Shadowcat's Notes: The final piece to this Series

Shadowcat's Notes: The final piece to this Series. Still PG-13 theme-wise and still spiritual with Christian themes so don't flame this on the grounds that you don't like the religious-workings, though this is more of a weird fantasy/sci-fi-ish thing than anything else.

Disclaimer: I do not own "Pokemon" or any of the characters. What are mine, however, are Krissy-Kenji's fictional aunt, Aslanti-the fire-lion evolution of Persian and Stormeow the lightning-panther. The cats Kishi, Mizuti, and Nitty all belong to Sforzie and are used with her permission.

The Thief, The Artist, and The Crow

By Stacey N. "Shadowcat"

Part Three: The Point of Decision

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven.

a time to be born and a time to die…

Every individual life has importance. No matter how young, how old, how rich or how poor, every individual fills a role and purpose. Everyone is made by the Creator, and every life has worth. So many throw their lives away off a bridge or by a blade, unable to find the meaning in it all. So few people realize their worth, and no one, in fact, ever knows in this world everything they have done to make a difference. And no one wandering the Earth knows what he or she will do and what the future will bring.

Yamikarasu mused on these thoughts as he winged over the woodland. He knew little more of the future than any human did. And only one pokemon really knew what the future held. But he knew that he was free this day. He had waited for this day for a very long time.

His kind, the Murkrows, liked to trick people and lead them to get hopelessly lost, sometimes resulting in their deaths in some dark forest on some mountain. They were seen as birds of bad luck, heralds of death. Yamikarasu himself was the Bird of Death, a servant of darkness who appeared to dying people and pokemon. Occasionally, he himself brought death.

He had appeared to two human individuals last night. He had chosen them, the bonds that normally kept him from creating the real mischief that he wished to were loosened this time, he could bring death to them. And…it was before their time.

a time to be born and a time to die…

Never before had he had this opportunity! He had tried to break his bonds, to bring death before its time to many individuals, but he never was able to. This time was different and he did not know why. The two people that he had chosen…he knew not exactly what they were set to do in the future, but he knew that they were important somehow, that a future of darkness-the kind of future that he wanted-would result from their lives being taken young.

As he soared over a meadow, Yamikarasu found the medium by which he would end the lives of the young thief and the young artist.

"Ha, ha, ha! You missed it, Butch!" the young woman with the dark-blond hair laughed, falling off the log she was sitting on. The teal haired male grumbled and aimed his handgun again.

"Yahahahaha!!!!!!" the woman laughed again as the beer can on the log a few yards away from them remained unharmed after Butch took another shot. He glared at his partner and leveled the gun at her.

"You think it's so funny, Cassidy? You try to hit it!"

"Butch! Butch! Stop pointing that thing at me! You're drunk!"

"So are you!" Butch turned his gun away from Cassidy and fired at the can again, which caught the bullet with a loud "zing!" and fell to the moss-covered ground. Cassidy, relieved that her partner was no longer aiming at her, took out her own gun and fired at another can that was sitting on the log. She laughed about the stupid cops and jail guards in the Orange Islands and how fun it was to escape the last jail that they were in, how they didn't even need The Boss to bail them out this time.

Butch wheezed a strange, contorted laughter, something like a cross between chuckling and choking. He laughed about how it was a great idea to rob a coastal liquor store in celebration-that they not only got some money, but they had scored themselves a couple of cases of some fine Orange Island brew. Cassidy giggled about how funny it was that they had been up drinking all night and now sitting around in a forest shooting at beer cans-and how bored she was.

"Look, Cass…it's a bird!" Butch slurred, pointing with his weapon at the log. Yamikarasu glared at the two Team Rocket members with shining red eyes.

"I'll try to hit it!" Cassidy exclaimed. She fired a shot, but the Murkrow flew away just as the bullet cut through the air.

"Come back here you stupid bird!" Cassidy yelled, seeing the black-feathered creature perched in the branches of a pine. She fired again, and missed. The crow flew to a tree further off. Butch aimed this time and fired, nearly hitting the dark-colored creature.

Yamikarasu led these two down a winding mountain trail until they came upon five human figures that looked familiar and forgot their little game of "shoot the wild pokemon".

"Isn't that Jessie and James?" Cassidy asked Butch as they stood behind some foliage.

"And those bratty kids that they keep trying to steal that Pikachu from. They try so hard and The Boss didn't even ask for a friggin' Pikachu;" the teal-haired Rocket rasped in reply.

"Since we're here, let's show them how to steal pokemon the right way."

"I'm with you, Cass."

Selebi watched as the two black-clad, armed, and inebriated Team Rocket members stepped out from the forest and began their Motto. The scenes that subsequently unfolded were all too familiar to the little sprite. She charged up her powers to create a wall between the victims and the bullets when preventing the Pikachu's electricity from discharging did not work. She tried to mentally push Kenji and Jessie out of the way…then she rushed in herself for a physical thrust, invisible to all.

Still the bullets found their marks and the blood and devastation ensued. Selebi stood silently with tears as she watched the flame-haired female reach out to her partner for the last time and as the ponytailed girl held the bleeding young pokemon sketcher close, crying into his shoulder until the ineffectual ambulance came.

This was the tenth time…the tenth travel to this time and place to try to stop what should never have happened. High in a tree, Yamikarasu laughed. A voice echoed in Selebi's mind, she knew where it came from and had heard what it said before, but she fought to deny it. She did not want to hear it.

"There is strength in friendship. There is power in love."

She did not want to seek them out, to work with them, but she knew that she had to, though the thought of revealing herself to humans terrified her greatly. She wanted to work alone, to try to find the prevention alone, but, after these endless attempts, she could deny it no longer. The friends of the victims…had to find her…she had to make herself and her power revealed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ash, Misty, James, Meowth, Pikachu, and Krissy hiked through the dappled mid-afternoon light of the forest of the Azure Mountains on the remote Ember Island. It had taken them three days just to get to the island from Tangelo by boat and a difficult thing it was to find a ferryman willing to take them to such a far-off and uncivilized place.

The soil of the island supported wild forest fine, but was incompatible with crops and the ocean around it was stingy in giving up its fish, thus it was never settled and remained a truly wild place. There were also many legends about fierce pokemon on the island that kept many away.

"Look alive, peoples! We've got more trails to blaze!" the cheery voice of Krissy sounded above the labored breathing of the others as they climbed a steep incline. She hacked at vegetation with a large machete.

"Hold your Ponytas, Jungle Jane!" Meowth spoke up. "Wes cant keep up wit yous at dis pace foreva!"

"He's right;" sighed Misty, "We need to stop for a rest."

"Rest? I want to get in another mile or two into this forest before nightfall! We have not much time to find Selebi!"

"But can't we take a break for just five minutes, now?" whined Ash.

James, who was walking next to him, whispered into his ear. "She's too chipper. I wanna vote her off the island!"

Ash snickered.

"Okay, we can rest a bit…bunch of out-of-shape whiners…I'll have Scyther cut a trail." Krissy released her nephew's former pet from a pokeball and gave him orders to cut through the thicker bushes and limps to pave them a path to the east.

Misty sat on a rock and released both her Togepi and Marill from their respective balls. She had not had Togepi out much as of late. The last time she had it out for more than a half-hour at a time was the morning of Kenji and Jessie's murders. She had the baby pokemon out during breakfast, to feed and play with it, then, because she had been suffering from a slight headache, chose not to carry it outside of its pokeball that morning when the group began the day's travels as she usually did.

Recently, because of the tragedy and because of being involved in Butch and Cassidy's trail as a witness, she had been very stressed. Togepi, though a pokemon, was much like a human baby in many respects, it's constant needs, wants, and cries inducing stress at times. Unlike a human baby, the creature could be stored quite happily inside a pokeball and that is what Misty did most of the time because she was under too much stress to deal with it for an extended period of time. She brought out Togepi in order to feed it and bathe it, but not to play with it much anymore as she used to love doing.

Both Marill and Togepi were in great need of some exercise and Misty felt at the moment that she could deal with the occasional shrill "Brii!" and "Marill!" Pikachu joined them and Ash laughed as he watched them frolic, taking a well-earned rest on another boulder.

James and Meowth sat on the ground and Krissy was up and giving directions to Scyther. Ash was more in the shadows than the rest of them.

"Togepi!" Meowth exclaimed. "Remember me? Come over here to papa!"

Togepi ignored Meowth and continued to bat at the tails of the mice. Marill began to show signs of being annoyed, but continued to let the egg-pokemon pull on her tail.

"Ungrateful egg. I do all dat stuff ta care for it before it hatched and it don't even remember me." Meowth sighed sadly.

"Aaaaaahhhhhhhhh!" Ash screamed. He was suddenly gone from his seat on the boulder in a flash of orange and red.

"Ash!" Misty screamed. Everyone leapt to their feet and sped into the forest after a strange glowing figure.

Ash's skin scraped over rocks and dirt and bush limps slapped him in the face as he was dragged through the woods by an enormous creature that had him by the legs of his pants. Painfully pulling his right arm to his side through the scraping of thorns and stones, he managed to seize one of the pokeballs on his belt and throw it.

"Bulba!" cried Bulbasaur as it stood before Ash's attacker, which halted in its tracks. "Aslan!" it huffed in reply.

"Bulbasaur! Vine Whip!" the young trainer called as he scrambled to his feet, the hold on him released.

"Ash! Are you okay?" James asked, panting and sweating.

"What is that?" Krissy wondered aloud. Bulbasaur had by this time had the wild pokemon at his mercy. The cat-like beast howled.

"Call back your pokemon, kid!" Meowth cried. "He's begging for mercy! He says he won't harm us!"

"Bulbasaur! Return!" Ash commanded and his plant-lizard was drawn inside the capture-device in a swift flash of red energy.

"Aslanti?" the wild pokemon queried, speaking to Meowth. It was like a Persian, but slightly larger and had a mane of fire crowning its head and a tail tipped with a flame like a Charmander's. Its body-hair was short and golden-colored...somewhat creamy, like the coat of a Meowth or a Persian, but with a golden tinge. The animal's hair was not sleek, but scruffy, and the mane crowning its head was burning low. The pokemon's ribs were showing through its slender sides.

"He says that he's an 'Aslanti'." Meowth explained. "He was expelled from his pride because he's old. He was looking for food. He promises he won't try to eat any of youse guys if ya give him somethin' ta eat."

Scyther, who was standing next to Krissy, stared at Aslanti. "Scy!"

Misty took some pokemon food from her backpack, after returning Togepi and Marill to pokeballs, noting the hungry look with which this fire-lion was eyeing them. She threw the large pellets toward the beast, which devoured them gratefully. Ash examined the bleeding scrapes on his arms.

"Well's give ya more if ya help us!" Meowth exclaimed. "We're looking fer this!" The poke-cat jumped onto Ash's back and pulled the boy's "Legends of Pika-Don" book from his backpack. He opened it to a page bearing an ink-drawn illustration of what was supposed to be the mythical time-traveling pokemon, Selebi."

Aslanti nodded his head and roared.

"He knows what dis is!" Meowth mewled triumphantly. "He says he knows where to find her!"

Ash rummaged through his backpack, looking for pokemon food and canned meat products. He wanted to make sure that this lion would be trustworthy! Aslanti ate gratefully while conversing with both Meowth and Scyther, who suddenly became very talkative.

"Hmmm…very interesting…" Meowth muttered. "So you both are 'soul brothers' in a way, eh? Proud warriors exiled from you clans? Guess bein' in da wild is tough…"

Aslanti roared and brought everyone to attention.

"Exile says to follow him." Meowth stated.

"Exile?" Ash asked.

"Dat's his name…or his title. He says that his former pride knows a cat of the moon called 'Kishi" and she knows Selebi."

"Exile" the Aslanti led the way and the humans followed obediently. Krissy retired Scyther to his pokeball when the vegetation began to thin. It was a long, hard hike up steep rises and down into valleys, the trail that the fire-lion wandered was twisting and wild. Everyone talked as they went and Meowth rode on the pyrlion's back, translating his growls to the four humans.

"Wow," sighed Ash, "I would never have believed that so many of these old legends were true. Selebi, the Mooncat, the Firecat-I've read and heard myths of a Firecat, too, and here we are following one!"

"Murkrow…" Misty said softly.

"I wonder if 'Exile' would like to be my pokemon…" the young would-be Master added. "He looks like he could be strong-with the right training."

"Behold, guys," Krissy laughed, "Triumph! Soon we'll see this Selebi and it'll save Kenji and Jessie!"

"'The order of time will be set right and what should never have happened will be prevented'" Misty quoted something that Kenji told them in the last vision that they had of him and Jessie.

"You know," James spoke up, "I wonder what all that spiritual stuff your Watcher friend was talking about was all about. I remember him saying something about Jessie's soul…that her death needed to be prevented not only to save her life, but so that she would have the chance to make a decision. Strange, strange."

"Something," Misty whispered, "not only about lives but about souls…he's confident of Heaven for himself if we fail and they fade…but said that Jessie was somehow in danger…I didn't understand it fully, either."

"I will not rest until my Jessie is safe." James sighed. "Body and soul…"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jessie sat huddled and shivering in the void of the vertex of time. She hugged her legs tightly as light tears trickled down her cheeks. She was crying for all she had lost, for all she had never had in life, and for all the things she wished she had said to her only two friends in the world, James and Meowth, especially James.

The forms of her and Kenji in this realm were growing more transparent. They were fading. "We are going to die, you know…" she whispered. "They won't find your time-traveling pokemon in time. I don't want to die."

"I don't, either." Kenji sighed. "I believe that they will find Selebi. As long as we are still here, there is still hope."

"What was all that stuff about that you were saying earlier to James during the last contact? Something about our souls? That I needed to be saved from this…so I could make a decision?"

"The decision to give your life to God?" Kenji answered. "Yes. I am not sure that it would apply here…I think it is a decision that people can only make when they are alive…though this place is a little like the Purgatory of Catholic legend…"

"But that place is supposed to be like a way station between Heaven and Hell, isn't it? Like a place that is for torture but not as bad as Hell?" Jessie asked.

"And this place is certainly not like that, just a place of nothingness, though I really don't know much about Catholic legend. Other kinds of Christianity, but not Catholic stuff."

After a long pause, Jessie spoke up again. "God wouldn't want me, anyway. Look at me…I'm just a Team Rocket thief, and not a very good one. I am a failure…at being good, at whatever I try to do, at life. I'm not 'good', the only people who ever wanted me around were James and Meowth, and Meowth is a pokemon. I could never be good enough for anyone besides them to want me, let alone this God of yours."

"None of us are 'good' enough." Kenji stated. "God's love is not based upon how 'good' or 'bad' you are. His mercy reaches out to all. Take me for instance…"

Jessie laughed. "You? You're one of the 'good guys', what could you have done that is as bad as what I've done?"

Kenji sat down, facing Jessie. "I am…um…very… lascivious. Really, don't look at me that way, I am. About half the drawings in my sketchbooks aren't pokemon, they're girls. I have a wandering eye-and desires that go beyond just drawing beauty. There is always an inner battle going on within me…"

"Still," Jessie sighed, "I am not sure I'm quite ready to believe yet, to put my faith in and give my heart to something that I have never seen."

"I just hope…that you will have the chance-if nothing else-then the chance. I think our friends will succeed and we will get the chance to complete our lives. I just hope they succeed soon…" Kenji held his right arm out in front of him and saw the figure of Jessie through it, as if it were a clear piece of stained glass.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Exile" took Ash, Misty, James, Krissy, Meowth, and Pikachu to the open mouth of an enormous cavern in front of which was flowing a beautiful geothermal hot spring. What their eyes beheld caused the breath to catch in their throats.

Everywhere, laying atop boulders and playing around the spring, were fire-lions, Aslantis. There were a few with proud flaming manes, most appearing to be young males, as their features still looked kittenish. There were numerous females without manes, but instead, with little tips of flame on their ears. Gamboling among them were a few Persians and several Meowths-and strange, Meowth-like kittens that none of them had ever seen.

"Meowth, are those what your kind looks like as kittens?" James asked his friend as they gazed at the great feline city.

"No, I ain't eva seen cats like dat before." Meowth replied. Exile roared and growled.

"Fire-breath over here says dat dose tiny cats are 'Nitty'. Dat they're like a pre-evolution of Me-owth! Dey don't evolve into Meowt's though…dey evolve wit elemental stones!"

"Elemental stones?" Ash queried.

Exile growled some more. Meowth translated. "He says dat wit a fire-stone dey turn into Aslantis…or dey turn into Aslantis just by being around volcanic activity, like da hot springs. Wit a water-stone; dey turn into something called a Mizuti, a water-tiger. Wit an electric stone, dey turn into a Stormeow-lightning panther! He says dat Mizutis and Stormeows are rare 'cause dere ain't many stones like dat around here, but Aslantis are common from da hot spring and all belong to dis pride."

A flash of flame caught everyone by surprise. Meowth, Pikachu, Misty, Krissy, Ash, and James were thrown back and Exile was suddenly engaged in fiery battle with another male Aslanti.

Through the roars, there were other lion's voices and the four humans and their two outside-their-balls pokemon found themselves surrounded by many baleful feline faces. Lioness Aslantis and several Persians glared at them through red and golden eyes.

"Dey say that humans aren't allowed here…an' they're especially mad because dis is a night of some kinda special ceremony!"

Exile roared as he was scratched across the face and sent bleeding to the ground. His assailant huffed, then stared growling at the humans. Meowth began to speak to the Aslantis and Persians. Pikachu joined in, explaining their presence, that they were brought here by the exiled one to find Kishi, in hopes that she would take them to Selebi.

"Dey say that Kishi is coming for the Ceremony-but that humans have no place here…nor do dishonored old cats." Meowth translated, his glance turning toward Exile, who whispered a pathetic growl and rose to his feet, hanging his head in shame.

The humans stood and faced the lions, ready to walk away for fear of what they might do. James was shaking violently. A shining muscular form threw him to the ground.

"James!" Misty screamed.

James yelped and thrashed as pale lavender-furred paws pinned his shoulders to the forest dirt. The cat had one horn like that of a Rapidash and a shining mane of purple hair running down the length of her back. "Kish-hiee!" she hissed.

"Please don't eat me!" James cried. The Aslantis fell back, watching the smaller silvery feline in wonder and respect.

"We are here to find Selebi!" Ash shouted. "Are you Kishi? Our friends need your help!"

Kishi continued to glare at James, putting a paw on his throat and snarling.

"She's gonna kill me!" he choked. "Jessie…" he whispered.

Kishi took her paw off James' neck and raised her head in a quizzical "Purrowl?"

Meowth explained. "Yes, we are friends of one called Jessie. And one called Kenji, too."

Kishi growled some more and got off of James.

"Yes!" Meowth said. "She says that Selebi has been expecting us…that she needs to see us, but has been afraid to come to us. She says she will fly to Selebi and bring her here."

Kishi flew off into the sky that was darkening slowly as the sun set. Ash, Misty, Krissy, James, Meowth, and Pikachu watched in silent awe.

"What do you know…" Krissy whispered. "A flying cat."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kishi lighted upon a large flat rock outside of Selebi's lair. She meowed, beckoning the sprite. Selebi emerged, wondering what brought her friend here when she was supposed to be at the Aslanti pride Ceremony.

"Selebi, they are here…they are at the pride's spring;" the mooncat said.

"Who?" Selebi asked.

"Those you told me you must confront, the humans-the friends of your Jessie and Kenji you must save."

"I have…much fear. Not just of them, but of…you know."

"Yamikarasu!" Kishi spat. "Yes, he will try to stop you, but you must decide, to face the humans and to face him, or to leave the matter."

"But I must…I must face all danger. Time must be set right. The Bird of Death must be defeated in this endeavor. The future of this mountain range and much of the rest of our world is at stake, as well as two young lives."

"Come," Kishi beckoned, I will carry you to the spring."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The gathered Aslantis and Persians, as well as the rest of the feline pride, parted the way for Kishi and Selebi. The short, greenish colored sprite pokemon hopped off the great cat's back and grass sprang up at her feet where she stood. She stared directly into the eyes of the assembled humans and into the eyes of Meowth and Pikachu.

She spoke to them in the clearest of English, though it felt to Meowth, Pikachu, James, Misty, Ash, and Krissy more like a resounding echo in their heads.

"So she is…like an angel…a servant of God…" Meowth whispered. "In pokemon form…and the Murkrow, Yamikarasu who is responsible for the deaths of Jessie and Tracey is like a demon…but in pokemon form…he is the head of all Murkrows who choose to serve darkness…and she wanders through time to see that everything is right. Kishi is her protector and the appointed protector of all the pokemon of the Azure Mountains."

Selebi waved her short arms and fluttered the delicate wings on her back. Wispy images came before all that were gathered, they were much like the visions that the group of humans had seen of Kenji and Jessie from the time vertex in which their souls were trapped.

"Kenji in a lab coat? Isn't that-?" Misty started.

"Professor Oak's place! Yeah!" Ash laughed.

"Jessie…and me?" James asked, scratching his head. "She looks…she looks like…"

"She's expecting!" Krissy said joyfully.

"Does that mean?" James questioned.

"And look!" Misty cried, that is Kenji and Jessie in the same scene! She's in a nurse's uniform. Look James! That's you! Holding the hand of a…little girl?"

Several more scenes flashed across the sky. Scenes involving a Squirtle, a strange, wormlike creature, Kenji and Jessie pouring some sort of powered substance into a river, and giving injections to various pokemon."

"It is time." Selebi said as the images vanished. "Come to me and join hands. I must take you all back to the moment…the moment that they died. I've tried to prevent it on my own, but 'twas folly. You, their friends, are needed."

Ash, Misty, Meowth, Pikachu, James, and Krissy stepped forward.

"Not her." Selebi said, pointing with an antenna at Krissy. She was not there, she cannot come."

"But-" Krissy protested.

"No." Selebi re-iterated. I have barely enough energy to handle this many entities-and you were not present, you cannot help. All that you could have done, you have."

Disappointed, Krissy sat down next to a mother Meowth and a litter of four tiny Nitty, which mewled and purred next to her as if to provide condolence.

Ash, Misty, James, Meowth, and Pikachu joined hands with each other and with Selebi. All were enveloped by a blue glow.

"Caw!" sounded in a tree.

"Oh, no!" Shouted Selebi. Everyone saw him, Yamikarasu, coming to interrupt the time-transfer. "This is it!" the sprite cried.

The three humans and the three pokemon found themselves within a great tunnel of light. "This is the highway of ages," Selebi explained, "I usually can traverse it in an instant, but carrying this many other entities with me, it is taking longer!"

A gigantic black figure rose up ahead of them on the path, shimmering with the blue light of the tunnel.

"You shall not go!" it cawed angrily.

"Yamikarasu!" Selebi shouted back, "you shall not win! We shall pass!"

"Never!" screamed the crow. Misty was suddenly seized by horrible claws, which dug into the flesh of her shoulder; she was thrown back and appeared to be falling.

"Misty!" Ash shouted, grabbing her by the arm.

"Don't let go!" Selebi hollered. "The highway of ages is very unstable, she will cease to exist if she is lost within it!"

Suddenly the group was pelted with a flurry of razor sharp black feathers.

"Aye!" James cried out in agony as the skin of his forehead was cut. Meowth and Pikachu huddled together, still holding hands, in fear.

In a fraction of a second, the flurry of feathers stopped. Something like a flash of lightning caught everybody's vision. Ash, Misty, Pikachu, Meowth, and James found themselves standing in bright morning sunlight.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the void of the vertex of time, Kenji and Jessie found their forms whole again.

"They found her! I knew they would!" Kenji shouted with joy as the senses of both him and the red-coifed Rocket were overcome with white lightning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"To Infect the World with Devastation!" a female voice assaulted everyone's ears and Misty glanced to her left and Ash glanced to his right to find Kenji, very much alive, standing between them. His shirt as well as theirs was covered with little spots of mud from where they had just climbed out of a hole in the ground.

"Jessie!" James said with glee as his female partner glared angrily at Cassidy, attempting to steal her spotlight again.

"What?" she asked James. Meowth simply stared.

"What do we do?" Ash whispered to Misty, who shook her head sadly in reply.

The conversation and events played out just as Ash, Misty, James, Pikachu, and Meowth had remembered them, up until the point at which Cassidy and Butch pulled out their handguns. Without warning, James leapt upon Cassidy and seized her by her gun-hand.

"James! Have you just gone psycho?" Jessie cried.

"I'll show you to mess with my partner!" Butch cried, waving his gun and misfiring.

"Kenji!" Misty shouted, jumping on the young Watcher and pushing him to the dirt.

"Misty?" he asked, bewildered.

Pikachu leapt up towards Butch and deftly plucked the weapon from his hand, at the same moment delivering him a powerful burst of voltage for good measure. Cassidy still thrashed with James on the ground, Meowth joining in to help by clawing her face. With a sickening crack, James broke the woman's wrist and wrenched the gun away from her. The rank stench of alcohol on her breath stung his nostrils.

Officer Jenny pulled up in the Police Jeep, claming to have heard gunshots.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~

That evening, reports were filed and the pair of Rockets known as Butch and Cassidy were hauled off to the local jail, Cassidy taken to the local hospital first to take care of her broken wrist.

Jessie, James, and Meowth were let free, for even though they were identified with Team Rocket, there was no available evidence that they had committed any crime in the Orange Islands, and by law, none of the jails could hold them on suspicion of any charge without evidence.

Ash, Misty, and Tracey relaxed by the campfire that night. Ash and Misty were unusually tense, Tracey observed, but they refused to tell him why. Pikachu was also fidgety and the young Watcher suggested that Ash give him a pokemon massage to try to calm him down.

Tracey called out his pokemon at sunset so they could get a good stretch outside their pokeballs. When Marill saw her master, she squeaked a very unusual squeak of half fear and half surprise, and leapt shivering into his arms. Venonat huddled close to his side and Scyther was unusually affectionate, rubbing his head against his master's back and side and "Scy-ing" softly as if he were an enormous cat instead of the enormous combat-insect that he was.

Misty took a walk out into the forest late in the night, the cold dew of the grass tickling her legs. She made sure that Ash and Tracey were both asleep when she departed. At a rock, she met James, who was also out walking.

"Does she remember any of it?" Misty asked.

"No." James replied.

"Neither does he, though his pokemon seem to remember him being gone."

"The same with Jessie. Arbok was so happy to have her back that he nearly squeezed her to death! She had to wash her hair in a little stream because Lickitung got so much slobber in it!"

"Yuck!" Misty wretched. "Should we tell them?"

"No." James whispered. "I think it is best if they never know. It was terrible for us, why should they have to hear it? They'll think us crazy, anyway.

"And, their future should be left up for them to decide…They should be free to not know what it brings."

"Yes, Meowth and I have agreed to keep it secret from Jessie."

"And I will tell Ash. And I think the Pikachu has already decided as much. To us, you and Jessie are still Team Rocket."

"And you are still a bunch of twerps. As of tomorrow, our 'truce' is over. Perhaps one of these days, we can forget about Pikachu and about The Boss and Team Rocket, but today is not that day."

James and Misty nodded sorrowfully in mutual agreement and wandered off into the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A month later, somewhere in the Azure mountains, Kishi met with the Aslanti pride at the hot spring. Exile, re-instated into the pride, looked on as she chose a Nitty, the smallest of his litter of four, and presented him with a tiny glowing stone that she held in the curl of her tail. It was a fragment of a Moonstone. The tiny kitten stepped forward and held his paw upon the stone. His body glowed a pale purple rivaling the yellow-white moonlight filtering through the trees of the evening forest.

When the evolution was over, a new young Kishi stood before his sister.

"Do well, young one, protect these mountains and do well". Kishi admonished the male Kishi before she disappeared into the sky.

Selebi watched her friend's silhouette soar across the full face of the moon. The sprite knew that she had chosen her successor, whom the sprite would soon meet. She was filled with much sorrow, yet joy. "Farewell, my friend" she whispered.

Kishi lighted down in a dark part of the forest, knowing that it was her time to leave the mountains to the new Kishi. She remembered all the events of that which had transpired the last month, yet hadn't transpired. She smiled; knowing that time had been set right with her help. Her time of service had been done, and well, and the cycles of life in the Azure mountains were about to ensue again, the same, yet different, just as they were every generation and every season.

Kishi lay weak on the ground, breathing heavily when she saw him. Yamikarasu laughed darkly.

"You have failed, Kishi laughed. You have failed."

"But at least I have the pleasure of appearing to you;" the Murkrow squawked.

"Your time is coming, and you know it."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*****~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On a small island called Ochre, Ash, Misty, and Tracey stopped at a videophone booth. Misty carried Togepi in her arms and it trilled excitedly. Tracey decided that he wanted to call home and dialed up the Sketchit residence on Tangelo Island.

Misty and Ash smiled as Tracey introduced his parents and his Aunt Krissy. The would-be Pokemon Master and Water Trainer grinned as they recognized kind faces and warm voices. It immediately became clear through their conversation that Tracey's family, like they young artist himself, remembered nothing of the strange adventure that they had gone through in a time out of time. Drew grumbled about the boring-ness of his court job and how he thought that the Orange Islands didn't even need a court.

"The Island folk are impeccable citizens. There hasn't been a murder-trial or a major robbery-case in years."

After Tracey hung up the phone, he, Ash, Pikachu, and Misty with Togepi, walked down an open road and into the future.

THE END

If you are wondering about the pokemon Kishi, Mizuti, Stormeow, Nitty, and Aslanti in this story, they, unlike Murkrow(Yamikarasu) and Selebi(Serebii) are NOT featured in any official Pokemon games. The "Poke-Cats" are a group of fictional felines invented by me and Sforzie and you can find out about them here: http://members.dencity.com/caferocket/newpokemon.html

If you in particular wish to learn more of Aslanti, also read my James fanfiction, "Scarlet Letters", it is the story in which the fire-lion makes his first appearance and the story I originally invented him for.

"The Thief, The Artist, and The Crow" Series was really fun to write. I hope that it was also enjoyable to read. I appreciate any feedback on my stories. If you must flame, please do not just flame, give constructive criticism.

I would like to thank the fans and supporters of my stories, strange though my stories are. Without you, I would not be writing them. Thank you, dear readers, for getting through this rather lengthy tale, especially those of you who don't like the character Tracey as much as I do-for putting up with a fic of mine in which he played a major role.

God bless.

Shadowcat, May/June 2000