Chapter Four: The Alliance

Ribbons of darkness shuffled over Mulan, passing through the bamboo trees. Tiny bugs chirped under the late afternoon sky. Ominous breezes whispered like the gentle melody of a flute. Mulan had been venturing through the forest for a few hours. Mushu exhausted himself from shouting various battle chants and napped in her satchel. Mulan had to rely on her memory of the mirror's vision to find King Mickey. No other clues had surfaced on his location. Her horse, Khan, could feel her frustration through his reins, pulled in all directions. Mulan licked her lips and considered taking another break by the stream she had found. She took a deep breath and eased her shoulders. Perhaps a meditative moment of peace would clear her mind. It was then that she heard a distant moan. She focused and listened once more. The same moan echoed from the same place. She swerved her horse to gallop due North. His hooves pummeled the dirt, alerting Mushu from his slumber.
"Are we there yet?" mumbled Mushu. He poked his head out of the satchel and gazed at the bamboo abyss around him. Mulan scrunched her shoulders and firmly held her seat when her horse leaped over a steep ridge.
"HU-WHAA!" shrieked Mushu. He stretched and cracked his dragon's spine. He climbed up Mulan's gi and perched on her shoulder. "Yo Mulan. How are we doing as Team Honor? Did we find anything yet?"
"I don't know. Maybe," replied Mulan, eyes mainly forward.
"'I don't know. Maybe.'? What does that mean? I'm about ready to stuff some steamed buns in these dragon jaws. Hey listen, I think we forgot to pack some sweet and sour sauce. Do you think-"
The horse let out a shrill whinny. A small person, with a large head and equally large ears, lay in a crater, twice his size.
"Sweet Mother of the Chinese Zodiac! It's the King!" exclaimed Mushu. He dropped to the ground, ripped off a splinter from a bamboo tree, and poked the body. It exhaled and blinked its wide cartoony eyes.
"Mickey, my man. How ya feelin'?" Mushu waved his scaly claw over Mickey's face.
"Mushu! You're supposed to say 'your Majesty'," corrected Mulan. She dismounted and approached Mickey. "Are you hurt? We're here to help you."
“Huh…who are you?” asked Mickey, rubbing his aching head.
"I'm Fa Mulan. You can just call me Mulan. This is my guardian, Mushu. We were sent to rescue you."
"Rescue," repeated Mickey softly. He looked side to side, trying to figure out the area. Nothing but bamboo as far as he could see.
"Yeah, don't you remember, your Majesty? You were shot out of a cannon," reminded Mushu.
"Cannon...rescue," Mickey thought back to the booming blast that blurred his mind. A whimpering cry rang out to him. 
"MINNIE!" Mickey panicked and bolted up to his feet. 
"Minnie? Oh QUEEN Minnie. That's your honey-bunny," said Mushu. "I remember. She was taken by Pete and the Heartless."
"Were you two there? What happened?" Mickey turned frantic for answers.
"After you were launched, Donald Duck and Princess Jasmine chased the pirate ship and the stadium was swallowed by the darkness," recapped Mulan. "It's going to spread to other places if we don't stop it."
"But do ya know where the ship went? Where did they take Minnie?" Mickey was antsy, practically interrogating Mulan and Mushu for her whereabouts. Instead, they slouched their shoulders and frowned.
"We saw it all from a mirror that only showed us the stadium. We don't know anything beyond that. I'm sorry, your Majesty," said Mulan.
Mickey sulked and looked away.
"But we need your help to fight the Heartless. What can we do?" asked Mulan. For such a cheerful king, Mickey found it difficult to force a smile on his face when he had no idea if Minnie was in danger or not.
"If it makes you feel better, Donald and Jasmine should be fine. They escaped on the carpet. They zoomed out to safety on that floating rug," confirmed Mushu.
"Well...I suppose that's good news." Mickey nodded and surveyed the forest again. "Do you know how to get out of here?"
"Definitely. You can ride with us," offered Mulan. She reached out her hand towards Mickey. Mushu grinned and raised his thumb. He was eager to travel alongside someone who was both a living legend and a royal ruler.
"Gosh. Thank you Mulan," Mickey followed Mulan up to her saddle and sat behind her. While she guided her horse through the bamboo forest, Mushu started to chat with Mickey to put him in a good mood. He tried asking about his favorite food, favorite color, favorite fighting move, and how many bedrooms were in his castle. Mickey only mumbled short answers, much to Mushu's dismay.
They rode down a steep hill, curving past a still pond. 
"Hold up," requested Mickey. Mulan tightened the reins and stopped her horse.
"What is it? A hot springs spa?" Mushu sprung from behind Mickey's ears.
"Something is watching us. It's close," explained Mickey. Mulan gripped the hilt of her family sword. Mushu growled and pointed his dragon's snout. Nothing appeared nor were there any strange sounds. Mickey dropped from the horse and headed to the pond. A heavy fog drifted from the other side. Mickey twitched his ears. He then summoned his Keyblade and stood on guard. 
Finally, Mulan and Mushu heard it too.
A humming motor was near. It grew louder. A hooded figure floated into view. It hovered in midair like a phantom. It shined its bright blue, pixelated eyes. Two beams of blue shot out and scanned Mickey, Mulan, and Mushu. All three of them flinched.
"King Mickey. Threat level. 9. Fa Mulan. Threat level. 7. Mushu. Threat level. 2."
“Hey!" hissed Mushu. "I don't know what kind of messed-up scale you're using but you can't flaunt your lights and judge me. You don't know me or my dragon mamma." Mushu's bickering caused the phantom to turn its gaze with a grinding click. The front flaps of its cloak whipped outward. The lower half of its body was white and round like a pill. Mickey gasped upon catching a glimpse of its Heartless symbol. The phantom glowed a ghostly white while its symbol shined black and red.
Suddenly, bubbly blobs of darkness emerged from the ground. They wiggled and took the form of a new breed of Heartless, one that Mickey had never seen more. There were seven of them, with a mechanical appearance. They ignited motor sounds on banded tractor tires and clasped the air with pincer-like arms. Their bug-eyed lens buzzed and shook. As the phantom leader flew away into the fog, the wheeled Heartless charged after Mickey. 
"Oh yeah baby! It's battle time! For family honor! Hi-ya!" cried Mushu. Mulan unsheathed her sword and ran past Mickey. She slashed the closest Heartless while Mushu sprung forward and spat fireballs at his foes.
"We'll cover these monsters, your Majesty. Go after the phantom!" shouted Mulan.
"Right." Mickey chased the robotic rogue through the bamboo forest. He fired a blast of white light to clear the fog. The phantom drifted between the trees and swerved in circles. Mickey leaped, ready to swing his Keyblade. Seconds before contact, the phantom phased out of sight. It had dashed so quickly back to where Mickey had jumped. He landed and came after it with another Keyblade strike. The phantom rocketed up to the height of the trees and zoomed onward. Mickey tried to run after it but it moved with greater speed.
Thumping horse feet approached Mickey from behind. A hand swung in to snatch him off the ground and seat him onto a saddle.
"Hang on." Mulan rode her horse to gallop even faster. They were catching up to the phantom.
"I got this!" volunteered Mushu. He slithered up the horse's neck and pounced right over to the phantom's cloak. Its blinding blue lights whirled backwards. 
"Oh my…what lovely...eyes you have," Mushu recognized his failure to flatter the phantom when it raised its short arm, morphing into a blaster gun.
Mushu was blasted away in a trail of smoke. Mulan swerved her horse and caught him just in time.
"Looks like...I don' this. Bleh." Mushu coughed and went limp like an overcooked noodle. Mulan placed him into her satchel as she believed he earned himself another nap. 
"It's over there!" shouted Mickey. The chase continued. Mulan raced to the fleeing phantom towards the edge of the bamboo forest. 
"We're so close. You're doing great," said Mulan to the horse. Mickey raised his Keyblade, closed one eye, and prepared to aim a projectile blast at the phantom. It twirled up and shot at the ground. A violent burst of smoke and dirt frightened the horse into a frenzy. Mickey hung on to the saddle while Mulan worked to calm it down. Desperate to catch the phantom, Mickey stepped off and sprinted. After passing through the smoke, he watched his robotic adversary soar towards the Western valley. Mickey cast an attack spell but to no avail. The blast of white light had trailed off its target and faded. The phantom had escaped.
Mulan rode her horse towards Mickey, where they found themselves on a grassy hill, atop a dirt road. All the bamboo trees stood behind them.
"Where did it go?" asked Mulan.
"That way." Mickey pointed up West but quickly brought his hand down. "But it's gone now." 
"I'm sorry, your Majesty. We did everything we could," said Mulan.
"Mulan, I want to thank you. I really appreciate you and Mushu for finding me out here and for handling those Heartless. You're both really terrific," commented Mickey.
"Thank you. It means so much to hear you say that. If you could give me ten minutes to let my horse eat and rest, we can go on. That is, if you're okay with us traveling together."
"Of course! I definitely like the company. It'll be a tough journey ahead. We gotta find that phantom. It's the only clue we got about what the Heartless are up to with Pete." Mickey was determined. He felt confident with his new allies. Sword in hand, Mulan left her horse and approached Mickey. He watched her step down to one knee and give a respectful bow. 
"What are ya doing?"
"I, Fa Mulan, will pledge my allegiance to your Majesty, King Mickey, to stop the Heartless across all the lands." Mulan proceeded to stand back up and cross her chest with her sword
"That's might nice of you but you can just call me Mickey. I don't mind. I heard you've done a great deal for your country. I should be bowing to you too." Mickey returned the favor with a king's bow and held out his gloved hand.
"Well then. Can I call you 'Mickey, my man'?" Mushu had burst from the satchel and rushed to shake Mickey's hand. Mickey chuckled at the feisty dragon.
"Sure thing. We're friends now." Mickey faced Mulan again. She gave a warm smile and shook Mickey's hand. She was proud to call herself an ally and a friend of the King.
"Awwww yeah!" screeched Mushu, "Team Honor gets a new member! Let's take a quick snack break with the pony and ride into the sunset. Nothing's gonna stop us now. Watch out Heartless! We're coming to set your booties on FIYA!" 
Mickey and Mulan cracked up with glee. It helped Mickey to overcome his worrisome feelings for Minnie. He ambled beside Mulan and her horse to a nearby stream. While drinking its crystal clear water, he glanced at his gleaming reflection. His eyes seemed to sparkle but they only reminded him of the phantom. There was something about those bright blue, pixelated eyes. They were familiar.