So, um…yeah. "Explorers of the Sky" came out on the twelfth of this month. The sad news is, I have not been able to purchase it. Worse, I cannot find ANY information whatsoever in regards to the personality needed for each species and gender…if it turns out the game's switching back to gender-specific main characters, I'm gonna be fairly crushed. T_T All my hopes of becoming a Riolu…welp. If worst comes to worst, I can always just get a Vulpix or whatever as my result, and pick Riolu as the partner.

In other game news: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days has, so far, been epic win. Wiiiith one small exception—the part where you have to tail Pete in Agrabah. That was frustrating…oi vey. -_-;;

Plus, I dug up Coliseum from my stash of old games. That's been keeping me busy, too. Typhlosion is just ultimate win in that game….not only is he really powerful, but he's just so squishable! All that shaggy, fluffy fur…! I swear, I could just bury my face in all that fur and give him a big raspberry! Uhhh, except then I'd probably find out what it's like to be a boiled egg. ^^; Those flames don't look none too gentle…

Oh, and I did find out another tidy little piece of trivia: Riolu can learn Blaze Kick. =D

Anyhow, here's chapter 24. Sorry for such a long hiatus. Read, enjoy, and be glad I've stuck with this one. Two years…that's a long time to stick with a fanfic. Wow. O.O Especially when you have the same writer's block problems that I do…

- - -

Chapter 24: The Horror in a Scream

"Wow. Nice shiner you got there," Khalil commented as Aura wearily took a seat next to him and Jay in the main hall the next evening.

"What?" Aura impulsively reached up to touch her cheekbone, wincing as the previous day's bruise throbbed in response. "Oh."

"I couldn't have said it better. No offense, but you really do look like you got nailed in the face by a runaway Ponyta." Jay slid an apple across the table to Aura.

"Close enough. To be honest, I don't think there's that much difference with Ronja. I thought you said he was going to ease up?"

"It'll get easier, trust me. But it's only been two days, Aura. You're trying to pick fruit before it's ripened. Give it time to grow."

"Wow. Pick that one up from Razor?" Khalil quipped, looking up from the Cheri berry he was toying with in his paws.

Jay gave a sheepish smile. "Sort of."

"I'll bet she doesn't leave a dojo with bruises and cracked ribs," Aura mumbled, looking at the apple that was still untouched in front of her.

"Oh, of course not. Razor is much tougher by far," Jay said. "Did I ever tell you about the time when she was cornered by bandits in the Northern Range? By the time we realized what was happening and got back to her, she had already leveled everything within a half mile radius."

Aura's head snapped up, eyes wide in horror. "You're kidding," she whispered, feeling the blood drain from her face. This was what she was going to be up against once Ronja handed her off? She'd be lucky just to leave a scratch on Razor!

"I'm kidding. Really, Aura, you should see your face right now." Jay chuckled. Then, just as Aura felt she could start breathing again, he added, "but it is true that those guys still haven't left the hospital. I don't think they'll be harassing anybody for a long time, not after what Razor put them through."

Ulp. "Jay, you're not helping my confidence that much."

"You know what the problem is?" Khalil put in. "Ronja's a juggernaut. You're focusing too much on trying to attack him, and effectively getting your arse handed to you. Try dodging him first, build up speed, y'know? Then you'll have time later on to try and find a hole in his defense."

"Tried that." Aura sighed. "That's usually when I end up getting a Bonemerang to the skull from behind. No matter where you are, he finds a way to hit you."

"Oh…" Khalil's face fell, and he began absently scratching his neck with a hind paw, very much like a dog. "Sheesh, I dunno what I can tell you, then. Raichu's way better at fighting the Ground-type than I am. Kinda ironic, considering the type disadvantage there…" He suddenly sat bolt upright, a new excitement gleaming in his eyes. "Hey, that's it! Why dont'cha ask Raichu for help? She's bound to have some tips for ya, and she'll be really happy to be able to help! Actually, hang on, I'll go get her for you." Getting up from his seat, Khalil dashed off before another word could be said. At the door he suddenly caught his paw against the entryway, causing him to tumble forward with a startled yell into the Pokemon walking by outside.

Raichu, laden down with a covered ceramic bowl carrying an assortment of berries, was focused solely on getting back to Dai and as a result was caught completely unawares by her teammate bulldozing into her. With a crash and a yelp the two fell over backwards, berries scattering everywhere across the floor. Raichu frantically whipped her tail up above her with an expert flick, maneuvering the lightning bolt blade so the bowl landed neatly on its flat side without spilling the contents inside.

"Whew. Got it!" She gave her customary goofball grin.

"Uh…" Khalil rolled himself into a sitting position and looked back over at Aura and Jay, who were watching the scene with odd expressions—actually, so was the entire room, for that matter. "Um, I uh, I found her…" he gave a nervous laugh.

With that everybody seemed to dismiss the chaos that had happened as just another everyday occurrence, although not right away. A Delcatty, pausing where she was, continued to give Khalil and Raichu a strange, lingering 'look', before she finally continued on her way with an indifferent air as if nothing had happened.

"Just another ho-hum day in the neighborhood, huh?" Jay joked as he started rounding some of the berries that had fallen. Aura soon joined him, doing her best to keep the small fruits balanced in her arms.

"Isn't all this food just a bit much, Raichu?" she asked as she made her way over to the thunder mouse, who was now nosing about on all fours to pick up her mess, the bowl having been set down out of the way. "I mean, we all know you have a lot of energy, but—"

"If moh foh meh," Raichu said—or leastways attempted to speak—around the Chesto berry she had in her teeth, lifting her teeth momentarily to look at Aura. "Ah fwohn oo fee fay."

"What?" One of Aura's ears twitched lopsidedly in her confusion.

Raichu neatly spit the berry out into Aura's waiting paws. "It's all mostly for Dai, not me. She's starting to feel better, so I thought I'd bring her some new kinds of berries to try besides just Oran and Rawst berries. Wanna come with?" she asked, brightening. "She's wanted to see you guys for, like, ages!"

"Um…" Aura hesitated. Would it really be alright? After all, they hadn't seen each other for such a long time, and if Dai was still upset over losing Blaziken…

"She's okay," Raichu piped up as if reading her thoughts. By now she had picked up the bowl again and was balancing it more or less carefully on her head, paws lightly gripping the sides to further stabilize it. "She's starting to smile a bit—she has a bit more of that happy aura she used to have, you know? Actually, I think a lot of it's 'cause of Luma. Really, it's cute how much she looks forward to seeing him every day, he's been stopping by and talking with her—"

"Wa-wait, hold on. Dai and…Luma?" Aura's thoughts were lost in confusion. Dai and Luma? Together? When had this started? Surely, she thought, she would have gotten even the slightest feeling…wouldn't she?

"Yup! Dai was lucky to find such an awesome guy!" Raichu gushed, completely oblivious to her impending state of shock.

"Aura, you mean you really don't remember?" Jay asked, looking amused. "That day when Absol and Dai came back, and you got that weird feeling from Luma? You honestly didn't know what that meant?"

"Well…" Aura trailed off. Her mind was still only capable of one thought. Dai and Luma?

"Oh, wow. You really didn't know." Jay shook his head, then broke into laughter.

"I…my mind was preoccupied at the time," she argued lamely.

"Uh-huh," Khalil said, giving a mock, sagely bow of the head. "It's alright, Aura, we still like you, even if you are a bit oblivious sometimes."

"What do you mean, sometimes? What else have I missed?"

"Gee, I just don't know," a new voice said from behind. "Maybe the big, green lizard that's been standing here for ten seconds, silently laughing at you."

"YAH!" Aura yelped and whirled, fur standing on end and well aware of Khalil cracking up behind her. "Don't do that to me, Razor!"

"Hey, you're supposed to be the empathic, right? Not my fault if you don't see me coming, kid. Hoi, Jay," Razor said, standing up from her spot against the wall and uncrossing her arms. "Jack just went nuts again and tried to crisp some Hypno. We need you to come help clean up."

"Let me guess, he lost?"

"Eh, depends on whether you count both guys knocking each other out as a loss."

"Ah, got it. Sorry, guys, I'll have to catch up to you later." Jay waved in farewell before heading away with Razor.

"Heh. Jack. I was wondering what he was up to." Khalil grinned once he had finally ceased laughing over Aura's antics. "Like Razor said, if she hasn't seen him for twenty minutes—"

"—he's in a world of trouble," Aura finished with a nod. "Come on, I think Raichu's already left. Let's try and catch up to her before she leaves us in the dust."

- - -

Luma was already there by the time they arrived, deep in conversation with Dai. He trailed off midsentence upon hearing their footsteps. "Oh, hi guys," he greeted.

"Hey, Luma." Aura turned to look at the other of Luma's evolutionary line. "Dai…"

She paused for a second, feeling oddly lightheaded. The feeling was then gone as quickly as it came. What the…?

"Aura!" Dai's expression lifted considerably—not that she wasn't already in a good mood. If anything, the bandages on her paws did little to mask the sense of bright, attentive content floating from her. The transformation astounded Aura—hadn't it been just days earlier that she'd seen this Pokemon crippled on the ground, debilitated by sickness and practically saturated in dirt and blood? Yet here she was now—clean, bright-eyed, and alert, seeming to grow stronger by the minute. Apparently Raichu's treatment had done more for her than Aura ever would have guessed.

So why did she get the feeling that something still was not quite right?

"How's it going, kiddo?" Khalil's long, narrow frame darted up next to Aura, a wide goofy grin on his face. "Heh, you don't look so bad to me. I betcha you could probably run rings around a Manectric. Right?" he said, nudging Aura in the ribs.

"Um, oh, right," Aura answered quickly, wrenching herself out of her thoughts. "Dai, has Raichu been here already? We were trying to keep up with her, but she got ahead of us."

"Uhm…what? Sorry, no. I haven't seen her since this morning."

"Carrying a big bowl," Khalil put in, "with lots of berries. She really didn't get here yet?"

"No, but speaking of whom…" Luma began.

"Hey, guys!" the loud, smiling voice came from directly behind them. Khalil jolted about a foot into the air, back arching out of fright. A vague pop was heard as flames suddenly combusted from the vents on his rump and head.

"Ack!" Aura yelped and instinctively rocked back from the unexpected flare-up, tripped, and fell to the floor, hitting her back against someone's leg. Her focus shifted rapidly upwards to Raichu's blank face, and the bowl held safely above her head.

"Sorry," the mouse apologized. "I didn't mean to scare you guys."

"Sh-sheesh…" Khalil gasped, holding a paw to his chest. "You better p-pray my heart starts beating again after that one…"

Aura finally recovered enough wit to edge warily away from Khalil's flames, which were still blazing merrily. "Can't you do something about those?" she asked. "You're making me nervous."

"Say what?" Khalil twisted his head around to look at his fiery rear end. "Ah, sorry, right. Instinct." Just like that the flames disappeared as he relaxed visibly, though the air around him still shimmered softly with nervous heat. "Lemme know next time you decide to jump up out of nowhere, will ya, Rai?"

"Got it. Oh, hey, I brought something for ya, Dai!" Raichu danced nimbly around Aura and Khalil and set the bowl down next to Dai's bed. "I was talking to Kangaskhan this morning, and she said it was a good time for you to start eating other stuff, so I went rooting through the kitchens and found these for you!"

Dai smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Raichu." Her gaze then fell upon the unfamiliar berries. "Um, what kind are these? I don't know if I've seen them before…"

"Chances are you haven't. These are rarer varieties," Luma explained, "the kind you can't find easily in dungeons. Usually you have to cultivate them yourself—it makes them more difficult to obtain, but they have a much wider range of tastes and benefits than your normal 'dungeon' kinds. This Passho berry, for example," he said, nudging a round cerulean berry enclosed in an odd, yellow and green shell on its lower half, "can be eaten to temporarily halve the effects of Water-type attacks, making it useful for Rock or Fire-types. There are several other berries with similar qualities, though most of the ones here are really only meant to be eaten for their flavor. Try this one." Luma picked one up and nudged it over to her.

Aura watched as Dai examined the small fruit curiously. The berry had a gently curved body and a warm, rosy pink color, though the skin transitioned to a gold yellow around the stem. After a pause Dai cautiously nipped off a small piece and chewed.

"Well?" Aura asked after a few seconds. She had to admit, she was burning with curiosity over this new variation to the usual diet of apples and Oran berries.

Dai suddenly gasped. "It's good!" she exclaimed, her joy plain for all to see. Heck, her eyes were just about sparkling.

"So you like it," Luma stated, looking amused.

"I do!" Dai nodded vigorously. "If I'd known berries could be this good, I would've started growing some long ago!"

Aura's thoughts flashed back to their previous residence, that tidy, comfy hut tucked away from the hustle and commotion of village life. Her stomach turned—there was no point questioning if that house had survived, not with a disaster so widespread and cataclysmic. She might not have lived there for very long, not like Dai had, but for all it was worth that place was the only one she could truly call home. Knowing it was gone, that she could no longer wake up to gentle beams of sunlight through the window and the rustle of the trees, left a bitter, heavy cloud in her heart—a saddening reminder that she couldn't go back. In all the time she'd been here in Cairnehall she had felt more or less safe, and it was a decent place to live, with good Pokemon, but stone walls and the artificial light of Luminous Orbs did little to quell that eating feeling that grew stronger everyday…

Homesickness.

"I dunno," Khalil was saying as he managed to find a Grepa berry in the bowl and sat on his haunches, considerably leaving a few feet between himself and Aura to ease her nerves which came from the possibility of his flames igniting again. "I kinda prefer the image of you running around whupping the crap out of some thick-skulled Hariyama six times bigger than you—it's more hilarious that way." This got a giggle from both Dai and Raichu, causing him to break out into an even wider grin. "You living on a farm in the country and digging in the ground all day would be kinda weird."

"Oi, don't knock it!" Raichu smacked him—lightly—on the head. "She's good with Dig, you know that!"

"Yeah, good at digging holes to hide!" Khalil shot back, settling into a teasing mode.

"That was only for a few months!" Dai protested. "I stopped doing it ages ago!"

"Uh-huh, right up until that whole Wyvern Hill fiasco on April Fool's this year. That other team thought you looked like they were going to eat you or something!"

"And at the top," Raichu laughed, "when you reached the lake. It took them ages afterwards to get you out of that burrow you dug! Your fur was all poofy and funny looking, I remember!"

Dai groaned and buried her face in her paws. "Why, why do you guys always make fun of me?"

"Aww, Dai, we still love you," Raichu giggled, patting her head affectionately. "We can't help it, you're so much fun to tease."

"It shows…" Dai mumbled.

"Hey, Aura," Khalil said suddenly, "you remember anything yet? I mean we've known you for a few months now, but we really hardly know anything about you, ya know?"

"Yeah, he's right," Luma supported. "Surely you must have recovered at least some of your memory by now?"

Aura blinked, realizing that all eyes in the room were now on her. Feeling awkward about all the attention, she swallowed before speaking. "There's…not much I can tell you. I couldn't tell you anything about who I am, or where I came from, if I tried. I've had some brief flashes of memory, but none of them are really helpful. All I can remember is someone I think must have been my friend—a Mudkip. We used to play at mock battle when we were younger. I can't recall anything else, though."

"Can you remember the Mudkip's name, at least?" Dai pressed gently. "Even that could be helpful."

Aura thought long and hard about it, thinking back to that dream she'd had on her first night after waking up near Whiscash's pond. Nothing came immediately, though. Then, just as she was about to give up, something floated up into her thoughts. "Gale," she said without really thinking. "His name was Gale."

"Gale, huh…" Khalil scratched his head thoughtfully. "Never really heard of a Gale. The only Mudkip I've known was that one squirt here last year—Minu, I think his name was."

"Maybe some of the Pokemon from Treasure Town would know?" Dai put in. "Surely someone must know him, or at least have heard of him."

"Wait, what? I don't follow," Aura said, confused. "Why is his name so important?"

"He's someone who knows who you are, Aura," Luma explained. "If he's a part of your past life, he may be able to help us discover more about your identity. He could help restore your memories."

Aura blinked. She hadn't realized that. "But…why go to all that trouble? I mean…" she swallowed, suddenly feeling her throat close up. "You hardly even know me!" she burst out. "You've all done so much for me, but you don't know who I really am! For all you know I could be a terrible Pokemon! I could have done something unforgivable, and you wouldn't even know until it came back to hurt you all! I don't deserve all your help! I…" Feeling something cool brush her paw, she reached up to touch her face and was shocked to find herself crying. "I mean…I haven't even done anything for you all, and you…and you all are just doing so much for me!" Her voice wavered as she went on. "I'm just so useless! All I ever do is take and take from the others around me, and I never even give anything back! I can't do anything to keep you all from getting hurt! What kind of friend lets their friend get hurt and doesn't do anything about it? I'm only cheating you all!"

"Aura, no."

Feeling a bandaged paw touch her own wrist, Aura looked up through the sheen of tears to see Dai looking at her with a kindly expression. "You are not useless," she said calmly. "Maybe you haven't realized it yet, but you've already done plenty for us. You have strength, Aura. People look at you, and they see someone who can keep going through the bad times even though you're already so battered and scared. They see someone with the power to endure, and that gives them hope for the future. Everybody here, fugitive or not, is able to believe better times will come because of Pokemon like you. But letting others know how helpless you feel doesn't make you weak, Aura. It takes real strength to admit when you don't know how to go on—I've learned that. Only by admitting our fears can we overcome them and grow to become stronger Pokemon in the end—not just physically, but in spirit, too."

"And regardless of whatever kind of past you may have had," Luma joined in, "none of that matters. What matters is the here, and the now—you're here now, and we all know you're a good Pokemon by heart. If you weren't, we wouldn't be with you."

Aura sniffled, fully aware of her eyes stinging. "You guys…"

A paw gently rubbed her back in comfort. She looked over to see it was Raichu patting her, a reassuring and unusually sensible smile on her face. "Guys…" she began again.

- - -

"What are you doing here?!"

Suddenly, a searing pain, in his shoulder. A roar of agony escapes his throat as he throws himself to the side, just barely dodging the stabbing beak that was aimed to impale his heart. His efforts are fruitless, though, as a wing smashes his face, needle-sharp feathers detaching themselves and lodging deep into his flesh.

"I warned you never to return!" the might voice shrieks. "You dare to trespass on my domain?! You rush to your death!"

He staggers backwards, his rear leg nearly buckling as his broken foot jams against the ground. Blood is flowing heavily from his wounds, staining his snow-white fur in his life's force and dizzying his vision. "I know it's insane, but listen to me!" he shouts, desperately hoping to make this beast see sense before it decides to shish-kabob him. "They're going to be coming for you next, there's no way you can expect to be able to defend yourself or this mountain against all of them! And what happens then?! You're just going to let them march up here and kill you? Don't fool yourself, they—"

"Silence! I've had enough of your nonsense!" the harsh caw splits the air. "You will die, as an example to other fools who dare test my authority!"

To his dismay, the air suddenly goes flat. Wind stops blowing, and a heavy feeling weighs down on his fur. He knows this tingling. He already was struck by this coming attack once three-hundred and twenty years ago. It was a miracle he even survived, and only then because of the interference of outside forces. Now, however, survival is doubtful. Already electricity is thronging around his foe, gathering to a near blinding intensity. "Now, be slain, and take joy in your swift death! TAKE TH—"

White, glinting scythe claws suddenly lash out of nowhere, interrupting the bird midsentence, slashing through the very veil of space.

Everything goes red…

- - -

"Aura! For Arceus' sake, wake her up, hurry! Aura!"

With a strangled gasp Aura's eyes shot open, her vision still swimming with deep crimson clouds. She was just barely able to make out the silhouettes of the faces staring down worriedly at her.

A scream, was all she could think. It happened again…another dimensional scream… Then full realization hit her of what she had seen, and with a desperate lurch she struggled to sit up.

"Absol!" she cried, nearly wild with fear. "He was hurt! They attacked him, and he was hurt! He—"

A hand placed itself over her mouth, cutting off her speech. "Raichu, Khalil," a cool, commanding voice ordered. "Get her to the infirmary. Let Razor know what happened, and tell her to come as soon as possible."

Alakazam?!

Aura's eyes widened, and she wrenched her muzzle out from under the hand. "I can't go lie down!" she protested. "I told you, Absol's in danger! We have to help him! I have to go help—"

"Aura, c'mon," Khalil sounded pleading. "You can't just go running off when you're still barely able to think straight. Don't make us have to force you, because we will. Please, Aura, don't. I really don't want to have to…"

Looking over at his and Raichu's faces, Aura saw the solemn sense of urgency in both, and fully believed every word Khalil said. With reluctance she allowed herself to be led out, leaving Alakazam in the room with Dai and Luma.

Nobody said anything for a moment—all three just sat there in silence. Then, at last, Alakazam's gaze met Luma's. Luma soon got the message.

"I understand." He nodded and stood, heading out of the room. "Dai, is it okay if I come back tomorrow?" he asked, keeping a calm, mild air in an attempt to keep the Espeon calm.

Dai, however, was far from calm. Aura's outburst had shaken her deeply—and what about Absol? God, no, not him too…first Blaziken, and now him, please, no… "S…sure," she stammered. Luma continued to linger at the door, uncertain of leaving, but after a bit departed.

Dai shifted uncomfortably, waiting for Alakazam to speak. Elder and pupil sat in silence for a while longer. Soon she recognized the faint tendrils probing through her mind, searching through her emotions. Under Alakazam's mental influence her fear began to die down a little, enough so that at least she could stay calm while talking.

"Alakazam…" she said, and hesitated, unsure of how to continue. "…you're back," was all she could come up with.

Alakazam nodded.

"Are they okay? Tyranitar and Charizard?"

A slight pause, and then another nod. "It seemed Charizard had left in search of something. He is unharmed."

"I'm glad…"

"I understand you had something of a rough return yourself," he added. "It relieves us all to see you recovering at such a good rate. The experience at Delta Pass was not a good one."

Dai bit her lip, feeling sadness rise again at the reminder. "No…"

"Part of the rescue leader's job is to endure catastrophe, to see their mission through to the end. The difficulties one encounters are important in shaping our destinies and who we become. But too much has been going on as of late." He shook his head sadly. "Perhaps the remainder of the illness is stemmed from all the tragedy you've been forced to witness. It is probably time you were able to witness for once the growth of a good thing, rather than so much death and destruction. But it may be a while yet…"

"Alakazam, the village…" Dai found herself struggling again to speak. "It's not really…gone, is it? Tell me it isn't…"

"It is." Alakazam sighed. All at once Dai felt incredibly small and overwhelmed. Before she could say anything, though, Alakazam spoke again.

"I also understand you fully intend to return to Delta Pass once you recover. To search for Blaziken."

Startled, Dai's eyes shot up to Alakazam's face, widening. Alakazam smiled wryly. "You never were fully able to mask your intentions from prying minds," he said simply.

Dai swallowed and lowered her head guiltily. "Y…yeah…."

"No worries, Darienne, I have no intentions of stopping you from going to the aid of your teammate—no, your friend. But with all that has happened, the Rescue Team Organization has strictly forbidden any one from heading into that dungeon. Any Pokemon trespassing through the boundaries of Delta Pass will be arrested on account of direct treason to the Organization and disturbance of the peace. Knowing that, you'll still go?"

Dai looked up again. Her eyes became stronger, more determined. "Yes. I do. I'm not going to leave Blaziken there to meet his fate. He would do the same for me."

The faint hint of a genuine smile crossed onto Alakazam's face, pleased. "Very well. You speak good words. When the time comes, you will have my support."

Relief washed through Dai—relief that she wasn't being talked out of it, and relief to have someone backing her up. "Thanks, Alakazam—I mean, thank you."

"But," Alakazam put in, standing to leave, "be prepared for great changes in the future. There is going to be a good deal of turmoil ahead, and peace is a long ways away. I can sense discoveries looming on the horizon, and not all of them are good."

His eyes held hers, solemn and foreboding.

"There is a chance, Darienne, that one of us may meet an end in blood. Death hovers over us, and the time is approaching when it will claim its toll."

TBC…