the one who taught him," he replied. Pixie nodded - to his surprise, Tiger thought he saw a flash of sympathy in her gray eyes. Sympathy, from Pixie? Even knowing her better than he had a week before, it caught him off guard. He wouldn't have thought of Pixie as one to show emotions, even so faintly.
After an awkward moment, Genki said, "Come on you two, don't be so doom and gloom! We won, let's celebrate!" As his typical hyperactiveness started kicking in again, he jogged over to the main camp. As he got near, Suezo suddenly sat up; the two collided. Genki landed hard, catching himself on his elbow. "Ouch!" Tiger blinked, as beside him, Pixie winced and rubbed her own elbow - the same one that Genki had just landed on. He remembered that Genki had felt it when Pixie was knocked into the wall by the doppelganger - but the bond had been severed, hadn't it? He looked at her questioningly. She gave him a level gaze in return, but then the faintest ghost of a smile touched her lips and she nodded ever so slightly.
They had re-bonded?
Tiger glanced back over at his friends, and then started laughing, shaking his head. He should have seen that one coming. Holly and Hare looked at him in surprise, as he and Pixie came over and sat down near Genki. "What's so funny?" asked Suezo. Tiger glanced at Genki and Pixie, and then smirked.
"Well, I told you before Genki and I left not to let Hare do any planning without me around to get you out of trouble, and you wouldn't get caught, and look what happened," he said, glancing at Hare. The six foot tall rabbit frowned at him.
"I didn't see you too suspicious of Claira's doppelganger, Tiger. I thought you said you could smell a Baddie a mile away!" he taunted. Tiger paused for just a moment, and considered taking the bait, growling. Then he abruptly shrugged, and smirked.
"I had a cold," he replied. Hare, who had been ready with another quip was left with his mouth hanging open as the others laughed. Tiger smirked, as Holly started serving the meal.
"Well Holly, which way?" asked Genki. Holly grinned.
"Hang on, I'm checking. Maybe I ought to have you do this now," she replied, cupping the Magic Stone in her hands. It glowed for a moment, and then pointed north once again. Pixie, sitting on Big Blue's shoulder, nodded.
"We are going to head east; Claira's parents said that there might be other humans there," she said. Genki nodded, grinning.
"You know how to find us," he said. Pixie smiled slightly, and nodded.
"I do. Good luck, until next time," she replied, as Big Blue turned toward the rising sun and started walking away.
"Good bye Pixie, Big Blue! Stay safe!" they called. Genki smiled.
-Stay safe, Genki.-
-You too, Pixie.- he replied. Then he turned to his friends, grinning even wider. "O.K.! Let's go, come on, the Phoenix is waiting!"