It is the beginning of the end .
Eyes. Glacier-blue eyes staring. Staring at her. Demanding, expecting.
The tall blond-haired, bearded man that was her father stood before her,
while her dark-haired mother sat to the side avoiding her gaze.
"Being a part of this gym means training for a mastery of water."
She looked away.
"Our family has always trained under the Cerulean banner. Are you going to be the one member of our line to selfishly abandon tradition?"
When the answer came it was almost a whisper. "I-I just don't feel the same about ... the waters as... everyone else. Are you gonna punish me for that?"
"If it's not water, then what do you feel an affinity for?"
"I ... I don't know," she mumbled.
"If it weren't for Misty, I'd think you weren't even one of the family"
her father stated, shaking his head. "But lately you've even begun to influence even her a little. It's got to stop."
Her eyes narrowed, but inside she was hurting. "And maybe I don't even wanna be one of the stupid Waterflowers ..."
He sucked in his breath and shot to his feet, eyes as cold as frozen water. But before he could do anything, the doorbell chimed.
"You think it's the other girls, back from swim practise?" her mother asked doubtfully.
"No, too early." Surprisingly, her father smiled a little before leaving to get the door, and the girl felt more than a little disconcerted.
Minutes later he came back but with an older man in a white lab-coat that matched his hair.
"This is her, Professor," he said, pointing her out.
The white-coated man looked at her and his brown eyes seemed interested.
"I see. Well, young lady, my name is Professor Oak and you're a very interesting case..."
And Valdera awoke with the suffocating feel of helplessness within her throat. The futon below her was damp with her sweat despite the coldness of the dead air within the old room. Outside, through the cracked window on the opposite wall, the city wind rattled the glass and shook the crumbling walls of the deserted multi-level apartment building as if it were a house of cards. Plaster splintered from the ceiling and fell with soft thuds upon the wooden floor with intermittent shakes. No surprise though, as the whole block of these apartment buildings in this part of the city had been condemned for so long, no one even remembered it as being anything else.
Her breathing was harsh, laboured, before finally she began to relax and let out the pent up aguish. She brushed a lock of blonde hair from her eyes. She was no longer a young defenceless girl to be pushed around by everyone. Never again.
Nonetheless, she could feel a different kind of push now.
But she would take care of that soon enough.
A sudden rasping chuckle broke the silence of the room, startling her.
"Be quiet girl and maybe we'll let you live after we're done."
Valdera sat up on the futon and watched as two large men in ragged clothing fully entered the room from the half-open door. Silly of her not to have detected them sooner but the nightmares always left her vulnerable. Though that was no excuse - she knew what the area was like around here - even with the supposed mass gathering of the people at the palace all ready to celebrate the reforming of the world. With no regular patrol, the old housing sector had become a nest for the criminals and rapists. But of course that was also the reason she had chosen this place as their rendezvous. She wanted no League interference when her sister finally arrived - and arrive she would. The curiosity would bring her - she knew her sister as much as she knew herself.
But first ... some entertainment. She smiled slowly.
Their eyes were bright with lust as they looked upon her and she realised that she still wore no clothes. She didn't care - she had found out long ago that her body was just another weapon she could use. Though frankly, scum like this didn't deserve even the sight of it. So she pushed herself to her feet and the gloominess of the room was suddenly extinguished as she let a bright light flare out from her body - as bright as the sun before it had become shrouded in the shadow surrounding the earth.
The men fell back, crying in surprise, blinded, stumbling backward like bugs startled out of their nest by an upturned rock. Stepping forward,
she tossed her loose hair back over a slim shoulder with a quick motion of her head and gestured her hand over her body. At the movement,
vapour-like light formed her thin white robes over her skin to conceal her nakedness.
"She-She's a Master!" one of them exclaimed, now in total fear when before they had been smug, powerful over an apparently weak woman. Still blinking from the blinding light, they pushed at each other as they each tried to retreat through the door at the same time.
Valdera waved open her right hand and strands of light-like chains erupted vertically from the floor blocking their exit, weaving together a web of entanglement. "Leaving so soon?" she asked with an evil twist on her lips. "Tell the Forbidden in Hell I said hi." A ball of brightest-white electricity crackled briefly in her palm before she sent it hurtling at the back of the nearest man's head with a flick of her slender wrist. There was a sound not unlike a popping watermelon and the headless body toppled over to clutch jerkily at his friend's back. The remaining man stopped clawing at the light chains and turned around,
screaming when he saw what she had done to his companion. Like a weak woman, he screamed till his voice turned hoarse.
"Oh, shut up," she said as she walked over and kicked his loser friend's dead body off of him with her bare foot. He immediately fell to silence though his mouth was still gaping open and gasping for breath as if he were a dying fish. She put her hands on her hips and stared down at him with a tilt to her head. "Tell your other friends that tonight this area is off limits," she said softly. She shifted her glacier gaze to his late-friend meaningfully. "And you should know that people aren't what they seem."
She left him cowering there as her form dissipated to light and drifted outside down on to the street by the entrance of the apartment building. She reformed herself. The air was murky, like a fog stained with shadows, almost as if the clouds had sunk from the heavens. A slight wind blew past ruffling the hem of her robes and she looked up at the complete blackness of the sky, past the tall tops of the city buildings around her. And maybe they had - the protective dome Lord Garick had erected over the whole of the plateau was even darker and more impenetrable than the covered sky behind it. Not even the tall, softly glowing lamp posts lining the city streets could fully illuminate the whole of the plateau. Not anymore.
But she had herself. With but a thought, her form grew brighter and it chased away the gloominess like water washing away mud. The sudden brightness startled a couple of scantily-clad streetwalkers leaning against a nearby videophone booth. She shook her head as the girls made warding motions with their hands and fled. Little rattatas feeding off smelly garbage cans in the alleyway of the building she had just come from hissed at her and scampered deeper into the alley.
The air smelled dead. But she was used to it by now. She let her eyes wander along the street. Another one of the apartment buildings would have to suffice as she waited.
And she wondered if Ashura would have liked the way she handled things.
She could be brutal too. Much more brutal. It was in her genes after all.
Warning: This is not standard Pokemon fanfiction. It contains scenes of violence and some inappropriate language.
Fanfiction by Ace Sanchez.
All parts of this story may be found at the following address:
Note: Pokemon and its associated characters are copyright by Nintendo,
Game Freak, Creatures Inc, and 4Kids Productions.
Part 12 - Requiems
The dark forest and surrounding ruins were quiet.
Kneeling down on one leg, the tall woman with braided dark-blue hair studied the large boot print embedded in the damp grassy ground. She was tilting a lamp she held in one hand as she did so for better visibility,
while with the other she was rubbing the ground, sensing with her fingers.
Suzie narrowed her eyes. Despite everything, Brock's presence still affected her strongly - strong enough to enrage emotions in her that,
although completely different now, were at least as powerful as the ones she had thought she was finally over. Her hair tickled the right side of her face from where her long bangs covered it. She ignored it.
"Looks like they all entered the Plateau through the Victory Road tunnels," Rainer said matter-of-factly as he peered down the incline,
still mounted upon his white and red horse of flame. Uncomfortable for the rapidash especially, as it neighed painfully, stepping from side to side from the agonising liquid aura of the blue-cloaked Water Master above it.
Cassidy, also mounted atop her horse next to her partner, Butch, wrinkled her upturned nose in disgust while she looked across at the gloomy graveyard. It was just barely visible past an outcrop of trees and collapsed stone columns. "I always thought that placing the graveyard of those who died in the wars at the exit of the escape tunnels was a little perverse."
Suzie stood up with one quick movement and dusted off her black overcoat,
her long braid settling down her back. "Let's all not forget who caused the wars to erupt in the first place," she said with an underlying hint of steel. She grasped on to her rapidash's fiery mane with one hand and jumped to hoist herself on to its flame-proof saddle.
Rainer nodded as he looked back at the two League Generals with a hostile glow in his blue eyes. "That's true. In fact, Suzie, I don't see why we should even bother with these two no-ability humans. Coupled with the fact they were once part of Team Rocket..." He said the last with no small measure of contempt.
Butch grasped on to the hilt of the broad sword sheathed at his belt underneath his grey over-cloak. "Fool! You should be thanking Giovanni's shade for what he returned to humankind-"
"But in so doing, the short-sighted fool wrecked not just Indigo Insula but the whole planet," Suzie interrupted flatly. "Enough of this, it's all ancient history." She looked over Butch and Cassidy with her dark eyes before returning her hard gaze to Rainer. "I chose this alliance and they served me well to provide League properties. As long as their goals do not interfere with mine, I see no reason to break it." With that said,
she wheeled her rapidash toward the cemetery down the sloped forested hill and took off in a burst of flame.
Thousands of feet below, within the darkest depths of the Victory Road caverns, a lone woman sat at the very edge of a sheer cliff-ledge letting her slender legs waver carelessly above a fathomless drop. Worn free about her shoulders, strands of red hair that seemed the colour of blood in the darkness was pushed back from a smooth cheek by a gloved hand. Pale aqua eyes surveyed the dangerous height below her as if transfixed by the view. Her cloak covering her dress was as dark-blue as a midnight ocean.
Misty turned her head and looked up. The massive mile-high pillar formation they were climbing seemed to reach forever into the shadows above. But somewhere up there was the entrance to the surface of the city. They were indeed close. She dropped her blue gaze and returned to staring at the depths below her. And to think.
In years long past, the subway of overhanging subterranean cliffs,
tunnels and pitfalls served as the final impediment to competing within the Pokemon League Championships. A penultimate test of endurance and survival with nothing but the company of one's pokemon for defence beyond themself in dangerous enclosed passageways filled with traps and puzzles... not to mention hostile pokemon.
She placed the warm bowl down on the rocks by her side, no longer feeling any sort of appetite. It had been a while since she could be alone in her thoughts like this. When the group had stopped for a short break she had wandered off further up the narrow ledge to take her meal in isolation.
She could still remember when there was a movement to forego the Victory Road altogether - especially during the unfortunate year when not just one hopeful contender perished within the black caverns, but several at the same time. But the present Elite at that time refused. Ever since the initial induction of the Pokemon League - so long past now that few records remained of that era - it had been a ruthless custom to weed out the less-determined and unskilled of the challengers.
But dangerous and unsafe as it was then, after the apparent haphazard excavation of the tunnels pending its collapse during the Dark Pokemon Wars, now it seemed even worse. Crumbling stone cliff-side ledges,
collapsible tunnels, not to mention uncountable fathomless pits rendered invisible by a thin layer of dirt riddled throughout - the present Victory Road was an apparent death-trap to all but those who have had prior experience in navigating its grim hallways.
However, right now, what puzzled her the greatest was her twin sister's message delivered to her by the psychic, Sabrina. Her exact feelings on her sibling were also unclear. On the one hand, the fact that she remained in her apparent allegiance with the League was detestable,
but on the other she just couldn't find it in her to hate her own sister.
Of course, Valdera's past relationship with Ash, that she had recently discovered, raised extremely heated emotions within that she was still uncertain of. He certainly got around, she thought bitterly. For her it had been different - after the break up she had just lost all semblance of desire for another partner - no matter what Ash may think. He could think her some whore who spread herself around, but she just couldn't care anymore. She mustn't care.
Nevertheless, for all her denials, she now knew that unquestionably she would be devastated at his loss if he was somehow killed in this hell-hole of a mess she had gotten him into. Even if her conscience should rightly stay clear in that he would have been involved if it weren't for her anyway, the thought of his suicidal manner to some insane reason still threatened to make her feel such a pain in her heart that she thought she would die inside.
She clasped the small prickly badge attached to the breast of her cloak between index finger and thumb. Suddenly she didn't feel like being alone. She detached it and held it in front of her face, its small red jewel gleaming as blood-red as her hair in the shadows ... as blood-red as a ruby at midnight. Her very first pokemon when she had caught it as a staryu, fishing on that fateful day long ago.
"Starmos," she whispered, letting the black star pokemon go by her side to float in the air as it enlarged to its regular form.
The ruby eye shined in greeting as it grew larger, in proportion to its ten razor-sharp, triangular-pointed limbs. Ever since its second evolvement it had no longer been capable of making sound at all - it preferred instead to communicate by the gleam of its jewel.
"I-I don't know what to do."
Starmos glowed softly in sympathy and moved closer to touch its face to her shoulder. She moved her arm then stopped. The closer she got to the sharp-bladed star, the more she would be hurt.
Further down the rocky ledge and around the face of the grey mountain wall, most of the rest of the group ate in relative silence with the soft orange glow of a campfire burning softly. The flames wavered sluggishly, illuminating the six figures enough to just barely render each other visible in the dim underground cavern.
One of them, the lean, athletic form of a young man dressed all in black loose clothing and boots, sat on the ledge of the pathway, looking down the cliffs into the oblivion of extreme height, staring down at the shadows below. By his right side, wrapped in his cloak, lay an unconscious woman, long teal-blue hair splayed about her smooth face,
pretty features twisted in the anguish of her apparent nightmares.
Ash tiredly rubbed one of his eyes with the back of his left hand. Pain like steel anvils clanged within his temples, along with a nauseating feeling within his belly. It seemed he had contracted that old 'morning sickness' again, ever since he had awakened from the battle with that witch, Agatha. He didn't know why he was suffering the symptoms of the malady now, but it didn't bode too well with what he was already suspecting.
Bruno was sitting down next to Erika and his man, the solidly-built Hikaru, several feet away with his back to the stony wall of the mountain that the ledge wound its way up.
"What's the matter, Ashura?" Bruno asked in seriousness as he continued to eat out of his bowl with a pair of chopsticks. "Giselle's cooking not agree with you?"
A very tired-looking Giselle in a dirty and ripped lab-coat that was once pristine white, but was now tattered as a rag revealing patches of skin and underclothes, was sitting down in the centre of the ledge fiddling with the cooking pot. "Are you trying to be funny?" she asked without looking up, still managing a patronising tone despite her obvious weariness.
Bruno just stared uncomprehendingly.
"No, you wouldn't," Giselle said, shrugging her tangled brown hair from her shoulders as she started to pack the supplies and rations back into the small travel pack.
Erika had already finished her meal and had been staring at her for some time, green eyes attentive. It was apparent she was just waiting for a chance to speak her word with her. "Okay, Giselle. Come clean. You do
have the elemental gift, don't you?"
Giselle aimed an automatic frost-filled glare at her little sister where she was seated behind her upon a small boulder along with Bruno's son,
Laselle flinched and pulled on a lock of her own long hair in nervousness. "I didn't tell them. Honest!"
"Free," the dark butterfree agreed shakily from atop her shoulder. The seventh Master Pokemon seemed to now have an affinity for the form it had used to fool them with.
Rubbing his raw neck, Ash coughed. "Actually, it was quite a giveaway when you did this," he said indicating where she had left raw red marks on his neck when she had choked him with her hand. Giselle had awoke just after he had and it seemed that she had no memory of what exactly happened. Until now, no one had spoke of the incident as they all continued on their way. Ash briefly explained to her who Chanelle actually was and what she had done.
"That little bitch!" Giselle said as she saw what she had done to his neck when he had finished explaining. "I'm really sorry about that." Then she looked at her sister. "But how come you weren't captured like the rest of us?"
Laselle shrugged within her torn green forest-cloak. "I dunno."
The dark butterfree's red eyes flashed in annoyance. "Free, free, free!"
But Laselle only blinked. "Huh?"
Pikachu had been listening intently though as it sat upon another boulder in the centre of the path. "Pikapi, pikachu pika pika," he translated with a few gestures of his small black paws.
"Pikachu says that Ditorion interfered with the spell enough to let it and Laselle teleport somewhere else within Victory Road," Ash explained as he rubbed his forehead. His headache was getting worse.
"But it couldn't do the same for us?" Giselle said dangerously.
The butterfree sweated.
Erika was still staring hard at Giselle, her eyes bright like emeralds. "Giselle, you're changing the subject."
Bruno intervened as well, the hard planes of his face unyielding as stone. "You know the Rebellion was underpowered compared to the League,
especially in Masters. If you had the ability, why did you hide it? We needed as much people with the gift as we could get..."
Giselle broke down and closed her eyes. She looked uncharacteristically vulnerable as she leaned back on her calves and placed both palms on the rocky floor. "I-I just couldn't," she said slowly, head lowered as her long tangled hair fell down to brush the sides of her pale cheeks. Then she opened her eyes and stared at them, her brown-eyed gaze filled with pain. "I never even wanted this so-called gift, you understand?"
Bruno looked a bit confused as he scratched at his long brown hair worn in spikes. "But ... why? How can you not like having strength? Strength that is so desperately needed to defend yourself and others?"
Giselle lifted her palms and stared at them. "As far as I'm concerned,
humans should have never been able to wield the element powers of pokemon. I mean, look what we've done with it." She spread out her hands.
"Look! We're like children with handguns!" She drew up her knees and hugged them, burying her face within them. "I've denied my 'gift' ever since it began to surface when I was sixteen. When they were desperately looking for people with the gift to counteract Team Rocket's 'Pokemon Masters', I hid mine. I didn't want to use it for war - ever."
Ash was looking at Duplica's sleeping face. He wondered what demons she was facing in her sleep to cause her to have such pained expressions. He hoped she would be okay - whatever Agatha had done to her was probably severe. "I guess that's why you became a doctor instead," he said out loud. He began pulling on his gloves.
Abruptly, Giselle let out a self-depreciating laugh. "Of course, I'm not as moral and saintly as all that. I mean, when I saw all those people with even a hint of the abilities who were levied into the lead armies dying, I was scared out of my mind. Besides, I don't even know much about controlling it."
"But tending to the wounded and dying needed as much bravery or even more." He shook his head and began to stand up, lifting up Duplica's inert body wrapped in his black cloak to carry her on his back. "Anyway,
we've rested for long enough. We better go before any Forbidden begin to show up." He arranged Duplica's arms to wrap around his neck.
"Pikapi," the small electric mouse agreed as it leaped down from its boulder and ran to stand by his ankle.
"Hey, look!" Laselle suddenly said, pointing to something almost camouflaged against the stone face of the mountain. "It's a pokemon!
I haven't seen many wild ones for a while."
Ash glanced with some curiosity to where she was pointing - he hadn't even sensed it. It was a graveller clutched against the wall, its huge stony arms flexing from time to time as they extended from its three-foot-tall, boulder-shaped body. Looking closely at it, he abruptly felt a sense of ... wrongness about it.
Pikachu growled low in his throat and dropped to all fours, black fur and jagged tail standing on end.
As if that were a signal, Bruno, Erika and Giselle all stood up in alarm with Junior, Laselle and Hikaru also rising to stare at the pokemon warily. Food was forgotten as bowls dropped to shatter upon the rocky ledge. "What's wrong with it?" Bruno asked, his eyes fixed on the graveller. "I have some affinity for Rock Pokemon ... but I can't feel anything from it."
Pikachu began to step closer, but Ash wordlessly stopped him from approaching. "I think we're about to find out why there's been so few wild pokemon around lately..."
The graveller suddenly flashed brightest white as if it were going to evolve. But then it began to squeal horribly as if it were dying from a searing pain. Jerking madly, the whiteness wavered and finally darkened to a menacing blue-black. Two spots of red flared within the darkness and when the glow faded, an ebony graveller remained. Now with a feral hiss erupting from a mouth full of sharp stone teeth, it prepared to charge at them with scrapes of its hugely-clawed arms.
"I don't believe it," Erika said, taking a step back with an appalled expression on her face. "The wild pokemon have been changing to Forbidden? I thought they all came from the gates. How is that possible?
What does it mean?"
Growling at them, the graveller suddenly leaped, claws outstretched for the kill, but Bruno stepped forward and chopped it out of the air viciously with one huge arm, shattering the black pokemon to pieces. Dust and shrapnel flew everywhere. "I don't know, but it can't be good," he said, rubbing his hand.
"Watch it," Ash warned as the pieces of the graveller scattering around his boots began to stir and rejoin.
Bruno cursed and then kicked most of the rubble off the ledge and down below with a few swipes of his heavy boot. The clattering of rocks echoed far, far below until they could no longer be heard. "Damn things are hard to kill."
But the narrow rocky ledge before them began to rumble and vibrate -
first softly, then harder and harder. Bits of rocks and stones started raining down from the roof of the immense cavern and from the face of the mountainous pillar they were ascending.
A shrill erupted from Giselle's coat pocket and she quickly removed her handheld detector device from it to study the readout.
"Detector says uncountable ground element forces at two miles below sea level, south-south-west," she called out over the noise of the earthquake. "That means an immense gathering at the base of the pillar.
They're pokemon, but the detector can't calculate their levels.
Definitely Forbidden!" She paused as she deciphered something else on the small screen. "Wait, there's human-based elemental power detected as well... Rock-based."
Ash was immediately alert. "You, Laselle, Junior and Hikaru said that Brock escaped and was after us now, right?" His eyes flared with inner-light. "Misty!"
"I'm here," a soft voice said from above. He looked up the ledge to see ... her ... come from around the corner of the rocky wall, stepping carefully on the trail at a sufficient distance away from the edge to risk falling. He let out a slight breath of relief, then instantly felt anger at himself for doing so. He shook his head to clear the conflicting emotions. He couldn't let himself think about her now. After all that had happened he was once again at a loss to know exactly where he stood with her or she with him. Best to take the middle-ground and pretend nothing had happened.
Breaking his train of thought, a white persian came pouncing up from the narrow trail below followed by two black-garbed ninja, veils unfastened from their faces in their haste to clamber up the slope. They had been resting further back on the trail on look-out duty.
"Black graveller everywhere," Jessie reported.
"And they don't look nice!" James added.
"Can you get my pack, please?" Ash asked Misty as he settled Duplica more comfortably upon his back.
Misty looked at the both of them for a second with unreadable ice-blue eyes. Then without saying anything, she stepped up to the wall where his small brown pack was leaning, and after wrapping her cloak about the waist to let it hug her slender, curved frame like a robe, she smoothly slipped the straps through her free arms.
Bruno stepped by his side. "Do you want me to carry Duplica instead?"
Ash looked the maroon-cloaked Master over. Despite his large, muscular frame, the way Bruno seemed to nurse his left arm as if it were sprained,
and the various cuts on his tired face, he didn't think it was such a good idea. "Don't worry about it, Bruno. You and Hikaru shouldn't strain yourselves." He turned up the corner of his lip slightly. "Besides, it was Duplica here who beat you up in the first place. How can I be sure you won't want revenge?"
Bruno's eyes lit up, but then died down when he realised he had taken the bait. "Very funny, Ashura." He rubbed his arm and looked away. "If I was fighting seriously, I might have stopped her myself. But I didn't think it was wise to go all out against one of us, so to speak." He smirked inwardly. "I admit, I underestimated her. I had no idea the girl's ability could be so powerful."
"Do I sense a bit of softness there?" Erika asked impertinently as she walked over to Ash's other side and smoothed her shoulder-length,
blue-black hair back with a hand before rethreading her red band back into it.
Bruno just grunted.
"We'd better go now," Misty finally interrupted. In her hand she held a wooden torch that she had lit from the campfire. After tossing her head once to shake her hair back off her shoulders to fall down over the backpack, she moved to go first, ends of her blue cloak rustling by her feet. "I'll lead us this time. I still remember the way through Victory Road."
"Suit yourself." Ash shrugged and began to follow while Erika, Bruno,
Giselle and her sister, as well as Junior and Hikaru, stuck to his back in single file to keep close to the mountain's side of the ledge.
Bruno noticed that Jessie and James weren't following. "You two coming?"
The white-haired panther pokemon that was Persian, uncoiled himself from the wall and hissed in indignation. "That's three," he said in his feline voice. "And no, we're keeping to the back. We'll continue the rest of the way by ourselves."
Ash shrugged although he wasn't surprised. They seemed paranoid about something as always. Of course, with the way the world had changed over the years and their apparent profession, it wasn't really that surprising. They continued on, leaving the mercenaries to their own devices.
Though he couldn't deny that he was worried about them. He chuckled slightly. He had grown soft again like when he was a kid - always caring too much. It was dangerous to care too much.
"Garick... Garick... Garick..."
The dome of shadow that encompassed the whole of the massive city swirled high above like oil upon a canvas of midnight. From the tall balconies of the immense, white-marbled Indigo Palace - the centre of the plateau and the city - it seemed as if one could just reach up and feel it. It was,
after all, one of the tallest and largest structures in the whole of the city, even when most of the skyscrapers had still been standing.
But the form cloaked and hooded in dull grey that stood upon its highest peak was deathly still as it looked down upon the thousands of people gathered on the streets all around the palace walls like ants, chanting his name. Only the sheer freezing upper winds caused movement - his cloak rippled upon his lean athletic frame almost as if it were alive.
"Garick... Garick... Garick..."
A sudden flapping noise.
"My Lord." Behind him, the newly-arrived man in a long dark-blue cloak stood still waiting for his acknowledgement. With one hand, the newcomer threw his hood back, revealing darkest black hair worn in longish,
flaring spikes over a handsome blue-eyed face. "Agatha has been killed."
But he did not turn around - only remaining in his study of the peoples who had come to prepare for the final stage of the prophecy to unfold.
"Aren't you worried? After Lorelei, that leaves only Brock and myself -
if Brock is even still alive. We've lost contact with him." A pause. "And you, of course."
The grey-cloaked figure standing at the precipace of the balcony gave no sign of movement. Instead there was a roar of a thunderclap in the distance. Black lightning began to flash in the sky. The sheer upper-winds grew harder, so hard that the marble of the palatial balcony they stood upon was groaning from the strain. "So ... Ashura has already arrived?" The voice was low, breathed just loud enough over the shrieking wind to be heard.
"I don't think so. They must still be within the Victory Road tunnels.
The lesser Masters and soldiers posted at the Road's city entrance haven't reported anything yet." A thoughtful pause. "I'm doubling the guard and tell them to be alert on the watch - we'll stop those rebel vermin from interfering - even Ashura can't fight the whole of the League's Masters and army. I'll find Valdera and-"
"You sound scared, Lance," he interrupted.
Lance growled. "I'm not scared. Just prudent. Look at how many of the other major Masters we've already lost. Not to mention two of the Elite Four." He stepped by the League Master's side and followed his gaze down at all of the people gathered about the palace. "Listen to them. The people chant your name. They're depending on us to reform the world back to what it once was before the dark wars. Don't forget that with our deaths, that can never happen."
The grey-cloaked figure turned to him, though as always, his face could not be seen within the cowl's depths. One red eye flashed. "Don't double the guard. Let them come in."
"Just do as I say. And tell the sentinel to comb the city for them once they do arrive. I want to know where Ash and Misty are immediately.
As for their companions ..." He suddenly laughed at an ironic thought.
"They can kill them. They are unimportant. It shouldn't be too hard."
Lance stiffly replaced his hood back over his head, casting his face in darkness. "Understood."
Another flap of wind and he was gone.
And Gary remained to look out over the chanting people. As an artist that makes mistakes and so a clean slate must be forged... or at least, that is what everyone thought.
After all these years he would finally realise the dream.
We would finally realise the dream.
Misty held the torch aloft in her left hand as she jogged around the curve in the rocky ledge. She was careful to keep close to the wall and as far from the cliffside as possible. Behind her, she could hardly hear the soft thumps of Ash's boots on the stone as he followed, even with Duplica on his back. Pikachu, meanwhile, scampered on all fours by his left boot, jagged tail raised upright. She remembered back when she was fifteen and they met the guide in the Fuchsia Woods who had told them a lot about masking their footsteps so they were not so loud. Among other useful things - especially with all the walking they did in those days.
Afterward they had this big competition about who could sneak past Jigglypuff at a full sprint... but of course, she was the one who ended up with the markings on her face - Ash had been much better than her.
"What are you smiling about?" Ash suddenly asked.
She spared him a backward glance and frowned without slowing her jog. "I was not smiling."
"Yes, you were?"
"How could you even see my face from there?"
"When you turned the corner, I saw the corner of your mouth."
"What are you doing, looking at me?"
"You're in front of me?"
She looked back at him again. "Look, I wasn't smiling alright?"
Ash blinked. "Well if it's that important, okay, you weren't smiling"
Then he shut up as if remembering something and his features blanked.
She smirked inwardly. He probably forgot that they weren't supposed to be talking. At least like they knew each other.
Suddenly she felt the ledge vibrate and rumble beneath her feet again.
She almost stumbled when it happened, and looking down, she realised that the stone they were treading on seemed to have grown rougher ... and bumpier. Like uneven lumps in the granite. "This ledge, do you think there's something weird about it?" she ventured, if only to change the subject.
He was silent for a while with only the sounds of his even breathing behind her. When the answer came it was in a puzzled tone. "You're right,
there's something about-"
"Pikachu!" She heard him skid to a stop so she stopped too, her boots sliding a bit before they grabbed purchase upon a lump of stone. As she turned, she raised the torch higher, brightening more of the darkness and revealing that the ledge they had been following had grown narrower so that it was only three or four feet wide beside the pillar's sheer face.
She placed her palm upon the slanted wall, suddenly feeling wary of the extreme height they were at. One mis-step and they could be tumbling to their doom.
Ash was kneeling slightly where Pikachu seemed to have gotten a front paw stuck in the rocky ledge.
"What's the holdup?" came Bruno's rough voice from all the way in the back.
"Pikachu's stuck," Ash said, as he tried to balance Duplica's inert body upon his back while simultaneously examining the rocks near his pokemon's paws.
"Pika," Pikachu agreed in a worried tone. His blue eyes were narrowed at the lumpy floor of the ledge as if he suspected something.
Erika stepped into the light behind Ash and went to kneel when she suddenly shrieked as she lost balance, almost toppling over the side of the cliff and into the bottomless darkness below. Fortunately, Bruno steadied her with a hand from behind. Breathing hard with her green eyes widened in shock, she looked down at the lump she had been standing on.
"The floor moved!"
Ash immediately looked up at her. "What?"
In the back of the group, Laselle screamed. "The ledge! It has eyes!"
Misty frantically shone the burning torch down. The ledge - the ledge was shifting! Uncountable points of red light suddenly flared from the rocks beneath their feet, lighting up the darkness even more as if glowing bugs were crawling all over the floor. Bugs ... Misty clapped her hand over her mouth to stop the scream of terror from escaping her lips.
She looked closer. No, they weren't bugs, they really were eyes. She didn't know if that were worse than if she thought they were bugs.
"Shit!" Giselle's voice shrieked from somewhere behind Bruno. "Detector says we're ... we're standing on a nest of Forbidden!"
"The whole damn ledge is a shelf of graveller!" Ash shouted as he desperately punched the rocks by Pikachu's paws to free him with a cracking of stone. Dust flew in a cloud around his fist as the rocks he smashed seemed to roar in pain. But Pikachu was now free to scamper up Ash's arm and attach himself to the top of his head, blue eyes frightened.
Misty stumbled as the ledge shifted beneath her feet and all at once,
sharp-fingered stone claws erupted from the floor all around them, trying to grasp at their boots. The ledge was a cloud of noise with Bruno,
Junior and Hikaru shouting, Giselle yelling out elemental coordinates while Laselle still hadn't stopped screaming.
And then the graveller ledge began to come apart. The bottomless depths of the cavern revealed itself from the holes opening up beneath them like crumbling cheese.
"Everyone stop shouting and go!" Ash yelled as he forced himself to his feet and shifted Duplica upon his back. "Misty, come on! Just don't look down!"
They began to pick their way over the rest of the narrow ledge, jumping across in a deadly game of hop-scotch. But it was too late - it was coming apart even more. In fact, the ledge in front of Misty had become so riddled with holes that it was impossible to go any further and they had to stop - they were trapped. The gaping bottomless depths below them grimly invited their deaths.
"Ash, the no-element rule, is it still in effect?" Bruno suddenly yelled.
"I think the Forbidden know we're here - we're stepping on their heads!"
"All I needed to hear!" the Fight Master growled. There was a maroon flash and an explosion of stone shrapnel and dust as Bruno smashed his hard fist into the mountain's wall caving a section of it down. "I knew there was something behind this!" came his triumphant shout. "Everyone inside!"
They all just made it into the newly-opened cave when the ledge outside finally disintegrated, leaving everyone panting heavily within the opening. Inside there was even less light if that was possible and there was a musty scent to the air that suggested a certain degree of ancientness. Fortunately the scant flickering light of Misty's torch brightened the oppressive darkness somewhat, though it still left most of them seeing each other as only dim outlines when not directly illuminated by the flame.
Misty looked around, swishing her torch this way and that as she tried to see where they had ended up in. The cave seemed to continue on into the heart of the stone steeped at a slight upward direction. It was indeed ancient with disuse as the smell of the air suggested - cobwebs lining the rounded stone walls and roof while a fine layer of dust covered the floor. She sucked in her breath as small bugs and spiders fled from the brightness of her light.
"My God, that was close," Hikaru breathed as he stepped to the crumbling opening they had come through and peered back through the way they had come in, out the side of the subterranean pillar. "That was good thinking, Master Bruno-"
Shockingly the large Fight Trainer shouted in pain and he was thrown back violently to smash into the wall behind Bruno. He bounced sickeningly off like a wet sack to land unconscious upon the floor of the tunnel.
"Hikaru!" Bruno yelled, instantly running to his man's side.
Ash was already standing to the ready despite the burden of Duplica upon his back. Erika, Junior, Giselle and her sister took a step backward in preparation.
The air was deathly quiet with nothing audible but the slow ragged breathing of everyone present and the occasional crumbling of rock. Misty held the torch aloft to brighten the crumbling cave entrance so they could all see what had thrown Hikaru backward with such force.
And then the ground began to rumble as if the whole subterranean pillar was starting to shake apart. Amid the roaring of stone breaking and shattering, a piercing sound as shrill as a whistle became evident, first low, then higher and higher as if it were some unholy crescendo. The air grew colder - as cold as the arctic wind - and then as powerful as one too. A strong breeze had kicked up from the tunnels behind them as if the all the air was being sucked out of the passages and out through the opening in a powerful vacuum. Misty reached with one hand to stop her long hair from blowing forward over her eyes and face, while the wind pulled at her and tugged at her cloak forcefully. Everyone's clothes flapped violently in the sheer wind. Flying dust and stones filled the air so that it began to get hard to see.
Her torch blew out. Darkness.
"Flash." When Pikachu lit up the tunnel again, they could now see what was causing the wind and the noise.
Zubats. Forbidden Zubats.
Hundreds - no, millions of them - they poured in through the opening as if it was the spout of a bottle being emptied, spilling a total haze of darkness. There were so many, none of the small bats were individually distinguishable, instead it was as a tight, glowing blue-black cloud that grew larger by the second, spreading toward them through the constricting confines of the tunnel as if it were reaching out to embrace them.
Other than the noise of their movement, they were silent - what caused the noise was not the usual screech of such pokemon, but the immense beating of all the billions of wings all flapping violently. It was as if they were a swarm of locusts charging a ripe harvest of wheat.
With them as the wheat.
"Uh, it stands to reason that if wild pokemon have been evolving to Forbidden, that there would be this many zubat," Erika pointed out dryly as she unsuccessfully tried to keep her green cloak from blowing about in front of her from the force of the wind.
"There's a time for scientific study and a time for running," Giselle told her impertinently. "But now's the time to run, I think."
Laselle was already following her advice, pulling a confused Junior after her and further into the tunnel. "Smartest thing you've said so far, big sister!"
"Fire Blast!" Cassidy ordered in desperation.
Her rapidash was screaming in fear but it obeyed her anyway as it let loose a cross-shaped projectile of melting flame from its mouth at the clump of crimson-eyed rocks charging directly at her. But all the fire seemed to do was turn the gravellers red with heat as they continued to press on.
Butch wasn't having much luck either as he tried to hold another group of them at bay with spiralling fire spins from his own mount behind a boulder. Sweat poured from his forehead in thick rivulets, dampening his aqua hair. Only Rainer and his vaporeon seemed to be holding their own with great blasts of blue liquid from their hands and mouth respectively.
Suzie herself, though, looked unperturbed as she sat upon her mount letting the Water Master do all the work.
They had been making quite good time through the tunnels upon their horses but when it had opened up into the main caverns, just in sight of the main pillar leading to the surface in the dark distance, an earthquake had suddenly shook. Black gravellers from all around had jumped from above down into the shallow canyon they were walking through as if waiting in ambush upon the higher ledges of the various stone boulders, walls and walkways.
"We're losing too much time," Suzie said with some anger. "Butch,
Cassidy, is there any short-cut we can take from here?"
Butch grunted as he swung his broadsword to knock away a graveller that had gotten too close. As he turned to answer roughly, a sweaty lock of aqua hair dropped on to his forehead which he swiped away with the back of his free hand. "We can go north-west from here," he rasped, "but that would mean we'd come out on the opposite side of the city Ashura and the rebels would come out of."
"I suggest we take it," Rainer said calmly as he let loose an ice beam from his palm and iced up at least half a dozen Forbidden into a frozen block of water. "Sooner or later if we keep going this way, we'll be overrun. Something seems to have agitated them."
"Fine," Suzie agreed, as she swung her torch to the left, highlighting a rising up crop of rocky land. "Jump the slope with your mounts and let's get gone from here."
Cassidy gratefully dug her knees into her horse's side to follow.
However, all of a sudden, she felt a pain in her side and she screamed. The next thing she knew, she was unseated from her mount and was lying prone upon rocky ground. Desperately she threw her blonde hair away from her eyes where some strands had gotten tangled so that she could see but then let out a cry of denial as already, sharp-mouthed black shapes were attacking her rapidash, gnawing at its legs and eating it alive.
Butch shouted and turned back for her and just in time as a pack began to leap toward her. As he galloped past, he grabbed her outstretched hand tightly and then pulled her aboard to sit at the rear of his horse.
"I'm beginning to think that all this isn't worth it," he rasped worriedly while he spurred his rapidash harder to catch up to the rest of them.
Breathing heavily behind him, Cassidy just shook her head, her long braid of pale hair streaming in the wind of their speed. "To gain what one wants, one must be prepared for the risks," she said stubbornly.
Inside her head, she imagined herself leading Ashura to battle, ordering him to do whatever she wished, destroying all those stupid Forbidden.
Lord Garick kneeling to her, begging her for mercy. She patted the bulge within her over-cloak and smiled as she hugged Butch about the waist tighter. Sabrina had been sure it would work.
"Laselle, do you even know where we're going?" Junior asked to the crazy girl in the green forest-cloak in front of him, pulling him for all of her worth. They had been running for some time now and all the tunnels they had gone through had seemed to blend into some continuous maze - he had lost all semblance of direction.
"Butterfree, uh, Ditorion knows the way," came her hesitant reply.
She abruptly stopped their wild flight and Junior almost collided into her back. "You mean you don't know either?" she directed up to the pokemon.
"Free, free," the butterfree said crossly as it hovered above her head,
lighting up the darkness of the tunnel so that they could see.
"Don't tell me what I think it meant," Junior said, appalled, as he let go of her hand.
She turned to him, a sheepish look in her brown-eyed gaze. "Junior-"
"Don't call me that," he said, feeling anger at the name. "I now know just what I'm 'junior' to and I want no part of it. You can call me JT from now on..."
"I thought you said not to call you JT?" she asked in an exasperated tone. "Anyway, as I was saying, we can just wait here for the others.
They must be behind us."
They sat and waited for several minutes, leaning against the cold stone wall of the tunnel. There was no sound except for the steady beating of the butterfree's wings.
Junior was playing with his maroon hat. "I don't think anyone's following us."
"But they must be-"
"Laselle!" he exclaimed tiredly. "I saw so many different forks in the tunnel we've been running along. They could have easily have taken a different direction behind us."
Laselle began to look scared. "I-I didn't realise. It's just that those zubats ... I hate zubats."
Junior felt a lump in his throat. It only occurred to him now as well,
that they were alone ... and virtually defenceless. He had his pokemon -
no, who was he kidding? Machop or Graveller would have no chance against Forbidden - let alone a Pokemon Master - no chance at all. And for himself - sure he knew a few fighting techniques - all Fight Trainers continually had to practise them - but with the kind of power they were up against, he might as well have known none.
"Do you hear that? Junior - I mean, JT," Laselle suddenly whispered.
And then he heard it. Footsteps. Coming from the way they came.
"Do you think it could be them?" she continued excitedly as they both stood up.
"We don't know," Junior cut in. "It-It could be anyone."
Laselle's eyes widened when she realised that. "What should we do?"
Junior immediately looked around. "There, behind that small boulder. We can hide and see who it is first before we do anything."
They scuttled behind the aforementioned rock and the butterfree stopped using its Flash ability dropping everything to darkness. "Butterfree, I mean, Ditorion, could you please maybe transform into a ... err .
something big, if it's an enemy?" Laselle asked hopefully.
Junior sighed in relief. He had forgotten about Laselle's 'pokemon'. Sure it would be embarrassing for a girl to save him, but it was better than the alternative.
The footsteps grew louder and they held their breath. Butterfree prepared to transform.
A large cloaked figure finally stepped into view.
"Master Bruno!" Laselle shouted in relief, standing up to reveal herself from behind the boulder.
The muscular cloaked figure paused. "So we meet again, little girl." The voice was low and deep.
And nothing at all like Master Bruno.
"Master Bruno?" Laselle tried again with a sinking voice.
Butterfree finally lit up the darkness with a flaring of light from its body.
The muscular brown-cloaked figure threw its hood back from its head revealing a hard, darkly-handsome face with glowing eyes like slits staring at them from under brown hair worn in thick long sharp spikes.
The Rock Master's face was as hard as his title. He corrected her.
"Shit, shit and shit!" Erika was swearing as she stalked down the tunnel.
The earthquake had stopped and they had managed to lose the damn zubats but now Ash, Misty and Duplica were gone as well as Bruno and the kids. And if that weren't bad enough she had dirt in her mouth.
She tried to spit it out vehemently but the gritty dry taste of it remained on her tongue.
"And I thought good girls don't swear," Giselle said by her side. The doctor had been the only one to stick with her. Whether that was a good thing or a bad one, Erika wasn't exactly sure of. It seemed her normally annoying, arrogant personality had come back in full force.
"Ugh," she said with one more spit. She felt around on her head and then gasped in relief to find her hair-band still in place. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that," she said magnanimously.
Giselle waved a cloud of dust away from her face and coughed as she combed her long brown hair away from her smudged, pale cheeks. Her face looked worried. "Now what are we going to do?"
Erika shook her head as she kicked away a few pebbles with her boots.
"Well, the smartest thing we could do, I think, is just keep going upward. If we turned back and tried to look for everyone, that could take months in all these caverns ... and frankly we don't have months with all these Forbidden hanging around. Everyone would have headed to the surface anyway so we'd have a better chance of meeting up with them."
Giselle made a face at her, then turned to face the tunnel, cupping her hands around her mouth. "Laselle! Ash! Bruno!" Her soft voice echoed along the hard walls.
Erika gasped then pinched her on the arm.
"Ow!" Giselle stopped shouting and levelled a cold brown glare at her.
Erika was unapologetic. "Lackwit! Do you realise that enemies could hear your voice as well? Especially Forbidden?"
"All right, I get the point!" Giselle hissed. "You didn't have to pinch me." She raised her slender arm and pulled back the sleeve of her coat.
"Look at that! That's a bruise!"
Erika smiled inwardly. "Nothing more than you deserved. Now let's get out of here." She walked past the glaring woman and pressed on ahead.
"Did you see where Erika and Giselle went? I thought they were just in front of us," Ash was saying as they continued running along the tunnel,
their boots making soft crunching noises upon the rocky floor. "Damn it,
where is everyone?" Behind them was the soft roar of wind indicating that the zubats were still somewhere in the back although it sounded like they were getting further and further away. Maybe they had lost them by now...
"Ash, can you maybe, like, stop squeezing my hand so hard?" Misty asked as she let him pull her along with his free hand. With his other he was just barely keeping Duplica from sliding off his upper-shoulders.
He didn't bother looking back. "Tough. You'll just have to bear with my unpleasant self. I'm not losing anyone else."
But at that instant the ground rumbled louder like the sound of a bursting thunderclap and a veritable avalanche of heavy stones and boulders fell from above in a hail of stony barrage. Before he knew it,
his boot caught upon an uneven section of the tunnel's floor and he tripped causing them all to fall in a tumble of cloaks and bodies.
Then a curious silence. The sudden rockslide or whatever it was had stopped. He could feel and hear rocks and dirt settle around on his back as he tried to regain his breath.
"Pikapi?" Pikachu queried out loud from within his backpack.
"I'm alright," Ash answered warily as he blew his hair out of his eyes with a tired gust of breath. "Misty?"
His vision gradually adjusted to the darkness but he could still hardly see with the amount of dust and dirt drifting around them. After a moment, he could discern her shape lying next to Duplica's unconscious body beside him.
"I'm okay," she stated in a hard tone as she pushed herself to her knees and adjusted her cloak and dress.
He suddenly heard Duplica cough and realised she was finally waking up.
"Duplica?" he ventured with relief.
After a few minutes of silence, Duplica arose to a sitting position still wrapped in his black cloak. She rubbed her still-closed eyes, combing her long blue hair with the fingers of one hand. Some more dust rose in the air. "W-What happened?" she asked wearily, her voice rough from disuse.
Her brown eyes blinked as they opened and adjusted to the darkness.
"Long story," Ash said, also pushing himself to a sitting position while Pikachu jumped into his lap. He rubbed his face with the back of his hand to wipe the dust off but only succeeded in smudging the dirt across his cheek.
Duplica smiled and looked as if she was going to say some smart-ass comment like she usually did - at least the old Duplica - until her expression abruptly changed. Features freezing, she looked away, hair dropping to cover her face. Sudden memories seemed to claw their way back to remembrance. "I-I'm so sorry..." she finally said. Her voice was a pained whisper. It sounded like she was going to cry.
He looked down and his hair fell back over his eyes. A tight feeling arose in his chest. It was just so wrong to see Duplica like this. It didn't fit, even more so then when she had been possessed. "You remember what happened?" he asked slowly. "Duplica, it wasn't your fault ... it was Agatha who used you..."
"Chu," Pikachu agreed fiercely, pointed black ears laid flat against the back of his head.
"Y-You don't understand. I-" Duplica suddenly gasped as she realised what it was that was covering her. His cloak. Almost as if it was burning her skin, she ripped the long, dark mantle off and threw it to the side.
It left her briefly exposed before she hurriedly formed a thin, white chemise over her body with a short glow of change.
Surprisingly, Misty abruptly touched her shoulder, a look of tiredness on her face. "Duplica ... none of us blame you." Her eyes darted to him briefly then returned. "I don't blame you. Just stop punishing yourself"
She smiled sadly.
Minutes passed. When Duplica looked up, a strange expression was on her face. She rubbed her moist eyes and then stood up, looking more herself than in a long time. Then she chuckled, though it was more a broken sound then one of true humour. "I'm sorry I was such a cry baby ... I-I guess I'm just not good at feeling sorry for myself." Her form flared violet as she formed her master's cloak over her body.
Ash rubbed his aching temples slowly and brushed his hair from his eyes again. She sounded better but he couldn't ignore the worry he still felt.
He let out a light laugh. "Yeah, Duplica, you really scared me. Everyone has changed so much ... I don't think I could bear it if you did as well."
Brown eyes stared at him. It wasn't a cold gaze, but it felt totally different to how she had always looked at him. "Ash, people are always changing," she said, suddenly serious. "Me, most of all." She stood up and began to walk off down the tunnel.
Misty looked at him, shrugged, then stood up to follow after smoothing down her blue cloak.
"Pika?" Pikachu asked.
Ash hoisted him up on to his shoulder and picked up his own cloak.
"Forget it, Pikachu. I never did understand women either. And with Duplica being one of my closest friends, I sort of forgot that she is one as well."
He started to follow the two women. "And yeah, she just reminded me of that fact."
Erika and Giselle walked on. Their path seemed to be converging into yet another passageway that seemed to steep itself higher. In front of them,
the shaft was damp and cool, a contrast to the hotness of the lower caverns. Slithering snakes of shadows danced away from them as a burning torch Erika had created earlier and held aloft, shone its light through the darkness. She didn't want to be so near the fire, but with all things being necessary, she just had to brave the heat.
"I think we should be fairly close to the surface now," Erika said while carefully examining all that lay before them. Apart from the wavering light of her torch, nothing seemed to be moving among the small boulders and debris that littered the tunnel that seemed to go on forever.
"Great," Giselle replied with a scrunching of her pretty nose. "I'm afraid all this musty air and dirt isn't doing good for my skin."
"A bath would do wonders." Erika laughed a little. "I never thought I'd see the day when perfect Giselle would be looking so scruffy."
"Yeah?" Giselle tried to say condescendingly, although failing from her untidy appearance. "Well, I could say the same about you... I always found it funny that you'd think yourself so much better than me, when you yourself act a lot like me."
"I don't think myself better than anyone," Erika said a little annoyed now. "Nor do I act like anyone..."
"Really now," Giselle said, brown eyes shining challengingly. "From all the time we've worked together in the rebellion ... you've thought me some sort of slut or something. Always the cool feminine beauty who shouldn't lower herself by consorting with men like I do..." Then her slim eyebrows lifted as she thought of something. "Wait, in all the time I've known you, you've never had a relationship with a man. Are you frigid?"
Erika refused to look at her. "No."
Giselle's nose twitched. "Don't tell me you prefer the same side of the fence? Should I be scared of you, Erika Dear?"
"No! You don't understand," Erika said with a flashing of her green eyes. "Look, you think you had it hard when your gift emerged, but it was nothing, I mean nothing compared to mine."
But Erika ignored the question. She stopped walking and held Giselle from going further with her free arm. She could feel something familiar .
but also not familiar. Strange and unsettling. She quickly snuffed out her torch against the rough tunnel wall and instantly everything dropped to darkness. "Quiet..." she whispered as she disposed of the smoking wood upon the ground.
The sound grew louder. A foreboding snapping noise like animalistic jaws opening and closing rapidly. Not just one, but many of them. And a familiar smell began to assault her senses. Erika crouched on one knee and quietly waited for her vision to adjust to the sudden lack of light.
Finally her eyes grew used to the dark and shapes began to emerge at the far end of the passage. Momentarily she thought she was seeing a walking garden of some sort before she realised they were pokemon. Half-open mushroom things...
"I can't see a thing," Giselle murmured. She had crouched down somewhere behind her. "And, ugh, what is that disgusting smell? It's like week-old rotten ..." Her nose twitched. "Well, no offence, but like your Gloom actually."
Countless blood-red eyes flared like dying stars as the blanket of black walking flowers crawled toward them like a plague. As they grew closer,
Erika could see the drooling mouths upon their stalks unnaturally filled with many sharp teeth. She swallowed, feeling the fine hairs on her neck stand on end. "That answer your question? There's like a wave of Forbidden just in front of us ... Glooms. But I don't think they've sensed us yet."
"Oh great, now what are we going to do," Giselle said, sounding uneasy.
"We can't go back, unless we'd rather die by blood-sucking zubat instead."
Suddenly Erika felt a tug within her cloak and abruptly one of her green poke-balls shot out by itself and enlarged. The area around them lit up briefly with emerald light as her own gloom came out to stand by her side.
It had a worried expression on its bluish stalk. "Gloom, gloom..."
The green poke-ball shot back into Erika's hand and she miniaturised it and put it back within her cloak. "Gloom, you say you have an idea?"
"Gloom gloom gloom," it squeaked out desperately.
"I guess it's our only choice..."
"What was it saying?" Giselle asked, her eyes riveted to the approaching wave of Forbidden in front of them. Her vision must have finally adjusted.
"We're going to walk right through them," Erika explained softly. "Just hold your breath as long as you can and stick close to me ... now!"
"Gloom!" Her flower-mushroom pokemon exploded its scent into the air around it and began to scamper forward directly at the crowd upon its short legs. Erika shot to her feet and rushed after it. Behind her,
she heard Giselle gasp in revolt but begin to follow her anyway.
Amazingly the tide of walking, ebony flowers began to split through the middle allowing them an opening. Gloom took advantage of it and leaped through boldly, widening the gap even more. Erika shook her head in relief as she followed closely. She couldn't really believe it was working - but the Forbidden Gloom must still share some qualities of normal gloom ...
Behind her, she could hear Giselle start to give gagging sounds.
"You should have taken a deeper breath," Erika said a little evilly.
"I think you might have to hold my hand," Giselle answered in a woebegone voice. "Otherwise I might spontaneously decide that dying would be a better fate than smelling this," she coughed, "lovely scent..."
Winding generally upward like a corkscrew, the narrow tunnel that Misty,
Ash and Duplica had been following finally began to level out and widen so that it largely resembled the subways of old. Fewer cobwebs adorned the rocky corners and there was less debris scattered about the path. But the largest difference was that the deep darkness of the caverns had begun to lighten, so much so that they could actually see all the way across to where large stone pillars began to line the walls of the widening passage. Up ahead, orange light wavered casting their shadows in sharp relief. Fifteen-foot-high pillars carved into demonic designs towered up to the roof, dragons with hostile looks upon their stony features. The light that brightened the darkness as they pressed on seemed to be emitting from candles placed within each of the many statues' eyes. They walked until they reached the first pair of statues and continued on between them.
Sudden soft tapping noises from her boots startled her before she examined the ground more closely and realised that it was no longer the rough grey stone of the tunnels but beautiful white marble. Looking around, she saw that the walls and ceiling matched the pristine ivory surface. "It's the main hallway leading to the surface," Misty said softly. "It looks just the same as it did eight years ago." It was a beautiful and elegant hallway, walls arching gracefully to a curved roof.
But it was a dangerous beauty as evidenced by the menacing designs of etchings in the walls and the fearsome dragon statues.
Ash looked slightly worried. It wasn't overly apparent but Misty could see it in the slight shifting of his light-brown eyes. "I hoped the others might have gotten here first, but I don't think any of them have gotten here yet." He paused and squinted, as if trying to see or sense something far ahead in between the numerous statuesque pillars. He raised his arms to the sides and slowed down his walk, holding her and Duplica back. "Careful now. It should be obvious that the main hallway would be guarded..." He suddenly noticed that he was touching her. With an unreadable expression, he dropped it and began to step forward, not looking back.
Misty rubbed her arm where he had come into contact and closed her eyes briefly. She now knew that giving into herself back at the ruins was a mistake. At least before then, she and Ash had been civil toward one another - now she wasn't sure how to act with him while he treated her like a stranger. But ... it had been so nice to pretend for a short while that it had been five years ago and everything was just so perfect.
Finally she steeled herself. No, pretending was nice but it was just a fantasy. Real life was different. Real life contained pain. She began to follow them. He, Pikachu and Duplica were already several feet in front and beginning to quicken their pace.
Wordlessly, with Ash in the lead, they weaved stealthily among the stone dragons along the east wall of the hallway, carefully taking cover within the long shadows they cast from the tall pillars. But strangely as they continued, Ash's steps began to falter as if he were getting more and more dizzy, until he stopped completely and dropped to his hands and knees. His eyes were closed, hand raised to his temples as if in agony.
Misty and Duplica hurriedly followed to kneel by his side.
"What's wrong?" Misty whispered in alarm. She looked worriedly at Pikachu, small head poking out the top of his backpack, who also seemed to be suffering from the same effect.
"Ashy?" Duplica asked uncertainly.
A minute later Ash breathed in deeply and seemed to recall himself. He opened his eyes and Misty was frightened at the slightly red hue to his pupils before they faded to the more usual light-brown. "I-It's nothing"
he said a little forced. He brushed his hair out of his eyes with a hand.
"Pikachu pika," Pikachu agreed a little warily, giving them a little paws-up from the top of his backpack.
"Nothing?" she asked incredulously. "Your eyes just ... changed!"
Ash shrugged without emotion. "I admit I felt something weird a bit then.
But you don't have to worry - it was a different feeling than that other one. So I'm not suddenly going to go insane and blow us all up," he said sardonically.
She looked away, stung. "I-I meant nothing of the kind." And before she could stop it from leaving her lips she added, "I'm just worried about you."
Ash opened his mouth, then closed it, looking uncertain of what to make of it. Then she watched as his eyes suddenly darkened and she knew that he had taken it the wrong way. "Don't worry I won't be dying just yet -
there's probably more of a chance that I'd be getting everyone else killed." He pushed himself up with a hand upon the white marble floor and jerked around to continue their covert weave through the dragon statues.
Misty closed her eyes, then opened them, just abruptly feeling so fed up.
"Will you stop acting like you're punishing me?" she exploded, her eyes gleaming blue.
Ash stopped walking and seemed to turn calmly. But when he was facing her, she could see that he was anything but. His eyes had begun to softly glow, matching her. "Punishing you? I'm only treating you as I should and you should. It's the safest way. It's the best way."
"I didn't think I should act like a coward," she said acidly. "I know that you hate me, but please save it for after we finish all this."
He stared at her. "That's funny. I thought it was you who hated me. It makes me wonder why you even decided to seek my help in the beginning.
Was it just to torture me? To rub my face in the fact that you can still play me like some sort of cheap game?"
"Are you referring to what happened back at the ruins?" Misty asked,
her fury barely held in check. "If you are ... I admit that was a mistake. But I've made so many other mistakes in my life, what's one more to add to the heap? At least we know for sure that you really are free of my bonding - first my sister and now me."
"I never even touched Valdera in that way since I left her years ago," he said dangerously. Then he abruptly gave a hard smile and she just knew he was going to say something hurtful. "Not that I wouldn't want to, though.
After all, why should I love you when loving her is the same thing except she doesn't trample my feelings and then toss me away when she's sick of me?"
She could feel the hurt settle within her chest, suffocating her, choking her. "You're just a dog without a bone," she said, again, before she could stop herself, just wanting to hurt back. "Just because I refused you back at the ruins. It was just a little pleasure, it didn't mean that I'd want to go back to anything serious."
The air wavered with unmistakable menace and a dark aura began to emit from his body. An unnatural breeze tugged at his hair, lifting it to reveal eyes glowing gold with fury. She was the same way, hurt and anger radiating from her as they stared into each others' flaring eyes.
"Stop it!" Duplica abruptly interjected in a shrill voice. "Will the both of you just please stop it!"
They both turned to see Duplica gazing at them, a mixture of anger and sorrow upon her suddenly pale face. Then she looked away, deflated. "I'm sorry," she said softly, "but looking at the two of you - you who had everything, destroying yourselves - it's just a waste, a horrible waste!"
Involuntarily, Misty took a step back, away from her. Sad thoughts rampaged through her mind. Duplica was right. A waste. She had called Ash a dog without a bone. But what about her? Wasn't she the same way?
The words were like the breaking of a dam. Ash had been willing to talk back at the ruins but she had lashed out. Why? With but a word, all of the pain and loneliness and heartache, all of that could have finally been resolved. Perhaps she'd been wrong? But when he tried to talk to her to open up to her ... she had felt hate. Hatred! There was something wrong with her. And poor Duplica. None of this was Duplica's fault. In fact, it was probably all her own fault in the beginning! Maybe if she hadn't been so argumentative - maybe if she hadn't been so demanding -
maybe if she had shown her love for him more-
Her cheeks tickled and she realised that tears were flowing from her eyes. Ash stood there in front of her, the look of anger replaced by one of dismay ... and-and caring. She could finally see it - despite all his remarks saying the opposite, she could see the look there that had been there since almost the beginning. And the hurt, she could recognise it for what it was.
She was sick of herself. Sick of denial, sick of hurting herself and him.
Sick of laying blame, when it would not change her feelings no matter what. But now she didn't deserve resolution. "I-I'm sorry, Ash," she sobbed. "It's all my fault." She looked at Duplica as well. "I-I saw you. Both." Duplica's eyes widened. "That day five years ago. I-I .
please take care of him."
And then she pushed between them, running. Just running down the hallway.
"Misty, wait, I don't understand!" he called out behind her. Then the sound of footsteps. He was chasing her.
She had to leave him behind. She just couldn't take it anymore. She sprinted harder, her long cloak streaming in her wake. Her tears were cold in the passing wind. The rows of demonic statues on either side of the hallway loomed as if leering at her as they began to blur.
Up ahead in apparent ambush, two men in long, dark yellow cloaks stepped out from behind cover of statues to block her path.
Pokemon League Thunder Masters. Their gloved fists crackled by their sides and their eyes flared amber as they accessed their innate ability over electricity. Both had blond hair that sparked with their power.
Strangely she wasn't scared. Darkness hazed into her vision despite the dancing candlelight of the statues' eyes. Inside she felt cold.
The Thunder Masters whipped their arms toward her, letting loose jagged bolts of lightning that hissed with deadly intent.
She didn't care.
So focused was he on chasing after Misty, his clouded vision locked on to the flapping sapphire folds of her long cloak in front of him, Ash didn't notice the League Pokemon Masters uncurl themselves from behind the statues until it was too late.
He spotted yellow cloaks...
Lightning flashed brightening the whole of the hallway. He dived in desperation to knock her over. But he realised as he was airborne that he would never make it in time. The electricity would reach her before then.
Her form seemed to darken.
An explosive wave of black coldness blinded him, slowed down his flight,
then propelled him backward instead to fly several feet before crashing into something narrow and hard - a statue. Blood flew out of his mouth at the impact and he dropped chest-first to the ground with as much pain in his head as there was in his body.
He blacked out.
Junior panted as he leaned against the curved stone wall of the tunnel.
Bruises and cuts covered his whole body and his hat lay on the gravelly ground before him slightly smoking. His maroon clothes had become half-shredded from his chest and were stained with his blood. But no bones were broken. Yet.
Laselle lay on the ground behind him in a bundle of ripped green clothes.
She was slowly crying from the powerful blow to her stomach when she had bravely tried to stand up for herself.
Brock was just playing with them. Otherwise he was sure they would have been dead already. They couldn't even run away when the Rock Master had exercised his element and closed off the tunnel behind them with rapidly growing boulders. Junior grimaced in disgust. Too bad Laselle's coward-ass butterfree had escaped through it before then. Seventh Master Pokemon ... maybe the damned thing had led them to this trap in the first place. Betrayal after betrayal.
The tall brown-cloaked man stood before them, slightly sideways, muscular arms still by his sides, mostly covered by the wavering folds of his mantle. His slitted eyes roved over them - though it was hard to tell what exactly his thoughts were. The ruggedly handsome face stopped as he considered Junior directly.
"So you are Bruno's son." The voice was deep but contained no obvious emotion.
Despite his terror, anger filtered into him at the reminder of his newly-found parentage. "Through no fault of mine." Desperately he leaped forward attempting another attack. He tried a fore-knuckle punch with his right hand which was brushed aside easily, then a thrusting sidekick. Brock caught his foot in his hands and then threw him into the wall. Junior cried out as he brokenly bounced off the stone surface and then collapsed in pain.
"I suppose I should tell you that once I was your father's closest friend."
Senses reeling, he had only one chance. He couldn't let Laselle be taken. Maybe his pokemon could succeed where he hadn't - a slim chance but better than none at all. He reached into his trouser belt and removed a small maroon poke-ball. "Machop, go! Karate Chop his head!" he shouted and at the same time he enlarged the ball and sent it hurtling at the Rock Master's face. Rock was weak to Fighting skill. The only chance.
Dark-red light flared. A pokemon's growl - followed by a scream and the cracking of impact upon rock.
Junior looked up to see Brock's arm extended, his fist pinning the light-blue Fighting Pokemon against a newly-formed crater on the tunnel wall. Brock returned his arm back to his side and Junior's Machop stuck to the wall a moment before it slid down to the ground leaving a red trail on the curved stone.
"But even he had love," Brock continued as if nothing had happened. He shifted his slitted gaze to Laselle and a feeling of hopelessness settled in Junior's belly. He growled. "They aren't worth it, son." Then surprisingly his brown gaze flared and the boulders blocking the tunnel behind them receded back into the earth. The tall brown-cloaked Master hooded his head, casting his face in its shadows and stepped over him and Laselle both. He walked on through the tunnel and left them alone.
Ash's eyes blinked open. For a while he could only lay disorientated on the ground, ears ringing as if a thousand bells had gone off in his skull. The cold marble floor beneath his cheek was numbing his face. With a hand he pushed himself up from his chest slightly. His vision was hazy.
Black mists seemed to rise from the floor in sinuous clouds and was slowly clogging the hallway. The air smelled of dissipated electricity and acrid ozonic fog. It was as silent as a graveyard.
A dim thought came back to him. Misty. Spitting out blood, he frantically pushed himself to his knees but only slipped to fall on to his shoulder.
He determinedly pushed himself up again and finally succeeded in rising to a sitting position though he had to lay back on the crumbling dragon statue behind him for support.
He pushed a damp lock of black hair from his left eye and gathered his cloak tighter around himself. The air was freezing cold. And the black mist had completely engulfed the whole of the hallway now and swirled about in the air like impenetrable smoke. The candles within the statues lining the walls had been blown out, destroying even those meagre light sources. If it weren't for his eyesight, he would have been completely blind in the shadows and mist. But even from what he could see, he saw that Misty was gone. Instead, pieces of blackened frozen corpses with shredded yellow cloaks littered the area that the Thunder Masters had stood.
But Misty was gone, the thought returned. He knew for all his bluster that he shouldn't care that much, but it was as if a part of his spirit had just disappeared. Who was he kidding? Over and over again he got into situations that tested his feelings and over and over again, the tests came back positive. He never really did get over her leaving him,
he realised that now. She had been right - he had been punishing her. But he hadn't known that he was also punishing himself. He was a bastard, and he didn't deserve happiness. He thought about the life he had led. An evil bastard.
But as he promised he wouldn't allow her to die over this, never that. He would find her and stop this prophecy from destroying all that he cared about. Though after that, like he had said to her, they would never see each other again. He would never know peace but she deserved someone better than him. Someone who wouldn't cause so much hurt to both sides.
He wouldn't even care if it was Brock, as long his old friend truly loved her.
His eyes grew dull at the thought. Yes, that was what he would do.
Duplica crawled beside him looking completely beat up, breaking his bleak train of thought. Her long blue hair was ragged around her shoulders, and her violet cloak seemed to have several folds ripped from it leaving holes and tears to show her white chemise underneath. Bruises seemed to be forming on her forehead and left cheek. "How long have we been out"
Her voice sounded almost as weary as he felt.
"I don't know," he answered in a dull monotone. His sense of time was all screwed up along with his headache. It could've been anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. He scratched an itch on his cheek. There was that unknown feeling of elements floating in the air - obviously water from the mists. And yet ... there was shadow? Or was it Light? He didn't remember emitting any Forbidden elements himself. In fact he had actively been suppressing it for fear he'd lose control. Maybe he had accidentally let it out when he had been knocked unconscious.
Pikachu growled within his backpack and he tensed, or as much as he could feel tensed when all he felt was a sort of detached lethargy. Footsteps filtered into his hearing - many footsteps. "Someone's coming."
Ignoring the pain, he pulled himself up to his feet using the statue for support yet again. Duplica did the same with a slight groan and they stumbled into the deeper shadows of the wall behind the statue - and just in time as several figures came striding out of the fog to stand over the blackened remains of the Thunder Masters that had ambushed them.
Silence reigned as the group seemed to study the bodies.
One of them retched. "T-This is evil."
A pause and more footsteps. Ash could hear them walk past with slow movements. The statue they were using for cover had barely enough width to accommodate them both. He held his breath. By his side, Duplica did the same. Getting found out would be the worst thing that could happen right now - a thin line of blood was running down his temple and he just felt too weak for a confrontation. He shook his head at a sudden sarcastic thought. Or if he did have the will to fight, he'd be uncontrollable, completely destroying everything.
Shuffling sounds. "No more after those two. This must be the point of contact."
Ash blinked. These two? There were more? He continued listening.
"Point of contact?" a different voice continued. "You think this is the work of those damn rebels? The hit-strike on their South Lavender base was supposed to have wiped them all out. We had no orders to be specifically alert to attack either. This looks more like Forbidden work."
The other voice answered flatly. "Impossible. The wards of this hallway were supposed to prevent any from entering up above into the main city..." The sound of their footsteps receded further down the passage.
Wards. Thoughts raced through his mind. Then it was definite. He shut his eyes. If only he could kill himself now ... but no, he couldn't.
She knew how much of a hypocrite he was and made him promise. Giving up was against his very beliefs, the very fabric of what made him what he was, but right now from what he knew, giving up would ensure no one else could die from his hand. Either way, he lost.
He had to go. He had heard enough. On silent feet, he pushed off from the statue and continued down the hallway, making sure he kept to the shadows of the wall. The black mists still swirling about and the extinguished candlelit eyes made sure he was completely invisible.
"Where are you going?" Duplica whispered behind him as she also followed.
Resolve settled within him. Up ahead, the hallway continued on until finally, through the hazy dark fog, he could see a wide marble staircase leading to the surface.
He pulled his deep hood over his head, letting the shadows fall across his face, his night-black cloak trailing behind him as he moved swiftly.
He answered her without looking back.
The largest capital city left standing on the whole of Indigo Insula and most likely, the world. The Orange Archipelago, the other continents,
none had been spared from the darkness. The Dark Pokemon Wars had seen to that. A revolution it was called. A revolution against the very things that society had been built upon. Justice, democracy, people living in harmony to coexist with the world and the elemental creatures they dubbed, 'Pokemon' and indeed, that they heavily depended on just to make the world work. All of it just gone, beginning from the day the fateful rediscovery had been made.
All because of one power-hungry man named Giovanni who dared to upset the balance that had existed since the dawn of time. The Traitor, he was widely known as. But also the Returner.
Silent black lightning streaked across the domed sky high above the tall concrete jungle that was Indigo Plateau City. The thin jagged trails of forked electricity the colour of twilight spread haphazardly across the clouded horizon to the accompaniment of a steady whistling wind which blew among the tops of the gloomy skyscrapers and office buildings. Their glass windows reflected the flaring dark lights so that the city seemed as if it had a life of its own, glowing brightly with its own elemental energy. Most of the streets on the outer edge of the city were empty of people, but of the many in the inner city who braved the coming just to see the world being cleansed and remained outdoors to celebrate, all felt the foreboding atmosphere of the supercharged feeling within the air.
Visibility was even lower than usual from the hazy clouds of fog that had descended over all.
Much was going to happen tonight.
Indeed, much was happening right now, General Yas thought as he stood at the foot of the stairway that led to the elegant white-marbled dome structure known as the Victory Gate. With a feeling of impending disaster, he observed the panic-stricken soldiers and trainers rushing about the wide entrance, swords drawn and poke-balls clutched in ready hands.
Dressed in a long, League silver coat, he hopped up the massive stairs leading to the Victory Gate building two steps at a time, his steel hauberk underneath his coat clinking against his chest. He grabbed one of the many passing soldiers also uniformed in grey by the arm with a gauntleted fist. "You! What goes here?" He jerked his chin up at the bustling entrance to the marble building, still gleaming beautiful despite the sheer blackness of the night. He had been ousted from his bed from the alarm of his intercom, indicating an emergency. It wasn't his shift, but in an emergency there was no shifts. Too bad as he had hoped to get some sleep before the reformation. As long as he woke up the next day with the sun shining and the birds crying above a blue sky, he didn't much care about how it had happened.
The soldier grimaced and was about to roughly pull himself away when he recognised just who it was that had detained him. Dark-brown eyes widened. "General Yas! Forgive me. But there has been a breaching of the Victory Road tunnels. Apparently some Forbidden have broken through."
He automatically reached down to finger the hilt of the long katana sheathed at his waist on his belted coat. Dread crawled down his throat to settle into his belly. "Forbidden? But ... that's impossible!"
"That's what General Kas suspects," the frightened soldier replied as he rubbed his freed arm. "The body count is over a dozen including-" His voice cracked here, indicating that he couldn't really believe it himself. "Including two Thunder Masters. The bodies have been .
blackened and show sign of Forbidden elements."
His grey eyes narrowed at the mention of his rival's name, but then he squashed down the feeling. At times of crisis, petty squabbling over minor rivalries had best be forgotten. "Forbidden elements you say? Light or Shadow? Maybe our resident queen bitch, Mistress Valdera was just flexing her muscles."
"All indications point to Shadow, Sir."
Dark Forbidden then. The fine hairs of his neck stood on end. He dismissed the soldier with an abrupt nod and in a burst of speed,
continued his way up toward the entrance, boots clicking on the ivory steps.
Forbidden. In Indigo City. A feeling of betrayal arose within his chest.
Didn't Lord Garick promise that their city would be impervious to the reformation? He fought to conquer the rising panic. No, best not jump to any conclusions. He would investigate this...
Suddenly another soldier running down the steps collided into his shoulder and he grunted at the impact, the force enough to twist him around and almost cause him to trip over the next step. Fury darkened his eyes to weapon-steel silver as he rubbed his shoulder and turned around to address the clumsy fool. "Idiot! Watch where you are going!"
The soldier had stopped to regard him with cool light-brown eyes. Longish soft black hair wavered in the chilly night breeze, intermittently being blown over and about a smooth handsome face. The standard grey of a soldier's long-coat covered his lean athletic form from shoulder to foot,
the lower hem flapping at the ankles of his black boots. The Fire symbol next to the League emblem on his uniform's breast marked him out as a Fire Trainer and not just a common soldier. What was not standard was the small brown backpack slung on his back. A frightening burst of familiarity exploded into the General's mind, but when he tried to think just who this was, he just couldn't grasp the man's identity. Like a slippery fish with bare hands, it just eluded him.
Hard lips on that handsome face gave semblance of a mocking smile. "Long time no see." A finger touched the tip of his nose in an impertinent salute, and with a flap of his long coat, continued down the long flight of marble stairs toward the lamp-posted city street. A Flareon scampered down after him on its four paws, its orange and red fur burning brightly like a walking fire.
General Yas spent several more seconds trying to remember just who the man was before giving up with an annoyed growl. He continued to rush up the stairs. He had more important things to worry about right now than some smart-ass subordinate.
On a street a block away from Victory Gate, out of sight from curious bystanders and other soldiers and trainers, Ash ripped the grey League long coat from his shoulders and with a crackle of dark lightning,
disintegrated the fabric into floating powder. The cold wind picked up the dust and blew it away high toward the tops of the tall buildings lining the street, high into the night sky.
The Flareon trotting by his feet flashed and reformed into a five-foot-eight woman with long blue hair, a violet cloak draped over her slim body.
Duplica didn't look at him. "We have to find her." There was no doubt of who she meant.
For a moment he didn't answer. Their boots clopped along the cracked sidewalk. To their right, abandoned storefronts stood silent. To the left, the wide street was empty save for a few pieces of rubbish being blown and rolled along by the wind. Lamp posts that lined the street struggled to illuminate the sheer darkness through the hazy fog that seemed to hover about them. Indeed it was amazing that there was still electricity to light the city. An ironic thought almost made him smile.
Perhaps the League's Thunder Masters were working overtime.
He took off his backpack and reformed his long black master's cloak about his shoulders with a dark shimmer. "I will find her." He closed his eyes and hugged it. "But after that ... I don't know."
Pikachu's dark head popped out the top of his pack, pointed ears twitching. "Pikapi. Pikachu." His pokemon patted his arm.
Duplica took a sidelong glance at him. Her eyes suddenly flared. "Well of course you're going to get back together."
He was taken aback by the abrupt intensity of her stare. All at once,
her eyes reminded him of someone. He lifted his arms to the sides to let his cloak shift over his form like a robe so he could put his backpack back on. Then he let out a hard laugh directed at himself. "Duplica, I ... I appreciate your concern ... but some things, we just have to work it out by ourselves."
She tore her gaze away and forcefully kept her eyes to the front as they walked. "Bullshit, Ash. That's just bullshit. I know exactly what you're thinking. I am not going to keep silent and let you make some fool mistake, like spontaneously decide that you care too much for her to care for yourself. It's just the kind of selfless, but stupid thing that you would do."
Surprise almost made him bite his tongue. Duplica never spoke serious like this. Just what had Agatha done to her to change her? It didn't sound like her at all ... she didn't even call him Ashy or some other irritating pet name either.
"Don't look so shocked," she continued in a hard tone completely alien to her usual bubbly one. She was still refusing to look at him. "I can be serious when I have to. And I care too much about y- ... my friends to let them punish themselves."
Ash kicked at a wadded piece of tissue on the sidewalk with his boot. He felt as torn as that piece of paper. "Duplica ... it just isn't as simple as that. Getting back together. You know the saying, 'it was better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all'?" He clenched his teeth. "What a pack of lies. I'll give you a better one. Take a bird that's been caged their whole life. Hatched in captivity. But caged in a basement, darkness is all that it ever knew. Then one day, you let it free into the bright day above. For the first time in its life it knows light, to fly in the open sky, to know freedom. Instead, a moment later you net it and bring it back into the shadows of the basement inside its cage. At least before the light, it never knew the life of freedom. Now it knows that it will never attain it - that is true cruelty." He shook his head. "Life doesn't always have a happy ending. In fact, in some cases, it would be better if there wasn't a happy ending."
Duplica was openly staring at him again. "Are you saying that it would be better if we lost?"
He paused. "Maybe."
"You're not making any sense-"
Footsteps behind. He stopped and neatly sidestepped into a nearby alley,
dragging her after him by the wrist and cutting short her retort. They wordlessly hugged the mossy wall with their backs as a company of League soldiers followed by two men in long dark-red cloaks ran past, their demeanor silent and serious.
When the sound of their footsteps receded, Duplica looked at Ash's hand on her arm. She frowned as if she had found a bug on her arm, and to his shock, roughly pulled herself away from him. "You didn't have to hide us,
I could have dealt with them."
"Then we'd have to deal with a thousand," Ash replied, slightly puzzled.
"You do know who that black-haired man was in the long silver coat and armour back at the Gate building?"
"If I remember right, that must have been General Yas. Didn't he lead half the Pokemon League's cavalry in the wars?"
"The very same. His duties now are protection of Indigo City along with his ... let's just say ... his partner. And he takes it very seriously. I don't know about you, but I want to get through this thing without having to fight several armies worth of people within a populated city."
Duplica snorted. "He can't be very smart if he didn't recognise you. You practically almost knocked him off the stairs."
"I wasn't surprised. He tries not to think about me too much." He walked past her and kneeled down to examine a dark stain on the pathway outside the alley. He touched it with his fingers. It seemed to be a piece of burned fabric, with the bottom left corner that was less singed a shade of ocean blue. Standing up quickly, he threw a fold of his cloak back and began looking all around. "Anyway, we better hurry. I was right, she did pass this way."
Duplica stared at the cloth in his fingers. "Ash." She hesitated. "Do you have any idea what happened back there?"
He closed his eyes for a moment. "I ... just don't know what to think any more. Or even if I want to think." He shook his head as he studied the surroundings again. There was a balcony further up the alley wall, the first of many that seemed to climb the whole building. It would be easier to find her if they searched from up above, and there would be less people to see them. Maybe she even had the same idea.
"Hold on tight in there, Pikachu," he said back to the closed flap of his backpack. Then taking a running leap, he rebounded off the opposite wall with his boots and surged upward to grab the floor of the lowest balcony and hoisted himself up. He prepared to thrust himself up to the next one,
and looked down at Duplica to signal her to follow him. The alleyway was empty.
"Up here," a voice called from above.
He lifted his eyes to see Duplica already climbing the building, jumping from balcony to balcony. He shook his head yet again.
The central city streets were packed with hundreds and thousands of excited people all shouting their celebration of the coming reformation.
Many of them held signs, which read, 'Save the world' and 'Lift the darkness' not to mention the many varied banners depicting the 'L' logo of the Pokemon League.
On Third Street, the excited shouting was suddenly cut short when a manhole cover in the midst of the crowd abruptly exploded upward as if an underground geyser had erupted. However, instead of boiling steam that drove the explosion, it was a geyser of sub-zero ice shards and water.
The shouting turned into screaming as the people closest to the eruption fell back in a ring of shock and pain as their extremities were frozen solid.
The manhole cover high in the sky shattered into ice causing a brief flash of light which was so bright, it illuminated a surrounding area of more than two blocks. Following the blast, a blue-cloaked Pokemon Master jumped out of the hole, followed shortly by a dangerous-looking coated woman with braided hair and two Pokemon League Generals in grey uniform.
Suzie looked about observing the packed street and the surrounding city buildings. Up above, the dark dome covered the sky completely. They were finally inside. She smoothed down her black coat and looked at the specs of frost that had collected on her sleeves. She frowned and they evaporated into the air with a slight hiss.
"Move along, move along!" a loud voice bellowed, drowning out the frightened whimpers of the people around them.
She raised her eyes to find a company of League soldiers dressed in grey armour and coats shoving roughly through the crowds toward them. The soldier in the lead spotted her. "Woman! It is illegal to obstruct-"
Butch and Cassidy stepped in front of her. "Step the hell down, soldier"
Butch growled, his maroon eyes narrowed as his gauntleted hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. "Do you have any idea who you are addressing?"
"G-General Butch!" the soldier faltered. He blanched even more when he saw the expression on Cassidy's face. "And General Cassidy! But we all heard you had died in the final battle against the Rebels."
"Not even close," Cassidy sniffed contemptuously with a flick of her blonde ponytail. "You think a tiny force that was all the Rebellion had left could defeat us?"
The soldier averted his gaze within his helmet. "Not the rebels ... but ... we've heard some things that ... Master Ashura has returned."
Rainer shoved his way roughly past Butch and Cassidy, tearing off his hood to reveal his face. "Enough of this! While you stand here gossiping,
do you realise that a party of rebel Pokemon Masters lead by that very same Master you mention has made it into this city?"
"What?" someone roared.
Suzie turned to see a tall heavyset man with huge shoulders and dirty-blonde hair push himself forcefully through the soldiers. He was wearing a long silver League coat that gave him an air of authority. His dark eyes were glittering with anger. In her mind's eye she saw the bright yellow aura flare out from him.
"General Kas," Cassidy greeted him with a smirk. "You look well."
He ignored her and turned to Butch. "What's this about rebels entering the city?"
"Rebel Pokemon Masters that survived the purging," Butch replied in his croaking voice. "Apparently they seem to think they can stop Lord Garick from invoking the Armageddon."
Genral Kas' mouth creased in a grim line. "That can't be allowed to happen." His mouth flattened even more at a thought. "The break-in at the League Gate," he growled.
Suzie stepped forward, interrupting him. "Enough of this wasting time"
she said quietly. "General Kas, do you have any idea of the whereabouts of Master Brock?"
He looked down at her with contempt. "Stupid woman, do you realise that you are talking to someone of authority-"
She narrowed her eyes. At the look, his eyes blinked, and he unconsciously stepped away. He glanced at Rainer, who nodded at him. He turned back to her and shook his head. "More and more we didn't know about," he said gruffly. "But I do not know the answer to your question.
Master Brock has been missing for some time now."
Suzie clenched her teeth. She should have had him by now! This was unbearable... if it weren't for that Ash ... Her eyes suddenly gleamed. Where Ash was ... Brock was sure to follow. She looked around at the others. Butch and Cassidy were again talking to their colleague and Rainer was looking through the crowds as if searching for someone.
She didn't need them anymore. Now that she was inside and she was so close, she could feel it, they would just be unwanted baggage. She would find Brock herself ... and finally end this.
End the nightmare.
"Raise the alarm," General Kas ordered to one of his soldiers. "And tell that good for nothing, General Yas, what's happened."
"That will be nine gold Y's," the waitress shouted at them, her voice just barely being heard over the crowd's loud ruckus though she stood not more than one foot from their table.
"Nine golds?" James asked, his voice high as the waitress placed the tray of drinks in front of him. "That's highway robbery!"
Jessie was trying to observe what Butch and Cassidy were doing from her seat next to him, though it was hard with the sheer amount of people jostling around the street and mostly blocking their vantage point from the outdoor cafeteria. "Just pay it, James," she burst out in annoyance.
"When we bring those two in, it should be enough to keep us in high style for a long time." Butch and Cassidy seemed to be conversing with the newly arrived League General, who was heavily built and with closely cropped dark-blonde hair. Right now they looked to be too solidly guarded there on the street with many soldiers watching ... and that blue-cloaked Master was there also, observing the crowds. Just then he seemed to look right at her, his cold watery gaze pinning into her despite the dozens of people they used for cover. She immediately ducked behind a fat man guzzling his dinner at one of the tables that was between their line of sight.
"What's wrong, Jessie?" James asked as he sipped at his glass. He moved his head to the side to see what she was hiding from.
"Don't make it so obvious, you fool!" she hissed at him as she hugged her chin to the surface of the table.
"You mean that Water Master? He's not looking this way anymore." Then he tugged at his nondescript civilian tunic. "And it's not like he can recognise us with these new disguises we're using."
Jessie raised her head from the table. "I know that, but we can't be too careful with ... you know, Pokemon Masters." She ran a hand through her dark red hair, not worn in her usual ponytail, but free to slide around her shoulders. She felt distinctly uncomfortable in her own disguise. A civilian grey frock which was altogether too tight. She should have known that the woman she had robbed it from was a bit too short.
James sipped again at his drink. "If you're so worried, why did you insist on leaving the twerp and his friends? We could have used his help."
"Oh come on, James. I refuse to rely on the twerp," she said with superiority.
"But it looks like we'll have to. Have you heard what some of these people are saying?" he said with the sound of his usual panic. "They're saying that outside of this city, they're planning to wipe the whole earth clear. That means no more Fuchsia State ... and no Fuchsia State means no employer, and no employer means no reward for bringing in those two criminals, and all this time we've spent will be for nothing!"
"Why don't you say it louder, I don't think the whole cafeteria heard you whining," Jessie said sarcastically. She sensed movement from the street behind her and she turned, angling her head around the still-guzzling fat man. Butch and Cassidy were starting to walk away down the street through the crowd in the company of the general and his soldiers, their aqua and blonde hair soon becoming but a few bobs in the sea of people. She pushed her chair back to the annoyed grunt of the person behind her and stood up. "Well, come on James, we better follow."
James did too but then suddenly felt his pocket. "I think Persian wants to come out now. He's not used to being inside a poke-ball anymore, and he keeps shaking my pants."
She shook her head with a malicious grin. "Well too bad for him. If we're caught by any of these soldiers with a pokemon, we'll be arrested faster than a complaint can leave your lips. Besides, I've gotten rather sick of his arrogant attitude and at least in there, we won't be able to hear him order us around." An ironic laugh escaped her mouth then at some other thought. "Imagine. Civilians no longer allowed to keep pokemon. How barbaric."
Holding her breath tightly with her lungs screaming for relief, Giselle gave one more mighty heave to the manhole cover above her head, finally dislodging it. The rusted steel cover overturned and clattered with a cringingly loud metallic sound on the apparent street above like an oversized coin. She scrabbled frantically up the rest of the slimy ladder and out into the night.
She gasped like a deep-sea diver coming out of the ocean. Glorious, fresh air! Well, not so much as fresh but anything was better than the stench down there. It was cool against her flushed face, but the best part of it was that it didn't stink. She collapsed upon her back upon the street sighing wearily. "We made it!"
"Don't be so melodramatic," a dry voice replied from behind her.
Giselle opened her eyes and blinked, trying to let her vision adjust to the different light. The sewer had been as black as one of her favourite dresses. The thought made her frown. All of those dresses had been destroyed back at the South Lavender base. She pushed herself half upright and turned around to regard the fuzzy green shape emerging from the open manhole she had just come from with an imperious look. "Well,
excuse me if I'm not a connoisseur of awful smells, Mistress Erika. I almost didn't make it. First your Gloom and then this sewer. I think my nose might be permanently damaged."
The fuzzy green shape finished pulling herself out of the hole with significantly more grace than Giselle herself had and settled down upon her knees. Gradually, the shape focused into a green-cloaked woman with shoulder length blue-black hair held in place by a red hair band. With an annoyed expression on her lips. "I wouldn't complain if I were you, my Gloom or that sewer - especially that sewer," Erika said hotly. "We're lucky we even managed to break into the system or we'd have been lost down in the Victory Road Tunnels forever."
Giselle sniffed, still unconvinced. "Lucky is not the word." She pushed herself up all the way to her feet and inspected herself. Her once-white medical coat was now almost as green as Erika's clothing. Except it wasn't nature's green, but some sort of slime green. And she didn't even want to guess what that brown gunky stuff was that had collected beneath her long fingernails - now most of them broken. Thoroughly annoyed now,
she added, "Besides, you don't have anything to worry about. Your sense of smell was already impaired."
Erika gave her a look as dirty as Giselle was feeling but then shrugged apparently deciding to let it pass. The Grass Master almost brushed stray strands of her hair with her hands but then spotted the same brown stuff covering her fingers that Giselle had and stopped just in time. "Anyway we better get to cover, we're too exposed out here in the open," she said instead as she herself stood up.
Flicking her fingers in a futile attempt to dislodge the gunk from her nails, Giselle took a better look around at where they had surfaced. Or as better as she was going to get with the gloominess of the air that looked so thick, if she opened her mouth she could probably taste it. Everything had a decidedly grey or black cast or some mixture thereof. But she could see well enough, the dim lamp posts on the sides of the street were actually working, giving some scant light to cast about the darkness.
It seemed as though they had come out in the outskirts of the city within the suburban sector - houses with tiled rooves lined each side of the street they stood upon, grass lawns, trees, an intersection with traffic lights at one end, a park on the other. Although unlike the lamp posts,
the traffic lights didn't seem to be working, their signals blacked out like the sky. Of course, with no vehicles functional, it wasn't like they'd be needed anyway. Looking to the south-east, the horizon was blacked out by the dome. They were finally inside.
She finished her inspection with a shrug. Erika had no cause for worry. The neighbourhood looked deserted. All the houses' windows were devoid of light and the overwhelming silence suggested that no one in the whole street was home. "No one's here to see us anyhow," she concluded as she pulled her high heels from her coat pocket. She grunted as she hopped on one foot to put one on then the other. "Which is good, since I'm an absolute mess."
"Don't worry about what you look like now, worry about what you'll look like if any League Patrol catches us," Erika said in a dry tone, though her grass-green eyes were looking about alertly for any sign of movement along the street. Giselle quieted down just to make her happy.
Surprisingly they were rewarded by the faint clopping sound of what seemed to be horses' hooves down the road from the west toward where the broken traffic lights were.
"Riders." Erika's green eyes narrowed. She turned quickly with a flap of her cloak and sprinted across the road towards a house that provided plenty of shadows to hide within. "Come on, Giselle, and hide!"
"You're not the boss of me," she said just to be disagreeable, but she followed anyway. They leaped over a half-collapsed wooden white fence and crouched behind an overgrown rosebush on the front yard of the deserted house. She was careful not to touch any of the sharp thorns as she hid,
which was actually some feat since the night was so dark despite the light posts.
The rhythmic trotting of the horses grew louder and then they spotted the flickering burning manes of saddled ponytas and rapidashs being ridden by grey-coated soldiers. They slowly moved across the road in their field of view and were scanning the houses to the sides as if looking for something.
Giselle squinted. The front two riders looked highly familiar. They both seemed to be female. One had shortish blue hair, while the other had red hair pulled in a ponytail... she suddenly growled. "Why those traitors!"
"Quiet," Erika immediately cut in. "Looks can be deceiving. Remember there are more than one Jenny and Joy in the world."
Giselle shook her head. Of course. Their Jenny and Joy were back at the Waterflower with Misty's sisters. These two ... must have stayed with the League.
"What I find more important," Erika whispered, "is the flashing thing that Jenny is studying in her left hand. Do you see it?"
She looked hard at what the blue-haired woman in the lead was holding. A light flashed on it and suddenly she recognised the small electronic device. She let out a surprised breath. "That's a Silph Co EDS."
A pause. Then Erika asked in a dry tone, "That's fine, but what exactly is an EDS? Unlike some people, not all of us are doctor-engineer ... well whatever it is you are exactly."
Giselle shook her head with some condescension. "Don't you know anything besides playing with perfume and flowers? An EDS is an Elemental Detection System. They're not as sophisticated as what ... say a Forbidden might be able to detect, but they can sense some elemental use and home in on its source - pokemon or human. What a gifted human gives off is identical to the more standard pokemon energies after all." She pulled her own detector device out of her coat pocket. "I have one myself, this one, and you've seen me use it. But I think that one over there that ... Jenny ... is holding is more advanced."
Erika frowned down at her device. Then she looked up and glared at her.
"That's all fine and good, but remember that its my knowledge about flora that actually gets you the medicines you use to heal-"
A shrill beeping sound emitted from the detector across the street that the League Jenny was holding. It actually glowed green and immediately,
two dozen unfriendly armed soldiers were looking over in their direction.
In panic, Giselle quickly went to clamp a hand over Erika's mouth, though failed when the Grass Master spotted her filthy hands and recoiled with a sick expression on her face.
"I'm sorry, so please calm down!" Giselle whispered forcefully.
The detector's shrill alarm died. One of the soldiers looked at the Jenny. "Want me to check out that yard?" they could hear him ask gruffly.
The blue-haired captain was still studying the detector though it had already died down. Her voice drifted down to them in the passing wind.
"Don't bother. It was probably just a stray bulbasaur or something.
Besides, we're not after grass related elementals, but it seems Forbidden type. Generals Yas and Kas have reported a break-in at the Victory Gate in the northern end of the city."
Immediately, a visible sense of panic seemed to wash over the whole of the soldiers. "You didn't tell us that Forbidden were involved!"
"And they weren't even supposed to be able to make it into the city!"
The League Jenny's brandy-coloured eyes darkened. "Well, now you know!
Are you soldiers of the Pokemon League or a bunch of snivelling cowards?
We will defend this city if need be, defend your poor families, even if we face countless demons from Hell! It's just this one more night until Lord Garick finally completes the reformation prophecy and then you can go back to hiding underneath your beds!"
At their captain's castigation, the grey-coated soldiers looked ashamed.
Then they straightened and saluted. "As you wish, Captain."
"And that is how it should be."
The troop continued on their trip east down the suburban road.
When they were gone, Giselle stood up and brushed some stray pieces of grass and leaves from her hair. She sighed. "That was close."
Erika didn't seem quite so relieved as she looked suspiciously around at all the various shadows being cast around them. "Forbidden in the city?
And I thought we wouldn't have to put up with that with that black dome covering the city and all." She shook her head. "And did you listen to her? It's something we shouldn't forget. The people here are just trying to protect their families. It's natural. Of course, letting everyone else who isn't part of this city go to Hell isn't exactly nice, but we should try to understand human nature."
Giselle's eyes narrowed as surprisingly a wave of intense anger washed over her. "I don't care. All human life is precious and they should understand that. They're all happy in their own little enclosed world happily ignoring all of the other people who just aren't privileged enough not to be part of the League. That prophecy is madness and if they go along with it, as far as I'm concerned, they're holding the executioner's sword just as much as Lord Garick and the other League Pokemon Masters are." When she turned back, it was to find Erika staring speculatively at her with green eyes. "What?"
"To think that I thought I knew you just a couple of days ago..."
She coughed and waved her suddenly hot face. She fought to act normal. "Anyway, things as they are," she said in her arrogant voice, "I don't think we should worry too much about whether we get discovered"
She smoothed down the rest of her clothing as best she could. "They should be more worried about finding us instead. From what I've seen you're no slouch at Grass Mastery and I know enough to put over-eager men in their place."
Erika shook her head in amusement as if to say she didn't buy it. She in turn inspected her green cloak which had also been grimed up by their stint in the sewer. "What you forget, Doctor, is that now we're within Indigo City itself, the very heart of the Pokemon League. We'll be seeing a lot more actual Pokemon Masters like me ... and you ... against us." With that said, she frowned down at her soiled clothing. The green cloak shimmered briefly before returning itself to a clean state.
Not convinced, Giselle just shrugged one shoulder at the same time wishing she knew that particular trick. It would be one thing she wouldn't mind learning with her unwanted power. Then again, that was one thing compared to the many she didn't want to know.
Finished with her cloak, Erika turned to study her. Her nose twitched.
"Why don't you clean yourself up too? It isn't hard and it'll do until we can bathe properly."
Not meeting her eyes, she grew quiet. "You know how I feel about people and elemental gifts. I already broke my vow twice about using it."
Erika was solemn. "It's your decision... and I guess it's safer anyhow since those patrols have those AIDS."
"That's EDS," she corrected, her mind elsewhere.
"I guess you would know."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing! Now come on, since Indigo Center isn't going to grow legs and walk to us, logic states that we have to do the walking ourselves." She turned upon the heel of her boot and jogged toward the side of the street while trying to keep within the shadows of the bushes.
Giselle muttered to herself before following closely.
Silence settled back into the night.
And unknown to them, a black figure observed from high above, balanced perfectly upon the tall thin apex of a dimly glowing street light.
From rooftop to rooftop a slender figure glided across multi-storied buildings, long blue hooded cloak billowing out at each extended jump.
Leap. Rapid footsteps upon concrete roof. Leap.
At this altitude, the high cold winds that whispered through the upper currents and among the tops of city structures blew much more forcefully than at ground level. But the sound it made as it blew past her ears was almost the sound of weeping.
She jumped toward the next building, this one at least a dozen levels high. In midair she enjoyed the feeling of weightlessness as she seemed to drift along the current of the upper winds. It made her feel as if she wasn't really there. Below, the darkness of city streets was almost shrouded in shadow except for the faintly glowing street lights. She wondered what would happen if she fell. No one would miss her. Her most of all.
Then all too soon she landed upon the next rooftop with a thump of her boots. She grasped a loose fold of her cloak with her right hand and continued onward without hesitation.
The old league housing were situated at the western end of the city.
Although housing was really an inappropriate term - slums was a more apt description. There wasn't even any real houses there, just tightly packed-in multi-levelled flats. It had been the 'poor' section of the city. At least in the old days.
She reached the end of the rooftop and jumped down to the next building,
cloak streaming above her. After dropping rapidly through the air, she landed with a louder thump, cracking the cement underneath her boots, and steadied herself with a hand as she crouched.
Unbidden, thoughts of Ash returned again to knife her in the chest,
almost on schedule. She honestly thought he would be happy without her there to make him miserable. And herself.
She forced the thoughts away with a slight sob as she pushed herself to her feet and continued on her way, jumping across rooftops. She was messed up. But then she had known that for a long time, just hadn't openly admitted it to herself. Now it only fell to her to discover just how much she was messed up. The meeting with Valdera...
Glowing blackness in the sky flitted to the left of her peripheral vision. She took a brief glimpse toward the centre of the city where she could hear the faint rumble of people cheering. In the distance, through the tall peaks of other buildings, the Palace of the Elite Four was again visible. It was a pentagon-shaped structure built upon layer upon layer of elegant balconies. From its roof, a slim tower thrust itself toward the sky, its apex seeming to almost touch the very top of the protective dome covering the entire city. Black lightning that flashed overhead seemed to reflect from its marble stone walls giving it an eerie shining effect. The last tower to be used in finally opening the way.
Once it had looked much different. Once it had been known as Indigo Stadium where the Pokemon League Championships were held each year. The place where Pokemon Masters were born - real ones who earned their Mastery due to hard work, effort, strategy and team work. Not the bastard offspring of ancient blood that had so frighteningly quickly replaced the old ways solely from brute force, overwhelming power.
Gary. Now that she had ... freed Ash from worries about her, he could now concentrate on the task at hand. And stop this utter madness. She kept her gaze to the front, not having to look at the sky to see its utter darkness.
Destroying the world around himself in the name of the Pokemon League.
What level of arrogance and selfishness did a person have to have to commit such atrocity? Birth of a new world, but at what cost? Then again,
she couldn't quite keep the mocking voice in her head from snickering to her. Just let the world die, the traitorous voice said. It's not worth saving anyway.
"Crying, sister? The tears do not become you."
Misty almost stumbled upon landing on the next rooftop. Quickly looking around, she finally spotted the slender white-robed figure standing atop the roof of an adjacent building. Long wind-blown blonde hair sinuously drifted to the side in the upper winds that howled about them.
Angrily, she reached within her hood to find a slight moistness on her cheeks and rubbed it away. She surveyed the area. The buildings were not so tall any more in comparison with the inner city structures. Dark old apartment flats abounded across the empty streets below. She hadn't realised that she had already arrived at her destination.
She let her gaze drift back slowly. Valdera stood upon the edge of a slightly taller building looking down upon her. The thin white robes that covered her were flimsy at best and not one goose bump was raised on her smooth skin despite the chill air. The two of them never really had been affected by cold weather.
Misty threw her hood back, letting the wind catch it and her hair,
blowing it to the side to match her sister. "I can cry if I want to," she said softly.
Valdera crouched a bit, then leaped across to join her on the rooftop.
She seemed almost to glide, her slight robe catching the air just so, as she crossed the space of emptiness between them. Then there wasn't even a sound as bare feet alighted on the concrete. Her sister turned to look at her, the both of them standing only a few feet apart now, aqua eyes identical to her own glowing softly. "But then, this isn't your party is it, Mistaria?" she said, shapely lips twisting into a mocking smile.
"Save me the corny lines, Vally," Misty replied, letting her own eyes flare. "I got your note. Now are you going to tell me what's going on, or will we just stand here and throw insults back and forth?"
"Vally," she mused as she shook her head slightly, the long blonde hair catching the wind even more to float hauntingly. "I haven't been called that since the night I left Cerulean City."
At the memory, Misty almost choked. "Left? I thought you died! Everyone did. You were swept into the river..."
"Just because I hated to swim, doesn't mean I was incompetent at it either. Besides, weren't you happy?"
"Happy? How could you think that I would be happy?" A feeling of outrage grew. "How dare you think that? You of all people should have known that I loved you. Of all the times I stuck up for you in front of Mom and Dad.
All the times we teamed up against Daisy, Lily and Violet. Damn it, we were twins!" She looked over her sister's features. The night Valdera had disappeared they had been seven. But for the differing colours of their hair, they had all but been identical. Now, sixteen years later, though they had both grown into adults, it was still the same. Valdera's face was still as her own, eyes, nose, cheekbones, pink-tinged mouth - right down to the dimple in her right cheek when she smiled. She looked over her sister's body, loosely covered by the flimsy white robe. Even their figures were identical. She even wore her hair at the exact same way, the exact same length, loose to flow about her shoulders and down her back.
Though of course, Valdera's hair was still the same golden blonde the way it was back then, and hers red - the tones just slightly darker now.
Probably to match the tones of their souls.
Some people may have found it eerie to just know that another person shared her exact features. But to a twin, it was just the way the world was. They had grown up that way.
"Twins? We are so much more than that, Mistaria. Much more." Valdera's mouth twitched. "For instance, I know that you never really believed I was dead. When you first saw me again, you actually weren't that surprised. You were more surprised by me being in the League, and my element, if anything."
Misty blinked. She had never given up the hope that her sister was alive,
and though she never told anyone, she had occasionally searched for some sign of her in the hope that she would find her. However now that she thought about it, somewhere inside she knew that if her sister were dead,
she would have felt it ... somehow. "W-Wait," she stammered, "what do you mean more than twins?"
Valdera smiled a smile of malice. "How do you think I removed your blood-bond from Ashura?"
Something snapped inside and her eyes flared anew. "So it really was you back at South Lavender." Her voice was soft with deadly anger.
"He was just as good as I remembered." Valdera hugged herself around her slender waist and tossed her blonde hair back with a flick of her neck.
"And it seemed he remembered me with how much he enjoyed having me back."
The air dropped a few degrees as Misty stared at her. Fog slowly began to blow out of their mouths at each breath. Then she let out a slight laugh.
"You're lying. He was unconscious during that time."
"Ah, but it's the subconscious that tells no lies." At some inner thought, Valdera's body abruptly sparked with white lightning,
illuminating the entire rooftop as if she were a spotlight that had exploded. Bright whiteness began to emit around her in an aura of deadly electricity as the sound of hissing thunder permeated through the air.
White boots formed over her bare feet, as well as her long Master's cloak to cover her robes. "Which comes to the main reason I called you here"
she continued in a furious tone. Surprisingly, her blue eyes were moist with unshed tears, revealed now in the intensity of her aura. "Though you say you love me, I am different. I hate our father, I hate our mother, I hate our sisters ... but most of all, I HATE YOU."
In culmination with her shout, she flicked a palm outward, exploding flares of vivid light into the darkness and Misty narrowly saved herself from being blinded as she threw a fold of her blue cloak over her face and spun. After completing the spin, an angry sob from in front warned her of Valdera's intent and she leaped backward, high in the air,
throwing the cloak from her eyes.
She guessed right, as Valdera had materialised below in the exact space she had just vacated delivering a crunching high axe kick which missed her but connected with the concrete of the roof instead. The blow was so powerful that the mortar seemed to dissolve beneath her boot sending a blast of rocky grey shrapnel and pressurised air everywhere.
The force of the explosion propelled her further back in the air than Misty had intended and abruptly she found herself without roof to land on. Thinking fast, she completed a back-flip to stabilise her momentum and threw a bolt of water towards an apartment block to the right. The instant the column of liquid hit, she froze it solid in the form of a slide, flipped around an over it with her hand and slid along it with her boots towards the building she had snagged.
She was serious, Misty thought, shocked, as she turned her head and searched for her sister. The rooftop where she had seen her last was nothing but a dust cloud. If that kick had connected, she would have been breathing out from her insides. Never before had Valdera ever attacked her with serious intent to kill.
Her senses suddenly screamed. Without knowing exactly why, she dived headfirst from her makeshift slide, just as Valdera teleported in the air directly above her and shattered her ice construction with a double fisted blow that had been aimed at her head.
The air was cold, rushing past her face and flapping her cloak, as she continued her downward dive aimed at one of the many upper windows of the nearest building. At the last instant, she thrust her palms forward,
shattering the glass and broke her fall with some forward rolls followed by a slide upon the hard wooden surface of the apartment. She couldn't see as broken wooden furniture smashed in front of her while she slid through trying to slow herself down. Finally, she planted both hands upon the ground and thrust herself feet-first at the nearest wall, bounced,
flipped, and landed into a crouch bringing herself to a stop.
Valdera swung in through the window after her, twisted once, then landed softly. She stood deathly still, her white cloaked form luminous in the darkness of the abandoned upper apartment room. Her hair wavered in tune with the cold wind that was now blowing in through the shattered pane at her back. "Stop doing that."
She leaped even before Valdera had driven her right palm forward sending a surge of blinding white electricity at her feet. Crackling lightning cooked the soles of her boots as she grasped on to an overhead light and swung away. Strangely, she would have expected to be hurt by the proximity of the blast, but she didn't feel a thing besides the expected heat.
Whiteness flashed in front of her as she was swinging away and she was ready for that too as her sister shifted in to intercept her with a midair spinning heel kick. Without thinking she blocked it with her left forearm, somersaulted and kicked herself away with both feet, using Valdera's leg as a springboard. Her sister gasped in surprise as she was knocked off-balance and fell backward. They both moved into opposite back-flips as they dropped away from each other and simultaneously landed, each in a crouch.
The air was cold and quiet save for the howling wind outside and the sound of their heavy breathing as they stared at each other with glowing blue eyes.
"I can understand father and mother ... and maybe our older sisters. But Why do you hate me so much?" Misty asked softly.
"You haven't figured it out yet?"
"No!" she suddenly screamed. "Do you have any idea how I felt when the very first time I saw you again, knew for sure you were alive, you were cheerfully helping Gary finish off what was left of Cerulean City while you searched out rebels like me to kill?"
Valdera narrowed her eyes. "That was revenge. I went through hell just because I was different, just because I wasn't like everyone else with their stupid love of anything to do with water. And you ... you were the worst of the lot. You're just a traitor."
"What are you talking about? I always stood up for you! When the other kids talked behind your back, I was the one who knocked some sense into them. How do you think I first got an image of being a bit of a tomboy?"
"Maybe, but you still sold out." Her eyes suddenly flashed with hidden knowledge. "You rely on your Water Mastery when you can be capable of much more. Our Water Mastery genes are the weak link of our parentage.
The fault of our father. And it would have been the fault of our mother"
She grimaced. "Our supposed mother that is. Thank hell that she wasn't or we'd have turned out exactly like our air-headed older sisters ... or we wouldn't exist at all which would be an even better option."
Shock made her mouth open. "What are you saying, supposed mother? She was our mother!"
Valdera shook her head. "You lived with them longer than I had and you still didn't figure it out? Our father, stubborn boar that he is, isn't so righteous after all. He had an affair. We are the result."
Her eyes shut. Something inside of her wanted to deny it, that Valdera was spewing nothing but lies ... but for the first time in her life,
crazily it fit. It seemed to explain all the little nagging thoughts that she had had all through her childhood ... it just fit too perfectly not to be true. But ... but then ... who was their real mother?
"And THAT is the question that counts, dear sister," Valdera said aloud,
"along with just who was our dear Ashura's father."
Her eyes snapped open and she thrust herself to her feet with a violent flap of her blue cloak. "What do you know about Ash's father?"
Valdera also stood up out of her crouch. "My, my, that got your attention."
"How do you know so damn much?"
She replied with a non-humourous smile.
"Does the rest of the League know?"
"Lord Garick does ... why do you think he let you come inside so easily?
He needs Ashura ..." An unholy blue light gleamed from her pupils as she said the next. "Which is why I have to kill him."
Time seemed to slow. Then speed up again, incredibly fast.
"The HELL you will." Her form flared a violent dark-blue as she exploded forward so hard, the wooden floor beneath her boots shattered.
The faint sound of revelry drifted up to them as they jumped across from building to building in the darkness of the artificial night. Ash sneezed as the cold breeze blew past his shoulder, blowing out his hood and cloak out behind him. Gary had done his job good, he thought, looking up at the protective dome that covered the city. If he concentrated he could make out the complex weaves of pure shadow that had gone into the making of it. That worried him. It seemed his old rival had somehow gained the knowledge and power of the forbidden element that he had thought was his alone ... He closed his eyes briefly in pain. Along with the Forbidden Pokemon that had been summoned into the realm. The power of the prophecy? He knew that Gary had been attuned to electric types just as he had been, but now this too? It didn't bode well.
Duplica bounded to the next building rooftop in front, her violet cloak and blue hair floating in the wind behind her. Ash followed closely, his own leap taking him across just at her back.
Duplica directed a dark look towards the center of the city where much of the noise was being generated. "Idiots. They shout the name of that madman as if he were the answer to all their problems. But all he is, is a murderer."
Ash was surprised to find himself wanting to defend him. "Gary just wants the best for his city." He clenched his fist. "But I guess that doesn't excuse the fact that he's willing to sacrifice everyone else just so his city can have a rebuilt world to themselves."
"And that's another thing that doesn't make sense. The whole Forbidden prophecy involved the Armageddon of the world ... there was nothing that indicated that it would be a rebirth."
Ash shook his head, even knowing that Duplica couldn't see it, being in front of him as she was. There was something missing here, he knew it. Then he breathed out, expelling the worrying thought from his mind. The important thing now was finding Misty. He knew they were getting close.
The overpowering feel of her was so strong in the air. Normally he could sort of sense her, since he knew her so well, but for some reason, the signs were powerful enough that it seemed there were two of her.
"Why would Misty head toward the city slums?" he wondered aloud if only to make conversation with Duplica in front of him. Misty wasn't the only person he was worried about. It was Duplica too.
But she just grunted something incoherent and ignored him.
He fell silent, feeling uncomfortable. Duplica still wasn't herself. Ever since she had awoken, it seemed like ... she disliked him. Well,
maybe not as soon as she awoke, there was a brief moment when she seemed herself ... then she had hardened and treated him as if he were a particularly unwanted visitor come to call. He stared hard at the back of her head as she lead the way. She rarely met his gaze anymore and preferred to either travel in front of him or behind him.
"Duplica, do you hate me?" he suddenly asked.
Her jog across the roof suddenly stopped and he almost bumped into her back.
He scratched at the back of his head. "I mean ... if there's something I've done ... or if ... I know I should have protected you from that hag,
"Ash, what do you remember about your childhood?" Duplica abruptly asked,
but without turning around.
"Well, you know about that," he said, puzzled. "I left at ten on the usual badge journey."
She turned to face him slightly, though her brown eyes were still not meeting with his. "Not that, I mean earlier. When you were just a kid."
His gaze clouded. "Well ... you know me and my mom lived on the small farmhouse in Pallet... it was hard making ends meet, but I helped her with the vegetables we grew and sold-"
"What about your father?"
Abrupt hot fury rose up within him unexpectedly. "I have no father," he growled. Then he blinked, a bit confused at his reaction. "Actually, I must have had a father, or I wouldn't be here would I?" He laughed, but it sounded forced even to him. "But I honestly don't remember. He must've died when I was a baby. Mom never did speak of him."
Duplica looked into his eyes then and this time it wasn't a cold look.
Warm and brown hers was. He blinked. Now he remembered what her gaze resembled. No wonder he had always liked her. She reminded him of-
"I don't hate you, Ashy," she said, breaking his thoughts. "Though I wish I could. It would have been easier." Then she turned once more to the front, and jumped, violet cloak wavering in the air, down to the rooftop of the abandoned restaurant building below before he could say anything.
Still confused, Ash didn't follow her just yet, as he watched her duck out of sight behind the walls of a stairwell which led downstairs into the building. Why was Duplica suddenly interested in his family and past?
It made no sense. She had always avoided speaking of things like that before and he had assumed that she was uncomfortable with it because she herself had been an orphan. He remembered warmly accepting her into his own house back before all the wars began, and she had seemed just to fit in like she belonged there.
"Well, better not stand around remembering stuff like a senile old man"
he said aloud.
"Pika," Pikachu agreed from his backpack, a bit annoyed.
"Well buddy, you don't have to listen in on my thoughts if you're so bored by them." He jumped across the distance between rooftops, over darkened streets and alleyways below, feeling the cold hard wind as it blew his black hair up and out of his eyes ...
And water splashed beneath his boots as he landed. Instantly he felt something was wrong as he looked down and noticed the whole rooftop was wet with overflowing water, gushing out from a busted pipe near the stairwell in the center. There was so much water it was leaking over the edges of the building.
"I can't say as you're welcome back, Ash," a voice from behind the stairwell said coldly. The owner of it stepped out into view holding a curved katana blade to Duplica's neck who he held in front of him as a hostage.
"General Yas," Ash finally said, after a pause. "I guess you finally remembered me."
"You flatter yourself." The General's eyes were gleaming blade-like silver. "You're not worthy of my attention. It was General Kas who raised the alarm and told me that it was probably you who broke in at the League Gate. The Masters left there were just blackened corpses. I just put two and two together after that. I should have known it was your handiwork,
Assassin." He said the name with deep contempt as if he meant a slug rather than a killer.
Ash ignored the insult to nonchalantly adjust his black fingerless gloves. "You can call them out now."
"As you wish." Yas whistled, and up the fire-escape on the other side of the roof trooped dozens of League Trainers armed with poke-balls and swords. On either side of them, a Fire Master dressed in a red cloak and a Ground Master in brown leaped up from their hiding places on the edges of the building.
Ash didn't recognise either of them, the Masters appearing to be young and just barely over the age that they would have come into their abilities. Not from his time then. The two stared arrogantly at him as if he were a mouse to be devoured by the cats which they no doubt assumed was themselves. Definitely too young then. "One more," he called out expectantly.
The sound of a pebble falling from behind him made him turn his head and he wasn't surprised to spot a black-robed woman adorned with silver charms come floating above the edge of the roof and settle down. What he was surprised about though was the actual identity of the chaneller who had blocked his senses. Then they had fallen right into the trap.
"Cassandra?" he said, his voice tight with betrayal.
The blue-haired woman looked away from his eyes. "I'm deeply sorry Ash.
But ... you know my grandmother. She wouldn't survive without this city.
I owe the League my loyalty."
He turned back furiously to General Yas who was still holding Duplica hostage behind his sword. He laughed bitterly. "You're out of your mind if you think this so-called reformation is going to solve all your problems. If you go along with what that ... fool, Gary has proposed,
you're all a party to mass-murder ... world-wide murder."
Yas chuckled with a bitterness to equal his. "You dare accuse us of that?
You who have killed so many people, I doubt you could remember even how many? You didn't come by your nickname giving out cotton candy to children." He swivelled his grey eyes down to Duplica's cheek who had stayed silent throughout the whole ordeal. "And who is this? She looks familiar though I can't say that we've met. Yet another of your followers? Will you sacrifice her as easily as you did my daughter?"
Ash sucked in his breath. "I know I'm guilty of killing, and after this,
I'll probably burn in hell for it and I welcome it, but I did not sacrifice Yasmine as you still wrongly believe! She died a hero in the Dark Wars, giving selflessly of herself of her own freewill, I had nothing to do with it. She saved countless lives. Why can't you still allow her the honour?"
"Honour?" Yas roared. "You cannot enjoy honour when you are dead!" Then he coughed, recomposing himself. "Now open up your backpack and send your pikachu over here, or I'll slit this girl's throat," he said in a quiet dangerous voice.
Ash desperately thought for a way out of the trap, but he couldn't think of anything. Yas had thought of all the outcomes like the experienced General he was. If he sent a killing surge of electricity, the water they were all standing on would harm Duplica as well. Yas knew that he would never willingly endanger his friends ... though of course his daughter being the one exception. If he tried a physical attack, he held Duplica hostage. If he tried anything else, Cassandra and the other Pokemon Masters and the trainers would be on to him in an instant. And once he had surrendered Pikachu, he would only be half as strong and easy pickings for the number of people against them.
But what Yas hadn't considered was Duplica herself. Especially when she spotted the black chaneller robes that Cassandra was wearing. Her brown eyes exploded into a frightening gold colour.
She screamed, "I ... will ... not ... be ... controlled ... AGAIN."
"What ...?" Yas gasped in shock as Duplica's body melted to water and passed through him to his back, reformed, then clamped her own hand on to the hilt of his katana, over his own gauntleted fist, threatening his own neck instead. She had completely reversed their positions, she now holding him hostage instead of the other way around.
The two Pokemon Masters stepped forward their hands beginning to glow.
Duplica roughly turned Yas' body toward them. "Move and I swear I'll cut your General's head right off his shoulders!"
The Masters stopped moving.
"Girl ..." Yas said, his voice incredibly angry, "I'll not be used like this!"
His body flashed green and a sparkle of dust exploded into her face.
Duplica stumbled drowsily and Yas managed to elbow his way free, forcing his katana with him in the process and slashing at her. But shockingly,
Duplica narrowed her eyes and instead of dodging it, she smacked the blade away with an arm that had suddenly turned itself to hardened steel and spin-kicked the General away with a flap of her cloak.
Ash was completely surprised, having had no idea that Duplica could pull such a move, but was soon preoccupied by more threatening matters as the Ground and Fire Master turned towards him, already blasting the power of their elements from widened hands. And as if that wasn't enough, the sound of escaping energy cracked the air as dozens and dozens of League Pokemon were thrown out by the trainers to the accompaniment of red light flashes.
He knocked away the fiery ember with his right hand sending it into the sky, and shot a thin bolt of lightning into the water by his feet,
enough to electrically splash a wave as high as his chest to block and neutralise the summoned spikes of earth that had been thrown at him.
"Charmeleon, Fire Blast!"
"Sandslash, Rock Throw!"
"Beedrill, Poison Sting!"
He leaped high into the air, and the cement that had been underneath his feet just disintegrated as dozens of Pokemon attacks thrust into the same area sending stone shrapnel, bricks and water droplets flying everywhere.
Down below, Cassandra stared at Duplica and began mumbling underneath her breath, her hands forming arcane gestures in the air in front of her.
Duplica cried an animalistic scream of rage and transformed in a blast of fiery destruction creating a wide crater in the roof. General Yas shouted in pain as we was blown backward off his feet by the blast, her fire singing him badly. A furious Moltres took to the fog-dark skies with a flap of its massive wings, the fire-blazing legendary bird lighting up the darkness like the sun. She shrieked and a huge circular pillar of melting-hot flame burst out from her opened beak directly down at the chanting woman. Cassandra cried in fear as she realised that she would not complete her spell in time.
"Duplica, no!" Ash expelled as he descended from his jump, turning his attention from the Masters and trainers to the woman who had been one of his many old friends. Elemental blasts shot up at him in response.
"Pikachu, shield us now!"
"Pikaaa!" Pikachu yelled as he jumped from his backpack and generated a blue-black crackling forcefield, shielding them both in midair. Pokemon attacks pattered against it to the sound of a hailstorm.
In turn, Ash thrust his hands down at Cassandra and concentrated quickly.
An electric shield of his own crackled into place in the form of a dome over the frightened woman. Duplica's Flamethrower bounced off and shot to the side like a reflected beam of light and arced into the side of a building in the distance. A split-second later the whole building burst into flame with a sound like thunder and began melting to its side like a burning candle.
Ash landed from his jump with a splash on the still-wet roof, while Pikachu landed upon his shoulder.
"Keep shooting!" General Yas ordered angrily, still sprawled on the wet cement roof where Duplica had knocked him down in her transformation. To the direction of their trainers, the dozens of League Pokemon burst out again in their hail of elemental missiles. For their part, the other two Masters, having realised that it was going to be harder than they thought, called out their own pokemon from poke-balls within their cloaks, a rhyhorn and a charizard respectively which both roared in unison as they exploded free. The rhyhorn pawed the wet rooftop, horned head lowered and beginning to growl as it felt pain from the water on its hooves while the charizard breathed out fire from its snout and spread out its dragon-like wings to take off.
Alarms and frightened shouting wailed in the distance. Already he could feel numerous points of power turning in their direction. He desperately erected a new wall of electricity in front of him using his link with Pikachu for extra strength. It deflected most of the blasts from the League Pokemon but he had no confidence that it would last a second longer once the two Masters and General Yas began to co-ordinate their attacks.
It was time to leave.
Duplica-Moltres was hovering high above them, still screeching her displeasure at his rescue of Cassandra.
She was safe.
He jumped high into the air again and pointed to the wet rooftop.
Paralysing lightning exploded everywhere.
Wooden floor cracked, old plaster crumbled around them, and furniture was smashed as Misty continued forward furiously attacking, while Valdera retreated, smiling as she dodged or blocked every single one of her hits.
Punch, spin-punch, kick, kick, roundhouse, punch, kick. She kept on striking, her gaze clouded and her lips shut in a grim line. Valdera's arms and legs were a blur as she parried the punches with her arms and countered the kicks with her own. It had been going on like this for what must have been more than half an hour.
It didn't make any sense. None of it. Why would Valdera want to kill Ash,
when from all she had known till now, she seemed to care about him? And why couldn't she even land a single hit? When she avoided all of Valdera's moves earlier, she had thought she was a good match for her,
but now it seemed quite the opposite.
"Why does Gary need Ash?" she breathed in-between punches and kicks.
Valdera ignored the question as she defended, instead asking, "You fight good." Her amused expression faded as she seemed to examine her moves more critically. "Your fighting style is very familiar." Misty kicked upward then let her leg fall down in a high axe kick which she also blocked. "You went back and completed your training didn't you?"
"Of course I did! You and Ash weren't the only ones who fought in the Dark Wars!" She tried several snap kicks but again failed to break Valdera's defence.
"I thought you probably just went away to have a good cry. He betrayed you didn't he? That's why you left. You couldn't stand to be cast aside,
so you left before he could do that."
Misty slowed down her attack in shock. "How do you know that?" Then sobbing in anger, she jumped and rebounded off two walls for momentum to come down on her in a powerful aerial kick.
Valdera's eyes flared a bright unholy blue. "Mistaria, didn't I already tell you that we're closer than twins!" she screamed as she grasped Misty's outstretched foot and then swung her around using her momentum against her to fling her powerfully at the wall. "It's gotten so bad now,
that your emotions are leaking in to me!"
Emotions leaking in? Valdera was reading her mind? Unable to stop her flight, Misty twisted in midair to level her feet at the wall as she smashed through in an explosion of wood, plaster and bricks. Then suddenly she was outside in midair, in the black sky, having been thrown out of the building. Freezing cold air blew her cloak around forcefully.
Hurriedly she grasped the star-shaped badge clasped on to the heart of her cloak, flipped once, then threw it into the air before her. "Starmos, I choose you!"
Her star pokemon's ruby face flashed red as it enlarged to its real size and caught her just in time. Misty crouched upon its back as it swooped down then up, just narrowly missing a low-lying rooftop.
Valdera stared out at her from the gaping hole in the building, her white cloak glowing bright from anger. "Bitch!" She performed a complex hand motion and light flared from her fingertips, forming into her female white pikachu with green eyes which sat upon her wrists. "My Pet, destroy her! Radiant Bolt!" She threw it up into the air.
The pikachu's green eyes stared at her as it rose into the air like a bullet. "Pikaa..." it growled furiously in a contrastingly soft voice as its body grew luminous and began to crackle from the white energy it was gathering.
In midair Misty quickly kicked at Starmos' rear blade causing it to spin up in front of her. For the moment, momentum allowed her to continue to rise as she grasped at the stars back in form of a shield and merged her mind with it, merged her abilities with it. Starmos rose up to the challenge, and to her surprise, she could feel the sheer violent emotion of her pokemon. She didn't know that it hated Valdera so much. A silvery sheen erupted from the star's face. "Reflect!" Misty shouted and Valdera's pikachu, now looking like a white comet rebounded off the shield harmlessly.
Valdera gasped, seeing her pokemon's attack directed at her instead. She jumped from the building just in time as the white comet that was her pikachu collided into it, causing a massive explosion of light and burning shrapnel that brightened up the whole area like fireworks.
As her sister fell through the air towards the nearest rooftop, Misty flipped once to reseat Starmos beneath her feet. "I don't care anymore"
she sobbed. "All I know is, that before you kill Ash, I'll kill you .
and even myself first!" She concentrated and continued her movement into a thrown ball of Hydro Pump which left her right palm like a cannon ball.
"Such selflessness!" Valdera mocked as she landed from her fall on the building and lifted her hand. She narrowed her eyes and they glowed a bright blue as her white pikachu suddenly reappeared within her lifted palm. The ball of destructive water screamed through the air. In one smooth movement she jumped, formed her pokemon into the long curved white katana, and slashed downward, cutting the projectile into two. The two halves fell far away behind her and shot into the rooftops of two buildings causing explosive geysers of debris and water.
"And still using water-ice attacks?" she called up to her as she landed lightly and transformed her sword back into her pikachu which sat upon her shoulder. "How can you hope to beat me when I practically remade myself into a weapon against our family's element?" She closed her arms up in front of her chest and interlocked her fingers. "Die!" Her white-cloaked form sparked once, then a massively thick beam of white lightning erupted from her palms and surged up at Misty in a zigzag line of destruction.
Misty couldn't move away fast enough. The lightning struck her with the full force of elemental nature. She screamed. Pain like only lightning could give erupted through her being. And yet, for some reason, the lightning also felt good ... like it belonged with her. She lost control over Starmos and crash-landed upon a nearby building, trying to break her fall by rolling along the cement roof. Starmos bounced down next to her and lay still.
Strangely, Valdera then shouted as if she were also in agonising pain.
Her pikachu fell off her shoulder to land paralysed on the ground.
Lightning sparked around her form haphazardly and without control. She crumpled down to her knees and leaned forward, holding her belly.
For a moment, the both of them could just lie there, smoking with dissipated electricity, each on their adjacent rooftops panting heavily as they fought to regain their breath.
Valdera recovered first, smiling woodenly as she pushed herself to a sitting position. "I haven't felt like that since the first time I managed to channel electricity," she coughed. Then she closed her blue eyes briefly. "I should have known that it wouldn't be so simple."
Misty sat up too. "Why ... Why is this happening?" She focused on her sister's gaze despite the distance between them. Her voice quieted to a whisper. "Valdera, just how are we linked?"
Even though it was a whisper, Valdera seemed to hear her easily. "Let's find out," she growled as she exploded to her feet and took a running jump to her rooftop.
Misty narrowed her eyes, anger rising up within her from an unknown place. It surprised her. "You still want to fight? Well, it would be kind of me to oblige you!" She also leaped to her feet and jumped high to meet her sister in the air. She rotated into a flying roundhouse kick which actually struck Valdera directly in the stomach.
Instantly a sharp pain exploded inside her own mid-section and she doubled over in agony and complete surprise. Losing balance, she began to spin out of control as she fell. The city beneath her was a revolving scene of shadows and lights. And then she landed shoulder-first upon the cold cement roof of another building with a massive crack, bounced once and then rolled into a painful pile of arms and legs.
Valdera landed in a crouch next to her, frowning slightly as she rubbed her stomach. "You kick hard, sister," she said with some difficulty,
then stood up and smoothed her flapping cloak. "But then, I've learned to withstand most pain. I mean, with the inferior water side of my genes, it causes me pain whenever I wield my lightning side." She looked down at her lying there and sniffed. "It looks like you on the other hand, have not."
Misty swivelled and reverse spin-kicked Valdera's chin as she used her hands to propel herself into the air. It sent her sister flying backward off her feet to land on her back violently. At the same time, her own chin exploded in pain and she was knocked down all over again.
Spitting out blood, Valdera cursed as she flipped back upright and jumped forward kicking Misty's waist, sending her tumbling across the roof. In return, she was also kicked in the waist by an unseen force and was thrust backward to fall on to her chest.
Misty blinked as she pushed herself to her feet yet again while Valdera did the same. Her sister lifted her hands in a fighting stance. This was ridiculous. It was getting them nowhere. And she was tired, just so tired. She dropped her arms to her sides. "Vally ... I-I don't want to fight you anymore. If you'll just tell me why you say you have to kill Ash? I thought you liked him, enough to even be with him during the Dark Wars, and I know how much you disliked boys... If you want, you can kill me, if that's what will truly make you happy, but please, leave Ash alone. If not for me, then at least for the world as he is trying so hard to save it despite what he may have done in the past."
Valdera's eyes which had dulled during their most recent fight, now sprang back to life with blazing blue. "You're such a hypocrite,
Mistaria! If you care so much about him, then why haven't you been showing it? Why have you split up yet again?"
Misty opened her mouth for an angry reply, but the words died in her throat. She couldn't answer.
Valdera spread her arms apart as she looked at her. "I'll tell you why, dearest twin sister! You're afraid of being hurt! Inside, you make up all these silly excuses why it's better for you to be apart. Oh, I'll just make him miserable! I'm such a horrible person, he deserves better"
She closed her eyes and her voice saddened. "But after all this time,
time I could only dream of having, you still don't know what it is to love and be loved. You can't have love without being vulnerable. Love is not just pure joy, it is also pain. Which makes love when you have it as sweet as it is. Knowing that the person who loves you is also making himself vulnerable for you." She opened her eyes again, and they were wet with a sheen of tears. "You had all this but you threw it away! You have so much, and yet you reject it." Her voice dropped its sadness then and regained its overwhelming fury. "And that is the main reason why I hate you so much." She tapped her shoulder and a light flashed as she ported her pikachu to sit upon it. Abruptly, she flung her arms to the sky, and the stiff upper-city winds grew ten-fold as her white aura blazed anew,
brighter than even the burning buildings they had left in their wake. "As much as I hate myself!" Shockingly, her bright blue eyes flashed and turned a deep crimson red.
Misty was forced back several feet by the sudden devastating wind which howled and screeched like a thousand souls in torment. Her boots could hold no purchase upon the cement rooftop and she slowly slid back as she lifted a fold of her wildly flapping blue cloak to protect her eyes from the light and the wind. Her hair felt as if it would be pulled out of her skull. "Valdera, what are you doing?" she shouted, fighting for her voice to be heard above the sound of newly sparked thunder which began to boom in the black covered sky. The smell of ozone was strong in the air now.
Valdera didn't answer. Her white cloak writhed violently against her body in response to the surges of power she was generating. Windowpanes in the buildings around them began to shatter and white bolts of lightning forked across the horizon above them, no longer a black bolt to be seen anywhere. Toward the center of the city where masses of people had gathered, the noise of revelry faded away as they seemed to notice the great disturbance to the west.
Impossibly, the blue-black dome directly above them, wavered, then groaned as if under tremendous pressure. The sound was deafening and Misty thought her eardrums would burst. And then a small crack appeared,
grew then shattered creating a gaping opening along the city's domed defence. Even more shocking was the sudden, blinding sunlight streaming through the hole, burning through the dark heavens that had shadowed the world, sunlight that had not been seen since the whole nightmare of the prophecy had begun. The sun was an angry unnatural white, burning blistering hot, washing over them and the building they were standing upon in waves. Steam instantly hissed from the cement of the roof.
"I've missed the sun," Valdera whispered as if to herself, Misty hearing it despite the howl of the wind and the cracking of thunder as she shaded her eyes with the back of her gloved hand.
Dread made Misty's throat turn dry. She had seen the like of this once before. Ash at South lavender before he had reduced the base and most of the surrounding countryside to dust. Vally ... please God, no...
Valdera's arms were still raised, though her palms were opened. She clenched them now. The earth trembled. "WHITE LIGHTNING ULTIMATE!"
Misty didn't know what made her do it, but she exploded forward, catching Valdera's raised fists in her own. For one long moment it seemed as if Misty was facing a mirror, holding hands with her reflection.
Conflicting thoughts spidered along her consciousness.
Keep her angry have to kill her I have to I'll never be free need to be my own person break the prophecy I hate myself will kill myself I need to live to be free ... what's this she's holding my hands shouldn't hold hands reminds me of Ash, Ashura, Ash...
She blinked and the world shifted.
And suddenly it was Ash in front of her, holding her hands tightly within each of his own. But it was not the Ash of now, it was a younger Ash, his black hair somewhat shorter so that it didn't fall into his eyes so much,
his face with several cuts bleeding on it, and his coat looked so shredded it was as if it would fall from his shoulders at any moment.
All around, buildings were crumbling and falling, most of them burning.
It was Celadon City. But it had not been totally destroyed yet. It was in the process of being destroyed.
Brought about by the three men dressed in earthen-brown long hooded cloaks that stood before them.
"I know you don't like me much, no I know you hate me, but you have to listen to me!"
Her stomach tightened with conflicting feelings. Finally her mouth opened of its own accord. "Why did you come here, Ashura? This is my fight and I will finish it!" Her hands struggled within his grip but he would not let go. "Let go!" Misty abruptly felt searing pain as electricity flared within her palms. "Or I'll kill you just like I'd kill any other Rocket Army scum!"
Ash sucked in his breath as the electricity flowed into his hands and it was enough to distract him so that she could lift him up and throw him to the side violently.
She turned to face her attackers again. "Now where were we?"
The cloaked man in the middle shook his head. "You should have listened to him, girl." His voice was deep and had the quality that seemed to exude danger. "You may have extraordinary natural talent for the elements, but you're still just a novice." His eyes glowed an evil brown.
"I will do this myself you little bitch and maybe have fun with you later."
His cloaked form flared to match his eyes and suddenly there was a pain within her head such as she had never felt before. She had thought she was above pain with her mastering a side of her element that was so contrary to her being that it caused her agony whenever she wielded it,
but apparently she had thought wrong. She fell to her hands and knees and vomited on the floor.
"Game over, little electric mistress," the cloaked man said. He seemed to look critically at her. "I'd thought to have you later, but it looks like you really aren't my type. Never mind, you can just lay there and die"
His hands glowed with elemental power. "Subterranean Spike!"
The ground rumbled beneath her and she closed her eyes. She had been stupid. So weak. She had thought that with her gift emerging she could defeat anyone. The days of her backing down to anyone and everyone were over once and for all. Instead, it seemed these ... Pokemon Masters dressed in brown were more powerful than she could have imagined. She should have paid more attention to the rumours. And Ashura would watch her die. Ashura ... Ash.
And suddenly she was pushed away forcefully as a razor-sharp rock thrust itself out of the ground narrowly missing her. A wet splatter sprinkled on her cheek as she rolled away.
"NO." The voice was from behind her and sounded drained of emotion. "All I have left is my friends and I won't let you take them too."
She turned to look weakly back at what had saved her. It was Ash kneeling near the earthen spike, with a long cut on his arm where it had slashed him. He had pushed her out of the way only to become hurt in the process.
"Boy, you shouldn't have interfered," the brown-cloaked Pokemon Master growled. Two malevolent eyes within the dark hood flared red.
What was he doing? she thought. He could only fight hand to hand, he had no elemental ability of his own! These Pokemon Masters would kill him! He had just committed suicide!
Conflicting thoughts spidered along her consciousness.
And yet other emotions matched perfectly.
Their hands abruptly broke apart and they both fell on their backs, Misty feeling immensely tired as if she had no more energy within her. From the sound of Valdera's laboured breathing beside her, she probably felt the same... she did feel the same.
The sun high above them dimmed as black stormy clouds resumed their place covering it. And soon, those too were out of view as the gaping hole that Valdera had created in the shadow dome quickly closed itself as if it were a wound that had just been healed. The dark fog of the skys also began to renew itself and the wind had died down to its usual eerie wailing.
Misty closed her eyes. She knew now. It had literally taken Valdera to beat it into her, hell, she even beat it into herself.
But now she knew.
She pushed herself into a sitting position and spat out some blood to the side. Valdera did the same.
Misty struggled to her feet and turned away, ready to go. "I'll be leaving now."
Hearing that, Valdera laughed tonelessly. "You don't care about what I will do to Ashura anymore?"
Misty shook her head. "You can't kill Ash." She shook her head ironically. "Even if it was to save the world."
Valdera's blue eyes that were her own abruptly blazed with light, then just as suddenly died down. Instead her eyes closed in defeat.
"I know you could never kill him," Misty continued, "because I could never kill him. Because you are me ... and I am you."
End of Part 12
To Be Continued in the final Conclusion ...
Type 1 - Shadow Type 2 - Water
Attack : Shadow Mist Type : Shadow / Water A mist of overwhelming darkness that can corrupt the flesh, and even freeze solid.
This part was originally going to be the last, and I released first a quarter then this when it was taking too long. Then the fic just exploded in size and Part 13 had to be born by splitting it or it would have exceeded 500 Kbs. I don't think I've seen a single part of a fanfiction that size anywhere on the net! I probably win some sort of record :D
Ace Sanchez Emails : : WWW : www.users..au/acey