Dragons, magic and mayhem galore!
And please, if you don’t like it, tell me why so I can improve.
As a light breeze rustled the leaves on the trees in the quiet green of the bamboo grove, a dazzling white light swam down gently from the clear sky, soon fading to give way to the figures of seven companions.
“I’m so tired,’ Tamara yawned exhaustedly to Liz as she stretched her arms to the sky,’ are you sure you couldn’t have just let me keep sleeping?”
“Why would you want to sleep when you can come and have fabulous, exciting adventures with us?” Liz muttered back, jade eyes wide and awake and loving every moment of this new adventure. Tamara yawned once more and glared enviously at Liz as she skipped on ahead energetically down the dirt path.
“Is she always this moody?” asked Riku as Liz bounced past, a smile lifting the corner of his lips as he saw Tamara frown sulkily.
“Only when she’s sleepy. Besides, her bad moods don’t last for long, and they’re hilarious!” Laughed Liz as she saw the look on Tamara’s face and continued to skip quickly out of firing range. She slowed down as she heard footsteps thudding behind her, and turned around to see Aqua leaning down with his hands on his knees, panting heavily.
“Geez Liz,’ he complained,’ do you have to skip so fast?”
“Wuss!” Liz sniggered as she stuck her tongue out him and kept on skipping.
“Oi!” yelled Aqua as he sprinted off to catch up with her.
As the two disappeared down the track, Riku casually dropped back to walk with Tamara, his hands stuck deep into his pockets.
“So,’ he said quietly,’ is Little Miss Sleepyhead in a bad mood, or am I imagining things?”
“I think you’re imagining things.” Tamara said, pushing him away irritably. Unfortunately, Riku grabbed her hand for balance as he fell, and she proceeded to collapse down on top of him. They stared uneasily into each others eyes for an instant as their lips edged subconsciously closer, and then hurriedly stood up and brushed the dirt from their clothes as Sora, Donald and Goofy walked into view. Trying to ignore the pink stain gradually working its way across her cheeks, Tamara parted with Riku and sprinted off down the track to find Liz. She located her standing by Aqua’s side next to the opening to a small bamboo grove, whispering to him quietly and motioning to the clearing next to them.
“Hey, what are you--” Tamara was cut off by Liz who motioned at her to be silent and then pointed uncertainly at the grove. In the middle of the clearing stood a warrior clad in green trimmed black armor, his black hair fixed into a bun behind his head with a strip of green silk. Next to him stood a large grey boulder, projected on which was a large, ferocious-looking shadow. The two looked as if they were talking, or maybe arguing.
“Is that a Heartless? What do we do now?” Donald asked quietly as he, Goofy and Sora caught up with them.
“I know,’ said Sora happily,’ lets get the jump on it!”
“Wait!” yelled Liz as she hung back with Goofy and Tamara.
“Shouldn’t we look before we leap?” Tamara exclaimed, finishing off Liz’s sentence.
The soldier emitted a girly, high pitched scream as he saw Sora running towards him, catching the shadow as it leapt into his hands and crouching down into a ball in fright.
Donald took one look at the creature in the warriors’ hands and gasped.
“Yeah, that’s my name,’ said the little red dragon with crimson scales and yellow whiskers,’ and you better leave before I get my dragon booty on you...” the dragons jaw dropped as he saw Donald and Sora, his eyes widening in shock.
“Sora,’ he muttered,’ Donald, Goofy?” Mushu muttered in shock as he jumped out of the warriors’ hands and walked towards them.
“You know them?” asked the soldier, his voice strangely feminine.
“Of course,’ Mushu said over his shoulder,’ I used to go get them out of all sorts of trouble.” He boasted as he leaned against Sora’s leg. Sora took a step to one side and Mushu lost his balance, toppling onto the ground as laughter echoed quietly around the grove.
“Something like that.’ Said Sora. ‘So, how do you know Mushu?”
“Mushu is my family’s guardian.” Muttered the soldier as he stood up and brushed the dirt from his armor. Tamara gave him an odd look, still not able to shake the feeling that something about him wasn’t right.
“We’re sorry,’ said Goofy apologetically, ‘we didn’t know we were borrowing someone as important as a family guardian!”
“Yeah,’ admitted Mushu smugly,’ and that puts you up to your eyeballs in debt to Ping here!”
Ping nodded shyly in agreement.
“Well, Ping, my name is Sora this is Donald, Goofy, Aqua, Riku, Liz and Tamara.” Sora said while doing the introductions.
“Nice to meet you all.” Said Ping as he nodded his head.
“You know,’ said Liz bluntly,’ the voice could be a bit deeper.”
Everyone stared at her, not sure what to think.
“You mean like this?” said Ping, lowering his voice an octave.
“Much better.” Said Liz, crossing her arms contentedly and smiling at the look of confusion plastered to Aqua’s face.
“What on earth are you talking about Liz?” he asked, totally perplexed.
“Well,’ said Tamara, ‘can’t you see that she’s a girl?”
“You noticed?” giggled Ping in a girly voice as all the boys stared in astonishment.
“How on earth did I miss something significant like that?!” Aqua mumbled to himself.
“Boys...” Liz muttered as she rolled her eyes.
“Honestly,’ Tamara whispered loudly to Liz, ‘boys are supposed to be good at checking girls out, but this lot can’t even get the gender right!”
Sora’s jaw dropped, and Riku was about to say something, but then thought better of it.
“So..... why are you dressed like a guy?” asked Tamara.
“I have come to take my fathers place in the army and restore my fathers honor.” Ping explained.
“Shan Yu has led his army across China, burning all the villages. So we must have everyone join the army to fight him. One man from every village must fight. My father was wounded in another war, so I ran away to take his place. Will you join with me? It might be easier for me to fit in if I’m with some guys like you.”
“Well,’ muttered Liz, ‘Sora is in debt to you, and I’d like to stay here a bit longer, so, I guess we’re coming with you!”
“Great!’ said Ping happily. ‘The camp is this way. Follow me!”
“In case it’s escaped your notice,’ Tamara muttered to Liz,’ Mulan’s dressed like a boy to join the army. How d’you think we’re going to get into the army?”
“Just wing it, I guess.”
After walking for a few minutes along the dirt track, the group came across a settlement of red trimmed white tents and wooden lookout towers.
“Remember,’ Mushu whispered in Mulan’s ear as they entered,’ manly.”
A tall man in red trimmed armor stood outside the largest tent, his hands hanging limply down by his sides. He saw the new arrivals and let his eyes hover on Liz and Tamara, then ignored them totally and directed his attention to Riku and Sora.
“Who are you,’ he said suspiciously,’ and what are you doing here?”
“My name is Riku,’ said Riku,’ and these are my friends; Sora, Donald, Goofy, Aqua, Liz, Tamara and Ping.”
“I take it that you boys want to join the army.’ said the man.’ I am General Shang, and I accept your offer. We need all the help we can get.”
Liz saw Shang looking over at the boys and Mulan and let a snort of laughter escape her throat, prompting the general to eye her off with obvious distaste.
“I’m sorry,’ he said coldly,’ but women are forbidden to join the army. It is against the law.”
“Why can’t we join?” Tamara said, becoming more outraged by the second.
“Because women don’t have what it takes to be in the army.”
Liz turned around and fixed her icy stare on a short man in blue trimmed armor, a black eye and a bulging stomach that was waddling towards them from behind one of the tents. The man met her gaze and immediately cringed, hesitating slightly as he walked forwards.
“Like I said,’ he added, gaining confidence again,’ women aren’t cut out for the army, they’re only good for cooking and cleaning.”
“You wanna bet?” said Tamara, her voice dangerously low as she balled her fists.
“Sir,’ said Ping quietly as she stepped in between the girls and the soldier,’ there is a loophole in the law that states that even though women are forbidden to join the army, they are not forbidden from being scouts.”
General Shang gave a second to think, then shook his head and sighed.
“Even though there may be a loophole that does not mean that they may join. I have enough scouts, I need skilled warriors.”
“But we are skilled!!” protested Tamara earnestly.
“Yeah,’ said Liz enthusiastically,’ put us up against any of your best warriors, and I guarantee that we can beat them.”
Tamara shot Liz a surprised look but went with the argument.
“It would be a dishonor to fight a woman.” Shang said stubbornly.
“You want us to prove ourselves, so give us a chance!” said Tamara pleadingly.
“Fine, fine, I will give you a chance,’ sighed Shang as Liz and Tamara high-fived each other excitedly,’ but on the condition that you will only be scouts.”
“Aswan, Twang! Get over here!” shouted the man in the blue tinged armor. Aqua could have sworn that he had felt the ground shake as two of the largest men he had ever seen in his life thundered over towards them from the other side of the camp.
“These are two of my best warriors,’ said Shang,’ defeat them and you may join the army.”
The man in the blue armor smiled wickedly as the two mountainous warriors and motioned to one of the left, then pointed a stubby finger at Liz.
“You can fight Aswan first, and your friend can fight Twang.”
Tamara stared as she felt her jaw drop as her nerve wavered.
“I can’t fight that guy,’ she moaned,’ he’s twice my size!”
“This is unfair and you know it!” said Riku as he stood defensively next to Tamara.
The little man smirked wickedly.
“Deal’s a deal. You fight them and win, you get to be scouts. It’s your choice.”
Liz took a deep breath and walked forwards, strangely optimistic and eager to prove herself. Aswan was definitely twice her size, with muscles on his arms and legs bulging out from under his green armor. She gulped as her nerve started to waver and stared up at him with uncertain eyes. He was still and stared impassively back.
“What’re you waiting for girlie?’ Aswan taunted gruffly.’ Chickening out already?!”
“C’mon Liz,’ yelled Aqua from behind her,’ you can beat him hands down!”
Liz grinned, and then laughed at the surprise on Aswan’s face.
“Bring it on” she yelled eagerly. Aswan rushed towards her, but she was too quick for him and she stepped nimbly out of the way. He tripped over his own feet and landed on the ground, then heaved himself up and charged at her again, fists clenched into balls. Liz ducked away from one of his punches then jumped and landed a kick on his stomach, sending him stumbling backwards. He regained his balance and charged at her again, but Liz sidestepped the attack once more and tripped him over. A pattern of dodge and chase slowly began to emerge as Liz swiftly evaded all of Aswan’s heavy punches, not even breaking a sweat as her opponents focus began to waver and give way to frustration. And then, it was all over as Aswan made one final, tired lunge, but failed miserably to get anywhere near Liz. He overbalanced and took a nose-dive to the ground, collapsing into an undignified heap.
“I... give up...” Aswan panted tiredly from the dirt.
General Shang and the man with the black eye both looked shocked as Liz waited for her opponent to stand up, shaking his hand as a gesture of good-will then stepping away from him, grinning with pride as she stood beside Aqua and put her hands on her hips, panting only slightly and not even red in the face.
“Unbelievable....” Shang muttered.
“A total fluke.” The man with the black eye said stubbornly, shying away from Liz as she looked over at him, disgust burning in her jade eyes.
“Tama, you’re up next.” Liz said hesitantly.
Tamara stepped forwards uncertainly, her whole body quivering gently.
“You don’t have to do this you know,’ said Riku urgently, grabbing her hand before she could go any further,’ you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“I have to,’ Tamara muttered quietly, allowing a shaky grin to lift the corners of her mouth,’ besides, if Liz can do it, then I can do it!”
Riku squeezed her hand before she walked off, forcing a smile to his lips.
“Be careful...” he muttered quietly. Tamara shook her hand loose, stared into his bright sapphire eyes, then took a deep breath and turned and walked towards Twang.
Twang flexed the muscles under his yellow armor menacingly and grinned at her.
“C’mon, baby,’ said Twang threateningly,’ hit me with your best shot.”
It took all of Riku’s strength not to bash Twangs’ face into an unrecognizable mess right there.
“What did you just call me?!” said Tamara incredulously, the fear slowly melting from her voice.
“What’s wrong, baby,’ taunted Twang,’ scared of a little name?”
“I wouldn’t call her that if you want to keep your face in tact!” shouted Liz from the sidelines.
“I’m not taking orders from you!” said Twang impatiently, beginning his assault as he hurried towards Tamara. A determined gleam appeared in Tamara’s eyes as she stood still, her golden hair swaying slightly in the breeze. Panic filled Riku’s mind, only allowing room for one other thought in the mental mêlée the thought of fascination at why Liz was standing there so calmly when her dearest friend was in terrible danger of being squished.
“Tamara!!!!” he cried in panic as Twang swung a fist in her direction. And then Tamara jumped, high into the air, her feet landing on Twangs shoulders and digging the heel of her boot painfully in between the gap in his armor at the shoulder blades. Tamara pushed her weight forwards and jumped off Twang’s back as he crashed to the dirt with a loud thud, landing nimbly on her feet and backing off slowly.
“That’s what you get for calling me baby.” She muttered, a grin stretching across her face as her friends cheered wildly. The short man with the black eye went red in the face with anger and embarrassment, giving into the painful and humiliating defeat at the hands of the girls as he stalked off quietly, stomping his feet and muttering to himself bad-temperedly all the way back to the tents. Shang watched he stalked off, amusement just beginning to show on his face as he stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“I am impressed,’ he finally admitted,’ you are both strong fighters and I will decide to honor my bargain to you. Welcome to the army.”
Liz and Tamara shrieked with excitement and jumped up and down excitedly, as Shang shook his head and watched on.
“So, what do we do now?” Tamara asked Shang as she began to calm down a bit.
“You and your friends can go ahead of my troops and I, up the mountainside to our camp at the small village near the summit. You are to make sure that there is no danger, and then you are to report back to me immediately. Is that understood?”
“Yes SIR!” Tamara and Liz chorused in time, saluting Shang stiffly then loosing their newly gained self control and bursting into hysterical giggles.
“C’mon, let’s go!” shouted Sora happily as he headed out of the camp.
Liz grabbed Tamara’s hand as they walked and sprinted off past Sora, dragging her friend behind her as she widened the gap between them and their friends.
“I need to talk to you,’ Liz explained briefly,’ and without Riku!” she muttered as her friend looked back at Riku pleadingly. After they were well in front of the group and well out of hearing range, Liz stopped in the middle of the dirt path and dragged Tamara into a little bamboo clearing, and then spun around with her hands placed accusingly on her hips.
“Do you like Riku?” Liz blurted out. She watched as Tamara looked shocked, then held her hands to her face as her cheeks darkened to a rosy shade of cherry.
“Yes.” Tamara whispered quietly. Liz smiled and jumped up and down hyperactively.
“I knew it!’ she gushed. ‘I did it, I did it, I did it! I figured out you were crushing on him! Go me!”
Liz pressed her friend for further information, not noticing that Riku had just reached the fringe of the bamboo grove behind them and had now walked straight into hearing range.
“Soooo,’ she pressed on eagerly,’ why do you like him?”
“Well,’ said Tamara slowly, ‘he’s sweet, caring, cute, and he makes me feel safe.”
Riku was just about to call out to the girls when he stopped dead in his tracks. He silently crept closer and leaned against the wall of bamboo, the guilt of spying on them welling up uncomfortably in a deep pit at the very bottom of his stomach. He strained his ears as he heard Liz speak once again, trying to catch everything she was saying.
“You should tell Sora about this you know.”
Riku’s heart thudded to a halt and then began to sink slowly down his ribcage.
“What?’ said Tamara’s voice urgently. ‘NO! No, no, no, I can’t tell him that I love him, he wouldn’t understand.”
Riku couldn’t take it any more, he had heard enough. He leaned away from the clearing, then turned around and took off silently back down the earthen track.
“But Sora’s his best friend!’ continued Liz, unaware that Riku had ever been listening. ‘Maybe he can give you some pointers on what Riku likes and all kind of that stuff.”
“No,’ said Tamara defiantly, ‘that would just be way, way too awkward. Let’s just keep this a secret, okay? Just between you and me.”
She began to walk back to the path, quickly continuing up the mountainside before Liz could say another word or ask any more difficult questions. Riku waited a few minutes for them to disappear then reached the spot where the two girls had been talking and stopped and sat on the path, unaware that Aqua had finally managed to catch up to him.
“You alright?” Aqua asked, placing a hand on Riku’s shoulder compassionately, and then recoiling as Riku turned his head, his silver fringe falling in front of eyes that flashed bright amber for a fleeting instant before returning to their normal sea blue.
“I’m fine.” The older boy muttered through gritted teeth as he stood up and began to keep walking, his hands balled tightly into fists. As Aqua stared in shock at Riku’s retreating figure, the truth began to slowly dawn on him.
Riku was jealous.
“We will stop in this village and wait here for the night,’ Captain Shang shouted to his troops as a small, snow-capped village on the mountainside came into view, ‘soldiers, make camp.”
Tamara shivered as the cold air swept through her thin sleeveless coat and seeped into her bones, purposely edging closer to Riku as she watched Liz wrap her long plait around her neck like a scarf and then dart off ahead into the snow.
“It’s really pretty here, don’t you think?” said Tamara sweetly as a white snowflake drifted gently past her nose. Riku grunted in reply and kept walking forwards, stalking off to lean against a snowcapped tree, the exact same one that Liz had spontaneously decided to climb.
Tamara followed, also unaware of Liz sitting quietly in the topmost branches and staring vacantly out into space, and stood in front of Riku with her hands on her hips.
“Are you okay?” she asked, concern dripping from her voice as she tried to make eye contact.
“What do you care?’ Riku said, contempt heavily soaking his voice as he looked away. ‘Shouldn’t you be off with Sora right now?”
Tamara’s eyebrows slanted as she gave him a surprised look.
“What’s Sora got to do with any of this?”
“Because Sora’s just soooo much nicer than me,’ said Riku as sarcasm flowed thickly from his voice, ‘and he’s sweet, he’s cute, he--”
Riku was cut off as Tamara gasped with crushed dignity.
“You heard me!’ She accused. ‘You heard me talking to Liz! That was a private conversation!!!”
“That’s not the point.” Riku shouted, sanding up and leaning forwards towards Tamara as Aqua walked towards them. Aqua looked at the bickering friends with a puzzled expression, then befuddlement faded to amusement as he turned his head up towards Liz, completely forgotten and still up in the tree, staring out into the sky and totally oblivious. Liz eventually caught his eye and looked at him and shrugged, then sighed and started to slowly climb back down.
“Then what is the point?!” Tamara continued to shout, so wrapped up in her argument that she was unaware of the extra company.
“Nothing’s the point,’ Riku yelled back, his face tinged pink, ‘I just happened to overhear you.”
“Then why are you so agitated about what I said?” asked Tamara, suspicion in her voice.
“I am NOT agitated,’ Riku screamed, standing up straight as his cheeks grew steadily redder, ‘and, you know what? I don’t care! I couldn’t have cared less if Twang had smashed your face in, and I wouldn’t have been concerned in the least if he had beaten you to a pulp!!”
The blood drained from Tamara’s face as she listened in silent desperation to Riku, who had now lost all power over his emotions and was spiraling slowly out of control as his eyes flicked back and forth from fiery amber to bright, raging blue.
“I DON”T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU,’ Riku screeched into Tamara’s ashen face, ‘SO JUST GET LOST!!!!”
At that moment, Liz swung down from the snow covered tree branches, her knees hooked on one of the strong branches and hanging as an upside down force field between the two.
“What the HELL do you think you’re doing?” she said in alarm, swinging herself off the branch and landing lightly on the snowy ground where her shoes sunk into the snow.
“You’re only yelling loud enough for the whole valley to hear,’ she chided to Riku, ‘and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re trying to be stealthy here, and-- Tama?!” The annoyance faded from her voice and was quickly replaced by concern as Tamara’s body began to shake and her golden eyes began to well with pearly tears. She took one last broken look at Riku, choked on her final words and sobbed, then dashed off hastily towards the camp.
“TAMA!!” Liz called in alarm as Tamara fled, too surprised to chase after her, then looked back over her shoulder and gasped in shock at Riku, who stared back at her with unfeeling amber eyes. She faced the village once more, groaned in desperation, then spun around and landed a powerful punch straight into Riku’s left cheekbone with a sickening crunch. He staggered back in surprise and tripped over his own feet, his head smacking back into the tree trunk and snow falling on top of him as his back slid down the trunk and he collapsed to the ground, cupping a hand to his face and staring up at Liz blankly.
“What do you think you’re doing!?” Liz whispered, her voice dangerously low, towering over Riku as he looked up at her in shock.
“How could you say something like that,’ continued Liz icily, ‘you didn’t even know what we were talking about! Have you got any idea how badly you just hurt her?”
When Riku didn’t answer, Liz irritatedly kicked him painfully in the shins, her foot connecting with his bone and creating a noise that sounded incredibly painful.
“Next time,’ Liz hissed, ‘just keep your mouth shut.” She turned around towards the village and broke into a run, shoving her way roughly past Aqua as he walked towards the stunned Riku.
Riku sat where he was, wincing occasionally as he tentatively felt the pink mark that Liz had left on his pale face, oblivious to the color change of his eyes, which were once again calm blue.
“I just stuffed up big time, didn’t I?” he said quietly as Aqua sat beside him. Aqua pondered his question briefly for a minute as he watched the soldiers go about their business in the village as if nothing had ever happened, picking out Liz’s retreating figure in the mob.
“Yep.” He finally admitted.
“Great, I just hurt the one person I care about more than anything else in the world.” Riku groaned hitting his head violently against his knees, and then yelping with pain as he felt his shin begin to throb.
After rushing through the village in a panicked dash, Liz had finally found Tamara crouched behind a cluster of grey boulders; her cheeks stained and her damp hair dangling limply past her shoulders as she wept her golden eyes out. She looked up for a second as Liz sat down next to her, and then buried her head in her hands. Liz put an arm around her, and then allowed her friend to lean sideways and soak her bare, Goosebumps-covered shoulder in warm tears.
After what seemed like eternity and much, much longer, Riku moved from his lonely position next to Aqua in the snow and went to join Sora, Goofy, Donald, Ping, and Mushu, all of whom were engrossed in whispered conversation. Riku joined the circle and stood next to Sora and Goofy, cursing under his breath as he saw Tamara and Liz approaching out of the corner of his eye, and mentally kicking himself when he saw the tear stains painted on Tamara’s cheeks. Sora waved at the girls and beckoned for them to join the group, and Riku watched on sadly as Tamara avoided his gaze and slotted in without a word between Liz and Ping.
‘She won’t forgive me... ’ thought Riku despairingly as Mushu began to speak.
“Now,’ he said in a low voice, ‘we all know we are here to show that general how good out Mulan is right?” everyone nodded in agreement to his words.
“Look,’ he continued, ‘I saw Shan Yu in that cave outside the village. If we take him out, then the general is bound to notice my girl!” Mushu finished happily. Ping gasped in surprise, shock painting itself all over her face as she shook her head.
“No. We should tell the captain.” Ping said firmly. Sora nodded in agreement and Mushu did a startled double take.
“Wait,’ he said urgently, ‘hold up. The General has to notice my girl if we beat Shan Yu.” Mushu reasoned. Ping took a moment to re think the offer as everyone watched her with anticipation.
“Ok, let’s do it!” She decided with a glint of rebellion in her eyes.
“Tama, aren’t you coming?” called Liz as the group started to move on.
“No, I think I’ll stay here.” Tamara said, unnervingly calm as the group turned around to stare at her in shock.
“Are you sure?” Sora asked as he scratched his head. Tamara nodded and smiled back sweetly.
“It might be safer to have someone watching what happens here.” She reasoned gently. Riku looked away from her icy gaze guiltily.
“Donald and I’ll stay here too.” Goofy said as Donald quacked noisily in outrage. Tamara nodded in agreement as Donald continued to protest, but was silenced as Goofy had picked him up and placed him next to Tamara. Tamara waved sadly to Liz as the group moved away and disappeared out the village gates and out of sight.
“Aww, phooey.” Donald said huffily as he crossed his arms.
The cave beyond the village was tucked into the large rock face in the mountain side, almost completely hidden from view by the snowfall. It was dark and eerie inside dimly lit candles being the only source of light, and the odd colorful fire cracker was scattered here and there on the cold, damp floor in the gloom, making it hard to move around without stumbling over one and losing balance. Unfortunately, this was exactly what had happened to Aqua, and was the reason that he was now lying sprawled on top of a very grouchy Liz.
“You’re not very graceful, are you?” She muttered as she pushed him roughly off her as Sora and Riku sniggered, glad that Aqua couldn’t see the pink tinge on her cheeks in the murky glow.
“At least I had a soft landing.” Aqua retorted as he stood up and brushed dirt from his clothes and ruffling his blue-streaked spikes. Liz shook her head in exasperation and kept on walking forwards, running her fingers along the coarse surface of the walls to feel her way through the inky darkness. The black began to give way to a brighter flickering light as they neared the end of the tunnel and emerged into a cavern with a low stone altar cut out of the wall, weakly lit with an odd assortment of brightly colored candles that had been balanced on holes cut out of the rock face and were burning happily.
“Dead end.” Sora said disappointedly as he walked forwards into the middle of the room and looked around, his hands deep in his pockets.
“There’s nothing here...” sighed Ping with relief as she scanned the cavern uncertainly for any obvious signs of Shan-Yu’s presence.
“Let’s head back,’ muttered Riku, fidgeting distractedly as he played with a loose strand of hair, anxious to get back and apologize to Tamara and to try and explain what had happened before and make heartfelt amends.
Liz stayed put in the middle of the cavern as the others began to leave, watching the flame of a large, squat mauve candle sway slowly from side to side. Aqua broke off from the departing group and stood patiently by her side, utterly silent and as still as a statue as he waited.
“Are you going to stand there all day?” Liz asked him inquisitively, her voice light and far away, without turning her head from the flame.
“I thought I’d keep you company.” Aqua replied as he sat on the stone floor and leaned back on the wall, then jumped up in surprise as a small heartless appeared on the ground under him and took a swipe at his legs with its spindly black fingers. He cried out in alarm as he summoned his keyblade and reduced the tiny thing to black smoke, then looked at Liz in confusion.
“Where did that come from?” he asked with quiet suspicion.
“Same place that lot came from!” said Liz in reply as she pointed her keyblade at two centaur styled heartless that had swirled into being and were now advancing menacingly towards them. Together the two friends ran forwards, swiping their keyblades at the centaur-heartless but barley leaving a scratch in their silver armor. Liz pivoted on her ankles as Aqua kept running, slowly losing his momentum, and rushed back at them, barley missing the hooves thrown in her direction and then dropping and sliding under one of them and slashing at its front and back legs. The heartless sunk to the floor and swiftly sunk into the darkness, quickly followed by its companion as Liz scorched it with a bolt of crackling thunder.
“Well,’ said Aqua,’ that was easy!”
“Easy? I did all the work!” Liz taunted mockingly, sticking her tongue out at him. They continued to stare at each other until Aqua broke the silence.
“What are you staring at?” he asked.
“I may or may not be looking at the massive green bruise on your neck.” Liz said with an airy tone to her voice. Aqua instinctively touched his neck, and then yelped in pain as he found the bruise she was talking about.
“How on earth did you notice that? How did I even get a bruise there?!” he said, shocked.
“I dunno.” Liz admitted.
“LIZ! AQUA! WHERE ARE YOU GUYS!!!?” Sora’s voice echoed through the cavern, and was quickly followed by the spiky haired boy himself. Liz and Aqua walked over to him as he leaned on the wall to catch his breath, his next words coming in ragged gasps.
“Guys, its Shan Yu, he... he’s... the village... gone... you’ve gotta come... with me...”
“Tama...” Liz whispered quietly as she dashed out of the cave.
The first thing Liz saw as she sprinted out of the cave was the smoke. It was rising slowly above the village in an angry grey cloud, spiraling up into the blue sky and thinning out. She saw Riku standing by the boundary wall, standing utterly still as snow fell gently on top of his head.
“Riku,’ Liz shouted,’ what happened!!” she waited edgily for a reply, but none came.
“RIKU!!!’ she yelled, grabbing his arms and shaking him violently. ‘WHAT HAPPENED!!!?” after waiting a few more moments for a reply that would never come, Liz abandoned Riku and dashed past the stone boundary walls and into the village, running past row after row of houses that had been damaged beyond repair by the fire until she spotted the captain out of the corner of her eye, slumped against a burnt wall and clutching his side in pain.
“Captain!” she cried in alarm, sprinting forwards and dropping to her knees beside him as she heard the footsteps of her friends thudding gently in the melting snow.
“Captain,’ said Sora gently as he kneeled down next to Liz, ‘what happened?”
“It was Shan Yu,’ he gasped tiredly,’ he attacked us. I tried to stop him, but my sword didn’t hurt his warriors.”
“Captain, where’s Tamara?” Riku asked gently, the fear crackling through his usually calm voice.
“She tried to hold him off with the others, but he was two strong. She collapsed, and he took her to the top of the mountain, your friends followed him... ungh...” the captain broke off in pain and clutched tightly to his side. Liz looked over at Riku, jumping back startled as she saw his eyes change color briefly for the second time.
“Riku?!” she asked warily, her voice soft and sympathetic.
“I’ll kill him.”
Riku turned and dashed out of the camp at top speed, spurred on by his rage and fear, Liz right behind him and closing the initial gap as the others trailed behind them. He reached the summit just in time to see Donald get knocked off his feet by a bug-like heartless floating in the sky on gossamer wings, a pointy yellow helmet protecting its head. He walked towards them, slashing violently at any of the heartless that dared to come near, destroying them instantly.
“WHERE’S TAMARA?” he shouted at them over the loud buzzing noise, barley aware that Liz had just reached the summit and was being swarmed.
“Shan Yu’s got her locked up in a cave, up there!” Goofy gestured up towards the mountain top, raising his shield in front of his face to evade the heartless diving towards him. Riku nodded his thanks and sprinted off through the snow and made his way up the steep mountain side, not bothering to look back.
“Where are the others?” Donald shouted at Liz as he set a heartless on fire.
“They’ll be here soon!” Liz replied, her keyblade flashing to her hands as she deflected the attempted attacks at her body and face.
“This is perfect,’ she muttered to herself,’ I really do need to blow off some steam!”
The first hundred unlucky heartless buzzed towards her, but were quickly disintegrated by the blurred flash of crimson and midnight black that was Liz’s keyblade.
“Hey Heartless, come hit me with your best shot!” Liz shrieked as the heartless began to swarm towards her in a large buzzing clump.
Panting and tired, Riku finally found the little cavern hidden under thick piles of snow half way up the steep mountainside. He dashed towards the entrance, but was flung painfully backwards by an invisible force that sent him crashing into a large pile of snow ten meters away. Hauling himself roughly out of the icy white mound, he walked forwards to the caves entrance and gently placed his hands against the invisible wall, staring desperately at the limp figure slumped on the icy ground on the other side.
“TAMARA!!!!” he screamed, not sure that she would even hear him. He saw Tamara rise slowly from the floor on the other side of the unseen barrier, shock and hope painting her face as she stared back and slowly mouthed his name in disbelief.
“I’m gonna get you out of there, I promise!” said Riku as he banged his fists angrily on the force field, not bothering to wipe the small translucent tears of desperation from his eyes. Tamara staggered to her feet and ran over to him, placing her hands exactly opposite his. ‘Help Me!’ she mouthed slowly as her gaze wavered in and out of focus. Riku pounded his fists uselessly in frustration against the wall, and then watched in horror as small wisps of black escaped from between the gaps in his clenched fists. As disgusted at himself for resorting to this as he was it was the only way. He allowed the darkness to well up in his fingertips, gritting his teeth as the familiar clammy feeling spread through his body and flattening his palms against the wall allowing the darkness to spew forth, watching Tamara’s golden eyes widen in shock. There was an earsplitting shatter as the force field broke and Tamara lost balance and fell into his arms, her body shivering uncontrollably.
“I am so, so sorry,’ he muttered into the top of her head as he hugged her tightly, a few tears running down the sides of his face and over his cheeks,’ I didn’t mean what I said.”
The only response he received was a choked sob as Tamara move closer.
“I swear, I never meant what I said,’ Riku continued, regardless of whether she was listening,’ I’d never be able to live with myself if anything had happened to you.”
“I forgive you....” Tamara replied softly, burying her head into Riku’s cream colored vest. They stood there, locked in each others arms for what seemed like eternity, the snow drifting gently around them on the breeze and the buzzing of the heartless bellow growing fainter and fainter.
Liz’s ecstatic voice screeched through the silence as she raced towards them, jumping onto her friends, throwing her arms around them and hugging them both tightly, muttering excited words incoherently and laughing happily. Out of the corner of his eye, Riku saw Aqua walk casually towards them, followed excitedly by Sora, Donald, Goofy and Ping, General Shang and his soldiers not far behind as they walked into view at the end of the trail to the summit.
“You shouldn’t run off like that Riku,’ scolded Aqua mockingly as he walked up and slung an arm around his friends necks,’ you had us all really worried!”
“I can take care of myself.” Retorted Riku casually, freeing one of his arms and hi-fiving the younger boy happily.
“I hate to bring the bad news,’ said Sora regretfully as he reached the group,’ but look up there!”
Tamara followed the direction in which Sora’s finger was pointing and gasped as she saw Shan Yu standing on the mountain top, his sword drawn and a line of heartless behind him. He raised his sword to the sky and roared a battle cry, beginning to sprint down towards them.
“Aim the rocket at him, now!” Captain Shang ordered one of his soldiers as Shan Yu picked up speed and raced towards them.
“Sorry!” shouted Ping as she rushed past and yanked the rocket out of the soldiers grasp, digging it into the snow and aiming it at the mountain top. She padded her armor, trying to find a match, and then looked to her right and grinned mischievously.
“Oh no,’ Mushu yelled in protest as Ping grabbed him by the tail,’ no, don’t you dare, don’t you--” he was cut off as Ping pulled his tail and fire belched out of his mouth, lighting the fuse. The rocket shot into the sky with a bone-rattling bang, flying straight on course and slamming into the summit with a loud bang, making the ground shake and tremble.
“Get out of the way!!” Ping screamed as the mountain began to shake, dislodging a gigantic pile of snow from the peak of the summit. Tamara grabbed Riku’s hand and dashed back towards the cave, loosing sight of the others as snow thundered past and buried the opening, casting dark shadows along the walls.
“Not the best idea Tama,’ Riku said as the roar of the avalanche dimmed,’ were stuck now.”
“So says the boy with a magical weapon and all the elements under his command.” Replied Tamara in a tired and exasperated voice.
Riku pointed his keyblade forwards, a white ball appearing at the tip as flames streaked into the blockade of snow, which hissed and melted around their feet, soaking their shoes as vivid daylight gradually entered the dark cave. Tamara scrambled up over what was left of the damp wall and out into the bright sunlight, her bare shoulders warming in the hazy afternoon glow. She looked back at Riku, and realized that he wasn’t following her.
“Riku? You coming?” she asked, turning around and watching him in the dim light. He stood still, swaying slightly and staring back at her.
“Riku,’ Tamara asked again,’ are you coming?!”
“Huh? Oh, yeah.....”
“C’mon Riku,’ said Tamara gently, holding a hand out to him,’ let’s go find the others.”
Riku took her hand reluctantly, allowing himself to be hauled out over the white barrier and into the daylight. He spotted Sora standing over at the side of the mountain with Ping, General Shang, Donald and Goofy as trudged behind Tamara, reaching them just in time to hear Mushu complaining animatedly.
“Mulan,’ he whined,’ I’ve had enough of this! Let’s go home girl!”
“Mushu,’ hushed Mulan urgently,’ no!”
Shang’s eyes widened as he stared at Mulan in disbelief.
“You’re a woman?”
There was no point in hiding it. Mulan nodded reluctantly, casting her eyes to the snow.
“You knew all along, didn’t you?!” Shang cried accusingly, balling his fists as Sora nodded.
“Shang...” whispered Mulan pleadingly, her eyes widening as she clasped her hands together.
“Enough!’ Shang shouted.’ You have impersonated an imperial soldier and disgraced the Imperial Army, a crime that is punishable by death. You saved my life, and now my debt is repaid. You are all dismissed.”
Without looking back, Shang turned, then motioned to his troops and began to walk down the mountainside path.
“Aw.... I blew it.....” Mushu muttered dejectedly as Mulan took her raven hair out of its bun and stripped her armor off her plain clothes.
“Don’t worry about it Mushu,’ consoled Sora,’ it had to happen sooner or later.”
“C’mon,’ said Mulan happily as her hair swayed in the breeze,’ let’s go home.”
And it was then that a pale hand shot up from under the blanket of white snow. Tamara shrieked and clung to Riku’s arm, then took another look as the hand clawed at the snow around it, searching for something solid to grab hold of.
“Aqua?!” she squealed in surprise as Aqua’s snow-covered head popped out from under the snow.
“What on earth?!” muttered Riku under his breath as he ran forwards and grabbed his friends hand, pulling him out with ease.
“What were you doing under there?” Riku asked in surprise as Aqua shook large clumps of melting snow from his blue-streaked blonde hair.
“Ill explain that after I’ve gotten Liz out.” Aqua grunted through chattering teeth as he stuck his hand back into the snow and began to blindly feel around under the white blanket.
“What?!” exclaimed Tamara, rushing forwards to join the two boys.
“Just wait a moment for me to get-- AHA!!” Shouted Aqua in triumph as he quickly pulled another hand out of the snow, a hand which was shortly followed by a head and shivering torso.
“Aqua, I... freakin’... hate you...!!” muttered Liz darkly through chattering teeth as the rest of her body and her legs were dragged free.
“And I love you too.” Aqua replied sarcastically, cringing under her furious glare.
“You let go!’ Liz shouted at him, teeth still chattering as she shook snow from her hair.’ I could have been stuck in that snow for the ages!!”
“Can’t you just be glad that I got you out?” whined Aqua, secretly happy as Liz huddled against his chest in a dismal effort to get warm and thaw her numb body out.
“Guys,’ called Sora urgently from the mountainside,’ I hate to break up the happy moment, but we have a problem!”
The group approached Sora and he pointed to a ledge bellow him, where a man stood gazing out at the city in the distance.
“No way,’ gasped Aqua, Liz’s head still resting against his chest,’ Shan Yu’s alive!”
“He’s headed towards the city! We have to warn Shang!” cried Mulan, pivoting on her heels and sprinting down the mountain trail, the others following hurriedly.
They caught up with General Shang just as he walked through the palace gates, marching purposefully forwards with his troops trailing wearily behind him.
“SHANG!” called Mulan, catching his attention and causing him to turn around, disgust spreading across his face.
“Shang,’ she panted as she stopped in front of him,’ Shan Yu, he’s alive!!”
“Why should I believe you?” he said icily as the chilling call of an eagle echoed around the silent courtyard.
“General,’ pleaded Tamara,’ you have to believe her!”
“YOU!” Shang cried, shaking his head.
“Shang,’ said Riku as he tried to reason with the general,’ just listen to us for a second! Shan Yu is alive and he’s here, right n--” Riku was cut off as he spotted a figure thickly clad in animal furs at the top of the stairs, holding a wavy blade under a long grey beard to the wrinkled throat of an old man wearing a long yellow robe that covered his feet.
“Shan Yu!” shouted Riku, running towards the stairs with Tamara, Liz and Aqua by his side, and jumping two at a time as Shang stood behind him.
“Men,’ yelled Shang as he shook away the sudden shock,’ attack!”
His troops marched forwards slowly in zombie-like fashion, heads drooping, backs doubled over and their arms dangling by their sides as they dragged their feet slowly along the pavement. Before they reached the steps they froze in their tracks, and then were enclosed in darkness as they shrank into a formation of midnight black heartless. Shang stared back at them in dismay from half way up the stairs before turning around and continuing to sprint up the stairs, nearly colliding with Sora, Donald and Goofy as they rushed to take care of the soldier-heartless.
At the top of the stairs, Shan Yu held the blade of the sword closer against the emperor’s throat, but was knocked off his feet as a blazing midnight black keyblade whacked into his ankles.
“Shang,’ called Riku, catching his keyblade effortlessly as the General reached the top of the stairs with his few remaining troops,’ get the emperor to safety! We’ll take care of Shan Yu.”
As Shang escorted the frail emperor through the giant crimson doors, the group encircled Shan Yu, standing side by side with their weapons drawn. Incredibly, he began to laugh.
“Ha, so,’ mocked Shan Yu in a deep, growling voice,’ you actually think you can defeat me?”
“Um, yeah,’ said Aqua in reply,’ that’s usually what we do.”
Shan Yu laughed once again as thousands of heartless slunk into being around him, then lunged forwards unexpectedly and took a vicious swipe at Liz with his sword, the clash of metal on metal ringing through the air as his sword connected with Aqua’s keyblade. As the others tended to the heartless swarm, Aqua broke away from the group and took a swipe at Shan Yu, immediately backtracking and parrying one of his blows, feeling his arms shudder with the force of impact. The two warriors backed away cautiously and began to slowly circle each other, never letting the other out of their sights.
The battle behind them was over before it had started. Even though the group was vastly outnumbered, what they didn’t have in numbers they made up for with teamwork. Tamara, Liz and Riku found themselves fighting back to back as Mulan aided Sora, slashing and hacking their way through the seething black mass that was spotted with the peachy-pink glitter of freed hearts as they escaped into the welcoming sky.
“Almost done!” commented Riku happily, his keyblade moving so fast that it was a red-black blur.
“As soon as we finish this we have to go help Aq--,’ Liz stopped what she was saying and cringed as she saw Aqua over-balance and tumble head first down the stairs, ’no, scrap that plan, I’ll go kick Shan Yu’s butt myself.”
She broke away from the mêlée and charged head on into Shan Yu’s path of destruction, back-flipping fluidly over his head.
“I had no idea she could do that!!” cried Tamara, absolutely flabbergasted.
“By the look on her face,’ admitted Riku as Liz touched the ground lithely and smiled proudly as she locked her keyblade with Shan Yu’s,’ I don’t think she knew either.”
With the last heartless taken care of, Tamara and Riku watched on as Liz continued to battle Shan Yu, reminding them both of a pirate in the way she stabbed and parried with uncanny grace and ease.
“Should we let her continue?” asked Riku, itching to get back into the action.
“Why should we miss out on all the fun?” replied Tamara with a twinkle in her eyes as she ran forwards and joined her friend in combat, rushing forwards and blocking a blow above Liz that would have split her head in half.
“Thanks for the save!” grunted Liz appreciatively as she sidestepped an attempted assault to her neck and spun around to parry the blow.
“Do you mind finishing this up Tama?’ asked Liz as she dodged the sharp blade again.” I’ve gotta go make sure Aqua isn’t dead.”
“Go for it,’ replied Tamara as her friend took off quickly down the stairs,’ I can take care of this guy myself.”
Shan Yu lunged at her, aiming a blow at her chest which she dodged and parried.
“I see that you escaped the cave.” He said quietly drawing a fierce glance from his opponent.
“You would have made a fine heartless,’ he continued, unaware that Riku was almost right behind him,’ all that power, all that passion, wasted in the physical body of a chi-- ungh.”
He was silenced as the black tip of Riku’s keyblade appeared from underneath his coat. Tamara recoiled as Shan Yu fell forwards limply, disappearing into a swirling mass of darkness as soon as he hit the ground.
“Riku, you killed him!” gasped Tamara.
“To tell you the truth,’ said Riku grimly,’ I don’t think he was even alive long before we came.”
“Tama,’ echoed Liz’s voice from across the veranda,’ I’m in need of a little help!’
Tamara turned around and saw Liz with an arm around Aqua’s waist, half dragging him up the stairs. Tamara and Riku rushed forwards as Liz laid him on the cold stone tiles.
“Liz,’ whined Aqua as he struggled to sit upright,’ I appreciate the concern, but I’m fine!”
“You fell almost ten meters, landed on your back, and you can barley walk!” exclaimed Liz.
“So?” came Aqua’s stubborn reply.
“Aqua,’ sighed Liz as she pushed him roughly back down,’ you are anything but fine.”
“Shall I?” interrupted Riku as he pointed his keyblade at Aqua. Liz nodded and clapped a hand over Aqua’s mouth as he could start to protest again.
“Heal!” whispered Riku as delicate green and gold flower petals floated down onto Aqua’s body.
“I can feel my legs again!” Aqua cried happily as Liz rolled her eyes. He ignored her as he stood up and stretched his arms, then gasped as wind blew viciously around him and the world swam out of view and was replaced by churning wisps of dazzling black and gold. His keyblade flashed into his hand as Shan Yu’s curvy sword appeared in front of him, a beam of white light shooting from it into the sky to form the outline of a keyhole. The tip of keyblade glowed, and there was a click as the world spun back into view.
“Ah,’ he muttered to himself,’ so that’s what a keyhole looks like!”
“Yeah,’ said Tamara,’ and there’s another orby-thing.”
Aqua looked up at where Liz was pointing to, and saw two silver-white orbs hovering leisurely over his head.
“Here we go again...” muttered Tamara as her orb sped towards her and flung itself forwards as it sunk into her chest.
Children’s laughter echoed in her ears as a towering white castle flashed into view, and all the time a sweet voice resonated in her ears, singing a lullaby melody that slowed her frantic thoughts. Warmth surrounded her as the voice faded, plunging her back into reality as she stared up at a pair of worried electric blue eyes.
“If you keep on fainting on me I’m gonna start getting really worried.” Said Riku’s deep voice as Tamara became aware of his arms around her waist. Blush rolled across Tamara’s cheeks like waves as she pulled herself out Riku’s protective grip, the rosy tinge quickly fading as a cool breeze tickled her face and neck. She looked over at Liz, who’s hand was clenched tightly in Aqua’s as she began to wake up. Her jade eyes flickered open and quickly darted upwards to make contact with Aqua’s.
“Oh, right. Sorry.” Aqua apologized halfheartedly as he let go of her.
“Thank you,’ said Mulan quietly,’ for everything.”
“Aww, it was nothing.” Said Sora cheerfully as he scratched the back of his head.
“On the contrary, it is the whole of China who should be thanking you.” Said the Emperor quietly, bowing low. General Shang looked at him in surprise, then gave in and bowed low. Mulan shook her head, stammering quietly in shock as she saw the entire royal army bow down low in the courtyard. Liz and Tamara grinned as they managed to keep a straight face long enough to curtsey sweetly before bursting into laughter.
“What’s wrong?” asked Mulan, still quite uneasy from all the attention.
“General,’ said Tamara between gasps of laughter,’ you’re gonna have to do a bit more than bow if you want to win the heart of the bravest girl in the whole of China!”
Shang stood up straight and stammered frantically as blush spread rapidly across his face.
“Aww, would ya look at that?’ muttered Mushu from next to Sora.’ Mulan’s got a boyfriend! And I can go back to being a family guardian!”
“Hang on,’ said Sora suspiciously,’ I thought you were already a family guardian?!”
“Oh, don’t you worry about the little details, it’s guardian stuff--”
“You lied to us!!” cried Sora as he cut Mushu of and made a grab for him. Mushu slipped right out from under his fingers and began to sprint away as fast as he could, Sora casing after him in hot pursuit as Tamara and Liz collapsed into a fit of renewed giggles.