Fog filled up the Sarepia Forest with tension and fear. A pack of wolves hid in the bushes, holding boomseeds and wearing clawed gauntlets, and watching a group of things the color of pure gold. The leader, a peach-colored male with a white belly and white swirls, turned to a normal blue wolf. "Ready, Princess?"
Princess turned to his leader. "I-I suppose, Prince."
"Everyone ready?" Prince howled to his pack.
"Ready!" they barked.
"CHARGE!" Prince yowled, bursting through the clearing.
The Golden Phantoms turned to the pack of wolves, but had barely enough time to react when a wolf tackled a phantom and planted a boomseed, before running away. The Golden Phantom was caught in the boomseed's explosion.
"Shield yourself! Don't attack!" one gold phantom yelled. The other phantoms muttered a spell, which made a liquid-like object circle them.
One phantom started casting spells to knock out the wolves and push them away, but more wolves started reaching the phantoms and, although with difficulty, defeated them with gauntlets.
"We can't fight them! Flee!" the phantom commanded. The remaining phantoms fled. Muttering one last spell, the phantom knocked out the wolves. Then the phantom closed his eyes, transforming into a bright yellow wolf with a yellow old hoodie, a blue moon necklace, a gray heart locket, a blue worn blanket, and encrusted gauntlets. He ran across the forest, but before he disappeared into the trees, he took one last look at the clearing; this was the place where his kind tried protecting the animals, and where most of his kind has fallen.
He couldn't look any longer. The phantom turned around and leaped through the trees.
It's been many years since the Battle of Gold. No one feared Golden Phantoms because they believed they were extinct but just a legend. What they didn't know is that one of the survivors live among them right now.
The phantom, walked around, saying nothing and watching out for phantoms, both gold and black, but he never saw Golden Phantoms.
Well, except for one.
The phantom went to his den to rest. The birds chirped from the unusually snowy pine trees, or while they were searching the flowers for worms. Inside the den was some plushies, including a blue eagle plushie, a chair, a small table, a food bowl for a nonexistent pet, and other worthless things. On the other end of the den was a bunny shrine and two bamboo fences, both which reached the ceiling, so you couldn't see the other side.
The phantom settled down in front of the shrine and muttered something. One would've thought he was meditating until they saw him disappear into thin air. He appeared on the other side of the shrine, where an entirely different room was. There was a chair and table, a mysterious floating green stone, a caged phantom, and two tapestries, one with a bunny and one with a monkey.
That's when it happened.
There was a pop and a Gold Phantom appeared.
Gem sighed and sat down in the chair. "What do you need, Spark?"
"It's important. I overheard the phantoms- the black ones, of course -and they said they were going to steal the Alpha Stone."
Gem glanced at the green stone, floating between the two tapestries: a replica of the Alpha Stone. "And you want me to do what?"
"Assemble a team, search for it, and take it! Bring it to the Alphas! Defeat any phantom in your way!" Spark cheered.
"Thank you, Spark. I'll be at Sarepia Forest for a while." he said, before closing his eyes, muttering a spell, and disappearing.
Gem picked up a sketchbook and a pencil, before looking around. Antlered foxes, winged wolves, there were a lot of unusual animals in Sarepia Forest. Gem noticed an alligator-like dragon with black scales and a red belly. He quickly sketched it as it romped around, letting the other animals touch it and purring like a lawn mower.
"What are you doing?"
There was a peach-colored wolf with a white belly, lavender swirls, and dark purple eyes. She looked familiar... the commander of the pack in the Battle of Gold!
"Sketching a dragon." Gem replied.
"Let me see!" the wolf looked at the dragon. "I like it!"
"Thank you," Gem said. The wolf smiled and left.
It was a while before the wolf returned again, but she came with a pink bunny, a white tiger cub, and a blue alligator. They all wore blue moon necklaces, like Gem.
"Want to be our friends?" the wolf asked immediately.
The wolf, lion, and alligator looked rather tough, while the bunny and tiger seemed faster than any animal he has ever seen. They all seem willing to help anyone. He needed help desperately, though. If they were the wrong team, then they were doomed, but his instincts told him to trust them.
"Well, uhh... come to my den." Gem blurted out, walking through the forest, with the animals following.
"Nice den!" the wolf exclaimed. "You have nice stuff AND you're nice yourself!"
The alligator mumbled. "If this guy is leading us into a trap..."
"Shush, Croc!" the bunny said, flashing him a threatening glance. At the same moment, she jumped up a pedestal and grabbed a lollipop from a bowl of candy. The tiger chuckled as the bunny began biting onto the candy.
"What do you need us for?" the wolf asked finally.
The tiger cub said excitedly, "Do we get to fight evil animals and phantoms?"
"Ooh, if we are, then I'm in!" Croc said.
"Don't get your hopes up," the bunny said, crunching on the lollipop
"Actually," Gem said. "Yes, we are fighting, possibly. Here..."
Gem settled down in front of the shrine, muttering his spell. As they appeared in the secret room, the animals gasped at each other.
"As I was saying," Gem said. "I need your help. Have you guys heard of the Alpha Stone?"
"Ooh! The Alpha Stone!" the tiger said. "The source for most magical abilities! The other source being the Wraith Gem!"
The wolf chuckled. "Heh, Snowy..."
"Yes, that is right, Snowy, I'm assuming that's your name. Phantoms plan to steal this stone and do who knows what with it." Gem said. He then lied, "I heard phantoms talking about it earlier. I figured we could save the Alpha Stone."
"Of course we can!" the wolf cheered. "We're awesome friends, and the best team! You couldn't have asked a better group!"
The figure floated around Spark. "If things go wrong, the Alpha Stone will be stolen!"
"I-I-" Spark stuttered. "Gem would've thought I was being silly if I hadn't brought up the Alpha Stone and blabbered about my day or something!"
"Then what makes the other visits different?" the figure asked.
"This time, I had a mission! What else should I have done?!"
The figure approached Spark. It was a rather large Gold Phantom with a nasty vertical scar going across his eye, but his eye itself seemed fine. "Do not yell at me. Got that?"
Spark didn't say anything for a moment. He only stared at the scarred golden phantom. Finally, he sighed. "Yes, Blaze."
Gem looked at his team. He couldn't help but wonder if he made the right choice, asking these animals to fight for him. Not only were they total strangers, but one was blatantly related to Prince, the very same wolf who killed half of his kind, one was a cub, one was small, and one obviously didn't trust him. Plus, it was like they didn't know what they were getting themselves into; they laughed among each other, telling each other how they'd have a great time.
The alligator then turned his head towards Gem, before quickly whispering among his friends. He didn't dare ask what they were talking about.
He then glanced at the Alpha Stone's replica. It sat there, doing nothing much more than floating. The real magic gem, the color of all things natural and green- trees, grass, moss -was tucked away in a place no normal animal knows. But Phantoms weren't normal animals. They weren't even close to animals. While animals ('And Golden Phantoms,' Gem reminded himself mentally) protected and loved each other, the Black Phantoms knew nothing more than destruction. Many questioned if they were even sentient.
"Hey," a voice spoke, snapping Gem out of his thoughts. He turned around and saw Prince- no, the wolf who agreed to help him. "Croc noticed that you were sad. What's wrong?"
Gem glanced at Croc, who was smiling and laughing among with his other friends. His mouth, which were full of sharp, crooked teeth, were curled into a genuine smile. He quickly turned his attention back to the wolf. "Are you sure you want to go on an adventure? I can always find another group of animals."
"Are you serious?" the wolf said, raising an eyebrow. "I'm Snowflake Loopypaws, the granddaughter of Prince Loopypaws who protected the land of Jamaa from horrible creatures like those Golden Phantoms!" she declared. Gem flinched when she mentioned the Golden Phantoms. "Plus, my friends are capable of anything! Candy is very quick, Snowy is very brave, and Croc is very powerful. What more could you want?"
Gem thought about it for a moment. He glanced at the animals that stood before him, and noticed that they had all stopped talking and were now staring at him with puppy-dog eyes and quivering lips. He just barely stopped himself from smiling. Plus, Snowflake was right; they did all seem suited for combat. "Alright, alright. You're willing, anyway, so that's good."
The animals grinned.
"Our first task won't be so epic, but it'll be important. I hope you like books."
The five of them stood before the library, which, admittedly, didn't look like much from the outside; It appeared to just be a dirt hole with an old wooden sign saying, "Redburrow Books". When they all went inside, however, they were greeted by the sight of tall shelves filled with books of every size and color and animals silently flipped through pages of books with titles such as, "Grooming Guide: Tips On How to Clean both Fur and Scales!" and, "Caring For Pets of All Kinds". Before Snowflake and her friends could think of how amazing it was inside, Gem hurried them over to the History section.
"Remember, we're looking for books on the Alpha Stone," he whispered, and not just because he was in the library. "Keep in mind that this mission is very important."
They then searched the shelves for books. Gem grabbed whatever book he found that had the words "Alpha Stone" on it. "Alpha Stone: The Source of Magic", "History and Mystery of the Alpha Stone", and "Alpha Stone VS Wraith Gem" we're just a few stories he found. As he was searching, he saw a book titled, "The Battle of Gold: The Fight Shrouded in Mystery". Gem took that book as well.
When they were done, they sat down at a table and started scanning the books for the Alpha Stone's possible locations. Gem briefly looked through, "Alpha Stone VS Wraith Gem", found nothing about locations, then glanced at, "The Battle of Gold". Unable to resist the urge, Gem flipped through the book.
The Battle of Gold was one of the battles fought during the Wraith War. In this mysterious battle, Prince Loopypaws's wolf pack sneaked up on Golden Phantoms and attacked them, supposedly driving their species to extinction. It is this battle that made Prince and his pack heroes among the animals, but the black phantoms, who were worried Prince would attack them next, attacked the pack in what would become known as the Battle of the Dark Canyon.
The Battle of Gold is known because of what little is actually known about it. One mystery is how the entire pack escaped unscathed. Another is if Prince really killed off all of the Golden Phantoms. Back then, it was accepted that Golden Phantoms were no more, but, recently, there was a sighting of a Golden Phantom casually floating through Jamaa Center. Witnesses swear the phantom was heading towards the ocean.
After the battle, one of the wolves in Prince's pack found stones with the words, "HELP", appearing to have been hurriedly scrawled in bright yellow ink.
Gem couldn't bear to read it anymore.
He half-heartedly scanned through the rest of the books he had picked out, still feeling sick from what he had just read. He wasn't surprised to find nothing on locations, other than what was obviously false speculation ("Some people have theorized that the Alpha Stone is hidden in the unknown land just south-west of Jamaa Central," the book, published half a year before the land south-west of Jamaa Central was explored, had said.) "What'd you guys find?" he asked once everyone was done reading.
"I found nothing," Snowflake sighed.
"Well, I found out tons of facts about the Alpha Stone completely unrelated to what we were searching for," Candy answered.
"The books were useless. If only there was a machine that allowed you to find what you need without having to go through books..." Snowy replied.
Croc simply made a quiet, disappointed growl, glaring at the books as if they insulted him.
Gem groaned and banged his head against the table. "We need to find this information soon..." he mumbled.
"...Are you sure about this, Shadow?" a voice behind Gem said. He turned his head around.
Two animals, a cheetah and a monkey, were speaking with each other. They both were black with boots and bows and arrows. The cheetah nodded. "Never been surer. We need to cross the ocean to find you-know-what."
The monkey pulled out a book titled, "Islands Outside Jamaa" with a sigh. Gem reached into a bag he was carrying with him and fingered something as he watched the two animals.
"I know he said not to search for it now, but if we don't, someone else will find it," the cheetah whispered. She hadn't noticed Gem watching.
The monkey nodded. "I see that. Marrow Isles isn't too far. I hear a boat's going there tomorrow, actually," he said.
Gem heard all he needed to know. He pulled out what he was holding and threw it towards the animals.
The boomseed he had thrown crashed against the shelf nearby the two animals and exploded. All the animals nearby, Snowflake and her friends included, covered their heads and screamed as if they expected a shower of dirt and rocks. To everyone's surprise, however, the only thing harmed in the explosion were the two animals, who were glitching between two forms: animal and black phantom.
Smirking, Gem approached the two "animals" and grabbed them by their "arms". "Gotcha."
The phantoms looked at Gem in fear. How had he known they were phantoms in disguise? What was he going to do to them. They were prepared to teleport away when, to their surprise, they were thrown into wooden crates instead. They tried teleporting away, but to no avail.
Everyone stared at Gem in silence as he caged the two phantoms. He turned to Snowflake and her friends, said, "We can go now," and left the burrow without another word, with a wolf, bunny, tiger, and crocodile trailing behind.
The boat gracefully glided through the water, going across the beautiful blue ocean. However, the only animals on the boat were Gem and the captain, a polar bear named Seasalt.
Gem had his bag slung over his shoulder. He had to make sure he didn't lose it for more than one reason.
After what seemed like an hour of sailing, a distant, foggy island came into view. "There's Marrow Island, our destination!" Seasalt yelled out. "I'm sorry your friends couldn't board, but I'm running a business, and, if you can't pay for someone to come out, they can't come on."
"Don't worry about it, Seasalt," Gem answered. "It's fine."
Soon enough, Seasalt dropped off Gem at the island and sailed away, shouting, "Goodbye!" at the top of his lungs as he disappeared from sight. Smiling, Gem took off his bag and peered into it, finding himself staring at four pairs of eyes.
"How exactly were we able to fit in here again?" Snowflake asked, climbing out of the bag.
"Bottomless bag spell," Gem answered as he watched Candy, Croc, and Snowy exit the bag.
For the next half hour, they all searched the island for the potential entrance to the Alpha Stone could be. Under bushes, behind rocks, on top of hills... there was nothing. Finally, at the back of the island, Gem noticed a fancy red archway leading into what appeared to be a mineshaft. Perched on top of the archway was a green owl who was wearing spirit armor. Gem cautiously approached the owl, followed by his companions, when everything went black. The only thing he could see was the owl, who was now standing in front of him. "Hello," she said. Her voice seemed to bounce off invisible walls.
"Err, hello," Gem said. "Can you please let us in?"
The owl shook her head. "You have three trials to pass. There is the Trial of Honesty, the Trial of Bravery, and the Trial of Truth. However, I cannot let you pass unless you answer a few questions: who are you, why are you here, and are you willing to risk your life for that reason?"
Gem thought for a moment. "I am Gem the wolf. I am here to find the Alpha Stone since it is in danger of being stolen by phantoms. If I have to die to protect Jamaa, so be it. I'll willingly give my life if it means everyone else's will be spared," he said.
"You liar!" Fire seemed to flare behind the owl, and she appeared to grow larger. She spread her now-oversized wings and flexed her gigantic talons. "Tell the truth!"
Gem stayed calm; it was just an illusion. At least... he hoped it was. "I told you the truth. I am Gem. I'm here for the Alpha Stone and I will die for it."
"You are not Gem the wolf!" the owl shrieked.
"Yes I am." Gem said, keeping his voice steady.
The owl grew larger. Her talons were now three times the size of Gem and her wings could've been as large as the islands, except Gem could only see the owl.
Gem thought for a moment. What was wrong...? Then it struck him: he was already doing the Trial of Honesty. The owl was supposed to detect lies, and, after a bit of thinking, he realized what the lie was.
He took a deep breath and spoke again. "I am Gem... the Golden Phantom. I am here for the Alpha Stone and I will die for it."
He could see the island again. The owl was normal sized and was perched on the archway again, sleeping. Snowflake and her friends acted as if they've just woken up. "Let's go." Gem said.
Inside the tunnel were torches to light the way. It seemed to go deep underground. "Perhaps now is a bad time to say I'm claustrophobic," Croc mumbled.
"Let's go. No turning back. If we succeed, the world will be saved." Gem said.
"For Jamaa!" Snowflake and her friends cheered, following Gem down the tunnel.
Soon, the tunnel lead into a large room. Sitting, of course, in front of a doorway was a gigantic phantom statue. As soon as Gem and his friends entered the room, the statue turned from gray to crimson. It flew into the air, its red eye pointed towards Gem. Everyone's fur raised due to the sheer amount of static around the phantom. The Trial of Bravery.
"I cannot let you pass," the phantom said in a deep, booming voice.
"What a surprise," Snowy mumbled.
"However, you may continue your quest for the Alpha Stone..." the phantom paused, as if it was purposely creating tension. "...if one of you sacrifice your life to let your over friends free."
Croc stepped in front of his friends, snarling. He lunged towards the phantom, but it swatted Croc away as if he was just a bug. Snowy pounced onto the phantom, but it ignored Snowy as he harmlessly bit it. Gem signed and stepped forwards, only to be shoved out of the way by Snowflake. "I'll sacrifice my life."
"What?!" Gem yelled.
"Think about it: you're the only one who knows about the Alpha Stone and all that junk. If you were the one to die, then we would be directionless. Not to mention that we have no way off this island, and you probably have the solution," Snowflake pointed out. "Don't worry about me." She smiled, the same way she did when they first met, and approached the phantom.
The phantom lunged towards Snowflake before anything else could be done, but turned into a cloud of dust before it could reach her. Instead, the phantom reappeared as a statue, and, this time, it wasn't blocking the way towards the Alpha Stone.
Gem expected the Trial of Bravery to be fighting, but, he quickly realized, giving your life is just as brave. Beyond the tunnel was the Trial of Truth, and he was ready.
They went through the tunnel again, and, to Gem's surprise, the Alpha Stone was on the other side. No trial or anything. Was there a mistake?
On the stone wall behind the Alpha Stone was an etching of an owl's face, but, otherwise, that was all the decoration available. Gem quickly touched the Alpha Stone, ready to grab it.
His arm glitched and turned into a golden tentacle. He pulled back, and his paw returned. He felt sick again; the Trial of Truth involved grabbing the Alpha Stone, and he knew exactly what the Trial of Truth would reveal. "Err, anyone else want to take the Alpha Stone?"
Everyone else had a go trying to take the Alpha Stone, but nothing happened. When they tried to take it, it stayed stationary. Gem grew worried. What if they couldn't get the Alpha Stone?
"The Stone will only accept your truth," the owl's voice spoke. To Gem's surprise, the stone owl etching was speaking. "Now, you must accept your truth. You'll save Jamaa if you do."
With his breath shaking and paws quivering, Gem grabbed the Alpha Stone and yanked it from the pedestal it sat on. He realized with satisfaction that it had succeeded, but that was before he looked at himself.
He had tentacles, was floating off the ground, and only had one eye. He had become a Golden Phantom again. He looked at Snowflake and her friends. They looked at him in shock.
After a moment of silence, Snowy yelled, as loud as a baby tiger cub could yell, "You're a phantom?!"
Snowflake shook her head. "It can't be... It can't be..."
"He tricked us!" Croc growled.
"We lead him right to it!" Candy shrieked.
Gem watched in fear as his new friends' trust died. His heart broke a bit more when Snowflake fled. Croc growled and approached him, with Snowy and Candy standing behind him, ready to fight as well.
Suddenly, Snowflake screamed.
Gem, forgetting his fear and sadness, quickly dropped the Alpha Stone and flew towards the noise.
When Gem flew into the Phantom Statue room, she found Snowflake surrounded by Black Phantoms. Nearby was the green owl, shackled on one of the statue's tentacles. They were placing shackles onto Snowflake as well, and Gem instantly realized what they wanted.
He flew back down towards the Alpha Stone, where he saw Croc, Candy, and Snowy whispering among each other, and he realized they were planning how to get Snowflake back. Gem grabbed the Alpha Stone, muttered a few spells, grabbed his bag, and then flew back towards the phantoms. "Hey!" he shouted.
The phantoms turned towards him, eyeing the Alpha Stone he held. He instantly recognized the heavily scarred Phantom, Ink. Ink flew forwards until he was only a few inches away. "What is it? Make it quick before my phantoms capture you, too," he said.
"You want the Alpha Stone, right?" Gem asked. The phantoms' eyes widened, as well as Snowflake's. "I can give it to you, but you'll have to free Snowflake and... y'know, the owl."
"My name's Paladin," the owl said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Ink nodded. "Alright. Give over the Alpha Stone first. I don't trust you."
"I'm not sure if you noticed, Ink, but Golden Phantoms tend to be genuinely honest. It's you I shouldn't trust," Gem remarked.
"That doesn't mean Golden Phantoms are always honest. I'm your enemy, so who knows? People do twisted things against their enemies simply because they're enemies," Ink replied.
Gem reached into his bag. "Look, right now, I just want my friends free more than anything else. So free them, I give you the shiny rock sitting in my tentacle right now, we both go our own way,"
"I don't trust you," Ink repeated.
If Gem was in his wolf form, he would've been smirking. "Well, keep in mind this didn't have to happen." He then threw the boomseed he had grabbed. He always carried boomseeds around, and he always carried tons. The only thing boomseeds could harm were phantoms, so that meant the environment and any nearby animals were protected.
Just a second before the boomseed struck the wall, Gem remembered he was also a phantom.
The boomseed exploded, killing the phantoms caught in the explosion and knocking the others away, including Ink and Gem. Gem collided with a wall and fell down. As he did, he spotted a key flying through the air, grabbed it, and crawled towards where Snowflake was shackled. She watched in fear as Gem unlocked her shackled and passed her the key, muttering, "Free Paladin."
As Snowflake worked on Paladin's shackles, Croc, Candy, and Snowy ran into the room, immediately shocked by what they were seeing. Once Paladin was freed, all the animals gathered around Gem, who was still on the floor, heavily breathing. They watched the pathetic phantom crumpled on the ground, all of their emotions and feelings conflicting each other.
When Gem noticed, he simply let out a wheezy chuckle. "Don't worry; if I was dying, I'd already be dead."
Ink had collapsed as well, but was quickly standing up, worried about the dwindling number of black phantoms in the area. He floated towards Gem. "How dare you-!" he began to speak.
"The Alpha Stone's by the statue. Take it; I got my friends out and I'm a wolf- err... phantom of my word." Gem informed Ink.
Everyone stared at him, surprised.
Ink, albeit cautiously, grabbed the Alpha Stone and floated over to the other phantoms, speaking with them. Snowflake prodded Gem, making sure he was okay, until Paladin pointed out that it was probably just causing him even more pain. The animals glanced nervously at each other, worried; the phantoms had the Alpha Stone!
They didn't notice the phantoms floating behind them, carrying shackles, until Snowy looked up. "Eep! They're here!" he squeaked.
Everyone turned around, eyes widening. "Gem gave you the Alpha Stone!" Snowflake shouted. "He said to free us in return!"
"Yes, and you guys did get freed. He never said anything about recapture," Ink said, his gaze revealing no emotion. Snowflake could only stare in disbelief as her paws were shackled.
Some phantoms chained up Gem, who didn't - and couldn't - fight against them in his current state. Snowy and Candy were captured with a surprising amount of effort due to Snowy's bravery and Candy's swiftness. The biggest challenge, however, was shackling Croc, who snapped at anyone who approached. It only took the threat of his friends and him being electrocuted by multiple phantoms for him to give him. The phantoms turned to capture Paladin, but were surprised to find her gone.
Ink watched the animals struggle, his tentacles folded as if they were arms. "Take everyone except Gem to the fortress. I'll take care of him personally. Afterwards, send out a search party to find Paladin; she'll undoubtedly be trying to search for ways to retrieve the Alpha Stone," he commanded, before turning his attention to the animals. "Call me cruel all you want, but we can't risk any of you trying to steal back the stone."
The animals struggled to no avail as they were dragged away by the phantoms.
The cells' walls, ceilings, and floors were nothing but stone bricks. The metal bars were too close together to squeeze through, even for Candy, who was the smallest of all the animals. Each of the four animals had their own cell, each one slightly unique. Croc was muzzled and claw marks covered the floor. There was nothing but a torn-up bed. Snowy had a bed as well, but he had pulled the blanket off and curled up in it, sleeping. The bed itself was a bit chewed up as well as a spoon he had kept from the first time he was fed. "I'm going to dig us out of here, like in the movies!" he had declared before his friends could ask why he was holding onto it. Unfortunately for Snowy, stone was not as easy to dig up as it seemed, so he was taking a break.
Candy's cell was full of ridiculously tiny things. Tiny bed, tiny blankets, tiny table... The cell itself looked like a ballroom compared to the tiny everything in the room. The only normal-sized thing was a pillow, with the pillowcase stuffed with candy wrappers; the moment a phantom guard had stationed herself by Candy's cell, she immediately asked for something sweet to eat. The next day, there was a different guard, but the day after that, the female phantom guard had returned. To everyone's surprise, Candy had found a lollipop snuck into her tray of food the phantom delivered. Every time the female phantom returned, there was a sugary treat hidden among Candy's tray full of veggies.
Perhaps the most pathetic-looking cell was Snowflake's, as it was completely empty other than a dirty old blanket and a security camera that seemed to survey her every move. When Snowflake asked her guard why there was a camera, the phantom simply replied that all cells had them. Snowflake didn't believe her.
The four were able to talk to each other through the cell bars, but they had barely anything to talk about. The only thing that seemed to pop in their mind was the phantoms. Why were the phantoms so strict? So cruel? So nasty? Of course, with the guards in earshot, they didn't dare say any of this. The only discussion involving phantoms (unless you count the conversations about Gem) was a short-lived one, and was the only time they heard their guards speak.
"Hey, guys?" Snowy had asked one day. "Have you noticed all of our guards are girls?"
Every face was turned towards Snowy. No one spoke, worried that the phantoms may somehow get offended. Fortunately, Croc's guard simply nodded her head and said, "Yes, all phantom guards are female. The males do the fighting, we do the protecting."
Candy peeked through her bars. "Why only females?"
"It makes everything orderly," her guard responded. "When a phantom is born, everyone knows what they're meant to do. No confusion or arguments."
"Wouldn't any of you rather be a warrior, instead?" Snowflake asked. "Isn't it horrible to not be able to choose what you want to do?"
The guards glanced at each other, as if they were unsure. Finally, Snowflake's guard responded with, "Us phantoms will do anything to make sure there are no disagreements amongst ourselves."
Everyone was silent for the rest of the day. Snowflake felt herself pondering how such a chaotic race could strive for order while destroying everything else out there. It took a while, but then it struck her.
Ever since Snowflake had arrived at the phantom's dungeons, she had decided to try a new way of thinking: "What would Grandpa Loopypaws do in my place?" Of course, some things she didn't agree with, such as when she realized Grandpa Loopypaws would hold his head high and accept defeat with dignity (there was no way she was giving up!) but there were some times when it helped her see a whole new perspective on things, such as now.
As Snowflake was thinking, she thought to herself, "If Prince Loopypaws had heard what those phantoms were saying, what would he think of them?" It didn't take long for her to answer herself: the phantoms were made for battle, that was clear. They have fought in wars and battles, and they had been pretty powerful until the Alphas struck them from their throne and brought peace to Jamaa. Of course, as her Grandpa would say, "A small, yet united army will conquer a large, disorderly army." If the phantoms constantly disagreed on what they wanted to be, or if phantoms kept switching jobs, it might bring chaos.
After that day, Snowflake couldn't help but notice more little details she surely
wouldn't have noticed before. Ink had recaptured them even though he said he would release then because he knew they would try to find the Alpha Stone, and, if that wasn't the case, he might've let them go. The phantoms at the library were sent together even though a singular phantom could've done the job (perhaps better, for it was the two phantoms' conversation that clued Gem to their true identity) because, if they got in a fight, they had a better chance of winning. If all went wrong, there could at least be one phantom to deliver whatever news they needed to deliver. 'No wonder they were the most powerful beings back then,' Snowflake thought to herself. 'They've become masters at war. Just like Grandpa.'
A few more days went by and nothing happened. One day, however, a small cluster of phantoms passed by, and what they said sparked hope in Snowflake.
"Did you hear?" one whispered. "They still can't get the Alpha Stone to work!"
"I heard," another said. "The King is furious. Furious."
Another phantom chimed in. "Ink says he tried everything. Spells, incantations, one guard even said he threw it against the wall to see if something would happen. Nothing! It didn't even break!"
The phantoms can't activate the Alpha Stone! They had a chance to get it back before they used it!
Later, at night, Snowflake was pacing around her cell, too excited to sleep. She had to start thinking of escape plans! She would have to get out of her cell somehow, then she would have to free her friends and Gem, wherever he was, before they all would run over to the closely-guarded Alpha Stone, snatch it while no one was looking, and run away! But how?
Suddenly, her blanket squirmed.
Snowflake spun around, tail tucked between her legs. What was going on?
Her blanket shifted again. There was something living underneath it.
She slowly approached it and lifted the blanket up. Underneath the blanket was something that turned her spark of hope into a blazing fire.
It was nighttime.
The wolf made his way through the ruins hidden beyond the Temple of Zios, glancing around for any signs of what he came for. He held a torch in one paw, which glowed with a faint, warm light that casted flickering shadows across the walls, giving the ruins a ghostly, haunted appearance.
Soon, he found what he was looking for.
"Gem," the wolf said, his voice deep. "I knew you'd be here."
Gem was chained to an effigy of an owl, clutching something wrapped around his neck. "Who are you?" he called.
"Shame you don't remember me," the wolf shook his head. "I am General Prince Loopypaws. We met in battle as enemies, and you still are my enemy."
"You slaughtered half of my kind," Gem muttered. "I think 'enemy' is a bit of an understatement."
Prince smiled. "Watch that tongue of yours, because you're currently helpless, tied to a statue," he said. "Or do you even have a tongue?"
"Kill me if you want, but let me speak first-"
"I will not listen to a Phantom, no less one that I have fought against-"
"Your granddaughter is in danger."
Prince paused. "Sn... Snowflake?"
"Snowflake Loopypaws. She got captured by the phantoms."
"But... But how?" Prince asked.
With that, Gem told the whole story, starting with when he first met Snowflake and her friends and stopping at their capture. "I... I don't know what happened to them after, but I assume they're imprisoned," Gem said after finishing.
Prince shook his head. "How do I know you're not lying?"
"Your granddaughter..." Gem mumbled, thinking. Finally, it struck him. "We have the same necklace."
Gem let go of what he was holding. The blue moon necklace was caught by its chains as it nearly fell to the ground. "All her friends wear it, too. I think she first noticed me because I was wearing it," he said. "They're all brave, too. They agreed willingly to go on this adventure. Snowflake was even willing to sacrifice herself just so we could reach the Alpha Stone."
"That does sound like her," Prince mumbled. "Listen here. I still do not fully trust you, but I'll help. After all, if we relied on evidence to get things done, then we'd get nowhere. However, if you turn around and backstab me, I can and will fight you."
"You're sensible, at least," Gem said. "No wonder they made you General. Anyway, how did you know I was here?"
"I got a letter," Prince said as he undid Gem's shackles. "It told me you were chained up, able to be killed for all the bad things you've done. Why are you trying to help us now, by the way? What changed your mind?"
"We always wanted to help," Gem replied. "It's just that no one accepted it."
The reply shocked Prince, but he dared not show it. "So, how are we reaching my granddaughter?"
Gem was about to tell Prince that he had no idea where she was when a voice called out.
"I think I can help."