Author's Note: Once again, I find myself apologizing for my unforgivable lack of updating. I've slowly, slowly been losing interest in these two stories (as is likely to happen), making it more difficult for me to buckle down. But, never fear! I shan't be letting you down, my dear readers, as I promise I will see this story to the end. It just might take a bit longer than I had hoped.

But enough of that. In exchange for making you wait, this time I've prepared an extra-long chapter for you guys! Enjoy!

A lover lost, a hero sought,

A conflict that the world forgot.

What hell hath these villains wrought

Upon this peaceful land?

When I awoke, Penny was not by my side.

I was disoriented for a moment, and sat up to get my bearings. I was at the edge of a large, natural pool of warm water. Around me was a rocky outcropping overlooking a steep cliff face. Behind me, a large black crevasse traveled up the stony face of the mountain. A cool breeze sent a shiver down my spine. After a moment, everything started coming back to me.

That's right. We're climbing the mountain in search of the Wave Rider, I remembered slowly, my thoughts coming together bit by bit. Thinking felt like moving through molasses. And the higher we climb, the colder it's going to get.

In front of me, sitting at the lip of the overhang, Penny sat looking out over the scene laid before us. A carefully stepped around the hot spring and took a seat near Penny, perching precariously close to the edge.

"Good morning, Penny," I yawned, giving her a kiss on the cheek. She didn't move, didn't even acknowledge that I greeted her. ". . . Penny?"

"Hm?" After a moment, she finally turned her head. "Oh. Good morning, Shadow." She offered a faint smile before turning her gaze back to the view overlooking the valley.

"Is something wrong?" I asked, genuinely worried. She was definitely not an early bird, but it was still not like her to be so distant and out of it.

But Penny slowly shook her head. "No, not yet." She turned around to face me and watched me for a long time with unblinking eyes. "Have you ever felt like you know something bad is going to happen, Shadow?"

I cocked my head. "Like what?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. . . it's just a feeling."

"Well. . ." I shrugged. "It's not like it would be the first time we've been in a dangerous situation, Penny. There was the Ursaring, and the Collector, and the Beyond tower, and-"

"I know, I know," Penny sighed. "But it's different this time. I feel like something terrible is going to happen, Shadow. And it's going to happen to you."

I frowned. "Penny, I don't think it's anything to worry about. You probably had a bad dream, and the feeling hasn't worn off yet."

Again, Penny shook her head. "It's different than that, Shadow. I can't shake this feeling." She looked right at me again, and her look showed me she was dead serious. "Promise me you'll be careful, Shadow."

I chuckled. "Penny, you know me-"

"No," she insisted. "Promise me, Shadow. Right now, promise me you'll be absolutely careful. Promise me you won't do anything stupid that will get you killed."

I nodded. "Of course, Penny. I'll be careful."

Penny still seemed unsure. She turned back toward the valley. "I wish you knew how I felt, Shadow. You don't know how terrible this feeling is." She sniffed and looked close to tearing up. "I'm scared, Shadow. I don't want to lose you. . . not now."

I placed one of my paws over hers, offered her a smile. "Penny. . . I promise I will always be here for you. I'm not going anywhere, okay?"

Penny sniffed again, but nodded. "Okay. But I'm going to hold you to that, you big, sappy dope."

I grinned and kissed her cheek. "Penny, you know I would go to the ends of the earth for you."

She smirked. "That's what scares me." Her aura shone and whipped unsettlingly around her body; no matter what she said, I could tell she was still worried. I leaned close and nuzzled her face gently.

"C'mon, we can both be worrywarts later. Leo and Liekkau are probably waiting for us."

We embraced briefly before backtracking and squeezing through the crevasse, emerging on the other side at the bowl-shaped depression in the mountain. A few pokemon ambled about lazily around the pools of clear water. The lush greenery and low trees shimmered with dew in the light of the new day. I spotted Leo curled up on a rock, asleep.

"Where's Liekkau?" Penny wondered aloud, stepping over a small bellsprout that had rooted itself to the stony earth. She nudged the sleeping linoone with her nose. "Hey, asshole. Did you lose the girl?"

Leo lifted his head sleepily and yawned, blinked several times as his eyes focused on Penny. He grunted. "You know, I was having the most wonderful dream about a beautiful maiden, and now here I wake up with you in my face."

Penny rolled her eyes sarcastically. "You cut me deep, linoone."

Leo grunted again, resting his head on his forearms. "Think how I must feel. It was such a lovely dream, too. . ."

"Hey!" Penny shouted brusquely, swatting the linoone on the head. "Did you see where Liekkau went?"

Leo shook his head without opening his eyes. "No. Why, has she gone somewhere?"

Penny growled. "That would certainly explain why we're looking for her wouldn't it?" When she did not get a response from the linoone, she cried in frustration. "Listen, you, if anything's happened to her-"

"Good morning!" The cheerful exclamation drew our gazes up the mountain trail: Liekkau was perched on a ledge high above us, a large grin drawn across her face. She breathed heavily, as though she had just run a long distance. "Shadow, I checked ahead! There's something really great up ahead!"

Penny sighed with relief, but I frowned. "You went on ahead? In your. . . condition?"

Liekkau waved a paw at me. "It was nothing, really. I used to live in these mountains, remember?" With a quick shake of her rear, she leapt from her perch down to a spot on the lip of the bowl. "C'mon! If we go now, we can get there before noon."

"That includes you, lazybones," Penny said, swatting Leo from his rock. Leo yelped as he tumbled down, landing headfirst in the pool of water below him. He emerged a moment later, dripping wet and spitting out a mouthful or water.

"This day just keeps getting better and better," he grumbled, reluctantly trudging toward the trail. "Shall we get a move on, then? Let's get this over with already."


Much like the previous day, the mountain trail wound slowly through the hills, leading us gradually higher and higher. As we ascended, the air got crisper and chillier, thinner and harder to breathe. After no more than an hour I began to feel lightheaded and weary, but Liekkau forged ahead like the change in altitude was nothing to her. She had, of course, grown up this high in the mountains so she was no doubt used to it, but I still couldn't help but worry about the kits she carried. Could overexertion be harmful to them? What about the thin mountain air?

Liekkau would occasionally look back at me with a cheerful grin, but since she was navigating she did not feel the need to hang back and walk beside me. I was okay with that, of course, because it meant I could trail behind her and Leo and walk alongside Penny. We linked tails, imitating how humans would walk hand-in-hand, but we walked in silence so as to not draw attention to ourselves.

My thoughts were racing at a mile per minute, though. Walking next to Penny, tails intertwined, it just felt so. . . right. I knew she was the one for me, and I for her, but it didn't change that Liekkau would someday soon bear my children. I refused to abandon my children, but I still found myself unwilling to give up my love for them.

I sighed. I wasn't even sure if I would make a good father. I certainly didn't feel ready to be raising children already. And how could I hope to sire healthy kits with someone I didn't love?

My gaze fell onto Leo, walking ahead of us. He was a father, wasn't he? For as grumpy as he was, he was certainly the oldest and most knowledgeable of the group. Perhaps he would have some useful information, or at least some worldly advice.

"Say, Penny?" I asked, looking at her. "Why don't you go on ahead and make sure Liekkau's not having troubles. I'll bring up the back."

Penny eyed me curiously for a moment before nodding and quickening her pace. I watched her pass Leo before I did the same, falling into step alongside the linoone momentarily.

"Uh, Leo?" I asked once the girls were out of earshot. "Could I ask you something?"

Leo did not stop, but slowed down enough so that he was in stride with me. "Go for it."

I struggled to find the words to begin. "Leo. . . you're a father, right?"

"Last I checked."

"Well. . ." I couldn't think of how to put it. "How do I prepare for this?"

Leo raised a brow. "'This'?"

"All of this," I said. "Being a father."

"It's not something you can prepare for," Leo admitted. "It's something you learn along the way."

I frowned. I was hoping for a straighter, less parent-like answer. "But. . . what if I mess up?"

Leo barked with laughter. "Shadow, you're going to mess up. All parents do. It's part of that learning." He shrugged. "Hell, I bet your parents made some mistakes."

His words struck a nerve. I scoffed. "Yeah, I'm one of them." Leo gave me an odd look and I shook my head. "My mother abandoned my sister and I after we were born."

"I'm sure she had a good reason," Leo insisted.

"What possible reason could there be?" I demanded. I'd had this exact same argument a million times before, and it never changed. "What reason could you have to abandon your children to go off with some near-stranger? How irresponsible do you have to be?"

"May I remind you that is exactly what I did with you lot?" Leo growled. "I'd be a bit more thankful if I were you."

"Oh," I mumbled. I had completely forgotten that Leo left his mate and children behind to join us. "I-I'm sorry, Leo-"

"Damn right you are. Ungrateful child." I couldn't think of anything to say to that. Leo was right. . . I hadn't really appreciated the sacrifices everyone made to come with me, Leo especially. It really made me think about how much I was asking of everyone, coming along with me like this. This wasn't their responsibility, it was mine, and it wasn't my place to ask them to risk their lives for my sake.

"You didn't have to come with us," I said slowly. "You could've just stayed behind with your mate. You could just turn around now and go back to her."

After a moment, Leo sighed. "Nah, I couldn't. After I met you and Penny, I just felt compelled to come with you. Like I knew you two were doing something important and I was supposed to be there with you."

Hearing it again weighed something heavy in the pit of my stomach. Ralts had said something to that effect. . . that my aura could influence people's actions. To think I may have dragged Leo away from his mate, away from his family, against his will. I was hit by a wave of guilt. Leo noticed my look and misinterpreted, nudging my leg gently.

"You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and stop blaming your mother about it. If you're going to be a parent, I suggest you first start acting like an adult."

We walked on in silence. Up ahead Penny and Liekkau walked beside each other, talking about something. They were speaking loud enough for me to hear their words, but their conversation was in Liekkau's strange language. They both laughed and looked over their shoulders at us. Penny gave me a smile and I felt myself blush.

"She means a lot to you, doesn't she?" Leo said suddenly, chuckling. I blanched, a creeping feeling of terror lancing through my body. I gave him a look, but he persisted. "Penny? You two are closer than the heads on a doduo."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said quickly, hoping that Leo hadn't indeed put two and two together and figured out the identity of our relationship. Leo was clever, and it would be better off if he didn't know in case he ever decided to use it against us.

The linoone grunted. "Don't take me for a fool, kid. I've seen the way you look at her." He gave me a knowing look. "In case you hadn't noticed, it's the same way Liekkau looks at you."

". . . It's not that I don't like Liekkau," I mumbled after a moment of walking in silence, knowing it was pointless to deny my feelings for Penny.

"Didn't say that you didn't," Leo said. "But you don't share her. . . affections."

"I don't," I admitted with a sigh. "She's an amazing girl, but she was never the one I loved."

Leo chuckled. "You an' Penny were never too subtle about it, either. The flareon must be deliriously in love to be so oblivious."

I frowned. I didn't think that Penny and I publically displayed our affection towards each other, especially not before the other night. "What do you mean? It was just a couple days ago that Penny and I became. . . you know."

Leo looked genuinely surprised. "Really? Huh. Ever since we escaped that Collector guy she's been eyeing you."

"R-really?" My heart skipped a beat. Penny had had feelings for me this whole time? I never even suspected! Leo chuckled, shaking his head.

"You're all oblivious, then." He said, grinning to himself. "I swear I'm the only sane one."

After a moment of walking along in silence, left to my own thoughts, I groaned. "I feel terrible now. I never wanted this to happen to Liekkau."

"Shouldn't have knocked her up."

"Some humans forced us," I growled defensively. Leo shrugged his shoulders dismissively, but the meaning was clear: whatever my excuse, his point was still valid. I had to own up to my actions. I sighed, frustrated. "I don't know what to do."

"I was in a situation like this," Leo said suddenly, quietly. "When I was younger."

"What do you mean?"

"Juggling two girls?" Leo asked. "Love one, knocked up the other? Yeah, I've been in the exact same position."

"You have?" I hoped I didn't sound nearly as shocked as I was.

Leo nodded. "Yup. I was head-over-heels for my childhood sweetheart. Totally in love." Leo looked distant, like his memory was far off and he had trouble focusing on it. "Made a mistake one night with a different girl, not too proud of that. Next thing I know they're making me pick between the two of 'em."

I shivered. The thought of Penny and Liekkau double-teaming me, forcing me to choose between them made me cringe. "How do you even make a choice like that?" I asked in disbelief, almost awed that he managed to come from that sort of confrontation alive.

Leo nodded sagely. "It wasn't easy, that's for sure."

I groaned. Not easy? Try impossible! I couldn't choose between them. . . and though I proposed the idea to Penny I couldn't realistically expect them both to stay. I knew it was a choice I would have to make eventually, but if I could put it off as long as possible. . .

"Just do what your heart tells you," Leo suggested. "Do what feels right to you."

This advice, however well-intentioned, was unfortunately unhelpful. What my heart told me and what felt right were not the same: my heart longed for Penny, but I knew the right thing would be to support Liekkau and our kits.

"I won't abandon my children, but would it be right to choose Liekkau even though I don't love her?" I groaned. "How did you decide?"

Leo shook his head. "Sorry, kid. I can't help you."

I frowned. "But. . . you just said you were in the same position as me."

"I was," Leo stated in a frustratingly matter-of-fact way. "And I made my choice."

"Then why won't you-"

"Because I chose the girl I got pregnant." He said tersely, giving me a sideways glare. "I made the right choice, regardless of what I wanted. . . and I doubt you have the guts to do the same." Having made his point, the linoone picked up his pace to catch up with the girls, leaving me standing, dumbfounded, and with the grim suspicion that I was no better off now than I was before speaking with him.


Thousands of years ago, high up in the mountains, a schism between two rocky peaks formed a large valley that cut right through the range, forming a natural pass leading right to the base of the greatest and tallest mountain in the range: Mount Infernus, rumored to be a dormant volcano, awaiting the day it may erupt and spill its magma out onto the inferior mortal world below it.

The mountain trail led straight up to the entrance of the valley, where there stood a plain wooden sign, painted with some words I did not understand.

"What does it mean?" I wondered aloud.

"Neljä," Liekkau murmured. She grinned at me excitedly. "The Astari village!"

Straining my eyes, I could see further into the pass. On either side, lining the walls of the valley, were clusters of stout wooden huts built up on some sort of metal stilts. A network of wooden bridges criscrossed the sky, connecting the opposite ends of the valley together.

Before I could say another word, Liekkau let out a whoop and immediately dashed into the pass. Leo groaned and followed after her, but Penny stayed behind and walked along with me.

"She's pretty excited," I observed, chuckling. Liekkau was moving much faster than I would've expected from an expectant mother, so fast that Leo was having a difficult time keeping up.

"Of course she is," Penny said. "This village is her home."

I blinked. "Wait. . . this village is her home? I know she said she grew up here, but I didn't think we were actually this close to it."

Penny nodded idly, looking around the valley. A lazy river ran right down the middle, giving the air a peaceful ambience. "Mhm. The Astari people are pretty scarce now. . . not too many villages like this one left."

"How do you know so much about them?" I asked suddenly, raising a brow at Penny. I'd never questioned it before, but now it seemed a bit strange to me that she would know the language and history of such a small community of mountainfolk.

"You know how I said my owner was a scientist?" Penny asked. I nodded. She glanced around. It almost seemed as though she was trying to recognize this place. "They did some studies about the Astari. My owner was one of the ones who came here. Brought me with him."

"Ahh. . ."

"It was great for a while. I learned about the people and their language. . . I met Heath here." Penny suddenly seemed distant. A glimmer of her aura showed me that she was recalling all her old memories: interacting with the whitecoats, of a younger Penny playing with a group of children, of a certain familiar Mightyena. "But everything changed so suddenly. They had us packed up and moved out in a day. My owner knew something was wrong. . ."

"What happened?" I asked quietly. Penny's eyes were narrowed and her voice lowered. Her aura whipped violently around her. "Penny. . .?"

She looked at me, a thinly concealed rage shimmering in her eyes. "I told you how the Astari are scarce now?" I nodded. "Yeah. . . a new human took over the scientists. Ordered them back, sent in new people to run tests. Soon after, all the Astar disappear and the village was completely gone. Like it had never even existed. . ." Penny sighed. "Little question as to who's responsible."

"Penny, if this is going to be too difficult, we don't have to-"

"Ugh!" Penny cried, wrinkling her nose. Her aura seemed to have calmed down, returning once again as a faint glow around her body. "What is that stench?"

As soon as she mentioned it, the smell hit me like a wave. Entering Neljä was a sensory overload. Each grouping of homes seemed situated around a particular task, each one adding to the ambiance. One cluster of huts surrounded a large bonfire, over which a large side of meat was cooking. Large, wooden looms lined another cluster of huts, giving of the scent of fabric and dye that smelled of fresh fruit. Outside another cluster sat two large vats made for tanning leather, giving off a pungent, sour odor. All the while, villagers went about their daily lives, chattering in their strange tongue, kids playing loudly on the road.

I grinned, moving aside to allow two men carrying a large wooden book to pass by. "This is incredible! I've never seen anything like this!"

Penny nodded, sniffing. She looked like she was on the verge of tears, but happy ones. "Yeah. . . it brings back a lot of memories." She sniffed again and quickly wiped her eyes with the back of her paw. "Ugh. . . this smell must be making my eyes water."

I smiled knowingly and nudged her side. I lowered my voice, speaking softly into her ear. "Do you miss it at all, Penny?"

Penny nodded again, smiling, looking like she was doing her best to not cry. "Only every day, Shadow. I'd love to come back here again. . ." She looked at me, nudging me back playfully. "After we're done with our mission, of course. We have to go find this 'Wave Rider' first."

I walked closer to her, nuzzling her gently. "Then after we go find him, maybe we can settle down here, hm? It'd be the perfect way to solve our dilema with Liekkau. . ."

Penny's face instantly lit up. "You really mean it?"

I laughed, still smiling all the while. "Of course! Whatever makes you happy will make me happy." I craned my neck, trying to find Liekkau amidst the throng of people. "C'mon, let's go find the others so we can get this mission over with!"

We wandered through the crowd, calling out Liekkau and Leo's names, but there was no sign of them anywhere. With this many people and pokemon all around us, finding them would be next to impossible.

"Where did Liekkau say that her owners lived?" I ask Penny, speaking loudly over the din of the village. "Maybe she went there."

Penny bit her lip in thought. "She said. . . I think she said they lived in a hut at the far end of the village." I nodded and followed her, going through the busy heart of the village. The noise here was nearly deafening, and the smells overpowered everyhting else. It was strange to be in such an exotic and lively, yet such a small place after living in big, noisy cities all my life. The noise here was different. It wasn't just loud, polluting the air. The noise here had life and purpose and felt. . . well, warmer. I could see why Penny had fallen in love with such a place.

We continued weaving our way through the throngs of villagers and their pokemon, the crowd eventually diminishing as we neared the opposite end of the village. The houses back here were still constructed on stilts or built high up on the face of the valley wall, but they appeared to be more run down or outright abandoned.

"There they are!" Penny said, taking off at a run towards one of the older-looking houses. In front of the hut Leo lay on the ground, slumped on his side, motionless, while Liekkau lay a few feet from him, trying weakly to stand.

"Leo! Liekkau!" I ran up to the flareon and began to gently help her up. Liekkau's eyes went wide and she twisted away from me.

"Shadow, no! Look out!" I barely had time to register Liekkau's words when a crushing force hit me from behind, tackling me and pinning me to the ground. From the corner of my eye I could vaguely make out a dark, shaggy doglike figure. A menacing canid face glared back at me, bloodred eyes glinting with malice.

"Long time, kid. We've got a little welcoming party for ya," the mightyena growled, pressing down harder on my neck. With a growl, I struggled beneath his weight, but he was far larger and held me down with ease. The air took on a sudden chill, sending a shiver down my spine while a cold, hollow cackle echoed through the air.

-Hello, my dear!- A familiar purple face filled my vision, staring back at me with large red gems in place of eyes. Sableye. She stroked gently under my chin with a clawed hand. -I knew I hadn't seen the last of you- she hissed.

I snarled at her, resulting only in the mightyena digging his claws into my neck threateningly. "You should have died in Metro."

The sableye chuckled. -I can say the same of you- She disappeared from my view, and soon I heard Liekkau whimpering somewhere behind me. -And look at you, darling! You're positively glowing!-

"Leave her alone!" Penny shouted. Though I could not see her, from the sound of her voice I could tell she was being held back as well.

The sableye laughed aloud, a sound like nails on a chalkboard. -You're done a good job on her, Shadow! Impregnating her saves us a lot of trouble-She walked back into my limited view, tapping me on the forehead. -So much so, in fact, that we haven't a need for you anymore-

The great weight was lifted off of me, and I greedily gasped for air. I got to my feet as quickly as I could manage, turning and growling at the sableye. Beside her, both Penny and Liekkau were being held by a small, black sneasel like the ones we saw outside Metro, sharp claws held dangerously up to their throats. "Let them go," I growled. I took a deep breath and concentrated, taking hold of my aura. I felt the familiar warm buzz in my head as I built up my inert powers. "I swear, I will take you all down right now if you don't."

The sableye grinned, not with her mouth, but with her eyes, and chuckled. -We're taking the pregnant one because those children belong to us.- I began to protest, but I was silenced when the two sneasels pressed their claws harder against the girl's throats. Sableye continued, gesturing to Penny. -And we're taking this one because, while we no longer need you, my master still considers you a minor threat. So long as we have her in our custody, we don't think you'll be stupid enough to attack your love, hmm?-

"Sh-shadow!" Liekkau cried out weakly. Penny struggled in vain against the sneasel's grip. The mightyena chuckled, patting her side.

"Won't it be great, Penumbra?" he asked coldly, voice raspy and low. "It'll be just like old times."

"I've left the past behind me, Heath," Penny spat at him. "You'd do well to do the same, you cheating bastard!"

The mightyena roared and slashed Penny across the face with a paw. "Heath is dead!" he barked, breathing heavily. Penny hung limply in the sneasel's grip, blood dripping down her cheek. "I am Black Fang now. But you. . . you'll never change."

"Penny!" I shouted, taking a weak step toward them. Sableye snapped her fingers and the whole group of them began to fade, ready to be teleported off who-knows-where. "Penny, no. . ." I had no choice. I tried focusing my aura, but I couldn't stop thinking about Penny, and how hard I was going to kick that bastard's ass.

The ghost cackled once more. -Of course, we'd be more than willing to trade her freedom for yours. Just come peacefully and we will set her free.-

"I-" There was nothing I could say. Penny was completely defenseless, unconscious in the dark pokemon's clutches. if she were awake she would refuse to make the trade, but. . . I had to do what was best for her. I sighed. "I. . . alright. I'll come with you, j-just. . . please, don't hurt her anymore."

"Shadow, no. . ." Liekkau whimpered weakly. Her eyes were wide and on the verge of tears, begging me to reconsider.

Sableye smirked, her jewel eyes gleaming devilishly. -It is welcome to hear you have more common sense than your late master- I cringed. Ralts would never let me go ahead with the deal, either, but. . . they didn't understand. I finally found somebody I could love unconditionally, and I would give up everything for her! -Now, if you would just slowly step forward, we can-

"Olla poissa , demoni!" A white blur descended on them like a bullet, tearing through the sableye as easily as if she were a wet paper towel. The ghost gave a cry and fell to the ground, long black streaks running vertically down her body. The creature in white shouted again, charging the sneasel that held Liekkau and batting it aside with ease.

"Why, you little-" Black Fang did not get far, as the white creature quickly snatched him by the throat, turned, and slashed him down the middle with a long, bladelike tail.

Sableye groaned and rose in the air, all signs of the new arrival's attack completely gone, as if they had never existed. She gave a cry and her whole body glowed dark red, her aura becoming distinctly visible as my natural senses kicked in. The clapped her hand together and the creature below froze in midstep, his body coiled with chains of red energy.

"Vapauttaa we , elävä," he growled, a faint shimmer of his own orange aura clashing with the ghost's. Sableye simply shook a finger at him then snapped her fingers. In an instant, the sneasels, Black Fang, and Penny were gone.

"Penny, no!" I cried, taking a step forward. With my aura senses active, I could now see black tendrils of my own life force whipping out around me. I glared at the ghost. "Bring her back, dammit! You promised to let her go!" My aura stormed dangerously around me. threatening to burst. The buzzing in my skull was gaving me a pounding headache, but I used the pain to fuel my rage.

The sableye sighed. -You can never make these things easy, can you?- She floated high above us, as if sitting in an unseen chair. -I did not count on the arrival of your little friend here, so we shall reschedule our little deal-


Sableye stood up, waving an arm in the air. A large red number appeared, floating above her. -You will have five days to come seek us out. If you do not coply within this time period, we will kill the girl and come after you ourselves. Sound good?-

I growled at her. "You monster! I'll kill you!"

The ghost grinned with her mouth for the first time, displaying row upon row of pointed teeth, sharp as razors. -Good. Glad to know we're on the same page- With a snap of her fingers, the ghost disappeared.

I shivered with rage, glaring at the spot where, until a moment ago, Penny was being held. "DAMMIT!" I shouted, unleashing the swirling vortex of my aura. It spun all around me like a hurricane, whipping out violent tendrils of raw energy. The vortex tore through the earth, cutting down trees and carving deep gashes within the wall of the valley. Then after a moment, though my rage was hardly subsided, my energy vanished and I collapsed to the ground, my aura dissipating into the air.

"Penny. . ." I sobbed, calling out to the sky weakly. The series of red numbers hung in the air above my head, counting down slowly. "Penny, no. . ."

"Shadow!" Liekkau ran up to me, nudging me with her nose, showering me in affectionate licks. "Oh, taivaan lahja kehua, Shadow! Gods be praised you are alright. . ."

I kicked my leg out, pushing her aside, and rolled over onto my stomach and weakly pulled myself to my feet. "Move. . . I have to go now. I have to save her!"

"Shadow!" Leo barked, stepping in front of me. The linoone looked a bit bruised and had a cut on his leg, but otherwise appeared unharmed. "Don't be stupid. We came here to find the Wave Rider, and that's what we're going to do."

I snarled. "Didn't you hear her! We only have five days! We need to go now!"

"Get ahold of yourself!" He shouted, slapping me hard across the face. "You're obviously delirious. Listen, if this Wave Rider is as powerful as you say, then who's to say he can't help us find your girl, hm? As it is, you don't even know where to start looking."

"Well, I. . ." I didn't realize it before, but Sableye hadn't specified where they would be taking her. They could have gone anywhere, and I could waste what little precious time we had trying to look for her! ". . . you're right."

Leo nodded, satisfied. "Good. Now, if we use Liekkau as a guide, we can probably find this damn Wave Rider in a day or so. Right, Liekkau?"

The flareon shook her head sadly. "I'm sorry. . . even if I did know who we are looking for, I would not know where to look for him." She scooted up against me, nuzzling me softly. "Shadow, you had me so worried! Don't you ever scare me like that again!"

The linoone sighed, scratching his head. "Okay, well. . . maybe one of the locals will know what we're looking for. We can find out there, then-" He cut off suddenly, eyes fixed on something over my shoulder. "Look out behind you, Shadow." The fur on Leo's hackles was sticking straight up and his teeth were bared. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the white blur up closer. It was a slender creature, completely covered with white fur excluding a black, catlike face, along with a scythe-like tail and a curved sickle-shaped object jutting from the side of its head. "He's another dark pokemon. I don't care what he did, you can't trust him."

I glared at the dark pokemon in question, growling through my tears. He's the reason they took Penny away! If he hadn't interfered. . . "What do you want? Haven't you done enough!"

"Liekkau?" The pokemon's gaze completely passed me over me, focusing in on the flareon. He squinted at her, like she was an illusory object narrowly evading his vision. "On se oikeastaan te, jäljessä aivan nyt kuluva aika?"

Liekkau huddled closer to me, watching the white pokemon with wonder. "N-no, I don't think. . ." She hesitated a moment, then turned back. "Wait, I. . . ajatella osata te. . ."

I glanced at her. "Liekkau. . . do you know him?" The pokemon looked unlike any I had ever seen. And the way he had appeared out of nowhere right in the nick of time was. . . uncanny, to say the least. He had showed off incredible battle prowess against the dark pokemon, and when the sableye had him in her aura chains he had shown some degree of control over his own aura. "Liekkau. . . is he the Wave Rider?"

The dark pokemon blinked at me curiously. "Ai ketkä. . . Ratsuikäinen?" He chuckled, shaking his head. "Nej, nej. I. . . am. . . Varjostaa Vuori. Me olevani ystävyys jahka me toivoisin nuori!"

Liekkau beamed, walking towards the creature. "His name is Vaori," she translated, smiling back at me over her shoulder. "We were childhood friends."

This caught Leo's attention. "Then. . . does he know the mountains? Can he tell us where to find the Wave Rider?"

Liekkau turned back to Vaori, and the two exchanged words in Astarian. She turned back to me, smiling beatifically. "He knows where the Wave Rider is! And he said he'd lead us right to him!"

My spirits lifted. If he could bring us to the Wave Rider, then maybe the Wave Rider could help us locate Penny! I made a promise not to rest until I Penny was safely at my side once again. Screw their deal! As soon as I knew where they were keeping Penny, I'd make them all wish they'd never even crossed me.

I smiled at Liekkau. "Can you tell him we said thanks, Liekkau? He's doing us a huge favor by doing this."

Liekkau exchanged words with him again, and he turned to me specifically, brilliant red eyes focusing in on me. He smiled softly. "Te aari mieluinen , Laitonaa."

Liekkau grinned at me. "He says 'you are welcome, Black One'."

"So. . ." Leo said, sidling up and directing his question to Vaori, interrupting before I got the chance to question the name the white pokemon had given to me. "Where is the Wave Rider?" Liekkau relayed his question to the white pokemon, who took a step back and gestured down the length of the valley, to the large mountain that lay dormant at the end. Mount Infernus.

"Tulivuori. . ." Liekkau breathed, gazing up at the volcano. "The Great Beast. And the Wave Rider rests at the peak."

I nodded, sizing the mountain up. It would be difficult, but I would not let anything stand in between Penny and I. I would climb a thousand Tulivuoris if it meant I could see her safe one more time. Nothing was going to stop me now; not the Dark Gang, not Black Fang, and definitely not some stupid volcano.

"Alright," I said emphatically, shaking my head to clear out the remaining fog from my aura outburst. "Let's go find that Wave Rider."

Behind me, Leo groaned. "Great. I was just wondering if we'd ever get to go mountain climbing again."

A/N: I cut the chapter a bit shorter than I originally intended, but for some good reasons. I've entered an Original Character Contest over on deviantart, and as that's going to be taking up a good bit of what free time I have, if I didn't finish it up now then you guys wouldn't have seen it for at least another month anyways. On the bright side, though, you can check out my progress over on deviantart (my username over there is still Mintobrandybuck) as I go through this tournament, entitled 'Big Sky Carnival'. It should be a lot of fun :)

Oh, and one other cool thing: I've gotten some questions from people, many of them repeats, so I went ahead and made myself a Formspring account (the website is www . formspring . me and, once again, my username is Mintobrandybuck.) So. . . feel free to pop on by and ask me about anything you might wanna know about my stories, or characters, or anything, really. Doesn't matter to me :3