Chapter 2

A New Home

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Ash woke up with the feeling of the chilly soft wind on his face, though, strangely, the rest of his body was really warm and comfortable. He looked down and, with a blush, realized why: Cassandra was curled up in his arms, asleep, resting her weight on his chest. Plus, he was holding her much more closely than he would have consciously allowed. He felt a mix of embarrassment and utter bliss. And her hair smelled so good...

"You're awake, I see," came a strange voice to Ash's ears, and after a moment he realized that it was the archeot's. He was speaking in his own language, which basically was composed of his own name's syllables in different intonations, lengths, orders, and other aspects. But, surprisingly, Ash could understand him perfectly.

Suppressing the urge to ask that all too stupid question 'You can talk?', even though it would probably be doubly stupid since the pokemon wasn't actually 'talking', Ash simply said, "Yeah, I am."

"Well, I honestly thought you'd sleep a little while longer. It's not like you're not comfortable back there, are you?" he said in a distinctively devilish way that made the teenager blush another shade of red.

Ash decided to change the uncomfortable subject. "How long until we get to the city, anyway?"

"Oh, not too long now. Just another hour in our present speed."

Which was much slower than before he had fallen asleep, Ash noticed. But he wasn't going to say that to the archeot, was he? He wasn't in much of a hurry, anyway. "Your name is Breven, isn't it?"

The avian canine nodded his head. "Yes, it is."

"She gave it to you?"

"No, I used to have it even before I met Mistress Cassandra."

Ash looked up into the night sky, to the infinite stars, once again noticing that none of his favorite constellations were there. He felt suddenly homesick, an image of his friends flashing momentarily in his mind. He missed them. "Do you know any constellations, Breven?"

Breven looked up to the sky. "A few."

"Could you tell me about them?"

"Why don't you let me do that?" Cassandra, perfectly awake, asked him, making Ash almost have a heart attack.

"C-C-Cassandra! Y-you're awake," he squealed.

"Well, isn't he good at stating the obvious? Don't you think he's smart, Breven?" she tauntingly asked.

"Very."

"You know, I think he deserves a prize! What do you say, Brev?"

"I say that's a very good idea."

"All right you two, stop it," Ash told them. He tried to readjust himself to a less compromising position, but was surprised to feel Cassandra's hands keeping his where they were. "Umm... Cassandra..."

"It gets chilly in the desert nights, Ash. You don't want me to freeze, do you?" she purred, snuggling closer, as well as moving her tails slightly, so they would brush against him.

"Um... ah... I..."

"You wouldn't be much of a gentleman if you let that happen, now would you?" she cooed. She then nuzzled his neck, making Ash feel like he had been thunderbolted. He was paralyzed stiff.

"Mistress, you're torturing him," Breven told her bluntly and not a bit least worried.

"No, I'm not." she said, making a red Ash face her. She had an evil smile plastered in her face, and Ash could tell she used it more often than she probably should. "You like it, don't you Ashy?"

He could only widen his eyes and flush redder.

She laughed loudly, obviously finding his expression too good not to crack. "You're just too adorable when you're like that!"

Ash's mind was swirling in a way that made a pidgeot's tornado envious. When he first met Cassandra, she seemed like a much more reserved person. Now, she had suddenly turned into some sort of flirting maniac! What was going on around him, Ash couldn't tell anymore. He could only act like a crushed schoolboy.

Cassandra's mood seemed to strangely swing once again, and her voice became softer. "Does it still hurt?"

Ash was too confused to know what the hell she was talking about, until he felt her gently rubbing his right hand. His burned hand. "Oh, don't worry. It's not that bad anymore."

"We're gonna have to patch that up later. Do you have anywhere to stay in Equinocius?"

"No, actually, now that you mentioned it, I don't."

"Well then, dad's gonna have a new guest in the house!" she piped up.

"Really, I don't want to be a burden..."

"Nonsense!" she exclaimed in an accented way that seemed like she was mocking someone. Both her and Breven started laughing, and Ash could only wonder why. "Now, really, it's no big deal. The mansion has so many rooms even I find something new there every now and then."

"Mansion?" he asked her surprised.

"Yep. More than fifty rooms, though the exact count I don't really remember right now..." she trailed off.

Ash's jaw was hanging limply. Fifty rooms? Just how much money did this girl have, anyway? Ash suddenly imagined himself walking completely lost through endless hallways filled with doors and more doors, not knowing where to go or how to get anywhere. It was a scary image.

"Here we are!" Breven called from beneath them. "We actually got here sooner than I expected."

The city was still half-a-mile of distance at least, but it was already clearly visible, and Ash found himself gawking at the sight of distant towers and flickering white and orange lights, like the cities in the fantasy novels that Delia had read to him during his early childhood. It was like seeing sparkling tiny topazes and diamonds on the blue-red velvet of the endless desert and the night sky. It was a sight Ash thought he'd never see in his own world.

"Wow." was all he could say.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Cassandra asked, leaning back and resting her head right next to his. Ash was still feeling uncomfortable with her forwardness, but, leaning his own head on hers, he figured he could get used to it.

After all, who wouldn't want to?

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Khanaah kneeled at the floor of the dark, stony room where the Lord lay sitting on his throne. The fires danced across the chamber, its shadows twitching and changing shape like tortured wraiths. The Lord was almost completely covered in the darkness and, from Khanaah's position, one could only tell that whatever sat there wasn't anything human. She seemed to blend in the room's shadows with her black cloak, but she knew very well he could see her perfectly. And, perhaps, a lot more than just her figure.

"Well, Khanaah," he started, his voice cultured and powerful, with a tint of animalism. "Sir Irham tells me that, in your own words, 'the child has arrived.'" He seemed to lean his head on her direction, as if to see her better. "Is that all that my most powerful and experienced psychic can tell me about this matter?"

Her head bowed lower than before, averting her superior's gaze. "I don't understand it myself my Lord," she said. "Something about him seems to block most of my powers. But I have been capable of getting his name."

"Really?" came his question, though a little unbelieving. "And what might his name be?"

"Ash." she told him, her eyes never leaving the gray tiled floor.

He leaned back on his throne. "Ash, huh?"

"Yes, my Lord."

There was silence in the room, the only sound coming from Khanaah's heart, which felt like a miltank trying to rollout its way out of her chest. She was decidedly nervous. His voice was almost a relief to her at that moment. "Do you at least have any idea of where he is?"

"I... I'm not exactly sure... but I believe he is now within the city... or somewhere near it, my Lord."

"Hmm..."

Wanting to be somewhere, anywhere else, Khanaah allowed herself to be bold and raised her head just a tad higher. "My Lord, is there anything else I can do for you?"

He seemed thoughtful for a moment, then, "Yes, in fact you can." He leaned on her once again and Khanaah could feel his eyes boring on her skull. "I want you to start acting competently for now on. Do you know the importance of this to our plans?"

"Yes my Lord, I realize the urgency..."

"Then stop trying to find him and find him!" his voice roared through the room, the floor literally quaking beneath Khanaah's feet. Or was it herself?

"Y-yes, my Lord." she said, then made her way to the doors as quickly as she could. The Lord was the only person capable of having that effect on her. No matter how intimidating one could be, it was nothing compared to his wrath. Her hands were still trembling slightly, and she thanked the Gods that the robes she wore concealed them.

She decided to make her way back to the Crystal Room and start working immediately. She walked through the castle's arched hallways, the walls, ceiling and floors built with the same gray stone, the fires cracking softly as she passed them.

She was already at the stairs, when she heard an unbelievably irritating voice from behind. "So, was it as good as I think it was?"

Khanaah turned back, slowly, her eyes cold and unemotional, though deep inside she was seething. She looked upon the smirking face of Sirius, a persian-hybrid, with the milk colored fur, long tail, curled at the tip, and a cat-like face with a red gem in his forehead. He also had scarlet eyes and a wild, short red hair. He was wearing a black robe like Khanaah.

She tried to control the urge to psychic him to kingdom come as she spoke, "What do you want now, Sirius?"

His feline face was filled with amusement as he surveyed her, trying in vain to find more than black cloth and half-a-muzzle. "I overheard your little conversation with the Lord," he said, seeing delighted how she stiffened only the slightest. "The kid's name is Ash, isn't it? And he's at the city right now..." His head tilted up and he raised one finger to scratch his chin; with an almost ten inch long razor-sharp claw. "I just wonder what would be the reward for the first who found him."

Khanaah really wasn't in the mood for him at the moment. "If you excuse me, Sirius," she began in a tone that clearly said that it didn't matter whether he excused her or not, "I have much work to do. I don't really have time for you and your self-centered stupidity."

She then turned and walked away, leaving a smirking cat on her wake.

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Situated at the very center of the Itkallah desert, Equinocius was known as one of the greatest and most advanced metropolises in the world. The city itself was composed of the Palace Tower of the King Etriecht, a great vertical citadel of granite, obsidian and marble, suited at the very center, outlined by the Central Squares, where most of the commerce and trade was made, outlined by the residential and small business spaces, followed by the States, where the Theiliors' manor was suited, and the whole set was outlined by a great circular wall that stretched through all of the limits of the Estate City itself, as to keep sandstorms and other unwanted things outside.

Or at least that's what Cassandra told Ash, ending her description just before Breven touched down on top of the actual mansion, on a great and high balcony, probably where the archeot landed every time.

Well, Cassandra wasn't lying about one thing. This place is huge! The humble house, as Cassandra described, where generations of Theiliors had lived and grown their wealth, surely had a lot more than fifty rooms. It was, put simply, the largest house where Ash had ever been.

Cassandra guided, or dragged him towards the doors and within large and long corridors of red carpets, pastel toned walls, high gold and crystal-incrusted chandeliers and large paintings of people Ash had never seen and had never expected to see, looking as they all had muzzles or fur or wings or paws or pretty much any non-human characteristic. Those paintings were what kept the teen's attention the most, and he saw hybrids of all species: growlithes, noctowls, dowphans, rapidashes and, in Ash's opinion the most creeping, a chimecho-hybrid, who he found ugly and weird but that, in the painting, was paired with a quite beautiful female ninetales-hybrid, and the confusion brought by that piece occupied the boy's mind for the entire travel through the as much confusing labyrinth that was Cassandra's home.

Before the teen noticed, they were before another door.

"Joy!" the half-vulpix beside him called to the room beyond. "Joy, wake up!"

A moment of silence, then, "Coming, coming." came the muffled and sleepy reply from the other room.

Ash could hear someone shuffling and walking, and he started to wonder if that Joy was a Nurse Joy, or if it was anybody else. He also wondered what kind of hybrid she'd be.

Cassandra's bluish foxy ears were flattened as she impatiently waited, and Ash realized she must be of the kind that can never stay put on the same spot. He also realized that she still held his left hand firmly, but he didn't tell her.

The door opened, and Ash saw her. It wasn't what he expected. It wasn't like anything he had seen in that strange world so far.

She was human. A simple red haired human still in her nightgown, her face exactly like he remembered from his own world, except it was the face of someone who could really use some more rest. Were Joy's supposed to be a sort of multiversal truth or something? Were there Jenny's in that place too?

"I'm sorry I..." she yawned, "took so long, Mistress."

The irritated mask left Cassandra's eyes and she smiled. "It's okay, it's just a little emergency."

She opened her eyes fully to see Ash standing there, both looking and feeling incredibly out of place. Her confused face turned into shock as she eyed his hand. "My goodness! What in the world happened to your hand? Now, now, we have to take care of that immediately!"

Yep, exactly like his world.

"You patch him up, Joy. I've got to talk to father." Cassandra said and turned to leave. "Now, Ashy, you behave, okay?" she said as she walked away into the maze.

Ash was about to tell her to wait, when his good hand was yanked from him again, this time by Joy. "Now, come here mister, we have to look that up." she said, completely awakened, as she pulled him through the opposite corridor.

Ash's own ears flattened in irritation, but he said nothing, deciding that no matter how weird things were going to be, he'd better just go with the flow.

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That night the desert had become quite cold, which was pleasing for the guards that watched the arid immensity from the northern watchtower, almost two miles from Equinocius. The tower in itself was high, thin, made of yellow stones. It stood solitary in the red vastness, the only other thing visible the faraway lights to the far south like an ancient beacon for no longer existing ships.

A hybrid stood at the highest spot, smoking a small cigarette, watching as the white sick-smelling clouds drifted through the thin air until they were no more. He was bored to his skull.

He had green and yellow fur and a muzzled face, and the rest of his light leather armor concealed his other features, but there was no doubt he was an electrike-hybrid. In his back stood his long bow and his metallic arrows, and there was a pocketknife in his belt. He sometimes thought of how great it would be to carry real guns, but those are near to non-existent, and arming simple soldiers with them would be a waste of good money. Plus, hybrids could do well even without firepower.

As he flung his cigar over the edge and started to roll more tobacco, he saw something quite interesting far down at the sand. At first he thought it was a mote created by his vision, but it soon became evident that someone was there, walking in the wasteland, towards the watchtower.

Unknowing of who or what it might be, he quickly drew his bow and a single metal arrow. He watched as the mote walked steadily towards him, and he aimed, the electricity already coursing through the projectile. It was enough to stun anything that wasn't a rock or ground type, but he waited, trying to be sure that it wasn't a simple traveler, instead of a bandit or a scavenger looking for trouble.

After five minutes, the mote took the shape of a humanoid in torn rags, swaying drunkenly over the sand, until it finally buckled and fell. It did not stand again.

The hybrid lowered his bow, the power dying in the arrow. He turned to the passageway. "Hey, Erik!"

A small moment, until Erik arrived in the electrike-hybrid's post. Erik was almost two times the other hybrid's height, and three times the other's muscles, wearing heavier armor with some metallic plates. He bent to pass through the passage, his scaly wings scraping in the edges and his horns almost hitting the top. People in there would be terrified of the half-charizard, if it weren't for the fact that the only thing as big as Erik was his own heart.

Still, you did not piss Erik, because you wouldn't have your limbs the next morning if you did.

"What is it?" he asked the guard, standing fully like a giant over the tower.

The other simply pointed. "That."

Erik looked at the limp body, its rags of clothes billowing in the desert wind. The thing didn't look like it was alive, and Erik could almost hear the fearows starting to circle the corpse.

"You think he's dead?" the canine asked.

"Could be." came Erik's reply.

"You think he's a bandit?"

"Maybe."

"Are you gonna keep answering my questions like you don't know shit?"

He turned to the guard with an amused expression. "Perhaps."

The other laughed good-naturedly. "So," he said. "what do we do about it?"

Erik looked once more at the now unmoving mote. "I'll go check it out, you tell the others to keep on alert."

"You sure?"

Suppressing the urge to say 'maybe', Erik just nodded. "I'll be fine, don't worry."

The other hybrid took on his heels towards the inside of the tower, and Erik was left alone. He stretched his wings to their immense full length, and jumped with great strength over the side. He flapped a few times, then glided easily over the winds to the limp body below.

He was there in less then half-a-minute, and as he landed, he looked upon the traveler. He didn't seem to be a scavenger, much less a bandit. Still, appearances were deceiving, and thus he was careful.

He seemed young, though definitely not a child. Erik knelt beside him, noticing how the brown cloth that covered him was the only clothing he had. He removed what was covering his face, and took a long and good look at the hybrid.

"Better take you back with me." Erik told him, knowing he wouldn't be listened. He scooped the body easily in his arms, and took to the air again, his wings sending clouds of sand around him. He could already see the other guards standing in the high balcony, waiting for him.

At one moment he looked at the golden-yellow face of the hybrid, and felt something strange about him, though he couldn't be sure of what.

He shrugged it off and continued to fly towards the tower, unaware that for a moment the young one had looked at him with hazel eyes and an expression that showed confusion, almost awe. He passed out again soon afterwards.

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