Chapter Thirteen: The Stars
Back to the fight, the Beast wanted another round with the fat Heartless. It tried to fight back with a sluggish swing of its claws. The Beast seized its arm and tried to lift it off the ground. He immediately dropped its heavyweight body and began thrashing it.
As for Peter Pan, evading the flying Heartless was easy. Getting close enough to hit one of them was much, much harder. He tried to outsmart them by flying impulsively. The blue blasted solid icicles, trailing after him. The red released a fire ball behind Peter Pan. He ascended out of the way where the yellow yielded crackling energy. It shot a vertical beam of lightning from below. Peter Pan soared around the walls and found the Beast, struggling to hold his flailing opponent. He swooped by and stomped on the fat Heartless's head. The Beast rushed in close to take advantage of its stunned state. He hauled it overhead while roaring and immediately slammed it against the floor.
Peter Pan zigzagged in the air to avert the three flying Heartless. The Beast jumped on top of the fat Heartless. After balancing himself on its spherical body, the Beast waited for the right moment to strike one of the three flying Heartless. Peter Pan served as the perfect decoy, clever and quick.
The Beast then leaped and smacked the red into the blue. Their collision created a puff of steaming vapor. The yellow detected the Beast's interference and charged energy to cast another bolt of lightning. Peter Pan circled in and grabbed its small, squishy body from behind. He redirected its attack, shooting electricity against the fat Heartless.
The Beast was impressed by Peter Pan's tactics. The fat Heartless lost its balance and fell over its belly. As for the yellow, Peter Pan swung it by its pointy hat and hurled it towards the fallen pile of the red and blue. Lounging in the air, he crossed his arms and cracked a cocky smile. He was eager to celebrate a smooth victory.
"Look!" shouted the Beast. Peter Pan turned and spotted the final foe that Heartless that inconspicuously avoided every bit of combat.
It was the green Heartless, swaying by the chandelier. Peter Pan chuckled and approached it.
PWWWSH! The green spiraled away, like a tiny fly. Peter Pan could immediately tell that it moved much faster than the other fairy-like Heartless. The green visited each injured comrade and sprinkled green glitter over them. It bounced merrily and squeaked an off-key melody.
The red, the blue, and the yellow were back in motion, scurrying all across the ballroom air. The fat Heartless rolled back to its feet and curled its arms, ready to attack.
"What?!" shouted the Beast.
"It's that green thingy. It sprinkled some kind of pixie dust and healed them," recounted Peter Pan.
"So nothing we do will work?!" The Beast glowered in frustration.
"We gotta be smart about this. I'll go after the green guy first. And then we'll take care of the rest like we did the first time, kay?" Peter Pan did not wait for an answer. He curved around the red, the blue, and the yellow and chased the shy green.
The Beast was left to deal with the fat Heartless once again. It seemed to learn from the first brawl and grabbed each of the Beast's massive paws. As they wrestled to overpower the other, Peter Pan began to tire in flight. None of the flying Heartless showed any sign of losing their speed.
A glittering gust of ice rushed in, blasting Peter Pan from behind. He dove in a hurry, soaring over the Beast. Remnants of the blue's frosty wind coated the Beast in a thin layer of snow. He growled and shook it off his fur.
"Sorry!" cried Peter Pan.
"Hurry up!" barked the Beast. His muscles weakened gradually. The fat Heartless became more agitated by the second. It rocked its whole body back and forth and head-butted the Beast. It toppled to its portly belly. Rather than appear helpless and clumsy, it emitted a fiery purple glow. With this strange power, it slid across the smooth floor and rammed into the Beast. It smashed him into the wall. The Beast struggled to free himself as it squished him deeper into the crater behind him. His furry claws dug deep into its thick, fatty skin.
Meanwhile, Peter Pan tried to devise a plan while dodging the barrage of elemental attacks. He also continued to search for the green, wherever it was trying to hide. As far as he knew, all five Heartless were present in the ballroom. None tried to escape. They were only there to defeat him and the Beast. Peter Pan had to think of something fast. He glanced at the Beast whose face was getting pummeled by the fat Heartless. He wanted to help but there was little he could do. He was too weak to deal any damaging blows. It was almost similar to having to fight the Beast head-on, something he could never do.
And there it was. An idea.
Peter Pan thought back to when he was trying to evade the Beast in the East Wing. He flew to the balcony doors. The three colored Heartless gathered together and followed him. He squatted against glass panels, parallel to the floor. He waited carefully just before the three Heartless cast their blended twister of elemental attacks.
PWSH! Peter Pan launched himself like a slingshot, up to the chandelier. The red, the blue, and the yellow wiggled furiously and swarmed after him. Peter Pan snickered as he baited them right above the Beast.
"Over here! Give it everything you got! Let me hear you roar!" shouted Peter Pan. Following his cue, the Beast thrusted his arms under the fat Heartless. He slammed his forehead right into its tiny face and glowered. As he inhaled, Peter Pan plugged his ears.
"RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWR!" This passionate cry gave the Beast the extra boost in strength to lift the fat Heartless and throw him up to the chandelier where the three flying Heartless had gathered. Before they could cast another elemental blast, the fat Heartless smacked into all of them at once.
Peter Pan watched the clumsy collision from a distance. He then spotted the green and chased it. He almost felt sorry for it, trying to escape by ramming itself against the balcony doors. Peter Pan dove at it with extra speed and tried to slash it with his dagger.
PWWSH! The green spiraled away, having survived by dodging the blade by mere inches. It hurried to heal its Heartless comrades. Closer and closer, it was eager to sprinkle its green glitter once more, repeating the cycle of battle.
The Beast had had enough.
GRRRSH! Pouncing into the fray, the Beast had destroyed the green in one brutal slash. It turned into a flash of green dust and darkness. He did not stop there. The onslaught continued, ridding the red, bashing the blue, yanking the yellow, and finishing the fat Heartless. Their bodies were ripped to shreds of darkness, fading like ashes in the wind.
A unsettling shiver of nerves surged down Peter Pan's spine. The enemies were defeated but his partner seemed to lose his mind. After the Heartless were gone, he growled and shook his head, blazing with anger. Peter Pan quietly descended without touching the floor. His heart rapidly pounded like a drum. He cautiously waited for the Beast to be calm. He had another idea.
"Huh?" The Beast lifted his head and looked to the open balcony doors. The sweet, cold air filled the ballroom. It wrapped itself around the Beast. Even Peter Pan, leaning against the door frame, enjoyed the brisk touch of the nightly breeze. He wiped his forehead with his arm and laughed with relief. The Beast began to breathe much slowly, regaining his humanity.
A woman screamed from the East Wing. The Beast became alert, with eyes as intense as a blazing pyre.
"BELLE!" cried the Beast. His loud voice startled Peter Pan. It was filled with rage but something else too. Something scarring. Peter Pan imagined how he would feel if he knew Tinker Bell's life was in danger.
The Beast stormed out of the ballroom. Peter Pan was finally free to explore the rest of the castle without anymore obstacles in his way. It was just what he needed to rescue Tinker Bell and get out. But that would work if the Beast was the true culprit. But how could he be? He had denied knowing anything about her and was also attacked by the Heartless. The Beast was truly dedicated to protecting his castle, not as his domain but as his defense to keep the woman he loved safe. The Beast was a brute but he was no villain. Not a kidnapper.
Peter Pan decided that journeying through the entire castle would have been a waste of time. Tinker Bell was nowhere near to be found. Someone else had to have written the letter. She could be locked up, miles and miles away. Without a map or any kind of clue, Peter Pan sank to the floor, uncertain of what to do next.
In the distance, a door slammed against the wall. The Beast? Belle? More Heartless?
* * *
The Beast had leaped out of Belle's bedroom window and landed into the open courtyard,
Up against the speckled sea of stars, a phantom swayed with the evening wind. It had captured Belle, squirming in its clutches. When she cried out to the Beast, it shook her fiercely and flew away. He bolted up to the pillars that held the castle's end of the bridge. He moved as fast as he could, climbing and racing against time.
He reached the peak of the pillar and prepared to tackle the phantom in mid flight. He gave himself a running start and lunged far from the edge. He seized the phantom by its torn cloak. Plummeting towards the bridge, the Beast twisted his body to shield Belle from impact.
The Beast scrapped his arm and back when they fell. Belle rolled smoothly and the phantom quickly floated back up, inches above the ground.
The Beast grunted harshly. He tried to endure the pain and let out a frightening growl. The phantom had no true face; instead, it possessed a pair of cold, blue eyes. They stared at the Beast with such apathy. It pointed its stubby arm and shot a burning blast of bright blue energy.
The Beast collapsed with a loud thump.
"Oh no!" cried Belle. She covered her mouth, horrified by the sight of the Beast, hissing in agony. She ran to him with open arms and teary eyes.
"Belle," said the Beast weakly. "Run."
"What? I can't-" Belle stopped, shook her head, and took one step closer.
"RUN!" warned the Beast.
It only took a flash of red light from the corner of her eye for Belle to notice. It was too quick for her to do anything.
The phantom fired a different blast. It did not carry the same painful impact as the first attack. Instead, Belle froze where she stood. Silent as the night without wind. Petrified, not in fear, but in stone.
The Beast struggled to rise. He growled by every stinging inch he tried to move.
The phantom approached Belle gently. Her face was locked in a perpetual state of sorrow and terror. Watching the phantom flee with Belle as its prize tormented the Beast.
The wild, green blur sped past the Beast. It followed the phantom and tried to pull Belle away.
"Let her go!" shouted Peter Pan. He pulled Belle away and tried to fly back to the bridge. The phantom swerved and veered madly. It managed to shake off Peter Pan. He tumbled in midair for a moment before balancing himself, right-side up.
Watching all of this from the ground, the Beast was in shock. Peter Pan was indeed trying to rescue Belle from the nefarious phantom. Gripping his injuries, the Beast trudged after them. If there was any chance to save Belle, he would fight with every ounce of strength in his cursed body.
Both the phantom and Peter Pan had ventured beyond the castle grounds. They soared above the frightful forest that would devour any traveler in darkness. Even in the murky sky where the stars began to disappear, Peter Pan never lost sight of his distant target. He flattened his arms and legs like an arrow to fly even faster.
The phantom sensed that Peter Pan was getting too close. It resorted to a more offensive strategy and turned around to aim its handless arm. Peter Pan was unsure how it could even carry Belle with actually touching her. There was no time to ponder such a feat when a series of blue blasts were suddenly coming right at him.
Curving away, Peter Pan dodged the attacks and circled back to the phantom. It was a strategy he had often used when bombarded by cannon fire. With his strength diminishing, Peter Pan knew that there was not much time left for him to save Belle. He tried not to think about all the energy he had used from leaving Neverland to find the castle, evading the Beast, and fighting the Heartless. He just needed to keep going for a little while longer. He cleared his mind and repeated to himself: Faith. Trust. And plenty of pixie dust.
The phantom suddenly turned around and face Peter Pan, alarmed by its bright, blue eyes. A part of him was dazzled; each eye looked to be composed of tiny glittering stars. Strange but gorgeous.
It came at him too fast to predict. Right in his stomach, the phantom had tackled Peter Pan. He curled up in pain and started to drop by inches. With one final glimpse of the phantom, escaping behind a thick cloud, Peter Pan fell several feet into the forest.
The boy crashed through the bristly pine branches. Bruises spread all over his body. Before he could hit the ground, which would have broken several bones, a brawny figure leaped and caught him. Peter Pan felt its furry arms and listened to its miserable snarl. He gasped and gazed upon his savior. The face of the Beast faded as the grey clouds spread across the sky. Peter Pan could not hold his eyes open any longer, back to the darkness.