Epilogue: The Sunset
Satoran worked diligently to douse the small fire, his digging claws scooping earth over the flames to smother them. In the background, he could hear that the fighting had stopped. It seemed that this new trainer was speaking to the assembly of Pokemon for some reason, but he tuned her voice out. Satoran had more pressing matters to deal with. If the fires that had sprung up around the meadow could not be contained, they would grow and possibly consume the entire forest.
When he was satisfied that the fire here was indeed out, he darted away, scuttling through the undergrowth in search of another to deal with. As he went, he thought he heard something crashing around in the brush just outside the meadow's limits, in the disturbingly dead ring that now surrounded it. The Nincada stopped, curious. His sensitive whiskers twitched, tasting the air.
He didn't have to wait to process the information that they gave him as the culprit appeared, a yellow shape struggled out from behind a half-dead bush, his white ruff tangled in its grasping branches. Satoran sighed inwardly. It was Delrairon.
The Hypno succeeded in extricating himself from the bush and continued forward, grumbling to himself as he went. The ancient Pokemon nearly tripped over Satoran as he entered the meadow, blinking his squinted eyes in surprise. "Why, is that you, little one?" he asked in surprise.
"Indeed, old one," Satoran replied. "What are you doing here?"
"Why, I've come to see the action of course," Delrairon wheezed. "I've waited a long time for this day."
"Why?" Satoran asked, cocking his small head, all thoughts of his former duty fleeing his mind.
"Because today is the day that the forest will know freedom once more," Delrairon announced, nodding his head as if in approval of his own pronouncement.
"Not that you did much to speed it along," Satoran muttered to himself. The Hypno's ears were keener than they appeared, and Delrairon caught the comment.
"How do you mean? Without me, how would you ever have known what to do?" he asked incredulously.
"Old one, you spoke only in riddles. I didn't understand," Satoran explained, trying to smooth over the insult.
"That so?" Delrairon grunted. "Shows how inexperienced you are, I suppose. You know, you'd make a fine seer. You have the head for it. Of course, you'd never learn, being stuck here on this little island all of your life. "
Satoran disregarded Delrairon's ramblings and decided to try once more to pry an answer out of the Hypno. "Last time we talked, you said that these fiery flowers were important or something," he reminded Delrairon, gesturing around at the few untouched plants around them. "But now they're all burnt up. Isn't that sort of, um, bad?"
The Hypno stroked his chin and peered around. Then he turned back the way that he had come, and then back again to Satoran and shook his head. "Not at all. Now back that way," he indicated the area behind him with a wave of his hand, "is bad. I don't see anything wrong here at all."
"Okay, so it's bad that the flowers out there died, but not in here, where they got burnt up. You said that we should protect the meadow, prevent it from being destroyed. And now here it is in ruin."
"Don't you remember anything?" the Hypno barked in exasperation. "Remember what those flowers are?"
"Flames, I know, I know," Satoran sighed, remembering the response that he had given the last time the Hypno had asked him a question similar to that.
"Exactly! And only in burning can the flames hope to grow," Dekrairon continued sagely. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have somewhere to be. And so too should you. Think on what I said. It's not much of a life, living cooped up in this little forest."
The Hypno continued on through the meadow, swatting aside plants and trampling unheeding through piles of still-warm ash. Satoran watched him go, whiskers twitching thoughtfully. The Hypno had once again proved to be little help, but Delrairon's explanation still somehow made sense to him. What intrigued him far more were the old Pokemon's final words. What would it be like to finally be free of the smothering confinement of the small island? He shook his head to drive the frivolous thought from his head, turning back to his work. He couldn't drive away the nagging voice that continued to hum in the back of his head, speaking of adventure and fulfillment, however. As he darted over to the next fire, he felt an odd rippling feeling come over him.
With the departure of the Ninetales came the dissipation of the curse from the island and its inhabitants. It seemed that a great wave spread out from the spot where she had disappeared, rippling out across the forest. A pall was lifted from the trees, the shadow that had clouded the forest dissipated. An odd tingling feeling was felt by those within the island's borders as an odd wind passed over them. For some, it was a mere fleeting sensation. For others, however, it sank into their very being, drawing forth that which was long forgotten.
Katherine was still in shock as she felt the odd wave break over her head. She was one of the first that felt it, standing as close as she was to its source. She shook her head as though chasing away an annoying fly, and the feeling was gone. She turned to look around to see if anyone else had been affected and found her vision and was startled by a boy who had apparently sprouted up next to her. She stared in surprise and wonder at him, and he returned the look with a cheeky grin that she knew all too well.
"Look familiar?" he asked slyly. He couldn't have been much more than Katherine's age, with blonde hair cropped close to his head and laughing blue eyes. He was also quite short, coming up only to about Katherine's shoulder. He wore clothing that was positively antiquated, from the league jacket that had been in fashion a decade ago to the wide, silver trainer's belt.
"Jeremy?" Katherine asked in disbelief.
"The one and only," he confirmed. "Why, what did you think I looked like?"
"I don't know, sort of purple and furry," Katherine replied. "But shouldn't you be a lot older? You were here for a decade, and unless you started training when you were seven or something, you haven't grown at all."
"No, indeed," Jeremy agreed. "That was one of the best parts of the deal, as far as the Mistress saw it. Ninetales live for upwards of a thousand years, as you know. We crused trainers would remain alive and unchanged, at least in our true forms, for all of that time. When she died or released us, we would return to the state that she remembered us in, no older than when we had been cursed. We would then be free to go forth into a world that we no longer knew, where our friends and family had long died and where entire countries might have come and gone. A parting gift, if you will."
"That's horrible," Katherine gasped.
Jeremy shrugged. "For people searching for the fountain of youth, I guess it's not that bad. And at least I got all of my stuff back." He reached into a pocket in his league jacket and pulled out a Pokedex. Katherine was fascinated by it; it was massive and clumsy-looking, one of the earlier computerized models. Jeremy's hand went reflexively to his waist, but found the clips on his belt to be empty. The hand clenched, and he slid the Pokedex back into his jacket with a grim look on his face. "But not anything that really matters," he observed darkly.
Their conversation was interrupted by a tall, skinny boy whom Katherine had also never seen before. He was incredibly gangly, with oversized hands and feet and a huge pair of spectacles perched on his long, thin nose. His skin was extremely pale, so much so that it seemed almost bluish from the blood running beneath it. "You got changed back too, Jeremy?" he asked.
"Trevor?" Jeremy asked with an incredulous grin. "A bit less serpentine than before, I see."
"And a bit more blind," he replied, removing his glasses and holding them before his face. "These things aren't the right prescription. She got them wrong." Katherine could make now make out other trainers moving about in the field, some just standing around dazedly and others running around joyfully. One by one, they wandered over to congregate around Katherine, whom they considered to be their savior, introducing themselves enthusiastically.
In all, Katherine met fourteen trainers, from the plump and amiable Jess to the surly Seth, whose curly brown hair was, as Jeremy jokingly put it, "like a Spearow's nest."
Friendly greetings were exchanged and introductions made, as most of the trainers had never seen each other in human form. Finally, Katherine asked the question that she had been waiting to ask, not wanting to put a damper on their enthusiasm. "So what do we do now?"
The trainers were puzzled by this; though they had dreamed long of the day when they would be returned to themselves, they didn't really know what they should do with their newfound freedom.
"We should probably get off of this island first," pointed out one, and it was unanimously agreed that this was a sound idea.
"The question is, how?" Trevor murmured pensively. His eyes were oddly squinted as he tried to bring the now blurry world into the sharp focus that he had become used to. If there was one upside to being turned into an Ekans, it was keen vision.
"You can take Pidgeot," Katherine offered. "He'll only be able to carry one of you at a time, of course, but he can take you anywhere in Johto that you want to go. Except for the Indigo Plateau."
No one seemed to have a problem with this, so Katherine released Pidgeot and presented the situation to him. At first the great bird was unnerved to find himself released on the island, but soon relaxed as he realized that the malevolent presence that he had sensed earlier had passed on. One by one, he carried the formerly cursed trainers away, flying tirelessly back and forth across the vast ocean. Jeremy was the last to leave, and by then the day had waned, the sun sinking lower. "Where are you going?" Katherine asked him as he mounted Pidgeot.
"To see my family, of course," he replied. "They all think that I'm dead. And then..." he trailed off, deep in thought. "I don't know," he admitted. "But I'm going to find out what happened to my Pokemon if it's the last thing that I do. That Gengar can't hide forever. I'll find him some day."
"Good luck," Katherine told him as Pidgeot prepared for takeoff, extending his wings. He pushed off, surging away from the ground. Jeremy gave Katherine a final wink and a wave as he spiraled up and out of sight.
Soon after he had left, Katherine heard a rustling behind her. Turning, she saw a Pokemon the likes of which she had never seen before. It was a small gray insect, with green faceted eyes and a pair of large brown digging claws. Curious, she grabbed her silver Pokedex off of her belt and flipped it open, telling it to analyze the specimen.
The device gave a cheery bleep to indicate that it had found its target and then fell silent, analyzing. It then gave two angry bleeps and explained, in a flat monotone, that "Target is not covered under current license agreement. National expansion required for full information. Target is a male of the Nincada species, level five." It then bleeped twice again and continued in an entirely different voice, "Want information on all of the known Pokemon in the world? Then ask for the National Dex expansion the next time you visit a Pokemon Center! For only--"Katherine flipped her Pokedex shut again, cutting off its sales pitch.
"You want me for something?" she asked the small insect, wishing that Jeremy was still around to translate its answer for her. The bug nodded and waved one of its claws at her, as though pointing to something. "What? What is it?" she asked. It continued the claw-waving, and Katherine eventually determined that it was indicating the Pokeballs strapped around Katherine's waist. "You want me to take you with me?" she asked in surprise. The bug nodded again.
Katherine reached into a pocket for a basic Pokeball. If the Pokemon was willing to be captured, there was no point in wasting an Ultra Ball on it. She pulled one out and enlarged it, looking down at the Nincada. "You sure about this?" she asked. As she held the ball, ready to capture the Pokemon, she was having doubts. She was planning to train her higher-level Pokemon to finish out the league so that she would be able to compete in the final tournament next year. She didn't know that she'd have time to train a little level five bug too much. An idea struck her. "Do you think that you'd mind if I gave you to my little cousin?" she asked the bug. "She's about ready to begin her Pokemon journey. You could be her starter."
The Ninada thought it over, then nodded slowly. "All right, then. This won't hurt..." Katherine dropped the Pokeball and it struck the Nincada between the stubby wings that sprouted from his back. He was drawn into it by a beam of red light and the ball clicked shut, settling without a single wobble. Katherine bent down to pick it up with a smile. Sasha would be delighted.
When Pidgeot finally winged back into view, Katherine had electronically swapped her Electabuzz for the new Nincada. She would deliver him right away, as soon as she'd had a good night's rest. She climbed aboard her Pokemon. He heaved himself airborne wearily, obviously glad that this was the last trip for the day. Katherine leaned down to speak in his ear, "After this, I promise we won't go exploring any suspicious islands, okay?"
Pidgeot shrieked with laughter and Katherine joined him, both of them knowing that it wasn't true.
After his encounter with the young Nincada, Delrairon attended to his errand without further deviations. He searched carefully throughout the devastated meadow, pushing aside those flowers that were still standing and carefully searching charred patches. At last he found it, lying forgotten near a clump of partially charred flowers.
The irregular red stone was half-buried in a pile of ash, its polished surface shining in a stray sunbeam. The Hypno bent down to retrieve it. He, too, felt the odd ripple that spread across the island and smiled knowingly down at the cold object in his hand. He left the meadow with it, noting with approval that the boundary between the meadow and outer forest seemed to have dissolved, the magical tingle that normally passed over one who crossed between them eliminated.
Indeed, even the trees themselves seemed more hopeful, no longer seeming to consume the sunlight before it reached the forest floor but rather exalting in its presence, tossing their leafy heads in the gentle breezes that rippled across the low area. Delrairon slowly made his way back to his home, an ancient tree whose trunk had been ravaged by ants, creating a convenient hollow near to the ground. More than a little cramped, to be sure, but it provided protection from the elements and a secluded place in which to think.
The old Hypno squeezed into its woody embrace and settled down for his midmorning nap, still holding the red stone in his yellow hands. Hypno are primarily nocturnal, as it is during this period that most Pokemon and humans sleep, providing them with their primary source of sustenance, dreams.
When Delrairon awoke, the shadows were growing longer, creeping across the newly liberated forest. He decided that this would be an excellent time to study the stone, as it would still be some hours before his mealtime. He brought the rock close to his perpetually squinted eyes, studying with interest.
From its composition and design he identified it as a Ninetales prayer stone, one of the sacred objects used in ceremonies appealing to their lord and protector, the sun, or, as they called him, Novarisol. It looked as though Ailrianor had sent Katherine on a dangerous mission with nothing more than a wish and a prayer. The Hypno scrutinized the subtle carvings that ringed the large sun impressed in the stone's center, reading the prayer that had been dedicated on this particular stone.
Help us to see with eyes unclouded the truth of our fears, for it is only from our own fears that evil arises.
Smarter than he looks, that Ailrianor is, Delrairon admitted. He smiled as he imagined the ancient Ninetales pacing around his distant mountain, formulating his clever plan, which hinged on this appropriate verse. Delrairon had visited the wise Ninetales often, for dreams span distances beyond the physical ones.
The Hypno settled back, contemplating the lesson of the stone. It took someone as wise as Ailrianor to see beyond the obvious and assess the situation from all angles. After all, what would have happened if Katherine had successfully banished the Gengar with some powerful magical artifact? Surely, all would have been lost.
Delrairon weighed the stone in one hand, pensively staring out into the waning light. He finally determined to keep it, tucking it away into one of the irregular crannies formed by the living tree that was his home. One never knew when such an item might prove useful.
----Grottlis was furious as he exploded out onto the dead plane once more. The pervasive cold did nothing to chill his anger, which raged unchecked throughout his immaterial form. Yet another one of his well-laid plans had come to ruin, and all on account of the meddling of that confounded Ninetales, Ailrianor.
At least the arrangement had proved profitable, while it had lasted. Still, it disappointed him to see such a promising program fall to pieces before he could truly reap the benefits.
A small struggling in his hands reminded him that he had other manners to deal with. Grottlis was somewhat heartened at the reminder. The Ninetales could still be of use to him, even if she had grown a bit too knowledgeable to be allowed to continue to think for herself. It would be easy enough to remedy that, however.
Grottlis stopped his purposeful movement through the dead plane, allowing the swirling currents within to carry him along to wherever they would. Here, a soul was not so tightly bound to its body. Sasoliar's was already trying to escape her body, which was failing in the empty darkness of the dead plane. Grottlis had only to wait until it had departed and he could be assured that she would provide no further resistance. Hanging suspended, he allowed his mind to wander with his soul, drifting away from the present.
He was brought back to himself when a sudden burst of heat and light erupted from the soul within his grasp. It was as though a miniature star had appeared in the dead plane, burning away even the stubborn darkness that existed in its tormented depths. The radiant soul burned away the comfortable mystery that shrouded it, exposing its tangled, writhing being, which cowered in the light's righteous fury.
For his part, Grottlis reflexively released the glowing soul with a soundless shriek, his hands burned and eyes blinded by its sudden power. The soul fell downward, passing through the boundary between living and dead and disappearing from sight, light suddenly extinguished. When he had regained self-control and his vision was beginning to return, Grottlis contemplated following to retrieve it. Inspecting his injured hands, however, he changed his mind. Let it go. What would be the point in chasing after it?
In a fouler mood than ever, the Gengar ceased his aimless drifting and slogged determinedly towards his intended destination. The going was difficult, as the forces governing the dark plane had been thrown into turmoil following the unexpected burst of righteous light, throwing off the currents of energy constantly circulating through it.
At last he found his destination and returned to the mortal world, to the familiar tower that was his home. This time, however, there was one waiting for him. Standing back against the far wall was a listless Dragonite, large eyes unfocused, powerful body seeming barely able to support its own weight.
Grottlis was irrationally annoyed by this, although he shouldn't have been surprised. "Well, what are you waiting for?" he snapped at the hulking creature. "Get out of here and gather the others." The Dragonite seemed slow to comprehend the order. Finally, it nodded, face still blank. It then slowly turned to do the Gengar's bidding, thick tail dragging a streak in the dust.
It was quite a storm. The sky growled and bellowed, casting down streaks of lightning to reveal its devastation. The old woman smiled to herself, remembering what it might have been like to have weathered a tempest such as this in the old days. Surely, it would have been quite an adventure. Now she was content to sit inside and watch from the cozy safety of her home. Still, she couldn't pretend that the storm still didn't call to her, her trainer's sense telling her that something was happening out in the rain-lashed world, something that she didn't want to miss.
She was too old to go chasing adventure, however. She'd had her time. Her gnarled hands tightened around the mug of hot tea that she held, the ligquid reaching the temperature where it would be best to drink. The mug bore the league symbol, unmistakable on a deep purple background. She took a sip, eyes still glued to the scene outside.
Striker entered the kitchen, claws clicking on linoleum. His afternoon nap had apparently been interrupted by the unexpected noise. The Jolteon yawned expansively, wandering over to the old woman and brushing against one of her legs affectionately as he passed. She reached down absentmindedly to scratch his spiky back, feeling the sharp tingle of electric current running along it. She could remember a time when this simple act would have incurred a shock that would knock her out. Striker was past his time, as was she, and now could barely cook a dead fish with his electricity, much less an eighty-six-year-old woman.
"We're just a couple of old bats watching the young ones have all of the fun, now, aren't we, Striker?" she asked with a chuckle. He flicked his long ears in agreement, settling down near her feet to enjoy the spectacle with her.
The storm seemed to be building to a fever pitch when the old woman thought that she heard something outside. Striker's ears perked up as well; his hearing was still keen. He rose to his feet and cocked his head intently, listening. He didn't seem to hear anything more, but he strode out of the kitchen anyway, in the direction that the sound had come from. He reached the front door and barked gruffly, wanting to go out and investigate.
The old woman, intrigued, rose slowly to let him out. She shuffled over to open the door, peering out into the gloom, waiting for a lightning streak to illuminate the scene. Striker bounded out, dashing across the yard. She heard him barking excitedly and stepped out onto the threshold, heedless of the lashing raindrops that poured down from the dark sky.
Finally the lightning came, sketching the area in sharp relief. The old woman gasped as she saw Striker standing over limp form that had somehow collapsed in the yard. The illumination did not last long, but the old woman saw the foxlike body and flowing tails that trailed out behind the limp Pokemon.
"Oh, my..." she gasped, not believing her failing eyes.
I decided to put Author's Notes at the end today, as they're sort of long and I thought you might prefer to read the last chapter first instead.
As you can tell, I'm not a fan of tidy endings at all. In real life, there are few, if any, tidy endings. Therefore, this story doesn't really end so much as Katherine's role in it ends. As our protagonist departs from it, so too shall I.
Some of you are no doubt still uncertain about a few things, such as the meaning of the meadow, why Ailrianor decided to give Katherine a decidedly unhelpful rock, and so on. If that's the case, then I'd advise you to take another look...I have provided the clues necessary to put together the answers to all mysteries presented here. If you're really stuck and can't figure it out but still want answers, feel free to review and ask. I'll get an answer to you if I can.
So, what did you think of my first fanfic? Is there something that you think that I could do better for next time or that you think that I should try to keep going for my next work? Speaking of which, I have already got another story prepared. I'll be taking a week off to get it ready before starting in on it. It will be an OT 'fic featuring a region and Pokemon of my own creation. It will be entitled "Clouded Sky," and I hope to see you all again when it goes up.
Finally, thanks to all of you who took the time and review my fanfic. I love to get reviews; they're what makes me feel motivated to write more (hint, hint.)