Final Chapter – The darkness before the dawn
"Where…am I?" Ash found himself on the floor of an empty void. Nothing was the only word he could find suitable for it. There was nothing to hear, see, or feel. As he pushed himself off the ground, he wasn't even sure if he could call it a ground. It didn't feel like anything was there. The only explanation he could think of was some kind of force acting for a ground. This room was not an unfamiliar sight.
It quickly came to him as he remembered where he was. 'This is my unconscious mind, where I first met…' That was when his heart tightened painfully, recalling Satoshi's death. "Damn it…why did you have to die?" His voice echoed endlessly, fitting for such an empty space. Collapsing on his hands and knees, Ash did not hold back the tears that flowed from his eyes. Satoshi was not just a friend; he was also a part of him.
"If only I was strong and smart as him…he would still be here…" Ash did not deny being the cause of Satoshi's demise. He made bad decisions in the past, but none of them cost someone's life. The guilt was unbearable. His chest clinched tightly as he fell on his side, curling into fetal position. The more the truth settled in, the more pain he felt. His friend was gone forever and there was nothing he could do about it.
He felt himself sinking slowly. Snapping open his teary eyes, he noticed a black void sucking him in. He flailed his arms feebly in a panicked attempt to climb out. "What the? I can't get out!" The dark quicksand pulled him in faster as he started thrashing about. It did not feel like sand, but weightless goop that had no tangible buoyancy. The situation grew worse as it tried to wrap around his body. It was as if it was alive and trying to devour him. Fear gripped Ash's heart like never before. "Someone, anyone, please, I don't want to die!" Even if this was his dream, he did not want to die of drowning in whatever the living pool was.
As if to answer his call, Ash saw familiar figures materialize around him. His heart was filled with hope at the sight of his friends. "Misty, Brock! Pull me up!" He extended his hand out, fear strong in his eyes. To his horror, his friends made no move to same him. The disgusted and harsh stares he received destroyed all hopes he had for being saved. "G-guys…?"
"You shouldn't have been such an idiot, Ash." Misty words were filled with such hatred that it shocked Ash.
"I knew you were a fool, but not so much that you would let Satoshi die like that. You deserve to die." Brock also spoke with intense repulsion and loathing.
"D-don't do this! You know I didn't mean for that to happen!" Ash was startled as he started sinking slightly faster, everything below his chest engulfed by darkness.
"Doesn't matter if you didn't mean to or not, it still happened."
"You still let Satoshi die. What's to say you won't let the same thing happen to us if we saved you?"
"I won't let that happen! I swear I won't let that happen to you guys or anyone else!" Ash tried to hold a determined expression, but faltered under the stress of his terror.
"Of course you would say that. Anyone in your position would say anything to get out of your situation."
"You look so pathetic right now Ash. Always relying on your friends to do everything for you. What about me? What about Misty? Must we do all the thinking for you?"
"I…" Ash's words were stuck in his throat. He could not think of anything to counter what they said.
"Stop relying on everyone you come across. Maybe if you weren't so stupid, you could do something yourself."
"You should try thinking for once. Maybe you won't let anyone else get killed. Then again, that doesn't matter if you die now, does it?"
"No…please…don't do this! Guys? …Guys?" Ash was neck deep, struggling to keep his head above the darkness."
"Go away Ash."
"Just die already."
"No, wait, please! Don't go! Don't leave me! Please!" Another moment of horror occurred as a giant black hand arose from the black pool, hovering over Ash. "Save me! Please! Don't let it—" Before he could finish, the hand clasped over and dragged him under. The last sight Ash saw was his best friends turning their backs on him and walking off, wearing evil grins. This was a true nightmare for Ash, emotionally crushed.
Ash's eyes slowly opened, hearing a deep, booming voice. First thing he noticed was that he was floating. What was causing him to float, however, was not the same force as earlier. It was a hand. A very large hand. It was dark green with thin, long fingers and sharp claws to match. In the middle of the hand was a large black hole with an orange and red outline. "What on…?" His eyes followed the hand, noticing a thick beige extension coming out of the forearms, resembling blades. Once his eyes fell on the creature its hand belonged to, his body froze with terror. He wanted to scream, but fear gripped his voice.
The creature was massive, having dark green skin with beige and flesh colored outlines on its exoskeleton. Its wings were extremely wide, feathers billowing in the air. Large horns adorned its head, bright yellow eyes piercing through Ash like a spear. It sat crossed-legged, floating majestically in the air. The amount of fear it was able to induce was beyond anything Ash thought possible.
"What is your name?" The creature's voice sent chills down Ash's back, making him shudder with fright. Ash opened his mouth to speak, but was too shocked to utter a word. The beast grew impatient. "SPEAK!"
"Interesting…" Bringing Ash closer, the large demon-like creature analyzed him with great curiosity.
Ash steeled himself the best he could. It did not seem like the beast wanted to devour him. Another untapped memory sprang to life, recalling a name. "…Ballom?"
"That's Lord Ballom, insect."
Ash was in no position to question someone that could crush him at will. "S-sorry!"
Ballom continued to analyze him inquisitively, shifted its jowls to what resembled a smirk. "I see. So you have truly manifested Satoshi's soul within your own. That's a first for someone such as you, lightdweller.
"You didn't know? You have not been well informed, insect. But that matters not. I've taken an interest in you."
"In me? Why?"
"You are a walking contradiction, a perfect fusion of two opposites in one soul. Very few have done what you did, and those who succeeded carried with them the power to rival gods."
Ash was completely lost. Having the power to rival gods? Definitely not him. "There's no way I could hold that much power."
"Ah, but you can, and will. I will see to it that you will take Satoshi's place and become a champion worthy of representing me. I will destroy you and rebuild you into my image." With the wave of a hand, a strange insignia appeared on Ash's palms and back of his cape, shaped like a mask with two horns extended on each side.
"But…I don't want that kind of power. What would I do with it?"
"This was not a choice, insect. You will become my servant and my champion. Slay those who oppose you in my name, and become the angel of death! Now awaken from your slumber and return to the world as death incarnate!" Before Ash could utter a word, Ballom clenched his hand around him.
Ash shrieked as he sat up, cold sweat pouring down his face. His scream of terror turned into a wail of pain as the sudden rush gave him a massive head rush, as well as his sore body responding to his movements. He barely noticed two figures flinching next to him as he tried to recompose himself, his eyes temporarily blinded by the bright lights in the white room. It took moments for him to realize that he was in a hospital.
"Ash! What's wrong?"
"Don't push yourself."
"Pikapi!" Ash felt something jump onto his lap, happy to see his Pikachu healthy again.
Brock and Misty leaned towards him with concerned gazes. Ash could not have been more thankful to see the positive versions of his friends crowding around him. His momentary calm ended when he glanced at his palms. Ballom's mark was still there. Even stranger, his skin tone and clothes he had from his previous battle was still there. A shudder escaped his lips at the realization. "N-no…it can't be…!"
Misty lightly shook Ash, gaining Ash's attention. "Snap out of Ash! Tell us what's wrong!"
"Satoshi…nightmare…B-Ballom…" Ash spoke his words the best he could, but was too focused on the mark of his hands. It gave Ash an ominous feeling involving Ballom and him trying to destroy and rebuild him. But was that nightmare really just a nightmare, or something worse?
"Ballom!?" Kasumi and Takeshi appeared, staring at Ash with shocked expressions.
"Will someone please explain what's going on!?" Misty exasperated.
Kasumi knelt against the bed, moving closer to Ash's face. It was clear she was trying to keep a tight grip on her emotions. "Ash, what happened to Satoshi?"
Ash was immediately taken out of his confused state, surprised with Kasumi's keen awareness. "H-how did you know?"
Kasumi's head lowered, avoiding Ash's gaze. There was a tense silence before she spoke again, her voice shaken. "Did...h-he have any last words?"
Ash, while thankful he didn't have to come right out and say the bad news, felt terrible for Kasumi. He was still curious on how she knew. "He told me to tell you 'Thanks. You win.'"
A shudder escaped Kasumi's breath. Looking into her eyes, Ash could understand her emotions on a level he could never have before fusing Satoshi's soul. There was so much hurt and pain Kasumi was trying to hold back. The way she bit her lip showed intense strain. He felt even worse about his friend's death after seeing Kasumi's sorrow. She whispered so low that Ash barely heard her. "I hate you, Satoshi. You left me alone again…"
"Kasumi…" Takeshi's expression was impassive, his voice low, "You don't have to do this."
"It's okay. They deserve to know. Besides, Satoshi would make a mockery out of me if I wasn't the one to tell them. I'll be alright, Takeshi." Moments of tension passed before Kasumi was able to lift her head and met everyone's eyes, putting her pain to the side. "Misty, Brock. Satoshi...is dead."
"Oh god no...." Misty covered her gasped, doing her best to hold back tears. Ash could relate.
Brock's hands curled into a tight fist. "This...is unforgivable..." It was rare to see Brock with such a cold and angry expression. If looks could kill, Soma would have been turned to dust.
"To make matters worse, Ash has met Ballom, the god of devils. He is the Kaijudo god of the darkness element. It's very rare for anyone to meet a Kaijudo god. This means that he saw particular interest in Ash. I don't know what he has planned, but the mark on his hands means he is targeted by Ballom. This poses a huge problem."
Ash grew more and more worried with each word Kasumi spoke. "Why? What will happen to me?"
"I don't know. Satoshi went through the same thing you did. I have no idea what Ballom did, but Satoshi could not sleep for days, even weeks. At some points, he started to have hallucinations and even went insane occasionally. Whether Ash will go through the same thing or not I do not know. However, we have to keep a careful watch over him. There's no telling what will happen."
Ash did not like the sound of this. Losing sleep? Going insane? That was the last thing he needed. Speaking of need, he noticed a collection of items on the counter next to him. There was an open GS ball, his Pokéballs, hat, and Pokédex; all items that were stolen by Soma. But something was missing. "Hey, what happened to the shards? And why is the GS ball opened?"
"That's the weird part. We got everything from Violet after the tournament, but for some reason, we didn't get the shards. Also, the GS ball was like that when we got it. According to Takeshi, it could be that Soma released the spirits that were captured inside." Brock answered.
Misty made an exasperated sigh. "We tried to talk to them, but Zansei reinforced the door with sand, so it's impossible for us to get in. The only thing we can do is wait for them to come out."
"So Soma kept the shards for himself after all. Damn him…!" Even after all the trouble Ash went through to get everything back, Soma had the nerve to go back on his word and keep the shards, which were vitally important. Soma had already taken Satoshi away from him. He refused to let that vizier take anything else. "I'm not going to let him get away with this!" As he tried to flip out of his bed, he got tangled in the white blanket that was over him, and fell face first onto the marble floor. A flash of white in his eyes was followed by immense pain on his forehead, nose and mouth.
Everyone ran to his side, slowly trying to lift him up. "Geez Ash, be more careful. We don't need you being unconscious for another two weeks." Brock chided lightly.
"Seriously, you can be such an idiot sometimes." Misty sighed.
The word idiot brought Ash's thoughts back to his nightmare. They too called him an idiot, though in a much darker tone. But scenarios such as these made him remember all the other times he needed help and was called an idiot. A tear escaped his eyes as he felt the harsh truth of his nightmare hit him hard. According to Kasumi, he would need more help, and might even be a further hindrance. That broke his heart. "Heh, you're right Misty. I am an idiot…" He could not stand the pain of being near them. Escape was a must. Grabbing Pikachu, he used Shadow Shift to escape from the room. He did not care where he went. He just needed to be alone.
Just as he wished, he appeared in another room nearby. That was when he let his emotions go, gritting his teeth. He held tightly onto Pikachu, who was very worried for his friend. "I'm sorry Pikachu, I just couldn't take it. My nightmares, the mark of Ballom, Satoshi's death, it's just too much. I don't want to be burden Misty and Brock any more. I'm already trouble enough as it is." Hugging Pikachu tighter, small sobs escaped his lips. He was an unhealthy combination of anger, depression, fear and sorrow all at once. With everything happening so quickly, he needed some time to collect himself before facing it head on.
"He's actually crying to his Pikachu. Talk about embarrassing."
"I always knew he was a wimp, but this is too much."
Ash blushed furiously, recognizing Soma and Zansei's whispers. His glance slowly turned, catching the two viziers chuckling to themselves. "Uh…" There wasn't much he could think of to say in this situation, too shocked with the obscene probability of accidentally teleporting to Soma's room.
"That reminds me, just what the hell are you doing here?" Soma shifted awkwardly in his bed, wrapped heavily in his bandages. Zansei sat on a chair across from Soma, unable to contain the laugh he was desperately holding back.
"Soma!" Ash stood up, glaring at the tiger humanoid. "We had a deal! What happened to the shards we were supposed to get?"'
"Are you really that stupid? Of course I wouldn't give those back."
"You…you coward! Give them back!" Filled with rage, Ash lunged at Soma with his fist. It was inches from his face when Soma's striped tail coiled around his arm.
"You're such a brat. For someone who preaches about friendship and morals, you're damn quick to punch an injured man in a hospital."
"Why you…!" Ash continued to try and punch him, only to be repeatedly blocked. It angered him to no end that Soma would do this to him after everything he put them through. He did not care if his attacks did nothing to the tyrant. His anger was driving him and he would let out all of his frustrations on Soma.
Two voices beyond the sand barred door alerted Ash, stopping his raging attacks. They were inaudible from his distance. Ash could have sworn the voices belonged to Misty and Brock. Curiosity grabbed him as he took his attention away from Soma to step closer. He was thankful that Soma and Zansei did not care enough to interrupt him, but still growled under his breath at the obscene jokes they threw his way.
Stepping closer, his guess proved correct. He could hear them speaking through the door. "They must be looking for me…" He placed his ear against the wall, hoping to make out what they were saying.
"What is going on with that boy? First he starts talking all weird and stuff and now he disappears on us!" Misty exasperated.
Brock grunted, also annoyed. "He could've at least talked to us a bit before ditching us."
'I'm sorry guys…' Ash felt bad for making them worry, but he could not handle his rabid emotions while being next to them.
"Hey Brock, about Ash, what do you think is going on with him? Not only is it the way he's acting, but its his eyes, it…scares me the way he looks at us now."
"All the more reason to find him. Let's search elsewhere."
Ash sunk to the floor as he heard his friends step away, sadness filling his heart. Now that he thought about it, whenever he made eye contact with Misty or Brock, they flinched slightly. It did not feel good to know he was frightening his friends, that his new form struck fear into his friends. The thought made him even more depressed.
"Hey, I need to talk to you about something, seriously."
Leaning against the door, Ash glared at Soma with his arms crossed. The vizier gave him an inquisitive, serious stare which demanded attention. "About what?"
"Why are you guys searching for the Final Destiny shards?"
"I found one earlier when I arrived at Kanto a few weeks ago. After hearing about it from Satoshi and Kasumi, we started searching for it to make sure it didn't fall into the wrong hands."
"And what did you plan to do with them once you found them all?"
Ash hesitated, scratching his head habitually. The thought never occurred to him until now. "What did I plan to do?"
"Of course. There must've been something you would gain from this, some reason other than just protecting them."
"Hmm…I never really thought about that…"
Soma groaned with great irritation, running his palm down his face. "You mean to tell me you never once thought of what to do if you found all of them?"
"Er…not really. I guess it was more of an excuse for me to travel again." From the look of Soma's eyes, Ash could tell he did not believe him. Thinking back, that hunger for purpose in life was satiated with the shard hunt. He was sure feeding that wanderlust was his true motivation for collecting the shards. "It's the first time in a long time I've felt my journey had a true purpose, so I kinda just went along with it. I never had a plan on what to do with those things in the first place, but I never wanted to use it for anything bad. I guess it was pretty dumb to get this far without thinking it through a bit more."
There was a lengthy silence of disbelief on Soma and Zansei's part. That is, until Soma broke it with a heavy sigh. "No, it's not dumb. It's retarded. You kids have got to be the most childish and naïve group of people I've ever seen. Who goes after a powerful artifact without even thinking what to do with it?"
"Um…yeah…" Ash had to admit, Soma was right.
"But you guys definitely are an entertaining bunch. I can see you aren't after the shards for selfish reasons, though you don't exactly have a reason to be searching in the first place. Therefore, I would like to propose a deal with you." Soma grinned confidently. "If you and your friends join us, we can help bring Satoshi back."
I'm FINALLY done with book 1 of Final Destiny! I would like to thank everyone for their support through these years, and know that I WILL finish this series. Also, I will be practicing a more refined, professional style of writing (but still keep the awesomeness that I've worked with until now). Nothing shall be left unfinished unless something dramatic happens. But once again, I am so thankful for all the readers I've gotten so far and I aim to keep it that way! See you guys next book!
P.S. Don't forget to view my profile for a poll considering Bushido League.