Chapter Eleven: The Portal

Different form. Same monsters.
These were the four words that Merida repeated to herself. They helped to block out the growling and grunting from the Heartless. She fired her arrow at the witch-monster that floated in the middle of its trio. She ran from the other two and slashed her sword at the Shadows.
Baymax delivered a vigorous punch into the first knight-monster. Its two comrades circled away and charged into him, from the front and back. Bolting in midair, Baymax launched both of his gauntlets as missiles. They were no match for breaking through their thick shields. Baymax recalled his gauntlets back to his body and zoomed around warehouse space. The two witch-monsters cast strings of lightning. Baymax was lightly stunned but swooped past them. Back on the ground, Merida screamed like a fearless warrior, combating the swarm of Shadows. It was like an orchestra of stabbing, slashing, swinging, and slamming her sword against any foolish fiend. The witches and the knights moved slowly towards the mezzanine. A single Shadow snuck up the ladder and pounced at Hiro, still frozen in fright.
"AH!" Hiro winced. Baymax was ready to fly over and pulverize the Shadow. Before he could ignite his thrusters, a speedy arrow beat him to the task. 
The sharp tip of the arrow pierced the wall, leaving the Shadow to wither into darkness and dust. Hiro glanced at Merida, holding her bare bow. She resumed her place in the fray and wiped out the closest Shadow in sight.
"Get inside the control room," instructed Baymax firmly to Hiro. "I will protect you." 
"O-okay." Hiro almost tripped over the bottom ledge of the door frame. He twisted the lock and sat back to the computer screens and wires. He had to fight the nagging guilt and figure out a way to kill the alarm. However it worked to communicate with the creatures, Hiro did not want to wait and see if the alarm would summon more hordes over time. He slammed his fingers onto the keyboard and tried to reconfigure the coding. It was his only idea to deactivate any security software.
Baymax positioned himself in front of the control room windows. His primary goal was to keep the Heartless away from Hiro while also protecting Merida. Thankfully, she was competent when it came to fighting single-handedly. 
The three bulky monsters tried to ram their shields into the supporting poles of the control room. Baymay blocked as best as he could. His pummeling and kicking attacks only managed to push them back. He could not deal with them all at once. 
As the number of Shadows dwindled, Merida studied the floating witch-like Heartless; they preferred to float and cast long-range attacks from a distance. They flung their wands and cast fireballs at Baymax. Her first arrow had worked on one witch but the others were unaffected. The best Merida could do was aim near them, forced to halt their attacks and retreat to a new midair position. Stalling them was not enough. If only she had a clue or a tip on destroying the witches and knights, she could help Baymax to keep Hiro safe. 
The book. Jack Skellington's book!
"Over here, ya dirty mutts!" mocked Merida. A single arrow flew past the helmet of the knight. It slugged its shield over its shoulder and went after Merida. She moved much faster and had only planned to distract it. With her fingers pressed to her lips, Merida sharply whistled to call the witches to her. 
"They can only focus on one of us at a time! Smack'em for me, won't ya?!" requested Merida. 
"Roger!" replied Baymax. He dove over to the backsides of the knights and struck their legs. The two witch-like Heartless quietly descended over Merida and blasted her with lightning and fire.
PWSHSHSH!
Baymax fired both of his gauntlets, squishing the spellcasting creatures to the wall. They survived the pounding impact and floated away. The smoke from their elemental attacks subsided. Baymax rushed to Merida's aid. She panted and gripped her chest. Her bear-shaped pendant shined bright blue through her dress. 
"PHEW! I'm glad that worked." Merida remembered how the enchanted pendant worked. It protected her from harmful magic like curses, jinxes, or anything else that would fall under witchcraft. Since the Heartless appeared and attacked as witches, Merida was certain she would be immune from their attacks. As for Hiro and Baymax, she needed to help them out. She pulled out Jack's book and searched the pages for Heartless that resembled the newest varieties. There! Side by side on opposite pages. Wizards and Defenders. A deadly duo of Heartless that were described as being the perfect protectors. Wizard Heartless had to be slain by surprise while Defender Heartless could only receive damage from behind their impregnable shields.
"Baymax! Yer turn now! Let them go to you. Stand yer ground!" barked Merida. 
Baymax followed her words of wisdom. He brawled with the surrounding Defenders and shoved them against each other. He ducked and used their own shields against the Wizards' spells. Merida ran up to the Defenders and plunged her sword into the head of her first target. As it faded away, she focused on the second Defender, flying across the warehouse after Baymax had hurled it away from the mezzanine. It tried to raise its shield but Merida chopped off its arm. She gave another mighty slash, destroying the second Defender for good. 
The two remaining Wizards sought to attack Baymax who was busy wrestling with the third Defender. This worked out perfectly for Merida. She followed her gut and aimed immediately for the floating abomination to her right. Her arrow flew fast and pierced its target, totally unaware. It poofed into smithereens. Merida used her last arrow as the others were scattered all over the floor. She pulled the bow string and fired. The last Wizard vanished but not out of defeat. Merida gathered her arrows while waiting for it to reappear.
BLIP!
Hiro jumped and turned around. As a twinkling glow, the Wizard Heartless had teleported into the control room. It pointed its sparkling wand at Hiro. 
"AHHH!!" yelled Hiro. He snatched a loose wire from the pile of computer junk and whipped it towards the Wizard. It flinched and reared back. It then waved its wand, creating a scorching ball of fire.
KRRKKK! 
Baymax burst through the glass windows. Hiro ducked. Baymax withstood the blazing blast and strangled the Wizard. He flung it backwards, plummeting towards the Defender. 
KRSSSSSH!
"Didn't see that coming, did ye?!" snickered Merida. She had skewered her sword through the nape of the Defender and the chest of the Wizard. When she pulled back her sword, both Heartless collapsed and crumbled into darkness. Merida huffed with a sweaty smile on her face.
Baymax still stood very aggressively around Hiro, whose eyes locked back to the main monitor. He recognized the security program, seconds away from rebooting itself. He rushed to the keyboard and altered the coded commands. He had to delete the right amount of data without causing the system to crash again.
The pop-up windows were deactivated. The lights dimmed like normal. The alarm was killed. The moment of silence was all Hiro wanted to regain his sanity.
"WHAT THE HECK JUST HAPPENED?!" Merida hustled up the steps and climbed up to the mezzanine. She ripped the door off its feeble hinges and glared at Hiro. "What did you do?"
"Nothing...I mean...hehe...great job with those...Heart-losers?" Hiro wished his genius mind could think of a clever joke to amuse Merida. Her intense eyes burned as bright as her fiery red hair.
"Heart-LESS! I thought ye were supposed to be smart," teased Merida, crossing her arms. 
"I am! I just...look! I fixed the computer. I found some videos," said Hiro.
"Whatever a computer or a video is, it better be worth saving yer wee backside," scoffed Merida.
"Just...ugh! Come down and watch this," Hiro moved the cursor back to the play button of the first video. He waited for Merida and Baymax to watch beside him.
It played first as a tiny window but Hiro maximized it to full-screen. After the first few seconds of hazy static, the image turned clear. It displayed the warehouse floorspace where the camera angle shot from the high mezzanine. 
Merida was fascinated by the fully functioning machine with its pieces in place. It was shaped more like a threading spindle of steel than it did in shambles. Its spinning wheel buzzed and churned rapidly. Its face glowed as a circle of bright electric-green light. Small shadowy figures marched across the warehouse floor and disappeared past the camera's view.
"The doorway is not strong here," said a cold, deep voice from the video.  
Doorway! The word alarmed Merida. She nudged her shoulder against Hiro to make sure she could carefully hear what else came next.
"Hey!" whined Hiro.
"Shush!" Merida refused eye contact. Her clump of red hair brushed against Hiro's face. 
When the buzzing wheel lost its power and turned dim, someone came into the camera's view. Tall and thin. He had a flowing black cape that draped behind him and some kind of bird perched on his shoulder. As Merida squinted her eyes, his sleeves appeared dark red. Who was this man?
"You think we should fly ourselves out of here, Jafar? Seems like a lot of work to haul all this stuff somewhere else, even with magic," squawked the bird.
A talking parrot? Hiro twisted his lips in disbelief. Baymax gave no response. As he stood over Hiro and Merida, he remained silent, save for the occasional sound of his robotic blinking.
"Oh Iago. That's why I've asked for him." The man who was addressed as Jafar gave a light cackle and turned his head. "So good of you to make the trip."
Thump-Thump!
"Heeeeey! It's about time I was invited to this party!" boasted a booming voice.
"Oogie," growled Merida, clenching her fingernails tight into her palm. Hiro cautiously looked away, not wanting to cross eyes with someone as furious as snarling dog, baring its teeth.
Waddling to the center of the camera, a familiar, fat figure slapped its arms on his burlap body.
"Mr. Boogie," greeted Jafar, "As you-"
"Please Snake-Eyes! We're all pals now. Handsome devils! Though I'd place my bets on who's better looking. Ha-ha! You can just call me Oogie."
"Yeeeees," said Jafar, as slowly and smoothly as a patient predator, "Oogie...as you are aware, our plan is to open several doorways across the worlds. This one has run its course. There's nothing left to fuel it."
"What do ya feed it? Worm's Wart Soup? I can whip up something mighty tasty and fizzy for this bad boy!"
"The doorways thrive off the energy that comes from hearts that cherish their homes. Capturing their leaders can yield greater power, allowing the doorways to call upon more sinister Heartless."
"Huh! Like a broken slot machine, this city looks to be out of service. Gonna relocate? I hope you have enough for a security deposit," Oogie coughed as he gave a loud, throaty laugh.
"Relocating was the plan but we've decided to go one extra step," began Jafar, "Which is why you were recommended. I've been told you've got quite the mind for these machines. Perhaps you can...improve them?"
Oogie rubbed his burlap hands and giggled wickedly.
"Improve?! I'll turn this little shamble of bolts and nuts and turn it into a solid fortress. Ten times bigger than this cracker-jack wheel. It'll make it look real pretty too. Heck! I'll throw in a free makeover for your wardrobe, Snake-Eyes."
Jafar paused. Merida guessed he cast the same annoyed glare as she did. 
"Charmed," said Jafar. He reached into his sleeve and pulled out a scroll, wrapped tightly under a seal. "Take this. It's a map that will guide you to where you are to build the new machine. It also gives specific instructions on creating a doorway. Do that and then add whatever monstrosities you desire. Make sure that no one intruder can get in or out. Are we clear?"
"Crystal," Oogie could hardly hold this enthusiam.
"Take whatever parts you want from this machine. But before you leave, destroy it. We don't want any curious rats to dig up a single clue on what we're doing. That includes the room up there."
Both Jafar and Oogie turned to the mezzanine camera. Both Merida and Hiro flinched. Their hearts leaped as if they were actually discovered by the scheming villains.
"Gotcha. Lemme take a lookie-lookie and see what can work for Mr. Oogie Boogie." Oogie approached the machine sitting on the right side of the camera's view while Jafar crossed over to the left side. Waves of shimmering red light shined from Jafar's end of the warehouse. 
"Saaaay, Snake-Eyes. Before you head off, why don't you tell me what you're working on?" asked Oogie.
"I'm off to collect a special item. It's called the global core. Once it falls into our hands, we will be much closer to opening the door of all doors."
"Door of all doors? What the heck are you talking about?" asked Oogie.
This time, it was Jafar's turn to laugh maniacally. His sinister cackle filled the warehouse and shook the computer speakers.
"Oh you'll see. I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise." The scarlet glow from Jafar's side of the camera turned low. It seemed as if he finally made his exit. 
"Huh! I'll show him a surprise! When he stops by my new pad, I'll scare the feathers off his bird. Ha-HA!" Oogie resumed his inspection of the machine. Asides from grumbling to himself, there appeared nothing more from the video. It still had a few minutes remaining on the video track.
Hiro sighed and leaned back. 
"Guess you were right, Merida. Heartless. Doorways. It's all real."
"Took you long enough, Hiro. But I will thank ye. Now we know there are two scoundrels responsible for these Heartless attacks. Jafar and Oogie Boogie."
"Merida," spoke Baymax suddenly, "You showed great signs of...anger when Oogie Boogie appeared in the video. Do you know that man?"
"He's not a man. He's an oversized potato sack! He-" Merida froze. She then quickly coughed out the guilt in her throat. "He captured a friend of mine, the one who gave me the book." 

Merida padded her satchel with a touch of grief. The book had more than just information on the Heartless. It was a token of Jack Skellington, someone who had re-ignited hope in her heart. It was so precious that Merida hesitated to bring it out again. She exhaled and reached into her satchel.
Hiro accepted the book but this time with an open mind. He started on the first page and tapped his helmet. What Merida did not know was that Hiro used his transparent visor to take high-definition pictures of each page that he read. It was nothing like a technical manual; he had to take his time process all of the strange lore behind the  Heartless that varied in sizes, abilities, and attack patterns. 
The rattling of the mezzanine ladder echoed into everyone's ears. At first, Merida and Hiro were startled and turned to the open doorway. Their eyes detected something heavy that shook the camera's feed. They immediately remembered that the video was not yet finished.
"Hmph! Maybe this can help me figure out where I gotta go," said Oogie Boogie. His voice was much louder, crackling with static. Hiro heard keyboard tapping and computer beeping.
"Ugh, why do these buttons have to be so teeny-tiny? Here we go! Let's see...I gotta make a left...then another left...there!" Oogie giggled and hissed, as if feeling his appetite. "I get my own mountain?! Jackpot, baby! I knew I picked the right side! Mmm...so many tunnels too! Perfect for my creepy crawlies! Now then....what's this? Security Alarm? Sounds fun! Let's trap anyone who comes lurking up this side of town!"
Click-click!
The video ended abruptly.
"So that would explain why this machine summoned the Heartless when you pushed the wrong buttons," said Merida with a rosy smirk.
"Hey! I was trying to get data," snapped Hiro.
"Data? What's that supposed to be?" asked Merida.
Hiro groaned but Baymax intervened politely.
"Data is another collective term for...technical and....empirical information. In this instance...we might find some history in the search files. Allow me." Baymax reached over Hiro's shoulder and tapped the top of the computer frame. A series of high-pitched, beeping sounds whirled around Baymax's head. It lasted for only a few seconds.
"Well? What'd you get?"
"Oogie's last entry. I've obtained the...coordinates and a...geographic layout of a new location."
"Oh! Like a map?" asked Merida cheerfully.
"Oh so that you understand?" asked Hiro with a teasing look in his eyes.
"I'm a fast learner when it comes to yer funny words," answered Merida before turning to Baymax. "Do ya know how long it will take for us to get to his fortress?"
"It will take...four to...five hours to reach our new end destination."
"Wait a sec. Merida, he's with me. I'll tell him what to do."
"What else did ya have in mind, Hiro? Don't ya remember what Jafar said? He gave Oogie the plans to make his own doorways. We've got to stop'em before more Heartless come to attack more people."
"It would be wise to follow the trail, Hiro," said Baymax in support, "We could also extract more...data...on how the portals are created."
"Which could help us learn how to close them," realized Hiro out loud.
"And ya thought I was the slow one, eh?" Merida crossed her arms and raised a cocky eyebrow. Hiro nervously sighed as they both stood up at the same time.
"About that, Merida. I just...I do wanna say...you know," Hiro fidgeted, grasping his arm and looking away with wandering eyes.
"It's all riiight. I accept yer apology for being a wee, stubborn brat. And...yer welcome." Merida bobbed her wild head of red hair and winked. With a spurt of excitement, Merida took back the book and bounded out of the control room.
"Okaaay." Hiro rubbed the back of his neck.
"I'm glad I found her," said Baymax. "You are starting to really like her."
"What? No! No, it's not like that!" panicked Hiro.
"I was only referring to her as a companion and partner. But you are at the age...of showing physical attraction...towards other teenagers. Such increase in hormones can develop into...infatuation."
"Baymax!"
"What's holding yer bums? Let's gooo!" hollered Merida from the ground floor. Hiro hopped through the broken windows and spotted Merida, leaning comfortably on the warehouse door. Baymax carried Hiro's lanky teenage body and descended towards their newest ally.
"I will only take a moment to retrieve some supplies for our journey," Baymax excused himself with a light nod and went to the nursing room.
"Ya got a sweet friend, ya know?" said Merida sweetly. She gestured to the bulky robot nurse, closing the door behind him.
"Yeah. He's...he's pretty great," replied Hiro. He remembered how he almost lost Baymax in another dimension, over a year ago. If it was not for saving his computer chip,  Hiro would have lost his robotic companion for good. He noticed how Merida looked away with a sickly frown. "About your friend, Jack. I'm really sorry about what happened to him. We'll try to get him back from Oogie. I promise."
Merida lifted her chin to acknowledge Hiro's kind words.
"After I lost me home to the Heartless...I was on me own fer so long. Then Jack showed up. He lost his home too. As charming as he was, I could tell he had the same pains as I. Then he was taken and I was on my own again until Baymax found me. Hiro, I don't want this to keep repeating with the everyone I meet. I want this all to stop."
"Me too," Hiro thought back to the chaos that ensued when the waves of Heartless that attacked San Fransokyo on that terrible night. He remembered the soot and sweat on the faces of his friends and aunt. Regardless, their eyes had been full of hope when they had to bid farewell to him and Baymax. 
"But if Jack were still in this fight, he wouldn't want to give up. Nor me family," said Merida with a determined nod.
"Yeah, I hear ya. I've got people I gotta get back to," said Hiro. Baymax then appeared, sealing panels of his armor which contained the provisions from the nursing room. He opened the wide warehouse doors, brightening the floor with the afternoon sun. Baymax crouched, allowing Hiro and Merida to step onto his back. Hiro positioned himself behind Baymax's left shoulder while Merida helped herself to the right. With the rocket boosters blazing under Baymax's feet, they rose far up above the abandoned city buildings. Baymax's head beeped, sending a map-like grid to Hiro's visor. Hiro could then see that they were following a holographic trail, based upon Oogie's coordinates from the control room. He zoomed in with a telescopic view of the mountain. After studying what he could, Hiro looked over to Merida. Her eyes were closed and she smiled peacefully. 
By letting the wind blow her face and pass through her hair, Merida could escape her worries. She thought back to the day when she climbed the cliffs of Fire Falls. The sweet breeze and fresh spray from the gushing waters filled her with such pleasure. She wanted to share that feeling with her brothers, father, and mother after everything went back to normal.
When the sun hid behind the clouds, Merida glanced at Baymax and Hiro. She gave a grateful smile and looked onward. 
Different people. Same goal.