Well, that took a while.

Sorry, but I recently got a job. With that and a trip to Italy a couple months ago—and a little writer's block-it's been hard to find time to write. Still, I managed to crank this out, so I hope you enjoy it.

And now, for the epic conclusion to the doomed Treasure Town mini-arc, and the final fate of Doctor Tarantulas. Thanks for sticking with me and being patient with my infrequent updates, I promise it'll all be worth it. Probably.

Also, I recently wrote a few My Little Pony one-shots, so if any of you want to check those out, you can find them on my profile.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything that doesn't belong to me.

In the skies above the remains of Treasure Town…

"This is Valerie Osagawara reporting live from the scene of the titanic battle against the Arachnoblast," the Kirlia ace reporter said, speaking loudly to be heard over the whirling rotors of the chopper she was currently in and the explosions bursting in the air outside as they circled the giant robot spider and the dozens of battleships and soldiers from a variety of different nations bombarded the monstrosity, trying to penetrate its shields and avoid the projectiles it was flinging back using its repulsor fields alongside its own heavy artillery. The numerous wrecks lining the slopes of the crater the Arachnoblast was perched on top of, lying in pieces across the barren wasteland, or smoking in the nearby bay, told a grim tale of how well that was working. "As you can see from the view behind me, the allied forces are doing their best to fight the Nihilator juggernaut, but to no avail. The only one who seems to be doing anything to hinder the metal monster in the least is the giant undead Crawdaunt known as Polly, but even he can only withstand so much of that thing's firepower before his shell breaks. And with Lugia, who appeared several minutes ago only to disappear again, nowhere in sight and the legendary Peeko XII shipwrecked, the question on everyone's mind is: where is Grobnar son of Grobnar?" She flushed, realizing what she'd just said, and quickly amended her statement. "Er, I mean, how can we possibly defeat this beast?"

Suddenly, there were several explosions in the background…and while normally that wouldn't be anything new, what was different about these blasts was that they seemed to have originated from inside the Arachnoblast, rupturing some of its hull and causing smoke and flames to billow out while the whole machine shook and nearly lost its footing. Emboldened by this, Polly shrieked and pulled all the harder on the leg he'd been wrestling with. Weakened by an explosion near the joint where it connected to the body, the limb was wrenched off with the tortured shriek of rent metal. Rather than throwing the leg away, Polly used his considerable might to raise the limb into the air and bring it back down on the Arachnoblast's side with a resounding crash, caving in part of its side and causing it to stagger back, its remaining limbs scrambling to maintain their footing and keep its spherical core level. A triumphant cry rang out from the troops, and they opened fire with renewed vigor.

"Oh…oh my!" said an astonished Valerie. "Did you just see that?! Something just did serious damage to the Arachnoblast from inside! But who could be responsible for this act of sabotage? Was it Nihilator incompetence, or…hold on…zoom in on the top of the Arachnoblast, I think I see someone up there!" Grobnar son of Grobnar, could that be you? She wondered hopefully.

As it turned out, it wasn't Grobnar son of Grobnar. It was someone equally surprising, though. "Give it up, matey! Me crew are ransacking yer ship from top to bottom as we speak, it's only a matter of time before we sink this vessel as we have so many others over the years! Fitting payback for what ye did to the Peeko!" Acting Captain Barbedo taunted, lazily twirling his massive sword about.

His opponent, the commander of the Arachnoblast and leader of the Nihilator invasion in Doctor Tarantulas' absence, was not impressed. "Your ship, though magnificent, is a relic of a bygone age, old man, just as much as you are," the commander, an armored Primeape wearing thick glasses and a heavy-duty headset named Gorigan, sneered.

"Ha! A relic? Could a relic be killing your goons and raiding your ship?" Barbedo boasted.

"Considering how many other living relics exist in this world? Yeah, I'd say they could," Gorigan said. "But none of them are humans. Your species died out a thousand years ago, old man. Your era has ended. Heck, considering you're from the golden age of piracy, I'd say your era's been over even longer than that, you just never got the memo. You have no place in this world any longer. I think it's time you and your crew went the way of the rest of your species and faded away into the history books, never to be seen again!"

Barbedo scoffed. "Humanity? Extinct? Preposterous!"

"Oh? How do you figure? You're the first human I've ever seen…and given that you're a walking skeleton, I hesitate to really call you 'human,'" Gorigan sneered.

Barbedo smirked. "So long as there is still life in me bones, and the bones of me shipmates, then the human race is never truly gone!"

Gorigan grinned. "Then I'll enjoy breaking your bones…and wiping out the last vestige of your worthless race once and for all!"

Barbedo brandished his sword. "Ye can try."

"Oh, I intend to," Gorigan said, drawing his own weapon, a rather large monkey wrench. (Get it?) "Let's see how those immortal bones of yours stand up to the awesome power of Shadow! Rrrrraaaahhhhh!" His muscles bulged as Shadow Aura erupted all around him.

He punched the air with his free fist, causing a tornado of Shadow energy to whip out and spin across the ground towards Barbedo. Shouting a battle cry of his own, Barbedo charged forwards and swung his sword at the Shadow Storm, ripping it to shreds with a single sweep of his blade. Gorigan backflipped before Barbedo could reach him and punched the air again several times, sending out more Shadow Storms. The pirate king bobbed and weaved around the tornados, dissipating some of them with swings from his sword, and allowing others to smash into his body and cover him in flames of Shadow which seemed to have no effect other than making him give off purple-black smoke. Gorigan hopped about, hooting and screeching manically, before charging towards Barbedo with a Shadow Rush. Barbedo swung his sword, intending to smash the Primeape away…

Only for the charging simian to leap at the last second, using the momentum from his Rush to jump over the swing and Barbedo's head, lashing out with a foot as he arced above the pirate and smashing his heel into the back of the Acting Captain's skull, knocking him off balance. Gorigan landed, spun around, and thrust his wrench forward, driving it into Barbedo's spine.

Unfortunately for the Primeape, Barbedo's spine was coated in gold, and all that happened was he got his tool stuck on one of the pirate's vertebrae. Regaining his footing, Barbedo spun around, knocking Gorigan away. Before the Primeape could recover, Barbedo pulled several bombs off his belt, ripped out the pins in his teeth, and hurled the explosives at the monkey. Narrowing his eyes under his glasses, Gorigan's fists jabbed at the air in front of him repeatedly with Fury Swipes, knocking the bombs away and causing them to explode harmlessly. Barbedo came charging through the smoke cloud generated by the blasts, bringing his sword down in an overhead chop. Gorigan caught the sword in his gloves and brought his feet up in a Low Kick, smashing his heels into Barbedo's chin and shoving him back, causing him to lose his grip on his sword in the process. Gorigan flipped the blade over so he was holding it by its hilt and thrust the sword forward, driving it into Barbedo's gut and out his back. The pirate gasped…

Then grabbed the edges of the sword and pulled on them, pushing the sword further into his body and also pulling the startled Gorigan closer to him. He brought his skull down in a powerful headbutt that shattered the ape's glasses and sent him flying back. As Barbedo wrenched the sword out of his chest, Gorigan staggered, shaking his head to try and recover…

And then he noticed the bomb at his feet. Barbedo grinned. "What was that about me having no place in this world any longer?"

The bomb exploded, damaging the front of Gorigan's armor and also burning his face. He screamed as he was flung back, bouncing and sliding across the top of the Arachnoblast and coming close to falling off the side. Fortunately for him, some of his henchmons were monitoring the fight, and a turret quickly arose from the hull right in his path, blocking his fall. Gorigan grinned as more turrets rose up and swiveled to point their barrels at the startled Barbedo. "I'd say it was spot on, old-timer."

The cannons fired in unison, causing Barbedo to be engulfed in a tremendous explosion. Gorigan laughed and hooted maniacally…

Until several bombs whistled through the air from the smoke cloud, flying down the barrels of the cannons and causing them to explode. The Primeape gawked incredulously. "What?!"

Barbedo stormed out of the smoke and flames, wreathed in fire due to his coat and hat having been ignited by the explosion. Not seeming to notice or even be bothered by the fire, Barbedo marched towards the shocked Gorigan, a rictus grin on his skeletal features. "Is that all ye got, lad?"

"N-no! Not even slightly!" Gorigan said, pounding on the hull underneath him. On cue, several dozen more turrets rose up and started shooting at Barbedo.

Laughing, the old pirate charged at the cannons. Laser blasts and rockets smashed into him, ripping what was left of his clothing to shreds and knocking bones off of his body, but he kept coming, cackling madly. He swung his sword constantly in front of him, deflecting energy bolts and rockets, causing them to strike the ground and explode on either side of him. He sliced through every cannon he came across, and although more rose up to impede his progress, he barreled right through them as if they weren't even there. Tentacles shot out of the ground and lashed around his ankles, wrists, and neck, halting his progress and allowing a gargantuan turret, much bigger than the others, to emerge right in front of him and point its colossal barrel at him, charging up and preparing to fire. Grinning—and not the smile of a man about to face his death, either—Barbedo jerked, causing his body to fall to pieces and scatter all over the place just before the cannon could fire, its energy blast rending the air where he had just been standing. Before the weapon could recharge, Barbedo reassembled himself, his constituent bones having slipped out of the tentacles' grasp during his moment of diffusion, grabbed the cannon by the barrel, and with a grunt ripped the entire thing out of its setting and hurled it through the air at Gorigan.

To his credit, the Primeape, after his initial panic, reacted quickly to this new threat; leaping into the air, grabbing the cannon before it could hit him, and flinging it back at Barbedo with Seismic Toss. Still laughing, Barbedo hurled his sword through the air. It spun end over end as it soared towards the cannon, by chance passing right through its barrel and tearing out the back, causing the turret to explode in its wake. Shrieking in surprise, Gorigan quickly crossed his arms in front of him, using a Cross Counter to fling the sword back at Barbedo. The recoil sent him flying, causing him to land on top of one of the Arachnoblast's legs. Seeing this, Barbedo grinned as he caught his sword and whistled. Polly, hearing his master's call, quickly scurried around the rim of the crater towards the leg Gorigan was standing on, ignoring the constant barrage the Arachnoblast was firing into his undead carapace, grabbed the limb, and started pulling with all his might.

Gorigan squawked, flailing his arms about as he tried to keep his balance. Not wanting him to regain it, Barbedo hurled another bomb at the Primeape. Gorigan managed to deflect it with his wildly swinging arms, but in doing so completely lost his balance when the bomb exploded only a few feet away, screeching as he started to fall. Fortunately (for him) a turret popped out of the side of the leg beneath him just before he could plummet to his doom. He grunted as he landed on the platform, and then hooted in delight when a seat and set of controls carved themselves out of the top of the turret. Eagerly grabbing the gun controls, he aimed at Barbedo and opened fire.

Cursing, the pirate king started rolling evasively to try and avoid the turret's shots, the mortars it was launching too big for him to deflect with his sword. Even so, the explosions each volley generated when it hit the top of the Arachnoblast came a little too close to comfort, and he could quickly see that Gorigan was trying to herd him towards the sides so he could fall off. Thinking quickly, he whistled once again. Polly responded at once, shaking the leg as best he could and causing Gorigan's shots to start flying wild as he was jostled in his cockpit. As the Primeape snarled in frustration, Barbedo took advantage of the brief reprieve to run towards the base of the limb Gorigan's cannon was attached to, angling for the opposite side so that he would be out of the ape's line of fire.

He hadn't counted on a track suddenly forming on the surface of the leg, and the turret running across it so it now had the pirate in its sights again. "Gotcha!" Gorigan shouted, pressing the fire button, lobbing a powerful explosive at Barbedo.

Thinking quickly, Barbedo grabbed a bomb and hurled it at the shot as it was leaving the cannon's barrel. The two projectiles collided in midair and exploded, causing a thick cloud of smoke to form between them. Coughing and hacking as the wind blew the smoke into his face, Gorigan squinted through watery eyes, trying to make out his opponent. "What the…where did he go?!"

"Right here!" Barbedo roared as he dropped down on Gorigan from above, blade pointed downwards to skewer the Primeape. Shrieking, Gorigan jumped out of the turret just in time, and Barbedo crashed into it, causing the whole thing to explode. Gorigan flew through the air towards the next closest leg, arms windmilling frantically as he tried to reach the relative safety of the limb. His eyes widened in horror as his trajectory turned out to be too shallow, and he started to pass beneath the leg…

Only for a set of handholds to spring out of the underside. Praising Giratina and reminding himself to give the guys down in the control center a raise, Gorigan quickly grabbed onto the closest handhold before he could fall to his death. Sighing in relief, he prepared to swing his way from grip to grip back to the top of the leg to safety…

When his blood froze as he heard a familiar voice say, "Nice view from up here, wouldn't you say?"

Screeching in alarm, Gorigan twisted about to see Barbedo casually dangling from a handhold just behind him. "H-how are you-"

"I'm a pirate, lad, climbing rigging's something I be used to. Though not quite like this," Barbedo admitted. "Ah well, it won't be the first time I've fought at high altitudes. En garde!" he said, swinging his sword at Gorigan.

Hooting angrily, the Primeape drew another wrench and raised it to meet Barbedo's blade. The recoil from their weapons clashing nearly caused him to lose his grip, so he quickly flipped upside-down to grab the handhold with his feet, drew a second wrench, and brought them both up to counter Barbedo's next attack. The two spent a few minutes furiously sword/wrench-fighting while hopping from handhold to handold along the underside of the Arachnoblast's leg, neither managing to get an edge over the other. Quickly realizing that this wasn't working, Barbedo decided to fall back on the old pirate standby: cheating. He whistled, and Polly quickly scurried over and started shaking the leg they were dangling from.

"What are you doing?!" Gorigan hooted in alarm as he struggled to maintain his grip. "We'll both fall!"

"I can survive a measly drop like this," Barbedo boasted. "Can you?"

"No…but that's not a problem if I don't fall in the first place!" Gorigan said, turning tail and fleeing, swinging from handhold to handhold away from Barbedo.

"Hey! Get back here!" Barbedo cried, sheathing his sword so he could use both hands and swinging after Gorigan.

Or at least, he tried to. That's when the handholds retracted back into the sides of the Arachnoblast's leg, leaving him nothing to hang onto. With a startled cry, he began to fall, wondering as he did so why they hadn't done that before. (The answer was because the Nihilators in the control center had thought watching the pirate captain and the commander duke it out while hanging beneath a giant robot leg was too awesome to ruin.)

Gorigan, hearing the pirate's cries as he plummeted away, cackled and hooted as he finished climbing back up to the top of the leg. "I told you, old man…your kind has no place in this world anymore!" He paused, hearing something strange drown out the noise of battle…it sounded almost like a…helicopter?

His eyes widened in disbelief as a Draconian News Network helicopter suddenly rose dramatically into view, a psychokinetic shield generated by a smartly-dressed Kirlia standing in the chopper's open doors deflecting the artillery the Arachnoblast was hurling at it, though just barely. And naturally enough, hanging from the landing gear with a shit-eating grin on his face, was none other than Acting-Captain Barbedo. "Oh, COME ON!"

"Ha! You didn't really think you'd gotten rid of me that easily, did you?" Barbedo taunted as he swung off the landing gear and landed on the leg just in front of the shocked Primeape. He turned briefly to wave to the Kirlia. "Thanks for the help, Mrs. Osagawara!"

"No problem! But remember, you promised me an exclusive interview!" Valerie shouted to the pirate over the roar of the rotors.

"And ye'll have it…just as soon as I teach this Mankey a lesson he won't forget!" Barbedo said, drawing his sword again.

Gorigan howled in wordless fury. Several turrets emerged from the sides of the leg and started opening fire on the helicopter. Valerie winced as the shots impacted against her barrier, causing the psychic shield to flicker. "Mrs. Osagawara, we have to get out of here!" the helicopter pilot said frantically. "It's too dangerous! I can't imagine how you even managed to convince me to fly this close to begin with!"

"All right, all right, let's get out of here," Valerie said reluctantly, wincing as another volley impacted against her shield. "But not too far…I don't want to miss a second of this!"

As the helicopter retreated, Barbedo chuckled and twirled his sword about. "Well, what do ye say, lad? Shall we give a good show for the pretty lady and the viewing public?"

"I WILL END YOU!" Gorigan screamed, eyes glowing red, muscles bulking up and Shadow Aura blazing outwards as he used Rage. Screaming incoherently, he charged at Barbedo, swinging his now-flaming wrenches frenziedly at the pirate king.

Barbedo smirked in amusement. "Many have tried, lad…most of 'em better than you! And yet, I'm still here!" He hopped backwards as Gorigan lashed out again and again, casually parrying and deflecting the Primeape's wild blows, the simian's fury causing his technique to grow sloppy and easy to predict. When a particularly powerful swing went wild, Barbedo stepped to the side and brought his sword up in a flourish, disarming the Primeape. Literally. As in, he cut off one of his arms. "Whoops," Barbedo said with a grin as Gorigan screamed and staggered backwards, blood spewing from his elbow as the rest of his arm tumbled off the side of the leg. "I was aiming for the wrench."

"You…you bastard!" Gorigan shouted.

"Hey now, me parents were fine, upstanding folk who wholeheartedly approved of me going into piracy and got married before conceiving me!" Barbedo said, offended. He sighed wistfully. "Ah, how I miss them…one of the few drawbacks of immortality, ye outlive some of the people ye care about. Ah well, at least I've still got me crew. They're all the family I need now, especially since our era is, as you yourself put it, at an end. But that's something ye wouldn't know a thing about, would ye?"

"What are you babbling about now?!" Gorigan demanded as he stumbled back, clutching his arm to try and stave the flow of blood.

"I've sailed all seven seas, and traveled all over this fine world of ours. I've pillaged countless villages and ships and civilizations, looted all kinds of treasure and riches, seen wonders and had adventures the likes of which you couldn't possibly imagine…but if there's one thing I've learned in my thousands of years of life, it's that true friends are a treasure greater than any gold or jewels. I value me crew above anything else, even me ship or me hoard…because those things come and go, but true friends and comrades are something ye should never let slide," Barbedo said sternly. "And that is something you Nihilators can never understand…and it's why you'll lose. It's why your kind will always lose."

"Look around you, old man. Does it look like we're losing?!" Gorigan snarled.

"Ye're surrounded by dozens of warships and I'm about to kill ye. Looks that way to me," Barbedo said, walking forwards.

"We've taken down dozens of warships already, and will continue to do so, no matter how much damage you or your anachronistic cohorts cause," Gorigan countered. "And I am only one mon, and there are thousands more like me. So long as even one of us still stands, the Nihilator cause shall never be defeated. And even if we should fail here, you can't stop what's coming. Even as we speak, Doctor Tarantulas is finishing his plan. You've already lost, but you're too stupid to realize it!"

Barbedo glanced at something over Gorigan's shoulder and grinned. "Ye sure it's not the other way around?"

Gorigan snorted. "Please, like I'm going to fall for that-"

And that's when a powerful horizontal cyclone of water guided from within by a spinning Lugia slammed into the side of the Arachnoblast, shredding its shields like wet paper and drilling straight through to the other side, tearing a gargantuan hole in its wake. Lugia spread his wings and grinned as he slowed his spin, the waters from his Whirlpool attack splashing down on the plains around him and washing away some of the soldiers scattered below. (Don't worry, they all survived. They were a tough bunch.) It had taken a while to gather enough water and momentum to pull off that trick, but by the looks of it, it had been well worth the effort. "And that is how you kill a spider."

"No! NononoNO!" Gorigan screamed in horror as the Arachnoblast shook, explosions wracking its form as it teetered back and forth, its legs losing their strength. "This…this can't be happening! You can't do this to us!"

Barbedo laughed. "Haven't ye been paying attention, lad? This is the fate that always awaits yer kind!"

Gorigan sneered. "The last laugh is on you, old man! When this thing goes, the reactor'll blow and wipe out everything for miles! I'd like to see your immortality recover from that!"

"Huh. Is that so?" Barbedo asked, not looking the least bit worried.

"Then I suppose it's a good thing I snatched your machines' reactor core as I was smashing through it," Lugia said as he flew into view, holding a large piece of sparking and complex-looking machinery in his telekinetic grip. "To make sure it wouldn't go critical and do something like that."

Gorigan's eyes widened in horror. "WHAT?!"

"And with that, I think it's time for me to take my leave," Barbedo said, turning towards Lugia. "Don't suppose I could trouble you for a lift?"

The sea god made a face. "I'm not really comfortable carrying pirates around…but I suppose I should, since you're a friend of Ash's. Should we pick up your crewmates?"

"Nah, they'll be fine," Barbedo said, seeing his shipmates leaping from the many gaping holes in the hull of the trembling and collapsing Arachnoblast, heedless of the great height they were at. "Heck, I'd probably jump as well, but as Acting-Captain I have to make my exit with style!"

Lugia rolled his eyes. "If you say so." He lowered his neck and reluctantly allowed the pirate to climb onto his back.

"W-wait! Aren't you going to kill me?!" Gorigan asked.

"Now why would I want to do a fool thing like that?" Barbedo asked with a grin. "After all, a captain always goes down with his ship!" He threw back his head and laughed and laughed and laughed as Lugia spread his wings and took flight, leaving the wounded Primeape to his fate.

Gorigan stared at the great white bird and golden pirate as they flew to safety, and the Arachnoblast began to fall to pieces all around him. "Was…was he right?" he wondered quietly to himself as the leg he was standing on began to tear itself apart with a metallic groan. "Did…we ever stand a chance?"

And then the leg collapsed, and he fell, and knew no more.

Down on the slopes of the crater, a panting and exhausted Grobnar son of Grobnar stumbled towards one of the Arachnoblast's legs, which was standing on the rim just in front of him. Perhaps it hadn't been such a good idea for him to run across the blasted plains and scale the slopes in such heavy armor after all. Wheezing and teetering on the brink of passing out from dehydration, the brain-damaged Vigoroth glared defiantly at the giant metal limb standing before him. "This…this is…for Grobnar son of Grobnar's Draconian brethren!" With an incredibly lame mewl, he weakly swung his war flail at the leg and lightly smacked it on the side.

There was a long, low groan. More explosions erupted from the sides of the damaged Arachnoblast, and several of its legs came off, crashing down on the slopes of the crater and a few even falling inside, forcing the soldiers on the ground to scatter lest they be crushed. Trailing smoke and flames, the mechanical fortress toppled over, crashing down onto the scarred plains nearby, tearing up the earth from its impact, its few remaining limbs splayed all around it, twitching weakly. There were a few more explosions, and then it laid still, columns of smoke and fire rising up with it to mingle with the smog still choking the skies. On the plains, on the allied battleships, and in the flooded streets of the ancient city, cries of joy and victory arose from the triumphant military, and wails of anguish and horror from the few remaining Nihilators, who realized they were soon to be wiped out.

Grobnar son of Grobnar blinked Hoothootishly, staring at the rather large divot and scar in the earth where the leg he'd attacked had just been standing. "Did…did Grobnar son of Grobnar just do that?!" Slowly, a grin came to his face. "Grobnar son of Grobnar…Grobnar son of Grobnar killed the monster! Grobnar son of Grobnar avenged Grobnar son of Grobnar's brethren! Grobnar son of Grobnar is a hero!" Laughing, he lay down to rest, closing his weary eyes. "If only Valerie could see Grobnar son of Grobnar now…"

"Grobnar son of Grobnar!" Valerie yelled.

"In fact, Grobnar son of Grobnar almost thinks Grobnar son of Grobnar can hear Valerie's voice…" the tired Vigoroth mused.

"Grobnar son of Grobnar! There you are! Do you have any idea how worried I was?!" Valerie shouted.

Grobnar son of Grobnar's eyes shot open. "Huh? Valerie?!"

The Kirlia stood over him, an angry and worried look on her face, hands on her hips and the news helicopter hovering some distance away. "What were you thinking, running off like that?! You could have gotten yourself killed!"

"But…Grobnar son of Grobnar saved the day! Grobarn son of Grobnar killed evil spider monster!" the Vigoroth protested, pointing at the downed Arachnoblast nearby.

Valerie opened her mouth to tell him what had really happened…then paused, noticing just how tired her charge looked, and the expression of honest joy on his face. Her heart softened. "Yes, you killed it. Good job, Grobnar son of Grobnar. I'm very proud of you."

Grobnar son of Grobnar smiled blissfully and yawned, his eyelids drooping. "That makes Grobnar son of Grobnar happy…mommy…" His eyes closed, and he drifted off to sleep.

Valerie's eyes widened, her cheeks bright red. A fond smile crossed her face. Out of the corner of her mouth, she muttered to her cameramon, "Did you catch all that?"

"Yes, Ms. Osagawara, every last bit of it," the cameramon said.

"Good boy. I've taught you well," the Kirlia said proudly.

"Haha! Yeah! That was awesome!" Victini cheered among her celebrating troops down in the crater ruins, raising her bloodstained sword into the air. "I knew we'd win, of course…but I wasn't sure how we'd win! I'm glad it was in such a kickass style, too, anything less would have been unworthy of Victini, Goddess of Victory and Lady of Battles!"

"That fight dragged on a little longer than I would have liked…and I'm somewhat annoyed that Lugia wound up dealing the final blow, rather than any of our forces, especially after being gone for so long—but at least the threat is vanquished, and now we can go about mopping up the rest of the Nihilators and securing the Door," Nuken said to his own cheering troops, his talons and shell covered in blood, none of it his own, and not just because he was a hollow shell and didn't actually have any blood.

"Cor, if that weren't a sight to see!" Fat Pete commented, squinting at the downed Arachnoblast from where he, Molly, Tracey, Lieutenant Dino, and some of the pirates were waiting near the wreck of the Peeko XII. "Wish I could've been closer to see it…"

"What, and get stepped on? We're better off out here, far away from trouble," Molly said.

"Yeah…I've had enough of trouble for a long, long time," Tracey said wearily.

"Pah! Where's your spirit of adventure, lad? Ye'd make a terrible pirate!" Pete said scornfully. His expression brightened when he saw Lugia flying towards them, the triumphant Barbedo riding on his back, Polly and the rest of their shipmates marching behind them. "And speaking of pirates…ahoy, Acting Cap'n!"

"Ahooooooooyyyyyyyyyyyy!" the other pirates cheered, waving to Barbedo.

"Yarhar! Chalk up another victory for us pirates, lads! We won!" Barbedo Murkrowed.

"Hurrah!" all the pirates cheered.

"You know, I'm the one who actually destroyed the blasted thing," Lugia grumbled.

"Hush, ye're ruining the moment," Barbedo muttered, causing the sea god to sigh.

Unfortunately, the moment was ruined anyway, as the ground began to shake violently. "Wh-what's going on?!" Fat Pete cried in alarm as he stumbled and tried to keep his footing.

"An aftershock from all the seismic activity that's been going on?" Tracey speculated, tripping and falling on his face.

"A new Nihilator weapon?" Dino guessed worriedly.

Lugia paled and turned about to look at the distant crater. "No… the tower must be rising!"

"The tower?!" Barbedo cried in alarm. "Then…does that mean…the Cap'n and his mates failed?!"

Lugia narrowed his eyes. "I think we're about to find out." Spreading his wings, he flew back in the direction of the crater, and the ruins of Treasure Town.

Several minutes ago…

It had been a long and exhausting dungeon crawl, but the members of Team Aurabolt (and their temporary member, Princess Boa) had finally reached the bottom level of the tower beneath Treasure Town, or what was left of it. "Unless I miss my guess, this is it," Ash said as they stood before a slab with the image of the Door surrounded by the seven Star Badges embossed on it recessed into the end of a long, incredibly trap-filled hallway. "The Doctor should be behind this door."

Leo nodded. "Yeah, it has the look of a boss room entrance to me."

"Then let's go," Pikachu said. "We have to save the Professor and stop Tarantulas before it's too late."

"Oh, wait!" Leo said. "We should blast the door open instead of just going through it!"

"What? Why?" Princess Boa asked in bewilderment.

"Because it's more dramatic, of course," Briney said.

Leo nodded. "Yeah! And Ash, you should yell, 'Not so fast, Doctor Tarantulas!' when we rush in!"

"…Why would I do that?" asked the confused Ash.

"In a situation like this, the Rule of Drama dictates that when we enter the chamber, it will be right in the middle of something important, no doubt the villain about to enact his master plan or do something else truly diabolical," Lily said. "And so you should say something appropriate."

Leo looked at his wife adoringly. "I love you so much right now." She giggled.

Ash rolled his eyes. "They're so cute, aren't they?" Misty said. "I remember when we used to be like that…and then I DIED!"

Ignoring her, Ash said, "I don't think we can smash the door open, especially given how sturdy everything else in this place is."

"I bet I could do it," Briney said, raising his hammer.

"Hmm, yeah…given the magical properties of that thing and how strong you are, that just might do the trick," Leo said, analyzing the door and hammer and comparing the data with his sunglasses.

"Are we really discussing this? Why can't we just open the door?" Boa asked. "I mean, it's not even locked, we just have to touch it and it'll open, if it's anything like the other doors we've seen so far."

"Because we have to make a good entrance!" Leo said.

Briney nodded. "Obviously."

Princess Boa sweatdropped. "It's best not to argue at times like this," Pikachu said. "I learned that the hard way."

"And I suppose it's also best not to point out that while we're standing out here talking, Tarantulas might be doing something horrible in there?" Boa asked.

That's right, Dawn said.

"But don't worry, nothing important will happen while we're talking," Tiny said. "Talking is a Free Action, after all!"

"…I don't want to know, do I?" Boa asked after a moment.

"No. You really don't," Pikachu said.

"Okay lads, here's how we're going to do this," Briney said. "I'm going to swing my hammer at the door and smash it open. Ash, you shout, 'Not so fast, Doctor Tarantulas!' and stride into the room through a smoke cloud Lily will create with her magic like a 'baws' as the younger generation calls it, followed one by one by the rest of us on either side of you, in chronological order of when we joined the team, grim and imposing looks on our faces as we stand at attention next to you. Then you say something cheesy like, 'We're Team Aurabolt, and we're here to save the day!'"

"We really need to work on a better catchphrase…" Leo said.

"We don't have a catchphrase at all," Tiny said.

"Exactly!" Leo said. Tiny sweatdropped.

"Wait, why can't we all step out at the same time?" asked the confused Pikachu.

And why does Ash have to be the first, unlike, say, Master? Dawn asked.

"Having us appear one after the other ups the intimidation factor, which might give us a slight edge on our opposition," Briney said.

"And it's dramatic," Lily said.

"As to why Ash has to go first…he's the leader, so he gets top billing," Leo said. "Or will, once the inevitable movies, games, and television shows about our adventures get made."

"…What?!" said the confused Princess Boa.

"Don't ask. Just…don't," Pikachu said wearily.

"Well, I'm okay with Daddy going first," Tiny said.

"I never agreed to this," Ash said.

"You don't have a choice in the matter," Briney said.

"I'm the leader. Doesn't that mean I do have a choice?" Ash asked.

Briney considered this for a moment. "No," he said finally. Ash sighed in exasperation, knowing there was no point in arguing.

"Why is he giving in so easily?" Boa asked in confusion. "Isn't he the leader? Shouldn't he be able to veto something like this?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Ash asked resignedly.

"I'd suggest we practice, but I don't think we have time for it, so we'll just have to do our best and hope we get it right on the first time," Leo said.

"…We don't have time? But I thought talking was…something," Boa said, even more confused.

"Yeah, but even that has limits," Leo said.

Pikachu's ears twitched. "That's news to me."

"Okay, everyone stand back and get into formation," Briney said, hefting his hammer. "You aren't gonna want to be near me when this door goes down."

"You don't need to tell me twice," Tiny said, quickly backing away with the others.

"I can't believe we're actually doing this," Boa complained.

"You're going to have to get used to it, if you're going to be spending much time with us," Pikachu said.

The Serperior grimaced. "I'm beginning to be relieved I'm only a temporary member of the team…"

"Awww, and here I was hoping you could stick with us after this mission was over," Leo complained.

"Leo, we already have one magic swordsmon. Me. We don't need another," Pikachu said.

"Can't Dawn make an ice sword sometimes?" Tiny asked.

"…Not the same," Pikachu said.

And Sasha's blade attacks could count as swords, Dawn said.

"Not the same," Pikachu said stubbornly.

"And Tiny is going to get a sword of his own when he evolves," Lily pointed out.

"Not. The. Same," Pikachu said through gritted teeth.

"And I can make swords out of my Bone Rush technique," Ash mused.

"And I'm pretty sure I can summon swords with my deck-" Leo said.

"IT'S NOT THE SAME AND THAT IS THE END OF IT," Pikachu said loudly.

Boa sweatdropped. "Yep. Definitely relieved."

"All right," Briney said, tightening his grip while the others quickly arranged themselves on either side of Ash, leaving a gap in the line for the Metagross. "On three. One…two…"

"Tomaru…" Oak whispered, tears running down his cheeks. "What have you done?"

"Technically, Arackaiser did it," Tarantulas grumbled. "But I have no problem taking ze credit in zis instance. And vow, zat's an ugly one. Looks even vorse zan Maelstrom. And speaking of vhich, I already have a name ready for a monster of zis caliber. I zink 'Cerberus' is a fitting name, don't you?"

"The three-headed gatekeeper of the Underworld…" Oak murmured.

"Yep! Like I said, fitting, since ve're pretty much trying to open up ze gates of ze Undervorld…hmm, vonder if zey already have a Cerberus in ze Abyss…oh vell, you're not going to live long enough to find out. Cerberus! KILL SAMUEL OAK!"

The abomination crouched, muscles tensing, ready to pounce…

When suddenly the door to the chamber was smashed open, startling Cerberus and causing it to pause in mid-pounce. Everyone looked to the entryway in surprise as sparkling smoke billowed into the room. "Vh-vhat?!" Tarantulas stammered in alarm. "Vhat is-"

"Not so fast, Doctor Tarantulas!" Ash declared, striding through the smoke imposingly, a steely look in his eyes…which faltered completely when he saw what was waiting for him. "…What the FUCK."

"Ash! You ruined the moment!" Leo's voice hissed from within the smoke.

"It was already ruined for me," Ash said faintly. "Could you guys please get in here and tell me I'm not seeing things?"

Cautiously, the other seven members of Team Aurabolt entered the room—Leo grumbling to himself at how Ash had ruined their big entrance—and stopped and stared at what was already in the room, which stared right back at them, equally nonplussed. "…Well, damn," Briney said after a moment. "And here I thought I'd seen everything."

I have seen many horrifying things in my life, but this has to be among the worst, Dawn said.

"And I thought I knew the evil of the Nihilators…but this…this is something else…" Pikachu said, shaking his head.

"Yeah, I'm gonna see this in my nightmares," Tiny said.

"I was not expecting this, and I expect everything!" Leo said.

"I'd say this was some horrible illusion crafted by my mother…but not even she is this diabolical!" Lily said.

"That monster…how could he create an abomination like this?! To turn the legendary beasts into such a, a travesty!" Princess Boa said angrily.

Team Aurabolt blinked and gave her confused looks. "Huh? What are you talking about?" asked the puzzled Ash.

"What legendary beasts?" Briney asked.

Boa stared at them blankly. "…That three-headed monster over there. That's what you were talking about, wasn't it?"

"Three-headed monster?" Tiny asked. They turned around again and noticed Cerberus. "Oh. That three-headed monster."

"Huh. Talk about failing a spot check," Leo said.

"Yeah, I guess that's pretty bad," Pikachu said.

Why does it have so many exposed muscles and bones? Asked the perplexed Dawn.

"Well, that bird monster had those too, so maybe it's just a strange side effect of the process used to mash the legendaries together," Lily suggested.

"And a good thing for us, since it gives us easy weak spots to aim for!" Briney said.

"That is pretty messed up, though," Ash said. "Of course, not nearly as messed up as what we were talking about earlier." The others nodded in agreement.

Boa gave the Lucario a dumbfounded look. "You weren't talking about that monster? Then what were you talking about?!"

"The army of Chobins. Duh," Leo said.

Briney nodded in agreement. "One of the most horrifying things I've seen in all my years…and I've seen a lot of horrifying things…" He made a face. "And I'm reading all their minds too…oh Arceus, I wish I could unthink that…it's times like this I begin to understand why people keep telling me I need to be more discrete with my psychic powers…"

Boa was incredulous. "You find the army of Sunfloras more shocking than that monster?!"

"If you knew anything about Chobin, you'd be horrified too," Pikachu said.

"For that matter, don't you know about Chobin? We talked all about him in briefings and during the big hearing," Lily said.

Boa did a double-take. "That's Chobin?! From the way everyone described him, I thought he was evil and depravity made flesh. I just see a bunch of short, stunted, nearsighted Sunfloras with…admittedly somewhat creepy looks on their faces, but nothing nearly as bad as everything I've heard!"

Looks can be deceiving, Dawn said.

"The things inside their heads…it's horrible…I think I just threw up a little inside my mouth…" Briney said, turning green.

"Doctor Tarantulas, I knew you were the lowest of the low, but this…this is a whole new level of evil! You've done a lot of awful things, but this? This is just wrong!" Pikachu said angrily.

Tarantulas sweatdropped. "…Seriously? You're more upset by my cloning an army of Chobins zan you are by Cerberus over here?!" He sighed. "And ze embarrassing zing is…I kind of agree wiz you…"

"Don't worry, Tomaru, once they kill all the Chobins here this affront to Arceus and Pokémon can safely be put behind you…just like all the other affronts of yours they've destroyed," Oak said.

"Ve'll see about zat, Oak!" Tarantulas snapped. "And for zat matter…how did you eight get here so fast, anyvay? All ze traps and monsters should have slowed you down vay more zan zat!" He frowned. "And who's ze Serperior? Didn't you have an Absol on your team? Did you replace her or somezing?"

"Nah, she's just a temp," Leo said, causing Boa to frown at him.

"And all the traps and monsters were challenging," Ash admitted. "But with all the new powers and training we've gotten in Fichina, we were more than ready for everything this place could throw at us!"

"That so?" Paul asked as he stepped out from behind Cerberus, gold armor gleaming, the Star Badge on his chest glowing faintly.

Dawn's eyes narrowed and she started trembling with rage. Pikachu quickly put a paw on her shoulder. PAUL.

"Dawn," the Weavile said with a toothy grin. "Long time no see."

Not long enough, Dawn clicked. The last time we fought, I almost killed you. This time, I intend to finish the job.

"You might have a bit more trouble with that than you might think," Paul boasted, showing off his armor. "You aren't the only one who's been training since our last match…I'm even stronger now than I was then, and with this Golden Armor, I'm invincible!"

Dawn frowned. Golden Armor?

"It's a relic from ancient Oblivia," Oak shouted so the heroes could hear him. "It was used by an evil king to gain immortality and control Pokémon!"

"That's right, and now it's mine!" Paul gloated. "Oblivion's Shadow disabled its ability to control Pokémon…but its power of immortality is still mine, and with it, I can't be beaten!"

"Question: if that armor makes its wearer immortal, then why isn't the evil king who used it still around?" Leo asked.

Paul hesitated. "Uh, well…"

Oak laughed. "Now that is certainly a question for the ages, isn't it? There are some in my field who think he grew tired of immortality and gave it up…others think assassins just waited for him to take it off—it's not exactly practical to wear twenty-four seven, after all—and struck when the time was right."

Dawn nodded. That sounds like something a good ninja would do.

"Wh-whatever!" Paul said, flustered. "I'm certainly not taking this thing off for our fight, Dawn…so if an opening exists, you're not going to be able to exploit it!"

Dawn grinned under her helmet. I have been granted the power of a god, Paul. Let's see if your armor can withstand its might…

"From what I hear, the wearer of this thing used to have the power to control gods," Paul said.

Yes, but it doesn't have that power anymore, now does it? Dawn said in bemusement. Let's see just how resilient that thing is without some cheap mind-control trick.

Paul narrowed his eyes and smirked. "I'd be more than happy to put it through its paces against you."

"Great! And vhile you do zat, Viers, Cerberus, and my army of Chobin clones vill make mincemeat out of you!" Tarantulas said.

"Can't," Viers grunted. "I am making music."

"…Seriously?! Ze good guys are right here! Can't you stop playing zat organ for a little vhile and take care of zem?!" Tarantulas said incredulously.

Viers paused to think about this for several seconds. "No," he said finally, with great deliberation. Tarantulas sighed.

"Bring it on, Tarantulas! We'll beat your army AND Cerberus AND save Professor Oak AND kick your ass!" Tiny roared.

"Heh, you tell him, Tiny!" Ash said.

The Slowking smiled. "I'm grateful all of you came so far to save me…but Ash, everyone, you mustn't kill Cerberus, it's being controlled by Tarantulas! You need to purify it and return it to its original form! Er, forms!"

"Don't worry, Professor, we already know the beasts are being mind-controlled, Bob and Dean told us. I have no intention of killing them," Ash promised the Professor.

"Wouldn't be the first legendary you've killed," Misty commented, causing him to flinch.

"But how are we to separate that atrocity back into its original forms?" Boa wondered.

"Ha, don't worry, I already have that covered," Leo said, drawing a card from his belt. "I thought something like this might happen, so prepared accordingly!"

"Don't you always?" Lily said lovingly.

Blushing under his mask, Leo raised his left arm. There was a flurry of golden fiery feathers, and his Duel Disk suddenly appeared on it. Much like the rest of his body, the Disk had been given a makeover; it now looked to be made of gold and copper over black, with a glittering wing unfolding from the side, each long gilded plume providing a slot for him to stick a card into. "I freely admit this is a bit of a cop-out—that Cerberus thing looks like it'd make for a great boss fight—but I'm not stupid enough to make things harder for everyone for the sake of drama."

"CoughTwilight'sEdgecough," Pikachu didn't cough.

Leo glared at him. "Again, that is." He slapped the card he was holding onto one of the panels made by the wing's feathers. "Poke-Modify: De-Fusion, activate!"

"SPLIT VENT," Choc-Oboh's voice echoed from the Duel Disk as the card and the mark on Leo's back glowed golden. Much to Tarantulas' surprise, Cerberus started glowing golden, too.

"Vhat? Vhat are you-" There was a flash of light, and suddenly where Cerberus had been standing were the three beasts, still in Hyper Mode. "Vhat?! NO!"

"Yatta!" Leo cheered, causing all the Sunfloras in the room to stiffen. Briney frowned, sensing…something worrying.

Oak sighed in relief. "Ah, that's better. Now the only eyesore left is all those awful Chobins."

"Nice one, Leo," Ash said.

"Very quick thinking on your part," Pikachu agreed.

That should even the odds a bit, Dawn said.

"Yeah, except for the fact that we have to fight three legendary Pokémon now instead of just one," Tiny pointed out.

"It'll be easier this way. Probably," Leo said, though he didn't sound entirely certain. "Plus, it'll mean more potential for awesome fight scenes!"

"Which is what really matters," Pikachu said sarcastically.

"Precisely!" Leo said. Pikachu shook his head in amusement.

"My beautiful creation!" Tarantulas screamed. "Grrr…you zink zis means anyzing?! My combininator is still fully operational! I'll just blast zem again! Chobin, do your zing!" There was no response. "Chobin? I said, Chobin, do your zing!" Still no response. "Oh, vait, silly me. Chobin wearing glasses who I'm sitting on top of, do your zing!" Again, no response. "…Chobin?"

Briney's eyes widened as he suddenly realized what, precisely, he was sensing. "Uh, Leo?"

"Yes?" Leo asked.

"I think you might be in a lot of trouble," the Metagross said.

Leo frowned. "Trouble? What do you…" He froze. "Oh. Oh no."

"What? What is it?" asked the confused Boa as looks of horrified realization crossed everyone's faces.

"I think we're about to run into a problem a lot worse than a three-headed Shadow Pokémon," Pikachu said.

Boa blinked. "And that would be…?"

"Turtle…Titan…" Chobin rasped, eyes staring at Leo, his leaf gripping the control mechanism for the Combininator so hard it broke apart in a shower of sparks and bits of metal.

"Turtle…Titan…" another Chobin whispered.

"Turtle Titan…Turtle Titan…Turtle Titan…TURTLE TITAN…" the hundreds of Sunfloras started chanting in unison, their eyes glowing red.

"Aw, crap," Leo said.

"The fuck?" asked a confused Paul.

"No, no, no, no! Not zis again!" Tarantulas screamed desperately.

"What's happening?!" Princess Boa demanded.

"Chobin's evil(er) alter ego based off his online persona, Arackaiser, has resurfaced from his subconscious to usurp control of his mind, no doubt dredged from the depths due to hearing my catchphrase—which is also the catchphrase of my online persona and Arackaiser's nemesis, Turtle Titan—triggering his repressed memories of the last time we fought and giving him the opportunity to have his revenge! Again!" Leo said. "Oh, and since there's like a gajillion clones of him, it's happening to all of them at once. Which probably isn't a good thing."

Boa stared at Leo blankly. "No, really, what's going on?"

"He's telling the truth," Pikachu said miserably.

Boa stared at him incredulously. "…Seriously?!"

"Unfortunately, yes," Ash said unhappily.

"This is gonna suck, isn't it?" Tiny groaned.

"Probably," Briney agreed.

"Hmm. Fascinating," Oak said, intrigued.

"TURTLE TITAN!" the Chobin wearing Tarantulas as a hat shouted, whipping off his glasses and flinging them away, a steely look in his eyes as he slipped a monocle on and stood up a lot straighter and more menacingly, as did his many clones. "You probably thought you'd seen the last of me after you destroyed my mighty Arachnoblast and thwarted my plans to conquer the Magic Kingdom, didn't you? Well, as you can see, I have survived, and am once again-"

"Actually, I kinda figured you survived," Leo interrupted.

Arackaiser blinked. "Really?"

"Well, yeah, you always do," Leo pointed out.

"Hmm. True," Arackaiser admitted. "As I was saying…while you're a bit ahead of schedule, you're still just in time to witness my latest triumph! Once I break the seal on this great tower, I will be able to open the Door to the Abyss and achieve limitless power!"

"You won't be able to do that without all seven Star Badges!" Leo pointed out.

"I already have four in my possession, and it won't be long until I obtain the other three!" Arackaiser said smugly. "And after I've destroyed you and the rest of Team Turtle, there will be nobody left to stop me!"

"Who now?" asked the confused Boa.

"Us," Briney said. "He thinks we're Leo's superhero teammates."

"…What?!" the Serperior asked.

"Trust me, it's not nearly as ridiculous as the time Leo thought he was a pirate," Ash said. He paused. "Okay, maybe about as ridiculous."

"Hey!" Leo said.

"I thought you were a very sweet pirate," Lily said, causing Leo to blush.

Even if you were to defeat us—which is very unlikely—Dawn clicked, I wouldn't say there is 'nobody left to stop you.' The entire world is united against your evil, and even as we speak several armies have gathered to fight the Arachnoblast you brought here.

"Pah! Those fools don't stand a chance against the power I will soon command!" Arackaiser scoffed. "The only ones who I truly consider to be a threat to my plans are right in this room…and against my brainwashed legendary beasts, Zhu Bajie-"

"Who?" Viers asked.

Arackaiser faceleafed. "YOU, you idiot!"

"Oh. Right," Viers—or rather, Zhu Bajie-said awkwardly.

"The Slicer-" Arackaiser continued.

"The who now?" asked a confused Paul.

"Zat's you," Tarantulas said miserably. "Just play along viz it, zere's no point in arguing."

"The hell there is. Why should I go along with this charade?" Paul snorted.

"Because you'll get to kill Dawn," Tarantulas said.

Paul considered this. "Okay, that's a good reason," he admitted.

"My horde of robot spiders," Arackaiser went on. "And, of course, my army of clones!"

"Gyahahahahahahahaha!" the Arackaiser clones laughed.

"Vait, vhat about me?" Tarantulas asked.

"What about you?" Arackaiser asked.

"You didn't mention me!" Tarantulas protested.

"Well, you're nothing but a hat now, Spydor. There isn't really anything you can do now but make me look good. Not that I really need it," Arackaiser said dismissively, causing Tarantulas to sputter in disbelief.

"If it's any consolation, you make quite a nice hat," Oak said with a grin. He patted the Shellder on his head fondly. "Can't go wrong with a nice hat. You never know when it'll come in handy."

"Shut up, Samuel!" Tarantulas screamed.

"All right guys, this isn't going to be an easy fight, but we-" Ash started.

"Hold it, Aura Kid," Leo said.

"Who?" Ash asked in confusion.

"I think that's you," Briney said.

"…What?!" Ash said.

"Leo, do you think you're Turtle Titan now?" Lily asked in concern.

"No babe, I'm just playing along. I have a plan," Leo murmured to her.

"Oh, all right," the Mismagius said in relief.

"This should be…interesting…" Pikachu said, a look of resignation on his face.

"What is happening?" asked a very confused Boa.

We ask ourselves that whenever he opens his mouth, Dawn said.

"All right, Arackaiser, while I admit you've got us pretty outnumbered, there are three things you should consider," Leo said.

"Oh? And what would that be?" Arackaiser asked in amusement.

"First of all, Conservation of Ninjutsu. There's like a million of you and only eight of us, so we're practically guaranteed a win," Leo explained.

"What?" asked the confused Boa. "But…they aren't even ninjas…"

"Actually, Arackaiser is the founder of the Arachninja clan," Tiny said helpfully. Everyone stared at him. "What? He is!"

"Second," Leo continued. "We've taken like a million Levels of Badass since the last time we fought, as the spiffy new armor and evolved forms we have should indicate. Did you guys remember to level grind?"

"…Zey…do look a lot stronger…" Tarantulas murmured nervously. "And my sensors indicate zat zeir power levels have risen a great deal from our last fight viz zem…"

"Good. That'll make this more of a challenge," Paul said with relish.

"And thirdly but most importantly…" Leo said triumphantly. "So, Arackaiser, you've cloned yourself, right?"

"That's right," Arackaiser said.

"What's to stop your clones from turning on you and trying to become the 'real' Arackaiser?" Leo asked. "After all, they're all clones of you, which means there's no way they can stand taking orders from anyone, even themselves, which means it's only a matter of time before they betray you. Plus, once you take over the world, you can't all rule it, which means you're going to have to kill them off at some point, so what's to stop them from doing that to you first?"

"Actually, we regard ourselves as a council of equals rather than taking orders from anyone in particular," one of the clones said.

"That one over there isn't giving us orders so much as requesting us to do something we'd probably do anyway," another clone said.

"Which only makes sense, since our minds are alike, so he knows we would never do anything he wouldn't want to do anyway," said still another.

"And we have every intention of dividing the world up equally among ourselves after we've crushed all opposition," said yet another.

"Aha! But which of you will rule over all the others?" Leo asked.

"Nobody," a clone said.

"We will form a union of equals that cooperates with each other rather than lording over one another," another agreed. "It's only fair."

"That's practically communism! They really are evil," Briney snarled.

"…Well, that didn't quite go the way I planned," Leo complained.

"It was a nice try," Lily said sympathetically, patting Leo on the shoulder.

"Guess we'll have to take them out the hard way," Ash said.

"Good. I like the hard way," Briney said, gripping his hammer.

"Wait! You can't kill them!" Oak cried in alarm. "This chamber feeds off the blood of evil beings! If you kill too many of them, it'll activate the tower!" he said, pointing at the digital counter on the wall.

"Oh yeah, nice save. Thanks, Professor," Ash called.

"Yeah, really, if we hadn't known that it might have made our lives a lot harder," Pikachu agreed.

"Wait…does that mean I can't kill them all indiscriminately?!" Briney asked, horrified. "That's…that's not right! You can't fight Nihilators and not kill them, it's like a law of physics or something! It can't not be done!"

"I'm sure we can find a way around it," Tiny said.

We had better, Dawn said angrily. Because I'm not going to let ANYTHING stop me from killing Paul this time!

"Oh for ze love of…vhy hasn't anyone killed him already?!" Tarantulas snarled.

"A good question. Thank you for volunteering, Spydor," Arackaiser said, pulling Tarantulas off his head.

"Vait, vhat are youaaaaAAAAHHHHH!" Tarantulas screamed as Arackaiser threw his head at Oak. The Professor reflexively tried to deflect him with his psychic powers, but the metal Tarantulas was made of was apparently immune to telekinesis, so he wound up getting a mostly metal cranium smashed into his face. As the Slowking stumbled back in a daze, Tarantulas fell to the ground, landing on his face. "Ow…"

"Anyway, this should make things easier for us," Arackaiser said casually. "We can kill as many of you as we like, but you cannot do the same to us without risking breaking the tower's seal."

"He has a point…" Boa murmured in concern.

"As do I!" Leo said. "If this chamber is activated by the blood of the wicked, then that means the only reason there's all these Arackaiser clones is because the original is planning to sacrifice them! Ergo, you aren't equal after all, or else he would have made clones of, I dunno, Zhu Bajie or something."

Zhu Bajie frowned. "I do not want to be sacrificed…I am fine with having Pokemon sacrificed to me, because they taste good as sacrifices, especially when made into burnt offerings. I was worshipped as the god of a small island of primitive Tangela once and they offered themselves up to me as sacrifices which tasted good, especially when made into burnt offerings. After I ate them all I made their bones into a raft so that I could get off the island and return to the mainland. But it fell apart because Tangela don't actually have bones so their bones cannot be used to make a raft because they don't have any bones, so I had to swim back to the mainland, eating everything that tried to eat me as I went, and a lot of things tried to eat me as I went, so I ate them in turn. They were quite tasty." He thought for a moment. "I believe I also ate a boat, though I do not think it was trying to eat me, as boats do not have mouths so cannot eat, although I could be wrong about it not being able to eat me or not having a mouth because I am not a…Pokemon who knows how to do things with boats."

"A sailor?" Briney asked.

"Yes. That," Zhu Bajie said. "I think."

"…Did you eat the people on the boat, or the boat itself?" Tiny asked.

Zhu Bajie blinked. "There is being a difference?"

"Right! Anyway! If the original Arackaiser is going to sacrifice you, that means he must consider himself superior to all of you! And there's no way all of you can stand for that, right?" Leo continued.

"Actually, I have no problem with sacrificing myself if necessary," the original Arackaiser said.

Leo paused. "…You don't?"

"I've been cloned or had my consciousness backed up so many times death doesn't really bother me that much anymore," Arackaiser said. "Therefore, why should my clones feel differently?"

The clones nodded. "We'd do the same thing in his shoes," one said.

"And besides, so long as one Arackaiser survives, that means we'll still win," another clone said.

A third clone nodded. "Since we're all the same person, that means it doesn't matter if most of us die, since as long as one lives, so do the rest of us, in a spiritual and rather real sense."

Leo's eye twitched. "Oh for the love of…would it be too much to ask for any of you guys to have Cloning Blues? Really?!"

"Wait, if the original Arackaiser has no problem with sacrificing himself, then why hasn't he already?" Tiny asked reasonably.

"Actually, he already did. He gave me this monocle, though, so nominally I'm the 'first among equals' until the others get their own monocles. Or until I change my mind and sacrifice myself, leaving the monocle to one of my brothers, though I'm not sure who should get it yet and I'm hesitant to make a decision for concern that they'll kill each other—or me—to claim it, for while we are all equals and share the same desires and personalities and minds, we also all really like monocles and would kill anyone—even each other—to get one, which we're actually okay with because we all think the same way and understand the urge completely." He stroked his chin. "You know, the one Dapper Cocoon is sporting doesn't look half-bad…"

"Who?" Tiny asked.

"I think he's talking about you," Lily said.

"Oh," Tiny said. His eyes bulged. "Wait, what?!"

"If any of you lays a leaf on my son, I'll kill every single one of you," Ash said coldly.

"Leaf?" one of the clones asked, looking at his appendages in confusion. "Don't you mean claws?"

"What?" said the confused Ash. "No, I meant leaves. You're Sunfloras."

The Sunfloras all stared at him incredulously, and then looked at Leo. "Is your sidekick blind or something, Titan? We're all obviously Ariadoses!" Arackaiser said.

"Ariadoses?!" Boa said at the same time an indignant Ash said, "Sidekick?!"

"He's completely delusional, don't bother trying to point out how wrong he is," Leo muttered.

"Oh, you mean like when you thought you were a Mighty Pirate?" Pikachu snarked.

"…Yes. Exactly like that…" Leo grumbled.

"What was that about me being a sidekick?" Ash asked.

"In any event, we'd relish you killing us. It will only bring our plan that much closer to fruition!" one of the clones said.

"No, seriously, since when am I a sidekick?" Ash asked.

"If all of you like monocles, then why didn't the original Arackaiser bring enough monocles for all of you?" Lily asked.

"He did. But then Zhu Bajie stepped on them like the idiot he is and broke them all!" Arackaiser snapped, glaring angrily at the Emboar.

"What gave him the idea that I'm a sidekick?" Ash wondered.

Zhu Bajie blinked. "I did?"

"Yes, you did!" Arackaiser yelled.

"Do I look like a sidekick to anyone? Seriously?" Ash asked.

Zhu Bajie scratched his head. "I do not remember breaking any monocles. If I had broken monocles, surely I would remember them. But I do not remember breaking any monocles, so I must not have broken any monocles, or else I would remember breaking them, so I cannot have broken them."

"You forget things all the time!" Arackaiser shouted. "Just a few minutes ago you forgot your own name! Again!"

"This is being a thing that is true, for it is truthful and so a truth that is also a thing," Viers admitted.

"If anything, Leo's my sidekick!" Ash complained.

"Am not!" Leo said. "That's Pikachu's job. Or maybe Tiny's."

"WHAT?!" Pikachu bellowed.

"Yeah, I guess I could see how I might be a sidekick," Tiny admitted.

"I am not a sidekick!" Pikachu protested. "I'm one of the two founders of this team!"

"Are you the leader?" Leo asked.

"Well…no, but…but we're partners!" Pikachu insisted.

Leo nodded sagely. "Yeah, that's what the sidekicks in denial all say." Pikachu made several strangled noises of rage.

"…Are we seriously talking about this?!" asked a dumbfounded Boa.

"Yes," Briney said.

"Why?!" Boa demanded.

The Metagross shrugged. "It's what we do."

The Professor blinked. "Well, this is certainly not the rescue I expected."

Paul shook his head in amusement. "Mon, you can't pay for this kind of entertainment."

Will you find it entertaining when I rip your heart out? Dawn asked.

Paul grinned cruelly. "The fact that you actually think you can back up a threat like that is the funniest thing I've heard in ages."

"What I think would be really funny is watching the Titan and all of his friends die," Arackaiser said loftily. "I think we should do something about that, don't you?"

Paul nodded sinisterly. "Oh, most definitely."

"The only ones dying around here are you and your clone army, Arackaiser! And Slicer. And Zhu Bajie. And Spydor," Leo said. "As soon as we find a way around the whole evil sacrifice thing. Uh…anyone got any ideas on that?"

"I might have one," Lily said, raising her wand. "I think a little trick Fantina taught me is about to come in handy." She twirled the wand in the air, murmuring what sounded like a complex mathematical equation under her breath, and then pointed her magical instrument at the pit in the center of the room.

There was a flash of light, and suddenly a giant metal plug covered in runes appeared out of thin air. It fell into the pit, blocking it up. The runes on the sides started glowing, and the Arackaiser clones and robot spiders closest to the plug found themselves pushed away. "What?! No!" Arackaiser cried.

"That's the legendary Plug of Emir Al-Kazadim, used in the world's largest bathtub!" said an astonished Professor Oak. "But there's only one of those, and it's in a museum! Where did you get that?!"

"She didn't get it…she…she created it!" said a shocked Tarantulas, his processor struggling to comprehend the data he was receiving. "She didn't just conjure it from somevere else…she made it! Out of zhin air, or razzer, stray air molecules!"

Oak blinked in astonishment. "…Is that actually possible?! I know it's theoretically possible for powerful Psychics to make something out of nothing, but to just make a replica of a powerful magical artifact as easily as that?!"

"Apparently, it is," said the stunned Tarantulas.

"Fantina taught you that spell?! Not even her own daughters know that one!" said the amazed Boa.

"She believed that I would need it more than they do, for the time being," Lily said breathlessly.

"You can make stuff out of the air?! Oh Arceus, there are so many possible applications for something like that I'm having trouble even vocalizing them," Leo said, swooning. "I may never have to buy anything online ever again!"

"It's not exactly easy to do," Lily pointed out, wiping away some sweat with her wand. "It takes a lot of effort to create something out of nothing."

"But you'll get better at it, won't you?" Tiny asked.

"Well, yes, but-" Lily started.

"I don't like this," Briney grumbled. "Something like that could put hardworking craftsmon like me out of work."

Maybe you could learn it too? Dawn suggested.

"Already took it from Lily's mind. Doubt I'll ever use it. Seems like cheating, and not the kind I like to do, either," Briney grunted. "Besides, I already have this magic hammer that can make pretty much anything I can think of out of any material, what good is a spell like that with this thing around?"

"You could create whatever item you're thinking of without going through that process," Pikachu pointed out. "Or create whatever materials you might need to make whatever object you have in mind, since that would probably take less effort on your part."

"…I suppose…" Briney admitted reluctantly.

"So…what exactly is that big plug supposed to do?" Ash asked.

"As long as it's in place, nothing can enter the hole it's sealing," Lily explained. "If the tower will be activated by the sacrifice of the wicked, then so long as that plug is in place no evil blood can flow into the pit, allowing us to cut loose and fight to our fullest without worrying about unsealing the tower."

"Nice!" said Leo. "That's a way better plan than mine!"

"Really? What was your plan?" asked Boa

Pikachu facepalmed. "You did not just ask that."

"I was going to stick a giant sponge in the hole to soak up all the blood," Leo said.

Boa blinked. "…You have a giant sponge?"

"You did not just ask that," Pikachu said wearily.

"Well, of course I have a giant sponge!" Leo said, miffed. "And not just any sponge, but Esponja Grande, the greatest of all sponges! And I mean really great, you wouldn't believe how big this thing is. I barely managed to fit it into my shell, even!"

"Ah," Boa said vaguely, wisely deciding not to ask how on Earth Leo managed to fit so many things into his shell while still being able to move, and fit in there himself.

Hmm…well, that's certainly an interesting alternative to my plan, Oak thought to himself. I guess I should be relieved we probably won't have to rely on that one, then. Briney frowned, immediately sensing what Oak was thinking…and not liking it very much.

Arackaiser sniffed. "That oversized bath plug is but a minor inconvenience at best! Once we've dealt with you, we'll remove the plug, causing all the blood our fight will generate to flow into the hole and activate the tower!"

Oak made a face at this. Oh, the blood will flow if that happens, all right…but I rather doubt it will activate the tower. I hope it doesn't come to that, though. Briney narrowed his eyes, again not liking the sound of that.

"I'm afraid you won't find it that easy to pull the plug out without me around," Lily said. "You would need the strength of ten thousand Machamps to lift it!"

"Bah, I am stronger than…than…ten times ten thousand Machamps! However many that is!" Zhu Bajie said, flexing his muscles. "Especially once I enter my Hyper Mode, which is stronger than ten times ten times ten thousand Machamps!"

Ash started counting on his paws before losing his place. "Uh…how many Machamps is that, exactly?"

"One million," Leo said.

"Oh," Ash said. "That's a lot of Machamps."

"Zhu Bajie is the strongest one there is!" Zhu Bajie bellowed.

Boa shook her head. "There are so many things wrong with that statement it's not even funny."

"You are the one who is so wrong that it is not funny! Except that it is funny!" Zhu Bajie said. He paused. "But if she's so wrong it's not funny, but it is funny, then does that not mean she is right, because it's only not funny if it's wrong?"

"I was just about to ask the same question, actually," Leo said.

"And if she is right because it is funny and it is only not funny if it's wrong, then does that not mean I am not in fact the strongest one there is? But I am the strongest one there is…but she said I was so wrong it's not funny…but she's so wrong it's not funny, only it is…so I am not the strongest one there is. But I am the strongest one there is. But she said-" Zhu Bajie rambled.

"OH FOR ZE LOVE OF EVERYZING ZAT'S EVIL, VILL YOU SHUT UP AND JUST KILL ZEM ALREADY?!" Tarantulas screamed in exasperation.

Arackaiser nodded. "For once, I think Spydor has a point."

"Vait, for once?!" Tarantulas yelled.

Arackaiser ignored him. "Kill them! But I, no, we will take care of the Titan!"

"DEATH TO TURTLE TITAN! DEATH TO TURTLE TITAN! DEATH TO TURTLE TITAN!" all the Arackaisers shouted.

Leo sweatdropped. "Aw, crud."

"Don't worry, Leo, I won't let them hurt you," Lily promised.

"As much as I want to help Leo, I'm not sure we can afford to," Ash said in concern as the Arackaisers, the spiders, the legendary beasts, Paul, and Zhu Bajie started towards them. "There's a lot of bad guys to deal with, and I'm pretty sure those clones are just the least of them."

"But we can't just ignore them and let them hurt Leo!" Lily said in concern.

"Babe, don't worry, I've got this," Leo said suddenly. "An army of clones versus a lone warrior is always doomed to failure, right? That's just how the game works."

"But this isn't a game," Lily pointed out worriedly.

"When has that ever stopped me before?" Leo pointed out. "And besides, if I attract most of the clones to myself, that'll allow the rest of you to handle the big guys without having to worry about a crazy Sunflora trying to stab you in the back. Not to mention that I'm kinda immortal now thanks to Choc-Oboh, so if—and this is a big if—I die, she'll bring me back lickety-split."

Pikachu sighed. "Much as I hate to admit it, he has a point. That resurrective power of his may actually be ideal for situations like this."

"I suppose so…" Lily said dubiously.

"I will deal with the clones as all, so he need not waste too much energy taking them all on," Boa volunteered. "I have no personal vendetta against any of the Nihilators, so it doesn't matter to me whom I fight, so long as we manage to stop them."

"Heh, thanks, I appreciate the assist," Leo said.

"As do I," Lily said in relief. Even if her husband was technically immortal now, that didn't mean she was comfortable with the thought of any harm coming to him.

"I'll help, too!" Tiny said.

"Actually, Tiny, I'm going to need you to help the others," Ash said, narrowing his eyes at the three beasts.

Tiny blinked. "Huh? What do you mean?"

"Have you mastered the Aura Purge yet?" Ash asked.

"Um, yeah, I got it down a few days ago…oh! I see. You want me to help purify the beasts?" Tiny realized.

Ash nodded. "There's three of them, and only one of me. Having a second Aura Guardian—or Guardian-in-training—would be a good thing to have around, don't you think?"

Tiny nodded. "Yeah! But, uh, I don't think I'm strong enough to fight the beasts by myself…"

"You won't have to," Lily said.

Pikachu nodded. "We'll use our new elemental powers to fight the beasts until they're weak enough for you to come in and purify them, if Ash is unavailable. You just make sure we don't get sneak attacked by any clones or spiders that aren't fighting with Leo or the Princess while we're busy."

"I can do that," Tiny said.

"And it will mean less mooks for Boa and I to worry about, too," Leo said, much to Lily's relief.

You will have to fight the beasts with Briney rather than with me, Dawn said. My vengeance is at hand. I cannot allow any distractions from my mission.

"You do know that I could order you to forget Paul and help us out, right?" Pikachu asked.

Dawn froze and gave Pikachu a look of shock and betrayal. Master, I…

"However," Pikachu sighed. "We both know I'd never order you to do something you didn't want to do. This is important to you. I understand that. Go fight him with my blessing. I promise to be there to help once I've taken care of Suicune."

Thank you, Master, Dawn said, gratitude and adoration shining in her eyes. And I promise to do the same for you once I have defeated Paul…and at long last avenged my clan, and evolved as Darkrai promised I would. With that, she vanished, as only ninjas can.

"You aren't fighting Raikou?" Ash asked in surprise.

Pikachu shook his head. "While it would be thematically appropriate, I suppose-"

"Totally!" Leo said.

"Raikou's Volt Absorb special ability means that all of my electric attacks will only make him stronger," Pikachu continued.

"That didn't stop you from beating Marianne that one time," Ash recalled.

"Marianne's a Rotom, so she's made of unstable electrical energy," Lily said. "Raikou's a physical being, so his body can't be disrupted by holy electricity like my sister's can."

"Additionally, part of the power in my sword comes from Raikou, so I'm not positive it can even be used to harm him," Pikachu said.

Ash nodded. "I guess that makes sense. So…you're fighting Suicune, then?"

"It makes the most sense, since she's weakest to my element," Pikachu agreed.

"In that case, I will take Raikou," Lily volunteered. "Since my powers would be less effective against Entei for the same reason you cannot fight Raikou."

"Don't you know ice magic now?" Tiny asked.

Lily nodded. "I do, but I'm better at fire. Why else would I have been granted the power of the fire element instead of ice?"

"In that case, I guess I'm fighting Entei," Ash said.

"No, I'm fighting Entei," Briney said.

Ash frowned. "What? But you need me to-"

"Have you forgotten what we came here to do in the first place?" Briney asked.

"…Uh, stop Doctor Tarantulas?" Tiny guessed.

Ash grimaced. "No, save Professor Oak…you're right, Briney, this is no place for him. I'll get him out of here then come back to help you guys against the beasts once I've gotten him to a safe place. Tiny, you'll have to give the others whatever Aura support you can in the meantime. Think you can handle that?"

"Uh-huh!" Tiny said with a nod.

"You might want to take care of the Emboar while you're at it," Pikachu said.

"Huh? Oh yeah, I almost forgot that guy," Ash said.

"How could you forget Zhu Bajie? Zhu Bajie is unforgettable, and so cannot be forgotten!" Zhu Bajie said incredulously.

"Er, sorry?" Ash said.

"Your apology is not accepted," Zhu Bajie said sternly.

"Don't worry, Ash, he's only a mid-boss. He's easily forgettable," Leo said.

"My name is not Midbos anymore, nor is it Viers, it is Zhu Bajie, which means it is neither Midbos nor Viers!" Zhu Bajie declared.

"Why does he talk like that?" Tiny wondered.

"Because he's an idiot," Pikachu said.

"You know, that could be considered offensive to mentally disabled people," Leo said.

"I am offensive to mentally disabled people! Especially after I disable their minds! By eating them!" Zhu Bajie bellowed. "And handicapped Pokémon, too! Since I handicap them! By breaking their limbs! So that they are handicapped, and I am therefore offensive to them!"

"…Right," Leo said. "Forget what I said."

"Yeah, this guy needs to be taken down," Ash said.

"One thing we should probably note is that so long as those cloning pods are online, they'll keep spawning Arackaisers to fight us," Briney said.

"No problem, as soon as I get some breathing room I'll take care of them," Leo promised. "Arackaiser's my nemesis, so he—and his many duplicates-are my responsibility, for the most part."

"How very noble!" Lily said admiringly, causing him to blush.

"You have a plan to deal with them?" Boa asked.

Leo nodded. "Yeah. And if it doesn't work, I'll try hacking them with my sunglasses to shut 'em down."

"You can do that?" Ash asked in surprise.

"Uh, yeah, duh. Haven't you been keeping up with the upgrades I've been periodically getting on these things?" Leo said.

"…Yes," Ash lied.

"If you haven't taken care of the pods by the time we've finished fighting our opponents, we'll take them out for you and help you mop up the rest of the clones," Pikachu said.

Leo nodded. "Sounds like a good plan to me. Except you won't need to, since I'll already be done by then!"

Pikachu smirked. "We'll just see about that, won't we?"

"Yes. Yes, we will," Leo said.

"Okay," Ash said. "Anything else we need to discuss before we start this?"

"Yes, actually. Is there any point in asking how we've managed to spend all this time discussing strategy without getting attacked?" Boa asked.

"No," Briney said.

The princess sighed. "Yeah, that's what I thought."

And then the Nihilators attacked, and the battle began.

Ash quickly lost track of the others in the sheer mass of Arackaiser clones and robot spiders that rushed around them. He wasn't overly concerned; he knew they could handle themselves, and if he needed to find them he could track them using his badge. His main concern right now was reaching Professor Oak before something bad happened to him; the last he'd seen of the Slowking Tarantulas was crawling towards him. Ash knew the Professor was no slouch in a fight, but even in the mad scientist's current condition Ash wasn't sure Oak could fight an adversary like Tarantulas.

"Begone, sidekick! We have business with your better, and no time to waste with the likes of you!" one of the clones sneered dismissively, apparently not deeming Ash worth his time.

The Sunflora didn't have time to regret this erroneous decision before Ash punched his face in, causing his head to explode in a burst of Aura. "I think it's more the other way around, actually," Ash said in amusement.

"Get him!" another clone shouted. The Sunfloras took deep breaths and started spitting Bullet Seeds at Ash.

Ash planted his staff in the ground and twirled around it horizontally, his feet nimbly darting out at lightning speeds and catching each projectile as it came at him. He clenched his toes, charging the seeds with his Aura, then flung the seeds outwards, causing them to strike the clones and explode, killing them.

Of course, there were more where they came from. A new wave of clones surged in and started flinging Razor Leaves at him. Stopping his spin and pulling his staff out of the ground, Ash punched at the air so fast his arms became a blue blazing blur, the leaves incinerating in cerulean flames before they could reach his body. He clutched his staff, charging it with Aura, and then flung it away from him. The burning staff plowed through the Arackaisers in front of Ash like a scythe through chaff, and he chased after the weapon through the aisle it had cleared before the clones around him could fill it up. He caught up to the staff and drove it into the ground, simultaneously vaulting into the air and releasing the Aura he'd charged into it through the floor, blasting the surrounding Sunfloras away with a blue flaming shockwave.

As he landed, he kept moving forward, lashing out with his staff, fists, and feet, knocking away every Arackaiser that got in his path. A mass of robot spiders rose up before him, hissing and shrieking, but without breaking stride he threw an Aura sphere—one-handed, even!—into their center, the explosion flinging them everywhere. Several flew into Ash's face, but vaporized the second they touched his Aura. The surrounding clones were not so lucky, and screamed as the panicked and enraged spiders started to rip them apart.

One clone that had yet to learn not to mess with Ash rooted itself into the ground using Ingrain and fired a Mega Drain at the Lucario from behind. Ash sensed it coming a mile away and used his staff to vault into the air before the energy-draining beam could strike him, causing it to hit another Arackaiser, who screamed in agony as his life force was drained away, causing him to wither and disintegrate within seconds. While he was in the air, Ash twirled about, flinging Aura Spheres in every direction, causing blue explosions to mushroom all around him, blasting dozens of clones away. Before he landed, he charged up his staff again and threw it into the ground, releasing a tremendous blue shockwave that vaporized even more clones and spiders.

He landed, pulled out the staff, and continued towards where he had last seen Oak…

And ran straight into Zhu Bajie's fist. Or rather, he would have, if he hadn't sensed it coming and bent over backwards so the punch swung right over him, using his momentum and lowered posture to slide between the Emboar's legs, lashing out with his staff as he went and knocking the brute's feet out from under him, sending him crashing to the floor as Ash sprung back up and brandished his staff, ready for a confrontation. Glad he didn't land on me, Ash thought to himself in relief as Zhu Bajie ponderously rose to his feet, vacating a rather sizable crater in the ground in the process. "Hurr. You are faster than I expected, which was to be very slow, which you were not," Zhu Bajie grunted, brushing some dust off his arms. "Very few have managed to dodge a blow like that, since it is very fast, and most are very slow, which you were not, being very fast."

"I've always been pretty quick on my feet," Ash said, tapping his Aura-sensing organs. "Aura reflexes and all. And I'm even quicker thanks to my training in Fichina."

"I have been training as well," Zhu Bajie boasted. "I am now ten times as strong as when we last fought, when I was ten times weaker than I am now!"

Ash blinked. "We fought before?"

Zhu Bajie scowled. "How could you forget your epic confrontation with Zhu Bajie, who was known as Viers at the time, and so was not Zhu Bajie quite yet, but became Zhu Bajie, then Viers again, and is now Zhu Bajie once more? You were trying to destroy the Arachnoblast cockpit and kill Lord Doctor Tarantulas and Lord Arackaiser who was Lord Chobin at the time but is Lord Arackaiser now! I, who was known as Viers at the time, and so was not Zhu Bajie quite yet, but became Zhu Bajie, then Viers again, and is now Zhu Bajie once more, stood in your way to keep you from destroying the Arachnoblast cockpit and killing Lord Doctor Tarantulas and Lord Arackaiser who was Lord Chobin at the time but is Lord Arackaiser now!"

"…Oh yeah, I remember you now," Ash recalled. "You're that guy I beat in one punch, aren't you?"

"…No I am not being that guy you beat in one punch," Viers said. "You are thinking of someone else whom you defeated in one punch."

"No, no, I'm pretty sure it was you-" Ash started.

"IT WAS NOT AND YOU ARE WRONG FOR IT WAS NOT ME BUT SOMEONE ELSE WHO IS NOT ME," Zhu Bajie yelled.

Ash raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh. Sure."

"It was not me. Really," Zhu Bajie said.

"I don't believe you," Ash said.

"YOU BELIEVE INCORRECTLY," Zhu Bajie roared. "Not that it matters, because even if I was the weakling you beat in one punch—which I am not—I am stronger than that weakling you beat in one punch, so it will take more than one punch to defeat me, unlike that weakling you beat in one punch!"

"And I've gotten stronger too," Ash pointed out.

"Not as strong as me, who is stronger than you!" Zhu Bajie said.

Ash smirked. "As much as I'd love to prove you wrong, I don't have time for this. I have to save Professor Oak, and you're in the way. If you don't want to get thrashed, I suggest you leave me alone."

"Ohohoho, but it is you who will be getting thrashed, not me, so I will not be leaving you alone!" Zhu Bajie said, cracking his knuckles.

Ash growled. "You really want to do this? Really?"

"I really want to do this, really!" Zhu Bajie said.

Ash sighed. "Fine. Let's do this." Well, at least this won't take long. The guy only went down in one punch last time, after all.

"Yes, do this we shall!" Zhu Bajie said. "I must warn you, though, you may not find me as easy to fight as you are no doubt thinking that I am easy to fight, especially once I assume my true form, which is truer than this form, which is not true, and is therefore a false form!"

"…Your true form?" Ash asked blankly.

"Yes! Behold, my HYPER MODE! RRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!" Zhu Bajie roared as Shadow Aura erupted around him, blasting away the nearest Arackaisers and spiders, which had been keeping what they had thought was a safe distance to watch the fight.

Ash, much to his own surprise, found himself having to take a step back as the Shadow Aura buffeted him, his own Aura blazing up in response to it. What the…this power…it's stronger than I anticipated! Well, I guess I should have known better by now than to make assumptions…Doctor Tarantulas must have modified him somehow, there's no way he was this strong before!

Before Ash's eyes, Zhu Bajie swelled up as darkness poured outwards from his form, growing to at least four times his original height. His colors inverted; black turning to orange and orange turning to black. The flames wreathing his head and neck grew bigger and turned into purple-black flames of Shadow Aura, and flames erupted around his hands as well. His tusks elongated significantly, curving upwards and ending in massive points that looked perfectly capable of impaling the Lucario. His eyes turned white, and his eyebrows burst into flames. He stomped the ground, flames shooting out of his feet. "I SHALL CRUSH YOU INTO SOMETHING THAT IS EASILY CRUSHABLE!" he roared, flames shooting from his nostrils.

Ash narrowed his eyes. "Try it, big guy."

Try Zhu Bajie did. Faster than Ash had anticipated—much faster than he should have been able to move, at that size—Zhu Bajie rushed forwards, drawing back a flaming fist. Ash dodged out of the way, but only just; the impact of the transformed Emboar's fist smashing into the ground cratering the floor and sending out a shockwave of flames that Ash nimbly dodged by driving his staff into the ground and vaulting over it. He was not quick enough to dodge Zhu Bajie's immediate follow-up, which was to sweep his fist across the floor and hit Ash with a flaming backhand, flinging him towards some of the Arackaisers gathered to watch the battle. They scrambled out of the way before he could crash into them, but started spitting Bullet Seeds at him the instant he got back to his feet. "Hey, isn't this a one-on-one match?!" Ash cried as he twirled his staff around him to deflect the projectiles.

"We never agreed to agree on that!" Zhu Bajie shouted as he leaped into the air, spreading his limbs as he fell belly-first towards Ash. As the giant pig's shadow covered him, Ash briefly considered thrusting his staff up to try and impale the Emboar and use his Aura-enhanced strength to push him away. Then the rational part of his mind pointed out that Zhu Bajie probably weighed over seven hundred kilograms now, and while he could probably lift that much, it was going to hurt. A lot. Plus, he didn't really like the possibility of getting squished beneath that much bulk.

He quickly dove to the side instead, which was probably the right decision because when Zhu Bajie landed he cratered the ground, shook the chamber enough to cause some of the gargoyles to tremble and have bits fall off them, and sent a massive wave of fire racing out in every direction, incinerating the nearest Arackaisers. With a cry, Ash ignited his Aura, blasting through the wave before it could engulf him. As Zhu Bajie slowly rose to his feet, Ash charged at him, using Extremespeed to increase his speed. He leaped into the air, crying loudly as he raised his staff above his head, causing Zhu Bajie to turn his head towards him…which was, of course, exactly what Ash wanted. Using all his strength and the momentum of his leap, he drove his staff between Zhu Bajie's eyes.

The Emboar blinked and went cross-eyed trying to look at Ash. "Hurhur. That tickled."

Ash gawked in disbelief. "Wh-what?! That should've killed you!"

"It might have…if Zhu Bajie's brain were bigger than it is being, which is not being a very big brain at all!" Zhu Bajie laughed. "Everyone says Zhu Bajie is stupid. Well, probably not to Zhu Bajie's face, because Zhu Bajie crushes anyone who calls Zhu Bajie stupid, who is me, Zhu Bajie. But who is stupid now?!"

Before Ash could channel Aura through his staff and blow up Zhu Bajie's head from within—which, in retrospect, probably would have been a good thing to do in the first place—Zhu Bajie plucked Ash off his face and hurled him away, ripping out his staff and breaking it over his knee before throwing it to the ground and stomping on it. As Ash gasped in pain and doubled over from the empathic backlash of his weapon's destruction, Zhu Bajie laughed and started running towards him, Shadow Aura billowing as he advanced. "Fool! You should not use a toothpick to fight a giant! Because toothpicks are for picking teeth, not for killing giants! And you stabbed your toothpick between my eyes rather than in my mouth, so you have terrible aim as well as being a foolish fool who is foolish for fighting with a foolish toothpick, which is foolish!"

Ash smirked and stretched out his hand, Aura burning in his hands. "Maybe so…but can a toothpick do this?" The broken remnants of his staff trembled, and then rose into the air, Aura igniting around them. In a flurry of motion the fragments reassembled themselves into their original form and shot through the air, driving into the back of Zhu Bajie's neck, causing the Emboar to cry out in pain and stumble. Ash charged forwards, falling to the ground and sliding between Zhu Bajie's legs as he had before, Metal Claws springing from his knuckles and slashing out at the Emboar's ankles. Already off-balance from the staff attack, Zhu Bajie lost his footing and toppled to the ground, cratering it once more and sending out another wave of fire. Ash sprang to his feet on the other side of the Emboar, backflipped over the wave of fire, and hopped onto his back, his Aura blazing stronger to protect him from the darkness swirling around Zhu Bajie. He raced up the Emboar's back and gripped his staff, preparing to charge his Aura through it and blast the Emboar's neck off.

Unfortunately, he didn't get the chance. Zhu Bajie surged back to his feet with shocking speed, throwing Ash off-balance and nearly causing him to fall, only one paw still wrapped around the length of his staff. With a growl of frustration, Zhu Bajie threw himself backwards, intending to crush Ash beneath his weight and appearing not to care that he might sever his spine since the staff was still embedded in the back of his neck. Ash quickly let go of his staff, dropped to the ground, and rolled between Zhu Bajie's legs before he could slam to the floor, cratering and shaking it again as well as sending out another wave of fire. Zhu Bajie grunted in pain as the staff was driven further into his neck, but otherwise didn't seem to notice.

Growling in frustration as the Emboar started to pull himself up, Ash extended his hand, Aura burning on his paw once more. The staff trembled, then suddenly shot forwards, flying straight through the back of Zhu Bajie's neck and out the other side, causing the Emboar to gasp and convulse as blood and Shadow started gushing all over the place from the resulting wound. As Ash caught his staff, Zhu Bajie quickly lifted his hands to the two holes in his neck and released a tremendous blast of heat from his palms, cauterizing the wounds and sealing them up before he could bleed out. "That-*cough, cough*-was not pleasant," Zhu Bajie rasped weakly, his vocal cords understandably damaged by what had just happened to his throat.

Ash sighed. "And of course that wouldn't put you down. Wonderful. I don't suppose you feel like calling it quits yet?"

"NEVER!" Zhu Bajie shouted, or tried to, only to start hacking and clutching his throat, which was clearly not in the best of shapes at the moment. "I shall destroy you!" he rasped somewhat more softly once he'd regained his breath and stopped spitting up blood.

"Then bring it," Ash said.

Zhu Bajie brought it. Bellowing very softly, he crossed his arms in front of his face, and his body was engulfed in red and black flames. He put his arms down and soared towards Ash like a missile, only his head visible as the red of his form was covered in spiraling red-yellow fire while surrounded by black fire as he used Flare Blitz. Narrowing his eyes, Ash slung his staff over his back, planted his feet squarely on the ground, and held his paws out in front of him, bracing himself. When Zhu Bajie smashed into him, Ash grabbed the Emboar by the tusks and channeled his Aura into his feet to keep his legs from shattering. He was pushed backwards, the ground tearing up around his hindpaws as the force of the Emboar's attack slammed into and washed over him, but he refused to yield, straining with all his might to keep Zhu Bajie at bay. Zhu Bajie's eyes widened in astonishment when Ash stopped moving after being shoved a few meters backwards, his feet digging deep furrows into the floor in the process. "Wh-what?!" he stammered. "How…how can this be?!"

"You said that you're the strongest one there is, Zhu Bajie," Ash said through gritted teeth, sweat dripping down his brow as his muscles bulged out on his arms. "But guess what? I'm the Chosen One, which means there's no way I'm losing to a mid-boss like you! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" With a roar, his Aura blasted up around him, shattering the floor around him and sending the stunned Arackaisers nearby flying as he pivoted on one foot, flinging Zhu Bajie over his shoulder and causing him to smash face-first into the ground with the full strength of the interrupted Flare Blitz, snapping off his tusks in the process. As the Emboar struggled to recover and pull his face out of the ground, Ash leaped high into the air, raising the broken tusks over his head, and slammed them down onto Zhu Bajie's head, driving them through his skull.

Roaring in agony, Zhu Bajie surged upwards and started wildly flailing about, running in a pained panic as Ash exerted pressure on the tusks driven into his head, causing him to instinctively charge wildly in one direction or another depending on which tusk Ash was pushing down on at the moment. It didn't take much effort to steer the tormented Emboar into a wall, smashing into the cloning pods lining it and triggering an explosion that flung Zhu Bajie back and knocked Ash off his head. The Lucario agilely landed on his feet. The Emboar did not, and crashed to the ground yet again.

Ash started running towards Zhu Bajie, hoping to finish off the giant, but once the Emboar recovered faster than Ash expected, thrusting his cranium forward in a Head Smash that collided with Ash's own head, stunning him and sending him staggering back. If the Lucario's skull weren't as thick as it already was, the attack might have split his skull open. Snatching the Lucario up in one of his meaty ham-hands before he could recover, Zhu Bajie threw Ash about, smashing him into the floor, the wall, his other fist, and squeezing him hard enough to crack his ribs, causing the Lucario to cry out in pain as the Emboar's Shadow flames burned him. Chuckling cruelly, Zhu Bajie raised Ash up towards his mouth, opening his jaws wide as he charged up a Flamethrower.

He never got a chance to use it. With a cry, Ash erupted in a burst of Aura, blasting Zhu Bajie's hand open and breaking his fingers. Ash the Emboar cried out in pain, flames dripping from his lips, Ash formed a massive Aura Sphere in both hands and hurled it into the giant's mouth. The explosion engulfed Zhu Bajie's head in azure flames and flung Ash away. He landed on his feet and skidded back a few feet, the Arackaisers nearby backing away hurriedly so he wouldn't run into them. Ash glanced up, expecting to see Zhu Bajie's headless corpse collapsing before him…

Only to see the Emboar, half his face ripped off and exposing grisly musculature and bone, blood and Shadow dripping from every orifice, still standing. "Oh, come on!"

"Zhu…*gasp*…Zhu Bajie will…*cough*…never…fall…" the Emboar gasped, clenching his working fist, flames simmering around his form, blood oozing from new holes in his throat. It was a wonder he was still breathing, let alone talking. "Zhu Bajie…*wheeze*…will overcome…all who stand before him! GrrrrrrrAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Fiery Shadow Aura exploded outwards, buffeting Ash, ripping up the floor, and knocking Arackaisers and spiders away. He jumped high into the air, his body surrounded in a sphere of red and black flames. Roaring, he fell towards Ash, intending to obliterate him with his signature move, Heat Crash.

Ash narrowed his eyes. "So, you want to play it that way, huh?" He planted his staff in the ground and crossed his arms over his chest, body trembling as he gathered his power. With a fearsome howl, he flung his arms outwards, Aura exploding around him and causing an effect similar to the one Zhu Bajie's own power-up had just had on the environment around him. Shouting at the top of his lungs, he launched himself skyward, Aura streaking around and behind him like a cerulean rocket. The Lucario and Emboar shot towards each other, blue and red-black energies blazing around them, their battle cries echoing across the room.

The explosion when they collided with each other was incredible. The room rocked, gargoyles fell from the ceiling, the giant bell suspended over the central dais shook as its chains rustled, and all the nearest cloning pods exploded from the raw feedback. Blue flames streaking from his form, Zhu Bajie slammed into the wall, cratering it. Also flaming, Ash slammed into his chest, placing a palm over the giant's heart. Realizing he was beaten, the Emboar looked down resolutely at Ash and said, "If you are planning to purify me, do not bother purifying me. It may purge the Shadow from my body, but I was evil long before I joined the Nihilators, so there is no point in your planning to purify me because it will not work other than to purge the Shadow from my body."

"I know," Ash said, firing a point-blank Force Palm that pierced Zhu Bajie's heart and killed him instantly. "I wasn't planning on purifying you."

He dropped down from the Emboar's corpse, walked up to his staff, and pulled it out of the ground. "Anyone else want some?" he asked the Arackaisers. None of them responded. He took a step towards them, and they backed away. He smirked. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Heh. Could a sidekick do that?"

"Yes," an Arackaiser said. Ash blew him up with an Aura Sphere.

"You killed him," Misty commented, falling in step beside him as he started walking through the rather hesitant crowd of Sunfloras. "That fat asshole, I mean, not that clone just now."

"He was a bad guy, and he was in my way," Ash said. "Are you saying he didn't deserve to die?"

"No," Misty said. "He probably did. He was a Nihilator after all. But you could have purified him."

"And then what? He said himself he was evil long before he became a Nihilator," Ash said.

"You aren't just limited to the Aura Purge," Misty pointed out. "You could have tried diving into his heart. Seeing if there was any good in him worth saving."

"I could have," Ash admitted. "But I didn't have time. I have to save Professor Oak. The middle of a battlefield is no place for something as in-depth and drawn out as a complete purification, especially since everyone else is too busy to watch my back and keep me from getting attacked while I was inside his heart."

Misty nodded. "Everything you just said is the truth. That still doesn't mean you didn't refuse to purify him because of something as petty as dislike of him, though. Aren't Aura Guardians sworn to save everyone, even the wickedest, if at all possible?"

"If at all possible," Ash repeated. "Which it isn't, right now."

"I guess so," Misty admitted. "It just feels…not quite right, somehow."

"And since when do you care why I do the things I do?" Ash asked, getting annoyed.

"I don't," Misty said quickly.

"Then why bring it up at all?" Misty crossed her arms but said nothing. Ash sighed. "Fine. I don't have time for this. I need to help Professor Oak. You coming?"

"Like I have a choice," the zombie muttered, walking after him.

Once he was certain the Lucario was out of range, one Arackaiser turned to another and whispered, "Why was he talking to himself?"

The other Arackaiser shrugged. "He's a sidekick. Probably snapped under the pressure of being overshadowed by someone as powerful as Turtle Titan." Ash, whose Lucario ears had been able to hear that, facepalmed, while Misty snickered.

And speaking of the armored Squirtle…

"DIE, TITAN!" an Arackaiser screamed as he lunged at Leo.

"Yeah, no," Leo said, ducking to the side to allow the Sunflora to fly past him, then whirled about and smacked him with a tonfa, knocking him to the ground. He brought the tonfa down on the Sunflora's head with a powerful chop, putting him down for the count. "The only ones who are going to die here today are you second-rate clones!"

"There is nothing second-rate about us!" an Arackaiser said angrily.

"All of us are first-rate!" another said.

Leo smirked under his mask. "Then why are you losing?" Roaring in anger, the Sunfloras spat Bullet Seeds at him. His arms moving faster than they ever could have before he'd received his wedding present, Leo spun and twirled and flung his tonfas about, expertly deflecting the seeds and causing them to bombard the Arackaisers surrounding him. As they reeled back, stunned, he charged forward and laid into them with powerful punches, kicks, and blows from his tonfas, bursts of golden flame accentuating each attack and giving them that much more oomph, sending Arackaisers flying and bowling each other over. "Yattaaaaa!"

"You have no idea how sick I am of hearing that catchphrase!" an Arackaiser snarled.

"A good catchphrase never goes out of style, baby!" Leo said as he twirled his tonfas in his hands, ready for his next challenger.

"That's what they said about disco!" another Arackaiser sneered, flinging Razor Leaves at Leo.

"Disco will never die!" Leo said, opening the bottom part of his mask and spitting an Ice Beam that froze each leaf solid. He then swung his tonfas about, deflecting the leaves and sending them slicing through the bodies of the nearest Arackaisers. "And neither will I!"

"That has yet to be seen, Titan!" an Arackaiser said. He and several Arackaisers started spinning in place, flinging razor-edged petals at Leo with Petal Dance.

"Ha, you were saying disco was out of style with lame moves like that?" Leo taunted, drawing a card from his deck. It had a picture of a blue robot in a red cape on it. He placed it onto his Duel Disk. "Poké-Modify! Blue Tempest's Whirlwind, activate!"

"CYCLONE VENT," Choc-Oboh's voice echoed from Leo's Duel Disk as the card and the mark on his back started glowing.

"Check out these rad moves!" Leo declared, dropping to the ground and breakdancing. As he did so, the silhouette of the robot from his card briefly overlaid him, and then a cyclone rose up from his spinning body, gusting outwards and blowing the petals back at the Sunfloras, causing them to cry out in pain and stop dancing as they were sliced up by the sharp-edged projectiles. "Ah, but those aren't the only sweet moves I got!" Leo said, standing back up. He briefly retracted his head into his shell, and came back up wearing a feather headdress. He crossed his arms and started dancing stiffly while chanting, "Hee-uh hom- hi-ya ho! Hee-uh hom- hi-ya ho! Hee-uh hom- hi-ya ho!"

A dark cloud formed above him and started raining on the Arackaisers. "Aside from getting us wet, what exactly was that rather racist caricature supposed to accomplish?" a clone scoffed.

"This," Leo said, opening his mask again and spinning about, firing an Ice Beam that froze both the ground and all the damp Arackaisers solid. He then pulled his head and limbs into his shell and used the reduced friction of the frozen ground to launch into an ultra-fast Rapid Spin, bouncing back and forth across the floor like a pinball, smashing the frozen Arackaisers to pieces as he crisscrossed the ice, incidentally drawing a somewhat sensual picture of Lily on the frozen surface in the process. He paused to admire his handiwork once he finished off the last of the frozen Sunfloras and popped out of his shell. "Huh. And here I thought Tracey was the better artist." He snapped a picture with his camera, and just in time, too, because suddenly a large metallic leg shot down and nearly skewered him. He leaped out of the way in time, and the leg instead scraped across the ice, marring the picture Leo had made in the process. "Hey! What's the big deal?!" he complained at the clone now looming over him, suspended in an eight-legged arachnoid harness made out of several hundred robot spiders interlocked with each other. "Not an art fan?"

"Not of that kind of art!" the clone said, sending another leg shooting towards Leo. Leo used the slippery surface of the ice to his advantage to skate out of the way in time. "And especially not of Ms. Magic!"

"It's Mrs. Magic now, actually, we got married yesterday," Leo said.

"And you didn't invite me, Titan?" another Arackaiser asked as he stalked up in another robo-harness. "I'm so offended!"

"Yeah, well, I was going to—might as well get you crashing the wedding out of the way—but the missus said no," Leo quipped as more and more harness-wearing Arackaisers appeared.

"Such a pity. And here we were going to invite you to our wedding with Plasmari, too!" an Arackaiser said.

Leo raised an eyebrow. "What, really?"

"No, we were actually going to present your head to her as a gift," another said.

Leo snapped his fingers. "Aha! That's it! I finally have some leverage! Hey, if all you guys are going to divide the world equally among you, then which of you gets…wait, who the hell is Plasmari?"

"…Seriously?" an Arackaiser asked incredulously. "She's your sister-in-law!"

Leo blinked. "Wait, what?"

"Wait, doesn't that make us related to him now?" another Arackaiser asked in concern.

"Hold up, what do you mean my sister-in-law?" Leo asked.

"Well, it's not that big a deal, we've killed siblings before," another Arackaiser pointed up.

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN, MY SISTER-IN-LAW?!" Leo shouted.

The Arackaisers looked at him in annoyance. "Plasmari is Ms. Magic's sister, the eldest daughter of the wicked White Witch! Honestly, Titan, you can't even remember your extended family? Honestly, I don't expect your relationship with Ms. Magic to last much longer at this rate."

A synapse flickered and died inside Leo's brain. "Wait…waitwaitwaitwaitwait…you…YOU'RE BOINKING MARIANNE?!" he screamed in horror.

An Arackaiser sniffed. "A rather crude way of putting it, but yes, we are."

"Not that we need your approval for it," another sneered.

"You're boinking Marianne. You're boinking Marianne. You're boinking Marianne," Leo repeated hoarsely, his mind reeling. "That…that is definitely not a mental image I needed. I'm so asking Briney to wipe this from my memory."

An Arackaiser snorted. "Well, there's no need to be rude about it, Titan…"

"And besides, haven't you always been telling us we needed to get laid?" another commented.

"NOT WITH MY SISTER-IN-LAW!" Leo shouted. He paused. "Holy shit, Marianne is my sister-in-law. And Bellum is my mother-in-law. I only just realized that now. Wow. Most people say their in-laws are psychos, but mine actually are."

"Look at it from our perspective, our in-laws are disgusting do-gooders!" another Arackaiser said.

"But every family tree needs a little pruning…and we'll start with you!" another said. The harnesses raised two legs each up in the air, powerful masses of energy gathering between them.

"Oh Shaymin…all right, I'm repressing the horrific thought of you and Marianne doing it before I throw up in three…two…one…aaaand it's gone. Anyway, if you're dividing the world up equally, then how do you decide who gets Marianne?" Leo asked, unconcerned about the charging attacks.

"We won't, we'll just clone her too," an Arackaiser said.

Leo sighed. "Figured. Oh well, it was worth a shot." Then he quickly drew a card from his deck and slapped it onto his Duel Disk, shouting, "Poké-Modify! Captain Ameroupe's shield, activate!"

"SHIELD VENT," said Choc-Oboh's voice. As a silhouette of a heroic figure in red, white, and blue appeared over Leo, his tonfas morphed into a massive round metal shield with a white star surrounded by red and white rings. The Squirtle dropped to the ground, hiding underneath the shield. At that instant, the spider harnesses fired their energy blasts. They struck the shield and rebounded, smashing into the clones and exploding, destroying them and scattering the component spiders of their harnesses.

"Yatta!" Leo cheered as he stood back up, his shield fading away…and frowned when he saw several dozen Arackaisers running towards him, howlingfor blood. "Hmm. That might have been a bit premature." He drew another card from his deck and slapped it onto his Duel Disk. "Poké-Modify! Blur's super speed, activate!"

"SPEED VENT," Choc-Oboh's voice said as the silhouette of a figure clad in blue and silver spandex briefly formed over Leo. The Squirtle reached into his shell and pulled out a stopwatch. Starting it up, he threw it into the air, stepped forward…

And began moving at speeds far, far beyond a regular Squirtle's capabilities, running so swiftly that all that could be seen of him was a golden blur as he dashed through the army of Arackaisers, punching each one several dozen times a millisecond, shouting "ATATATATATATATATA" or "ORAORAORAORAORA" for reasons only he could fathom. He came to a stop back where he had started, just in time to catch the stopwatch. He pressed the stop button and glanced down at the screen. It was ten seconds on the dot from when he'd started his attack. Grinning, he turned his back on the horde of Arackaisers, who were writhing in pain. "Your destiny is despair. You are already dead," he said dramatically. With cries of agony, the Arackaisers all fell to the ground and exploded.

Unfortunately, even more Arackaisers rose up to take their place, charging towards Leo, robot spiders crawling up their bodies and forming weapons in their hands. "Ugh, you guys haven't had enough? Fine, maybe this'll give the next bunch pause," Leo said, drawing another card and slapping it on his disk. "Poké-Modify! The Human Torchic's flame blast, activate!"

"HEAT VENT," Choc-Oboh's voice said as the silhouette of a man made of fire appeared over Leo, causing the Squirtle to burst into flames. Crying out, Leo raised a fist into the air and slammed it into the ground, causing a tremendous wave of fire to blast out from him, incinerating every Arackaiser and spider around him in seconds…

Except ANOTHER massive group of Arackaisers started running towards him even before the ashes from the last bunch finished falling to the ground. This time, the robot spiders covered their entire bodies, linking together to form insectoid—and no doubt fireproof—armor. Leo growled. "Oh for the love of…okay, how about this, then? You aren't the only ones who can make an army of yourselves!" He drew another card. "Poké-Modify! Multiply, activate!"

"CLONE VENT," Choc-Oboh's voice said as Leo's form blurred and suddenly split off into several dozen duplicates of himself. A chill ran down Pikachu's spine, and he wasn't sure why.

"YATTAAAAAAAA!" the clones shouted as they leaped into the air and shot down at the army of Arackaisers with flying side kicks, explosions rocking the room on impact as they tore the enemies to smithereens.

As the flames and smoke from the blast died down, the clones all melded back into the original Leo, who stood there, panting for breath. "Okay," he gasped. "I think I need a sec-"

"TITAAAAAAAAAAAN!"

"Okay, NOW this is getting ridiculous!" Leo shouted as an even BIGGER group of Arackaisers and robot spiders rushed towards him. He raised his tonfas to defend himself, only to be bowled over as they all leaped on him at unison, his body vanishing beneath wriggling green and silver forms. More and more enemies leaped onto the growing pile on top of Leo, burying him underneath their sheer mass as they tried to crush him beneath their hatred (and body weight)…

Until a voice rang out saying, "Poké-Modify! The Incredible Bulk's super strength, activate!"

"STRENGTH VENT."

There was a flash of green light, and suddenly all the Arackaisers and spiders were blasted off of Leo as the armored Squirtle bellowed, "LEO SMASH!" while the gigantic silhouette of an incredibly muscular green Hariyama loomed over him. As the silhouette faded away, Leo took in the dozens of bodies littering the floor and scowled when he saw that already another wave of Arackaisers was approaching. "This is getting to be too much. Sooner or later they're going to wear me down, and even if I'll just respawn, so will they! I've gotta take these guys out at the source." He drew another card from his deck and slapped it onto his disk. "Poké-Modify! Ghoul Rider's motorcycle, activate!"

"RIDE VENT," Choc-Oboh's voice said as the silhouette of a flaming Duskull wearing a spiky leather jacket with chains briefly appeared over Leo's body. A flaming portal appeared on the ground nearby, and a motorcycle that looked like it had been forged in the pits of the Abyss emerged. It was made of black and chrome metal and covered in spikes and chains, its wheels were aflame, a large Tauros skull was mounted on the front, and a decal of a flirtatiously winking Lily adorned the side. It looked kind of like a cousin of Outlaw's, if Outlaw had a cousin with a motorcycle alt mode. (She didn't. Not that she knew of, anyway.)

"Oh yeah, now we're talking!" Leo said giddily as he hopped onto the motorcycle. "After all, what's a Masked Rider without a bike?" He pulled off his Duel disk and deck and slid them into a slot designed for them on the instrument panel, causing them to glow with a faintly demonic light. He gripped the handlebars, revving the engine. With a grin and a whoop, he pulled a wheelie and drove off, leaving a trail of flames in his wake as he rode in the direction of the cloning pods.

One of the Arackaisers gasped. "No! He's going for the cloning pods!"

"If he destroys those, we can no longer replenish our numbers!" another said.

"After him!" said a third.

Several Arackaisers jumped into the air. Beneath them, several hundred robot spiders got to work, rising up and linking their bodies together to assemble a set of silvery motorcycles with spider-shaped spokes and hubcaps, web motifs embossing the sides, and crests shaped like fanged spider heads looming over the front wheels. The clones landed in the seats, grabbed the handlebars, and started the engines. More spiders climbed onto the sides of the motorcycles and formed sidecars, which other clones quickly climbed into just before the bikes took off in pursuit of Leo.

Leo's motorcycle plowed through the Arackaisers before him like a scythe through chaff, knocking over, running over, and setting them on fire as he headed towards the outer wall of the chamber, and the countless cloning pods lining it, which were churning out new Arackaisers at a steady rate. While on the outside Leo looked stoic (due to the mask) inside he was squealing like the fanboy he is. OmigoshomigoshOMIGOSH this is so AWESOMESAUCE! I'm riding a motorcycle! And have superpowers! I've always DREAMED of doing something like this, but even after I started this adventure, I never thought I'd get to do something like this! The only way this could get better is if I were being chased by other motorcycles right about now… He paused, noticing the Arackaisers catching up to him on their own motorcycles in his rear-view mirror. Eeee! Scratch that thought. The only way this could get better is if they were going to play card games with me, but that seems rather unlikely right about now. Oh well, there's always Mewgle. Wonder if he knows how to ride a motorcycle… "Heh, you guys really think you can match me with those pieces of junk? Do you even know whose bike this is?" Leo called smugly.

"Yours?" one of the Arackaisers riding in a sidecar shouted.

"…Eh, close enough," Leo said.

"Die, Titan!" the Arackaisers shouted, the clones in the sidecars spitting Bullet Seeds at Leo.

The Squirtle wildly swerved and steered his bike about to dodge the projectiles, letting go of one handlebar so he could grab a tonfa and deflect a few seeds before they could smash into his head. "You keep saying that, but it hasn't happened yet!"

"Today it will!" a clone yelled.

"You keep saying that, too!" Leo said as he did a U-turn so he was facing the oncoming bikers. Rather than riding straight towards them, however—he had no intention of playing Combusken—he flipped a switch right underneath where he had set his Duel Disk, activating the bike's autopilot and allowing him to drive in reverse without worrying about hitting anything (other than Arackaisers, of course) so that he could concentrate on the mounted clones. His mask sliding open, he spat an Ice Beam at the ground in front of the bikes. When they rode over it, they started sliding and skidding out of control despite their riders' best efforts to steer them. Two crashed into each other and exploded, while another flipped over completely, the sidecar coming undone and flying into the air, where it smashed into a wall and exploded. Two more bikes crashed into the fallen bike and exploded. "Yatta!"

That's when the next set of bikes shed their sidecars—the cars morphing into motorcycles themselves—and sprouted spikes from the tires, giving them the traction they needed to ride across the ice. The eyes on the spider crests glowed, and the heads opened up and started spewing globs of metal webbing at Leo. The bike's autopilot detected the globs and quickly swerved out of the way, causing the webbing to hit some ground-bound clones, wrapping them up in nets of razor-sharp metal wire that sliced them to pieces. "Webbing, huh? You aren't the only one who can do something like that!" Leo said, drawing a card and slapping it onto his Duel Disk. "Poké-Modify! Spinarak-Man's web shooters, activate!"

"WEB VENT."

The silhouette of a man in a costume resembling a Spinarak was briefly superimposed over him, and then a pair of projectile launchers materialized in the eye sockets of the skull on his motorcycle. The launchers fired, shooting strands of webbing at the oncoming bikes that expanded to form a massive net. Unable to steer out of the way in time, the motorcycles crashed right into it, finding themselves as stuck as…well, as stuck as anything that got caught in a Spinarak's web would be. "Ha! How ironic, caught in a web! Except it's not your own web, and you aren't really Ariadoses but Sunfloras, so I guess it's not that ironic, is it?"

He heard the sound of engines revving, and noticed that a pair of motorcycles were rushing towards him on either side, the Sunfloras riding them screaming a kamikaze battle cry. "A suicide attack? Please, like I don't know how to handle one of those," Leo scoffed. He pressed a button, ejecting his Duel disk and deck. He put them back on his arm and belt respectively, and then jumped into the air just before the spider-cycles could crash into his ride, destroying all three bikes in a tremendous explosion.

While in the air, Leo quickly drew another card from his deck and slapped it onto his disk. "Poké-Modify! Captain Ameroupe's shield, activate!"

"SHIELD VENT," Choc-Oboh said as Leo's tonfa morphed into a star-spangled shield once again.

"Charge and up!" Leo cried as he focused his power into his shield, causing it to start burning gold. "This is my hissatsu attack! Hissatsu!" He hurled the shield at the wall of the chamber, having ridden close enough by now to perform this attack. The shield flew true through the air, trailing golden flames behind it as it smashed into a cloning pod and curved sideways, ripping through one pod after another as it flew in an arc tracing the circumference of the room, leaving scrap and chunks of unborn Arackaisers in its wake as one by one it destroyed the cloning devices. "YATTA!" Leo cheered as he landed.

"Nooo! What have you done?!" an Arackaiser cried in horror.

"Cut the flow of evil right off at the source!" Leo bragged, somewhat disappointed that all the clones weren't exploding at the same time as the machines that had made them. Ah well, No Ontological Inertia couldn't work all the time, he supposed. "You aren't going to be getting anymore reinforcements anytime soon! You still outnumber us…but now you can't replenish your numbers, so it's only a matter of time before we beat you all!"

"Not if we don't kill you first!" an Arackaiser said.

Leo smirked. "Please, if you bozos haven't killed me after years of trying, what makes you think you can do it now?"

And that's when a giant metal spike pierced his back and ripped through his chest. Leo blinked and stared at the bloodstained protrusion jutting out of his gut. "Ah," he said faintly.

He gasped in pain as the spike rose into the air, lifting him with it, until he was eye level with a grinning Arackaiser wearing a monocle. He was wearing silvery arachnoid armor with a helm resembling an Ariados and had four multi-jointed appendages growing out of his back. He was standing at the controls of a huge robot spider comprised of thousands of interlinked miniature robot spiders, one of whose legs currently had Leo skewered on it like a shish-kebob. "No fair," Leo said weakly as blood oozed out of him. "You're…supposed to announce your attacks…"

"Yes, and that usually alerts you to the fact that I'm about to attack," Arackaiser said smugly. "Never let it be said that I don't learn from my mistakes."

"If that's the case…then why haven't you given up…after all the times I've trounced you?" Leo gurgled, blood starting to dribble from the bottom of his mask.

"Because I knew that one day, if I was persistent and patient enough, I would finally get you," Arackaiser gloated. "And that day has finally come, Titan. You're mine now. At long last, you've finally lost."

"My friends will…avenge me…" Leo gasped.

"And I will kill them, just as I've killed you," Arackaiser said calmly.

"Well, before you do that," Leo wheezed. "You might want to…duck…"

Much to Leo's disappointment, Arackaiser didn't give him a baffled look and ask what he was talking about right before getting decapitated by Captain Ameroupe's shield as it flew through the air back towards Leo. Instead, the armored Sunflora took Leo's advice and ducked, causing the shield to fly over his head and slice through the tip of the leg Leo was impaled on, dropping him to the ground. Unfortunately, this did not by any means save him, as the severed limb dissolved into its component spiders and started crawling through the hole in his shell and into his body, eating their way through his soft, sensitive flesh and causing Leo to scream in unimaginable agony as the mechanoids began to devour him from within.

Arackaiser laughed malevolently. "Well, that's not quite the end I had planned for you…but I suppose something as undignified and horrible as being eaten alive by my minions is a fitting end for a nuisance such as yourself, isn't it, Titan?" He frowned. "Still, I've underestimated you before and it's always come back to bite me. I should probably kill you quickly now, just to be safe."

"Yes, kill him now! Kill him now! Kill him now!" the other Arackaisers cheered.

The mecha raised its leg, more spiders crawling up it to form a new tip, and smashed it downwards, splitting open Leo's skull and killing him instantly.

Unfortunately, that was just the catalyst Choc-Oboh required.

The mark on Leo's back began to glow even through the spiders scurrying all over him, causing them to chitter and scramble away, sensing something was about to happen. Arackaiser frowned in concern. "What? What is-"

Suddenly, Leo burst into flames in a terrible conflagration, causing the robot spider to stumble back in surprise, nearly throwing Arackaiser off. "Ack! Wh-what is happening?!"

"Don't ask us! We're just as clueless as you are!" a clone said.

The flames rose into the air, forming the figure of a mighty phoenix with its fiery wings stretched outwards. The phoenix shrieked, its call echoing across the chamber, before suddenly shrinking back down to wrap its blazing wings around Leo's form. Much to Arackaiser's astonishment, the Squirtle's corpse slowly began to stand back up, the holes in his chest and head sealing back up, new armor forming to cover his skin and shell. "No…no, it can't be!" Arackaiser screamed. "Regeneration's never been one of your powers before!"

"It is now!" Leo said as the healing flames swirled around him. "I'm not the Turtle Titan you remember, Arackaiser…I'm stronger, faster, more awesomever than ever! I'm the hard-boiled hot-blooded hero who walks the path of heaven, Masked Rider Phoenix!" He struck a pose, his scarf billowing out behind him, as the flames rose up to once again form the effigy of a phoenix with its wings spread in flight.

"Turtle Titan, Masked Rider…I don't care what you call yourself!" Arackaiser snarled furiously. "Whoever you are, I'll kill you!"

"You just tried that, bud," Leo pointed out. "It doesn't take! Not anymore!"

"Good," Arackaiser said viciously, gripping his robot's controls. "That just means I can kill you as many times as I want, in as many ways as I want, until finally you give up and die!"

"That's not gonna happen, Arackaiser…not today, or any day!" Leo reached for his deck and dramatically drew a card—apparently unaffected by the fact that he was still on fire—and slapped it onto his Duel Disk. "Poké-Modify! Multiply, activate!"

"CLONE VENT," Choc-Oboh's voice said as the mark on his back glowed. Leo's form blurred, and suddenly there were four Masked Riders standing where one had been just a minute ago. Could he have made more of himself than just that? Certainly, but there was a specific reason he'd wanted four turtles. In unison, each clone reached for its deck and drew a card. However, the cards each of them slapped onto the Duel Disk were not the same.

"Poké-Modify! Leonardo's katanas, activate!"

"SWORD VENT."

"Poké-Modify! Tom's bo staff, activate!"

"STAFF VENT."

"Poké-Modify! Brad's sais, activate!"

"DAGGER VENT."

"Poké-Modify! Matt's Nunchucks, activate!"

"NUNCHUCK VENT."

One by one, the four turtles' tonfas transformed into new weapons: a pair of katanas, a wooden staff, a pair of three-pronged daggers, and a pair of nunchucks. Locking their weapons together, they shouted, "TURTLE POWER!"

Paul, in the middle of his duel with Dawn, paused for a moment, getting the strange urge to scream, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Another chill ran down Pikachu's spine, and he didn't know why.

"Oh man, this is so cool! I've always wanted to do this!" Leo said giddily as he examined his swords.

"Yeah! Though I wish I'd gotten the swords," the Leo wielding the staff commented as he twirled it around. "Even if I've always identified more with Tom as the brains of the outfit, Leo's the one I've always looked up to most. I'm named after him, after all."

"Mon, why'd I have to be stuck with Brad's weapons?" the third Leo complained as he looked at his sais in disgust. "I hate Brad! Everyone hates Brad, even his fans! He's the worst!"

"Am I the only one with a strange craving for pizza right now?" the Leo with the nunchucks asked as he spun his chained weapons about, somehow managing not to hit himself with them.

"No, I could go for some too," the Leo with the sais said.

"That'll have to wait until later," the Leo with the katanas said, brandishing his swords at Arackaiser. "Right now, we've got an archenemy to beat!"

"He should be a piece of cake compared to Slicer," the Leo with the staff said.

"Oh mon, how cool would it be to fight Slicer?" the Leo with nunchucks gushed. "Or Paul, I guess."

"Paul would probably tear us apart. Slicer, too," the Leo with the staff said sadly.

The Leo with nunchucks sighed. "Yeah, I know…that's so lame…"

"Four of you?! Hmmph, no matter," Arackaiser growled. "I don't care if there's four or four hundred, either way, I'll destroy you all!"

"Oh yeah? Well, we've only got one thing to say to that…" the Leo with katanas said.

"COWABUNGA!" all of them shouted, except for the one with nunchucks, who yelled, "BOOYAKASHA!" The others paused and stared at the one with nunchucks. "What?"

"Wow, Pikachu was right, that really does sound kind of lame…" the Leo with a staff murmured.

"Whatever. Just get him!" the Leo with katanas said.

"Wait, why do you get to tell us what to do?" the Leo with sais asked.

"Because I have katanas," the Leo with katanas said.

"…Damn you and your impeccable logic!" the Leo with sais snarled.

"Stop arguing with each other and DIE!" Arackaiser shouted, smashing his leaves into the control panels, causing hatches to open on the sides of the spider and fire missiles at the four Squirtles.

"Evasive maneuvers!" the Leo with katanas yelled. The Leo with sais ducked sideways, stabbed a passing missile with his dagger, spun around, and hurled the rocket at another missile, causing them to explode. "Or do something like that. That works, too." He held a katana up vertically before him, edge pointed outwards as a missile shot straight towards him. He didn't move as the missile struck his sword…and was sliced in two, the two halves flying past him and exploding. "…Wow, I didn't think that would actually work."

"Of course it works, because we're awesome!" the Leo with nunchucks cried, spinning his weapons this way and that, deflecting missiles and causing them to explode on the ground around him.

"You want awesome, try this on for size!" the Leo with a staff said, using his weapon to vault into the air. He landed on a missile and quickly hopped off before his weight could knock it to the ground, jumping from missile to missile as he approached the spider robot. He leaped high into the air from the last missile, raising the staff high over his head as he prepared to strike down Arackaiser…

And got knocked to the side by one of the robot's legs, flinging him to the ground. Before he could recover, the robot raised another leg, preparing to bring it down on the staff-wielder's skull. Fortunately, just as the limb came down, the Leo with sais was suddenly standing over his fallen brother, crossing his daggers in front of him and using them to lock the tip of the leg in place inches away from his face. "A little help here!" he grunted as the staff Leo scurried out of the way, some of the leg's component spiders detaching themselves and crawling up his blades and onto his arms while the rest kept up the pressure.

"On it!" the Leo with nunchucks shouted, bouncing off of the Leo with sai's head, landing on top of the leg, and running up its length.

"…That's not helping!" the Leo with sais shouted.

"Then maybe this will!" the Leo with the katanas yelled as he dashed by, slicing at the leg as he went. There was a pause, and then the limb disintegrated, its component spiders falling to pieces.

"Tch, what took you so long?" the Leo with sais asked as he beat the remaining spiders off of his arms.

"It looked like you had everything under control," the Leo with katanas said smugly. The Leo with sais snarled at him.

"Hmm, we all seem to be taking on the personality traits of whichever Squirtle whose weapons we're using…fascinating…" the Leo with the staff murmured.

"Wait, doesn't that mean that the one of us with nunchucks is a complete idiot now, then?" the Leo with sais asked in concern.

"Uh, guys? A little help here?!" the Leo with nunchucks yelled as he sank into the surface of the robot spider, spiders crawling up his body while Arackaiser cackled malevolently. "I don't think I thought this all the way through!"

The other three Leos facepalmed. "Ugh. That answers that question," the Leo with sais grunted.

"Wow, is this how Pikachu feels about us whenever we do something stupid?" the Leo with a staff wondered.

"Well, this certainly isn't stupid! I hope," the Leo with katanas said as he ran towards the robot, then fell on his back and slid beneath the spider's underside, thrusting his swords into the machine's belly and slicing it open as he went. The spider screamed in agony and convulsed as hundreds of spiders gushed out of the rip the katanas had made, along with one wailing nunchuck-wielding Squirtle.

"WAAAAAAHHHHHH-oof," the Leo grunted as he hit the ground. "Well, that could have gone better."

"Get out of there, you idiot!" the Leo with sais shouted.

"Huh? What do you-" the Leo with nunchucks glanced up, paling under his mask when he saw the underside of the robot rushing down towards him. "Ah. Right." Wailing at the top of his lungs, he retracted into his shell and whirled out from underneath the spider with a Rapid Spin before he could get crushed beneath its bulk.

Reabsorbing the spiders it had bled out, the robot rose back up, thrust its abdomen into the air, and fired a thick metal cable at the ceiling. The cable latched on to one of the gargoyles, allowing the spider to pull itself up off the ground, dangling high above the Squirtles. "Yeah, there's no way that's good," the Leo with a staff said nervously.

"You think?" the Leo with sais said sarcastically.

Hissing, the spider started spitting globs of metal webbing at them. "Don't let that stuff touch you!" the Leo with katanas shouted. "If it's anything like the webs those bikers shot at us before, it won't trip us up, it'll slice us to pieces!"

"You don't need to tell me twice!" the Leo with nunchucks cried, frantically trying to dodge the webs as they rained down from above.

"Or we could just freeze them with our Ice Beams," the Leo with a staff suggested.

"…Or we could do that, yeah," the Leo with katanas said Mareepishly.

"I forgot we could do that," the Leo with sais said, embarrassed.

The four Squirtles opened their masks and spat Ice Beams at the globs of webbing, freezing them in midair and reducing them to solid—but much less dangerous—chunks of ice. Instead of dodging them, they just used their weapons to smash or bat away any that came close to falling on them.

"Think you're so smart, do you?" Arackaiser sneered. "Let's see you freeze these!" Shrieking, the robot spider stretched out its legs and twitched them, laser beams firing from the tips and starting to crisscross the floor as the mecha swung about on its thread.

"Okay, now we need to take evasive maneuvers!" the Leo with a staff yelled, barely dodging out of the way of a laser.

"I don't wanna get lasered! Getting lasered hurts!" the Leo with nunchucks cried, barely dodging a beam.

"You're immortal, shellhead! You'll just respawn!" the Leo with sais snarled as he backflipped out of the way of a beam and barely avoided getting fried by another one going in the opposite direction.

"Yeah, but it'll hurt!" the Leo with nunchucks complained.

"Wait, I have an idea!" said the Leo with katanas, getting an idea. Much to the horror of his brothers, he rushed in front of an oncoming beam, raised his swords, and turned them so the flat side was facing away from him. The laser struck the sword and rebounded, slicing through some of the Arackaisers who'd been staying on the periphery of the fight and setting them on fire. "We can redirect the beams!"

"Uh, how, exactly?!" the Leo with sais yelled. "Our weapons aren't exactly as reflective as yours!"

"Mine is made of wood!" the Leo with a staff said, shaking his weapon…and yelping when the top third of it was cut off by a laser. "I really need to upgrade this thing," he grumbled.

"To a seven-foot staff?" the Leo with nunchucks suggested.

"I was thinking a bit more high-tech," the Leo with the shortened staff said.

"Ooh, a solar-powered staff?" the Leo with nunchucks said. The Leo with the staff glared at him and whacked him on the head with his weapon. "What? I thought it was a good idea!" he complained.

"Sweet Shaymin, is that what we sound like to everyone else?" the Leo with sais wondered. "How can they stand us? How can Lily?"

"Because Lily's the best womon in the entire world," the Leo with katanas said dreamily.

"Yeah," the Leo with a staff agreed fondly. They smiled goofily at each other for a moment until some more zigzagging laser beams reminded them that they had other things to be worried about.

"Anyway, as to how to deflect the lasers…did the rest of you really forget that we have other stuff in our shells to fall back on other than cards?" the Leo with katanas asked.

"…Er, yeah, I guess I did," the Leo with a staff said embarrassedly.

"I didn't, but I like playing with my nunchucks," the Leo with nunchucks said, happily twirling his weapons about and somehow not hitting himself with them.

The other three Squirtles quickly rummaged around in their shells and pulled out hand mirrors. "You know, if all of our inventories are replicated when we clone ourselves, the practical implications are rather staggering," the Leo with a staff said.

"The only thing I want to stagger right now is that spider!" the Leo with sais growled.

"How can we stagger it if's not standing on anything?" the Leo with nunchucks wondered.

"Oh, just deflect a laser already!" the Leo with sais snapped.

He did. All four of them did, actually, leaping in front of a laser beam and holding their mirrors (or swords) up to them, deflecting the beams right back at the spider. Arackaiser yelped in alarm and ducked when he saw the beams shooting up towards him…but his relief at surviving didn't last very long when he realized that the lasers hadn't been aimed at him, but at the thread suspending him from the ceiling. "Oh, f-" he started just before the four lasers burned through the cable, causing it to snap and send him falling towards the ground.

The spider hit the ground and shattered, sending its component pieces flying all over the place, the nearby Arackaisers yelling in alarm and scurrying out of the way as the mechanoids flew at them. The four Squirtles weathered out the storm by retracting into their shells and riding the wave of damaged and busted machines as it surged towards them, carrying them several meters away from the point of impact…

Until the still-intact spiders, of which there were quite a few, rebooted and started drawing back towards the epicenter of the crash, where an armored monocle-wearing Arackaiser awaited, cackling as the spiders started building up around him, creating a newer, even more dangerous mechanoid. "You aren't the only ones who can survive certain death, Titans…Riders…whatever you want to call yourselves, now! You'll have to try harder than that to defeat me!"

"Mon, this is getting ridiculous," the Leo with nunchucks said as all four of them popped back out of their shelves.

"We really need to finish this guy," the Leo with sais agreed.

"I guess a finishing move might work," the Leo with a staff said.

"But that would mean you guys would all disappear," the Leo with katanas said. "I don't think we can pull off four finishing moves at the same time, like Masked Rider OOO did when he replicated himself into all of his combos to fight the main villain in the climax of that utterly awesome movie Masked Rider OOO Wonderful: The Daimyo and the 21 Coins."

"Mon, that really was a cool movie," the Leo with nunchuks reminisced fondly.

"Can we do that, Choc-Oboh?" the Leo with a staff asked.

No, your powers don't work that way, Choc-Oboh agreed. It's stretching things as is having four of you use different weapons cards at once. For a finishing move like the one you have in mind, you'll have to cancel the effects of the Clone Vent.

"Eh, no big deal, we only had a temporary existence anyway," the Leo with sais said.

The Leo with nunchuks nodded. "And we'll all collapse back into one person, so it's not like we're gonna die or anything."

"Then I guess it's back to just one Leo," the Leo with katanas said a little sadly. "I suppose Pikachu would say that's all the world can handle, or something like that."

"Well, it was nice working with you gents. We'll have to try this again sometime," the Leo with a staff said.

"And maybe next time I won't get sais," the Leo with sais grumbled.

"Technically, we're all the same person, so if we do this again, won't it still be you who gets the sais next time, since I am you and you are me and all that?" the Leo with nunchucks asked.

"Oh, shut up," the Leo with sais groaned.

In unison, they touched their decks. Their armored Squirtles blurred and melded back into each other until there was a single Leo, holding tonfas instead of ninja weapons. Pikachu felt a strange sense of relief and wasn't sure why. The lone Leo shuddered and shook his head. "Whoa! That was interesting…I've got four sets of memories and four different perspectives of the same series of events…and I still have a strange craving for pizza for some reason…" He frowned, noticing that Arackaiser's new robot, which looked like a giant version of himself—or rather, how he envisioned himself, an armored Ariados rather than a deluded Sunflora—was near completion. "But that's gonna have to wait until later, right now we've got a bug to squash!" Dramatically, he drew a card from his deck…then put it back in his deck and drew it three more times, arm moving very slowly.

"What are you doing?" asked a confused clone.

"I'm simulating a slow-motion repeat cut!" Leo snapped at the clone. He flipped the card over in his hand, grinning when he saw what it was. (He already knew what it was, of course, but he did it for effect.) It was the card he'd used to form his contract with Choc-Oboh, the phoenix's blazing image seeming to burn with actual flames. "Just what I needed." He slapped the card on his disk. "Poké-Modify! Choc-Oboh activate!"

"FINAL VENT!" Choc-Oboh shrieked as the mark on Leo's back burst into flames. Leo began to glow gold as he levitated into the air, the blazing figure of Choc-Oboh appearing behind him. A series of giant holographic cards depicting Leo in a flying side-kick backlit by Choc-Oboh materialized before him in a straight line leading right towards Arackaiser. The unimpressed robot roared and started charging towards him, sealing its fate.

"Phoenix Rider Kick!" Leo shouted as the flaming Choc-Oboh flapped its wings, releasing a tremendous burst of fire that engulfed Leo and launched him towards Arackaiser, golden wings appearing behind him and a pair of massive flaming talons forming over his feet as he flew towards the monster in a side-kick. He passed through each holographic card as he approached, the flames surrounding him brightening and flaring outwards with every one he went through until he was little more than a winged flaming missile when he finally collided with the mechanical monstrosity's chest, cutting through it like a hot knife through butter and coming out the other side, leaving a massive hole melted through its middle in the process. The flames were stripped away from Leo as he landed neatly on the ground behind the robot, his back facing it while his scarf billowed behind him, the robot convulsing as electricity wracked its form and robot spiders fell off it in droves. "And that's game," he said, snapping his fingers.

The robot collapsed and exploded spectacularly, shaking the room. A monocle flew from the conflagration and hit the ground on its rim, rolling about for a few seconds before wobbling and finally falling over right in front of Leo. He took one step forward, smashing it beneath his foot. "So," he said calmly to the astonished Arackaisers staring at the pillar of fire and smoke behind him. "Who's next?"

Meanwhile, while Leo was showing off and generally being awesome, Pikachu was also putting his new powers through their paces against Suicune. He realized two things pretty quickly: one, now that he had the power of lightning (moreso than usual), he was INCREDIBLY fast.

Unfortunately, so was Suicune. They didn't call her the North Wind for nothing. "Hold…still!" Pikachu grunted as he called down another fusillade of lightning bolts from the ceiling, bathing every inch of the battlefield in thousands of volts of electricity, only for Suicune to somehow manage to evade each lightning bolt effortlessly, even when they were only inches apart, and the ground was completely electrified by now. "You're supposed to be weak to my attacks, would it be too much for you to actually let me HIT you with one?" He was pretty certain that, at his level of power, he only needed to hit her with one or two supercharged Electric attacks to beat her. The problem, of course, came with actually hitting her.

Suicune responded by opening her mouth and firing a Shadow-tinged Aurora Beam at Pikachu. He sidestepped in a flash of lightning and swung his sword, sending a curtain of lightning bolts racing across the battlefield towards her. Suicune leaped into the air, twirling and somehow managing to pass through the incredibly narrow gap that there was no way she should have been able to fit through with astonishing grace and elegance, mouth opening wide and a pair of Ice Fangs growing down from her upper jaw as she lunged at him. Rather than moving out of the way, Pikachu thrust his sword into her mouth…

Only for the Aurora Pokémon to liquefy and split down the middle, her two halves parting around Thunder Fang and racing past Pikachu, reforming behind him. Pikachu blinked in surprise. "Okay, that's new. Since when do you know Acid Armor?! You couldn't do that the last time we fought! Then again, the last time we fought you weren't an evil Shadow monster, I guess…"

Snarling, Suicune pawed the ground, and then lunged at Pikachu with a Shadow Rush. Electricity blazing up around him, Pikachu countered with a Volt Tackle. The two collided, arcs of electricity and bolts of Shadow flying all over the place as their powers clashed, light warring against darkness. Vacant blue eyes locked with determined yellow ones as both sides gave it their all, the energies blasting out from them vaporizing and incinerating surrounding Arackaisers and spiders. Slowly, Suicune's Shadow Aura started giving way, and Pikachu pressed forward, intending to finish the job…

When abruptly Suicune broke off her attack and leaped over him before he could smash into her, causing him to streak past her and collide with some Arackaisers, his electric aura disintegrating them on contact. "Oh, COME ON!" he yelled angrily as Suicune landed some distance away and turned back towards him. There wasn't even an amused look on her face, and Pikachu wasn't sure whether or not that made him angrier or not. Frustrated, he raised his sword into the air, calling down a massive thunderbolt from the heavens that streaked right towards Suicune. The Aurora Pokémon nimbly sidestepped it, but the bolt chased after her rather than grounding itself, forcing the brainwashed legendary to try to outrun the bolt, bobbing and weaving and dashing all over the place as fast as she could. It was no use, however, Pikachu's will and sword guided the bolt, causing it to Growlithedly follow her wherever she went. Trying to shake off the bolt, eventually she started running straight for Pikachu…

Which was exactly what he wanted. Grinning, he drew back his sword, the electrical blade expanding as he prepared to strike Suicune down the second he was certain she couldn't dodge him…

And then she turned to water and flowed through an incredibly tiny track in the ground. "WHAT?! NO!" Pikachu screamed, quickly directing the bolt into the ground before it could hit him (not that it would hurt, of course, but still). This had the perfectly predictable effect of causing the ground to explode. Pikachu's sword flashed through the air faster than the eye could see, slicing the debris flying through the air to pieces before it could touch him. The surrounding Arackaisers and spiders were not so lucky, and were knocked back and crushed or impaled by the debris. When the smoke cleared, Pikachu was completely unsurprised to see Suicune standing on the opposite side of the resulting gaping crater, completely unharmed. "If it weren't for the fact that you were brainwashed," he said slowly. "I would strongly consider killing you."

Suicune's response was to stamp the ground. Pikachu felt a slight vibration beneath him, and shifted to the side in a burst of static just before a tremendous geyser of black water erupted from the floor he'd just been standing on, droplets sizzling as they sparked against his electric armor and melted through the floor. When Pikachu looked back, Suicune was gone, a trail of dazed and bowled-over Arackaisers in her wake. The samurai narrowed his eyes. "Oh, you're not getting away that easily." He leaped over the crater and chased after her on all fours, sword in his mouth, a crackling nimbus surrounding him as he left a zigzagging lightning bolt in his wake.

Suicune was fast, but now, so was he. He was able to catch up with her pretty quickly. Well, he would have, except that waterspouts and ice spikes kept bursting out of the ground as he approached. He dodged or sliced through every obstacle in his path, but while each evasion only cost him a tiny fraction of a second, all those fractions started adding up, and Suicune began to pull away from him. Out of desperation, he transformed into a lightning bolt, rose into the air, and shot down towards Suicune. She dodged at the last second, but he persistently leaped again, crashing down again and again (never striking the same place twice, because lightning supposedly never strikes twice, though everyone knows that's ridiculous), and yet never managing to hit her. Frustrated, he deliberately overshot her on his next leap, materializing in front of her and thrusting his sword at her face. She gracefully leaped over his blade and over his head. Not willing to lose again, he immediately surged upwards while simultaneously summoning a lightning bolt from above. In the ridiculously short amount of time before she could be struck by the pincer attack, however, Suicune shifted her body sideways in a midair dodge, causing Pikachu to collide with his own lightning bolt, resulting in an electrical explosion that might have zapped Suicune if she hadn't opened her mouth and fired a Gust attack at the last second, the wind both blowing Pikachu away before his blast could hit her and flinging her in the opposite direction and out of range. She elegantly landed on all fours and took off again, leaving him in the dust.

Pikachu gnashed his teeth in frustration. She's too fast. I need to be faster…but how can I become faster than LIGHTNING?! A thought suddenly occurred to him. Wait…maybe if I take a page out of Sparky's book… He raised his sword into the air. "Come, Raidenuma!"

There was a whinny that sounded like the crack of thunder, and a lightning bolt shot down from the ceiling, transforming into a mighty Rapidash made of pure electricity with a crackling mane of lightning, armor on its legs and face, and a standard with the Thunderblade crest mounted behind the saddle on its back. Pikachu blinked in surprise. That actually worked? I must never tell Leo about this. He leaped onto the saddle on his steed's back and pulled on the reins, which were made of lightning, naturally enough. "Ride, Raidenuma! Yah!" The Rapidash whickered, rearing back on its hind legs and kicking its forelegs in the air, then brought its front hooves down with a thunderclap and took off, moving faster than Pikachu had imagined possible, leaving a trail of crackling hoofprints burned into the floor.

Running so fast that Pikachu's lips were pushed back, Raidenuma caught up with Suicune in seconds. Looking startled to see the armored lightning horse (wouldn't you?), the legendary beast almost didn't dodge the sweep from Pikachu's sword as he lashed out at her side. Unfortunately, she did dodge, and quickly picked up the pace, moving even faster and starting to edge out ahead of Raidenuma. Pikachu considered leaping onto her back, but was fairly certain she'd still somehow manage to evade him at the last moment and leave him to fall flat on his face. Instead he raised his sword, summoning more lightning bolts from the skies that crashed down all around them. Predictably, Suicune dodged every one of them.

Neighing, Raidenuma leaped into the air and brought all four hooves down on the ground with a thunderclap, causing a wave of electricity to blast out from his legs. Suicune leaped into the air to dodge the wave…

And the curtain of electricity blasted upwards at the same time as Pikachu summoned a second curtain of lightning from above, leaving Suicune with absolutely nowhere to go. At least, that's what Pikachu thought until the front half of Suicune turned into water and detached itself from her rear, getting struck by the twin curtains of electricity and evaporating in a sizzle of static while her back half landed back on the ground as the energy wave rushed outwards, more water flowing from her bisected torso and reforming and solifiying into her front half. Pikachu gaped incredulously. "I…what? WHAT?!"

Seeing Suicune was about to run again, he waved his sword, causing the energy wave to switch directions and come back towards them at the same time as Raidenuma stomped the ground again, creating a second lightning wave. Pikachu then summoned a third wave, this one perpendicular to the other two and parallel to the ground, which bore down on Suicune, the other two waves shooting upwards before she could leap over them and meeting the third one, trapping her in a swiftly shrinking space. Lightning bolts shot out from the reducing walls and ceiling, crisscrossing the diminishing space and making it more and more difficult for Suicune to dodge as the air became filled with electricity. Pikachu's face was aglow with victory and his natural electric aura…

Until Suicune spotted another crack in the floor and raced towards it. "NO, YOU DON'T!" Pikachu screamed, causing a lightning bolt to shoot down and strike the crack just before Suicune could liquefy and flow into it. Suicune glanced around wildly as lightning shot towards her from every direction, with absolutely no way to escape this time…

Or so Pikachu thought until Suicune threw her head back and howled, her long mane billowing as her Shadow Aura flared and suddenly a powerful Blizzard blasted out from her body, the Shadow infused in every snowflake and hailstone battering back the electricity and shattering her prison in a flurry of darkness and ice. As Pikachu's jaw dropped, Suicune took off yet again, even faster, big black spikes of ice tearing out of the ground in her wake. "I…what?! That…that's…" He twitched with rage. "That. Is. Enough." He kicked Raidenuma in the sides, causing his steed to whinny and chase off in pursuit of the elusive beast once again.

Suicune was not content to let them catch up this time. Her eyes flashed, and pulses of energy were channeled into the ground with every footfall, causing geyers and ice spikes to burst out of the floor in Pikachu's path. Like an expert horsemon, Pikachu steered his steed around every obstacle, cutting down anything that stood in his path with his sword. Raidenuma was no slouch either, firing lightning bolts from his horn that mowed down anything that got in his way. When Suicune snarled and suddenly a wall of massive ice spikes rose up in front of them, with row upon row of spikes behind them, Pikachu narrowed his eyes and leaped off of his steed, dismissing him with a thought and causing him to vanish in a burst of electricity. Pikachu zipped across the ice spikes, jumping from peak to peak in zigzagging lines of lightning. More ice spikes rose in his way as he went, but he either jumped around or over them, or cut them down with his sword, refusing to let anything impede his path. He was not going to let her get away. Not again!

Eventually, he cleared the last of the spikes and soared through the air, arcing towards the still-running Suicune…

Only for an absolutely massive ice spike to burst out of the ground right in front of him, one so big it was practically a miniature mountain. With only milliseconds before impact, Pikachu raised his sword over his head, the blade transforming into a lightning bolt that stretched to the ceiling, and brought it down in a tremendous chop that cleaved the mountain, as well as the ground behind it all the way to the distant wall, and part of the wall as well, in two. Suicune only barely managed to dodge the gigantic energy blade as it plowed through the ground, sending chunks of the floor and bolts of electricity everywhere. She used those to her advantage, hopping from piece of debris to piece of debris, and using them to shield her from bolts of lightning in the few instants she needed to get out of their way. Pikachu took advantage of his still-elongated sword and swept it sideways while still in midair, the blade's energy raising until it hit the ceiling to form a single massive wall of electrical current rushing towards Suicune. Rather than running, Suicune Dug into the ground—there being no cracks for her to flow into-burrowing underneath the energy curtain and coming out safely on the other side. That didn't really do anything, though, since Pikachu just grunted, and, with a phenomenal amount of effort, turned his giant blade around and swept it back towards Suicune. Seeing no clear escape, the legendary beast stomped the ground, causing a wall of ice to rise on front of her, then turned and fired an Aurora Beam at Pikachu. The beam smashed into Pikachu's chest and sent him flying back, but he refused to lose his concentration or his hold of his sword, and kept sweeping his elongating blade towards Suicune. The energy curtain obliterated the ice, and was about to touch Suicune…

When she activated Mirror Coat at the last second, a blue energy shield appearing around her body. The energy curtain struck the shield and rebounded, twisting back on itself and shooting towards Pikachu in a tremendous mass of roaring electrical power. The samurai, however, didn't look the least bit horrified or alarmed by the lethal bolt shooting towards him. After all, he had the divine power of lightning in him now…and with that power, no electricity could ever hurt him again. Especially not his own.

The bolt struck him, causing Pikachu to cry out…not with pain, but with ecstasy, as every single cell in his body was filled to the bursting with raw electrical power. Overflowing with energy, all of his armor except for his helmet lost cohesion and blasted outwards in a great golden nimbus, massive arcs of electricity coursing off his form as his body took on a metallic sheen. Suicune's eyes widened, suddenly realizing she might have made a terrible mistake.

Pikachu launched himself at the beast in a supercharged Volt Tackle so fast that even though she dodged out of the way the instant he charged, she still wasn't quick enough to avoid being struck by the shockwave from the impact, flinging her away and causing her to lose her supernatural grace and surefootedness for the first time this entire battle. She barely managed to get out of the way in time before Pikachu was right there, sword swinging at her face. His blade snapped through the air again and again, leaving lines of electricity in its wake, and Suicune had to dodge and duck and weave as she had before…but this time, her movements lacked the surety and confidence they had before, and Pikachu's strikes were faster and fiercer. This time, she realized there was a chance she could use. She triggered a Shadow-enhanced Blizzard, the dark winds and snow blowing Pikachu away…but not nearly as far as she had hoped, the samurai regaining his footing only meters away and charging back towards her. Terrified, she turned and ran, desperation lending her speed unlike any she'd achieved before.

Pikachu, now looking less like a samurai and more like a god of lightning, grinned cruelly. "No," he said. "This time, there is no escape." He raised his sword into the air again. "Come, Raidenryu!"

There was a roar like the rumble of thunder in a massive storm, and a gargantuan serpentine dragon made of lightning with wings like sheets of electricity descended, lightning bolts dropping from its underside and electrifying everything beneath it. The dragon flew towards Pikachu, dipping its head, catching him on its snout, and flipping him into the air, where he landed atop its head between its immaterial horns. As the dragon rose back into the air, Pikachu raised his sword once more, shouting, "Come forth, champions of the Thunderblade clan!"

Bolts of lightning shot down on either side of the dragon. Raidenuma reappeared…and he wasn't alone. There were over a dozen lightning horses now, and each of them now bore a samurai Pikachu or Raichu made completely out of lightning on their backs. All of them bore a striking resemblance to Pikachu, and wielded identical swords. Pikachu pointed Thunder Fang in the direction of Suicune, flinging a lightning bolt from its tip that the Aurora Pokémon only barely managed to dodge. "Ride forth, spirits of the Thunderblade line! For when one of us is made a mockery of, so is our entire family shamed! Ride forth, and restore our honor!"

"RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH H!" the lightning samurais roared as they raised their swords in unison and chased after Suicune, Pikachu riding above them on his mighty dragon.

Suicune now found herself hunted, not by one samurai, but what seemed to be an entire clan. They chased her mercilessly on their horses and dragon, firing lightning bolts all over the place. She moved as swiftly as ever, dodging each energy blast that came her way…but each bolt came closer to hitting her than the last, and with multiple pursuers, they were starting to fling bolts seconds after each other, so that whenever she dodged an attack she came dangerously close to running straight into a second one. Or a third, or a fourth. The few times when she had, in fact, run into a bolt, she reflexively used Mirror Coat to reflect it, but the power boost her targets received from the deflected strike only caused them to split in two, creating even more samurais for her to fret about. The lightning bolts, balls of electricity, and even summoned swords made of lightning started flying faster and more frequently as they tirelessly chased her, and Suicune, having run so much already, found her strength beginning to fade.

She raised ice spikes and geysers in their path. They cut through those or rode around them.

She conjured tornados and Blizzards and powerful gusts of wind to blow them back. They just leaned forward on the backs of their steeds and kept on riding forwards.

She spawned perfect clones of herself made of water and sent them running in different directions to try and trick them into splitting up and easing the pressure on her. All Pikachu did was summon more electric replicas of his warrior ancestors and sent them after her doubles while still spearheading the chase against her, somehow managing to tell exactly which of them was the real her. (She had no way of knowing it, but Pikachu knew which one was her because he could detect the electrical pulses in her nervous system. He wasn't strong enough to do anything about them, not yet, but he could still sense they were there.)

And then, suddenly, she found herself with nowhere else to run. The samurai had chased her right to the wall of the chamber, lined with smoking and sparking ruins of the cloning pods Leo had destroyed. Seeing no escape that way, she turned and found herself surrounded by the horsed samurai, with Pikachu riding his dragon high above them, the beast spreading its wings wide to encircle the space they were in, making it impossible for her to leap over the ring of samurai. As they slowly advanced, it truly seemed as if there was no way out, for if she moved forward to attack, they would strike, and in this enclosed space sooner or later they would hit her no matter how hard she dodged, and it was unlikely she could break free the way she had the last time she was trapped. There was no escape.

No way but one. With a blast of Shadow, she generated a Blizzard around her to provide cover and started Digging, intending to burrow to safety since there were no convenient cracks in the floor for her to flow through.

Or at least, that was her intention, until Raidenryu's tail burst out of the ground right as she started breaking the surface, impaling her on its tip and launching her into the air. Pikachu smirked as Suicune screamed in agony, electricity crackling across her form. "You didn't really think I wouldn't see that coming, did you?" He pointed his sword at the suspended form of the legendary beast. "ATTACK!"

The samurai shouted battle cries as their steeds transformed into Rapidash-headed lightning bolts and shot through the air towards Suicune, while Raidenryu folded its wings and dove towards the beast, Pikachu standing on its head, drawing his sword back, shouting along with his ancestors. In unison, they struck the beast, their blades and crackling steeds ringing through the air. There was a pause, and then a spectacular burst of lightning, a blinding flash of light, and a deafening thunderclap that rocked the chamber.

When the light faded, Pikachu and the other samurai were standing on the ground facing the wall. As one, they dramatically sheathed their swords. As they did so, the blackened, smoking, and sparking form of Suicune fell from the air, landing in a heap behind them. "It is done," Pikachu said as his armor reformed around him. He bowed to the other samurai. "Venerable ancestors, thank you for lending me your strength in this great battle. I am not certain I would have prevailed without your aid."

"You underestimate yourself, young samurai. I am certain that you would have eventually overcome the beast, even without our help."

Pikachu looked up in astonishment as one of the samurai stepped forwards, removing his helmet to reveal the face of a Raichu…a very familiar face, one that the other samurai knelt to. "You…you are…"

"Raiden Thunderblade, slayer of Temujin the Invincible, founder of the Thunderblade line, and original wielder of the sacred sword? I am indeed," the energy Raichu construct said.

Pikachu bowed his head reverently. "G-great one, I am not worthy to…waaaaaiiiiit…didn't I conjure you and the others?" the samurai asked suspiciously. "You're not actually here, are you? Aren't you just figments of my subconscious imagination?"

Raiden chuckled. "My son, just because we're constructs made from your subconscious imagination doesn't mean we can't still be actually here for real."

Pikachu blinked. "It doesn't?"

"No," Raiden said.

"Oh," said Pikachu. "In that case, um…it is an honor and a privilege to meet you in the…not-quite flesh."

"And I you," Raiden said with a nod. "You have fought well and proven yourself a worthy heir of my blade, although you took it up earlier than most of my descendants. You have brought honor to our family and truly lived up to the Thunderblade name, young Tenjin."

Pikachu smiled gratefully. "Thank you, great…wait, Tenjin? My name is Pikachu."

Raiden smirked. "Not anymore it's not."

It took a few seconds for that to sink in. Then Pikachu's eyes widened in disbelief. "But-but my father was supposed to give me my name-"

"I am your ancestor and founder of our line. Doesn't that count?" Raiden asked.

"I…well, yes, I suppose, it's just…my parents were going to have this big ceremony for me when I returned home after this adventure!" Pikachu stammered.

"They can still have a big ceremony for your brother," Raiden said. "I'm sure he'll be happy to get his name before your new sibling hatches and he has to be called Pichu One or Pichu A."

"…Perhaps so," Pikachu said. "Even so, I can't imagine my father will be pleased that I was given my name without him or my mother present."

"They may be a little disappointed," Raiden admitted. "But you earned your name a long time ago. Your father could have given it to you in Fichina, but did not for the sake of tradition. While I can understand that, tradition isn't everything, as hard as that might be for you to hear, especially from me."

"No, I understand," Pikachu said. "If I were to rigidly follow tradition, I wouldn't be engaged to a ninja right now." He froze. "Er, that's not a problem, is it?"

"No, it's fine," Raiden assured him. "After all, you aren't the first Thunderblade to wed a ninja. Who do you think my wife was before she met me?"

"Or mine," one of the other samurai said.

"Or mine," said another.

"I didn't marry a ninja, but I dated one once," a third added.

Pikachu's eyes bulged. "Wait, what?!"

Pretending he hadn't just dropped that bombshell, Raiden returned the conversation to its original subject. "If you truly wish to wait until you return to Pokémon Square to receive your name, I will be more than happy to oblige."

Pikachu considered this for a moment, and then shook his head. "You have already spoken my name. It's out in the air. And…you're here, with witnesses. Some of the greatest witnesses I could have, short of my friends. I would be a fool to turn down an opportunity like this. If you wish to give me my name now, then I shall accept it."

"Then kneel, son of Raiki, so that I may give thee my blessing," Raiden said solemnly.

Pikachu got down on one knee, bowing his head, his helmet dissipating. He knew what was coming next. Raiden drew his sword, the same sword currently in Pikachu's sheath, and raised it into the air. The other samurai stood up and drew their swords, touching their tips to Raiden's, causing a spark of electricity to crackle between them. "Scion of the Thunderblade line, blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, son of my son. Through great battles and trials, you have proven your worth. You have shown great courage…" He tapped his blade against one of Pikachu's shoulders, the kanji for 'courage' on Pikachu's cheek sac glowing. "And faultless honor." He tapped his blade against Pikachu's other shoulder, causing the kanji for 'honor' on his other cheek sac to glow. "You have righted many wrongs, slain many evils, made many friends and helped many who were in need. Because of this, I deem you ready to receive the name that was chosen for you at birth, the name you have waited your entire life to receive." Pikachu raised his head towards Raiden, and the ancient samurai leveled his sword to point at Pikachu's forehead. "Young samurai of the Thunderblade lineage, I name thee…Tenjin!"

A bolt of lightning shot from the tip of the sword and struck Pikachu's forehead. Although it hurt considerably, Pikachu didn't grit his teeth or even flinch as the kanji for 'Tenjin' was burned into his forehead for all to see, the scar crackling with faint electrical residue. Once the mark was permanently etched into Pikachu—no, Tenjin's—face, Raiden lifted his sword and returned it to its sheath at his side, the other samurai doing the same thing. "Arise, Tenjin my son. You have become a mon."

Tenjin stood up again and bowed his head to Raiden. "Most venerable ancestor, I vow to prove my myself worthy of the name and great honor you have bestowed upon me this day. I will continue to raise my blade against the wicked, to show great honor and courage, and to continue the legend of our family and the sacred sword we have been entrusted with."

"I know you shall," Raiden said with a proud smile, donning his helmet once again. "I look forward to the day when you shall join our ranks in the heavens, young Tenjin."

"As do I, ancestor," Tenjin said.

"Then until we meet again, be it in the next world, or the next time you summon us to battle," Raiden said with a nod. He and the other samurais drew their swords and raised them into the sky, vanishing in bolts of lightning.

Left behind, Tenjin's head swam. I can't believe it…I just met the legendary Raiden, the founder of our family! And I have a name now! And- He heard a groan from Suicune, who was starting to come to. …And I completely forgot we're in the middle of a big fight. Wow. And nobody bothered me at all during it. Maybe this 'Talking is a Free Action' nonsense might not be so bad after all… He turned around, drawing his sword and pointing it at Suicune. Chains of lightning shot out from the tip of the sword, wrapping themselves around the beast and shocking her. She gasped and struggled against her bonds, only to get more shocks of electricity, causing her to hiss in pain. "You aren't going anywhere," Tenjin said sternly. "Not after all the work I put into catching you. Not after I got my name. Now all that's left is to purify you." He glanced around, but didn't see Ash or Tiny anywhere. He tapped on his badge, marveling at how the incredible amounts of electromagnetic energy his body was giving off didn't seem to affect it in the slightest. "Ash, Tiny, I've defeated Suicune. I need one of you to come over here and purify her, please."

"I'm a little busy right now," Ash said tersely. "Tiny, I think you're closer. Can you handle it?"

"Sure thing, Daddy! Hang on, Uncle Pikachu! I'll be right there!" Tiny replied.

Pikachu caught a hint of blue out of the corner of his eye, and turned around just in time to see Tiny shooting through the air like a blue comet, Aura streaking from his form as he smashed into the wall, ripping the five Arackaisers impaled on his horns in two from the impact, their bodies disintegrating in blue flames before they hit the ground. "Huh. That was fast," Tenjin commented.

"I'm here, Uncle Pikachu!" Tiny said as he floated down to the samurai, shaking ashes off his head. "And you caught Suicune! Nice job! I saw some of your fight while I was busy taking care of those clones; it looked really cool! Was that really you riding a giant lightning dragon with a group of lightning samurai on lightning Rapidashes?"

"Yeah, that was me," Tenjin said. "I got the idea from Sparky."

"Yeah, it was cool when he did that, too," Tiny agreed. "Uh, but even cooler when you did it, of course! Er, anyway, keep Suicune pinned down, this should only take a second." He floated in front of the legendary beast and closed his eyes, humming under his breath and concentrating his power, Aura flaring up around him. Suicune snarled and tried to snap at him, but Tenjin conjured another lightning chain to wrap around her muzzle. Tiny's eyes shot open, the blue light of Aura shining from them, and touched his forehead to Suicune's. The legendary beast recoiled, a muffled scream tumbling from her bound lips as the Pupitar's blue Aura washed over her, stripping the Shadow Aura from her in seconds. Her fur turned blue, her spirals became diamonds, her water spikes and claws dissolved, her mane became solid hair again, her streamers became solid once more, the energy ball in her crest dissipated, her water mask evaporated, and her eyes returned to their normal red. "There," Tiny said a little breathlessly, pulling back. "She's purified."

"And the brainwashing's gone too?" Tenjin asked just to be certain.

Tiny nodded. "Uh-huh. There's not a trace of evil, either natural or artificial, left in her. You can let her up now."

"You're positive?" Tenjin asked. "Not that I doubt your skills, but…"

"But I'm kinda new at this?" Tiny asked self-deprecatingly. "Uncle Pikachu, I know this is my first time performing a full-blown Aura Purge on a Shadow Pokémon, but trust me, I know what I'm talking about. It's an Aura Guardian thing."

"All right," Tenjin said, releasing his lightning chains.

Suicune staggered to her feet, body trembling, then opened her mouth and vomited a stream of foul-smelling black and purple liquid that nearly hit Tiny and pooled into a steaming puddle on the ground, melting the floor around it. She collapsed back to the ground, panting heavily, suddenly looking extremely frail and vulnerable. "I-I'm free," she whispered, looking like she could barely believe it. "I…I wasn't even aware I was enslaved…but now…I'm free…" She looked up at Tiny, a look of gratitude and anguish on her face. "Thank you, young Aura Guardian. And you too, noble samurai…for returning me to my true self…"

"It's what we do," Tiny said proudly. "We're part of a Rescue Team, after all!"

Suicune smiled weakly at that. "Yes…Rescue Teams…such wonderful Pokémon…before, I regarded you with amusement. I never thought that one day…I might be in need of your services."

"Suicune," Tenjin asked gently, crouching beside the weakened beast's head. "How much do you remember about your time as a Shadow Pokémon?" The tears running down her cheeks and the look of utter despair and self-loathing on her normally beautiful features was all the answer he needed.

"Do you know what they made me…no…what I did of my own volition?" she whispered, shaking even harder. "The Pokémon I killed…the Pokémon I ate…the Pokémon I…oh, Arceus…some of them were children!"

"…I, uh, don't suppose she's just saying she killed and ate children, too?" Tiny asked hesitantly.

Tenjin considered lying to Tiny…but admitted to himself that the Pupitar was mature enough by now to know the truth. "No, Tiny. I don't think that's all she did with them."

"Ah," Tiny said quietly. "That's what I thought."

"It wasn't you," Tenjin said, putting a paw on Suicune's shoulder as she wept. "I mean, it was you, but the Nihilators…they messed with your head, they-"

"And that is the only reason I do not kill myself now out of grief," Suicune rasped. "For while the blood…and other fluids…of all those Pokémon are on my paws and fangs, there are others who are just as guilty for my actions as I. And once they are brought to justice…I shall accept whatever punishment awaits me. Even if it means returning to the Source, and utter dissolution of self. I deserve no less for my sins."

"We will make them pay for this, I promise you," Tenjin said coldly, standing back up, his helmet materializing on his head once more. "Wait here to regain your strength. I will leave sentinels to watch over you. Tiny?"

"Yes, Uncle Pikachu?" Tiny asked.

"I have to go find and help Dawn, but there's probably a whole lot of Nihilators between her and us that I think are in a good need of killing. Want to help?" Tenjin asked.

"More than anything," Tiny said.

"Good," Tenjin said. He paused, and then said, "Oh, and don't call me Pikachu anymore. From now on…the name is Tenjin."

Meanwhile, Lily and Raikou were staring each other down, red orbs locked on yellow. Neither blinked or moved a muscle, just staring each other down, waiting to see who would make the first move. After several moments, Lily spoke. "Once upon a time, I might have feared you," the Mismagius said as she slowly started to twirl her wand around her, flames trailing from its ends. Raikou did not take his eyes off hers, certain she was trying to distract him. "Once I might have doubted myself and my power. I would have believed myself incapable of fighting you on my own, of prevailing by myself without the aid of my friends…or Leo." She narrowed her eyes slightly, and Raikou tensed. "That is no longer the case."

The ground beneath Raikou exploded. The legendary beast had felt the ground heating up a second before the blast and dashed out of the way in a burst of lightning. More explosions ripped the floor apart, and the Thunder Pokémon zigzagged across the ground, leaving lightning in his wake as he tried to outrun the explosions and reach Lily, who didn't bother to move. He leaped into the air, claws extended, jaws open, a pair of Thunder Fangs crackling in his mouth…

And fell straight into a portal Lily opened directly in front of her, coming out of a second portal immediately behind her and flying right into a massive ball of fire that exploded, sending him flying, smoke trailing from his form. He hit the ground, rolled, came up on all fours, and immediately spat a Charge Beam at Lily. Lily swung her wand at the beam of electrical energy as it flew towards her, the crystal at the top flashing as it struck and causing the Charge Beam to transform into a stream of fire that shot back at Raikou. The legendary zapped out of the way of the fiery stream, but it homed in on him using the magic Lily had imbued it with. Snarling, Raikou fired a ThunderShock at the flames, but the fire swerved around it and kept coming. Just before it could hit him, Raikou whirled around and struck the fire stream with his tail, causing it to explode and buffet him with flames. He ran out of the smoke, his fur singed, and lunged at Lily, spitting a Shadow Bolt at her. Lily's eyes glowed and she waved her wand in a circle, causing the Shadow Bolt to divert away from her, revolve in a circle around her head, then shoot right back at Raikou and strike him in the chest, causing him to howl in pain as purple and black electricity crackled over his form. His Volt Absorb ability allowed him to absorb electricity—as the name implied—but Shadow Bolt was a Shadow move, so the dark power in the attack could still harm him, even though he was a Shadow Pokémon himself.

He twisted about as he was flung away, pointing himself towards the ground so that when he smashed into it, he was immediately able to Dig into it to safety…

Or at least, it was safe until Lily transformed the floor to lava with a wave of her wand. Raikou erupted from the molten rock, howling in agony, his skin aflame. As he rocketed into the air, Lily quickly opened a portal and used it to get just above Raikou. She waved her wand, and suddenly she split into four Lilies, using a somewhat more advanced version of her Substitute technique. Three of them then vanished into different portals, while the one that remained cast a spell on the howling Raikou, suddenly causing him to be encased in ice. (What? Fire may have been her specialty, but it wasn't all she was good at!) Her tail elongated significantly, and she dashed at Raikou, spinning about and slamming her tail into his frozen body, shattering the ice and sending him flying away. The second Lily appeared from a portal ahead of him, spread her fiery wings, and flapped them, causing fiery winds to streak out from them and wrap around Raikou, trapping him in a flaming vortex that ravaged his form repeatedly before exploding and casting him away. The third Lily appeared from a portal beneath him and cast a gravity spell, causing Raikou to hurtle down towards her. A pair of fiery dragon claws materialized on either side of her and she shot upwards, striking Raikou with a blazing cross slash and sending him flying once more. The fourth and final Lily reappeared at the height of Raikou's arc, opened her mouth, and breathed fire at the legendary, the stream of flames manifesting in the form of a giant fire dragon which streaked towards Raikou, caught him in its jaws, and exploded.

Raikou tumbled away in flames, crashing down into the lava pool once more. The four Lilies reunited and cast an ice spell at the lava, just as a howling Raikou's head broke the surface, causing the molten rock to solidify instantly, trapping the badly burnt beast. Lily smiled in amusement and disappointment as she floated down. "I expected better of you. That didn't last nearly as long as I-"

She was interrupted when Raikou roared loudly enough to shake the chamber, thousands of lightning bolts shooting down from the ceiling, merging together to create a gargantuan electric replica of Raikou that dove at Lily, jaws wide and claws outstretched. Eyes widening in alarm, Lily quickly cast a shield spell, wincing as the raw electrical power of the attack slammed into her. Perhaps she had been a little quick to write off her opponent's strength.

While the Mismagius was distracted, Raikou flexed his muscles and shattered his stony prison in a blast of Shadow Aura and electricity. Transforming himself into an arrow of lightning, he shot through the air, passing through his massive electrical construct and smashing into Lily's shield, piercing it and causing the mage to scream in agony as the full force of the ten billion volts Raikou had mustered slammed into her, crushing her into the ground and reducing her to a blackened, shriveled mass. As the light from the blinding electrical flash died down, Raikou manifested himself above what was left of Lily, slamming a paw down on her broken frame and opening his jaws, static dripping from his mouth as he prepared to finish her off…

Until Lily's voice spoke up from behind him, saying, "I'm sorry, but did you really believe I'd be beaten that easily?"

Raikou's eyes widened in surprise and he drew back his paw, but he didn't have time to finish his transformation into lightning before Lily's Substitute exploded, flinging him away. The ground exploded just before he could hit it, but he managed to recover at the last second and zap away in a burst of lightning before he could get hit. As he started zigzagging across the ground, outrunning explosions again, he howled, his Shadow Aura and the storm cloud on his back roiling. Thousands of lightning bolts shot down from the ceiling towards Lily. Rather than dodge or shield herself, Lily raised her wand, catching the bolts on its tip. She flinched and was pushed backwards by the electrical force slamming into her magical artifact, but managed to reassert her mental grip on the wand, slowly bringing the lighting under her control and absorbing it into the wand. She twirled the mystical rod, now trembling with power, about and pointed it at Raikou, causing an absolutely tremendous stream of fire to blast out of it and roar towards the beast. Raikou quickly jumped out of the way, but Lily knew this would happen and opened two portals: one where Raikou had just been, and the other where he was going to be. The fire shot into one portal and out the other, slamming into Raikou with such force that it carried him through the air and slammed him into the ceiling, shattering several gargoyles, melting others, and causing Raikou to scream in agony as the flames pummeled and burned and washed over him with overwhelming force.

However, he had force of his own. With a cry of rage, his Shadow Aura exploded around him, pushing the flames back and giving him some space to breathe. He shoved off from the ceiling and out of the path of the flames, causing it to slam back into the place he'd just vacated. As he freefell towards the ground, a black stormcloud manifested beneath him. He landed on it, and with a triumphant roar started streaking through the air, firing Sparks from its underside at Lily. The mage frowned, opening a portal over her and causing the Sparks that flew through to come out somewhere else. "So, you wish for an aerial duel, then?" Lily murmured. "Well, I'd be more than happy to oblige, then." She spread her wings and shot into the air.

Raikou chuckled darkly when he saw Lily flying up towards him and fired balls of electricity and Thunderbolts at her. Lily evaded the bolts and swung her wand at the balls, transforming them into fireballs and flinging them at Raikou, who lazily shot them out of the air. Lily waved her hand, and the air around Raikou spontaneously combusted, but he swerved out of the way of that blast and every subsequent explosion, his thundercloud moving much faster than clouds generally did. Lily opened a portal in front of Raikou, but the legendary jumped off of his cloud before it could go in, summoned another one in mid-fall, and kept flying around. Lily frowned in annoyance…and then smirked, getting an idea. "Flying might be nice, but something everyone must remember…is that what comes up, must come down."

She cast a gravity spell, as she had before. Much to Raikou's alarm, his cloud was no longer strong enough to support him, and he fell through, tumbling towards the ground, which Lily transformed into lava again. Unfortunately, before he could fall into the fiery pit, he transformed into a lightning bolt and rose back into the air, no longer bound by the confines of gravity now that he was made of energy. Lily scowled in annoyance and triggered explosions all throughout the air, but Raikou just dodged around them. She opened a portal in front of the lightning bolt's path, but Raikou wove around it and kept dancing through the air. So, Lily decided to improvise and opened dozens of portals, and then started spinning them about at high speeds to make it more difficult for Raikou to dodge. With his (literally) lightning-quick reflexes, Raikou was able to dodge around the outer rings of portals, but as he got closer and closer to Lily, it became trickier for him to evade the rifts in space due to their being packed closer together with less space to maneuver around them. Lily decided to make his experience even more difficult by firing over a dozen fireballs into the portals immediately surrounding her. Instantly, the maze of portals became a chaotic nightmare as fireballs flashed through the air, jumping from one portal to another, with no way to predict where or when another might emerge, filling the air with fire. Raikou found his flight even trickier now, as he kept having to dodge fireballs shooting towards him from whatever portal he was passing at that moment, and make sure not to dodge into another portal while he moved about. In spite of this insane obstacle course, however, he still made it to the center, lashing out at Lily…

Who vanished in a puff of smoke, for she was yet another Subsitute. The real Lily, who was hovering outside the portal maze—having used one of her own gateways to escape quite some time ago—caused all the portals to immediately collapse into the center of the labyrinth, melding together to create a massive singularity with Raikou trapped inside, emitting a high-pitched electrical shriek as he bounced about, trying to break free. With a smile, Lily released him…

Straight downwards, into the lava pit. Again, Lily froze it solid with an ice spell. Again, Raikou broke free with a tremendous explosion of Shadow and electrical energy…

But all this fighting was clearly taking its toll on him, even with his Volt Absorb replenishing some of his energy every time he turned into electricity. Most of Raikou's body was one big burn by now, most of his fur was gone, and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. However, he was not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Throwing back his head and howling to the heavens, his Shadow Aura blasted outwards in every direction. His form blurred, crackling as it turned into pure electrical energy, and swelled outwards, growing and growing until it took on the form of a gargantuan tiger made of electricity and darkness. The giant beast opened its mouth and roared in Lily's face, lightning bolts spitting in every direction.

Lily stared at the electrical monstrosity for a long moment. Her eyes narrowed. "…All right then." A determined look on her face, she spun her wand around her in a complex pattern, fiery glyphs forming around her in a ring. The glyphs began to spin, enlarge, and meld together, growing bigger and fierier and hotter and longer until they took on the form of an equally massive winged Rayquaza made of fire, with Lily hidden somewhere inside. The dragon reared back its head and roared, and the tiger bellowed right back at it.

The two elemental beasts leaped at each other, their less-than-static forms shifting and elongating as they clashed, their bodies rippling and firing thousands of bolts of fire and lightning at each other with every motion. The tiger lashed out with its massive claws, rending the dragon to pieces with the sound of a colossal thunderclap. The dragon's pieces reformed into smaller incarnations of the original, hissing and blasting the tiger from all sides with mighty flames. The tiger's body trembled and ejected millions of lightning bolts, ripping the dragons to shreds. The shreds, however, swirled about like embers and coalesced back into the colossal form of the original dragon, which shrieked and lashed out with its great tail, knocking the tiger into a wall. The dragon's tail stabbed towards the tiger's chest, but the tiger grabbed the tail between its forepaws and opened its jaws wider than should have been biologically possible, spewing a tremendous beam of lightning at the dragon. The dragon retaliated in like manner, firing a tremendous stream of flames at the tiger. The two beams collided, their energies clashing against each other and creating a massive sphere of power between them, a sphere that kept getting bigger and bigger as more power was fed into it.

Realizing what was about to happen, the dragon spread and enlarged its wings so that they enclosed the both of them in a smaller space, so that when the requisite explosion occurred, the two of them were the only ones to be harmed by the blast, instead of the entire room being obliterated in a flash. The explosion buried the tiger further into the wall, nearly causing it to lose cohesion, while the dragon was flung backwards, its wings disintegrating from the force of trying to contain the blast. The dragon smashed into the ground and lay there, sprawled out, its coils in disarray. It struggled to get back up, but the tiger recovered and lunged, landing on top of it and slamming a paw over the flaming serpent's neck. The tiger snarled and opened its jaws, moving in for the kill.

The dragon's body twitched, its slippery coils yanking out from under the tiger's feet and wrapping around the tiger's body, constricting it and binding it in place. As the tiger growled in surprise, the dragon breathed fire into the tiger's face, causing it to flinch back and free its neck, allowing the dragon's upper body to rise up and lash out with its claws, ripping at the tiger's face, before leaning in and sinking its fangs into the tiger's neck. The tiger howled in pain and retaliated in kind, burying its own massive fangs into the serpent's neck. The dragon writhed in pain, causing its coils to tighten their grip on the beast, but it refused to let go, even as the tiger shook its head about, tearing at the dragon's neck, also unwilling to let go. The dragon regrew its wings and slapped one over the tiger's face, causing it to loosen its bite out of surprise. The dragon used this moment of weakness to dig its teeth in deeper to the tiger's neck and yank its head backwards, tearing out the beast's throat.

A tremendous blast of lightning shot out of the gaping wound in the tiger's throat as it howled in rage, striking the dragon in the face and flinging it back, causing it to lose its hold on the tiger. Shaking off the serpent's coils, the tiger pounced on the dragon even as electricity continued to flow from the hole in its neck, but the dragon was ready for it, and rose back up, and the two collided, falling back to the floor and rolling about, ripping and tearing at each other with claw and fang, battering at each other with wing and tail and paw, spitting bolts of lightning and streams of fire, incinerating or electrocuting countless Arackaisers and spiders in the process, but nobody really cared about those.

As the tiger wrestled savagely with the dragon, it was unaware that, yet again, it was being deceived, and its true target was nowhere nearby. Yet again, Lily had pulled a fast one, although this projection of hers was a lot more complicated than her usual Substitutes, and took a lot more power to sustain. She had power to spare now, though, thanks to her evolution, the divine power of flame within her, and the fragments of the Dragon God King's power she had inadvertently stolen at birth. Power enough to keep her construct running and occupy Raikou long enough for her to complete another spell, one that would spell the legendary beast's defeat. Her eyes glowing, she sang strange and arcane words, her lovely voice enunciating each syllable and accent perfectly, causing the air to ring with every successfully completed word of power that ushered forth from her mouth. Her wand hovered in front of her, the crystal on its top glowing brighter and brighter as she channeled more and more power through it. Over a dozen open spellbooks spun around her in complex orbits; the book she'd stolen from her mother, books Fantina had given her, and books from the restored Yukihimi library, the words literally leaping off the pages and swirling around her.

As she finished chanting a hard consonant, she pointed her wand at the tiger that Raikou had become. Instantly, seven portals opened around the beast, and seven serpentine fire dragons shot out of the portals and wrapped themselves around the tiger's legs, tail, chest, and neck. Surprised, the tiger paused in its mauling of the great fire dragon, and in a flash of light the seven dragons transformed into massive flaming chains, runes engraved upon their links. Startled, the tiger struggled to break free from these fetters; but it was no use, for if the legendary Fenrir could not escape bonds such as these, what hope did a Shadow Pokémon, no matter how divine it might be?

As the tiger roared and hissed and spat lightning as it futilely fought against its chains, Lily bade her great dragon to rise into the air, and create a circle above the tiger, biting its own tail. With a gesture of her wand, her voice growing louder with every word that passed her lips, until it no longer sounded as if she was speaking…or at least, not by herself, the floating words from her spellbooks shot into the air and accumulated in the circular space formed by the dragon's body, forming an incredibly massive and unspeakably complicated spell-seal, one that even Fantina might have needed several minutes to create on her own.

But then again, Lily was never on her own. Not really.

Are you ready for this? B asked.

I am, Lily said.

You're aware that if you screw this up, you may very well kill everyone here and get us all buried deep underground, where it's highly unlikely you'll ever be found? B asked.

I am, Lily said.

And you aren't the least bit concerned? B asked.

No, Lily said confidently. Because I know I will not fail.

B laughed, impressed. That's my girl.

Lily swung her wand around her in a complicated pattern, the mystic rod leaving a trail of fire in its wake that formed into a variety of complex sigils and glyphs, the books arranging themselves in similar fashion around her. Shouting the final syllable of her spell, she pointed her wand at the great seal…

And suddenly the seal wasn't there. Nothing was there. Just a giant hole in the air, rimmed with fire. And from that hole a pillar of stone as wide around as a city block—and a big block, at that—descended, its sides scraping against the edges of the hole as it came down on the great tiger, squishing it completely and shaking the chamber from its impact.

Lily stared at the stone pillar for several moments as the clouds of dust its collision with the ground had thrown up gradually subsided. She noticed, vaguely, that one side of the pillar had what looked an awful lot like a fingernail carved on it. B? she asked finally.

Yes? B asked.

Which…which finger would you say that was? Lily asked.

My best guess? The pinkie, B said.

Ah, Lily said faintly. I had thought as much.

Slowly, the massive finger rose back up into the big portal, leaving a huge crater behind, the broken and much, much smaller form of Raikou lying at its bottom, the chains Lily had summoned still wrapped around him—it would take more than being squished by a giant stone finger from another dimension to break them!—albeit much smaller now to accommodate the legendary's shrunken frame. Once the finger was gone, it was replaced by an eye. A very big eye. An eye so big, in fact, that the portal wasn't quite capable of showing it all, and the light from its glow filled the room with a blinding radiance, as if the beam from a lighthouse lantern were pointed into the chamber. Swallowing, feeling very small, and trying not to show any outward signs of fear, she waved her wand gratefully at the eye. "Thank you, Titan!"

Titan, ruler of the realm of Jotunheim, blinked once ponderously before the portal shut, severing the connection between their worlds. Lily collapsed on herself, her books nearly falling out of the air if she hadn't caught herself in time and magicked them back into her hat. That…that was rather intense, Lily panted, wiping away some sweat. Even with my heightened powers, that was almost too much for me.

You could have tried summoning something smaller, B pointed out.

Jotunheim doesn't exactly go for 'small.' And besides, as an elemental realm of earth, it seemed like the ideal place to summon an entity to defeat an elemental monster of lightning like Raikou from, Lily said.

That, and you wanted to show off a little and prove you could, B said.

That, and to show off a little and prove I could,Lily admitted a little giddily. I don't suppose Leo was watching?

I think he was a bit busy fighting Arackaisers. Still, if he missed seeing a giant stone finger emerge from an interdimensional portal, I'll be very much surprised, B said.

On cue, Leo's voice rasped out of her badge. "Lily! A freaking giant stone finger came out of a portal! Was that you?"

"Yes," Lily said in weary amusement as she floated down towards the beaten Raikou.

"Bitchin'!" Leo said.

"That was Titan, wasn't it?" Boa said in amazement. "That's incredible! As far as I know, only my mother and Fantina can summon him, or even a part of him, safely and without a bunch of other mages helping them! And I'm pretty sure it would take Fantina a lot longer than you must have! How did you do that?!"

"I had some very good teachers," Lily said fondly, thinking back to the private lessons she'd had with the Fantasma witches when she wasn't busy dealing with the day-to-day affairs that came with being the head of the newly restored Yukihimi house, planning her wedding, or spending time with her friends and husband-to-be.

"Ha! My wife is the best sorceress in the entire world!" Leo bragged. "And if she isn't yet, she soon will be!"

"We'll see about that," Boa said curtly.

"Huh. Not too shabby," Briney said.

"That was pretty impressive, Lily," Tenjin said. "But I assume you need someone over there to purify Raikou?"

"If you don't mind?" Lily asked as she reached the bottom of the crater, examining Raikou warily. Although a great deal of his fur and skin had been burned off, pretty much all of his bones were broken, his Shadow Aura had ebbed significantly, and he was bound in unbreakable chains, already he was starting to stir.

"We're on our way, Lily," Tiny said.

"No need, I'm already there," Ash said as he rocketed out of the sky and landed next to Lily in a blaze of blue Aura, startling the Mismagius. "Great job, Lily. Wow, you really did a number on him, didn't you? Sorry, but I'm going to have to make this quick, I have to go rescue Professor Oak and all those stupid clones keep getting in my way. This'll just take a second." He crouched down in front of the chained Raikou and put a paw on the beast's forehead, concentrating. Raikou snarled and weakly tried to lash out at Ash, but in his current injured state, and with Ash's strong paw pushing back, there wasn't much he could do. The Lucario closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and sent pure blue Aura flowing down his arm and into Raikou's body.

The beast flinched back as much as he could in his bonds as blue Aura washed over his body, obliterating the black Shadow in seconds. His tail returned to normal, his thundercloud shrunk back down and became purple, his bone spurs retracted, his fur regained its original hue, his claws and fangs shortened, his crest returned to normal, and his eyes turned red. With a groan, he sagged, dangling limply from his chains. He started convulsing, and Ash nimbly stepped back before the Shadow Raikou vomited up could splatter on his feet. The Lucario wrinkled his nose in disgust as the foul poison sizzled and melted into the floor. "All right," he said, turning back to Lily. "He's one hundred percent clean, so you can let him out of those chains if you want. Sorry to cut and run, but I have to-"

"Cho…sen One…" Raikou whispered.

Ash hesitated, and then turned to face Raikou. "Yes?"

"You…you saved me…" Raikou murmured, tears welling up in his eyes. "…Why?"

Ash blinked, puzzled by the question. "I'm an Aura Guardian, and the leader of a Rescue Team. I save people. It's what I do."

"But…but I…I was beyond redemption…" Raikou said, squeezing his eyes shut as sparking tears cut clear paths through the grime and ashes of his face. "All the horrible things I did…I enjoyed them…"

"You were being controlled, your mind warped beyond all recognition," Lily said, hovering next to Ash.

"And that means the blame is not mine?!" Raikou snarled angrily. "Or are you going to tell me that Bellum controlled your mind as well, little witch, so the things you did can be so easily forgiven?"

Ash snarled and clenched his fists, but Lily did not look away from the legendary's judgmental glare. She might have once. But not anymore. She could sense the pain behind it now. "No," she said honestly. "The things I did, I am not proud of. I did not enjoy them as you did, but I still did them, regardless. I did them out of fear of my mother and what she would do to me."

"Then I do not see how our situations are alike," Raikou growled.

"Because both of us were made into weapons by my mother," Lily said gently. "And both of us regret the things we have done…and recall that while you have done horrible things, Raikou, some even worse than what I did, recall that I was under Bellum's aegis for far longer than you. My list of sins is far, far longer than yours."

"I have lived a very long time," Raikou said. "And I have done many, many things I regret to this day. Do not be so certain of that, little spook."

"And how many of those things were done in the name of evil?" Lily pressed. "How many were done to further a nefarious goal, rather than to save lives?"

Raikou closed his eyes and laughed bitterly. "To be honest, I'm not even sure anymore. Sometimes the line between good and evil isn't as clear-cut as we'd like to think it is."

"As someone who's spent most of her life living amongst evil, I'm not entirely sure I agree," Lily said. "The things I have done still haunt me, and I know that while I have done much good since leaving my mother, I have a lot to atone for, as do you."

"If this is supposed to inspire me, it's not working," Raikou said flatly.

"Something that helped a great deal was having friends who forgave me for my misdeeds," Lily continued. "They do not know the full extent of my sins—well, except for Briney, I suppose—nor do I intend to tell them. I don't need to. The fact that they accept me for what I am or was and forgave me anyway is enough for me. And don't you have friends who love you enough to forgive you?"

Raikou hesitated. "…Suicune and Entei, probably…I mean, we're all in the same boat…but I doubt anyone else will. I doubt we deserve it."

"You're wrong," Lily said. "I forgive you."

Raikou started. "Wh-what? So easily?"

"Forgiveness is given, not earned," Lily said. "That's something I've learned from my friends. One of many things. No matter how you may feel about your actions, no matter how the rest of the world does, you can know that at least one person does not blame you for the things that you have done."

Raikou mulled this over for a while. "…And what about you, Chosen One?"

Ash, who'd been staring at Lily open-mouthed ever since she started talking about sins and forgiveness, started. "Huh?"

"Do you forgive me for my sins as well?" Raikou asked.

"Yes," Ash said without even thinking about it. "You've done some pretty terrible things…some even to people we know…"

"Mmm, that looks tasty…hey Doc, can we have some?" Entei asked the Doctor.

"Sure, vhy not?" Tarantulas said, nodding to the Corporal, who tossed the Espeon corpse to the legendary beasts. They eagerly dug in; viciously ripping at flesh and spilling blood all over the place as they savagely devoured Michael's grandmother. Michael's eyes shrunk and he nearly passed out.

"But I know that you weren't really…you when you did those things," Ash said, hiding a shudder from the memory of their rather tragic adventure in the Tree of Beginning. "And you're sorry for what you did, and want to make amends. I don't know if the people you've hurt will feel the same way, but…I do, I guess." He frowned and looked Raikou square in the eye. "I know what real evil looks like. I know what it looks like when a legendary goes bad, real bad. And…that isn't you, Raikou. You and your siblings are not the legendary birds. And if someone suggests that you deserve the same fate as them…even if Arceus Himself decrees it…I'll speak up for you, because somebody has to, and it might as well be me. I seem to be expected to do everything else important around here, after all."

Raikou stared at Ash for a long while in awe. "You are truly worthy of being Arceus' chosen hero," he said after a moment. "I knew that, I had a paw in making you this way, but I truly see that now. I understand better now what Lugia sees in you. Thank you, Ash."

"You're welcome," Ash said.

Raikou continued. "You have a heavy burden on your shoulders. One I am not sure enough people understand. I do, however, and appreciate that you are willing to bear it…and regret that there is not more I can do to ease your pain. Know this, though: soon, for better or worse, your destiny will come to an end, and then you may rest."

"…Thanks," Ash said uncertainly. "That's…reassuring, I think." He frowned and looked away. "Um, I'm sorry about this, but I kind of have to…"

"Go," Raikou said in understanding. "There are others who need you more than me. Go do what you do best, Chosen One."

"I will," Ash promised, starting to turn away.

"And know this as well: for what you have done in the past, you are already forgiven," Raikou said.

Ash froze, stiffening. After a long moment, he said, "That's…that's good to know." Without another word, he bounded away.

Lily watched him go, an uneasy look on her face. "You weren't talking about him becoming a Void Pokémon and going on a rampage, were you?"

"No," Raikou said quietly. "I was not."

Misty trembled, clenching her fists. "He's…he's forgiven? After what he did?! But…"

"Forgiveness is given, not earned."

"No…no, no, no, NO!" she screamed, digging her broken nails into her decaying skin, causing pus to ooze out. "I can't…I can't forgive him. Not for that. Never for that!" A grimy tear rolled down her cheek. Or maybe it was blood, hard to say. "Then…then why does a part of me want to?"

Meanwhile, Briney was staring down Entei. The corrupted legendary beast was growling and burning, the ground melting somewhat around his paws, while Briney just looked at him in casual disinterest. "So you want to fight me, huh?" the Metagross said, his hammer slung over one shoulder. "You really think you stand a chance against me?" A vicious bark from the Shadow Pokémon was his only answer. Briney shook his head pityingly. "You have no idea what you're dealing with, puppy. Are you older than me? Yes. Are you a god? Yes. But you know what?"

Lightning fast, he slammed his hammer into the ground, cratering the floor and causing Entei to yelp and jump backwards in alarm. "None of that makes the slightest lick of difference. You may be a god, but there are things stronger than the divine, especially lower-tier runts like you. And you're looking at one of them. I've tussled with things bigger and tougher than you in both my lives, and lived to tell the tale. And now that I've evolved, now that I'm stronger…you stand even less of a chance than you would have if you'd faced either of me in my previous evolution. I am Smithy, High Priest of Heatran and the world's greatest blacksmith. I am Thaddeus Irving Briney, bane of the Nihilators and the greatest captain to ever sail the seven seas. Together I am greater than either of my component parts ever were. Knowing this, mutt, do you still seek to challenge me?" Entei snarled and pawed the ground. Briney chuckled. "I'll take that as a yes. Tell you what, just to make things easier for you and more challenging for me, I promise not to use my hammer, magic, Psychic powers, or three of my arms to fight you. And I suppose I shouldn't use Explosion either, don't want to kill everyone and bring the roof down on us, after all. The odds are still heavily in my favor, of course, but hey, at least you'll have a sporting chance, right?" Entei threw back his head and roared, lava plumes erupting all around him. Briney smirked, dropping his hammer to the floor and folding three of his limbs against his body. "I'll take that as a yes. Come at me, then, if you're hard enough!"

Snarling, Entei charged forwards with a Shadow Rush, black flames erupting around him as pillars of fire burst out of the ground in his wake. Briney made absolutely no motion whatsoever, be it to attack, evade, or defend. Entei kept on coming. Briney kept on idling in place. Entei slammed into Briney…

And staggered backwards dazedly, head reeling from the impact. Briney blinked. "Hmm? What? Was that an attack? How disappointing. Let me show you how it's done." His single arm shot out in a Bullet Punch, pummeling Entei in the face again and again and again, shattering the fire beast's nose. As blood gushed from Entei's snout and the beast staggered back, Briney grabbed Entei by the face and slammed his head into the ground repeatedly. Entei tried to break free by igniting his Shadow Aura to drive Briney back, but the Metagross just kept slamming his face into the ground. Entei used Eruption, making the ground around him explode in fire and lava. Briney ignored the heat and kept slamming his face into the ground. Entei breathed a Fire Blast into the claw clutching his face, but it backfired and blew up inside his throat, causing him to choke in pain. And Briney just kept slamming his face into the ground.

Finally, Briney let go of Entei's face, allowing the beast to slump to the ground. Briney scoffed. "Is that really the best you can do, pup? I was expecting more than that from you. Shadow Pokémon are pushovers, but I figured that a legendary like you might at least put up more of a fight!"

Howling, Entei rose to his feet and spat a Fire Blast at Briney's face. The Metagross's arm shot out, catching the blast in his claw, much to Entei's astonishment. He didn't even seem to feel his skin melting from the heat. "Is fire really all you've got, mutt? I told you, I'm a High Priest of Heatran. My workplace is hotter than this. Hell, my microwave oven is hotter than this!" He causally crushed the Fire Blast with a flex of his claws.

Taking this as a challenge, Entei slammed his paws into the ground, causing pillars of fire to erupt all over the place as lava gushed from holes in the earth, covering the floor in molten rock. The fire pillars twisted into the air as lava bubbles burst all over the place, growing ghoulish faces resembling Entei's as they writhed and roared in Briney's face. "Feh. Cheap trick," the Metagross said, unimpressed.

One of the fire streams lashed out, wrapping around his wrist and pulling as hard as it could. Briney yanked back with minimal effort, causing the stream to break apart instantly. More streams hissed and shot towards him, but Briney grabbed his mustache, ripped it off, and flung it into the air. The finely-trimmed metallic facial hair whirled through the air, slicing through all the fire streams and causing them to evaporate. It then flew towards Entei…

Who caught the blade in his mouth as if it were a Frisbee and bit down, shattering it. Briney stared at the legendary as he spat out the pieces of the broken blade for a long, long moment. "Son," he said finally, his fist clenching. "You've just bought yourself a one-way ticket to a world of hurt."

And suddenly he was right in front of Entei's face, hand drawn back with the silhouette of a golden meteor surrounding it. He smashed his fist into Entei's face with a powerful Meteor Mash, multicolored meteor-shaped particles flying everywhere from impact as the legendary's face nearly caved in, sending him flying. Briney shot past him at incredible speeds, catching the beast by the neck before he could hit the ground. He slammed Entei into the floor face-first and zoomed across the room, plowing through Arackaiser clones that got in his way and dragging Entei along the floor behind him, the beast crying out in pain as bits of his mask were torn off from the friction between his face and the ground. Briney finally flung Entei into the air, waited for him to fall back down, punched him in the gut to send him back up, waited for him to fall again, and punched him once more, repeating the process in a one-arm juggling act. Entei coughed and vomited up blood and a bit of lava, forcing Briney to quickly move out of the way; not because he was worried about getting blood and lava on him, but because he was worried about what stain it might leave on his precious hat.

Entei landed on four paws and howled, Shadow Aura blazing up around him as he stomped the ground repeatedly and launched himself forwards with a Flame Charge. Briney clenched his fist as he powered up as well, a purple and yellow energy shell swirling around him as he shot forwards with Giga Impact. The two collided, the resulting explosion rocking the room and obliterating any nearby clones. Entei staggered back, recoiling from the collision, but Briney shrugged off whatever damage he might have taken quickly and threw a punch at the beast's face. Anticipating the attack this time, Entei opened his mouth wide and bit down on Briney's claw with Fire Fang…

Only to howl in pain as his teeth shattered, and Briney's fist smashed into his mouth, flinging him backwards, molten-hot blood spewing from the orifice. Briney drew back his arm, folding it against his body, and started spinning into a Gyro Ball. Rather than launching himself straight at Entei, however, he kept spinning and spinning and spinning, until he generated a tornado. Arackaisers and robot spiders wailed as they flew through the air and were sucked into the tornado, tumbling up its revolving sides. Entei dug his claws into the ground, noting with alarm that he was being pulled towards the vortex. Growling, refusing to be beaten by this irritating Metagross again, he opened his bloody mouth and launched a Fire Blast at the tornado.

The tornado was instantly set ablaze, as the agonized screams of the clones and spiders as they were incinerated by it attested to. Entei grinned brokenly as the tornado collapsed into itself, confident that that would do something to Briney.

As a flaming, spinning Briney flew out of the inferno and smashed into Entei, sending him flying, he realized that it had. It had made the Metagross more dangerous. "Sorry, but I'm afraid you'll have to do hotter than that if you really want to hurt me," Briney commented, observing the fire surrounding his body in detached interest. "You're lucky my hat is fireproof, though, or I'd probably forget my promise and just kill you. Bad enough you destroyed my mustache, after all, but my hat? Now that would truly be unforgivable."

Roaring in fury, Entei stopped the ground, Shadow Aura blazing around him, and expelled Shadow Flame. Briney rushed forwards, thinking to simply power through it…

And much to his surprise, was flung back, crying in pain as the dark flames licked his metal skin. Entei blinked, just as surprised that that had worked as Briney. A slow grin formed on his face as Briney panted and spun quickly to extinguish the remaining flames. "Hrmm," he said, observing the new burn marks marring his finish. "Looks like you have some bite after all, pup."

Howling, Entei slammed his paws into the ground again, causing pillars of Shadow Fire to burst out of the floor all over the place. Briney maneuvered around the flames as he tried to get in close to Entei, but the beast leapt away and started spitting black fireballs at the Metagross. Briney's arm glowed white as he used Hammer Arm, swinging his limb about to knock the blasts away. Snarling, Entei stomped the ground again, and the floor turned to lava…but this time it was purple and black rather than red and yellow and orange, tainted with the power of Shadow, and Briney winced as the fumes and the heat from the dark fire started eating away at his hide. Entei roared, and black Lava Plumes exploded all around Briney, and he had to use Protect to keep any of the acidic black drops from landing on him. He started spinning again using Gyro Ball, generating a tornado to blow the flames away from him and also cool and harden the lava. Laughing at the Metagross's foolishness as flames and globs of lava flew past him, Entei breathed Shadow Fire at the tornado, intending to do some real damage this time. He grinned as the tornado was set aflame, turning it into a whirlwind of Shadow, a gale of darkness…

And then he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around just in time for another of Briney's powerful Meteor Mash punches to smash into his face. "You didn't really think I'd stick around in there long enough for you to try that trick again, did you?" the Metagross sneered. Roaring, Entei stamped the ground and launched himself at Briney in a black Flame Charge. Once again surrounding himself in purple and yellow energy, Briney countered with Giga Impact. Again, the explosion shook the room. However, this time it was Briney who found himself flung back from the explosion. Entei gleefully pounced on Briney, pinning him to the ground. This was, of course, as colossally stupid an idea as you could imagine—not the least of which was because Briney weighed nearly six hundred kilograms while Entei was only a measly two hundred—as Entei promptly found out when Briney used Magnet Rise to rocket off the ground, with a yelping Entei on top of him and carried along for the ride. The two of them smashed into the ceiling, Briney pressing his full weight against Entei and causing the beast to cry out as his ribs were broken and some of the sharper points of the gargoyles he was crushed into dug into his back.

Roaring in pain, Entei Erupted in Shadow Aura, causing Briney to grunt as he was flung back by the powerful attack. Pushing off from the gargoyles, Entei dove towards Briney with a dark Flame Charge. Briney bobbed to the side and thrust a Metal Claw into Entei's side as he flew by, only grimacing slightly as the Shadow burned at his fist. His attack interrupted, Entei tumbled through the air on a different trajectory and crashed to the ground below. Briney shot towards him in a Giga Impact, but Entei recovered, leaped out of the way, and turned the floor into black lava as he landed again. Realizing he was about to crash, Briney canceled his attack, then opened his massive jaws and fired a Hyper Beam at the ground to stop his momentum. The beam's recoil not only had the effect of flinging him away since he offered no resistance to it, but the incredibly powerful explosion sent Shadow lava flying everywhere, temporarily blinding Entei as the liquid molten darkness surged past him. This gave Briney the time he needed to recharge and fire another Hyper Beam, one even bigger and more powerful than the last one, right towards Entei.

The beast's eyes widened when he saw the orange beam of death shooting towards him. Knowing he didn't have time to get out of the way, and not sure he could deflect the attack with his own, he quickly Dug into the ground, submerging himself in the lava just before the Beam struck where he had been standing, triggering another massive explosion. "Oh no you don't," Briney said, narrowing his eyes and raising his fist into the air, focusing power into it. With a great cry, he shot downwards, punching the ground and releasing the energy he'd gathered into the floor, causing the ground to literally shatter as he triggered a tremendous Earthquake, ripping the floor to pieces, drastically rearranging the landscape as broken pillars of rock surged upwards while other pieces of land sank into a deep chasm, draining the lava away and flinging a shrieking Entei upwards. Briney grabbed one of the rock pillars, singlehandedly uprooted it, and swung it at Entei like a baseball bat, smacking him all the way across the room and into a wall. He then hurled the pillar at Entei like a javelin.

Entei's eyes shot open and he roared loudly enough to shake the room. His Shadow Aura exploded outwards, shattering the wall he was embedded in and launching him towards the pillar streaking towards him. He opened his mouth and fired an Overheat that shattered the pillar and shot towards Briney. The Metagross dove out of the way and fired a Hyper Beam at Entei. The beast dodged in midair, black flames trailing his every movement, and shot at Briney with a mighty Flare Blitz. Briney ripped up another rock pillar and swung it at Entei…

And the beast smashed through it and rammed into Briney, plowing him through several jagged rock formations before smashing into the wall, causing the Metagross to flinch in pain as the black flames engulfing Entei washed over him. Cackling in triumph, Entei opened his mouth, flames gathering as he prepared to finish Briney off with a point-blank Shadow Fire…

And then Briney unhinged his massive jaws and clamped them down on Entei's head. Entei gave a muffled cry of alarm and desperately thrashed about, clawing at Briney and unleashing wave after wave of dark fire to try and get him to let go. Ignoring the pain, Briney only clenched his jaws tighter around Entei, charging up a Hyper Beam only inches away from Entei's face. Desperate, Entei spat an Ember at the orange energy ball.

The resulting explosion nearly tore Briney's jaw off. It also freed Entei from Briney's mouth, sending him flying through the air, smashing through and caroming off several rock pillars, before smashing to the ground quite some distance away. He struggled to get up, his face blackened by the explosion…

And Briney slammed down into the ground a few meters away. His mouth was hanging open and smoking, some of his fangs had broken off, and the inside was charred black. Aside from that, he didn't seem to be too bothered. It was almost as if he didn't notice the enormous pain he should have been in right then. "Heh," Briney coughed, more smoke billowing out of his mouth. "Not too shabby." He narrowed his eyes. "Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough."

Screaming in frustration, the ground exploded around Entei, black fire and lava flying everywhere. Briney shielded himself with Protect, weathering out the evil flames as best he could. Abruptly, the flames suddenly retreating, flowing back towards Raikou and coalescing, growing bigger and taller and shaping itself into a monstrous quadripedal figure, until it looked like nothing more than a gargantuan Entei made of Shadow flames, hate burning in its eyes (as well as actual orange flames). As Briney looked up at the monster warily, it opened its mouth and roared at him, battering his shield with black flames. "Feh," Briney said once his Protect finally ran out and he was now completely exposed to the monster. "I've fought balrogs. Not impressed."

The giant fire Entei snarled and lifted a blazing paw, bringing it down on Briney with a powerful Stomp. Briney flew out of the way, and the ground exploded where the foot came down, black fire and lava exploding all over the place. Briney ripped a rock pillar out of the broken ground and hurled it at Entei. The monster caught the pillar in its jaws, but that's what Briney wanted it to do, and he fired at it with Hyper Beam, causing the pillar and the beast's face to explode. "Haha!"

Unfortunately, the head reformed only a moment later, eyes blazing even angrier. "Hmm. So the head's not the weak spot. Good to note." Entei stomped towards him, leaving pools of black lava and fire in his wake. Briney narrowed his eyes, used Iron Defense on himself, and started spinning with Gyro Ball. Expecting another tornado trick, Entei breathed black flames at him, but Briney juked to the side and instead shot forwards, piercing Entei and ripping out the other side. He turned around and flew back, repeating the process, zipping back and forth through the fiery beast. Unfortunately, all he seemed to be doing was irritating the monster, and with a bark Shadow Aura blazed out around it, driving Briney back. Okay, his body's got to be in there somewhere, but I can't find it. If I were to use my Psychic powers I could locate it easily, but I can't break a promise I made as a mon of the sea…ah, I think I have it. This might sting a bit, though. Gritting his teeth, he renewed his Iron Defense and started his Gyro Spin again, once more generating a tornado. Scoffing, Entei breathed Shadow Fire on the tornado, setting it on fire, and then turned around, spitting big black fireballs all over the place just to make sure Briney wasn't sneaking up on him from behind.

He wasn't, the Metagross was still inside the tornado…and not enjoying the sensation of the dark fire washing over him one bit, even with the protection from his Iron Defense. All right, he thought to himself. Gotta do this quickly before he figures out my game… With a cry, he shot downwards, taking the tornado with him. Rather than dissipating upon impact with the ground, the whirlwind, enhanced by the fire burning within it, smashed through the floor, drilling through it to even deeper underground. The surrounding floor, already rather unstable from the upheaval caused by the Earthquake and Entei's giant fire form stomping about, started destabilizing. Entei quickly leaped off the ground he was standing on before it, and the rest of the surrounding ground, could collapse and crumble away, landing on more stable ground some distance away, though it became less so as his corrupted body began to turn it into dark lava and fire on contact. Narrowing his eyes, Entei stared into the gaping chasm that Briney's unorthodox drill had created, wondering what the Metagross was up to. He looked around warily, expecting Briney to resurface at any moment, and transformed the floor around and beneath him for several meters into lava to try and hinder him. When the lava started rippling, he grinned, assuming it was Briney…

And then frowned when he noticed that all of the lava was rippling and trembling. And then the ground outside of his lava pool started shaking. And then with a massive lurch, the floor Entei was standing on was ripped out of the ground and rose into the air, Briney single-handedly raising an absolutely massive chunk of rock into the air, crying out all the way. Horrified, Entei tried to jump off the dislodged piece of ground, but was too late, and Briney smashed the extruded rock—and Entei—into the ceiling, the fire beast crushed flat between the two stones. Backing away, Briney opened his mouth and fired a Hyper Beam at the piece of floor he'd removed, causing it to explode and reveal Entei, embedded several feet into the ceiling, a hole smashed through the gargoyles making it up. Before the beast could recover, Briney reached in, pulled him out, slammed his forehead into Entei's face to stun him further, and piledrived him into the ground below. Entei struggled to get back up, but Briney headbutted him again, threw him to the ground, and then started punching him, over and over again. Nothing fancy or flashy, he just kept hitting him again and again and again and again until the beast stopped moving. And then hit him a few more times just to make sure he wasn't playing dead. And then hit him a few more times for his mustache. He waited a few more minutes to see if Entei would get back up. He didn't. Satisfied, Briney turned around…

And Entei surged back up, wrath in his eyes and flames in his mouth. Without even looking, Briney backhanded him, knocking him out for real this time. That taken care of, he unfolded his other limbs, flexing them a bit to work out the kinks in them, then stretched out one claw. His hammer rose off the ground from where he'd left it and shot through the air, landing in his open claw. He then closed his eyes and concentrated. The metal making up his beard rattled, and some of it snapped off and rose into the air, linking together and fusing to create a new mustache which snapped into place back on his face. He stroked his now somewhat shorter beard sadly. "Well, I guess I could have used a trim anyway…" he muttered to try and salve his pride. He tapped his badge. "This is Briney. Entei is down for the count and in need of purification."

"On my way, Cap'n!" Tiny chirped.

"Did he give you much trouble, Briney?" Tenjin asked.

"Psh, please. He was a total pushover," Briney bragged. "In fact, I had to give myself a handicap just to make the fight more interesting, and even then it was still way too easy. I could've probably ended the fight in seconds if I'd really wanted to use my full power."

"And just how much power did you use, then?" Lily asked.

"Oh, not much. I refrained from using my magic, hammer, Psychic abilities, or three of my arms," Briney said.

"I'm surprised you even used one arm," Leo said. "Even that's too much for him!"

"I was feeling generous, but not that generous," Briney said in amusement.

"Wait, you didn't use your Psychic powers?" Ash asked.

"Nope," Briney said.

"…So you didn't read his mind? At all?" Tenjin asked.

"Nope," Briney said, deciding not to mention that he had trouble reading the minds of legendary Pokémon. "Wanted to make the fight fairer for the poor thing, make him feel like he actually had a chance of beating me."

"…Then WHY DO YOU NEVER DO THAT AROUND US?!" Tenjin asked incredulously.

"Where's the fun in that?" Briney asked. Tenjin screamed incoherently, and Briney chuckled.

"You are a very strange mon, Briney," Boa said. "Then again, you're not that different from Smithy was, so I suppose it's not that surprising."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Briney said.

The ground nearby burst open, and Tiny popped out. "Hi! Sorry I took so long, I was…er, hold that thought." He turned around as robot spiders started swarming out of the hole he'd come through and spat an Aura Sphere at the tunnel, destroying the spiders in a blue explosion as well as sealing the hole back up. "Right, anyway, I'm here to purify Entei!"

Briney frowned. "Weren't you with your uncle?"

A lightning bolt crashed down nearby and Tenjin appeared. "I am now. Tiny, you shouldn't have run off like that without me! Ash would never forgive me if anything happened to you."

"You're right, I wouldn't," Ash said tersely over the badge.

"Sorry Uncle Tenjin. I just wanted to help out the Captain," Tiny apologized.

"Well, you can now that you're here," Briney said, gesturing at Entei. "Work your magic, kiddo. Oh, and congratulations on the new name, Tenjin."

"Okay!" the Pupitar said, floating over towards Entei.

"How did you know—right, stupid question. You didn't bind him?" Tenjin asked in concern.

"Trust me, after the beating I gave him, he's not going anywhere anytime soon." Behind him, Entei started to stir. "I stand corrected," Briney said.

"Tiny!" Tenjin said in alarm, drawing his sword.

"Relax, Uncle Tenjin, I've got this," Tiny said. He concentrated, Aura surging around him. His eyes shining with the blue light of Aura, he touched his forehead to Entei's just as the Volcano Pokémon's eyes shot open.

Entei recoiled back, howling in pain as blue Aura washed across his body, driving out the Shadow. His metal bands reformed, his fur turned brown, his muscles returned to their original size, his plates shrank, his cape simmered back into smoke, his flames extinguished, his claws retracted, and his mask returned to normal. He groaned, tried to stand up, then fell back to the ground and threw up the Shadow still inside of him. "Ohhhhh…"

"And that's three for three!" Tiny said excitedly. "And I got two of them, so I purified more than Daddy!"

"Nice going, kiddo," Briney said.

"Entei, how do you feel?" Tenjin asked.

Entei glared at him blearily. "…Like I just got beaten up by a ridiculously powerful Metagross, had all the evil blasted out of me, and am now fully aware of all the awful things I did. How do you think I feel?"

"Right. Stupid question," Tenjin said.

Entei closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. "I apologize. My mind is my own for the first time in a very long time. And…I remember everything I've done. Absolutely everything. It…is not easy to deal with." He shook his head sadly. "I'd suspected for quite some time that we were being deceived. I'm not as happy to know it's true than I thought I'd be…how can I ever atone for the things I have done?"

"By stopping feeling sorry for yourself and making the bastards who did this to you pay," Briney said brusquely, earning a frown from Tenjin.

Entei barked a laugh. "Ha! Yes, I suppose that's as good a start as any…thank you for saving me. I shall not forget your kindness anytime soon." He paused, and then looked Mareepishly at Briney. "Or your going easy on me."

"You're lucky you were being mind-controlled and weren't actually evil, or I'd have been more than happy to go all-out on you. And kill you," Briney said.

Entei sighed. "There's a part of me that's insulted that you considered me so little of a threat that you could afford to go easy on me…and another part that's relieved you didn't hit me harder."

"Well, now that you're back in your proper state of mind, once you're back to full strength I'd be happy to go another round with you, if you like," Briney offered.

"No, no, once was quite enough, thank you," Entei said quickly. He looked at Briney appraisingly. "I see why the Nihilators regard you with such terror…you have earned the horror stories they tell about you, Captain."

"Heh, I should think so," Briney said smugly.

"In fact…you remind me of another. There is only one other mon I ever fought who was so strong that he could defeat me with only one hand…" Entei murmured. "He was a Psychic too, actually."

Briney raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah? Who was he?"

"Nobody you'd know," Entei said, a distant look on his face. "It was a long time ago…"

A strange, tall, pale figure walked through the forest, his tattered brown cloak swishing about his thin frame. Most Pokémon who he passed by did not seem to notice his presence or even acknowledge he was there, which was just the way he wanted.

There was one, however, who was not so easily fooled by his perception filter…

He paused, and without looking over his shoulder, said, "I know you're there, you know. I sensed you a while ago."

Entei stepped out from behind a tree too small to have possibly concealed him. "Impressive. Most Psychics would have a harder time detecting me."

"I am not most Psychics," the figure said with a smirk. "You are the legendary Pokémon Entei, yes?"

"I am here to avenge my siblings for the defeat you gave them," the Volcano Pokémon growled.

"They attacked me first. I was only defending myself. I had no desire to harm them," the figure said.

"But harm them you did, and so you must pay," Entei snarled.

The figure sighed and turned around, his purple eyes gleaming. "Why do you and your kind continue to harass me? I mean no harm. I have put my days of world domination behind me. I only wish to be left in peace. Did not Mew Herself say that I could be trusted?"

"So long as you live, no one can live in peace," Entei said sternly. "And no matter what Mew says, even if you truly mean no harm, there are too many powers who seek to use you for their own means, and not just criminal Teams, either. If any of them were to ever capture you, the consequences would be catastrophic. For the safety of the planet, I must end your existence."

The figure sighed and dramatically cast aside his cloak, which hung itself on a conveniently placed branch nearby. "Very well, then. Let's do this. However, to prove I mean you no harm, I shall only use one arm, and refrain from using my Psychic powers."

Entei's fur bristled with rage. "You dare mock me?!"

"Not at all. If I were to use my full power on you, you wouldn't last even a second. To show you I really don't want to fight, I am willing to restrict my power so as not to cause you too much harm…or this forest," the figure said calmly.

Entei snorted. "You may wish to hold back, but I have no reason to. If you're going to make this harder for yourself, then it'll be easier for me! I will take you down with the full power of the volcanoes I draw my strength from!"

The figure smiled. "We shall see."

"What followed was one of the hardest battles I have ever fought," Entei reminisced fondly. "It was completely and utterly one-sided. Even with one arm and without his powers, he beat me so badly that for years afterwards I was terrified to be anywhere near him…and to add insult to injury, he healed me afterwards to demonstrate he'd put his checkered past behind him! His was a power truly unlike any I've ever felt before…one so great that even you, Captain, would not have been able to defeat him even if you unleashed your full strength!"

"Wow," Tiny said in amazement.

"Hmmph. We'll see about that. Who is this guy and where can I find him?" Briney asked in disbelief.

Entei's face fell. "His name was Mewtwo. He…died a long time ago." A flash of guilt flickered across his face at that, but only Briney noticed. And Tiny, who was starting to pick up on these things. Aura Guardian and all.

Tenjin frowned. "Mewtwo? That almost sounds like…"

"The Holy Mother? Yes, he was a clone of Her made by humans in the distant past," Entei said, causing Tenjin to gasp in disbelief. "Designed to surpass Her, and become the strongest Pokémon in the world. He failed in the first respect, but in the second? He was most certainly one of the most powerful beings I have ever faced. Even your strength does not approach the upper limits of his, Captain."

"If he's so strong, why isn't he still around now, then?" Briney asked in annoyance.

"…There was an accident…" Entei said softly.

"One that you caused?" Tiny asked.

Entei cringed, and Tenjin snapped, "Tiny!"

"No, he's right," Entei said quietly. "We made a mistake. A terrible, terrible mistake. Someone pretending to be Mew told us that Mewtwo and his creations were evil and needed to be destroyed. We…took her at her word. Some of us did, anyway."

"Why would you do something as awful as that?!" Tenjin asked, shocked.

"Because it was Mew, okay?!" Entei snapped in despair. "Or someone we thought was Mew, anyway! If Mew were to give you a direct order, would you refuse, no matter how awful? Wouldn't you assume that there had to be a greater reason for what She wanted you to do, one that you might never be able to comprehend?"

Tenjin hesitated. "I-I-"

"No," Briney said flatly. "Not without a proper explanation, anyway."

"Then you are wiser than we were," Entei said, closing his eyes, tears running down his cheeks. "As were the others who refused. I know it is a poor excuse, but…we never dreamed anyone would ever impersonate Mew. Who would dare?"

"…I guess I can understand that," Briney said reluctantly.

"Regardless, we made a terrible mistake…and the sin we committed that day is equal to the ones I have done under the NIhilators. Arceus may forgive me for killing a mon who became my friend, but I cannot." Entei paused, the recollection of a towering figure in black with a mirror for a face flashing through his mind. No…he can't have survived…can he? His armor doesn't look right for someone with his body type…but that sheer level of power…but no, even a vengeful Mewtwo would never sink to such evil as the power of Shadow…would he?

While Entei was mulling this over, Tenjin was telling Briney, "We may have taken out all the beasts, but there's still a bunch of clones to handle. You should regroup with Lily, Leo, and the Princess, and then finish them off for good."

"I'm already with Lily!" Leo said over the Badge.

"Yes, and very happy to see each other," Lily giggled.

"I don't need much assistance, but if you care to show up, I wouldn't object," Princess Boa said.

"And I'm…still trying to get to the Professor. Geez, these guys just keep getting in the way…" Ash grumbled.

"Should we try and find the Professor instead?" Tiny asked in concern.

"No, no, I've got this!" Ash insisted. "You guys handle the clones, I'll save the Professor!"

"All right," Tenjin said reluctantly.

"Sounds to me like he's trying a little too hard to prove himself," Briney said.

Tenjin frowned at him. "Ash is under a lot of pressure right now. Plus, the last time Ash remembers the Professor being in danger a thousand years ago, it…didn't turn out well. It's understandable he wants to make the most of this second chance to save him."

"I'm sorry we weren't there back then, too," Entei said quietly. "If we'd shown up in time, we might have been able to do something." He grimaced. "Some excuse for Guardians we are, huh?"

"Everyone makes mistakes," Tenjin said encouragingly.

"And how often are they as bad as ours?" Entei asked. Tenjin had no reply for that.

"Hey, what about Dawn?" Tiny asked. "Should we help her out, too?"

Tenjin paused, and then shook his head. "No. Go and meet the others. Leave Dawn to me. I have a promise to keep…"

Speaking of which…

Two blurs raced side-by-side through the ranks of the Arackaiser clones, moving faster than the eye could see as they constantly exchanged blows. One was blueish-white, while the other was gold and black. Wherever they passed, blood was left in their wake; not from each other, rather, but from the clones unfortunate enough to be in their way and get ripped to shreds by their blades. The two briefly split apart, leaped into the air, and simultaneously hurled Shadow Balls and Ice Shards at each other. The projectiles neatly intercepted each other in midair with an explosion of ice and darkness, briefly blocking the two blurs' views of each other. Instantly knowing the danger of losing sight of one's opponent, they blew gusts of Icy Wind at the explosion to dissipate the smoke and flames and immediately bounded higher into the air so that their opponent would not see them when the conflagration was clear. Naturally, this meant both of them leaped at the same time and intersected in midair high above the ground, but they'd both anticipated this might happen. They knew each other too well to expect anything less.

There was the sound of metal ringing against metal as they met, and then they passed by each other, landing on the ground with their backs to each other, several meters separating them from one another. The nearest Arackaisers quickly got out of the way, wisely foreseeing that they didn't want to be anywhere near this epic clash of ninjas. At the same time, the two armored Pokémon turned to face each other and raised their right arms, showing off the blades at the ends. Dawn grinned and Paul frowned slightly when the Weavile saw that there was blood on her blades and none on his, and noticed that one of his arms was bleeding. First blood goes to me, Dawn gloated.

"Keep it. It's meaningless," Paul said as his armor and Star Badge glowed and his wound healed itself. Dawn scowled. "I told you before…this new armor makes me immortal once more. You can't kill me."

I came pretty close before, Dawn said.

"Yes. Twice," Paul sneered. "A ninja shouldn't have to try three times to kill someone, Dawn. They should be able to get it right the first time. You know that as well as I do."

And yet you have yet to kill me, Dawn pointed out.

Paul grinned. "What can I say? You're fun to play around with…in more ways than one. We sure had some good times back at the Nihilator base trying to break you, didn't we?"

Dawn stiffened, clenching her fists, her blades clacking against each other so much her clickspeak was almost indistinguishable. I did not break.

"No, but you came pretty close. A few more days and I'm pretty sure we'd have had you, if Oblivion's Shadow hadn't showed up and ruined it all," Paul said.

You should have killed me when you had the chance, Dawn said.

"You're right, I should have," Paul agreed. "What can I say? If I have one weakness, it's sentiment."

Dawn narrowed her eyes. That is not your weakness.

"Maybe not, but it's certainly yours," Paul said.

Dawn froze. What did you just say?!

"I mean, really, what other explanation can there be for why you haven't killed me yet, Dawn?" Paul taunted.

The first time, my dagger missed your heart- Dawn started.

"And why do you suppose that is? I thought you had better aim then that, Dawn," Paul said.

Dawn clenched her teeth. The second time, we were about to kill you when Shivhel froze the entire valley.

"And if you hadn't taken so long to actually get around to it, I might actually be dead. Why do you think you keep missing, Dawn? Why do you think you keep dragging it out?" Paul asked.

Dawn growled. Don't you dare.

"Because deep down, a part of you still has a thing for me, even after everything I've done," Paul sneered. "That's so sweet…and so pathetic."

The only thing I feel for you now is complete and utter hatred, Dawn said, shaking with rage.

"Oh yeah? Then why has your Frustration attack gotten so much weaker?" Paul asked.

Dawn hesitated. I…

"Either you don't hate me as much as you think you do…or your feelings for that samurai are interfering," Paul said. He shook his head in disgust. "A samurai, Dawn? Really? You know he doesn't really love you, right? He just pities you because you're so ugly and mute and pathetic. That's all you are to him, you know. Someone to pity. And fuck."

You are wrong. His affection for me is deep and true, more than someone like me ever deserved. He is twice the mon you ever were, even back before you lost your mind, Dawn said. She smiled wickedly. And I mean that in every way imaginable.

"That so? Well, I'll have to find that out for myself…after I present him with your mutilated, defiled corpse. Maybe he'll do a better job of killing me than you ever did," Paul said.

Dawn crossed her arms. I assure you, that will not be the case. And if, by some dark miracle, you were to kill me, my friends will avenge me. Because that is one advantage I have on you that you will never have, something that might even be worth the weakening of my Frustration towards you…I have friends who care about me, and you are all alone.

Paul glanced around pointedly. "Yeah? I don't see your friends anywhere around."

I do not need their help to kill you, Dawn said.

"Heh. We'll see about that," Paul said. "Shall we do this in the way of our people?"

Dawn nodded. Certainly.

They stood straight and raised their arms. They started making a series of hand motions…

And suddenly Paul dashed forwards, driving his claws through Dawn's chest while her guard was down. "Ha!" Dawn suddenly turned to ice and shattered, much to his surprise. "Huh?"

Ha, Dawn said as she appeared behind him and thrust a paw at the back of his skull. His head exploded…

Into dust, along with the rest of him. Dawn quickly whirled around and lashed out with a kick just as Paul attempted to strike her from behind. He twisted out of the way of the foot, bringing a claw down in a chop towards her outstretched limb. Dawn flipped over, bringing her leg out of the way of his attack and sweeping her other leg towards his feet. Paul hopped over her leg and lunged onto her, trying to force her to the ground. Her forepaws shot out, grabbing his claws and flinging him to the ground even as she completed her flip. Paul rolled out of the way and rose up on his feet just before Dawn could drive her claws into the ground where he'd just been standing, frost spreading from the point of impact.

Paul rushed towards Dawn as she tried to pull her blades out of the ground. Dawn quickly looked up and spat an Ice Beam at him. The Weavile dodged to the side, but much to his surprise, the Beam twisted in midair and struck him in the side, causing him to stumble as his left arm was frozen. His armor glowed, and the ice shattered, but Dawn had pulled her claws out of the ground at this point and leaped high into the air, generating dozens of ice shuriken and Shadow Balls that she flung at her nemesis. Paul's claws flashed through the air, deflecting the projectiles. Unfinished, Dawn cupped her paws together, a ball of ice forming in them. She raised her paws in the air as the ball grew bigger and bigger and bigger, until it was at least ten times as large as she was, and then she flung it at Paul.

The Weavile fired a Dark Pulse at the massive sphere, causing it to explode in a massive blast of white light and ice, causing snow to begin falling all over the place. Seeing Dawn wasn't there, Paul immediately whirled around to counter the attack behind him…

Except there wasn't any. He immediately whirled back to face the front…

But there wasn't an attack from that direction, either. He tensed, senses straining as he tried to figure out where Dawn had gone. The shadow under his feet rippled, and he barely managed to leap out of the way just before Dawn shot upwards out of it, claws reaching for the sky. He skidded to a halt a few feet away and lunged at Dawn as she started falling, claws glowing with Night Slash. Dawn lashed out with her feet just before he could reach her, but he leaped over her feet and thrust his claws at her chest. Her arms shot out, catching his claws just before they could touch her, and as they hit the ground she opened her mouth and fired an Ice Beam into his face.

It was a lot bigger, and a lot more painful than Paul had anticipated. Screaming as his face was frozen by the astonishing cold, the Weavile staggered back. Dawn lunged at him, but Paul quickly fell into his own shadow before she could reach him. Or rather, he tried to, but the glow from his armor as it started to regenerate his face caused his shadow to vanish before he could pass into it, causing him to just hit the ground instead. He quickly rolled out of the way before Dawn could bury her claws in his face, lashing out with a kick as he went. It struck Dawn, and she rolled a few feet away, but quickly rose back to her feet, unharmed. It looks like that armor of yours doesn't work quite well with your fighting style, she commented in amusement.

"With its power, I don't need to run or hide!" Paul snarled as the last of his frostburn vanished. "I'm immortal!"

Let's put that to the test then, shall we? Dawn asked. She made a series of complex hand motions while humming under her breath. She split off into seven glowing Bunearies, each of which flipped through the air and landed in a circle around Paul. Each of those Bunearies made another series of hand motions, and their radiance increased.

Paul's eyes widened in surprise. "The old worm taught you the technique?!"

I was a very good student, the seven Dawns clicked.

"I'll bet. And how many lap dances did you have to give him before he told it to you?" Paul sneered. Laughing at the angry look on the seven ninjas' faces, he laughed and spread his arms wide. "You know what? Fine! Hit me! My armor is so powerful, not even our clan's special technique can defeat me!"

You seem very confident. Let's put that to the test! The Dawns said. Dragon's Claw special technique…SEVENTH SLASH! They lunged forward, moving so quickly that a single blink of the eye was all it took to miss them as they converged on Paul and went past, landing opposite from where they had started with their backs to the ninja. Six of the Bunearies vanished, and the remaining Dawn grunted and fell to one knee, her muscles sore from the exertion required by the secret move. It is done.

"Is it?" Paul asked, the seven hundred and seventy-seven cuts on his flesh and armor glowing…and healing up, both his skin and armor repairing themselves.

Wh-what? NO! Dawn cried in horror as she staggered to her feet, seeing Paul restored back to full health in moments. That attack should have destroyed your armor!

"I'm afraid it'll take more than that to destroy this armor, Dawn. What, did you really think an artifact that induced immortality would be so easily destroyed?" Paul mocked her. "And to show you your folly…let me remind you why I have always been stronger!" With a roar, he went into Hyper Mode, his Shadow Aura blasting out from him and cratering the floor. Paul screamed in pain and ecstasy as his fangs grew longer, his claws sharpened, his muscles bulked up, his crown and collar transformed into crimson spikes, his ear and tail feathers became horns and blades, bone spikes burst from his joints and back, and veins bulged out of his skin as the red in his irises bled out to fill the rest of his sclera, making his eyes completely bloodshot. His armor was affected by the transformation as well, growing more spikes and blades, and overall looking more monstrous.

Dawn, however, was unimpressed. Do not underestimate me, she said, making a series of complex hand motions. Do not ever underestimate me. There was a blast of freezing winds, and snow and ice billowed out from her. Frost crept across the ground, quickly covered by snow as dark clouds formed overhead and started raining sleet and hail and snow. Ice spikes ripped out of the ground all over the place, and Paul had to sidestep quite a lot to evade them. Much larger ice walls, polished to mirror sheen, rose from the ground in a ring at the edge of the new snowfield, trapping them inside.

Paul snorted. "This trick again? Seriously? Are you just going to keep repeating the same things you did the last two times, Dawn? Because they worked so well back then…"

I beat you both times, didn't I? Dawn asked.

"I'm still here," Paul pointed out.

Dawn smirked. That will not be the case this time. I am far, far stronger now than you can imagine. For example…shadows are not the only thing I can travel through anymore. She took a step backwards…

And dissolved into snow, which was blown away by the icy winds howling across the battlefield. Paul blinked in surprise. "…Okay. That's new." The wind started blowing harder, causing the Weavile to grimace as large and rather sharp chunks of ice pelted him. Most of it was destroyed by his Shadow Aura, but some of the bigger pieces managed to break through and smash against his chest and body, cutting him. It didn't do much damage for long, though, as his armor healed him quickly enough, but it was a constant barrage, and it got rather irritating fairly quickly. He turned in a circle, doing his best to ignore the raging winds and the hail and the sleet, eyes glowing as he used Foresight to pierce the icy fog. He couldn't see any sign of Dawn anywhere. "Is this your new trick, Dawn?" he taunted. "Being able to hide better?"

The surfaces of one of the ice spikes behind him rippled, and suddenly Dawn shot out, slashing at his back with her claws. He cried out in pain and surprise and lashed out, but she had already vanished, disappearing into another spike. Paul snarled and quickly unleashed Shadow Waves, shattering the spikes…

Only for the ground to tremble and more spikes to rip out of the earth to take their place. He growled as the wounds in his back mended and prepared to smash these, too…but paused, took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and waited, knowing that if he was patient Dawn would attack again…and if he was ready, then he could take her out.

Unfortunately, he was not ready for the next attack. Without warning, the snow around his feet surged up, forming into a pair of clawed Buneary paws that gripped his ankles. Startled, Paul opened his eyes. "What the-"

With the sound of shattering glass, the ice spikes surrounding him burst, revealing figures made of ice…but they were not skeletal ice elementals like the kind Bellum employed, but ninjas. And ninjas that were very familiar to Paul. "Those…those are…"

Our clan? One ice warrior that resembled Dawn clicked. Yes, they are.

I believed that it would be fitting for those whom you betrayed and slew to have a hand in your own defeat, another ice warrior that also resembled Dawn clicked.

"That, or it's a pathetic attempt on your part to keep the memories of our clan alive," Paul said apathetically. "If you're trying to psych me out, it's not working."

Not even if the one to attack you is the one you cared for the most? Dawn clicked as one of the ice ninjas stepped forward. Paul recognized the taller Weavile at once. How could he not? Even after all these years, how could he possibly forget his brother, Reggie?

Paul's claw shot forward, punching through Reggie's chest, causing the ice ninja to shatter and fall to the ground in glittering fragments. He certainly hadn't forgotten how he'd murdered his own brother. It had been easy. Just as easy as doing it this second time had been, at that. With a howl of fury, his Shadow Aura burst outwards, destroying the hands pinning him to the ground, and he charged into the thick of the ice ninjas, who silently closed in on him.

Blows rained down on him as he was surrounded by the frozen effigies of his former friends and family. They sliced into his flesh and armor with kunai and katanas and shuriken of ice. They punched and kicked and used ninja arts on him, trying to get their revenge on him for their murders.

And Paul didn't give a crap. He didn't flinch when another Reggie lookalike tried to run him through with a sword, but leaped onto the edge of the blade and lashed out with a kick, shattering his skull. When Kenny tried to smash his skull in with a meteor hammer, Paul moved his head to the side, grabbed the weapon's chain, pulled the young ninja in, and disemboweled him. When Leona hurled dozens of shuriken at him, Paul conjured a giant shuriken of his own and flung it at her, slicing her in half. When Zoey lunged at him with daggers, he hopped backwards, dodging every strike, then grabbed her by the wrists and ripped her arms off, causing her to shatter. When Barry wildly swung at him with tonfas like the idiot he had always been, Paul didn't even have to dodge, just walked right through the ineffectual flailing and gutted Palmer's son right there. When Grandmasters Iya and Aya attacked him with kusarigamas, he ducked just as they threw the chained blades at him, causing the sickles to interlock with each other. He then shot up and tugged hard on both chains, pulling the Ninjask and Shedinja twins towards him and causing them to smash into each other and shatter.

And more besides them kept coming. Friends he had known for his entire childhood. Teachers and elder ninjas he'd once looked up to and strived to be like. People he'd once cared for like they were his family. Without the slightest shred of remorse, Paul brutally killed them all, just as he'd brutally killed them all the first time around. What was Dawn trying to do? Appeal to any lingering sense of guilt? He didn't have any. He'd known exactly what he was doing when he betrayed the clan. And he'd enjoyed every second of it, just as he was enjoying it now.

However, it was starting to get a little tiring. For every ice ninja he cut down, three more took their place. And while any injuries they managed to inflict on him didn't last for very long, it still hurt, and was starting to wear him down. With a snarl, he unleashed Shadow Waves to shatter adjacent ninjas, plowed through ninjas with Shadow End, ripped them to pieces with Shadow Claws and blew them up with Shadow Balls and Dark Pulses, but they kept on coming. "All right, this is getting old!" he finally shouted. "You aren't the only one who can make an army, you know!" He made a series of hand motions, and his Shadow Aura pulsed, several dozen clones of himself materializing in bursts of black fire. "There. That should make things a bit more even!" he said savagely as his Shadow ninjas charged into battle with the ice ninjas. And while the two armies were engaged, he slipped into shadow, reappearing some distance away, the clash of blades and claws already drowned out by the roar of the winds even though he was only a few dozen meters away from the conflict. "Now, where can I find Dawn…"

Suddenly, a pair of giant Buneary paws made out of snow burst out of the ground on either side of him and slammed together, crushing him between the two of them…

Or at least they did for a second, before shaking and slowly parting to reveal Paul, sweating and growling, Shadow Aura blazing up around him as he struggled to push back. "Gnnnh…gonna need…more than that, Dawn…"

Suddenly, a giant Buneary head made out of snow burst out of the ground right in front of him. Paul blinked. "Okay, that might do it."

The giant Buneary head opened its mouth and bellowed, bombarding Paul with an unimaginably powerful blast of cold, freezing him solid. The paws surged forwards, crushing him again…

Only to explode in a blast of Shadow Aura as Paul rocketed into the sky, roaring in rage. Cupping his claws together, he fired a Dark Pulse that obliterated the Buneary head, then flipped around in midair and fired another one at the two battling armies some distance away, destroying all of them in a single explosive blast. Finally, he formed a ball of pure Shadow in his claws and hurled it upwards as he fell towards the ground. The ball exploded when it hit the clouds overhead, causing them to rumble and start pulsating with evil black and purple light. Dark rain started falling from the heavens thanks to Paul's Shadow Sky. Paul grinned as he landed, seeing that his acidic weather was causing the snow and ice around him to melt. Looks like the field advantage is mine now, Dawn.

That's when a beam of blue light lanced upwards from the distance, striking the clouds and changing the weather back into a snowstorm. This didn't bother Paul too much, however, for by changing the weather Dawn had finally revealed her location to him. He dashed across the reforming snowfield, lunging at the ninja Buneary standing with her face turned upwards…

And was unsurprised when she burst into snow the moment he crashed into her. He was also unsurprised when several dozen ice ninjas burst out of hiding all around him and rose into the air, raising frozen blades as they came down towards him. With a roar, Paul unleashed Shadow Waves in every direction, shattering the ninjas all at once. He then punched the ground, causing purple ice spikes of his own to burst out of the snow, including one right underneath him. As he rose into the air, he hurled another ball of Shadow Aura at the ground, causing Shadow Mist to spread across the snow, turning much of it black. He grinned as he surveyed the rather poisonous field now spread out around him, confident that if Dawn was going to come at him now, he'd see it coming.

He didn't see the wind suddenly increase exponentially in strength to hurricane levels, however, gusting at him so strongly he was flung off the ice spike he was standing on and carried far away from his Shadowed field, tumbling uncontrollably through the air. He also didn't see the giant ice spike that erupted from the surface of the wall at the edge of the arena until he was thrust onto it by the wind, causing him to cry out in pain as the tip of the spike ripped through his stomach and he was pushed down the spike's length, its width increasing until he was fairly sure that if much more of it went through him he'd be ripped in half. Fortunately, he stopped before that could happen, mainly due to digging his claws into the surface of the spike to gain some traction.

Unfortunately, there was little he could do to stop giant arms made out of ice from emerging from the surface of the wall behind him, grabbing each of his limbs, and pulling them away from his body, causing him to scream in agony as they tried to rip him apart. His armor started glowing so brightly he was having trouble seeing as it struggled to deal with not just the big spike going through his body, but keeping his arms and legs from being ripped off his body. For the first time since the fight began, Paul experienced a sliver of doubt. The armor granted him immortality, but apparently not invincibility. Just how immortal was he, now? Would he be able to simply reattach his limbs if they were severed, as he had before? Or would the armor keep him alive, but be unable to repair his limbs? He really, really wasn't looking forwards to finding out. Growling, he unleashed Shadow Wave after Shadow Wave to try and break free…but this ice was a lot stronger and sturdier than the stuff he'd broken so far, and much to his surprise, all his attacks were doing were cracking it, the fissures swiftly mending themselves before he could exploit them.

And to make things even worse, a freaking dragon made out of ice had risen from the snow and was soaring towards him on wings of frost, frigid jaws opening wide, tendrils of mist rolling out of its throat as it prepared to breathe a blast of unmitigated cold at him. Paul did not intend to let that happen. Out of desperation, he unleashed a blast of Frustration, the flames of his hatred and anger strong enough to finally shatter the ice holding him, freeing his limbs and also breaking the spike he was impaled on, though the bit sticking through his chest was still there. As he started to fall to the ground, he quickly ripped out the spike and hurled it at the dragon just as the ice monster unleashed its freezing breath. The spike passed through the ice blast and drove itself into the dragon's throat, causing its head to explode and the rest of the beast to shatter segment by segment as its winding form toppled to the ground. At the same time, however, the ice blast smashed into Paul, slamming him back into the wall and freezing him under several feet of extremely thick, extremely cold ice.

For a time, all was silent. And then, suddenly, an arm was thrust into the ice, moving through it as easily as if it were water. The arm grabbed Paul by the neck and pulled him forwards, shattering the ice as it flung him from the wall to impact on the ground below. The Weavile managed to land on his feet, but it was a near thing, and he stumbled, gasping and trying to catch his breath as his armor glowed like the Sun, doing its best to mend the damage both it and its wearer had just taken. He staggered to his feet as he saw Dawn standing some distance away, looking at him impassively. "So…you've finally decided to stop hiding, huh?"

I wanted to kill you with my own paws, Dawn said.

Paul looked at her incredulously and burst into laughter. "Are you seriously that stupid?! Don't you get it by now?" He gestured meaningfully at the hole in his chest that had been made by the spike, which was already sealing up, along with his other wounds. "No matter what you do, no matter what you throw at me, I can't die!"

You may not think so in a moment, Dawn said as six ice clones of herself rose from the ground around Paul. In unison, the seven of them started making a series of complex hand motions.

Paul shook his head in disbelief. "Seriously? You're using this again? Don't you EVER learn, Dawn? That didn't work the last time, what makes you think it will now?" The Bunearies didn't respond, just kept making hand motions, glowing brighter all the while. Snorting in amusement, he spread his arms. "All right, fine. Go ahead. Try that tired old trick again. I thought you were smarter than this, Dawn; after all, only crazy people do the same thing over and over and expect a different result each time. But if you really think you can beat me, then crazy is exactly what you are. So go on! HIT ME!"

All seven Dawns smiled as they finished their preparations. Very well. Dragon's Claw special technique…SEVENTH SLASH! The seven ninjas lunged forward, moving so quickly that a single blink of the eye was all it took to miss them as they converged on Paul and went past, landing opposite from where they had started with their backs to the ninja. Six of them vanished, and the remaining Dawn grunted and fell to one knee, her muscles sore from the exertion required by the secret move. It is done.

Paul yawned and rolled his eyes as his armor started glowing. "Uh-huh, yeah, that's what you said the last time, and look how well that-" Abruptly, his armor shattered into hundreds of pieces and fell to the ground. His eyes widened in astonishment. "What the-" The seven hundred and seventy-seven cuts Dawn and her clones had made in his body exploded, spraying blood everywhere in a massive geyser of crimson fluid. Screaming in agony, Paul collapsed to the ground, blood gushing from him and staining the snow red.

Dawn calmly walked over and knelt down just on the edge of the steaming pool of blood, staring right into Paul's eyes. Or rather, she would have, except they'd both been put out by several of her cuts. You were saying?

"H…how…" Paul gurgled, blood spilling from his split lips and the many holes in his throat. "My armor…I was…immortal…"

Yes, you were immortal, so long as you had that armor, Dawn said. Unfortunately for you, the armor itself was not indestructible…which is obvious, really, because why would Oblivion's Shadow give you something as powerful as that if it didn't have a weakness?

"B-but the armor could repair itself…" Paul gasped. "And…it withstood that attack last time…why did it fail now?"

Because I made sure to stretch your armor's regenerative power to its limits, Dawn said. When I created this frozen battlefield, it wasn't just so that I would have the advantage thanks to my new ice powers. I've been gradually lowering the temperature and bombarding you with extremely cold Ice attacks until it was so cold it made your armor brittle and weak. You didn't notice because you're an Ice-type and the cold doesn't bother you. Even then, though, your armor might have been able to repair itself…if I didn't have this. She took out the Gold Star Badge.

Paul started, only to gasp in pain as more blood spurted out of him. "Wh-what?! But that was on me the whole time!"

Not so. I noticed that every time I damaged you, your Star Badge glow along with you armor, and realized you were using the Badge's power to make sure the armor had an unlimited amount of energy with which it could repair itself. The first time I performed the Seventh Slash, I snatched the Star Badge from your chest and replaced it with a replica made of colored ice, so that the armor would only have its own energy reserves to fall back on…and once I drained those reserves by hammering you with as many attacks as I could, and by constantly lowering the temperature, all it took was one last powerful attack to drain it completely…the attack I just hit you with.

"…Then…th-then you…you planned this all…right from the start?!" Paul cried in disbelief.

I told you to never underestimate me, Dawn said. She put the Star Badge away and stood back up. And now, at last, we are at the end of things. Just like in Dusty Ditch, you are dying, the blood flowing from your body as you lie in the snow. But unlike Dusty Ditch, there will be no last-minute reprieve, no convenient diabolus ex machina to preserve your life for yet another battle. No, Paul. This time, you will die by my hands.

"You…you wouldn't," Paul stammered desperately. "You still-"

Love you? No, Paul. Any love I might once have had for you died long ago, Dawn said.

"B-but you're…you're one of the good guys!" Paul rasped. "Wh-what would your friends think of you doing this?"

They'd hold you down and take pictures while I do my duty, Dawn said. Like the good friends they are. I'm only disappointed that neither they nor Master Palmer are here to see this. But I have drawn this out for far too long, and I'd rather deal the final blow myself then let you just bleed out and risk some lucky chance giving you the opportunity to escape yet again. She narrowed her eyes. However, this will not be quick, and you will not enjoy this. This is going to hurt.

She stomped the ground, and an ice spike burst out of the ground right beneath Paul, piercing him and raising him into the air, causing him to emit a strangled scream and vomit copious amounts of blood. It was amazing he still had any left in him. Ice needles formed out of the swirling snow and fog and pierced his nerve endings, performing an excruciating acupuncture that left him paralyzed and in so much pain he couldn't even scream, and was barely able to draw breath. Dawn gestured, and ice clones of their entire clan rose from the ground. Replicas of Reggie, the Grandmasters, Dawn's parents, and their friends stood forwards. Barbed chains manifested in their hands, and they spun the weighted ends to gain momentum before flinging them at Paul, their hooks digging into his wrists and ankles and pulling them taut, causing him to emit a pitiful croak. This is for our friends, whom you ruthlessly slaughtered. Zoey, Kenny, Barry, and Leona pulled on their chains, ripping off Paul's right leg. This is for your family, whom you shamed with your actions. Reggie pulled on his chain, ripping off Paul's left leg. This is for my family, whom you destroyed. Dawn's parents pulled on their chains, ripping off Paul's right arm. This is for the rest of the clan, whom you sold out and betrayed. The Grandmasters pulled on their chains, ripping off Paul's left arm.

Dawn stepped forward, and an ice pillar rose from the ground underneath her, lifting her up until she was level with Paul's face. He couldn't move, and his eyes were sightless, but if he had them, or the ability to speak, Dawn was sure he'd be begging her…not to end his suffering, but not to kill him, for even now he feared death more than anything else, like the coward he was.

She saw no reason to grant his request. She drew back her arm, her claws sharpening. And this…is for me. She thrust her arm forward, burying her bladed fist in Paul's face. Ice spikes shot out from the impact, ripping his skull apart, splattering her armor with blood and bits of brain and bone. She drew back her arm, staring at the headless, limbless corpse before her, feeling strangely detached. It is over.

"That's right, it is," Darkrai said, appearing behind her, a scythe leaning against his shoulder. It had a white blade that was long and crooked, much like his hair, with jagged red spikes and blue gems clustered near the beard resembling his collar and eyes, and twisted pitch-black metal making up the snath and chine. "Good job, Dawn. Although personally I would have made his end a lot more gorier and painful, but that's just me."

Slowly, feeling almost like a stranger in her own body, Dawn turned to face the dark god of death, deserts, desserts, and who knew what else that day. I have killed Paul, she said, wondering why it felt like there was such a long disconnect between her intention to say that and her claws clicking together. Now it is time for me to evolve, as you promised.

Darkrai blinked and looked at her in confusion. "Uh, what are you talking about? I don't remember promising that."

Dawn knew she should be feeling angry. For some reason, she was having trouble. Instead, she said, You promised me that when I killed Paul, I would evolve, and at last be able to speak with my own voice.

Darkrai scratched his chin in thought. "I don't remember saying anything like that…ah, right, I think I see the problem here. I promised you that you'd evolve when you experienced true happiness, when you were happier than you've ever been in your entire life. I never said anything about that being when you killed Paul, that was something you just assumed, and you know what they say about assuming."

But…but I am happy! Dawn protested. I have killed Paul! I have done what I have dedicated almost every waking moment to doing ever since his betrayal! I have avenged my clan and restored my honor! I have had my revenge!

"That's right, you did," Darkrai said. He leaned closer. "So then why are you crying? Unless those are tears of joy. But I don't think those are."

What are you talking about? I'm not- There was a plink. Dawn looked down and saw a frozen teardrop lying near her feet. There were more plinks, and several other frozen teardrops joined it. Her facemask pulling apart, she reached up and touched her face, astonished to find tears rolling down her cheeks, only to freeze and fall to the ground. I…I don't understand. Why am I crying? I killed Paul!

"That's right," Darkrai said gently. "You did."

I-I killed Paul, Dawn repeated, somewhat desperately. The monster who betrayed our clan, murdered my friends and family, has killed countless people, done horrible things to me-

"And who was also once upon a time your best friend and the mon you loved," Darkrai interrupted. "And now he's dead."

I-I put that behind me! Dawn protested, trembling.

"Clearly you haven't," Darkrai said. "Or else you wouldn't be crying."

Dawn stumbled forwards, her feet suddenly failing her. Darkrai surged forwards, wrapping his arms around her and allowing her head to rest on his shoulder. I hated him, she clicked, frozen tears falling on the dark god's shoulder. I hated him so much.

"Sometimes we hate the people we love most," Darkrai said sagely from experience.

She squeezed her eyes shut. For most of my life, killing Paul has been my driving force. My reason for being. And now…now he's gone. What's left for me?

Darkrai gave her a disappointed look. "Have you already forgotten your teammates? Your friends? And the samurai you love?"

Dawn stiffened. Master…

"You swore your life to him, Dawn Hikari. I think living for him is as good a reason to keep going as anything else," Darkrai said. "That, and that marriage you're supposed to have. What, did you forget that, too?"

I suppose I did, Dawn admitted, shamefaced. In my grief and anguish, I…lost sight of what I still have. How…how foolish of me.

"Hey, everyone can be a fool sometimes," Darkrai said. "Even a ninja. Or a badass god of death and darkness and nightmares and other stuff like me."

I must find him, and the others, Dawn said. To let them know what I have done…and to remind them of how much they mean to me. And then…maybe I can start to figure out who Dawn Hikari really is, beyond the ninja obsessed with revenge.

"Sounds good to me," said Darkrai. "Oh, but before you go, isn't there something else you need to do?"

Dawn blinked and pulled away, looking up at Darkrai in confusion. What are you talking about?

Darkrai turned and gestured to the ice ninjas standing below. "Say goodbye to your clan, of course. Say the things you never got the chance to say before."

Dawn frowned in puzzlement at Darkrai. I do not understand. There is nothing to say goodbye to. They are just constructs I made out of the memories of my clan.

Darkrai chuckled and shook his head in amusement. "Have you really forgotten who you're talking to?"

Dawn's eyes widened in astonishment. Then…you mean…

Darkrai nodded. In a blur, Dawn was off the platform and racing towards the figures of her friends. "A 'thank you' would have been nice!" Darkrai called after her.

Dawn skidded to a halt before the forms of her four best friends growing up (other than Paul). Are…are you there? She asked anxiously. Is it really you?

"Well, gee, Dee-Dee, what do you think?" Kenny asked in amusement, the Prinplup smirking.

Don't call me that, Dawn said automatically…then froze. You…you…you're really here!

"Well, yeah," Zoey said, the Glameow rolling her eyes. "Darkrai said as much, didn't he?"

"He can be a bit of a troll sometimes, but he's not the kind of guy who'd lie about something like that," Leona said, the Swinub grinning.

"I heard that!" Darkrai shouted.

Dawn suddenly found herself hugging her four friends, more frozen tears rolling down her cheeks. I missed you so much, she clicked. I hadn't even realized how much until right now. I've kept it in for so long, I…

"Hey, it's all right, Dawn," Barry said gently, the Prinplup smiling. "You're a ninja, just like us. We'd have done the same thing."

"You've gone through so much," Leona said sadly, stroking Dawn's ears. "More than any ninja should have. We're sorry you had to do all of that alone."

It was so hard, Dawn admitted. But I had to keep going. I had to. I couldn't let your deaths have been for nothing. I had to…I had to make him pay.

"And you did," Kenny said with a smile. "You killed him, Dawn. You avenged us and restored our clan's honor. And now you can move on."

I'm not even sure I know how, Dawn confessed.

"You have new friends to help you. And a new love," Zoey said.

Dawn looked somewhat embarrassed at that. I'm sorry, I…I wasn't trying to replace any of you or anything. I would never-

"It's fine, Dawn," Leona assured her friend. "You're moving on. It's normal, and we're glad you're finally doing it."

Dawn blinked in surprise. Moving on? Is that what I'm doing? I hadn't realized. But even if that is the case, the four of you will always hold a special place in my heart.

"And you in ours," Kenny assured her.

"And we'll always be there when you need us," Zoey said.

"Literally, since you can just, you know, make ice clones of us again," Barry said. He frowned and scratched his head. "Not sure if we'll still be inhabiting them, though. You'd have to ask Darkrai."

"Eh, I'll consider it," the dark god said, looming over Dawn's shoulder.

Whether you are here in truth, or only as an image…know that I am glad to see you again, Dawn said. She paused, and then looked downwards. And…I am sorry that I could not save you.

"You did what you could," Zoey said.

"And that's all that matters to us," Kenny said.

"We're proud of you, for everything you've done. For persevering and overcoming everything that's happened to you. You truly exemplify everything that makes an ideal ninja," Leona said.

"Well, except for hooking up with a samurai," Barry said.

The others glared at him. "It wouldn't be the first time," Zoey pointed out, annoyed.

"Yeah, I know," Barry admitted. "It just sort of goes against tradition, is all. But seriously, I'm happy for you, Dawn. And truth be told, I think that Pikachu of yours is a better match for you than Paul ever was. Even before he went, you know, insane and homicidal and killed us all."

I know he is, Dawn said with a fond smile. I am sorry you could not meet him in person.

"Well, it'll happen sooner or later," Zoey said optimistically.

"A shame we never got the chance to give him the 'if you hurt her, we'll kill you in your sleep' talk," Leona lamented.

"Isn't that her parents' job?" Barry asked.

"We're her friends. We can't show how we care for her by assassinating someone for her?" Leona asked.

Dawn laughed. The sympathy is appreciated, but you all know I could kill him myself if he ever hurt me. Which, of course, he never will.

"We know," Zoey said softly. "And we're so happy for you. You've really found someone perfect for you."

...Yes. I have, haven't I? Dawn said fondly. She shook her head sadly. I am sorry he could not have met you. Any of you. But as you said…we will all see each other again one day, won't we?

"Yep," Barry agreed. "When you die. It's gonna happen sooner or later, right?"

"And then we'll all be together again," Kenny said. "The entire clan, past…and future. I mean, you are gonna make new little Claw ninjas with Pikachu, right?"

Kenny! Dawn protested, blushing.

"Well, that's assuming he'll let her train any ninjas. He might want samurais instead," Leona pointed out.

"Or maybe they can train their kids to be ninja-samurai! Ninjarai! Or samujas! That would be so cool!" Barry gushed.

Dawn stared at the Prinplup in bewilderment before shaking her head. There is a Squirtle I know whom I think you would get very much along with.

"Yeah, that Leo guy seems pretty cool," Barry agreed. "Not as awesome as me, of course." They all laughed at this, because they all knew how ridiculously untrue this was.

Zoey winced slightly as cracks began to form on her body. "Well, I guess it's time to go. Damn. I'd hoped we'd have longer."

You're leaving already? Dawn asked in alarm. But…but we just met again!

"We'd love to talk with you more, but there's only so long we can be here," Kenny apologized as his body began cracking up as well. "At least we had a few minutes to say what needed to be said…and that's good enough, isn't it?"

I…suppose so, yes… Dawn admitted reluctantly.

"And you have so many other people to speak to. We don't want to monopolize your time," Leona said as flakes started falling off her body.

"But before we go, know that we'll always be here. And we'll be waiting for you when your time comes as well," Zoey said. "Just, not too soon, you know?"

I look forward to it, Dawn said sadly.

"Oh, and Dawn?" Barry said. "Tell my dad that…that I'm happy on the other side, and I love him, okay?"

I will. I promise, Dawn said.

"Then…until we meet again, Dee-Dee," Kenny said with a bittersweet smile as the cracks Spinarakwebbed across his face.

Until we meet again, Dawn echoed, smiling through her tears as the four ice ninjas all disintegrated into tiny ice particles that swirled in the wind and disappeared. My friends… Darkrai put a hand on his shoulder but said nothing. She stood there in silence for a moment before looking up at the dark god. How much time do I have?

"As long as you need," he said gently. "Er…so long as it's not too long. Keeping so many souls of the dead here for too long is a bit of a stretch even for me in my current state, so you might want to make it quick. But not too quick. Oh, you know what I mean. Just say what needs to be said, and nothing more."

Dawn nodded. I will use the time you have given me wisely. Thank you, Darkrai.

"Hey, don't mention it," he said cheerfully. "I'm always happy to help a pal."

The next several minutes—assuming time was even passing at all—went by in a surreal experience. Dawn spoke to friends and classmates; teachers and mentors, children and adults and elders. Ninjas she'd known all her life, and ones she'd only barely interacted with. With every member of the Claw clan she spoke with and said her farewells to, a great pressure that had been on her soul for so long she'd forgotten it was even there was relieved bit by bit, causing her to feel lighter and more at peace than she had been in years, if ever.

That lightness faded somewhat when she found herself faced with the somewhat disapproving stares of the twin Grandmasters. Grandmasters Aya and Iya, she said, bowing respectfully.

"Dawn Hikari," Iya said. "After you escaped the charnel house that was our stronghold with your life, you should have reported to Grandmasters Nuken and Koga at once."

"Instead, you allowed everyone to believe that the Claw clan was truly extinct—except for Palmer, who was under deep cover—so that you could spend the next several years searching for a way to kill Paul," Aya said. "Why did you do this?"

Paul needed to be stopped, Dawn said hesitantly. And our clan avenged. I am certain Grandmasters Koga and Nuken would have tasked me to find a way to eliminate Paul anyway. I was not doing anything they would not have authorized.

"Perhaps," Iya said. "But that does not change the fact that you did not ask for authorization in the first place."

No, Grandmaster, Dawn admitted.

"You were afraid that they might have refused if you had asked," Aya said. "So you decided it was best if everyone thought you were dead, not just so that Paul wouldn't realize you were still alive and hunting him…but also because that way, nobody could stop you."

"You allowed your desire for revenge to forsake your loyalty to His Excellency," Iya said sternly.

"And even though you have now reentered His Excellency's service, there is still some question of where your loyalty lies, isn't there?" Aya asked.

Dawn stiffened. I am His Excellency's faithful servant!

"Really?" Iya asked skeptically. "Then if you were ordered to kill Pikachu, would you do it without hesitation?"

Dawn froze. K-kill Pikachu? I… The thought that she might one day be hypothetically be asked to kill the samurai had occurred to her once or twice. She hadn't been sure then what she would do if the order was given. She wasn't sure now, either. But…I…he saved my life. By clan law, I am his vassal-

"You are also His Excellency's vassal," Aya interrupted.

"And service to His Excellency overrides service to that samurai," Iya said.

Dawn clenched her fist. Then…you disapprove of our impending union?

"No, although he is not the mate we would have chosen for you," Aya said.

"What we are more concerned about is that your loyalty to your true master is not as great as your loyalty to your paramour," Iya said.

Dawn stared at them in astonishment. Her eyes narrowed. And how would you suggest that I prove to you that I am still loyal to His Excellency? Kill Pikachu?

"If we told you to, would you?" Aya asked pointedly.

Absolutely not, Dawn said coldly.

"And why is that?" Iya asked with a frown.

Grandmasters, while I hold the utmost respect for you…you're dead. I am no longer answerable to either of you. If you gave me an order now, I would take it into consideration, but I would be under no obligation to carry it out, Dawn said.

"Hmmph. Fair enough," Aya admitted grudgingly. "But you still haven't answered the question. If His Excellency—or the other Grandmasters—ordered you to kill Pikachu, would you?"

No, Dawn said, almost surprised as she realized at last that she would not.

"Then you would defy your lord and master?" Iya asked.

"Become a traitor, like Paul?" Aya asked.

Absolutely not, Dawn said. I would never follow the order…because it would never be given.

The elders tilted their heads in puzzlement at that. "What makes you so certain of this?" Iya asked.

I have learned many things from traveling with my Master…no, with Pikachu…and his friends. MY friends, Dawn said, voicing—or rather, clicking—something that she'd realized a long time ago, but never quite understood until now. Loyalty is a two-way path. It means that a vassal shall do whatever it is her lord asks of her…so long as it is something that that vassal wants to do and needs to get done. I already know that there are orders Pikachu may give me which I have the right to refuse…but I will never need to exercise that right, because I know he would never ask them of me. You can only be a good worker if you have a good master, and if your master is not loyal to you, then what is the point in serving him faithfully? I love His Excellency as much as any of us did. But…if he were to ever ask this of me…then I would refuse, because I would know he did not trust me to serve him anymore, if he felt that killing my beloved would be the only way to ensure my loyalty was only to him. And I know that he will never ask that of me, because he is not that kind of master, so I need never fear doing this.

"And what of Grandmasters Nuken or Koga?" Aya asked.

"Are you so certain that they would not ask that of you?" Iya prompted.

I am not, Dawn admitted. But if they did, my answer would be the same. And if they were to ask me, then I would go over their heads and speak to His Excellency himself, for I highly doubt he would approve of such a thing unless it was absolutely necessary.

"There is much our kind does for His Excellency that he would not approve of," Aya pointed out.

Only so long as he is unaware of it. If he is aware of it, then he can't claim he had nothing to do with it, now can he? Dawn asked sweetly.

The Ninjask and Shedinja looked at Dawn for a long moment. Then, they bowed their heads. "You have learned much in your years out in the world. You have surpassed our highest expectations for you," Iya said.

"And while we do not completely understand or approve of the choices you have made…it is your life, and your decision, and we no longer have a say in such things," Aya said.

"Palmer chose wisely when he named you a Master...just as we are wise in turn to name you Grandmaster of the Claw clan. You will teach the next generation of our people many things…things that we would never have considered. Things that defy tradition. Things which, ultimately, might not be such a bad thing for a ninja to have," Iya conceded.

Dawn bowed her head. Thank you, Grandmasters.

"Go forth, young ninja, with our blessings," Aya said as cracks began to form on her body.

"Always serve your master well…whomever he may be!" Iya said as her body began to break up as well.

I will, Dawn said as the two elders dissolved. I promise.

She had saved the Grandmasters for close to the end. Most of the clan was gone now, and only a handful remained, the ones to whom she had the most important things to say. She walked over to two of them. Two of the most influential Pokémon in her life, who had helped make her the Buneary she was now. Not even bothering to hold back her tears, she hugged the pair of ice Weaviles. Mother. Father. I've missed you so much.

"And we you, daughter," her father, Hareta, said with a fond smile.

"You have done so much, Dawn. You have fought and suffered more than many of our clan ever has. But you persevered…and triumphed beyond any of our wildest dreams," her mother, Ayako, said kindly, cupping a claw around Dawn's chin and raising her head to look her in the eyes. "You have become greater than we ever imagined. We are so very proud of you."

Dawn hugged them again, squeezing her eyes shut as more tears ran down her cheeks, froze, and fell off, plinking against her parents' shoulders before falling to the ground. You have no idea how happy that makes me. And how sorry I am that I could not save you.

"It's us who should be apologizing to you," Hareta said sadly.

"We fought Paul as hard as we could. We fought in hopes that you would not have to fight him. And we failed," Ayako said.

He was immortal. There was nothing you could do, Dawn said.

"Just as there was nothing you could do to save us," Hareta pointed out, which Dawn reluctantly admitted he was correct about. Even if she'd gotten back to their quarters sooner, what then? Paul would probably have killed her as well, and then all would have been lost.

"But even though we realized we could not defeat him…we knew that you would. That you would live on, not just to defeat him, but to carry on the legacy of our clan. The wishes and memories of our kind. You were, and still are, our hope, Dawn. Hope for the future of our clan…and of our family," Ayako said. "We will live on in you, and those who come after you."

The Hikari name, and that of the Claw, will not die out, Dawn vowed. I shall continue our legacy. I shall rebuild our clan…and our family. The Claw will rise again…and my children, your grandchildren shall lead it.

"That is more than we could have ever hoped for," Hareta said.

"And speaking of which…you got pretty lucky, hooking up with a samurai like that," Ayako said with an amused smile. "You could have done worse than him."

"You could also have done better," Hareta joked. "Seriously, though, he's a great guy. Better than Paul ever could have been. Too bad we didn't know about him sooner…or that he wasn't born a ninja…"

Then you do not object to our union? Dawn asked.

"A samurai isn't exactly our first pick," Ayako admitted. "But he is a mon of honor and courage, who genuinely loves you. I don't think you can do much better than that."

Neither can I, Dawn said with a smile.

"We were so worried for you for the longest time…" Hareta said sadly. "We watched as you were forced to go to such awful lengths to survive, and to fulfill your mission."

Dawn looked away, ashamed. Are you…disappointed in me? For what I had to do?

"Never," Hareta said, grabbing her face and turning it back towards him. "There is nothing you could do that would ever make us stop loving you."

She hugged him. Father…

"But those dark days are over, Dawn," Ayako said, stroking her ears, like she had when Dawn was much younger. "Paul is dead, your quest for vengeance at an end. You don't need to steep yourself in hatred or anger any longer. You have true friends, and a master who loves you. You are no longer alone."

No, I'm not, Dawn said, looking at her mother. It took me until now to realize it, but…I was never alone, was I? All of you were looking out for me…and I had no idea. If I had known, then maybe… She shook her head. It doesn't matter. What's past is past. And now…now I must live for tomorrow, mustn't I?

Her parents nodded. "And a chance to seek happiness for yourself, not simply carry out a duty," Hareta said.

I will, Dawn promised. I think I already have, and I will continue to do so.

"Then go," Ayako said, as cracks began to form on her body. "Live."

"And no matter where you go or what you do, know that we love you," Hareta said as he started cracking.

And I love you, Dawn said. Her eyes widened as a thought struck her. Mother…before you go?

The female Weavile raised an eyebrow even as fine fissures began to form in it. "Yes?"

I don't think I ever told you…how grateful I am that you saved me that day when I was born, Dawn said. How thankful I am that you raised me, and accepted and loved me just the way I was, even though I was mute and had to work harder to keep up with the rest of the clan.

Ayako looked at Dawn for a long time, and then smiled. "And I don't think I ever told you…that my orders were to kill any offspring of Kahn if I should find them, so none of his followers could rally behind them and cause trouble in the future."

Dawn started. You're right, you never told me that!

"I didn't think so," Ayako said with a smile.

Then you disobeyed orders to save me…but why? Asked the astonished Dawn.

"Partly because I was still feeling upset due to losing my own egg…partly because of pity—an un-ninja-like emotion, I know-and partly because…" Ayako smiled. "When I looked into your eyes…I fell in love with you at once, and knew that I could not abandon you to die. So I disobeyed orders and brought you home. It was the first time I'd ever disobeyed an order…and I'm happy I did, because it gave me the daughter I love more than anything else."

"Well, except for me," Hareta said in bemusement.

"Right," Ayako said with a smirk.

Thank you, Dawn whispered. Thank you for saving me, and giving me a chance at life.

"I never regretted doing it. Not even once," Ayako assured her daughter.

Smiling, Dawn said, Goodbye Mother, Father. Until we meet again…though hopefully not for a long, long time. Well, unless Darkrai lets me summon you again.

"Still thinking about it," Darkrai said.

"Goodbye, Dawn," Hareta said as he began to break up.

"And always remember…" Ayako said as she started to crumble.

"We love you," they both said in unison before shattering.

Dawn stared for a long time at the spot where they had been standing, nothing but a pile of ice chips left. Sniffing, she wiped her eyes, more frozen tears falling to the ground. And I love you.

And then she turned away, and approached the last ninja standing, the one she'd been saving for the very end. He was standing some distance away with his back to her, looking forlornly at what was left of Paul. "You must hate me so much," he said quietly. "Everything that's happened, everything he's done, is all my fault. I let him out. I failed to keep the fear of death from taking hold of him. I failed my little brother…and in doing so, doomed our entire clan."

You're right, Dawn admitted after a moment. I did hate you for a while. I blamed you for everything. The death of my parents, my friends, our clan…for not being able to keep Paul from turning out the way he did…but I don't feel that way anymore, Reggie.

The Weavile, Paul's older brother, turned around in surprise, icy tears frozen to his cheeks. "You don't?"

Dawn looked down and shook her head. What you did was wrong, Reggie. But in the end, were we much better? We all knew Paul was afraid of death. But we never helped him to conquer it. Not really. Just kept giving him rhetoric about how a ninja shouldn't fear death and how he should be happy to die in the service of His Excellency and kept expecting him to shape up. But…he didn't. And we all paid the price.

"Maybe so, but I'm the one who let him out of his cell," Reggie said bitterly. "And as his older brother, the only family he had left, I failed in my responsibility to train him and make him into a better ninja."

Just as I failed him as a friend by not taking his fears as seriously as I should have…and when his fear finally drove him to use the cursed scroll, I turned him in and was willing to kill him just like that, like our friendship hadn't meant anything, Dawn said sadly.

"You did your duty. What you were supposed to do. What I should have done," Reggie said.

You're right. I did my duty as a loyal member of the Claw clan, Dawn said. And failed in my duty to my best friend.

"…Heh. When you put it that way, I guess we both screwed up, huh?" Reggie said. "Even so, I'm still the one at fault. I let Paul out. And he repaid me by killing me and letting the barbarians in. If I hadn't done that, we might all still be here, and you wouldn't have had to go through everything you'd gone through."

Maybe not, Dawn agreed. But I also would not have met my Master…or some of the best friends I could ever imagine.

Reggie raised an eyebrow. "And that makes up for all the shit that you went through because I went with my heart instead of my head?"

I honestly don't know, Dawn admitted. But…I am happy now. And we can never really know what might have been.

"Well, actually-" Reggie started.

Let me rephrase that: I don't want to know what might have been, Dawn said in mild annoyance. What I have now…it is enough.

"You…you really mean that?" Reggie asked, amazed.

Dawn nodded. I do. And what's more… She walked forward and, to Reggie's astonishment, hugged him. I forgive you. What you did was foolish and wrong…but it was done out of love, and so I can understand it. You were just trying to be a good brother. And Paul…that idiot…spat on your kindness. He is the one that is truly at fault, not you.

He stared at her incredulously, his jaw working the air a few times. And then he burst into tears and hugged her back, sobbing, "Thank you, thank you, thank you," into her ear as he started cracking up. Before he broke, he let go, and with icy tears still on his face, asked her, "It is said that all that the damned have to do to end their torment is to admit that they were wrong and genuinely repent. Do…do you think Paul will ever…"

I do not know, Dawn said honestly. I do not think it likely, but…should he ever find his way out of the hell he has brought upon himself…then he will have a loyal and loving brother waiting to guide him back into the light.

Reggie nodded. "Yeah. I'll wait for him. I'll wait as long as it takes." He paused, then asked, "And what about you?"

Dawn blinked. What about me?

"Do you forgive my brother?" Reggie asked.

No, Dawn said without a second thought. And I don't know if I ever will.

"…Oh. I…I guess that's fair," Reggie said, somewhat disappointed. He paused, cracks forming on his body, and then said, "Good luck in your future battles. You're going to need it with what's coming."

I know. Thank you, Dawn said. She hesitated, and then said, You know, if things had gone differently, I wouldn't have minded having you as a brother-in-law.

Reggie's eyes lit up at that, and a smile graced his face once more. "Thank you." And with that, he was gone, just another pile of ice shavings in a bloodstained snowfield. Dawn was alone once more.

Well, not completely alone. "Are you happy now?" Darkrai asked.

Yes, Dawn said, a serene smile spreading across her scarred face. Her heart felt…warm. Warmer than it had in a very long time. She felt so light, she was sure she could probably jump to the Moon in a single bound if she felt like it.

But there was something missing…

"You haven't evolved yet," Darkrai pointed out.

No, Dawn said, her expression not changing. That's because there's one more thing I need before I can be truly happy.

As if on cue, a lightning bolt pierced the snow clouds and struck the ground nearby, throwing up a cloud of snowflakes and ice. "Dawn!" Tenjin cried, rushing over, resplendent in his golden electric samurai armor. "Are you all right?"

Chuckling, Darkrai faded into shadow. Dawn stared at her master, drinking in his features. His noble countenance, his courageous bearing, the look of simple, guileless concern on his face…she didn't think he had ever looked this handsome. I am fine, Master. It is over. Paul is dead.

"He is?" Tenjin looked past her and blanched slightly when he saw what was left of Paul impaled on the ice spire. "Ah. So he is. You, uh, were very thorough."

I wanted to make sure he didn't survive to trouble me again, Dawn said.

"A wise decision," Tenjin said. His brow creased. "He is lucky I was not here to help you, or else not even that would be left of him."

I do not doubt it, Dawn said.

Tenjin winced, a guilty expression crossing his face. "About that…I'm sorry, Dawn. I know I promised that I would help you kill Paul if I could, but Suicune took longer for me to defeat then I expected. When I saw your ice field was still up and you weren't answering my calls, I sent the others to find Princess Boa and Ash and rushed right over to see if there was anything I could do to assist you. And, uh, I guess I didn't need to. I should have known you would handle things on your own."

It's fine, Master, Dawn assured him. I…apologize for not answering your calls. I was…preoccupied.

She glanced at the shadow where she knew Darkrai was hiding. The death god gave her a Mareepish look. Sorry, I blocked his calls. Didn't think you'd want to be interrupted during your little reunion, he said inside her head.

She nodded slightly to him. I understand. Please do not do that again, though, she thought back.

"He put up that much of a fight, huh?" Tenjin asked.

Dawn smirked. Actually, no. I'd say it was rather one-sided. He never stood a chance, but was too foolish to realize it.

Tenjin nodded. "Yeah, it was that way with Suicune too…except she was so ridiculously fast and good at evading the fight dragged on longer than it should have. I'm guessing that's not what happened here?"

Dawn shook her head. My plan to destroy his armor required I draw our duel out a bit. Of course, I can't say I didn't…enjoy prolonging his suffering a little bit.

"And you certainly didn't make his end pleasant," Tenjin observed.

No. I did not, Dawn said.

"Well, I can't blame you. I'm not exactly one for revenge, but the bastard had it coming, and I suppose this is as good a form of justice as any," Tenjin said. He paused, and then turned around. "I am…very relieved to see you are all right."

Dawn looked him in the eye. The warmth and light growing within her buoyed her spirit, telling her that now was the time, if only she would seize it. She fully intended to. Master, she said. Do you love me? She was fairly certain she already knew the answer, but something told her it had to be asked, and asked now.

Tenjin recoiled. "What? What kind of question is that?"

A simple one, yet also one of the most difficult ones in the world. Do you love me? Dawn pressed.

Tenjin gave her a confused look. "…We're getting married, Dawn. I'm fairly certain we wouldn't be doing that if I didn't feel that way towards you."

She nodded. Very well. Then why have you never told me, specifically, that you loved me?

"What? Of course I…" Tenjin paused, an uncertain look on his face. "…Hold on. Have I ever told you I loved you? I mean, I'm fairly certain it was just something we both understood was the case, but…hmm. Have I actually said it in so many words?"

Not outside of…private matters, unless I am mistaken, which I admit might be the case, Dawn said.

Tenjin's brow furrowed in thought. "Hmm. I can't remember either…well, that can't stand. Even if I've said it before, clearly I haven't said it enough if neither of us can remember it very well. In that case: yes, Dawn Hikari, I love you."

The light and warmth in her heart were on the verge of bursting. And I love you, Pikachu Thunderblade.

"It's Tenjin now," Tenjin said reflexively. He froze. "Wait. Dawn, did you just call me by my name-"

He was cut off when Dawn pressed her lips against his. It was not the first time they had kissed, nor would it be the last, but there was something special about this kiss, as he closed his eyes and pressed back into it with equal force. An intensity and energy that had not been present before, and not just because of the elemental power of electricity and ice running through their veins. An energy that shone on Tenjin as his beloved ninja fiancé started glowing…

And began to evolve.

As she grew and changed, becoming taller, her limbs longer and shapelier, the blue-white light radiating from her form became red and black…but unlike most instances of something that had that color a glow, there was something oddly comforting about this dark light, like the feeling of a lengthy rest after a very long and difficult day, or the serene beauty of twilight as day passed into night.

When the dark light finally faded, Tenjin opened his eyes and broke the kiss to catch his breath…and beheld a new Dawn.

She was now almost three feet taller than he was, her armor resized to fit her new height and build. Her pelt was as black as night, with massive ears that hung down to her knees, three large red feather-like protrusions growing from the ends of each. Her tail, rather than being round, had red feather-like tufts as well. Red fur grew around her extremely shapely lower legs, which now ended in rather long sharp claws, as did her otherwise dainty paws, ringed by fluffy tufts of red fur. Her face and neck were free of the scarring he'd grown accustomed to ever since he met her—though now there was a red collar ringing her long, thin neck-and his breath was taken away by how gorgeous she looked without them marring her now-flawless features. A red crown-like crest grew from the back of her head, framed by her ears, her spiky helmet incorporating it into its design, with two holes for her massive ears to sprout from him. Her nose was small and pink, twitching somewhat as she gazed at him with her big red and black eyes. She was, in that moment, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

And then she opened her mouth and, in a voice that was surprisingly smooth and mellifluous for someone who'd never used it a day in her life, said, "Does my new appearance please you, my Master?"

"You are beautiful, Dawn," Tenjin acknowledged after he'd taken a moment to catch his breath. "But you were always beautiful. I saw you when we were inside your heart. All that's changed is that your exterior now matches the magnificent womon I saw in there when we helped to purify you…but even if you were as hideous as a Garbodor, I would love you all the same."

She smiled, looking even lovelier when she was happy. "And that is just one of many reasons why I love you, my Master…no, Tenjin."

"You know, I just realized," Tenjin said, an abrupt thought coming to him. "I don't think I ever asked you to marry me."

"Didn't you?" Dawn asked in surprise.

Tenjin shook his head. "No. It was just something my parents kinda…forced on us."

"I didn't hear you protesting," Dawn said in amusement.

"I did," Tenjin said. "Quite loudly. Nobody cared."

"And are you protesting now?" Dawn asked.

"No," Tenjin said. "But if we're going to get married, we ought to do this right, don't you think?" He glanced around, and then got down on one knee. "Leo proposed in the snow, so I see no reason why I can't. Dawn, will you marry me?"

Dawn raised one of her eyebrows. She had very long, fine red ones now, and Pikachu couldn't stop being fascinated by how graceful they looked in motion. "Of course I will, my love. But don't you need a ring?"

Tenjin blanched. "Ah. Yes. Er, hold on a second…" He patted himself down in alarm, and then was struck by an idea. "Wait." He opened his paw and concentrated. There was a spark of light, and suddenly a glowing, crackling ring of lightning appeared in it. "Um, here," he said somewhat awkwardly, offering the small interwoven band of electricity to her. "It's pretty much all I can make do with at the moment. It's more solid than it looks, and it should last for as long as I do."

"It's perfect," she said warmly, taking the ring and slipping it onto a claw.

"You put it on without even asking if it was safe to put a live lightning bolt around your claw?" Tenjin asked.

"I did not see any reason to fear it would," Dawn said. "If you were the one to give it to me, then I knew it would be safe to wear."

Tenjin's ears twitched, and he smiled. "Then I guess I don't have to shell out Poké to buy a solid ring. Leo was right, buying wedding rings when you can make your own is a waste of cash." He frowned. "And speaking of Leo…we should probably go join up with him and the others." He smirked. "Wait'll he gets a load of this. Now I'm going to have a wife hotter than his! Er, physically speaking, anyway."

Dawn grinned. "Then shall we go, Tenjin? So that we may bask in everyone's shocked expressions together?"

"I can't think of anything I'd like to do more right now," Pikachu said, returning her grin.

They walked off into the snow, hand in hand. Darkrai sniffed and wiped away a tear. "And Cressy says I'm terrible at playing Cupid. Shows what she knows!"

Meanwhile, Princess Boa found herself surrounded by a massive group of Arackaiser clones and robot spiders that, for whatever reason, had decided to pester her instead of trying to kill Leo. "You should never have left the Magic Kingdom, Princess Serpenterra," one of the clones sneered.

"Once we have you, your mother will give anything for your safe return," another clone gloated.

"Even her throne!" a third said greedily.

Princess Boa laughed. "I have no idea who you lot think I am, but you are sadly mistaken. While my mother loves me dearly, she would never give up Fichina for me. That is something I have made peace with a long time ago." She narrowed her eyes. "And even if that were not the case…you stand absolutely no chance whatsoever of defeating me." She drew her sword.

"We have the advantage in numbers and strength," a clone pointed out. "While your friends have foolishly left you alone."

"I do not need their help to defeat you," Boa said, sheathing her sword.

The clone blinked in confusion. "Huh? Why did you just-" He was interrupted as he and several dozen clones and spiders fell to pieces, blood and oil and bits of machinery and plant matter gushing all over the place.

The survivors recoiled. "Wh-what?! How did you do that?!" a clone stammered.

Boa smiled sweetly. "Oh, I'm sorry, was that too quick for you? Here, let me try that again a little slower." She drew her sword once again and sliced it through the air several dozen times before sheathing it.

"What was that supposed to-" the clone was interrupted as he and several dozen clones and spiders fell to pieces, blood and oil and bits of machinery and plant matter gushing all over the place.

The survivors recoiled even more. "B-but you didn't even touch them with your sword!" a clone cried in alarm.

"I didn't need to," Boa said. "But, if you insist…" She drew her sword again. There was a flash of white and green, and suddenly Boa was standing outside the large group of clones and spiders. She sheathed her sword. Instantly, the clones and spiders fell to pieces, their innards splattering everywhere. "So," she said calmly to the even larger group of clones and spiders waiting for her. "I don't suppose you'd care to surrender?"

"GET HER!" a clone shouted. The Sunfloras and spiders screamed as they charged at her.

Boa smirked. "I thought not." Drawing her sword again, she rushed forward to meet the enemies.

Some Sunfloras jumped onto the shoulders of their comrades and leaped into the air, spewing Bullet Seeds and flinging Razor Leaves at her. Boa swiped her sword through the air, and the seeds and leaves split in half before they even reached her. So did the Sunfloras.

Several clones started glowing and launched themselves at Boa with Double-Edge. Rapidly slithering forwards, she passed between the clones, slashing once with her sword as she went. Once she was past the Pokémon projectiles, they fell to pieces.

One Sunflora threw a ball of white light into the air, creating a Sunny Day. Several of the nearest Sunflora stepped back, faces shining, and fired SolarBeams at the Serperior. Boa planted her sword in the ground and concentrated, a shield of mystical light forming around her. The energy beams crashed into it with all their might, but were unable to penetrate it. Her body glowed green, and she buried her tail in the ground, using Frenzy Plant. Giant thorny roots burst out of the ground and wrapped around the Arackaisers shooting the SolarBeams, snapping their necks and ending the attack. Lowering her shield, Boa raised her sword into the air, the weapon glowing white as it absorbed energy from the Sunny Day overhead. With a cry, she brought the blade back down and swung it in a circle around her, releasing a blade-shaped SolarBeam which sliced through the Frenzy Plants, the dead clones, and several rows of Sunfloras behind those.

Shrieking, spiders launched themselves into the air over the burning corpses of dead Sunfloras, lunging towards Boa. The Serperior's sword flashed through the air faster than the eye could see, and the arachnoids were cut to pieces before they could even reach her.

Deciding not to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors, half of the next wave of spiders shot thread from their rears at the ceiling and raised themselves into the air, leaving the rest on the ground. In unison, they opened their mandibles and spat thread at Boa, not intending to ensnare her, but to cut her to pieces with razor wire. Using her serpentine fluidity, Boa undulated and twisted about, the strands of impossibly sharp thread passing over, under, and around her coils. Unfortunately, this had the unwelcome result of trapping the princess in a lethal web, contorted as if she were in the middle of an extremely high-stakes game of Twister, for if she moved even the slightest fraction, one of the threads would slice into her. (Well, assuming it could get through her armor, anyway.) More spiders climbed onto the threads woven by their comrades and started crawling up their length towards her, while the Arackaisers stayed a safe distance back and prepared long-range attacks. Boa narrowed her eyes, making a few careful calculations in her head, and let go of her sword, using her magic to guide it instead of her vines. The sword slashed through the air repeatedly, slicing through the strands of razor-sharp webbing. Due to the high tension in the cables, severing them caused them to snap backwards rather violently, slicing through other wires, spiders, and Arackaisers while leaving Boa relatively unharmed. (Not completely, though, a few strands of wire swiped past her as they broke apart, leaving tears in her armor and a stinging cut across her cheek, which she bore stoically even as blood dripped down her face. That was the price she paid for not wearing a helm, apparently.)

The Serperior frowned when she noticed her very minor wound. "I was cut? Well, that just won't do." She rushed forward and suddenly planted her sword in the chest of one of the clones that had been just maimed rather than completely ripped to shreds by the severed threads. Concentrating, the sword glowed green as she used Giga Drain, sucking the vitality out of the dying clone and into herself, causing the cut on her cheek to mend. It also caused the clone to shrivel up and crumble into ash. "Hmm…perhaps I overdid it," she murmured Mareepishly, sweatdropping. "Well, he was dying anyway…and evil, so…"

"You sucked out his life just to fix your face?!" a clone nearby screamed incredulously.

Boa shrugged. "If I have a flaw, it's that I'm actually quite vain. Why else do you think I usually fight without a helmet, so that all might see my face? I'm well aware that's rather foolish tactically speaking…but given how good my swordplay is, it's rare for anything to get close enough to strike me."

"Aren't I close enough to strike?" the clone, who was just standing a few feet away, asked.

Boa smiled. "No."

The clone blinked. "What do you…" Realization dawned on him, and he gave her an exasperated look. "Oh, come on-" He split in two and fell to the ground.

Princess Boa smirked at the remaining clones, of which there were still a rather large number. "I don't suppose you wish to discuss terms of surrender?"

Robot spiders crawled up the bodies of the clones, interlinking and solidifying to create arachnid-themed armor. Others scurried into the leaves of the clones and formed weapons. Raising their armaments into the air, the clones howled and charged towards the Serperior. Boa smirked. "Yes, that's pretty much what I expected."

She raised her sword, concentrating her magic and will into it. It burst into flames, and she swept it outwards, engulfing the first wave of clones in fire. Some of them screamed and fell to the ground, but others charged forwards, their armor bearing the brunt of the flames. They were rather quickly swept backwards when her sword became covered in a sheath of water and she swung it at them, causing a massive tidal wave to appear and wash over the clones, knocking them back as well as extinguishing the fire. As they lay there in a confused, damp mass, Boa raised her sword into the air, electricity crackling around it, and lightning bolts shot down and struck the wet Arackaisers, causing them to shriek in agony as voltage coursed through their bodies, shorting out their armor and causing several of the spiders to explode or deactivate and fall off their bodies. Boa then encased her sword in ice and swung it at the Arackaisers, sending out a wave of freezing cold that froze them solid. Sheathing her sword, she spun about, the end of her tail glowing, and smashed into the frozen Arackaisers with Dragon Tail, shattering them.

While her back was turned and she was sweeping her tail at the frozen clones, one Arackaiser managed to climb on top of the ice mass and leap off it just before Boa could shatter it, drawing a knife as he shot towards her back. Before he could reach his target, however, one of Boa's vines shot out, ensnaring him only inches from her back. "It is a mark of cowardice for any swordsmon to bear a wound on their back," Boa said pointedly. "And I, sir, am no coward!" Another vine shot out into the crowd of Arackaisers, snagging another clone and pulling it towards her, bowling over all the other Sunfloras in its way. She twirled the two clones in her grip through the air, swinging them this way and that, her vines elongating and allowing her to use her captives as flails to bash and batter and knock away the surrounding clones, scattering them all over the place and knocking over the other clones behind them. Once all the nearest clones were lying on the ground in a daze, Boa casually snapped the necks of the two who had been of use to her and tossed them away before drawing her sword once more. The blade was covered in rock, and she smashed it into the ground, sending a fissure racing out from the tip of her sword that split in two as it passed under the mass of fallen Arackaisers, racing around beneath them to meet behind her, creating a circle. A circle that caused the floor to cave in beneath them, causing the clones to fall screaming into a seemingly bottomless abyss, the other clones frantically scrambling back to keep from falling into the chasm as well. Not all of them made it.

However, those that survived realized that Boa was now trapped on a pillar of stone in the middle of a seemingly impassable pit, and started firing Energy Balls, Razor Leaves, Bullet Seeds, Worry Seeds, Leech Seeds, SolarBeams, and even Leaf Storms at her from every direction. Smiling unworriedly, Boa swung her sword around her in a circle…

And where her sword cleaved through the air, an emptiness was left in its place. A tear in the fabric of the world, a rift in space and time. All the attacks passed into this tear, much to the surprise of the Arackaisers. They were even more surprised when an identical tear was rent open in the air over their heads, and the attacks rained down on their heads, the resulting explosions killing many and flinging others into the chasm where they died just as easily. Smiling, Boa, swept her sword through the air again, causing the rifts to seal themselves, then encased her sword in rock once more and thrust it into the ground, causing a rock spur to rip out of the side of her pillar and connect to the other side of the pit, giving her a way off her lonely island.

Several Arackaisers recovered and started rushing across the narrow spur towards her. This was, of course, exactly what she wanted, and she pulled her sword out of the ground just before the first clone could set foot on her pillar. The spur instantly shattered, sending the clones falling into the abyss. Chuckling, she sliced her sword through the air, creating another rift which she slithered into, reappearing on the other side of the small army of clones that had been surrounding the hole she had made in the ground. As they turned in alarm to realize she had outflanked them, she engulfed her sword in a whirlwind and swung it at the clones, generating a powerful—and very sharp—gust of wind that sent most of them flying back. Some of them were cut to pieces by the razor winds. Others, whose armor was somewhat sturdier, were instead flung into the pit, which wasn't much better.

The clones that had managed to avoid being sliced up or falling into the pit got back up and charged at her once again. Boa covered her sword in purple sludge and drove it into the ground, causing the floor beneath the oncoming Arackaisers to transform into a swamp of purple poison. The clones fell into it, their screams cutting off as the acid ate through their armor and liquefied their plant matter bodies into green goo. Their screams were replaced by the raging cries of more angry clones charging towards her from the rear, however. Without even turning around, Boa engulfed her sword in a pink glow and swung it behind her. The clones froze in place as the Psychic cut sliced through their minds, reducing them to drooling, mindless vegetables. (Well, more so than usual, anyway.) Again without looking, Boa engulfed her sword in dark purple Ghostly flames and swung her sword behind her. The clones all collapsed to the ground as her slash exorcised the souls from their bodies. Finally, she engulfed her sword in darkness and swung it one more time, reducing the comatose bodies to shadows which vanished in the light.

Boa panted a few times and sheathed her sword, wiping some sweat from her brow. All this magic was starting to take a bit of a toll on her. Just how many more of them were there, anyway?

Her question was answered when she heard the rather loud noise of metal tapping against stone repeatedly, and looked up to see several dozen clones were marching towards her, hooked up to giant spider-legged harnesses made from robot spiders. Growling in annoyance, Boa closed her eyes and concentrated, her body glowing green as she used Growth. Her body swelled up and elongated, becoming ten times its usual size, until it towered over the clones, whose harnesses stumbled as they all tried to back away in time, some tripping over each other's legs and falling over, causing a chain reaction that knocked several of the multi-limbed conveyances to the ground. Smiling, Boa raised her tail, the leaves on the end glowing as she charged it up, and swept it at the clones in their harnesses, her Dragon Tail crushing them and sending them flying. Without looking, she drove her tail into the ground and used Frenzy Plant, massive vines bursting out of the ground and wrapping around whatever clones she might have missed. As they struggled to break free, she drew her now massive sword, now glowing green, and swiped it through the air. Thousands of glowing green leaves materialized from the air and shot towards the clones, the resulting Leaf Storm ripping the Arackaisers, the harnesses, and the vines to pieces. Sighing, she started to sheath her sword…

And suddenly, a thick cable of razor thread shot towards her. She instinctively dodged it, but then more threads started coming towards her from every direction. Just as she had before, she undulated and twisted through the air to avoid the super-sharp strands of webbing, but she was a lot bigger now and, while she was still as quick and graceful as ever, there wasn't exactly as much room for her to maneuver. She cried out in pain as a strand grazed her, slicing through her armor and drawing blood; and soon one strand became many, and she found herself unable to move without causing any of the dozens of strands touching her body to cut further into her armor and possibly slice her to pieces. As blood stained the metal wires, the weavers of this treacherous web, giant robot spiders each about half as large as she was, descended from the ceiling on strands of metal webbing, the clones at their helm grinning eagerly. Boa snarled and tried to magically draw her sword…

Only to find, much to her alarm, that one of the strands of webbing was running over the hilt of her sword, holding it in place, and if she struggled too hard to pull it out there was a chance the strand might cut into her or even her blade. As the spiders chittered and started powering up their lasers, she quickly tried to think of a spell or stratagem she could use to get out of this mess.

Fortunately, she didn't have to. "Poké-Modify! Captain Ameroupe's Shield, Activate!"

"SHIELD VENT."

A spinning disc whizzed through the air, slicing through each of the strands of webbing suspending the spiders, causing them to plummet to the ground in shrieks of surprise. Boa blinked in surprise. "What the-"

The shield flew through the air and was caught by Leo, riding towards one of the giant robot spiders on his motorcycle as it struggled to get up. Ejecting his Duel Disk and putting it back on his arm as his shield transformed back into a tonfa, Leo jumped high into the air just before his bike could crash into the giant robot, exploding and causing the mecha to stagger backwards. Leo drew his Choc-Oboh card and slapped it onto his Duel Disk. "Poké-Modify! Choc-Oboh activate!"

"FINAL VENT!" Choc-Oboh shrieked as the mark on Leo's back burst into flames. Leo began to glow gold as he levitated into the air, the blazing figure of Choc-Oboh appearing behind him. A series of giant holographic cards depicting Leo in a flying side-kick backlit by Choc-Oboh materialized before him in a straight line leading right towards the giant spider.

"Phoenix Rider Kick!" Leo shouted as the flaming Choc-Oboh flapped its wings, releasing a tremendous burst of fire which engulfed Leo and launched him towards the spider, golden wings appearing behind him and a pair of massive flaming talons forming over his feet as he flew towards the monster in a side-kick. He passed through each holographic card as he approached, the flames surrounding him brightening and flaring outwards with every one he went through until he was little more than a winged flaming missile when he finally collided with the mechanical monstrosity, destroying it in a tremendous conflagration. Leo struck a pose in the remains of the machine as the flames dissipated, crying, "YATTA!" triumphantly as his scarf billowed dramatically behind him.

Before any of the other spiders could react, they, too, came under attack. A Sandstorm swirled to life around another robot spider, causing it to shriek and the Arackaiser piloting it to curse as it was buffeted by the sand. A blur appeared in the storm, glowing blue as it fired an Aura Sphere at the spider. The robot hissed as the sphere exploded against its side and retaliated with missiles, but already the blur was gone. It reappeared on the other side of the robot, and fired another Sphere, only to disappear once more and attack from yet another angle. It kept up the hidden assault, bombarding the mecha with Aura Spheres and swiftly dodging whatever enraged retaliations the spider hurled at it. Finally, the Sandstorm faded, but the blur was nowhere to be seen. Both spider and rider looked around in confusion…

Until the earth trembled, and suddenly Tiny burst out of the floor underneath the spider, Aura wreathing him like a blue rocket, and smashed through the spider's underbelly and out the top, causing it to collapse. As the Arackaiser clone in the cockpit turned around in alarm, Tiny opened his mouth and clamped his jaws down on the clone's head, crushing the Sunflora's skull with a Crunch attack. Spitting out the remains as the headless corpse collapsed, Tiny flew back into the hole he'd made in the spider's body and released a powerful explosion of Aura, ripping the robot in two. Before either half could recover, he used Rock Slide, causing ripples to form in the air and drop large boulders on the two halves of the robot, crushing them to the ground. As the two broken halves twitched, Tiny floated back and swept a Dark Pulse across the remains, destroying them in a powerful explosion. "And that's how we do things in Team Aurabolt!" the Pupitar boasted.

A giant dragon made of lightning appeared without warning, spreading its wings and shrieking at one of the spiders. Lightning bolts shot out from its wings and struck the spider's legs, jaws manifesting at the ends and locking themselves around the limbs to hold the monster in place. The dragon opened its jaws as Tenjin leaped off of its head, spitting a powerful lightning bolt at the samurai just as the Pikachu passed by its open mouth, the blast smashing into the samurai and flinging him at the spider at incredible speeds, sword held out before him. He sliced through the machine like a hot knife through butter, or a magical sword through metal in this instance, skidding to a halt on the ground behind the spider, sword still pointed in front of him. He calmly sheathed his sword, and the spider exploded behind him, while Raidenryu roared triumphantly. "You know, I think I'm starting to understand why Leo likes to do things like that and thinks they're awesome. That was pretty darn cool," he reluctantly admitted.

"I know, right?" Leo said giddily. Tenjin sighed.

The floor beneath another spider transformed into lava. It shrieked in agony as it started to sink into the molten rock, the metal making up its body beginning to melt. The Arackaiser on top quickly reconfigured his armor to form a jetpack and launched himself into the air before he could submerge into the lava as well…

Only to come face to face with a giant winged Rayquaza made out of fire, a smug Lily hovering next to it. "Going somewhere?" she asked. With a roar, the fire dragon lunged forwards and snapped its jaws shut around the terrified clone, incinerating him instantly. Beneath them, the melting sinking clone cried out weakly and tried to fire its malfunctioning weapons at Lily. Without even looking, the Mismagius opened two portals. The few missiles and lasers the spider managed to fire off flew into one portal and out the other, smashing right into the spider and exploding, destroying what little was left of it. "These things are hardly a threat after Raikou," she scoffed.

"Well, come on, how tough would a weakling like that be against my wife, one of the most beautiful and powerful sorceresses in the world?" Leo asked proudly.

The temperature dropped, and ice formed around the bottoms of the legs of another spider, holding it in place. As the robot struggled to break free, a black and blue-white blur shot by each leg several times. There was a pause, and then the legs shattered, dropping the spider to the ground with a large thud. As the pilot desperately tried to figure out what was going on, Dawn arose from the Sunflora's shadow and stabbed him in the back with her claws, easily piercing his armor. As the dead clone slumped forward, blood oozing onto the control panels, Dawn crouched down and Bounced high into the air, nearly touching the ceiling. Cupping her palms together, she formed a ball of Ice energy which grew and grew and manifested into the form of a giant icicle several times larger than she was which she sent flying down towards the spider with a mighty kick, piercing it and pinning it to the ground. As the spider wailed in agony, Dawn shot down towards the monster, Dark power crackling around her as she drove her claw into the top of the icicle. Dark energy exploded out from her, obliterating the robot in a flash of blackness. "Hmmph. Pitiful. Where am I to find an opponent worthy of my newfound powers, now that Paul is dead?" she sniffed.

"You'll get one eventually," Tenjin assured her.

"Looking good, Dawn!" Leo said with a whistle.

"And you can talk now, too? Awesome!" Tiny cheered.

"Congratulations, Dawn. It feels good, becoming who you are truly meant to be, isn't it?" Lily said admiringly.

Dawn nodded. "It certainly is, at that. This has been a long time coming."

"As touching as this is, I'm not sure now is the time to be talking about things like this!" Boa shouted, noticing there was one more robot spider stalking towards her.

"Of course it is, there's plenty of time," Leo said dismissively.

"Why, because Talking is a Free Action?!" Boa asked incredulously.

"Nope, because I've got this one," Briney said, floating down to stand in the way of the final spider. "Ahem. Boo." He used Scary Face.

The clone choked and dropped dead from a terror-induced heart attack, falling in a pile of his own fecal matter. The spider trembled and spontaneously exploded. Briney pouted in disappointment. "Oh come on, it wasn't that bad, was it?"

The others blinked. "…Captain Briney can be very terrifying sometimes," Lily said slowly.

"I didn't even see his Scary Face, but I've got the shivers," Leo agreed.

"I'm glad he's on our side," Tiny said with a shudder.

"…You know, right now I'm very glad we were not at the right angle to see that face," said a disturbed Tenjin.

"Yeah, you're probably right, you lightweights wouldn't be able to handle anything that scary," Briney admitted as he used his Psychic powers to delicately unravel the giant metal web, allowing a grateful Boa to slump to the ground and release her Growth, shrinking back to her regular size.

"Thank you all for your timely assistance," Boa said. She considered telling them she probably could have handled things on her own, but wisely decided that would be impolite. And aside from that, she wasn't sure she would've gotten away without taking a little damage. "It was greatly appreciated."

"Well hey, we're a Rescue Team, right?" Tiny said cheerfully. "Rescuing Pokémon in need is what we do!"

"And you're one of us, too," Tenjin added. "We never leave one of our own behind."

Boa blinked in surprise. "But aren't I just a temporary member?"

Leo laughed. "Doesn't matter. So long as you've got that badge on, you're one of us!"

"Which means we will always be there when you need us, just as we know you will be there whenever we need you," Dawn said.

Boa looked at them for a moment, touched, then glanced down at the badge shining on her breast. For the first time, she felt a pang of sadness that she probably wouldn't get to wear it again after this. "…I guess it's too bad I'm just a temporary member, then," she said quietly.

"Well…you don't have to be, if you don't want to, you know," Tenjin said after a moment.

Boa looked up in surprise. "What? But…I'm just a placeholder, I'm not trying to replace Sasha-"

"You don't have to," the Pikachu said. "You could be a full-fledged member in your own right."

"What? But that would bring our number up to nine, wouldn't it?" Leo asked.

"Yeah, and?" Tenjin asked.

Leo considered this for a moment. "Well…nine's getting pretty big for a party size…"

"Didn't the party for Last Legend VI have fourteen members if you get all the optional characters?" Lily pointed out. "And doesn't every game in the Suikoden series have a maximum of one hundred and eight characters to recruit?"

"Right you are!" Leo said admiringly.

"One hundred and eight? Wow, that's…that's a lot of characters…" said the amazed Tenjin.

"I thought there was a limit to how many members a Rescue Team has," Tiny said.

"Eh, that's more of a rough guideline than a hard rule," Tenjin said. "It's usually custom to have a maximum of three to four active members, with no upper limit for reserve members that I can think of, but I'm pretty sure we've broken that limit already so I don't see why one more couldn't hurt."

"But…but I…I am the leader of the Mystic Knights of Fichina!" Boa protested uncertainly. "I cannot simply stop doing that to join a Rescue Team!"

"I'm head of the restored house of Yukihimi, but that's not stopping me from still being a part of Team Aurabolt," Lily said.

"And I'm captain of a crew of unruly undead pirates, and head of the biggest smithy in the world, and that certainly isn't stopping me from spending most of my time with this lot," Briney added.

"There's no reason you can't still lead the knights and be part of our team," Tenjin said. "Like I said, we have reserve members. But if you want to join us full-time, we wouldn't mind it. We could use someone with your skills."

"I thought you said we didn't need another magic swordsmon," Tiny whispered to his uncle.

"I can change my mind," Tenjin muttered back.

"Yeah, you're pretty good with a sword. Maybe even better than Tenjin," Briney said.

Tenjin frowned. "I wouldn't go that far."

"I would," Briney said.

"Michael had to leave the team because he had to take care of his people…but his situation's different from yours," Leo said.

Tiny nodded. "And it's not like there aren't a bunch of knights coming with us to Mars, right? I mean, you were already coming on the invasion with us…so why not come with us as part of our team, too?"

Boa considered this for a long moment. "…I suppose I have lieutenants I could delegate to, if necessary…and the eight of you intend to take on Oblivion's Shadow…and if he's truly as strong as everyone says he is, you will need all the help you can get."

"Yes," Tenjin said. And not necessarily just for the Shadow… he thought uneasily, thinking of Ash.

"I need to talk to my mother about this…but I do not think she will object. The fate of the world, more and more, seems to rest in the hands of your group," Boa said. "I am sworn to defend Fichina…and helping Team Aurabolt may be the best way to do that right now."

"Well, if you decide to join our team, we'll be more than happy to have you," Tenjin said. "I'm sure Ash would say the same thing if he were here."

"Speaking of which…where is Ash? Shouldn't he have rescued Professor Oak by now?" Leo asked.

"Perhaps we should go find him," Dawn said as a worried look crossed Tenjin's face.

Tenjin nodded. "Yes…perhaps we should. Come on guys, let's go. And yes, that includes you, Boa."

"Very well," Boa said with a nod as the seven of them set off, picking their way through the remnants of the Arackaiser and spider army. As they went on, she appraised her companions. Even now, she still did not understand them, and found their ways of thinking and behavior almost incomprehensible. But they were strong, there was no questioning that, and if they had made it this far, there had to be a method to their madness. She wasn't sure if she would ever understand that method…

But there was a part of her that didn't mind so much the thought of being a part of that madness. They all seemed to be just fine with it, and each other. Was there any reason she couldn't be like that, too?

Meanwhile, Professor Oak and Tarantulas stared each other down, a massive metal web being erected around them by the mad scientist's diligent spider minions to create an enclosed arena. "You know, Tarantulas, this isn't exactly the first time I've had to fight a massive swarm of spider monsters," Oak commented, narrowing his eyes at his foe.

"Perhaps not, but it vill certainly be your last!" Tarantulas sneered. "Don't zink zat just because I am a severed head zat I vill be a pushover, Samuel. Even like zis, I am still more zan powerful enough to kill you…and certainly a lot smarter!"

"If you're so smart, then how did you lose the rest of your body?" Oak taunted.

"Feh, like I haven't heard zat before…stupid Bellum…" Tarantulas grumbled. Webbing shot out of his rear, latching onto the roof of the web dome his minions had just finished erecting, reeling him off the ground. "Zis vill be our last battle, Samuel…and not just of vits, eizzer! Soon, you shall go ze same vay as Emile…and in doing so, prove zat my view of ze vorld isn't so flawed after all!"

"You know, just because you kill someone who thinks differently from you doesn't necessarily mean that their philosophy is wrong," Oak pointed out. "That being said, I look forward to proving yours wrong…and avenging Emile and everyone else you've hurt over the years!"

"Heheheheh…you really zink you stand a chance, don't you, Samuel?" Tarantulas sneered. "I seem to remember alvays vinning every game of vits ve played back in college."

"I've gotten a lot smarter since then," Oak said, tapping his Shellder crown.

"And you zink I haven't? Turning a good chunk of my brain into a computer raised my IQ quite a few points, I should zink!" Tarantulas said.

"If it had really made you that much smarter, then you wouldn't have gotten yourself in this mess in the first place, Tomaru," Oak pointed out.

"Grr…enough of zis! You shall die, and my spiders vill feast on your bones! Get him!" Tarantulas commanded. His spiders shrieked and focused their glowing eyes on Oak.

"What, you're going to leave this to your flunkies?" Oak asked. "Are you that big a coward, Tomaru?"

"I'm not an idiot, Samuel. As strong as I am even as a head, I don't exactly vant to leave anyzing to chance. I have ze advantage of numbers, and I intend to use it!" Tarantulas said as the spiders opened their mandibles and fired lines of razor webbing at Oak.

Demonstrating surprising dexterity for a mon of his age and build, the Professor expertly twisted and turned through the air, causing the threads to pass over, under, and around him, leaving his body contorted like he was playing a high-stakes game of Twister (Yes, we're using that comparison again, deal with it). "Is that all, Tomaru? I've been dealing with lethal tripwires in all sorts of tombs, temples, and dorm rooms for years!"

"Maybe so, but how many of zem move?" Tarantulas gloated as the spiders pulled back on their threads, causing them to converge and rip Oak to shreds…

Only for the Slowking to vanish in a puff of smoke. "Vhat ze-"

"Come now, Tarantulas, you didn't see through that?" Professor Oak spoke up…from outside the web. "I expected more from your sensor suite than that! You couldn't even tell that was a Substitute?"

"Vh-vhat?!" Tarantulas screamed in astonishment. "How did you get out zere?!"

Oak chuckled. "Please, Tarantulas, I'm an archaeologist. Getting out of deathtraps is second nature to me by now!"

"You've spent ze last several years behind a desk!" Tarantulas screamed.

"I often went on jaunts to the field to keep my skills fresh," Oak replied. "And besides, dealing with university bureaucracy was sometimes even more challenging and deadly than being chased by angry natives or fleeing from a collapsing temple. Helped to keep my reflexes sharp."

"V-vell…zat's a pretty neat trick, but if you zink you can just run avay, you're sadly mistaken!" Tarantulas snarled as he crawled onto the exterior of his web, his hissing minions following him.

Oak raised an eyebrow. "Who said anything about running away? I have no intention of fleeing, Tarantulas…though you might by the time I'm done with you." He smiled as his eyes began to glow. "That little webbing cage of yours is pretty nice…but I think I prefer my Trick Room a bit more." A large blue rectangle with light blue transparent walls and a ceiling materialized around them.

Tarantulas' eyes widened in alarm. "A Trick Room! But zat…"

"Allows the slowest Pokémon to move extremely fast? It certainly does. And last I checked…" Oak burst into a grin. "Right now, that would be me. Still sure you're the smarter one, Tomaru?"

"Gnnnhh…NNNGGGHHHH…ATTACK!" Tarantulas screamed in rage, firing Poison Sting needles, as did the spiders.

Oak smirked, eyes glowing blue as he used Psychic, causing the hundreds of deadly needles to freeze in midair. "Psychic powers are so, as the younger generation puts it, 'OP,' wouldn't you say, Tomaru?" the Slowking chuckled as he telekinetically swiveled the needles around and flung them back the spiders. Tarantulas and the arachnids frantically scurried across the surface of the web dome and onto the ground to avoid the needles, but Oak made sure that no Poison Sting was wasted, and each needle found a target, eradicating a significant number of Tarantulas' minions in seconds.

"'OP' zey might be, Samuel…vhich is vhy ze alloy ve're all made from is immune to Psychic attacks like ze one you just pulled!" Tarantulas Murkrowed triumphantly as his remaining minions swarmed onto the ground and scurried towards Oak in a silvery red-eyed wave of death. "How vill you deal viz zis, hmm?"

"The same way I've always dealt with swarms of ravenous insects trying to eat me," Oak said, folding his arms and giving the arachnids an intimidating look, glowing red as he used Swagger. "Turn them against each other!"

The spiders paused, their optic sensors getting swirls in them. Shrieking, they lunged…at each other, unable to tell friend from foe in their Confusion. They began ripping each other to pieces, completely forgetting about Oak. Not even Tarantulas was unaffected, and he started randomly firing laser blasts from his mechanical eye in all directions while dazedly singing, "Daisy, daisy…"

"And now," Oak said as he started glowing blue. "I do believe it's time I did something to get rid of this little infestation!" A giant wave rose from the ground beneath him and surged towards the big web, Oak casually riding on its top. As the wave washed over the spiders, it swept them up, carrying them in its wake. Oak leaped off the wave just before it could crash into the big web, smashing the robot spiders it was carrying against its razor threads, cutting up many and causing others to get tangled in their own creation. "And to finish the job, it's time to pull out my Trump Card!" Oak announced as he reached into his crown and pulled out a deck of cards. (Regular, not Lu-Gi-Oh.) "Or 'Cards,' as the case may be." The cards started glowing red in his hand, and he flung them one at a time at the web dome, the heightened speed his Trick Room gave him allowing him to fire off about ten per second.

The fifty-two deadly projectiles sliced through the webbing and the spiders wrapped up in it, ripping the former to shreds and causing the latter to explode spectacularly. As the mass of webbing collapsed in a flaming heap, Tarantulas managed to escape, shooting a strand of webbing at the ceiling of the Trick Room to pull him away before he could get dragged down like all the rest. "Nooooo! My beautiful creations! You vill pay for zis, Samuel!" Tarantulas screamed angrily.

He started spitting Spider Webs and Sludge Bombs at Oak while scurrying across the ceiling, his mechanical limbs apparently having no problem gaining traction on the energy field. Oak dashed all over the place, easily evading the projectiles flung at him thanks to his enhanced speed, flinging Water Pulses and Hidden Powers at Tarantulas all the while. Tarantulas was no slouch in the speed department either, however, and his small size made it harder for him to hit, so they exchanged fire for several moments without landing a hit. Finally, Tarantulas got lucky, and one of his Sludge Bombs struck Oak in the leg, causing him to stumble, hissing in pain as the poison ate into his skin. Cackling triumphantly, Tarantulas launched himself off the ceiling towards the Slowking, claws and mandibles spread wide. "I SHALL CHEW OFF YOUR FACE!" he screamed.

"No you won't," Oak said, the jewel on his crown glowing a bright red and firing a powerful Power Gem blast that flung Tarantulas away. He quickly used Heal Pulse on himself while Tarantulas was stunned to mend the damage to his leg, and spat a Water Gun at the Ariados head once he'd recovered.

Unfortunately, Tarantulas had recovered by then as well, and shot some more webbing at the ceiling to yank him out of the way just in time. "Get a load of zis!" Tarantulas cackled as he spread his legs, the limbs telescoping outwards and the ends splitting open, buzzsaws and drills springing out of them. He started spinning in place, cackling as he started swinging all around the room on the end of his strand of webbing, his limbs periodically shooting outwards to stab at whatever was directly in front of them.

Oak was unimpressed. "Oh my, a deadly pendulum. Whatever shall I do? I certainly haven't seen any of those in all my years of exploring trapped tombs and temples!" the Slowking said sarcastically as he ducked and dodged Tarantulas' swings and jabs.

When a buzzsaw leg whizzed at his neck, he bent over backwards to dodge it, then shot a hand up and grabbed it as it passed by, stopping Tarantulas' gyrations with a jerk. With a grunt, he ripped the leg off, the recoil sending Tarantulas flailing backwards. "Gaaaahhh! Vhy did you-"

"Well, since I'm out of cards, I figured this would be the most effective way to make you stop!" Oak said as he hurled the severed leg at the strand of webbing like a javelin. The saw blade sliced through the metal thread, snapping it and causing the startled Tarantulas to fall to the ground, limbs flailing wildly…

Which turned out to be a bad thing, as the drills and saws at the ends wound up getting stuck in the ground, trapping him in place. "Ack! No!" he cried desperately as Oak started running towards him. He frantically shot thread from his rear to one of the walls to try and pull himself out, but he was stuck quite tightly. He desperately spat Spider Webs and Sludge Bombs and String Shots at Oak, but his Trick Room speed boost allowed him to quickly dodge those, all the while getting closer to the trapped Ariados. He's too fast! Tarantulas thought frantically. He paused, an idea coming to him. …But is he faster than a laser?

His mechanical eye glowed red and fired a laser beam at Oak. The Slowking tried to dodge, but Tarantulas had anticipated this and led his shot, meaning Oak ran right into the beam. Or rather, he would have, if the Slowking's crown jewel hadn't lit up just before the beam could slice through his stomach and fired a Power Gem blast to try and repel the laser. The two energy beams collided and started pushing against each other. Tarantulas had the advantage in that his beam had only been inches away from striking Oak before the Slowking had gotten his attack off, but Oak's beam was wider in radius and had more force behind it, so was slowly pushing the Ariados' laser back. This wasn't much of a problem to Tarantulas, however, as he just upped the power level of his mechanical eye, increasing the amount of force he was flinging at Oak. The Slowking gritted his teeth, sweat rolling down his face as the tide gradually started to turn against him, Tarantulas' powered-up laser slowly pushing his Power Gem back, inch by inch. His crown started to shake, small cracks forming around the crimson jewel. Grimacing, Oak started leaning backwards as the pressure built against him. Cackling triumphantly, Tarantulas upped the juice even further…

Which, he realized a little too late, might not have been the best of ideas, especially since he'd already been running the laser a bit longer than normal. In retrospect, he probably should have paid more attention to the warning signs that kept popping up in his HUD. His mechanical eye overheated and exploded, destroying half his face. He screamed in agony…

And screamed even louder when Oak's Power Gem, no longer kept in check, slammed into him, the force ripping his head out of the ground, leaving his stuck legs behind. His head spun wildly through the air, the pain and disorientation from losing a good chunk of his head making it impossible for him to regain control and shoot some webbing to stabilize himself…

Which is why there was nothing he could do when Oak jumped into the air and slammed his crown into Tarantulas with Headbutt, spiking him into the ground so hard he cratered it. The damage was so great that it crashed the mad scientist's systems…and when he rebooted, he found himself staring up at Oak through the hazy static of his damaged remaining eye and the hundreds of blaring error messages and damage reports coming in from every part of his body, or what was left of it, anyway. His pain receptors had overloaded and shut down quite some time ago, leaving him unable to feel anything but an icy numbness, which in some ways might have been worse. It almost felt as if he were already dead. "S-Samuel…"

"Imagine," Oak said softly as he knelt down to look Tarantulas dead in the eye, or what was left of it. "That you were afraid, a long way from home, and in terrible pain…and just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, you looked up…and saw the face of the Ruler of Evil."

"Samuel…please…have mercy…" Tarantulas whispered. He struggled to bring any remaining weapons or attacks he still had available to him to Beartic. There was nothing. He was completely and utterly helpless.

"Mercy?" Oak laughed harshly. "Did you grant Emile mercy, Tomaru? Or Dawn? Or the Caretakers? Or any of the other Pokémon you've done horrible things to over the years? No, Tomaru. There will be no mercy for you. Even if I wanted to save you, I'm not sure I could. By my estimates, you only have a few minutes of life left in you anyways." He shook his head, a look of sadness in his eyes. "And to think it came to this, Tomaru. After everything we've been through…I never thought I would be the one to have to kill you. What happened to my friend and roommate from college? What happened to the young mon who had such wonderful ideas, and wanted to change the world?"

"…He died…long ago…" Tarantulas said weakly.

"So it would seem," Oak agreed remorsefully.

"…I…do not suppose…you could ever forgive me?" Tarantulas asked.

"Are you sorry for any of what you've done?" Oak asked, raising an eyebrow. "Any of it?"

"…I…don't even know anymore," Tarantulas cried. "I never zought…I never zought it vould all go so vrong…and in ze end, I'm not even sure who's really to blame. Vas it ze vorld, for not being vhat I expected? Vas it Arceus, for making us all like zis, so flawed and veak and pazetic? Vas it Oblivion's Shadow or ze Ruler of Evil zat led me to zis cold, dead place? Or…in ze end…vas it alvays, only me?"

"I think, in the end, you're the only one who can answer that, Tomaru," Oak said.

"Yeah…I guess so…" Tarantulas laughed weakly. "Oh vell…at least I tried my best…and hey, I came pretty close, didn't I?"

"No, actually, you didn't," Oak said apologetically. "You were never going to win. Ever. In fact, even if you'd managed to kill me before Team Aurabolt showed up, you would have lost."

Tarantulas blinked in confusion. "Vhat do you mean?"

"You knew how to activate the tower, by sacrificing hundreds of evil souls," Oak said. "What you didn't know was that there was a failsafe mechanism the ancients installed in case a villain ever managed to get down here and tried to awaken the tower. They set it up so that if even a single good person is killed in this chamber, the tower's systems would shut down and refuse to accept any more offerings for, oh, I'd say…a thousand years. Rather clever chaps, those ancients, wouldn't you say?"

Tarantulas stared at Oak in horror. "Zen…zen you're telling me…zat even if I'd killed you, and Team Aurabolt…"

"You would still have been unable to activate the tower, yes," Oak said.

Tarantulas was silent for a moment. And then, he burst into frenzied laughter, at least until he started coughing and choking. "Ha…haha…hahahahahahaha….HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh…oh…of course. Of course. My whole life has been one big failure from start to finish. Vhy should I have ever expected zat any of my schemes vould ever bear fruition, in ze end? Maybe you vere right, Samuel. Maybe I vasn't supposed to be evil, and zis is Arceus' punishment for my sins. And it's too late for me to repent. Far, far too late. And don't you dare say somezing stupid like how it's never too late, because I'm pretty sure it is for me. Especially since even now, I zink ze only regret I really have is zat I'm going to leave Chobin behind all alone, and…Bellum…eh, ze less said about zat, ze better. Did you know zat zis vas supposed to be my final mission? Zat Oblivion's Shadow had my soul link to Chobin cut before sending me down here, so zat vhen I died as ze final sacrifice to ze tower, I couldn't simply be installed in a new body to stick around but instead vould go straight to ze Abyss?"

"I expected as much, yes," Oak said.

"Heh, of course you did. Nozing ever got past you, Samuel. You suspected me right from ze start, all zose years ago back at college, didn't you? Unlike poor stupid Emile…" Tarantulas said. "Oh vell. Chobin von't be alone for much longer. He still has Viers and Marianne to look after him, after all. And zere's Bellum too, I guess. And one vay or anozzer…ve'll all be reunited soon enough in ze Abyss, eizzer because ze Shadow opens ze Door and unleashes ze Ruler of Evil back into zis awful Omniverse…or because Chobin and all ze ozzer Nihilators vill die, as I expect zey vill, and ve shall all be reunited togezzer in Hell. Zat's somezing to look forvard to, I suppose."

Oak frowned. "Assuming the others have beaten the rest of your forces by now—which I'm confident they have—we now have five Star Badges in our possession, and Oblivion's Shadow only has one. Doesn't he need all seven to open the Door, as well as activate the tower?"

"Ze Shadow has a backup plan…he never told me vhat it vas, of course. But it vouldn't surprise me if he has somezing extra-special in store for just such an eventuality," Tarantulas wheezed. "A cunning one, zat Shadow…he has plans vizin plans, vheels vizin vheels. Do not be so sure zat you have von just yet."

"We'll stop him," Oak said.

"Vill you?" Tarantulas asked. He looked at Oak for a long moment. "…Perhaps you vill, at zat. Team Aurabolt and zose who ally zemselves viz zem have exceeded our expecations at every turn. I certainly never zought zat you vould be zis good a fighter, Samuel. Maybe…maybe you have a chance, after all. Heh. Is it strange zat I'm actually curious to see if you can pull it off?"

"Maybe deep down, there's a part of you that's always secretly wanted to be stopped," Oak suggested.

"Or maybe I just vant to see zat bastard Shadow get vhat's coming to him after everyzing he's done to me," Tarantulas said spitefully. "Oh vell. Vhatever ze case, I'm sure it'll be quite ze show."

"It should be at that," Oak agreed.

"Vell, I zink zis is it. My time is up. Goodbye, Samuel," Tarantulas said, closing his eye for the last time.

Well, until he opened it again. "Oh, and by ze vay, I'm about to self-destruct. Auf Wiedersehen!"

Oak barely managed to scramble backwards before Tarantulas exploded. "Hmmph. Nice try, old friend. Goodbye, Tomaru." Oak closed his eyes and bowed his head, sharing a moment of silence for the mon who, once upon a time, had been one of his oldest and dearest friends.

As the Trick Room faded around him, a blue meteor shot through the air and impacted nearby. "Professor Oak!" Ash cried as he rushed over, blue smoke and flames trailing from his form. "I'm here to rescue…you…" He paused when he saw the smoldering remains of the robot spiders and giant web nearby, and the crater with all that was left of Tarantulas next to Oak. "Huh. I guess you didn't need my help after all."

"Bet that rustles your jimmies, doesn't it?" Misty snarked.

"A little, but I'm more relieved that Professor Oak is okay then upset that I didn't get a second chance to save him, like I couldn't save him all those years ago," Ash said.

"Huh. That's rather mature of you," Misty said in surprise.

"Ah, Ash!" Oak said, turning around and forcing a smile onto his face. "Good to see you, my boy! Are you all right? There were quite a lot of horrid Chobin clones to deal with."

"Arackaiser clones, technically," Ash corrected. "And I had to fight a giant Emboar. But yeah, other than that, I'm good. And…you're all right?"

Oak nodded. "I am. Poor Tomaru tried his hardest, but…well, it just wasn't good enough, I'm afraid." He shook his head sadly. "I almost feel sorry for him. He once had such a bright future…to see it all end like, well, this…for someone who knew him as well as I once did, it's kind of sad."

"He's done a lot of horrible things, Professor," Ash pointed out.

"Oh, I know that, my boy. He needed to be put down. But that doesn't mean I can't wonder what might have been…" Oak said wistfully. He shook his head and turned his back on the crater. "Ah, well. In any event, what's done is done, and he shall trouble us no more."

Ash shook his head in amazement. "He's caused us so many problems for so long…to think that it's really over…it's almost too much to believe. I'm half-expecting him to leap out in some backup battle body any second now to try and kill us. Leo says that happens sometimes."

"Normally, I think he'd be right," Oak said. "But Oblivion's Shadow sent him here on a suicide mission. He was always supposed to die, though I don't think either of them expected it to be me to finish him off. I doubt he would have allowed for Tarantulas to bring some sort of backup like that."

Ash grit his teeth and clenched his fist. "That Shadow…that he would do that to his own subordinates…he needs to be put down just as much as Tarantulas did."

"Well, with one of his top lieutenants lying in a smoking crater behind me, you're one step closer to doing just that," Oak said.

Ash managed a smile. "Yeah…I guess we are, at that…"

"Ash! Professor Oak!" Tenjin cried as he and the rest of Team Aurabolt rushed over.

"Ah, there you all are!" Oak said, folding his arms behind his back and walking towards the heroes. "Congratulations on making it this far, and taking care of all those Nihilators! You've really become quite strong, all of you."

"Yeah, well, we try," Tiny said bashfully.

Oak looked at them all appraisingly. "It seems like a lifetime since the last time I saw you…why, you've all changed so much since you left for Fichina, I can hardly recognize you!" He frowned when he saw Princess Boa. "I certainly don't recognize you. I don't believe I got your name, young lady?"

"I am Princess Boa of Fichina," Boa said elegantly. "Sasha's back in Fichina, resting after spending far too long staying up to renovate Darkrai's temple. I took her place so Team Aurabolt wouldn't be a mon down coming in here."

"Ah, yes, that would make sense, wouldn't it," Oak muttered. He bowed to the Serperior and kissed an outstretched vine. "Well, I am honored and flattered that a noble personage such as yourself would have come all this way just to help little old me. It makes an old archaeologist feel proud."

Boa smiled. "I have heard many great things about you, Professor. It was my pleasure to come and help you…and to battle alongside such esteemed figures as Team Aurabolt."

"Yeah, we rule!" Leo cheered.

"It's good to see you're all right, Professor!" Tiny said.

Oak chuckled. "Don't worry, Tiny. I assure you, I was never in any real danger. I took care of myself."

"Ash, is that…" Lily asked, looking at the crater nearby.

Ash nodded. "Doctor Tarantulas? Yes."

"Then he is finally vanquished…it is about time. That villain has terrorized the world for far too long…" Dawn said.

"Yeah, he has…" Ash agreed. He paused, and did a double-take. "Wait, did you just talk? And have you evolved?!"

Dawn nodded. "Yes to both."

"Wow. Killing Paul must have really made you happy," Ash said. "Er, you did kill him, right? He didn't escape again or anything like that?"

Dawn shook her head. "No, Paul is dead." As Ash sighed in relief, she added, "And it wasn't killing him that made me evolve…it was actually your brother who helped with that."

"Did he now?" Ash asked, grinning at Tenjin, who blushed and looked away. "Well, I'm glad to hear that…and probably don't need to know the details."

"No, you don't," Tenjin muttered.

"I know, and would be happy to share them with anyone who's interested," Briney offered.

"Ooh, I'd like to-" Leo started.

"NO!" Tenjin shouted.

"So you killed Doctor Tarantulas? Great job, Daddy!" Tiny congratulated his father.

"Actually, it was Professor Oak who did it, not me," Ash said in embarrassment. "I didn't even get here until after the fact."

"…Oh," Tiny said.

"Wait, you got here after Tarantulas was dead? What took you so long?" asked an astonished Tenjin.

"Th-there were a lot of clones getting in my way, okay!" Ash stammered, turning red. "And, uh…I might have gotten a little lost…"

Everyone facefaulted. "Oh, Ash," Tenjin groaned. "Only you…"

"Your sense of direction is as terrible as ever," Misty said wearily.

"You killed Doctor Tarantulas, Professor?" Boa asked the Slowking.

Oak nodded. "I did indeed. It wasn't that hard, to be honest."

"Wow, you must have a lot of skill!" Leo said with a whistle.

"Oh, he does. Not as much as me, of course," Briney said.

"So he's dead? As in, really dead? Like, he's not going to come back in a giant battle body for round two like Leo says happens sometime?" Tiny asked.

"I think if he could, he would have by now," Ash said.

"And the room's not shaking due to some last-ditch plan his death might have triggered…and the plug Lily put in place is still there, so all the blood we spilled hasn't activated the tower…and we've purified all three of the legendary beasts, and saved Professor Oak, and killed two of our biggest enemies…wow. I think we can actually call this a complete and unequivocal win!" Leo said. "We haven't had one of those in a while."

"Well, hundreds of Pokémon died on the surface when Treasure Town was destroyed, and more have probably died since we came down here fighting the Arachnoblast," Lily pointed out.

"Ah. Yes," Leo said gloomily. "Good point. Well…at least we completely succeeded in our mission without any hiccups whatsoever. That's something, isn't it?"

"I think it is," Ash agreed. "So, status update! While Oak was fighting Tarantulas, I was trying to find him and killed a bunch of clones and that big dumb Emboar guy who seems to have trouble remembering his name. Oh, and purified Raikou. What did everyone else do?"

"I killed lots of clones and purified Suicune and Raikou," Tiny said proudly.

"Good job, son!" Ash said proudly as he rubbed the Pupitar's head spines, causing him to squeal happily.

"I kicked all sorts of ass and got to rock out as Masked Rider Phoenix, using all sorts of awesome card techniques, riding a motorcycle, and getting to live out a childhood dream and play as my namesake for a little while!" Leo gushed. "Oh, uh, and I died once or twice. I got better, though."

"So we can see," Tenjin observed. "I defeated Suicune and finally received a name. You may call me Tenjin, now."

Ash blinked. "You have a name? I thought Dad was the one who was supposed to give that to you."

"I received it from the ghost of Raiden, who I summoned along with the spirits of my venerated ancestors to help me fight Suicune," Tenjin explained.

"Oh, okay," Ash said, seeing absolutely nothing odd about this.

Boa blinked. "Wait, what-"

"I defeated Raikou," Lily said. "By summoning the littlest finger of Titan, ruler of Jotunheim."

"So that's what that big rock thing was…" Tiny murmured.

"That was his littlest finger?!" Tenjin asked in amazement.

"They grow them very big in Jotunheim," Lily said.

Briney nodded. "Yeah, it's the elemental plane of rock and stone and earthy stuff. Many of its inhabitants are giants so big that those frost giant punks we fought in Dusty Ditch barely go up to their ankles."

"Hence why I only summoned Titan's littlest finger," Lily said. "Since the rest of him wouldn't fit in here."

"…Yeah, no kidding," Ash said, eyes wide.

"Very impressive, Lily!" Boa said. "There are very few spellcasters who can summon any bit of Titan, let alone his littlest finger. You truly are growing into quite the powerful mage."

"My wife is gonna be the greatest sorceress in the world someday!" Leo bragged while Lily blushed. "She might even surpass your mom as top magician!"

Boa frowned. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

"I kicked the crap out of Entei," Briney boasted. "Without my magic, psychic powers, hammer, or even three of my legs. It was easy. Oh, and I snagged this when nobody was looking," he said, holding out the Emerald Star Badge.

Ash smiled fondly when he saw that. "Well, hello old friend…we haven't seen you since the Tree of Beginning, have we?"

"Think we should give this back to Michael when all's said and done?" Tenjin suggested. "It was important to his tribe once. It could become important to them again."

"Maybe," Ash agreed.

"Gosh, it's been ages since we last saw Michael," Leo said. "I wonder how he is these days, anyway?"

"You know, that's a very good question," Ash admitted thoughtfully. He hadn't given much thought to their Leafeon comrade in quite a while. They should probably try to find him once the Nihilators were defeated, see if he or his tribe needed any help now that the Tree of Beginning was gone.

"Hey, where are the beasts, anyway?" Tiny asked.

"Right here," Entei said as he, Raikou, and Suicune limped over, none of them yet recovered from the beatings they had taken.

"Chosen One…Team Aurabolt…thank you for freeing us from the darkness," Raikou said, bowing his head.

"We have done much evil under the aegis of the Nihilators…we promise we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and begin to atone for our sins," Suicune vowed.

"Awesome! Three more gods on our side!" Leo said eagerly.

"Eh, not much of gods if their leader got beaten by yours truly so easily," Briney said. Entei frowned at him.

"We're more than happy to have you on our side," Ash said. "And we will do whatever it takes to help you guys make up for what you did when you were evil."

"We will?" Tiny asked. Ash frowned at him. "Er, right, we will."

The beasts bowed their heads to the Lucario. "You are truly worthy of being called the Chosen One," Entei said. "We do not deserve your kindness."

"No, you really don't," Briney said. Everyone glared at him. "Which is why you need to prove yourself worthy of it," he added, mollifying them slightly.

"Oh, uh, and sorry we were going to kill you earlier," Raikou said Mareepishly to Oak.

"It's all right," the Slowking said. "You weren't in your right minds. Literally, since Tarantulas was controlling you. All is forgiven." The Thunder Pokémon smiled gratefully.

"So, back to status updates," Ash said. "Dawn?"

"Well, as I said before, I slew Paul, made peace with the spirits of my clan—whom, like Pikachu's ancestors, I summoned to help me fight—and finally found true happiness, allowing me to evolve and at last get a voice," Dawn said. "Oh, and Tenjin asked me to marry him. I said yes, of course."

"Awwwww!" Lily squealed.

"Wait, I thought you two were already going to be married," Ash said in confusion.

"Well, yes, but that was more something Mom and Dad decided that I didn't actually have a choice in," Tenjin said abashedly. "I realized I hadn't done it formally, so decided it was about time I asked her."

"Heh, way to go, bro!" Ash said, punching Tenjin on the shoulder.

"Ow," the samurai muttered.

"Hey, did you ask her in the snow? Was it super-romantic?" Leo asked Tenjin.

Tenjin looked at Dawn and smiled happily. "Yeah, it was."

Much to his surprise, Leo punched him in his other arm. "Dude, not cool! That's how I proposed! You're ripping me off, mon!"

"Hey, it's not my fault it was snowing when it happened! It was a coincidence!" Tenjin protested.

"Uh-huh, a likely story," Leo said skeptically. "You're lucky I don't sue you for copyright infringement." Tenjin facepalmed.

"I also retrieved this," Dawn said, holding out the Gold Star. "Paul was using it to power his armor."

"Wow, haven't seen that thing since Mt. Battle!" Leo said. "Remember that, Tiny?"

"How could I forget? It's where I was hatched!...and some crazy Arcanine wanted to make me into a hot Growlithe…" Tiny muttered.

"It's good to finally have that in our possession at last," Ash said. "We earned it, after all the fighting we went through to win that thing."

"And you getting horribly beaten and mutilated by Paul, and nearly turned into a trophy by Ford, and-" Leo started.

"Yes, that too," Ash said tersely.

"And now that we've got it, that means we have five Star Badges to Oblivion's Shadow's two," Boa said. "There's no way he can enact his plans now, especially since we've prevented the tower from being activated!"

"I wouldn't be so sure," Oak warned them. "Before he died, Tarantulas mentioned that the Shadow had some sort of backup plan…we might not be out of the woods just yet."

Ash frowned in concern at this. "I don't suppose you three have any idea what that is?" he asked the legendary beasts.

They shook their heads apologetically. "We were never really privy to any of the planning sessions," Entei said.

Raikou nodded. "They just deployed us in the field, told us who to kill, and said to have fun."

"And such fun it was…" Suicune said guitily.

Tenjin sighed. "Then I guess there's not much new intel you can give us on the Nihilator's operations that we don't already know…"

"Well, we'll tell you whatever we do know," Entei promised. "It's just…well, we don't know that."

"Every little bit counts," Ash assured them. "And we do have five Star Badges, have shut down the tower, purified you three, and killed Tarantulas…that's gotta slow down his plans a little, right?"

"One can only hope…" Raikou murmured uncertainly.

"So, any other news to report?" Ash asked everyone.

"Yes," Boa spoke up. "I am considering joining your team permanently…if that would be all right with you, that is."

"Really?" Ash asked in surprise. He thought about this for a moment. "Yeah, I think that would actually be kind of cool. We already have a big team, but…I suppose at this point, adding one more can't hurt. Don't you have other duties you need to perform in Fichina, though?"

"I'm already going to Mars with the rest of you," Boa pointed out. "I don't think it'll make that much of a difference if I do it as part of your team or not."

"I guess it won't, at that," Ash agreed. "Okay Boa, once we get back to the surface and have squared things away, we can officially swear you in."

"And speaking of which, we should probably head back to the surface to let everyone know we're all right before my father gets concerned and comes down to look for us with an army," Lily said.

Tenjin nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I think we're finished here. Let's leave before anything else happens."

"Er, why are the Star Badges glowing?" Oak asked in puzzlement as the Gold and Emerald Star Badges starting glowing in Dawn and Briney's claws.

"Oh, come on!" Ash groaned just before his eyes rolled back in his skull and he fainted.

Everyone stared at the Lucario as the badges continued to glow. "…Was that supposed to happen?" Suicune asked dubiously after a moment.

"You might say Ash has a bit of an…allergic reaction to Star Badges," Tenjin said wearily.

"I wonder what horrific, soul-scarring, psyche-shattering revelation Ash will have this time?" Leo wondered morbidly.

"I'm getting kind of tired of those," Tiny said with a sigh.

"I don't suppose there's any chance he'll be having a…happier flashback for a change?" Lily asked doubtfully.

"I rather doubt it…" Briney said.

"Isn't there something we can do?" Dawn asked in concern. "If this flashback is anything near as bad as the last one…"

"Then Ash might finally be pushed over the edge. And…we'll have to put him down…" Tenjin said unhappily. "Or be slain ourselves."

Suicune blinked. "…Wait, WHAT?!"

"Ash's psyche has been under a lot of stress lately," Tenjin said tersely. The three beasts exchanged alarmed looks.

"Is there any way we can help him?" Boa repeated.

"Yes, didn't you all somehow go inside his head the last time he had a flashback?" Oak asked.

"Now there's an idea," Leo said, perking up.

"Didn't we need a lot of magical help to do that, though?" Tiny asked.

"We've got magical help," Leo said. "Lily, Princess, Captain, think there's anything you guys could do?"

Lily chewed her lip in thought. "Well…mind magic isn't something I know a lot about…"

"Actually…if I charge my sword with Psychic power I might be able to cut a way inside Ash's mind…" Boa said, her blade starting to crackle with pink energy.

"And I can use my own indomitable Psychic powers to get us access. Let's see here…" Briney touched his claws to the sides of Ash's head and closed his eyes…

And recoiled in alarm. "What the-!"

"Captain? What happened?" Tiny asked in alarm.

"I…I don't understand…I can't access his mind!" Briney said incredulously. "I've never had trouble getting inside Ash's head before…but there's some strange power at work here, something I've never felt before. Something that's keeping me out…"

"Is it some sort of subconscious defense mechanism of Ash's?" Oak suggested.

Briney shook his head in concern. "No, it doesn't feel like him…I don't think I've ever encountered a force this…strong before…"

"Stronger even than you?!" Leo cried. Briney made a face, but did not reply.

"Perhaps my sword can find a way," Boa said, raising her blade.

Briney frowned. "If I can't get us in there, I doubt you can. But go ahead, might as well give it a shot."

Boa nodded and slithered towards Ash. She raised her sword in the air, concentrated, and brought it down in a slash…

Only for it to rebound off thin air, causing her to stumble back. "Ack! You're right…there's some kind of force protecting Ash…my sword can't even scratch it, and it can cut through just about anything!"

"Told you so," Briney said.

"Tiny, do you think your Aura powers could-" Tenjin started.

Tiny shook his head. "I'm not skilled enough to perform one of those 'dive to the heart' things. And besides…if neither the Captain or Princess Boa can get inside, I'm not sure there's anything I can do."

Tenjin sighed unhappily. "You're probably right…"

"Then that means whatever Ash is going through in there…he will have to face it on his own," Dawn said resignedly.

"And we'll have to deal with the fallout, " Briney said as he hefted his hammer, a troubled look in his eyes. All the members of Team Aurabolt exchanged worried glances. Would this, at last, be the moment they'd all dreaded? Would this be the time when they would have to kill their friend?

Professor Oak scratched his chin in thought. "Briney…you tried to enter Ash's mind Psychically, which means you must have gotten a good feel for whatever this mysterious force is. What did it feel like to you?"

The Metagross frowned in recollection. "It…actually didn't feel malevolent, which is kind of odd. You'd expect some sort of malice, right? But…it didn't feel like that at all. It actually felt…nice. Really nice. It made me think of…of Peeko. And…" He blinked, perplexed. "My mom…not sure why, though…"

The three beasts started. "Did you say…it felt like your mother?!" Raikou cried.

"And the womon you love?!" Suicune demanded.

Briney and the others looked at the beasts. "Yes," the Metagross said slowly. "It did."

"Do you know, then, what's behind this?" Tenjin asked.

Entei nodded gravely. "There is only one entity I can think of that would leave a Psychic trace like that…and that would be…"

Ash…

Ash…

It's time to wake up…

A metal door slid open, and a tall, handsome, dark-haired man with an orange suit and an intense look in his black eyes entered the laboratory, flanked by a man and a woman in black outfits with black hats, gray boots, and big red Rs on their chests. The scientists around the room glanced up from their work stations and nodded or saluted respectfully as he passed, the man only giving them brief nods of acknowledgement as he strode confidently towards the center of the laboratory, where a large tube full of glowing liquid stood erect, what looked like a black-haired human baby floating in the middle, an oxygen mask placed over his mouth and an artificial umbilical cord attached to his stomach. The man in the orange suit stopped a few feet away from the tube, staring at the baby inside in admiration. "Magnificent…"

"Ah, Master Giovanni!" a gray-haired scientist in a lab coat said, walking over and bowing to the man in the orange suit. "It is always a pleasure to see you, sir!"

Reluctantly, the man—Giovanni-took his eyes off the boy in the tube to look at the scientist. "Dr. Fuji. I take it that the cloning process is going according to schedule, then?"

Dr. Fuji smiled. "Indeed it is, sir! And it's a much easier task than it is creating that Mew clone you also tasked us with! And…a lot easier than restoring my daughter, Amber…"

Giovanni frowned. "You are having difficulty with the Mewtwo project?"

"Oh, er, nothing to worry about, sir," Fuji said hurriedly. "It's just…well, we're using DNA from one of the most complex and ancient life-forms in all of existence. The source of all life, to be precise. Decoding it and replicating it without genetic degradation—let alone making the modifications you requested—will take some time. But we're still on schedule, so never fear, we'll get it right sooner or later!"

"Hmm. See that you do," Giovanni said dismissively, turning his attention back to the boy in the tube. "But our little friend here has posed far less of a problem, I take it?"

Fuji shook his head. "Well, Master Giovanni, compared to millions-year old DNA belonging to the Goddess of Life itself, cloning the genetic material of a human who only existed a few hundred years ago is practically trivial. The DNA you yourself provided us with was also more than adequate in filling in any holes that may have formed in the centuries the sample may have degraded."

"Then the boy is a perfect clone of both the legendary Hero of Aura, Aaron…and myself?" Giovanni asked.

"So it would seem!" Fuji said proudly. "Congratulations, sir, you're a father!"

"A father…" Giovanni murmured, placing a palm against the surface of the tube. "I never thought I would see the day…and now I not only have an heir…but a messiah who will unite the world under Team Rocket's banner! Ghetsis had the right idea with that fosterling of his…but I have no intention of being as abusive to my son as that bastard is! I'm certainly not going to just call him by a letter rather than his actual name…and he'll be far less likely to turn against me if I treat him with love, rather than abuse. My dear old mother learned that lesson far too late…"

"Do you know what you'll name him, sir?" Fuji asked.

"A number of names have come to mind. Even Giovanni Junior occurred to me at one point. But no, the prophecies of the Chosen One were rather clear on what his name is to be…and considering I've gone to all the effort of trying to make the prophecies come true and create my OWN Chosen One, I suppose it's appropriate to give him the name he's apparently destined for, don't you?" Giovanni asked with a smirk.

Fuji nodded. "I suppose so, sir." He smiled sadly, remembering the day he and his wife had chosen the name for their daughter…

"So, he is developing normally?" Giovanni continued.

Fuji nodded. "Indeed he is, sir. Er…there's just one…slight…hitch."

Giovanni paused. The atmosphere in the room became very tense, and the other scientists slowly turned their backs on the center of the lab. "What…sort of hitch?" he asked slowly.

Fuji swallowed and pulled at his collar. "Well, sir…he...well, while we can detect traces of Aura capability in him, it's…not that much."

Giovanni frowned. "Not that much?"

"No, sir," Fuji said.

Giovanni considered this. "Well, he's still quite young. Perhaps his powers will grow as he ages?"

"It might," Fuji said slowly. "But…the prophecies state that the Chosen One will have great power of Aura. You'd think that he'd show signs of such immense power from birth, rather than having levels lower even than the weakest Riolu right after hatching."

Giovanni considered this for a moment, a brooding expression on his face. "…Is it my DNA? It is somehow interfering with the Aura power he should have gotten from Aaron's cells?"

"I don't think so," Fuji said uncertainly. "But then again, cloning isn't exactly a very well-documented science as of yet, sir. They're still working on a way to restore extinct Pokémon from fossils. We're on the bleeding edge here. I would not be exaggerating to say we're making it up as we go along."

Giovanni sighed. "I…see. Well…he is young, barely even finished gestating. Maybe…maybe we just have to wait for him to grow older, and his true powers will eventually manifest?"

"Perhaps," Fuji said, deciding it would not be in his best interests to suggest that maybe the boy in the tube was not, in fact, the Chosen One and that attempting to brute-force a prophecy was folly. "Aura Guardians are the only people who really understand how Aura works…and I don't think they're going to be of much help in this project."

Giovanni's face darkened. "No," he agreed. "They're not." He touched the tube again for a long moment, then nodded and turned away. "Keep me updated on his development, Doctor. Oh, and…about Project Mewtwo…"

"Yes, sir?" Fuji asked.

"I expect results, Doctor, and soon," Giovanni said. "Do I make myself clear?"

Fuji nodded quickly. "Yes, sir."

"Good. A superior clone of Mew will make a good Pokémon for my son to use." Giovanni thought for a moment, and then smirked. "Heh. They'll share my DNA. They might as well be brothers." He nodded at Fuji. "Keep up the good work, Doctor. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be-"

There was the sound of several explosions, and the room shook. The lights turned red and started flashing, while sirens started blaring. "Wh-what's happening?!" Fuji cried in fright as he and the other scientists cowered.

"We're under attack!" Giovanni snarled. "But who-"

The door to the room exploded in a blast of blue fire. The Rocket Grunts on either side of Giovanni stepped in front of their charge and drew their Pokéballs as two figures walked through the smoke and fire and entered the laboratory. One of them was a Lucario, paws still blazing with Aura. The other was a young man in a dark blue jacket with spiky dark hair, a blue fedora tilted at a jaunty angle, and a fancy gold necklace hanging over his long-necked black shirt. The man nodded calmly at Giovanni, while the building continued to be wracked with explosions. "Giovanni."

"Riley," Giovanni returned coolly. "How did you find out about this place?"

"I have my sources, just as you have yours," Riley said. "You know why I am here."

"I do," Giovanni said. "And I will not let you have my son."

"Your 'son' is the Chosen One, Giovanni," Riley said, never raising his voice even as the klaxons continued to blare. "The destined savior of our world. I cannot allow you to mold him into a tool of evil."

"Oh, and he'd be so much better off as a puppet of the Aura Guardians, dancing on your strings as a servant of 'justice?'" Giovanni sneered. "At least with me, he will be loved!"

"We have no intention of raising the Chosen One," Riley said, much to Giovanni's surprise. "That task lies with another…and I assure you, Giovanni, that he will still be loved."

"Even if that is the case…I cannot allow you to have him, Riley," Giovanni snarled.

"Normally I would agree with you," Riley said, again surprising Giovanni. "Even if he is the Chosen One, stealing a boy from his father goes against what I stand for. However, a power greater than either of us is guiding my actions, and I cannot refuse it. The boy's fate lies elsewhere. Will you surrender him, or must I take him by force?"

"I think you already know the answer," Giovanni said, nodding to his bodyguards.

"Go, Golem!" the male Grunt cried, flinging his Pokéball.

"Go, Rhydon!" the female Grunt cried, flinging her Pokéball.

The red and white spheres burst open, revealing the spherical Megaton Pokémon and the armored Drill Pokémon, who bellowed a challenge at Riley. The Aura Guardian nodded at his Pokémon. "Lucario. Take them."

With a grunt, the Lucario rushed forwards. Before either Grunt could command their Pokémon, the Lucario laid into them with Close Combat, striking them with a flurry of high-speed punches and kicks. They staggered back, and the Lucario formed a Bone Rush staff, which he twirled about and bashed them on the heads with repeatedly, further dazing them. Before they could recover, he dissipated the staff and hit them with an Aura Sphere. The explosion flung them to the ground, where they both collapsed in a heap, swirls overtaking their eyes.

"Ah, no! Golem!" the male Grunt cried.

"Rhydon!" the female Grunt shouted.

"Dammit…" Giovanni snarled, pulling out a Pokéball of his own. "Let's see if you handle this as easily! Go, Nidoking!"

He threw the Pokéball, which burst open to reveal a massive purple spiky Nidoking. The Drill Pokémon roared ferociously and charged at the Lucario, horn lowered and glowing with Horn Drill…

Until it was stopped in its tracks, a hand gripping its spinning horn. And that hand didn't belong to Lucario…but to Riley, who held the monster in place by its horn with a single hand, not even flinching as the horn spun against his palm, which was burning with the power of Aura. Nidoking struggled with all its might, but was unable to push Riley aside. Giovanni's jaw dropped in disbelief. "Impossible!"

"So this is the power a human with Aura can use? Incredible!" said the astonished Fuji.

"Lucario, go! Reclaim our savior!" Riley shouted at Lucario, who nodded and dashed towards the tube in the center of the lab.

"No! I won't let you have him!" Giovanni cried, reaching for another Pokéball.

He never got the chance to throw it. With a grunt, Riley lifted Nidoking in the air, single-handedly, still by its horn, and hurled it at Giovanni. The leader of Team Rocket cried out in pain and alarm as Nidoking slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. Lucario leaped at the tube and drove a fist into it, smashing it and causing bits of glass to fly all over the place as the liquid inside gushed out onto the floor. The researchers cried out in alarm and ducked for cover to keep from getting hurt. The Lucario grabbed the baby before he could hit the ground, ripping off the child's umbilical cord and oxygen mask in the process. As he landed, the child opened his eyes…

And the Lucario froze as his red eyes locked with the infant's brown ones. And he knew, in that very moment, without a doubt, that this was indeed the savior. This was the Chosen One. There was a bellow, and his Aura-sensing organs twitched, and he ducked just in time to keep from getting struck by Nidoking's powerful tail. "Go!" Riley shouted to Lucario as he grabbed the Nidoking's tail, catching it off-balance. "Get to the rendezvous point! I'll meet you there!"

Lucario nodded and rushed towards a wall, forming an Aura Sphere in one paw while holding the baby in the other. He hurled the Sphere at the wall, blasting it open just before he could crash into it. He leaped through the opening and out into the open air, falling several stories and landing neatly on the ground surrounding the secret facility, currently in flames and shaking with explosions as his Aura Guardian fellows continued to wreak havoc inside. Without looking back, he started running, vaulting over the fence surrounding the perimeter and vanishing into the rocky canyon outside.

"NO!" Giovanni cried in horror.

"Why is our lab so close to the outside?" one scientist wondered. "Wouldn't it have made more sense for us to be closer to the center of the building?" Nobody answered him.

"GET AFTER IT! GET BACK MY SON!" Giovanni shouted.

"I'm afraid that will not be happening anytime soon," Riley said. "My Lucario is too fast, and your forces spread too thin fighting my comrades. You will never find him now."

Giovanni clenched his fists, shaking with fury. "Riley…you will pay for this. I will find him, no matter how long it takes!"

"Perhaps you will," Riley admitted. "But I wonder…when you do, will you recognize him?"

Not bothering to ponder this, Giovanni roared, "KILL HIM!" at Nidoking. Nidoking roared and charged forwards, drawing back its fist with a crackling Thunderpunch. Riley drew back his own fist, burning with the power of Aura. They threw their punches at the same time.

The resulting explosion was catastrophic, completely totaling the lab and knocking everyone unconscious. By the time Giovanni eventually came to, Riley and the other Aura Guardians were gone…

And so was his son.

A little later…

"Who's a good Chosen One? Who's a good future Messiah and savior of all life? You are! Oh yes you are! Oh yes you are!" Delia Ketchum cooed as she gently cradled the infant in her arms, swaddled in blankets. The baby gurgled and spat up, which she took as a sign that he liked her. "Oh, aren't you just the cutest thing!" she said adoringly as she stared into his brown eyes and cleaned up his mess. "Hmm, you look hungry…well, I know how to solve that!" She held the baby to her breast and started nursing him.

Professor Samuel Oak, his brown hair already starting to gray, managed to pull his eyes away from the rather attractive young woman flashing some chest and turned to Riley, who was being bandaged and tended to by his Lucario. "Are you certain this is a good idea, Riley? I don't feel comfortable putting Delia in danger like this…"

"Giovanni will be expecting us to bring the Chosen One to one of our strongholds around the world," Riley explained, wincing as Lucario treated one of his burns. "He'll never think to look in the home of a perfectly ordinary single mother in a town as small and unimportant as Pallet Town. After all, isn't that why you moved here, Professor?"

"…That's part of the reason…" the famed researcher murmured, glancing away, his eyes once again falling upon the young Chosen One. "But…is this really the best thing for the boy, Riley? How is he to ever learn how to master his powers if the Aura Guardians don't start training him to do so at a young age?"

"Because his power is one that even the Aura Guardians cannot help him with…one that he must discover himself, that can only come into being if nurtured by love and friendship," said an achingly beautiful voice, its every syllable and enunciation dripping with kindness and love…and a little something else that stirred the loins. Oak, Riley, and Lucario bowed respectfully as the new speaker entered the room. Delia would have as well, but she was a little busy feeding the baby. She was an unimaginably beautiful pink Pokémon with a body that practically screamed it was designed for intercourse. She was soft and full, curvy and pliable, with boundless energy and effortless gentleness. Playful eroticism oozed from her every motion and breath and twitch of her extremely long tail, every curve from pert snout to long toe, every gentle smile on her lips, every blink of her massive, breathtaking blue eyes. She was almost like pure sex-appeal given Pokémon form. And yet, she radiated an aura of pure motherliness and love that—somewhat disturbingly-didn't seem even remotely at odds with the arousal she seemed to generate just by being in the same room as anyone else. Probably best not to think too much on that; wouldn't want to give anyone an Oedipal complex.

"Lady Mew," Riley said respectfully to the Holy Mother.

"It is truly your will, then, that the boy is to stay here?" Oak asked nervously, hardly believing he was questioning the second most powerful being in all of reality.

Mew nodded. "It is. While the Chosen One would do well in the care of the Aura Guardians…it is my wish that he have as normal a childhood as he possibly can. His future has many, many hardships in store for him…and I want my son to experience as much happiness as he can before his life becomes more complicated. I want him to be treated like a completely ordinary boy…for if he believes himself to be one, and then there is less of a chance of his Chosen One status going to his head, which might happen if he were raised to believe that he was the messiah."

"Then when will he learn of his destiny?" Oak asked.

Mew chuckled. "It will come to him in time. You need not worry about that."

"Even so…when his Aura powers manifest, he will need someone to train him in their use," Riley said.

"And when that time comes, you will appear to him and offer to train him," Mew said. "But if he refuses…then you must respect his decision."

"What?!" Riley said in alarm. "But…but Holy Mother, if he does not learn how to utilize his powers, then how will he ever be able to fulfill his destiny?!"

Mew laughed again, causing their hearts to race and their bodies to tingle. "Oh, silly Riley," Mew said, patting his head and causing him to smile blissfully as a feeling of pure peace and happiness filled him. "Destiny is not that rigid. Not really. That's why so many prophecies are vague and open to interpretation, after all…the outcome may be a surety most of the time, but how you reach that point? Not so much. People have a lot more freedom in that than they might think, and the Chosen One is no exception. One way or another, he will fulfill the purpose he was created for…but there is more than one way for him to do that, and I have every confidence that, no matter what unexpected obstacles spring up, he will find a way to persevere. It is what he is meant to do, after all."

"…As you wish, milady," Riley said, still not looking completely sure about this.

"And what of Giovanni?" Oak asked. "As the Chosen One, it is inevitable that they will clash sooner or later."

"That it is," Mew agreed. "And Ash will deal with him, as he will deal with any villain that crosses his path."

"That's not what I meant," Oak said. "Giovanni is the boy's father. If Ash finds out…"

"If he finds out, you will tell him the truth, and see how events unfold from there," Mew said. "If he does not, then I see no reason to burden him with the knowledge of how he was created. Not until he becomes truly aware of what it is to be the Chosen One and his place in the world. Once that happens…then you have my permission to tell him the whole truth."

"…I suppose so," Oak said reluctantly. "I just don't think he's going to be too happy that we've been lying to and manipulating him his entire life."

"Then we won't," Delia spoke up, much to the Professor's surprise. "We aren't manipulating him, after all. We're giving him a perfectly normal childhood. We aren't training or subtly guiding him towards taking a specific path in life, or at least, no more than any parent is. And when Ash asks about his father, I will tell him the truth…that he was a great Pokémon trainer, who one day left to pursue his own dreams and never came back. That he loves both of us very much, but for his own reasons, had to go away." She smiled sadly. "That's not too far from the truth, now is it? I mean…it's not as if Giovanni ever spared a second thought for me, after…"

Oak rubbed his head awkwardly and looked away. "He's…still not going to be happy with us for concealing the truth from him."

"He may not be," Mew admitted. "But he will forgive you in time. And besides…how exactly would you propose breaking this information to him, anyway? When is a good time to tell him the immensity of his true origins, and his true destiny? He cannot know until he is ready to know…and he is ready to understand what it all means."

"…I suppose you are right," Oak admitted unhappily.

"Yes, I usually am," Mew joked, brushing Oak's cheek with her tail and causing him to shiver and sigh in delight. "Oh, yes…speaking of readiness, when Ash is finally of age to begin his Pokémon journey, I would like him to have this. I laid it just now." She handed the Professor a yellow egg with a jagged black lower half.

Oak's eyes widened. "It's a Pichu egg…" He gasped. "Then…that boy I met all those years ago, when I traveled through time…he was…"

"Yes. That was the boy you see before you, and this egg, older than they are now. This is his destined partner, who shall accompany him on all his future adventures, including the one that you took part in with Celebi," Mew explained. "Be warned, when he hatches, he will be very difficult to control, and very powerful…but like Ash, he is meant for greater things, and they shall accomplish those things together. When Ash comes to you in ten years, you must give him this Pokémon, and no other. Make up something about how you've run out of other starters for that year and say this is all you have left."

"I suppose I could do that…" Oak murmured. "And it wouldn't exactly be a lie, either…if he's late enough, there really won't be any other starters left."

"Very well," Mew said. "Now…there is only one other matter to take care of. Delia, may I see him?"

"Hold on…I think he's…there, he's full," Delia said, gently prying the boy off of her nipple and turning him to face Mew.

The goddess floated down to look the child in the face. The baby stared back, a look of innocent wonder in his eyes and a smile on his face. Mew smiled motherly right back. "My little one," she whispered. "If I had a choice, I would spare you from all the horrible things that await you in the future. But what must happen must happen, and you are the one…the only one…who is able to see it all through." She shook her head sadly. "I will not lie to you, my son. There will be times to come when things look bleak and hopeless. You will despair. You will suffer. You will stumble and fall. You will fail.

"But…the reason we fail is so that we can pick ourselves up and try again. And try you will, until you succeed, and I promise you this: in the end, you will succeed, and everything you've gone through…all the hardships and pain…will be absolutely worth it once all is said and done.

"And do not believe everything will be darkness and anguish. You will meet friends and companions dear to your heart, whom you will trust with your life and do great things together. You will know love. You will have family. You will go on adventures, both great and small, and joyous and tragic. And no matter what, you will not be alone, for just because you are the Chosen One does not mean you must do everything yourself, nor should you, for if you do, you will fail. Your true strength comes from others…and so long as you keep those others in your heart at all times, you will never truly be alone, even if your friends and loved ones are miles or even worlds away. All things are bound by love…and by keeping those ties strong, you can become invincible.

"Always remember that, my brave son. No matter how dark things get, and they will get dark, you must never, EVER forget that you are loved beyond measure, loved more than you can possibly know. And as long as that love shines, the darkness can never overtake you unless you let it.

"You are flawed. You will make mistakes. I tell you that now so you understand that you will overcome them…and you are imperfect so that you will always be able to get better, and you will get better, I promise you that. And one day…one day in the far future…you shall join us in the Light, and my heart aches with joy at the thought of how wonderful that blessed day will be, my beloved, precious son." She leaned forward and kissed the child on the forehead, causing him to close his eyes and giggle. "Please forgive us for placing this awful burden on you. We love you, and if there were any other way, know that we would take it in a heartbeat. If you hate us in the future, I will understand…but know that no matter what, we will always love you."

And when you see your brother…please try and forgive him for the things he will do. We are not the only powers shaping events, and he will be tricked into doing something TERRIBLE. Please forgive him, and save him from himself, She added telepathically, so the others would not overhear. Drawing back slightly, She raised Her paw, one of Her digits glowing brightly. She touched the boy's cheek, drawing a lightning-bolt shaped marking under his right eye. She repeated the process for the left. The two markings glowed, and then faded to black, permanently etched onto his face. "There," She said out loud. "I have given him my blessing. And now…I shall give him his name. As foretold by the prophecies, he shall be called 'Ash.' In an ancient tongue, it means 'hope,' just as he shall be our hope…the hope of all living things against the return of the Ruler of Evil."

"It means 'hope?' In what language?" Riley asked.

Mew giggled. "Oh, none you've ever heard of. I'm pretty sure it has to mean hope somewhere. It's a big Omniverse, after all." Everyone sweatdropped.

"Ash Ketchum…" Delia murmured, turning the baby around to look at him again. "It has a nice ring to it…" She smiled. "I think we're going to be very happy together…my little 'hope.'" Ash squealed happily.

"Well!" Mew said, clapping Her paws together. "Now that that's taken care of, who wants an orgy?"

The humans and Lucario considered this for a moment. "Yeah, all right," Oak said.

"I'm game," Riley said, Lucario nodding as well.

"Let me just put Ash down, he doesn't need to see this," Delia said, leaving the room.

"All right! And while we're waiting for her…PLEASURE ME! PLEASURE YOUR GODDESS!" Mew howled at Oak, Riley, and Lucario.

And pleasure Her they did. As did Delia, once she returned. It was very kinky.

A pair of white eyes opened in the darkness. 'Hope,' huh? What a joke. If you were truly their last hope…then you let them all down a long, long time ago. Messiahs don't do the things you did, Ash. And they certainly don't do what you're going to do…

Ash woke up to find his friends, Professor Oak, and the three legendary beasts standing over him with worried looks on their faces, looks that grew even more worried when they saw the expression of sheer terror in his eyes. "Ash?" Tenjin asked worriedly. "What happened in there?"

"What horrible, soul-scarring, mind-shattering torment did you undergo this time?" Leo asked.

"I saw…" Ash whispered with a thousand-mile stare.

"Yes?" Tiny asked.

"I saw…"

"Yes?" Lily asked.

"I saw…" Dawn asked.

"Yes?" Boa asked.

"I saw…"

"Yes?" Oak asked.

"I saw…"

"Yes?" the three beasts asked.

"Stop stalling and tell us what you saw already!" Briney shouted.

"I SAW MY MOTHER AND PROFESSOR OAK HAVING SEX WITH MEW!" Ash shouted.

There was a long, long pause. "…What," Tenjin said.

"The fuck?!" Misty yelled.

Everyone looked at Professor Oak. "D-don't look at me! I have no idea what he's talking about!" The Slowking stammered. "I've never slept with Mew! Though…I have fantasized…I mean, who hasn't, really? I mean, she's Mew, who can say no to that?!"

"…Well, I was right to be worried. That's probably the most horrifying, traumatizing flashback we've had yet," Leo said.

Lily nodded in agreement. "I did not need that mental image."

"Neither did I…" Briney grumbled.

"Glad we didn't see that," Tiny agreed.

"I…what? What?!" Boa demanded.

"His mom and Professor Oak? Yeah, that definitely sounds like Mother," Raikou said, the other beasts nodding in agreement.

"There was a Lucario and an Aura Guardian named Riley involved, too. Oh, and I think my biological father is Giovanni," Ash added, as an afterthought.

"…WHAT," Tenjin yelled.

"The FUCK?!" Misty yelled.

"Meh, saw something like that coming," Leo said.

"You did?" Tiny asked.

"Well yeah, what kind of story would it be if the hero didn't find out he's secretly related to a major villain?" the Squirtle said reasonably.

"Isn't Giovanni more of a minor villain, though?" Lily asked.

"Eh, close enough," Leo said.

"Oh, and I'm also apparently a clone of Giovanni and the legendary hero Aaron," Ash said. "Not our Aaron, but a human he's named after. And might be the reincarnation of."

"The FUCK?!" Misty yelled.

"What is he talking about?!" Princess Boa demanded.

"I have no idea," Dawn said.

"So, same old, same old," Briney said.

"I…that's…" Tenjin stammered incoherently before sighing and patting Ash on the shoulder. "Of course you are, Ash. Of course you are."

"I'm not making it up," Ash said.

"I know," Tenjin said despondently. "I know. That's why I'm crying."

"Oh," Ash said. "Then I guess I shouldn't mention that your mother—er, your past self's mother—is Mew?"

Tenjin stared at him blankly. "…Yes, you probably shouldn't have mentioned that."

"Oh. Sorry," Ash said.

"Probably shouldn't mention that to your mother, or she'll kill your dad," Briney quipped.

"That was my past self! It doesn't count!...I think," Tenjin said, looking confused.

"Seriously, what the FUCK?!" Misty yelled.

"So…I have another Grandpa? Who's evil?" Tiny asked. "This is getting so confusing…"

"That's pretty much the story of your lives," Oak observed.

"Sounds like just another day in the life of Team Aurabolt," Dawn said wearily.

Boa facevined. "I am starting to reconsider my desire to join this team full-time."

Briney patted her sympathetically on the shoulder. "There are days where I feel exactly the same thing, kiddo."

"…I have no idea what's going on anymore," Raikou said.

"Neither do I. Just smile and nod and pretend everything's fine," Entei murmured. The beasts smiled and nodded and pretended everything was fine.

"Why would Mother have made a memory of…that such a secret?" Suicune asked through a forced grin as Tenjin helped a dazed Ash to his feet and interrogated him for more detail as to what, exactly, the heck he'd just seen.

"She must have had Her reasons," Entei replied, narrowing his eyes. "Somehow, I don't think that's all that happened in there…I wonder what else happened in that memory…and what bearing it might have on the future of us all…"

A little later…

Team Aurabolt, Professor Oak, and the three beasts emerged from the portal Lily and Boa had made leading back to the surface to find themselves on the steps of the building built over the entrance to the tower, where they were welcomed by the cheers of hundreds of soldiers, undead pirates, and reporters. The sky had cleared now and sunlight was shining on the ancient city for the first time since…well, possibly centuries, actually, not just because it had been buried underground for millennia but also because there had been so much pollution from Treasure Town that most of its inhabitants had forgotten what the Sun looked like. Or that it ever existed.

"Wow! That's quite a reception!" Tiny said.

"Are they all cheering for us?" asked the amazed Lily.

"Why wouldn't they be? We're awesome!" Leo cried, striking a pose and eliciting more cheers from the crowd.

"Professor Oak! Professor Oak!" A beige blur pushed its way past the guards holding the rest of the crowd back and glomped the Slowpoke. "You're all right! I can't believe you're all right! Oh, it's a miracle!" Tracey blubbered, sobbing all over his mentor.

"There, there, Tracey, it's all right, I'm not hurt…and could you please stop doing that, you're getting snot all over me…" Oak said embarrassed.

"Sorry," Tracey sniffed, dislodging himself from the Professor, only to immediately latch onto Leo. "Oh, Leo! You saved the Professor! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I know you said you would, but I was so worried you wouldn't! Thank you so much!"

"Well, actually, Professor Oak rescued himself, but yeah, we totally ruled!" Leo said. "Wait, are you implying that you didn't think we could pull it off?"

Tracey hesitated. "Uh, well…"

"Ash! Everyone!" Lugia called as he descended, landing with a thud at the base of the steps and driving the rest of the crowd back. "You are all right! You've won!"

"Psh, yeah! I mean, come on, how could they not win with me around?" Victini bragged as she hovered down.

"Daughter!" Nuken yelled, floating down towards Lily and hugging the Mismagius, much to her surprise. "You've done it! Excellent work!"

"F-Father! You are showing public affection!" said the astonished Lily.

"I'm so happy right now, I don't care!" Nuken shouted, not even minding that this moment of weakness was being captured on camera and broadcast to Pokemon all over the world, he could deal with that later. And Lily, for the first time in her unlife, knew what it was like to be embarrassed by a parent

"Cap'n!" Barbedo hollered, jumping off Lugia's back and rushing over to Briney. "Nice going! You stopped those blasted Nihilators from activating the tower! Pah, and that stupid bird over there was worried all that earth-shaking caused by the aftershocks from all the other earth-shaking and whatever epic battles ye were involved in down under was them bringing the curst thing online!"

"It was a legitimate concern…" Lugia growled. He swiveled his head down to look at Ash. "But congrautlations, Ash, all of you. You stopped the Nihilators…and purified the three beasts, as well!"

"Um, they are purified, right?" Tracey asked nervously, looking up at the lesser deities.

The three beasts bowed their heads in shame. "We're purified," Suicune asserted.

"And sorry for everything we've done," Raikou said.

"We're ready to pay for our crimes, no matter what the cost," Entei said sadly.

Lugia smiled gently. "You are not the only ones who have sins to make up for, my friends. Willing to repent is the first step towards redemption. Whatever misdeeds you have done, we shall atone for them…together." The beasts smiled gratefully at that.

"Barbedo, how's the ship?" Briney asked.

The legendary pirate winced. "Ah…she's in pretty bad shape, Cap'n. That giant spider gave her quite the beating."

"Well, it's nothing a little hammering won't fix, I suppose," Briney said, hefting his hammer. "What happened to the blighter that did that to my poor Peeko?"

"I personally led the charge to take it out, Cap'n!" Barbedo bragged. "And I took out the enemy commander, and brought the whole thing down meself!"

"Ahem," Lugia coughed.

Barbedo glowered at him. "Okay, Lugia brought it down…but I softened it up fer him!" Lugia rolled his eyes.

Briney chuckled and slugged Barbedo on the shoulder. "Spoken like a true man of the sea. Good job, Barbedo." The pirate gave his captain a glittering gold-toothed grin.

There was a flash of light, and suddenly Valerie was standing in front of the startled Ash, a microphone thrust into his face. "Valerie Osagawara, Draconian News Network!"

"What the…you shouldn't be here!" Nuken stammered. He glared at the guards that had apparently neglected to put up any anti-teleportation defenses, who shrugged back embarrassedly.

"Ash of Team Aurabolt, is it true that you defeated the Nihilators who went underground? Is this crisis at an end?" Valerie pressed, ignoring Nuken's shouts for security to get her out of there.

"Um…uh…well, we killed all the Nihilators and disabled the mechanism they need to activate the tower, so…yeah, it's over," Ash said, deciding to push back the implications of his latest flashback to deal with at a later date. Now was not the time to mull over what it all meant. Not yet. He wondered how much of it, if any, Lugia knew about…they were going to need to have a long, long talk about what he'd just seen later.

And there had been a voice at the end of his flashback…it hadn't been Misty. She didn't know who it was, either, when asked. Could this mean…that there was another voice in his head? One that sounded far more sinister than a manifestation of guilt taking the form of his zombified girlfriend? This bore looking into…

This assertion from Ash got the crowd cheering again. Shouting to be heard over them, Valerie cried, "And Doctor Tarantulas? Has he been dealt with as well?"

Ash nodded, growing more confident. "Yes. Doctor Tarantulas has been dealt with permanently, thanks to the actions of my good friend Professor Oak."

"I was only doing what needed to be done," Oak said with a smile, taking a bow.

"Incredible!" Valerie said, impressed.

"And I slew Paul Yami, one of the Shadow's top enforcers," Dawn added.

"Outstanding!" Valerie said.

"Well done, Ms. Hikari!" Nuken said admiringly.

"Ha, good on all of you!" Victini said.

"And what's more…" Ash said, nodding at Tenjin, who took out the two Star Badges they had retrieved. "We managed to collect the Star Badges they brought here to try and get the tower online. With both of them in our possession, we now have a total of five Badges in safekeeping to the Nihilators' two. Whatever plan Oblivion's Shadow has to open the Door, it had better be a good one, because right now we have almost every key he needs to unlock it, as well as control over the mechanism he needs to prime it for opening in the first place. So…with that in mind…" With a grin, he leaned into the microphone and said, "Oblivion's Shadow, if you're watching this—and I know you are—you should probably start shivering in your boots. That big gesture you made, blowing up Treasure Town to try and show us how big and bad you are? Well, it cost you one of your top lieutenants, two of your Star Badges, three of your legendary Shadow Pokémon, one of your top enforcers, hundreds of Nihilators, a giant robot spider, and you completely and utterly FAILED to accomplish the objective you sent your goons down here to do. All this big show of yours proved is that you're losing your grip, and has shown the people of the world that you are FAR from infallible. The next time we meet, it'll be on Mars…and when we get there, we're going to utterly demolish you and put a stop to your Nihilators once and for all!"

The cheer from the crowd, and from Ash's friends, was absolutely deafening. A begrudging smirk on her face, Misty leaned against a nearby pillar. "Huh. Not a bad speech, Ash. Savor this victory while it lasts…let's see if you can back up your promises when you get to Mars…"

Ash ignored her, grinning as the applause buoyed his spirits and caused all his worries and the rather worrying flashback he'd just had and the matter of that other voice to flee to the back of his mind. Even through the cheering, however, he was still able to hear a familiar voice say, "When you go to Mars, I don't suppose there'll be room for one more in your team, will there?"

Ash stiffened. He knew that voice. Swiveling his head to look around, he spotted a Leafeon with a red crystal in his forehead walking up the steps towards him. "It's you!" he gasped in delight and astonishment, along with Tenjin and Leo. Lily gasped as well, but she looked far less enthusiastic.

Michael Treesentinel smiled, brown eyes glistening. "Hello, Team Aurabolt. It's been a long time. Did you miss me?"

Meanwhile, in Fichina…

Sasha yawned and stretched as she woke up, her claws tearing into the soft mattress and blanket of her bed and ripping them to shreds. She blinked a few times, licking her lips, and frowned. "…Why do I have the strangest feeling that I just missed something important?"

That's because you did, Darkrai said. Now listen up, because I've got a lot to tell you. Some big shit's just gone down, and your friends need to know about it as soon as possible…

"I'm listening," Sasha said.

And listen she did, as Darkrai explained everything that had happened in the last few hours…not just to her friends in Treasure Town, but on Mars, and the shocking revelations that occurred there…revelations that her friends were, indeed, going to need to know about as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, in the Nihilator headquarters…

Chobin yawned as he stepped out of the cloning pod. "Awwwww, that was being such a good nap with dreams of fucking and killing people and fucking the dead people and killing the…fucking people? Wait, that doesn't make sense…not that Chobin cares…anyway, Chobin wonders how many times Chobin died this time. Doctor, how many times did Chobin die this time?" There was no reply. Blinking in surprise, Chobin suddenly realized that Doctor Tarantulas was nowhere to be found. That was…odd. The Doctor was always there when Chobin woke up after being cloned back to life. "…Doctor?"

"BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!" Much to Chobin's surprise, he suddenly found himself glomped and electrocuted by Marianne, who was sobbing big sizzling tears of plasma that burned his leaves.

"Marianne?" Chobin asked in confusion, not minding the electricity wracking his body very much. In fact, it turned him on, stirring his always-in-overdrive libido. "What is being the point of this blubbering and weeping and sobbing and crying and wailing the tears of sizzling crackling burning plasma of ouchiness?" The Rotom pulled her face away briefly, and Chobin recoiled in alarm when he saw the look of anguish and…pity on her face. "…Marianne? What is being going on here?"

"Lord Chobin," Viers said sullenly as he tromped over, having emerged from his cloning pod several minutes before Chobin.

"Viers! Why is Marianne blubbering and weeping and sobbing and crying and wailing the tears of sizzling crackling burning plasma of ouchiness and giving Chobin a look of pitiful sadness of pity? What is being going on? Where is the Doctor?" Chobin demanded.

The Emboar closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and nodded at Marianne, who resignedly fired a spark at a nearby monitor, causing it to switch on and show Team Aurabolt being interviewed in front of some ancient building by a pretty Kirlia Chobin would love to torture and rape to death and continue raping the corpse before eventually eating her because it was quite pretty and fuckable and edible.

"And Doctor Tarantulas? Has he been dealt with as well?" the Kirlia asked.

Ash nodded. "Yes. Doctor Tarantulas has been dealt with permanently, thanks to the actions of my good friend Professor Oak."

"I was only doing what needed to be done," the Slowpoke said with a smile, taking a bow.

"Incredible!" Valerie said, impressed.

Marianne zapped the monitor again, turning it off, then turned to look sorrowfully at Chobin. The Sunflora stared at the screen for a long moment. Then, an uncertain smile on his face, he said, "Well, that…that is unfortunate…but, but we are having plenty of spare bodies for the Doctor, so we are just needing to turn one on and, and, and Marianne why are you being looking away with a miserable look of misery on your face while blubbering and weeping and sobbing and crying and wailing the tears of sizzling crackling burning plasma of ouchiness?"

"Lord Chobin…you need to see this as well," Viers said quietly, handing Chobin a card.

Puzzled, the Sunflora took it. The moment it made contact with his leaf, a holographic emitter came online, displaying the head of Doctor Tarantulas. "Doctor! There you are!" Chobin cried in delight…until the hologram started speaking.

"Chobin, if you are viewing zis recording, zen I am dead. Not just temporarily dead, like you are every time you go and do somezing stupid, but truly and completely dead. I am not coming back from zis one, Chobin. Herr Shadow severed ze bond Bellum forged between us zat kept our spirits in zis vorld so long as one of us vas still alive. If you're vatching zis, zen zat means I've passed onto ze Abyss, no doubt killed by zose idiots in Team Aurabolt."

Chobin stiffened. "No…"

"I've left a more detailed vill viz Viers, leaving you…vell, everyzing. Everyzing I own now belongs to you. Heh…not like I have anyone else to give it to, really…" Tarantulas said with a feeble laugh. "I know you vill be hurting right now, Chobin. I vould be too, if our places vere reversed. Heck, zey almost vere, once…but you probably don't remember zat. But don't vorry, you're not alone. You still have Marianne and Viers and my entire robot spider army and all my experiments to keep you company. I know it's not ze same as having me around, but at least…at least you von't be alone, vhich is somezing I've vorried about happening to you more often zan not. I'm glad zat, before I died, you vere able to get a girlfriend, and a lackey of your own." He smiled weakly. "And hey, it's not like ve're never going to see each ozzer again, right? I mean, once ze Door to ze Abyss is opened, I'll come right back out, along viz ze rest of us who vere sent down here…or else you'll die and join me here. So it's a win-win situation, right? But, uh, please don't kill yourself on my account. Not yet. Zere is still so much more for you to do viz your life before coming down here to join me. Zere is still ze matter of my last request."

"And…and that is…?" Chobin whispered, teams streaming down his cheeks.

"Kill zem. Kill zem all. Everyone responsible for my deazh must die," Tarantulas said coldly. "Avenge me, Chobin. Avenge my deazh." He hesitated. "And…Bellum…tell her…tell her zat I'm sorry." The hologram deactivated.

Chobin stared at the card for a long time as Marianne hugged him again, still crying. After several moments, he stuffed it in his mouth and started chewing on it noisily. "Lord Chobin?" Viers asked softly, sniffling and wiping away his own tears. "What…what are we to do now?"

Chobin narrowed his eyes and swallowed the chewed-up card. "Don't…don't call me that."

Viers blinked in surprise, and Marianne pulled away, somewhat taken aback. Had Chobin just referred to himself in the first person? "My…my lord?"

"Don't call me Chobin." The Sunflora pulled off his glasses, snapped them in half, pulled out one of the lenses and jammed it into his left eye to make a makeshift monocle. "Chobin…is no more. Now and forever…

"I! AM! ARACKAISER!"

Elsewhere…

"And Doctor Tarantulas? Has he been dealt with as well?" the Kirlia asked.

Ash nodded. "Yes. Doctor Tarantulas has been dealt with permanently, thanks to the actions of my good friend Professor Oak."

"I was only doing what needed to be done," the Slowpoke said with a smile, taking a bow.

"Incredible!" Valerie said, impressed.

With a scream, Bellum smashed the viewing crystal she'd been watching the broadcast from the Treasure Town crater on. "That…that idiot! How…how dare he…how dare he die like that! And to a fat, old, Slowpoke of all creatures?" She snorted. "But of course…how could I ever expect more from him? After all, he's always been so…so weak…and pathetic…and…and…" She blinked in puzzlement, noticing that her eyesight had gotten all blurry. She raised a hand to her cheek and was surprised to find moisture there. "Water is coming out of my eyes? Why is that happening? Am I melting?"

"YOU ARE CRYING," Giratina observed.

Bellum was incredulous. "Crying? That's preposterous! I've never cried before in my unlife. Why would I be crying now?"

"BECAUSE DOCTOR TARANTULAS IS DEAD," Giratina said.

"And? Why should I ever want to cry over the death of such a worthless insect as him?" Bellum scoffed.

"BECAUSE YOU LOVED HIM," Giratina replied.

"Love?! Don't be preposterous! I've certainly never felt that before, either! I'm not even capable!" Bellum protested indignantly.

"THEN WHY ARE YOU CRYING?" Giratina asked.

"I…I don't know…" Bellum admitted. "But…but I can't be in love with him! I hated him! I hated him so much!"

"YES," Giratina agreed. "YOU DID. EVERY MOMENT YOU WERE TOGETHER, YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU HATED HIM. YOU SPENT COUNTLESS HOURS FANTASIZING ABOUT ALL THE HORRIBLE THINGS YOU WOULD DO TO HIM IF GIVEN HALF THE CHANCE, JUST AS HE DID THE SAME TO YOU.

"AND NOW HE IS DEAD, AND YOU CAN DO NONE OF THAT ANYMORE."

"…I can't…I can't hate him anymore?" Bellum whispered, shocked. "But…but I…" Her eyes grew blurrier, and more tears started flowing. "St-stop it…stop it, damn you!" she screamed at her eyes. "He is…he was nothing to us! We are better off without him! Stop crying, dammit!"

She collapsed against a wall, heaving, trembling and not quite sure why. Through her tears, she noticed a robot spider crawl across the floor, deposit a card at her feet, and then scurry away. Cursing her hand for shaking, she reached out and grabbed the card.

The instant she touched it, a hologram of Tarantulas was projected from it. The hologram spoke four words before disappearing. Bellum stared at it for a long moment, shocked. Then, trembling with fury and despair, she screamed in rage and sorrow, ripped the card to shreds, and lashed out with her magic, wrecking everything around her. Driven mad by emotions she did not understand, she rampaged throughout her iceberg lair, destroying everything in her path…

And all the while, she couldn't stop crying.

"AND SO LOVE CLAIMS EVEN THE HEARTS OF THOSE WHO DESPISE IT UTTERLY, AND SENDS THEM INTO ANGUISH AND DESPAIR," Giratina growled. "ALL THE MORE REASON TO MAKE SURE IT COMPLETELY DISAPPEARS."

In the ruins of her lair, Bellum collapsed, sobbing uncontrollably. "I'll make them pay," she hissed, digging her nails into the ice. "I'll make them all pay…and one way or another, I will see that wretch again…and when I do…I shall make him suffer for making me feel this way!"

"AND AFTER THAT?" Giratina asked.

"And after that…" Bellum whispered, thinking back to the message Tomaru had left for her. "Then we can hate each other again. As we always have. As we always will."

"NOW THAT," Giratina said eagerly. "IS SOMETHING I CAN LOOK FORWARD TO."

Bellum stood up and brushed herself off. "If I am to have my revenge, I have much work to do…before I can see him again…" She set off into the ruins, her twisted mind already spinning an intricate plot of vengeance…and what she would do when she saw Tarantulas again…

Meanwhile, in Kanjohenn…

Once upon a time, Aaron fell in love. He thought he couldn't get happier.

Then he was married, and he was proven wrong. He thought he couldn't get any happier after that.

Then he went on his honeymoon, and he was proven wrong. He thought he couldn't get any happier after that.

Then he got married again, and he was proven wrong. He thought he couldn't get any happier after that.

Then he went on a honeymoon with both his wives, and he was proven wrong. Aaron quickly decided he couldn't get any happier after that, to absolutely ensure that he would be proven wrong, because if there was any way he could possibly be happier than he was now, snuggled in between two absolutely gorgeous vulpines that loved him with all his heart, he was more than willing to experience it.

Maybe I should get married a third time, he contemplated briefly. I'm pretty sure there's nothing left between Sabrina and I, but I wonder if it's worth a shot…

"Aaron, two wives is enough for now," Krysta said from one side of Aaron.

"I thought you couldn't read my mind," Aaron said.

"I can't. But you're a male. What else would you be thinking about?" the Ninetales joked.

"Point," Aaron admitted.

"I wouldn't mind a third," Zorra purred. A malicious grin formed on her face. "In a few years. After I've finished letting loose all the pent-up lust for you I've been building up over the years."

"You haven't let that all out yet already?" Aaron asked, mildly impressed.

"Not. Even. Close," she hissed, digging her claws into his skin. It hurt…in a good way. A very good way. As the several dozen similar scratches and bite marks on his body indicated. "So…ready for round…uh…" The Zoroark frowned and blinked. "Er…Krysta, how many times have we…"

"Seventeen thousand, three hundred and twenty-six," the Ninetales said promptly.

"Right," Zorra said. "Ready for round seventeen thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven?"

Aaron blinked. "…Has it really been that many?"

"Yes," Krysta said.

"Uh-huh," Zorra said.

Aaron frowned. "…How long have we been going at this?"

"Since we got here," Zorra said.

"Right," Aaron said, a sudden sense of dread surging through him. He'd heard stories of people who'd been so caught up in what they were doing in magical realms like this one that hundreds of years passed by in the outside world, while for those in the realm it felt as if it had been only a matter of hours. "And that was…?"

"…I don't know, actually," Zorra admitted. "Krysta, how long have we been here?"

"A little over a week," Krysta said, much to Aaron's relief.

And then another thought occurred to him. "Wait…we've been in this cave, making love, for over a week?"

"Not just in this cave," Zorra purred. "We've been doing it on every inch of Krysta's little hideaway. And in several hundred illusionary scenarios I crafted to make our honeymoon more enjoyable."

"We did?" Aaron asked.

"You didn't notice?!" Zorra cried, offended.

"Zorra, I'm completely blind in this place," Aaron pointed out. "I can't even use my Aura-sight."

"Oh. Right," Zorra said, shamefaced. "But…not all my illusions were simply visual. You didn't hear or smell or taste or feel them?"

"I think I was a little too distracted to notice," Aaron said.

"…I can't decide whether I should be flattered or offended," Zorra said.

"Go with flattered," Krysta suggested, kissing her.

"Yeah, that works," Zorra said, kissing her back.

"You know, it's a pity I can't actually see the two of you making out, or it'd be a lot hotter," Aaron joked, causing them to pout at him. Not that he could see it, of course. "So…if we've been making nonstop love for over a week…how have none of us collapsed from starvation or exhaustion? Not that that wouldn't be an excellent way to go, mind you, but…"

"Magic," Krysta said.

"Oh, well, all right then," Aaron said, deciding to leave it at that. He frowned. "I hadn't realized we'd been gone that long…a lot might have happened while we were away."

Zorra frowned as well. "Yeah…I don't know what Zachary's been up to. I set up illusionary cameras so we could watch from here, but…well…we've been so busy, I sorta forgot…"

"Perhaps we should check on those," Aaron said. "And set a time for when we should head back to Pokémon Square."

"Yes," Zorra agreed. "We should."

None of them made a move. "Of course," Zorra said. "We haven't hit eighteen thousand yet."

"And if there was trouble, I'd probably have had a premonition by now," Krysta said.

"And I haven't had any omens either…" Aaron said slowly.

There was a pause. "Seventeen thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven?" Zorra asked hopefully.

"Seventeen thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven," Aaron agreed.

Unfortunately, seventeen thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven would have to wait because an incredibly loud AARON! KRYSTA! ZORRA! Rang so loudly through their skulls their ears bled and their consciousnesses were nearly wiped out by the three words filling virtually every corner of their brains and blotting out everything else just before a nearby wall vaporized as Latias burst in followed by a sonic boom that shook the mountaintop, skidding to a halt inches away from their faces and screaming both telepathically and vocally, so loudly that everyone for hundreds of miles could hear it, "RAYQUAZA'S IN TROUBLE AND LEGION'S UP TO SOMETHING AND I NEED YOUR HELP!"

The three Pokémon stared at her blankly, eyes wide, jaws slack, ears ringing, and fur blown back so far it was a miracle it hadn't come off. "WHAT?" Krysta yelled loudly.

"How did you find us?!" Zorra cried in disbelief after her brain rebooted and she stopped drooling. "We didn't tell anyone where we were honeymooning!"

"WHAT?" Krysta yelled loudly.

"What?! I thought I told you to leave a note!" Aaron shouted over the ringing in his ears.

"WHAT?" Krysta yelled loudly.

"You did, and I conveniently forgot to so that nobody could bother us," Zorra said smugly.

"WHAT?" Krysta yelled loudly.

Aaron facepalmed. "Why would you do that?! What if somebody needed us?!"

"WHAT?" Krysta yelled loudly.

"That's what the illusionary cameras were for!" Zorra said.

"WHAT?" Krysta yelled loudly.

"The cameras you forgot to monitor because you were too busy fucking my brains out?!" Aaron shouted.

"WHAT?" Krysta yelled loudly.

"I don't remember hearing any complaints from you at the time!" Zorra sneered.

"WHAT?" Krysta yelled loudly.

"KRYSTA, FOR ARCEUS' SAKE, YOU HAVE MAGIC, USE IT TO FIX YOUR EARS!" Aaron and Zorra yelled at their wife at once.

"Oh, right," the Ninetales said, ears twitching as she cast a spell to fix them.

"Are we all settled? Good, because I really need your help-" Latias started.

"How did you even know we were here?" Zorra interjected.

Latias rolled her eyes. "I read your minds before you left on your honeymoon to find out where you were going in case we needed to reach you in an emergency. Like right now."

"But my mind is protected from even your nearly all-seeing eyes by illusion!" Zorra protested.

"Yes, but his isn't," Latias said, pointing at Aaron.

Zorra glared at her husband. "Oops?" Aaron said Mareepishly.

"Also, I figured it was only logical you'd want to celebrate with Krysta. Plus, this is one of the most difficult and heavily shielded places to reach on the continent, meaning it would be unlikely you'd be disturbed by anyone less than me if you didn't want to be," Latias said.

"I suppose that makes sense," Aaron grumbled.

Krysta sighed. "So, how can we help you, Latias?"

"Yes, what's so important that you had to interrupt our honeymoon?" Zorra asked sullenly.

"My husband—or future husband, whatever—has fallen into one of Legion's traps and is no longer in this world," Latias said bluntly.

They sat up straight at this. "Tell us everything," Krysta said sharply.

"I'll do one better, I'll show you," Latias said, projecting her memories of what had happened at Wyvern Hill and the Temple of All Gods in Pokémon Square to her friends. In her anxiety and rush, her control over her mental powers was a bit looser than usual, so there was more than a little discomfort as their brains struggled to process the thoughts she was forcing on them, but she was in too much of a hurry to worry about something as unimportant as that at the moment.

"You're right. This is important enough to interrupt our honeymoon," Aaron said after he'd viewed everything and his brain stopped feeling like it was going to explode.

"Dammit…and here I thought we were through with those bastards once we locked them up…" Zorra growled.

"I should have known Legion's machinations would not end with their captivity…you did well to seek us out, Latias," Krysta said. "With my mastery over magic and experience fighting that collective fiend and Zorra's illusory powers and ability to see through Legion's reality warps, we are probably the most suited to help you get your husband back and thwart Legion's plans."

"Um, what about me?" Aaron asked.

"Right now, all you need to do is sit there and look pretty," Zorra said with a smirk.

"I can do that," Aaron said cheerfully.

"What do we need to do?" Latias asked.

"We need to strategize. As inscrutable and unfathomable the thought processes of Unown are, I'm probably one of the only Pokémon to have even an inkling of how those things think, due to my many years of fighting Legion," Krysta said.

"Wouldn't other Unown be able to fathom them better?" Zorra asked.

Latias shook her head. "I doubt it, Legion's pretty much insane. I've seen this sort of thing before; Unown are pretty much one massive hive mind grouped into various subsidiary collectives of sub-intelligences so they don't have any actual individuals; single Unown are more like autonomous cells than actual thinking beings, it's only when they're together that they have anything even resembling sentience. Whenever a group of Unown starts getting ideas that prove dangerous to the entire species, they get banished from the prime collective so their madness can't infect the rest of the hive mind and destroy their society. Assuming they have a society, even we Guardians have a difficult time understanding what the heck Unown do when they aren't observing reality and being generally inscrutable and mysterious."

"Don't the Guardians have a reputation for being inscrutable and mysterious sometimes?" Aaron asked in amusement.

"Well, they're inscrutable and mysterious to us, too," Latias said, miffed. "Which should tell you a lot, really."

"Does that mean they are unlikely to be of any help to us?" Aaron asked.

Latias shrugged. "It's unlikely. They'd probably want to stay away from Legion, since if any single Unown gets near the corrupted collective, they could get infected by their madness and become a part of Legion. Not only would that mean Legion would have an agent outside their prison, but there's a chance they could corrupt other Unown collectives as well and grow even stronger and more dangerous, hence why we haven't asked for help from any others before now." She frowned. "Hell, we don't even know for certain if the bunch of Unown we've got locked up are even the majority of Legion, or if there isn't some even larger body hidden safely in another dimension laughing at us while we pat ourselves on the back for capturing just a tiny portion of them."

"That latter part is unlikely," Krysta said. "The Unown are very efficient. The instant they sense even a hint of madness, they excise it from the hive mind as quickly as they can to keep it from spreading. The Unown you have imprisoned are, in all likelihood, the central consciousness of Legion. Even so, that does not mean they are any less dangerous, as what happened at Wyvern Hill demonstrates. They planned for the possibility of their capture…and there are other plans in the work as well, which we have only begun to fathom. Somehow I think the missing barbarians are but the least of our worries…"

"Even so, would it hurt to at least ask?" Aaron suggested. "They might not be willing to come anywhere near Pokémon Square, but they might give us some insight on how to outsmart Legion."

"That is true," Krysta admitted. "Very well, Aaron. There may be something for you to do after all. Go to Unown Relic and ask the Unown for help. I will give you a talisman to show that you are my emissary; they might be more willing to aid you if they know I sent you."

"Wouldn't they already know? I thought they were virtually omniscient," Aaron said.

Krysta sighed. "Yes, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't follow proper procedure for this sort of thing. They're very orderly beings, they're sticklers for the rules."

"How does that help rescue my husband?" Latias demanded.

"The Unown are interdimensional creatures. They might have an easier time reopening the way between our world and wherever Rayquaza has ended up than we could on our own," Krysta said.

"Assuming they will help us," Latias said.

"Assuming they will help us, yes," Krysta agreed.

Latias frowned. "Should I go with Aaron? If I pull rank, they might be more inclined to help us."

Krysta shook her head. "No, you know as well as I do the Unown don't really recognize any authority other than their own unless it strikes their fancy. If you go in there and flash around your Guardian status, they might just retreat to their own world, and then we'd be no better off than we were before."

Latias sighed in frustration. "I suppose so…"

"And besides, you will have another task; you and Zorra," Krysta said.

Zorra blinked. "We will?"

"We will?" Latias asked.

The wise Ninetales nodded. "You need to find and disable as many other of Legion's little 'surprises' as you can before they are triggered. With your speed and Zorra's ability to perceive Legion's reality warps, you should be able to systematically search the entire continent in short order. I will provide you with talismans as well that should be able to safely disarm Legion's traps and defenses…though I cannot guarantee they will protect you from whatever they are guarding, be they barbarians…or something worse…"

"I can do that," Latias said. "But that doesn't help us if he left any tricks in other places around the world…or places in Kanjohenn I can't reach."

"Then we'll just have to take care of as many as we can, and hope it makes a difference," Zorra said.

Latias snarled. "This would be so much easier if I had my full power! If it weren't for that stupid Unown's interference, I could have taken care of all this, and the Nihilator problem practically the minute I got here!" She sighed. "Instead, I find myself being only marginally useful. I haven't done much major aside from tearing down a few barriers, rescuing Zoro's ship from evil birds, performing a wedding ceremony, and helping track down some barbarian vagabonds. Some Guardian of Light I am. Can't even help my husband right now…"

"You will regain your powers, and you will save this world," Krysta assured her. "And the first step to that is retrieving your husband. Assuming he fulfills the Trials of Kinghood while he is in that other place beneath Wyvern Hill-"

"He will," Latias said without the slightest hint of doubt.

"Then once he returns, you can properly perform the ritual that summoned you here in the first place. With Legion bound, you should finally be able to regain your full powers…and in doing so, break my own curse as well," Krysta said.

Latias nodded sympathetically. "That's right…I'm not the only person who Legion's screwed over…I'm sorry, Krysta. Now is not the time to be feeling sorry for myself."

"No, it is not. Now is the time for action," Krysta agreed, standing up. "Come. I must begin the crafting process; it may take some time."

"And I will need to prepare to travel to the Unown Relic," Aaron said. He smiled sadly at his wives. "After spending so much time again in the company of others, it will be…discomfiting to travel alone again, without the people I love by my side."

"The honeymoon's over," Zorra agreed sadly. "We could keep the troubles of the real world away for only a little while before they started banging on our door. You know, I could have taken us away from all this. Made a perfect little world of illusion where we wouldn't have to worry about barbarians or Nihilators or evil Unowns or any of the shit going on at the moment."

"I would have hated you for it," Aaron said softly.

"Yeah," Zorra said, closing her eyes. "Even so…it's kind of tempting, isn't it?" Aaron said nothing. Changing the subject, the Zoroark said, "There are some preparations I can make too, to make our search easier, Latias. I'll create illusory floating spy cameras to canvass the continent and locate suspicious-looking hotspots. If they spot anything, we can zip right over there, which will save us some time."

"…How does that even work?" Latias asked.

"Through illusion," Zorra said with a smirk.

Latias rolled her eyes. "Yeah, I'm not touching that."

"Come," Krysta said again. "There is much to do, and little time to do it in if we are to stop Legion's plot."

"And rescue my husband," Latias added.

They left the cave. Several minutes later, an exhausted Latios wobbled in through the hole Latias had made in the wall and collapsed on the floor. "Sweet…gasp…Arceus," he panted, red in the face. "Either I'm getting out of shape…wheeze…or my little sister's gotten too fast…way, way too fast for me to ever catch up to…" His eyes moistened. "She's always leaving me behind now…too fast…too strong…too bright and beautiful…what…what am I good for…if I can't protect my sister anymore?"

His eyelids drooped, and he passed out, shivering. A moment later, Latias floated back into the cave and conjured a blanket made of woven sunshine, which she draped around his form, causing him to cease his trembling. Leaning down, she kissed him on the cheek, and whispered, "No matter how fast I go or how far I fly, I promise I will always, always be waiting for you, brother," into his mind.

And he smiled.

Her task done, Latias left the cave to return to strategy planning with Zorra, Krysta, and Aaron, while Latios dreamed of flying with his sister in the sunlight on great wings much like her own changed ones, able to chase her no matter how fast she went, or follow her no matter what world she traveled to, always together, always brother and sister.

Meanwhile, in Pokémon Square…

"Ash of Team Aurabolt, is it true that you defeated the Nihilators who went underground? Is this crisis at an end?" Valerie Osagawara pressed.

"Um…uh…well, we killed all the Nihilators and disabled the mechanism they need to activate the tower, so…yeah, it's over," Ash said.

"Yeah! All right!" George cheered at his television. He and Hubie had invted their friends in Team Go-Getters to come over to watch the broadcast of the fighting in the ruins of Treasure Town for news of Team Aurabolt. Pretty much everyone else in Pokémon Square was glued to their TVs as well, also hoping for news of some of their town's greatest heroes abroad.

"Thank goodness it's over! I was, like, so worried!" Kira said in relief.

"Psh, please, it's Team Aurabolt! Of course they'd save the day!" Gilbert said. "Wonder if we'll ever be as good as them some day…"

Ash's assertion got the crowd cheering again. Shouting to be heard over them, Valerie cried, "And Doctor Tarantulas? Has he been dealt with as well?"

Ash nodded. "Yes. Doctor Tarantulas has been dealt with permanently, thanks to the actions of my good friend Professor Oak."

"I was only doing what needed to be done," Oak said with a smile, taking a bow.

"Incredible!" Valerie said, impressed.

"Got that right! An old dude like that, taking down a nutcase like Doctor Tarantulas? He must have some pretty wicked skills," Torch said.

"And here I always figured it would be one of our guys who squished that bug…huh. Wonder if they're disappointed about it," Hubie said.

"They don't look too cut up over it," George said.

"Well, they could be faking it for the cameras," Gilbert reasoned.

"And I slew Paul Yami, one of the Shadow's top enforcers," Dawn added.

"Outstanding!" Valerie said.

"Well done, Ms. Hikari!" Nuken said admiringly.

"And that's also good news!" Kira squealed.

George shivered. "I'm glad that Paul guy is dead now…he was so creepy…I can't believe he was ever allowed in any of the official fighting tournaments."

"He probably bribed the officials or threatened their families to get in," Torch said.

"Well, he's not going to be a problem anymore, thanks to Dawn," Hubie said, nodding at the armored Lopunny onscreen.

"And she evolved, too…" Gilbert said dreamily, staring at the screen. "She's soooooo hot…"

"Gilbert-kun!" Kira gasped. "How dare you talk about another womon like that!"

"Kira, for the last time, we're not dating! Therefore, it's fine for me to look at any womon I like!" Gilbert yelled at her.

"Don't worry, Kira, she's got nothing on you," Torch said, startling the Chikorita out of her fury.

"Why thank you, Torch-kun!" she said, nuzzling the Charmander. "At least some mons have some sense of chivalry around here!" Unseen by the Chikortia, Torch grinned at Gilbert, who winked and gave his friend a thumbs-up.

"And what's more…" Ash said, nodding at Tenjin, who took out two star-shaped jewels. "We managed to collect the Star Badges they brought here to try and get the tower online. With both of them in our possession, we now have a total of five Badges in safekeeping to the Nihilators' two. Whatever plan Oblivion's Shadow has to open the Door, it had better be a good one, because right now we have almost every key he needs to unlock it, as well as control over the mechanism he needs to prime it for opening in the first place. So…with that in mind…" With a grin, he leaned into the microphone and said, "Oblivion's Shadow, if you're watching this—and I know you are—you should probably start shivering in your boots. That big gesture you made, blowing up Treasure Town to try and show us how big and bad you are? Well, it cost you one of your top lieutenants, two of your Star Badges, three of your legendary Shadow Pokémon, one of your top enforcers, hundreds of Nihilators, a giant robot spider, and you completely and utterly FAILED to accomplish the objective you sent your goons down here to do. All this big show of yours proved is that you're losing your grip, and has shown the people of the world that you are FAR from infallible. The next time we meet, it'll be on Mars…and when we get there, we're going to utterly demolish you and put a stop to your Nihilators once and for all!"

The crowd cheered…and then went silent, frozen in place.

"Oh, for the love of…" Hubie grumbled, mashing buttons on his remote control. "Piece of junk…really need to get a new one…" He walked up to the TV and banged on it a few times, but the picture wouldn't change. "Darnit. Sorry guys, this happens some…times…"

He blinked as he turned around and beheld his friends. Something…wasn't right. George had a handful of popcorn stuck in place before it could reach his mouth, a few kernels tumbling free…and hovering in place before they could land in the bowl. Kira had her head stuck on Torch's side, eyes closed, oblivious to the blush on the Charmander's face or how the flame at the end of his tail wasn't flickering or burning or…doing anything but sitting there, frozen eerily. Gilbert just sat there with a smile on his face…a smile which didn't change. He didn't blink. Or breathe. None of them did. They were frozen in place just like the image on the television, as if someone had hit some pause button on a giant remote control for the entire universe.

Hubie's eyes widened in horror. "Oh…oh shit! Guys! GUYS?!" Frantically, he tugged on them, pushed at them, waved a flipper in front of their eyes. None of them moved or responded in the slightest. None of them budged no matter how hard he pushed at them. He put his head against their chests, terror rising when he couldn't hear any heartbeats. "Shitshitshitshit…okay Hubie, don't panic, just go get Nurse Joy, she can fix everything! I promise I'll be right back guys, don't…um…er, just keep doing what you're doing! Everything will be fine! I can fix this! I CAN FIX THIS!"

He ran outside, and found, much to his horror, that the problem was a lot bigger than he had anticipated. "What…what the…" He looked around, slowly turning in circles to take everything in, his heart racing and terror growing with every breath.

Nothing around him was moving. The grass and leaves didn't rustle in the breeze, of which there was none either, the air completely dead and lifeless. Pokémon who were out and about were frozen in mid-step or –flap, resulting in the rather surreal sight of several aerial Pokémon suspended in the air with nothing holding them up and yet showing no signs of gravity taking hold.

And worst of all was the silence. Hubie hadn't realized until that moment just how LOUD the world was, all the little sounds and sensations that he'd taken for granted. But now that nothing was moving, nobody was talking, and even the wind had stopped, the only sound was the blood rushing through his ears and the beat of his heart and his increasingly frenzied breathing. It was maddening. "WHAT'S GOING ON?!" he screamed, flinching as the echoes of his shout reverberated around him, the only noise in what seemed to be the entire world.

And then…suddenly, he heard another noise. A cyclic, wheezing, groaning noise. A noise that suddenly seemed to Hubie like the most wonderful sound in the world…and not just because it meant he wasn't the only thing in the world still in motion, but because that sound stirred something in him, a memory long-forgotten, eliciting a feeling of hope and wonder and excitement. Hubie spun around frantically, trying to find the source of the noise…

And suddenly noticed that there was a tall blue box standing in the middle of the road. There were some small windows set near the top on all four sides, a door taking up a panel on the side facing Hubie, and the words 'Police Box' running along the top on every side. There was a lantern on top of the box, the luminescence inside dying down. Hubie stared at the box in awe and trepidation. Something…something was familiar about this strange and marvelous object. He knew it, he suddenly realized, but he didn't know how he knew it, just as he suddenly realized that the noise he'd heard moments ago—the noise which, he also knew without knowing how, was caused by the box materializing—had haunted his dreams ever since he woke up one day on the beach and was discovered by George, only to be forgotten whenever he opened his eyes and arose from his bed.

Until now.

He stared at the door with bated breath, knowing that the door facing him was about to open, and the being that came out would explain everything. He didn't have to wait very long. With a creak, the door opened and a Ledian wearing a bow tie stepped out, blinking a few times and squinting in the sunlight. He looked around for a moment, and stopped when he spotted Hubie, a grin spreading across his features. "Ah, there you are, Glenn! Oh, but I suppose you wouldn't be going by that name anymore, would you?" he said in an English accent.

A thrill of alarm ran through the Piplup. This figure knew who he was…and also knew him by the same name that Team Quantum had. "Are you a member of Team Quantum?!" he asked angrily, getting into a fighting stance.

The Ledian looked offended. "What? Me? No, nononononono…no. I'm a time traveler, yes, but I have nothing to do with those hoodlums. Honestly, going around history, changing things and using unsavory means to make sure time goes the way they want it to? I would never…" He abruptly burst into laughter. "Okay, sorry, I can't say that with a straight face. But seriously, I'm nothing like those wankers. Most of the time."

"…Oh," Hubie said, not sure what to make of this. "Are you responsible for all…this, then?" he asked, gesturing vaguely at their surroundings.

The Ledian did a double-take at the town. "My word! A complete time freeze! Haven't seen one of those in a while!" He whipped out a small silver stick and waved it around, a bulb at the end lighting up and making a buzzing sound. After a moment he examined the stick, nodded to himself, and put it away. "Er, yes, I'm afraid I am responsible for this. Total accident, I assure you. Don't worry, it'll sort itself out once I leave. Time's a lot more resilient than most people give it credit for."

"You caused this? How?!" Hubie demanded.

"Like I said, complete accident," the Ledian insisted. "You see, Team Quantum has pretty much set up a trans-temporal multi-phasing paradox flux preventing most time travelers from being able to enter this timestream to keep them from interfering with their plans. Fortunately, I'm not most time-travelers, and the Temporal Knights turned to me for help when their own efforts to pursue those miscreants failed."

"Why would they turn to you?" Hubie asked in confusion.

"Because I'm the greatest time traveler in all of…time, I suppose, and the main reason I haven't joined them is because I don't do very well with authority, though they still go to me for freelance jobs now and then," the Ledian said. "I'm-"

"The Doctor," Hubie interjected.

"Ah! You remember me!" the Ledian said excitedly.

"Actually, no, some of my friends love your TV show and talk about it all the time, so I recognized your time machine over there," Hubie said, nodding at the blue box.

"Ah," the Doctor said, looking slightly disappointed. "Well, no matter, you'll remember me soon enough anyway."

"Why would I remember you?" Hubie asked in confusion. "And you're here to stop Team Quantum? And how did your coming here do all…this?"

"You would remember me because you were my companion once!" the Doctor said. "Where do you think you picked up that sense of style? Love the bowtie, by the way, it suits you. Shame you don't have a fez though, it would really complete the look. Fezes and bowties are cool, after all. And I'm not here to stop Team Quantum so much as give you the tools you need to stop them, since you're the operative that was initially sent to defeat them in the first place. And time's currently frozen since I kind of sort of had to smash through the flux, which nearly burned my poor girl out and caused a few chronal hiccups such as the one we're currently in now, and if I leave the hole I came through open for too long this entire timestream might collapse, and we wouldn't want that, now would we?"

"No, we wouldn't," Hubie said dazedly, feeling more and more confused the longer he listened to this strange being. Something told him that most people felt that way around him. Several questions raised by the Doctor's last rambling statement raised several flags in his head, but the first one that actually passed his beak was, "What…sorts of chronal hiccups are you talking about?"

The Doctor hesitated a little longer than Hubie would have liked before casually saying, "Oh, nothing much, just some ripples upwards and downwards the timestream. Shouldn't do much damage. Well. Except for rewriting memories and certain aspects of history, but probably nothing important. You know, standard 'Superkid Prime Punch/Unicorn Singularity' sweeping retcons and continuity snarls."

"…Rewriting memories and history?!" Hubie screamed.

"On a related note, have there always been eighteen types and roughly seven or eight hundred species of Pokémon?" the Doctor asked innocently.

"…Yes?" Hubie said uncertainly.

"Right! Right. Of course there has," the Doctor said with a too-wide grin and a wink.

Hubie stared at him for a long, long time before wisely deciding to forget anything had just happened and move on to the next rather important point of business. "Did you say…I'm a Temporal Knight? And I'm supposed to be stopping Team Quantum? And a former companion of yours?!"

"Well, of course you are! Why else do you think you have that nifty Dimensional Scream trick of yours?" the Doctor said.

"…Well…okay, that does make sense…" Hubie frowned. "And also explains why those three seemed to know me…but…then why don't I remember any of it?"

"A very good question!" the Doctor said. "Simply put, they erased your memories."

"Why would they do that?!" Hubie demanded.

"Because you were trying to stop them from their misguided and rather heavy-handed quest of making sure history follows the 'right' course, blind to the fact that they risk destroying the entire space-time continuum in the process," the Doctor explained. "You're one of the best agents the Temporal Knights have—thanks in part to your time with me, no doubt-so when they had trouble breaking into this timestream, they turned to you. I'm not sure whether to be offended or not that they didn't ask for me instead, but then again, I did teach you a lot of what you know, and you do have a history with Team Quantum, so I suppose it makes sense they turned to you-"

"Wait, wait, wait! I learned from you? And I have a past with Team Quantum?!" Hubie asked in alarm. His head was starting to spin from all of these wild revelations.

The Doctor nodded. "That's right. In fact, you actually used to be Team Quantum's leader."

"I was what?!" Hubie screamed.

"Oh, don't be upset, they used to be good guys while you were in charge," the Doctor assured him. "Doing what Temporal Knights do best. You know, fighting time-traveling villains, making sure history goes the way it's supposed to go—not the way your former colleagues are doing it now, of course—deleting universes-"

"Deleting universes?! How is that something a good guy does?!" Hubie demanded.

The Doctor frowned. "Well, I'm not entirely fond of the practice myself, but one of the Knights' less savory duties is to 'erase' universes that have become so evil, so corrupt, so horrible and unpleasant that no amount of intervention can save it and the best thing to do is simply wipe it out before it can cause damage to the rest of creation so a hopefully better universe can take its place. It's considered a mercy kill. Well, genocide, I guess."

"That's horrible!" Hubie said.

"Well, to be fair, pretty much everyone in those universes is either deserving of death or wishing for it," the Doctor said. "Also, once they hit the critical threshold, they're given a warning that says they have a thousand years grace period to clean up their act before the Knights come in and clean house."

"And how many universes actually clean up their acts?" Hubie asked in dread.

"…More than you'd expect, fewer than you'd hope," the Doctor said uncomfortably. "There's times it feels like my own universe is only a hair's breadth away from crossing that threshold itself, with only myself and whoever I've got traveling with me at the moment keeping us from going over the edge. I'm fairly certain I've saved every planet in my universe a minimum of 27 times, and I've lost track of how many times I've saved my Earth."

"That is seriously messed up," Hubie said.

"Just another unpleasant aftereffect of the Ruler of Evil's corruption, I suppose," the Doctor said with a shrug. "Some universes have more of an entropic bent towards self-destruction than others. It's the job of people like us to try to keep things going and the light burning for as long as we can…and sometimes to replace the bulb when the light finally goes out."

"And…how many universes have I destroyed?" Hubie asked.

"Well, technically you didn't do anything, it's that big Dusknoir chap who actually eats-" the Doctor said.

"How many?" Hubie repeated.

The Doctor sighed and named a number. Hubie's stomach churned. "That's…that's too many."

"It could always be higher," the Doctor said somberly.

"It could be lesser, too," Hubie said.

The Doctor closed his eyes sadly. "I do not mean to trivialize what you're feeling in any way, but…I know what you feel, to an extent. I've never had to wipe out entire universes, but there have been times where I've had to destroy planets, galaxies, entire species…including my own…to save others. Sacrificing billions to save trillions, or trillions to save…whatever number comes after trillions, I forget, but you get the idea. What we do is sometimes horrible, but still necessary. And it never gets easier, nor should it, and if it did, well, then it's time for us to retire."

Hubie looked into the Ledian's eyes. They were old, tired eyes, eyes that had seen and done many, many things. Those eyes terrified Hubie…but also filled him with reassurance, because something deep inside him told him this was a Pokémon he could trust.

Well, an alien being that just happened to look like a Pokémon, anyway. "So, um…you said I used to lead Team Quantum…so…why aren't I in charge now?" he asked, changing the subject away from this uncomfortable topic.

The Doctor blinked. "Hmm? Oh, right, got off track. That happens to me sometimes. I first met you lot on a little joint venture to save the time-space continuum—the details aren't important—and saw potential in you. I offered to take you with me on some of my travels, show you sights and teach you things you'd probably never learned about in training. You took a leave of absence from Knighthood and left Marle—or Paradox, as she calls herself now—in charge of the team."

"Which was a mistake," Hubie said.

"Which was a mistake," the Doctor agreed. "We traveled the cosmos for a while, going on all sorts of adventures—and running, that's important, can't forget all the running—until you heard that your team had gone rogue and you were being called upon to hunt them down. We said our farewells, you chased after your former friends…and, well, this is the result."

"Yes," Hubie agreed hollowly. "This is the result." Clenching his flippers, he looked at the Doctor with resolve. "They took away my memories to keep me from stopping them. How do I get them back?"

"Ah! Glad you asked. Was just getting to that," the Doctor said. "Tell me, when they found you, was there a golden fob watch lying anywhere nearby?"

"No," Hubie said.

"Of course there wasn't, because I have it right here!" the Doctor said, producing a golden fob watch. "It wasn't easy to find, I'll tell you that. They tossed it to the furthest reaches of time and space to make sure it couldn't be easily recovered, but that didn't stop a time traveler as good as me from finding it, of course."

Hubie stared at it. For some reason, his eyes just seemed to slide off it, and he had to concentrate to really see it. There were all sorts of complicated carvings on it, and his eyes were watering as he struggled to make them out. "And that is…?"

"This may look like a fob watch, but it's actually an ingenious piece of technology called a 'Kecleon Arch.' It can be used to modify the biology of a species on a cellular level, as well as remove their memories so that for whoever it's used on, it'll be as if they'd always been that species," the Doctor explained, tossing the watch to Hubie.

Hubie caught the watch in his flippers…and nearly dropped it as his Dimensional Scream activated. Memories flashed through his mind faster than he could comprehend; memories of him fighting and training alongside a Grovyle, Celebi, and Dusknoir; memories of him meeting a massive Celebi and a huge blue and gray dragon that could only be Dialga; memories of traveling around time and space with a madmon in a box…

And one final memory…

The Empoleon struggled furiously at his restraints, his form blurring and the air warping around him as he tried to use his temporal manipulation powers to break free, but to no avail. "What do the three of you think you're doing? Let me out of here!" he snarled furiously.

"I'm sorry, Glenn, but…so long as you oppose us, our mission is in jeopardy," a pink Celebi said regretfully. "Since you refuse to help us, and we can't kill you, we'll do the next best thing and put you somewhen you won't be able to interfere." She frowned at a Dusknoir standing nearby. "Aeon suggested we just throw you into his stomach, but we could never do that to one of our own."

"You idiots! Do you have any idea what you're doing?!" the Empoleon shouted. "Your 'mission' has a chance of screwing up EVERYTHING! You could very well destroy the future you're trying to create…OUR future! Is that really a risk you're willing to take?!"

"To make sure everything goes the way history says it should? Yes," the Dusknoir said ponderously. "Yes, we will. We will do whatever it takes to make absolutely sure events unfold in the proper way. We cannot leave anything to chance. This is the only way to make absolutely sure things turn out the way they should."

"Yeah, and if there's anything I've learned from traveling with the Doctor, it's shit like that that inevitably causes whatever disaster you think you're going to avert!" the Empoleon yelled. "Come on, Crono! You can't tell me you're really buying into this garbage, are you?"

The Grovyle with a sword fidgeted, unwilling to meet his eyes. "…I don't know, mon…I've seen what could happen if things don't go properly. I'm…I'm not sure I want to risk the chance that that might happen. Whatever it takes, we can't let the Ruler of Evil be reborn."

"The Ruler of Evil's defeat is set in stone! Or at least, it was! I can't say for sure it is now, after all the dicking around you three idiots have done!" the Empoleon shouted. "If anything, all your efforts are making the Ruler's potential victory that much more possible! You have to stop this now and come back before it's too late!"

The Dusknoir shook his head. "We've already broken too many of our laws. If we were to turn ourselves in, there's a very good chance Dialga will erase us completely. We have come too far. There is no turning back. No matter what, we must keep moving forward."

"Which means we have to get rid of any obstacles in our way…including you, Glenn," the Celebi said, sounding apologetic. She threw a switch, and a headset lowered from the ceiling and clamped onto his head. "…I'm sorry. I wish it didn't have to be this way."

"Oh, there's an easy way around that. As in, DON'T DO IT!" the Empoleon shouted. The Celebi bit her lip but did not respond.

"We'll leave you somewhen where you can make some friends," the Grovyle said. "Have a happy life without worrying about all…this."

"Oh, and that'll make it all better and assuage your guilt, will it?" the Empoleon asked coldly. The Grovyle flinched and looked away, fingering his sword. "I swear on the Adamant Orb that no matter what you do to me, no matter how thoroughly you seal my powers and memories, one day I will become myself again. And when I do, there will be a reckoning. This, I promise."

"We'll see about that," the Dusknoir said, pushing a button. There was a flash of light, an agonized scream, and then darkness.

Hubie gasped as he returned to himself. "Those…those bastards…" he hissed, curling his flipper around the watch. "They were my friends…and they did…that to me!" Angrily, he looked at the Doctor. "How do I undo this? How do I regain what they stole from me?"

"Open the watch," the Doctor instructed. "And all shall be restored."

Hubie fumbled with the watch for a moment before finding a clasp and managing to open the lid. As he did so, there was a flash of light, and then…

And then…

Hubie opened his eyes, except he wasn't Hubie anymore. He could see all of time and space inside his head. He could hear the clockwork of the universe ticking and turning and guiding all things to their inevitable end. He could feel the flow of time as it surged past him, and knew how to bend it to his will or traverse it as easily as breathing or taking a step forward or back.

He was Glenn, Temporal Knight, former companion of the Doctor, and once the leader of Team Quantum. He knew who he really was, and always had been. "I remember," he said softly, the watch falling from his flipper and hitting the ground. "I remember…everything." He closed his eyes and concentrated, accelerating his body's biological clock. In a flash, he was a Prinplup, and in another flash, an Empoleon, towering over the Doctor. He smiled as he stretched out his flippers, feeling time and space bend around him like soft clay. He had missed this body. He hadn't realized just how stifling it had been to be stuck in that short little Piplup body until now.

"Good on you, lad," the Doctor said with a fond smile.

"Thank you, Doctor," Glenn said gratefully, smiling at his old mentor. "For everything. And I'm sorry to see you're still not ginger."

The Doctor sighed. "Yes, aren't we all?"

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have three rogue time travelers to take care of-" Glenn started.

"Ah-ah-ah, I don't think that's such a good idea," the Doctor said. "The instant they know you've restored your powers, they'll prepare for a confrontation. They defeated you once before, and they can do it again. You need to catch them off-guard, use the element of surprise to fight them on your terms, before they can set up any of the traps or tricks they used the last time."

Glenn frowned. "You don't think they know already?"

"You don't really think I'd have come in here without making sure they wouldn't notice my presence, did you?" the Doctor admonished. "I waited until a moment when they weren't in what could laughably be called the 'present' to break in. And Ihave a cloaking field set up. Why else did you think they haven't shown up yet?"

"Hmm, that would explain it…" Glenn murmured. "So you're suggesting I keep this a secret for a while longer. Go back to being Hubie, hide my power levels, keep this from my friends, wait until the right moment to strike, that sort of thing?"

"Precisely!" the Doctor said.

"And that moment will be…?" Glenn asked.

"You'll know it when you see it," the Doctor said. Glenn glared at him. The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Oh, fine. Your team has been assigned to join the delegation to visit the warlord Pokong, right? Well, Team Quantum's going to be there, too."

Glenn narrowed his eyes. "Ah, I see. They're going to try to start something?"

"Actually, no, they're going to try and make sure Pokong surrenders," the Doctor said. "And while that is a beneficial outcome, and what history says should happen, the way they're going to go about making sure it happens that way…"

"Is unacceptable. Understood," Hubie said. "I'll be ready when they make their move."

"Excellent! You might want this," the Doctor said, producing another of those strange metal sticks he'd been waving around before.

Glenn's face lit up in delight when he saw it. "My old microwave screwdriver! I thought my so-called 'friends' destroyed it!"

"Ah, well, they did actually," the Doctor confessed, much to Hubie's dismay. "But I still had the specs for yours lying around and built you a new one with a few added features I think will come in handy against your former colleagues."

He tossed the screwdriver to Glenn, who caught it and stared at it reverently. "You know, I've never understood why they don't make these things standard issue for all Temporal Knights…they're so useful!" he said, happy to feel a screwdriver in his flippers once again.

"Well, it might have something to do with the factories that made them blowing up mysteriously while I just happened to be in the vicinity," the Doctor said innocently. "Incidentally, there's a Nanab grove there now. I like Nanab berries. Nanab berries are good."

"Yeah, they are," Glenn agreed, stowing the screwdriver away. "Any other tips?"

"Well, you should probably-" the Doctor started, only to be interrupted when the sound of a loud bell tolling could be heard from inside his time machine. He made a face. "Oh blast, that's the Cloister Bell ringing. I have to go now or the universe will explode. Don't worry, the hole I made in time should patch itself up once I leave; Team Quantum won't know I was ever here or what happened. I'm sorry I can't stay and help, but…"

"It's all right, Doctor, I can manage things on my own. I learned from the best, after all," Glenn said with a grin.

The Doctor smiled fondly at him. "Yeah…you did, didn't you?" The bell rang again. The world started looking a bit more ephemeral, as if it wasn't quite solid. "Right, gotta go! Good luck with Team Quantum! And look me up once this is all over, I know a great bar on Barcelona that I've only been thrown out of a dozen times!"

"Jack won't be there, will he?" Glenn asked uneasily. "After what happened the last time we were together, it might get…awkward."

"…Eh, no promises, mate," the Doctor said vaguely as the bell rang a third time and the color started draining out of the world. "All right, I've dallied long enough, I must be off! Allons-y!" He dashed back into the blue box and closed the door. A moment later, the light on top started flashing and the time machine began phasing in and out with each pulse of light as that most wonderful of all sounds grated through the air, until finally that marvelous contraption, the last of its kind, was gone, as if it had never been there.

Glenn smiled wistfully. "I had a lot of good times in that thing…oh well. Better get back into character."

As the world gradually began to return to normal, Glenn scooped up the empty Kecleon Arch on the ground and went back into his base, knowing he only had a few moments left before time restarted itself. Finding his friends where he'd left them—not like they could have gone anywhere—he sat back down next to George and waited for time to begin again. He frowned, feeling as if he'd forgotten something.

"Oh wait, I'm still an Empoleon," he realized. He quickly rewound his biological clock, reverting back to a Piplup in a flash of light just as the time freeze ended and the crowd on the television started cheering again.

"Whoo! Awesome ultimatum!" George whooped.

"Ha, I'll bet Oblivion's Shadow is wetting his pants after a speech like that! I know I would be…" Gilbert said.

Torch blinked. "Did anyone see a flash of light just now or feel like they missed something?"

"No," said Kira.

"Huh. Neither do I," Torch said.

"Hey, Hubie, want some popcorn?" George asked, offering his friend the bowl.

The Piplup that was far more than he seemed stared at his friend for a moment, recalling the Dimension Scream he'd had during Aaron's wedding. You will not betray me like they did…will you? No…no. I will not allow it. Not you. Not my best friend… "Sure thing, pal," Glenn, or rather Hubie, said, accepting the snack and popping some kernels into his beak while Team Aurabolt drank in the adulation of the crowd.

Elsewhere…

Rayquaza approached the bottom of the stairs winding their way up the back of the giant statue of himself. As he drew near, the first few steps began to glow. "Once you set foot on those steps, the Tests shall begin," the Jade Orb said. "And there is no turning back until you reach the top."

"Understood," said Rayquaza. "What is my first test?"

"The Test of the Tail. It is a trial of pride," the Orb said.

Rayquaza frowned. "Pride? So, what, I have to show humility or something like that?"

"Perhaps," the Orb said vaguely.

"What do tails have to do with pride?" Rayquaza asked.

"Many dragons take pride in their tails."

"I think more take pride in their wings and scales," Rayquaza pointed out.

"Yes, but we don't have wings. Well, not most of the time, anyway."

Rayquaza's eyes lit up at that. "Will I get wings after this is over?" While he loved being able to fly, there was still a small part of him that yearned for wings. Most other dragons had them, after all. All he had were some puny fin things. Nobody dared to belittle him for being a wingless dragon, but he always felt a little self-conscious staring at some of the majestic appendages many of his subordinates possessed.

"Depending on how this all goes, you very well might," the Orb said.

"Then let's get started. How do these tests work?" Rayquaza asked.

"When you begin each test, you shall be thrust into an illusionary world specially tailored to measure a quality necessary for a truly great king," the Orb said. "These tests are all based on hypothetical scenarios or events that have happened to us during our long life. Once you are within each illusion, you will be completely unaware that it is not real, and will act and behave as if everything going on around you is the truth. In doing so, your inner nature shall be revealed, and your worth as a ruler of dragons determined."

Rayquaza swallowed. "…I see. And I suppose you can't give me any hints as to what to expect?"

"Even if I did, you would not remember them," the Orb said.

"Fair point," Rayquaza said grudgingly. "And if I fail?"

"Normally you would be ejected from this realm and have to try again the next time the stars are right," the Orb said. "However, since the gate out of here is destroyed, you will be able to retake the test immediately."

"I don't suppose I'll at least remember what I did wrong so I know not to do it the next try?" Rayquaza asked.

"No. And even if you did, it wouldn't matter, because-"

"Because I'd think the illusion was real and wouldn't remember any of it. Right." Rayquaza sighed. "Honestly, what were we thinking when we made this place? What, were we afraid that if something happened to our power, somebody else might sneak in and try to take it for themselves? We're the only ones who can get in here…aren't we?"

"I believe at the time we thought that if we were to lose our power, that would mean we were unworthy of it," the Orb said. "So these tests are to remind and reteach us what is necessary to be a good king."

"That's stupid," Rayquaza said bluntly.

"Yeah, I'm starting to think so too," the Orb agreed. "A pity we didn't have someone like Nuken around back when we made this place. His counterpart in those days was a spineless yes-mon."

Rayquaza nodded in agreement. "Nuken rarely questions us, but he's savvy enough to let us know if he thinks we're making a mistake. He's a good mon to have around. For all his faults, and I know he has many, I know he can always be counted upon, and will do what's best for the Empire." He sighed. "I doubt I'd have made it this far without his support…"

"He has done well guiding you in the absence of your memories," the Orb said. "But he is not here now, and we must see just what sort of mon you are without him in your shadow."

Rayquaza nodded resolutely. "Right. Let's get started, then."

Taking a deep breath, he set his foot on the first step…

The forest was bright and full of life, magnificent flowers blossoming in hues and shades so rich and saturated with color they almost looked as if they were from some other world altogether, for flowers in most other parts of the world certainly were not as lovely as these, unless Shaymin had been by lately. The trees were as massive as skyscrapers, towering into the heavens, sunlight piercing through holes in their vast leafy canopies and covering the ground in dappled patterns of light and shadow. Rather massive mushrooms sprang up here and there too, and some of them had holes carved into their sides resembling doors and windows.

That was because they were doors and windows. Pokemon lived inside of them, and in some of the fungal shelves sprouting from the sides of many of the trees, and in rocks and burrows and other hidden places all throughout the wood. This was a mystical place, the air rich with enchantment and magic, sprites and fairies and motes of light dancing through the air, going from sunbeam to sunbeam and exulting in the glorious day.

However, not all of the forest's inhabitants were currently so joyous. In one clearing at the base of an absolutely gargantuan tree that dwarfed all of the others, its roots so thick and vast that they seemed to grow into the other trees, its branches so wide they spread out over almost the entire forest, its trunk so tall and its leaves piled up so high that it could easily be mistaken for a mountain from a distance. Glittering buildings had been erected in places on its trunk and branches, connected by winding crystalline stairways and bridges. They were simple and austere, but no less beautiful for it.

Nestled between two of the tree's great roots was a tree stump. Two Pokémon sat across from each other at that stump, while hundreds of the forest's denizens watched with trepidation from the roots, from the branches, and from other places less easy to notice. All of them were Fairy-types, except for several Dragon and Ghost-type soldiers in armor and a massive serpentine green dragon god sitting at the stump opposite a mammalian Pokémon covered primarily in pale cream-colored fur with pinkish feet, ears, and tail. She had two bow and scarf adornments on her, one around her neck and one on her left ear. The bows were pale cream with pinkish centers, while the scarves were pale cream with pinkish and blue tips. She had four short legs with three visible toes on each foot. Her eyes were blue with white pupils and no visible sclera. She wore a circlet and a bejeweled necklace which, combined with her breathtaking beauty, made her a vision of ethereal loveliness so majestic she almost did not seem like a part of this world.

That was because she wasn't. Not exactly. "Rayquaza," the Sylveon said lightly, her voice like the summer wind, like the flow of a river in Spring, like sunshine sparkling on a meadow. "Dragon-God King of the invincible Draconian Empire. You are a long way from home."

Rayquaza decided not to point out that his home, the Sky Tower, was actually parked right outside the forest. "I would come from the other side of the world for a matter concerning my people." He had, in fact. He frowned at her. "Neria, Queen of the Feywood, you are holding half a dozen of my people hostage. I respectfully ask that you release them into my custody."

"I will not," Neria said calmly.

Rayquaza tried not to grit his teeth. "And why is that?"

"Do you know why I have imprisoned them, Rayquaza?" Neria asked.

"…Because they knocked down some of your trees and used them as cabers?" Rayquaza asked slowly.

Neria narrowed her sapphire eyes. "Because they killed ten of my citizens in a fit of arrogant machismo, and so they must be executed."

Rayquaza bit down on his tongue before he could make an exasperated retort at the tree-hugger 'logic' of equating the life of a tree to that of a Pokémon. Neria seemed to get the gist of what he was thinking, and said, "And no, Rayquaza, I am not overreacting. Those trees were ancient before your empire even began, and have withstood countless disasters and catatrostophes over hundreds of thousands of years. The memories contained within their trunks are precious and irreplaceable. But even then, some of your citizens getting drunk and using them for something as stupid as a caber toss is not an offense worthy of death. No, it's the fact that in uprooting those trees and killing them they murdered the dryads that lived in each tree."

Oh. That…changed things. "They…had no idea what they were doing-" Rayquaza started uneasily.

"The dryads were screaming as your dragons uprooted their homes. They laughed and continued anyway," Neria said.

"They were drunk," Rayquaza said weakly.

"That is not an excuse and you know it!" Neria shouted, the sun darkening for a moment, the wind stilling, and a silence falling upon the forest.

Rayquaza stared at her for a long time and then bowed his head in apology. "No," he agreed. "It is not."

"Then why do you insist I return a group of killers into your custody?" Neria asked.

"Because they are citizens of my Empire, and should be tried as such," Rayquaza said.

"They also committed a crime on my soil. Oh yes, I'm sure you could have your lawyers argue where precisely the deed took place, at what point it could be constituted as murder or manslaughter, who ultimately has jurisdiction over them, but the simple fact of the matter is they killed my citizens in my forest, and are therefore subject to my laws."

Rayquaza sighed and closed his eyes. "All of that is true. But even so, I beg you to reconsider killing them."

Neria raised an eyebrow in surprise. "'Beg?' I had not expected to hear that word come out of your mouth, Dragon God-King of the invincible Draconian Empire."

"When one gets to a position of power as greast as mine, one can afford to be humble if they choose to be now and then," Rayquaza said. "That does not make them any less dangerous, however, if angered."

"And are you saying I am coming close to angering you?" Neria asked.

"If you kill my subjects, then yes, I will be very angry," Rayquaza said. "Drunken worthless layabouts or not, they are still citizens of my Empire, and are therefore under my protection."

"You would honestly go to war just for them?" Neria asked for astonishment.

"I would go to war for any of my people, on principle," Rayquaza said. "Would you not do the same for your own, even the most disreputable of the lot?" The question hung in the air, a naked accusation.

Neria sighed and leaned back. "Yes, I would. Which is why I feel I am within my rights to kill these dragons. They trespassed and murdered my people. If I were to let them go and allow you to punish them in my place, what sort of precedent would that set? Others may think me soft, and that my powers are waning, and that the rich resources of this forest are ripe for the taking. Most Pokémon are smart enough to respect my magic and the forces of nature and leave us alone. But far too many seek to emulate the humans of old and dominate the natural world through force. Executing these criminals will not only serve the course of justice, but it will serve as an example to those who would plunder my dominion, and let them know we are not to be trifled with."

Rayquaza considered this. "So this is about more than some dead dryads, then."

"You are a ruler. You know as well as I do everything has multiple layers," Neria said.

"Which is why I cannot allow you to kill those dragons for the same reason," Rayquaza said sternly. "For one thing, while I am almost universally beloved by my people and Dragons worldwide, there are many who are constantly watching for signs of weakness. If they were to see me giving in to a 'prissy Fairy Queen'—their words, not mine—they might get it into their heads that I have grown soft and need to be replaced." He scowled. "And that's just within the Empire. Yours is one of the largest Fairy-type enclaves in the world, and there are many countries with no love for the Empire who believe that, should I ever take up more…imperialistic behavior, you might be one of the strongest forces who could stand against me, and would rally behind you. If those nations were to see me give into you, they might believe that I have grown weak and indolent, and pressure you to lead the charge against me to break my Empire forever."

"I have no intention of doing such thing," Neria said.

"They won't care," Rayquaza said bluntly. "And even if you don't do anything, there are those who might still believe that this is the perfect chance to strike at me, which could lead to a global war." He sighed. "Of course, me simply taking back my wayward subjects by force isn't much of a better option, since my attack on you will not only turn you against me, but also give those hostile nations an excuse to declare war on me out of retaliation for an 'unjust invasion' of your realm. Therefore, it is in my best interests for you to give them back to me."

"From what you say, it sounds like it would be in my worst interest to refuse…but it would also not turn out very well for me if I were to give in," Neria said, starting to get angry. "Are you threatening me, Rayquaza?"

"No, not at all. I want war no more than you do," Rayquaza said.

"But you're implying that if I don't hand my prisoners over to you, one will happen," Neria said.

"That is a very possible outcome, yes," Rayquaza said regretfully.

Neria growled at the dragon god. "I do not appreciate being put in a catch-22 situation, Rayquaza."

"Neither do I," Rayquaza said. "Which is why I'm hoping you might be willing to swallow your pride and accept a compromise."

Neria paused. She narrowed her eyes. "What…sort of compromise?"

"What if I were to replace the trees that were uprooted?" Rayquaza asked.

Neria gave him an outraged look. "You think you can bribe me with something as simple as that? We are already growing new trees! And even if you were to plant new ones, they would not be able to replace the dryads who died!"

"No, they wouldn't," Rayquaza said, setting a small box with flower carvings on its surface onto the stump. "Which is why the trees I'm offering to give you are no ordinary ones."

He opened the box. Resting in a velvet setting were ten very colorful oddly-shaped seeds, glowing and shimmering with magic. Neria's eyes widened in astonishment, and the Fairy-types surrounding them gasped. "Those are-"

"Magic seeds, yes. Which can be used to grow magic trees, ones I doubt you've seen in this forest before. I'm not even positive these trees exist in Fichina, either, it's quite possible that Shaymin created a few brand new species when she gave these to me," Rayquaza asked.

Neria did a double-take. "Shaymin gave those to you?! But I thought that you and her were on the outs ever since-"

"Ever since I had a settlement built over a meadow that she was quite fond of which I wasn't aware of because she hadn't bothered to put up a sign anywhere saying, 'Keep off, sacred ground?' Yes, we were," Rayquaza admitted. "Until I apologized to her just recently and had a new meadow full of Gracideas grown for her and her kindred to use on their migrations. Like I said, you can afford to be humble sometimes when you get to be as powerful as I am…just not too often, or others might start thinking you're weak, as I mentioned before. When I told her I was coming here and asked for some advice, she suggested I offer you these seeds. I'm not certain if they will develop dryads of their own, but I'm fairly positive they will make you the envy of all the other Fairy enclaves, and botanists and Grass-types the world over."

Neria licked her lips, staring at the seeds with naked desire in her eyes. "This…is a very generous offer, but…if the price is to return those dragons to you unharmed, I am not certain-"

"Oh no, that's not the price," Rayquaza said. "You can keep them. Well, for a little while, anyway."

Neria blinked in surprise. "What?"

"Let me be frank, Neria," Rayquaza said. "Yes, they're my subjects, so I am obligated to protect and watch out for them…but that doesn't mean I have to like them very much. What they have done is terrible, and I have no more intention of seeing them get off scott-free for their crimes than you do."

"But…but you said you wanted them back!" Neria said in confusion.

"Yes," Rayquaza agreed. "I did." A broad smile came to his face. "I never said when."

Neria stared at him for a long while. "Are you proposing," the Fairy Queen said breathlessly. "What I think you're proposing?"

"If what you think I'm proposing is a…change of sentence for the troublemakers you have locked up, then yes, it is," Rayquaza said.

Neria narrowed her eyes. "I would hardly call villains of their caliber 'troublemakers,' but I'm listening."

"Simply put, Neria, what does killing them accomplish?" Rayquaza asked.

"It will be justice for the lives they have taken," Neria said.

"Yes, but it won't bring back the lives they've ended, and do nothing more than hurt their families," Rayquaza pointed out. "All you'll have is even more dead than before, and nobody will be very happy in the end. However, if you were to change their sentence, to, say…something like community service-"

"Community service for murder?!" Neria demanded.

"I wasn't finished," Rayquaza said. "Now, the seeds for these trees are magical, but they will still take time to mature. A very, very…very long time. And they will need to be nurtured and cared for the whole time. Most of your people are immortal and good with plants, so that's not a problem, but…given that you have the perpetrators responsible for uprooting these seeds' predecessors sitting in your dungeon-and wouldn't you know it, but they're Dragons and have exceptionally long lifespans themselves—don't you think that it might be a bit more poetic to make them care for and grow these seeds until they reach…let's say…the same height as their predecessors?"

"…That would mean they would be here for a very long time…" Neria said slowly, eyes lighting up. "And since we can't be certain just how long it will take for the seeds to reach that point…there's a chance they might never see the end of their sentence at all…"

"They will be under heavy guard the whole time, of course," Rayquaza said. "And no doubt suffer the long-lasting scorn and enmity from the relatives of the dryads whom they killed and the other denizens of your forest. And have to sleep in cold, dark caves rather than the cozy treasure-filled dens they're accustomed to, eating moss and mushrooms and the like. So it's not exactly like this is a cushy gig or they're getting off lightly or anything like that. And of course…well, accidents do happen, but hopefully not fatal ones, if you get my drift."

A cruel smile came to the Sylveon's face. "There are many among my kind who enjoy playing a good trick now and then."

Rayquaza nodded. "And of course if they were to do anything stupid like try to escape or destroy the seedlings to try and get away early…well, I'll probably be miles away if that were to happen, and it might take quite some time for me to hear about, so I can't really blame you for anything that might happen if these Dragons were foolish enough to squander this second chance they've been given and you couldn't reach me in time. And of course, their guards certainly can't be blamed for doing what they deem fit at the moment rather than waiting for more direct orders."

"No," Neria said, her smile broadening. "I don't suppose they could be blamed at all."

"And of course, we'll both be seen as fair and reasonable monarchs, who are merciful without being too lenient, and show everyone that we can get along quite well, and if a war were to ever break out, that we might not necessarily be on opposite sides, especially after receiving this very generous gift I'm offering you," Rayquaza said innocently.

"That does seem quite reasonable," Neria agreed eagerly.

"Then we are in agreement?" Rayquaza asked, nudging the box of seeds closer to Neria.

"Yes, I do believe we are," Neria said as she shut the box and pawed it off to an attendant. "A pleasure doing business with you, Rayquaza."

"A pleasure doing business with you, Neria," Rayquaza said warmly. "And I look forward to doing more business with you in the future."

"…Yes," Neria said, a genuine smile slowly forming on her face. "I think that I do as well."

They nodded respectfully to each other, and the bystanders applauded.

"Hmm. An interesting way of handling that problem," the Jade Orb said as Rayquaza opened his eyes and found himself back on the staircase. "Well done."

"Then I passed?" the Bagon asked.

"You did indeed. Can you tell me why, and what that trial had to do with pride?" the Orb asked.

Rayquaza thought for a moment. "A leader with too much pride would have either refused to compromise during negotiations, or not even bothered with negotiations at all and just invaded Neria's kingdom for the audacity of imprisoning some of his citizens, no matter how worthless they might be. A leader with too little pride, on the other hand, would have caved in immediately and allowed those citizens to die."

"They would have deserved it," the Jade Orb noted.

"Maybe so, but that leader would look like a weakling in the eyes of the world and his own people, and might not stay a leader for much longer," Rayquaza pointed out. "It is a wise king who knows when to be proud and when not to be, and when to use both to their advantage, as well as to play on the pride of others."

"Such as how you appealed to Neria's pride by offering her a gift that would make her the envy of the other Fairy realms, thus allowing her to be less dedicated to her pursuit of what she deemed to be justice," the Orb said.

"Precisely," Rayquaza said.

The Orb chuckled. "Very good. Did Nuken teach that to you?"

"Among other things, yes," Rayquaza said. "Of course, he'd also have recommended we burn the forest to the ground if things got out of hand, or assassinate Neria and replace her with a puppet more sympathetic to our Empire."

"Yes, that sounds like Nuken," the Orb said in amusement. "He never did let go of his dreams of world conquest, did he?"

"At least he wants me to rule the world rather than controlling it himself," Rayquaza said. "He seems to have little ambition of his own but to serve me, which is…kind of flattering, I guess. He honestly believes that it's in my best interests, and the world's, for me to rule the Earth." He rubbed the back of his head. "There are times I wonder if he might be right."

"Well, ruling the world has its ups and downs, though I can understand the appeal," the Orb said. "You can decide whether or not to pursue such a goal later. Now, you have four more tests to complete before you can leave this place."

Rayquaza nodded. "Right. Where's the next test?"

"Up here." The wings of the statue started glowing.

Rayquaza blanched. There were quite a few winding coils and hundreds of stairs between the tail and the wings. "There's, like, a thousand steps between here and there…"

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and you've already taken that step, so I'd say you're already in good shape," the Orb said in amusement.

"And I suppose I'll be in better shape once this is over," Rayquaza grumbled. "I guess I could stand to lose some weight anyway…though I'll get it back, plus extra, once I regain my true form…" He sighed. "Well, I guess I'd better get started."

Putting one foot in front of another, he began his climb up the stairway to the next test, and his destiny.

Meanwhile, on Mars…

Gardevoir and Oblivion's Shadow reappeared in a nondescript, red-hued wasteland that could easily be mistaken for several deserts back on Earth aside from the different-colored sky, the smaller sun, and the colder temperatures. The two powerful beings materialized at the same time, the burst of displaced air from their transport blowing away much of the nearby red dust covering the ground. The two stood there a moment, looking at each other.

And then Gardevoir gasped and fell to her knees, her weapons falling from her fingers, a hand going to the silver dagger buried in her stomach that most certainly had not been there when she'd left the Shadow's laboratory. Blood started oozing from the wound, and lines of silver started spreading across her armored front from the point where the dagger was buried, the silver poisoning coursing through her veins. "I apologize, Gardevoir," the Shadow said, sounding as if he actually meant it. "But I cannot afford to engage you in the sort of long, drawn-out battle you were no doubt expecting. There are events of greater importance that demand my attention, and I do not have the time to spare to fight with you." He sighed. "As odd as it might sound to you, despite everything I did not want to kill you. I do not know why. Is it some subconscious effect caused by my other half, or something more? Is it simply that I am attracted to you? I had thought myself beyond such distractions. Apparently not. Oh well. It is a pity that you never got a chance to see the culmination of my plans. The results will not, I think, be what you are expecting, or entirely to your disliking-" He paused when Gardevoir started laughing. He looked at her in puzzlement. "What is so funny?"

"Oh, nothing much," Gardevoir said casually, not seeming to notice or care that almost her entire front was covered in crisscrossing veins of silver now. "Just that you thought you'd actually beaten me."

The image of Gardevoir's face on the Shadow's mask blinked. "What do you-"

Abruptly, massive black talons ripped out of the ground around him, rising into the air and curving back down towards him. Startled, he Teleported away just before they could impale him, reappearing some distance away as the talons collided where he had just been standing. Chuckling, Gardevoir stood back up, the talons sinking back into the ground and retracting into the tips of her wings. She ripped the knife out of her chest, ignoring how her skin sizzled at the touch, and flung it at the Shadow. He was so surprised he forgot to stop it telekinetically, and instead caught it between two of his fingers before it could go into his head. "You didn't really think I would die so easily, did you?"

"But…the silver poisoning-" the Shadow protested.

"What, this?" Gardevoir asked, waving a hand at the gaping wound sending tendrils of lethal silver through her body. "A minor inconvenience. Allow me to demonstrate." She dug her claws into her armored front and, with a grunt of effort, ripped her entire chest open, flinging two thick pieces of armor and flesh away, leaving a rather large exposed cavity in its place and spraying copious amounts of blood everywhere. As the Shadow gawked in disbelief, the blood abruptly reversed flow and surged back into Gardevoir's open torso, solidifying and creating a red carapace similar to the one she'd torn off just a moment ago. Her discarded body parts, in the meantime, were completely consumed by the silver poisoning, and disintegrated into silver ashes.

"How…how did you do that?!" the Shadow asked incredulously.

"Let's just say my regenerative abilities might be a bit stronger than you expected," Gardevoir said smugly.

"And you used them in such an ingenious way, too! Amputating yourself of infected body parts so you can simply regrow new ones…I had no idea that ability was in your repertoire," the Shadow said, impressed.

Gardevoir chuckled. "There's a lot of abilities in my repertoire you don't know about, Shadow. And I look forward to using them all on you."

"Oh? I've been feeding you only the minimal amount of blood to survive and kept you under rather uncomfortable conditions for your kind for the last several days. Just how well do you think you can fare against one who was cloned from Mew, and designed to be the most powerful Pokémon in the world?" the Shadow asked skeptically.

"More than you might expect. I tore through your laboratory pretty thoroughly on my way to find you," Gardevoir said. She licked her lips. "And along the way, I found where you've been storing all the blood you've been feeding me with. And I drank it. Every last drop." She opened her claws, dark power crackling around them. "I'm at full power now. Stronger than I've ever been in my life." She spread her wings, and a dark pulse rippled out from her, blasting away the red dust around her and cratering the ground as an eerie purple-black glow pulsated around her. "So let's just see who's stronger…the Queen of the Vampires, or the Ultimate Pokémon?"

"Yes," Oblivion's Shadow agreed, clenching his fists. His Shadow Aura ignited, roaring into the skies like a tower of darkness, also blowing the surrounding dust away and cratering the ground before it flowed back into him, wreathing his form in black flames. The glowing purple outline of an eye formed on his mask as he used Miracle Eye, meaning Gardevoir's Dark power was no longer immune to his Psychic abilities. "Let's."

They stared each other down for a moment, respective dark powers swirling around them. The wind blew, and a pebble was dislodged from a nearby rock pile and fell to the ground.

Instantly, the battle joined. The vampire queen and Nihilator leader shot towards each other so fast it was almost as if they had teleported, their fists colliding with each other with such strength that the ground for several miles around them was ripped open, massive fissures splitting the earth and great monoliths erupting from the broken earth.

Auras blazing, they started zigzagging all over the place through the air, not paying attention to where they were going as they launched rapid-fire punches and kicks at each other almost faster than the eye could see. They tumbled about, smashing through several of the rock pillars as they went, but were too distracted trying to hit each other to notice. They were not merely fighting physically, either. At the same time they tried to harm each other's bodies, their minds were locked in ferocious Psychic combat, the Shadow trying to breach Gardevoir's mental defenses, and Gardevoir seeking to repel him and hopefully weaken his own mind and help the good soul trapped within it.

Several dozen silver daggers appeared out of thin air behind Gardevoir as they chaotically veered all over the place, homing in on her. Gardevoir sensed them, grabbed the Shadow by his wrists, and flipped over so that his back was to the daggers instead. Before they could strike him, though, the daggers vanished and reappeared right behind Gardevoir only inches from her back. Before they could bury their points in her spine, however, her hair came to life, strands wrapping around the hilts of each knife and yanking them out of the air before they could strike her, flipping them over and burying them in the Shadow's arms.

Grunting in pain, the Shadow opened his palms and fired energy blasts point-blank into Gardevoir's face, blasting her back and causing her to smash through a rock pillar, which collapsed on top of her and buried her in rubble. The Shadow removed the daggers from his arms and melded them together into a silver sword, which he hurled at Gardevoir as she exploded out of the rubble. Gardevoir opened her mouth and, much to the Shadow's astonishment, caught the sword in her teeth. She plucked it from her mouth, spat out the fangs that had been blackened by the sword's silver poisoning, and cast it away, her eyes glowing as she used Psychic to crush it into a tiny ball and fling it into the stratosphere. She grinned at the Shadow even as her teeth grew back.

The Shadow did not return her grin. Aura powering up, he started flinging dozens of Shadow Balls and Aura Spheres at Gardevoir. With lightning reflexes, she evaded the energy blasts, hurling Shadow Balls and Energy Balls of her own back at the Shadow. The Shadow Teleported minute distances to avoid the rapid-fire blasts without letting up on his own volley, until Gardevoir sank into a pool of shadow and disappeared. Oblivion's Shadow immediately shot his arm behind him, backhanding Gardevoir just as she materialized behind him. Undaunted, she dug her teeth into his fist, causing him to cry out in pain as he wrenched his hand away. "Mmm…too bad your blood is too tainted by Shadow for me to drink," she said, spitting Oblivion's Shadow's blood out of her mouth and licking her lips. "It actually tastes quite good. Maybe once I've killed the evil part of you, you'll be amenable to…feeding…"

"You have no chance of defeating me," the Shadow pointed out as he used Recover to heal his hand. "You dare not kill me, lest you harm my weaker half, whom you are in love with. I, on the other hand, have nothing holding me back from killing you."

"Nothing except for your weaker half, whom I am sure is fighting you for dominance of your mind even as we speak," Gardevoir said. "Can you really fight on two fronts, Shadow?"

"You underestimate my strength and overestimate his," the Shadow said dismissively. "He's hidden in the depths of my mind for a thousand years like a coward. Why should that change now?"

"Because now," Gardevoir said. "He has something to fight for."

She thrust her arm forward towards his face. His reflexes were faster than anticipated, however, and he grabbed her arm by the wrist and wrenched on it, intending to throw her over his shoulder. Instead, Gardevoir pulled back, detaching her arm at the shoulder and causing blood to spew out both ends. As the Shadow blinked in surprise, the blood flowing from her shoulder solidified into a new arm, while the arm he was currently holding lunged forwards, grabbing his face, and firing an energy blast point-blank into his mask. As he reeled backwards, smoke trailing from his face, he tore the arm away and threw it away just in time to see Gardevoir descending towards him, the bone sword she'd crafted earlier raised over her head, point aimed downwards. The Shadow's hands snapped up, catching the sword before it could skewer him, and lashed out with his feet, kicking into her chest and firing energy blasts from the ends that knocked her away. He flexed his fingers, shattering the sword, and then telekinetically hurled the shrapnel at Gardevoir. Her wings enlarged and folded in front of her to create a shield which deflected the flechettes, allowing the Shadow to Teleport behind her and try to run her through with a blade made of Shadow Aura.

Before he could do so, however, her hair elongated and parried the strike, then shot outwards in the form of several hundred very sharp needles. He crossed his arms, quickly forming a Barrier in front of himself to shatter the needles. The barrier in turn shattered when Gardevoir whirled around, spread her wings, and thrust her arms forward, the limbs elongating as her fists enlarged and broke through the Shadow's shield. Before they could punch him, however, the Shadow grabbed her arms by the wrists, broke them off, then flung them to the side and obliterated them with energy blasts before they could attack him. Gardevoir shot towards him, her blood already forming new arms, her wings enlarging and the points on their ends elongating and sharpening as she swiped them at him, the tips glowing red and leaving trails of light in the air. The Shadow's hands flashed, Shadow Aura blades forming in them, and the blades swept through the air, severing the wingtips. Even as they grew back, he thrust his hands forwards, the blades elongating and piercing Gardevoir through the chest, driving her backwards. Before she could break free, the Shadow sweeped his elongated blades through the air, smashing them—and Gardevoir, who was at the end—through several rock pillars before channeling energy blasts down the blades to try and destroy her from within.

Gardevoir grabbed the edges of the blades piercing her, gritting her teeth as their energies burned her hands, and sent her own Dark power coursing through them, the pulses racing up the blades to meet the Shadow's. The conflicting energies clashed and exploded, breaking the blades and flinging both of them back. The Shadow recovered first and formed an Aura Sphere over his head…then made it bigger, and bigger, and bigger, until it was at least a thousand times his size, hovering in the air like a massive black sphere of destruction. As Gardevoir gaped in disbelief, the Shadow grunted with considerable effort and flung the sphere at her. The vampire queen quickly teleported out of the way, and the Sphere smashed into the ground, exploding with the force of five and a half nuclear bombs, utterly obliterating a rather sizable chunk of the countryside. Gardevoir reappeated hundreds of miles away away, flinching as she tried to shield herself from the light of the distant blast, one of her wings enlarging and spreading out before her to create a sunblock…

And then a massive rock pillar erupted out of the ground below her, flattening her against its surface as it towered miles into the air, rising at ridiculous speeds. On the ground below, Oblivion's Shadow grabbed the base of the pillar, ripped it out of the ground, and hurled it into the air. He then Teleported into its path and punched Gardevoir, who was plastered to the face of the pillar by the G-force, hitting her so hard that she was driven all the way through the top of the pillar and out the bottom—the rock shattering in the process—and smashed into the ground so hard it made a crater a fifth of the size of the one that had just been made by the dark Aura Sphere blast just moments ago. Before Gardevoir could recover, the Shadow formed another Aura Sphere, even bigger than the last one, and flung it at the prone vampire.

As the sphere of destruction shot towards Gardevoir, who was struggling to pull herself out of the ground, she considered her options. She could probably evade the attack…

But where would the fun be in that? Eyes glowing as she mustered her power, she thrust her arms forward, the limbs exploding as massive armored claws ripped out of them and shot into the air, catching the sphere. She grimaced in pain as the energy of the Sphere burned at her palms and pushed down on her with such force she was pressed further into the ground, but she pushed back with all her strength, and with a blood-curdling cry managed to fling the Sphere away, back towards the Shadow…

Who formed an energy blade in his hand and casually sweeped it through the air, cutting the Sphere in two. Its two halves shot past him on either side, flying off in separate directions. They vanished over the horizon, impacting the ground quite some distance away from each other with a pair of massive explosions that rocked the planet. The pair of giant claws morphed into a pair of grotesque serpents with crimson fangs reaching up to devour him, but Mewtwo fired two energy blasts into their mouths, causing their heads to explode…

And causing ten more heads to sprout in their place. "Ah, that old trick," he said, disinterested as one of the serpents slammed its jaws shut on him. This turned out to be a mistake, as the head, and its siblings, were promptly vaporized by a powerful explosion of Shadow Aura which raced down the serpentine length of the arm, forcing Gardevoir to quickly bite it off at the shoulder before the power could explode through her, too. As the monstrous limb tumbled away, disintegrating in black flames, Oblivion's Shadow grabbed the other many-headed serpent by the neck, ripped it off of Gardevoir's body, and used his Psychic powers to straighten and stiffen it. He then used his powers again to raise the ground Gardevoir was still partially imbedded in towards him, thrusting the serpent's tail towards her and impaling her through the chest, causing Gardevoir to scream in agony as the increasingly widening snake ripped through her body as she was propelled upwards by the ground beneath her…

Until her body abruptly dissipated into a flurry of black Zubats, which screeched and flapped and flew all over the place. Letting go of the serpent, the Shadow started firing dozens of energy balls all over the place, trying to destroy as many bats as he could before they could reform into Gardevoir. Much to his puzzlement, the bats didn't even try to dodge his attacks—not that they could have, they were homing projectiles—and when the Shadow suddenly realized he couldn't sense any form of intelligence in them, he knew he had been had. "Where did she-"

That's when a black sphere materialized in the air above him, exerting a gravitational force that started sucking everything in the vicinity towards it. Startled, the Shadow tried to Teleport away, but found that the sphere was emitting some kind of jamming field that kept him from escaping so easily. Turning, he fired a Psystrike into the sphere…

Only for his attack to be sucked in, with no effect. Growling in annoyance, he powered up his Shadow Aura, trying to generate enough strength to break free from this black hole's pull and fly to safety. It was a massive strain, but he seemed to be making headway…

Until the serpent impaled in the rock column dislodged, flipping end over end as it tumbled upwards towards the sphere, its end smacking into the Shadow and causing him to lose his focus. With his concentration broken, he found himself completely unable to stop himself from falling into the sphere…

And finding himself in darkness. A pair of massive red eyes opened overhead. "Hello, Shadow," Gardevoir's voice boomed.

"Gardevoir!" the Shadow snarled, stretching his senses to try to locate her. Strange…it felt like she was…all around him. How was that possible? "Where are we?"

"Oh, nothing much, just a little pocket place of my own creation. It's a lot bigger than it looks, though…it'd have to be, to fit all the company we have!" the vampire queen said.

And that's when the ground (?) beneath his feet began to rumble. The Shadow levitated off the floor just before it burst apart, and…Pokémon crawled out. Of course, 'Pokémon' might be a rather charitable term for what they were, what with the flesh hanging off their exposed bones, their glowing eyes, their many gaping fatal wounds, the burns and scars and dripping ooze and pus that weren't usually found in living Pokémon.

Then again, it was doubtful any of them could be called 'alive.' "What…what is this?" the Shadow whispered in disbelief as more and more zombies emerged from the ground, spreading outwards in every direction towards the horizon…except there was no horizon here, and they just kept going and going and going and going until the eye could no longer clearly perceive them.

"Oh, nothing much. Just every Pokémon you've ever killed," Gardevoir said.

The Shadow stared at the slavering, moaning undead beneath him in shock. "There's…so many…surely I did not personally kill this many?!"

"Considering how many there are here? I'd have to say…yes. Yes, you did, or caused to be killed, which is good enough," Gardevoir said. "And now they want to return the favor."

"They shall find that most difficult," the Shadow said, powering up…

Only for a force field to form around his body, freezing him in place and dropping him to the ground. "Wh-what the?!"

"You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?" Gardevoir taunted as the undead shambled towards the Imprisoned Shadow, ready to exact their vengeance on their murderer. "This is my place, Shadow, and here we play by my rules. And my rules state…that here, you have none of your power if I don't want you to."

"…Heh. Is that so?" the Shadow asked as the zombies closed in, preparing to strike. "I think that might be a little harder to manage than you might think."

"What do you—AAAAAHHHH!" Gardevoir cried out as a Future Sight energy ball suddenly materialized and smashed into her eye.

The zombies hesitated, wavering. The Imprison trapping the Shadow flickered and dissipated, as Oblivion's Shadow rose to his feet. "It must take a lot of concentration to make a place like this. Too bad the slightest lapse of concentration is enough to bring it all down."

"I am in control here, not you!" Gardevoir insisted, squinting one giant eye shut as she tried to regain her focus.

"You were, for but a moment," the Shadow agreed. "Unfortunatley, a moment is not enough to destroy me." With a cry, he crossed his arms over his chest and thrust them out to either side of him. Shadow Aura exploded out from him like a black nova, sweeping over the forms of the zombies, consuming them in black fire, the undead shrieking in agony as they died again.

"No! No! You can't do this!" Gardevoir protested in astonishment as the Shadow flare obliterated her undead army. "I had you! I had you!"

"Yes, you did," the Shadow agreed, raising his face to look at her. "And now you do not."

In a flash, he was in the air. In another flash, his fist was buried in Gardevoir's other eye. There was a scream of agony, and then the darkness around him shattered, and he was back in the skies above Mars, and Gardevoir was flying backwards, head twisted from his punch, both of her eyes bleeding. Before she could recover, the Shadow surged forwards, grabbing her by the neck. "Your mistake," he said calmly. "Was in thinking you ever had a chance against me."

With that, he hurled her at the ground so hard she didn't just crater it, she pierced the surface. Making a few quick calculations, the Shadow Teleported…

To the other side of the planet. Just in time for Gardevoir to burst out of the surface, and just in time for him to spike her back right down the hole she'd just come through. He Teleported again, reappearing right in her path as she flew back out the hole where they'd started, drawing back his fist…

And, much to his surprise, Gardevoir grabbed it. "And your mistake," she said. "Was in assuming I can't take whatever you can dish out." Before he could react, she used her momentum to flip over and fling him into the ground hard enough to crater it. She thrust her hands forwards, arms bursting open again to make room for a pair of gargantuan armored claws which smashed down on the Shadow before he could pull himself out of the crater. The Shadow pushed back against the claws, mustering his power…

And then Gardevoir fired a massive point-blank energy blast at the Shadow. And then he knew what it was like to be smashed all the way through a planet.

She was there to catch him on the other side, of course. And by catch, I mean grab him in another giant claw, smash him into the ground and drag him across its surface for several miles, then wind up and hurl him so hard he actually left the atmosphere, plowed through several of the Nihilator ships in orbit, and crashed into Phobos, one of Mars' two moons.

And then Phobos exploded when Gardevoir hit it with a Hyper Beam. She blinked in amazement as she saw the planetoid vanish in a fiery conflagration, fiery streaks shooting across the sky as the shattered moon's debris entered the atmosphere. "…Did I just blow up a moon?!"

"Yes, you did," Oblivion's Shadow said as he rematerialized behind Gardevoir, his cape in tatters, his armor smoking and sparking, his horns broken off, and his mask cracked, a glimmer of an eye barely visible through a hole. "And it still was not enough to end me."

Gardevoir probably would have said something in reply, if the Shadow hadn't Teleported with his hands, both of which had silver daggers in them, inside her brain and heart. She gawked, blood dribbling from her jaw as silvery veins started Ekansing across her body. "You fought very well," the Shadow said grudgingly. "I'm not sure I've battled someone as resilient as you for quite some time. Unfortunately, this has gone on long enough. I'd rather like to see you regenerate from this." With that, he ripped Gardevoir's head off her shoulders and released an energy blast from the hand inside it, destroying it in a shower of gore. He prepared to do the same to her torso…

When suddenly something burst out of the vampire's lower back and slammed into the Shadow's chest, piercing his gut. He gasped in pain…a gasp that turned into a gurgle as the something reached up and tore out his jugular with its teeth. He staggered backwards, blood gushing from the very large hole in his neck and in his chest. His attacker backflipped off his chest and landed neatly on the ground next to Gardevoir's headless corpse, which collapsed and disintegrated as the silver poisoning consumed it. "Once again, I am disappointed I cannot drink your blood," the thing said after spitting out Oblivion's Shadow's blood and licking its lips. "It really does taste very good."

The Shadow quickly put hands over his wounds, using Recover to mend the damage. Coughing in pain, blood dribbling from the bottom of his mask, he stared at the being standing before him in astonishment. "That's…that's not possible! HOW-"

"Like I said before, my regenerative abilities are quite strong," the vampire queen said smugly. She frowned and looked down at herself. "Unfortunately, apparently even they have limits to what they can do against that much silver poisoning. It's going to take a lot of blood to restore me to full strength from this."

'This' being her current state. Gardevoir was no longer a Gardevoir. She was a Kirlia, having been forced to sacrifice a significant amount of biomass to survive the Shadow's poisoning attempt, reverting back one evolutionary stage in the process. Much like her more advanced form, she was still very beautiful, though not in the same 'mature way as her Gardevoir form. Much like her Gardevoir form, she looked different from most Kirlia due to her vampiric nature. Her red horns looked more like Zubat wings growing from her hair, which was pitch-black and went down to her waist. While her face was an eerie, corpse-like white, her arms and tutu were both blood-red, with claws growing from the ends of her arms. Her legs were as black as her hair, and ended in sharp points rather than feet. Two red and black Crobat wings grew from her back, and two smaller ones from her waist. "I suppose I can't really call myself Gardevoir anymore," she commented. "Seeing as that's not even what I am anymore. Perhaps it's time I invested in a name after all…" She grinned, showing off her fangs while her red and black eyes glimmered. "Hmm…how about…Nosferatina? I think that has a good ring to it…"

The Shadow clenched his fists, shaking with rage, tendrils of Shadow writhing about his body. "I do not care what you call yourself. This farce has gone on long enough! One way or another, I will kill you!"

"Hmhmhmhmhm. You can try," Nosferatina teased. "Don't think that just because I've gone down a level evolutionarily speaking means I'm any weaker. I'm ready for round two if you are."

"This fight will be our last," the Shadow promised.

Nosferatina chuckled. "If you're sure, then…catch me if you can!" There was a gust of wind, and a cloud of red dust blew between them. When the cloud dissipated, the Kirlia was gone, running into the distance at incredible speeds. With a snarl, the Shadow gave chase.

Nosferatina smirked as the Shadow gave pursuit, running so fast across the ground that a tremendous plume of red dust was cast up in his wake as he slowly caught up to her. Chuckling, she flipped over and ran backwards, not feeling the need to look where she was going as she hurled Psycho Shocks and Magical Leaves at the Shadow. The Shadow shifted from side to side, dodging some projectiles and deflecting others with his Psychic powers, hurling Shadow Balls and Aura Spheres in return. Rather than dodge, Nosferatina twirled just before the spheres could hit her, her wings stiffening and expanding outwards, the appendages smashing into the energy balls and flinging them back at the Shadow, who either dodged them or caught them one-handed and flung them over his shoulder, leaving explosions in his wake.

The Shadow flicked a hand up, and rocks started bursting out of the ground in Nosferatina's path. Without even looking, the Kirlia expertly dodged around the rocks while still running backwards. She telekinetically lifted the rocks into the air, charged them with Dark power, and flung them at the Shadow. The Shadow dodged the first rock, only to be nearly knocked off his feet when it exploded just behind him. He swiftly regained his balance, and started flinging energy balls at the rocks, causing them to blow up in midair before they could hit him. Nosferatina's eyes glowed, and suddenly a massive wall of rock rose right in the Shadow's path. Rather than leap over or Teleport through it, he charged up his Shadow Aura and rammed into the wall, shattering it and coming out the other side, rising into the air and streaking towards Nosferatina like a meteor. Flapping her wings, she lifted into the air, gliding away just before the Shadow came down, triggering a massive explosion on impact. He launched himself out of the resulting crater and came at her again and again, getting closer with each impact and forcing her to rely on Teleports rather than jumping away.

After crashing down once again, rather than pursuing Nosferatina again, the Shadow dug his fingers into the ground and lifted, flipping a massive sheaf of rock the size of a small city into the air, knocking the startled Nosferatina off and putting her squarely in the massive stone sheet's shadow, soon to be crushed. Narrowing her eyes, she flicked her wrist, her blood sword forming in it. She sliced the blade through the air at blinding speeds, leaving crimson streaks in the wake of her blade. There was a pause, and then the sheaf shattered into hundreds of smaller pieces of rock, which she telekinetically hurled at the Shadow. Forming a blade of his own made out of Shadow Aura, the Shadow jumped into the air, hopping from falling rock to falling rock as he tried to close the distance between him and Nosferatina, lashing out with his blade and energy blasts and psychokinesis whenever a rock looked like it was about to crash into him. Finally, he cleared the debris field and soared towards Nosferatina, drawing back his sword to strike. She spread her wings and glided towards him, doing the same.

The clash of their blades sent a shockwave in every direction, cratering the ground, shaking the earth, and sending both of them flying backwards. Recovering first, Nosferatina slashed her sword through the air, sending a massive crimson energy blade at the Shadow. Oblivion's Shadow dodged the attack, and the the blade crashed into the ground, tearing open a massive canyon at least a hundred miles long, five miles wide, and ten miles deep as it plowed through the surface of the planet. The Shadow retaliated with a powerful energy blade of his own that rent the air and left a vacuum in its wake. Nosferatina barely evaded the attack, wincing as it nicked one of her wings and nearly sent her into a tailspin. The blade continued flying off into the distance, where it finally collided with a mountain so far away she could barely see it on the horizon. There was a pause, and then the upper half of the mountain slid off its base and crashed to the ground.

She whirled around and raised her sword just in time to block a devastating overhead strike from the Shadow, which sent another shockwave blasting outwards and shook her to her bones. Snarling, she charged her sword with Dark power and lashed out, the two blades clashing again and again. They darted back and forth through the air so fast it was almost impossible to keep up with them, their blades colliding again and again with impacts that shook the land to its foundations, until they could only be seen by the flashes of light whenever their swords met. As they continued their swordplay, going faster and faster, their motions generated a wind that kicked up one of Mars' infamous dust storms, the red dust covering the ground swirling into the air and engulfing the two combatants as they clashed blades again and again, until they could only be seen by occasional flickers of light in the depths of the storm, and eventually the dust became so thick that even that could no longer be seen.

After several minutes, there was a sudden cry of rage, and a tremendous explosion of Shadow Aura. The dust was blasted away, scattering to the winds, revealing a jagged, shattered landscape torn up by a furious swordfight between two incredibly powerful combatants, and a massive crater with an extremely dusty-armored Oblivion's Shadow standing at the bottom in front of the broken fragments of a crimson sword, which melted into pools of blood which seeped into the ground and became indistinguishable from the red soil of Mars. The Shadow looked around warily, casually brushing the dust off him with a minor exertion of Psychic power. Nosferatina was nowhere to be seen…

Or rather, she was right behind the Shadow, about to drive one of her sharp legs into his back. Without turning around, he deflected her rapid-fire kicks with an arm, and then knocked her back with a blast of Shadow Aura. He grabbed her telekinetically and started trying to crush her to death with his mind, but her eyes flashed and she broke free in a Psychic blast of her own, Psyshocks materializing around her and flying towards the Shadow. Without moving a step from his position, the Shadow evaded or deflected every Psyshock with a movement of his head, his hands, or a swish of his cape, then fired a ridiculously powerful Psystrike at her that caused many Pokémon back at the Nihilator headquarters to suddenly get splitting migraines. Nosferatina Teleported away, only to fly right into the path of a Future Sight attack…

Which collided with a Future Sight of her own, the resulting explosion allowing her to Teleport again and reappear right next to the Shadow. A foot lashed out at her at her arrival, but she ducked to the side and threw a Psyshock at the Shadow's face while at the same time grabbing his ankle and pulling him off-balance.

Or rather, she would have, except the Shadow just levitated and spun about on a horizontal axis, flinging her away. Hands glowing, he hurled dozens of rapid-fire Shadow Balls and Aura Spheres at Nosferatina. She landed and started running at incredible speeds to dodge the attacks, moving so fast she left after-images. The Shadow adjusted his aim and fired ahead of her…

Except what he thought to be the real Nosferatina just turned out to be an after-image itself. Immediately realizing they had all just been Double-Teams, the Shadow glided backwards just before Nosferatina shot down from the sky and smashed to the ground where he had just been standing, the impact sending out shockwaves of Dark power in every direction. The Shadow flicked his hand upwards, and the ground rocketed towards the sky in a pillar of stone…

And then he got blasted from the side by a Hyper Beam almost as big as he was. He barely managed to throw up a shield in time, and even with it, he was still pushed several kilometers back before the beam finally died down. It wasn't moon-destroying power, but it was still quite strong. Nosferatina smirked and put her hands on her hips. "You didn't really think I'd fall for that trick again, did you? Oh, and speaking of which…" Her eyes glowed.

The Shadow immediately Teleported to the side, expecting the ground beneath his feet to shoot upwards. It didn't. Instead, a pair of massive stone hands burst from the ground on either side of him and tried to slam shut. His hands shot out, catching the hands before they could squish him. While he was doing so, however, Nosferatina fired another Hyper Beam at him. He Teleported before the beam could strike him, causing the hands to slam shut and get destroyed instead. Reappearing in the air above Nosferatina, he fired a Hyper Beam of his own, the radius of the beam wider than his entire body. Nosferatina Teleported out of the way of the beam, and it smashed into the ground, burrowing deep beneath the surface of Mars before exploding deep, deep, underground, causing the land above to crack and tremble as a pillar of fire blasted out of the hole the beam had made. "You're lucky I did not put my full power into that attack!" Oblivion's Shadow called down to Nosferatina as he mustered his strength and generated another giant Shadow Aura Sphere. "Otherwise, I could have destroyed this entire planet!"

"Don't go easy on my account, Shadow," Nosferatina taunted.

"Oh, don't worry," the Shadow taunted. "I have no intention of that." He wound back his hand to throw the Sphere…

And abruptly Teleported, reappearing right next to Nosferatina, throwing the Aura Sphere at her just before she could dodge. She screamed in agony as the Sphere slammed into her and carried her away, flying so far and so fast that it actually broke away from the curvature of the planet and rose into the sky, where it exploded spectacularly.

Oblivion's Shadow promptly Teleported to the massive crater left behind from where Nosferatina, whom he accurately predicted had survived the explosion, crashed after the Aura Sphere detonated. Seeing her broken form at the bottom of the crater, the Shadow telekinetically grabbed a nearby mountain, ripped it out of the ground, and dropped it on Nosferatina, completely covering the crater. Then he blew up the mountain for good measure. Then he flung silver knives at the body. Then he used Sunny Day to form a solar energy ball high in the sky, and then used Solarbeam, causing the ball to fire a MASSIVE blast of solar light into the crater. He kept the beam going for five minutes, and then cut it off when he could no longer detect any traces of life. He Teleported to the bottom of the crater, where nothing was left of Nosferatina.

And he knew, once again, he'd been tricked. If that had been the real vampire queen, there should have been ashes left behind. "A Substitute."

Abruptly, a pair of hands burst out of the ground and grabbed his ankles. The Shadow looked down in surprise, and Nosferatina appeared right in front of him in his moment of distraction, planted her hands against his chest, and said, "That's right!" with a cheerful smile on her face before firing a point-blank Hyper Beam which shot right through the Shadow's chest and out his back, piercing the side of the crater and ripping out of the ground some distance away, where it kept going for several miles until it sheared through the peak of a distant mountain and out into space, where it struck a Nihilator battleship, destroying it and about a half-dozen other ships in a tremendous explosion.

Crying out in pain, the Shadow collapsed, a hand going to the massive sizzling hole in his chest. Nosferatina grinned…

And then the Shadow's hand shot out, grabbing her by the neck. She gasped in surprise and pain, and the Shadow looked up, her distorted face grinning back at her on his damaged mask. "Do you truly think…that will be enough?" He raised his free hand skywards, and the Sunny Day ball overhead fired another massive Solarbeam down into the crater, bathing both of them in intense solar energy.

Nosferatina's screams of agony rang for miles. The Shadow stoically bore the pain in silence, not loosening his grip in the slightest even as the power of the Sun washed over him, cooking him inside his armor. After five minutes, he decided that was good enough and cut off his attack. The light died down, revealing that the bottom of the crater had been fused into smoking glass. The Shadow's cape had been burned off, and his armor was smoking and melted in places. He ignored the pain as he stood up, bits of his armor cracking and falling off as he did so to expose horrifically burnt flesh, the hands clutching his ankles disintegrating as he regarded the vampiric Kirlia held in his grasp.

If he couldn't still detect brainwave activity in her, he might have thought Nosferatina was dead for good. Her entire body had been burned to a crisp, and she looked more like the victim of a fire or someone who had been cooked alive than a living (relatively speaking) Pokémon. Her wings and horns had been obliterated, and most of her hair was gone as well. "You should have made another Duplicate," the Shadow said calmly as he used Recover to mend all his wounds. "Rather than confront me directly while my Sunny Day was still in effect."

"Thought I could handle that much sunlight…" she wheezed through broken and burnt lips, struggling to use Heal Pulse, only to find herself lacking the strength to pull one off. "Guess I was wrong…"

"You were," the Shadow agreed. He raised his free hand, Shadow Aura burning around it. "And now you will die for it. I'm out of silver, and not really in the mood for another intense suntan…so I think I'll just rip out and consume your Aura. I assure you, it will not be a pleasant end."

Much to his surprise, Nosferatine broke into weak, mocking laughter. "Oh…will you, now?"

"You doubt me?" the Shadow asked.

"Yes," Nosferatina said. "Because I know you will not kill me. You do not have it in you."

The Shadow stared at her incredulously. "…I have been trying very hard to kill you for the last several minutes, Nosferatina. And as your little…trick showed earlier, I have killed or been responsible for the deaths of billions. What makes you think I cannot kill one vampire queen?"

"If you truly wanted me gone, then why aren't I dead already?" Nosferatina asked. "I am very strong, yes…but you are stronger still Shadow, I see that now. And yet there is something holding you back. Or rather, someone."

"Preposterous. That coward has no influence over my actions," the Shadow said.

Nosferatina grinned through broken teeth. "Oh, really? Very well, then. Prove me wrong. Tear out my Aura. Show me that you are just as heartless and evil as you say you are."

"Very well," the Shadow said. His hand shot forwards…

And froze just an inch from Nosferatina's heart. His eye widened. "What…" He tried to move his arm forward. It trembled, but would not budge. "N-no…no! This cannot be! This body is mine! He has no power! Why…why can't I…"

"Because he loves me," Nosferatina said softly. "And his love…is stronger than your hate could ever be."

Oblivion's Shadow roared in fury, his Shadow Aura blazing out in every directions, buffeting the vampiric Kirlia in his grasp, shattering the glass crater, and rocking the earth for miles around. Mountains collapsed. Canyons ripped open in the ground. The sky darkened, and red sandstorms swirled into life.

And still his hand would not move. Nosferatina laughed…

And then the burnt flesh covering her body sloughed off her in a burst of Dark energy, loosening the Shadow's grip as a Ralts leapt free from the remnants of the damaged Kirlia body, slamming her skull into the Shadow with a powerful Zen Headbutt, shattering his mask and causing him to stagger backwards. Crying in surprise, a hand rushed to his face as the Ralts landed on the ground amidst the scraps of burnt flesh from her previous form. She had black hair in an oversized bowl cut split by two red horns resembling Zubat wings going down the center, the one in the front larger than the one in the back. Her face—what little of it could be seen under her long hair—was white, but the rest of her body was covered in an oversized red dress that trailed along the ground behind her. She looked down at her body and sighed. "I'm really going to need a lot of blood to get back to full strength from this."

"You…you did it again?!" the Shadow cried out in disbelief, hand still covering his face.

Nosferatina sighed. "Yeah…but I don't think I can go any further back than this. And I had to use up a lot of power to survive that Solarbeam…looks like this battle will have to end in a draw. A shame…I really thought I might be able to beat you. Guess that was just a pipe dream after all…" She shrugged. "Guess I'll just have to retreat for now, lick my wounds, and regain my strength so I can help out when my friends come to destroy you and liberate my beloved from your mind."

"Retreat?! Where to?! WE'RE ON MARS!" the Shadow shouted.

Nosferatina grinned. "I suppose it's a bit earlier than we had hoped for you to find this out, but…let's just say that your control over this planet isn't quite as complete as you thought it was."

"What do you-"

A massive laser beam suddenly shot down from the sky towards the Shadow. He quickly threw up a barrier to block the attack. Startled, he looked up. "What the-?!"

What looked a moment ago to be a patch of empty air rippled and resolved itself into the form of a massive glowing saucer-shaped spaceship, rippling with all the colors of the rainbow. Jaw dropping in astonishment, the Shadow's hand fell away from his face…

And Nosferatina balked at what she saw there, the Shadow's face unmasked at last. He looked so much like Mewtwo…but wrong. Rather than white, his skin had turned dark purple, with unhealthy-looking black veins crisscrossing his features. Small fangs had formed in his mouth, and while one of his eyes was purple, the other was a malevolent, bloodshot red. Guess being a Shadow Pokémon for a thousand years has taken its toll on his body… she thought.

"Impossible," the Shadow whispered. "I thought I wiped out the Martian civilization, with only a handful left under my control!"

"Well, clearly you were wrong," Nosferatina said as a circular oculus opened up in the bottom of the saucer, the big-headed silhouettes of some Elgyem and Beheeyem backlit by the glow from the ship's interior.

"But how…how could I not detect them? How can I not detect them now, even though I can see them with my own eyes?!" the Shadow asked incredulously. "And how could you possibly have been in contact with them, locked in my laboratory?!"

"I'm afraid that's a question you'll have to figure out for yourself, because I'm certainly not telling you," Nosferatina said. She grunted in pain, and a pair of Zubat wings burst out of her back, blood spattering the ground behind her. Spreading them, she flapped her new appendages once, rising into the air.

"No! You aren't going anywhere, not until I get some answers!" the Shadow roared, a hand stretching out towards her…

Only for the saucer to start firing more lasers at him in rapid succession, forcing him to keep his barrier up lest he be blasted into the ground. Snarling, the Shadow called down another mighty Solarbeam, only for the sun's wrath to pound harmlessly against a powerful force field surrounding the alien vessel. "I'm afraid I'm not in the mood to give you any," Nosferatina said as she flew up into the oculus. "Besides, you have more important things to worry about right now. It might not have been the best idea for you to leave your lair for so long to fight me."

The Shadow's eyes widened in alarm as she vanished into the saucer. "My lair? What do you-" The oculus irised shut, and the saucer rose into the air, shimmered, and disappeared. "No! NO! GET BACK HERE! WE AREN'T THROUGH YET!" He fired an Aura Sphere at where the saucer had just been. The energy ball passed through empty air and flew out into space, where it destroyed another small portion of his orbiting fleet."No…NO! WHERE DID THEY GO?!" Frantically, the Shadow stretched his senses to the limit, trying to pick up any trace of the saucer or its passenger.

There was none. He was the only life-form he could detect for miles and miles. "RAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!" Enraged, he punched the ground so hard that the earth beneath him shattered into a very deep chasm dozens of kilometers wide, and the entire planet shook and was nudged a few micrometers off its usual orbit, though it would take many years for any visible effects to start showing themselves. His Shadow Aura seething with such force that the very air seemed to bend and warp around him, he Teleported back to his lab, certain that there was something he could use there to track down Nosferatina and those itinerant Martians…

And to do something about the traitor inside his own head.

He reappeared in the same room where he and Nosferatina had departed from, and was about to head for an area of the lab he was fairly certain Nosferatina wouldn't have damaged on her way to find him…only to hesitate, sensing something was…wrong. He looked around the room in confusion, getting the strangest feeling that something was missing.

Wait a minute. Hadn't he left Cresselia bleeding on the floor there? And hadn't Ho-Oh still been in her cell, constantly being vaporized and reborn? So…why was there just a bloodstain on the ground and an empty cell in the wall?

A chill ran down the Shadow's spine. A chill that grew stronger when a monitor on the wall activated all by itself, playing a news broadcast from Earth.

"Ash of Team Aurabolt, is it true that you defeated the Nihilators who went underground? Is this crisis at an end?" a very pretty Kirlia questioned the heroes gathered on the steps of an ancient structure surrounded by cheering soldiers, ignoring a Shedinja's shouts for security to get her out of there.

"Um…uh…well, we killed all the Nihilators and disabled the mechanism they need to activate the tower, so…yeah, it's over," Ash said.

The Shadow's eyes widened in shock. "WHAT?!"

This assertion from Ash got the crowd cheering again. Shouting to be heard over them, the Kirlia cried, "And Doctor Tarantulas? Has he been dealt with as well?"

Ash nodded. "Yes. Doctor Tarantulas has been dealt with permanently, thanks to the actions of my good friend Professor Oak."

"I was only doing what needed to be done," Oak said with a smile, taking a bow.

"No…he should be dead! Damn you, Tarantulas, can you do nothing right?!" the Shadow swore. "You were supposed to take them all with you when you died!"

"Incredible!" the Kirlia said, impressed.

"And I slew Paul Yami, one of the Shadow's top enforcers," Dawn added.

"Outstanding!" the Kirlia said.

"Well done, Ms. Hikari!" Nuken said admiringly.

"Paul, too?!" the Shadow yelled in disbelief. "That armor was supposed to make him unstoppable! How did she circumvent its immortality?!"

"And what's more…" Ash said, nodding at Tenjin, who took out two star-shaped jewels. "We managed to collect the Star Badges they brought here to try and get the tower online. With both of them in our possession, we now have a total of five Badges in safekeeping to the Nihilators' two. Whatever plan Oblivion's Shadow has to open the Door, it had better be a good one, because right now we have almost every key he needs to unlock it, as well as control over the mechanism he needs to prime it for opening in the first place. So…with that in mind…" With a grin, he leaned into the microphone and said, "Oblivion's Shadow, if you're watching this—and I know you are—you should probably start shivering in your boots. That big gesture you made, blowing up Treasure Town to try and show us how big and bad you are? Well, it cost you one of your top lieutenants, two of your Star Badges, three of your legendary Shadow Pokémon, one of your top enforcers, hundreds of Nihilators, a giant robot spider, and you completely and utterly FAILED to accomplish the objective you sent your goons down here to do. All this big show of yours proved is that you're losing your grip, and has shown the people of the world that you are FAR from infallible. The next time we meet, it'll be on Mars…and when we get there, we're going to utterly demolish you and put a stop to your Nihilators once and for all!"

"No…" the Shadow whispered in horror as the crowd cheered ecstatically. "No…this…this can't be…"

"'Fraid so," Darkrai said, throwing popcorn kernels at Oblivion's Shadow's head. The Shadow had been so distracted watching the broadcast he hadn't noticed the dark god's entrance, or said dark god throwing popcorn at his head for the last few minutes, as the small pile of kernels on the ground attested to.

The Shadow did a double-take, only now registering Darkrai's presence. "Darkrai…what are you-"

"Oh yeah, and that's not the only bit of bad news I have for you, I'm afraid," Darkrai said, throwing his whole carton of popcorn at the Shadow's head. The Shadow reflexively destroyed it before it could hit him with a burst of Psychic power now that he wasn't distracted, but while he was doing so Darkrai pulled out a document covered in lots of very fine print, with a signature at the bottom. "See this little piece of legal paper, Shadow? Look familiar? It should, it's the contract you made me sign to keep Cresselia safe." He grabbed the document in both claws and ripped it in two, casually tossing the halves over his shoulders. "And now it's just so much toilet paper."

"You…how did you break that?! It was magically binding!" the Shadow said in alarm.

"Yeah, it was," Darkrai agreed. "Until it became null and void. Or haven't you noticed the lack of a certain beautiful lunar goddess in the vicinity?"

The Shadow's eyes widened in horror. "No…but…but our contract…you couldn't rescue her!"

"Oh, I didn't," Darkrai said casually. "However, a friendly vampire from another universe—who, incidentally, is the one that turned Gardevoir in the first place, and I have no idea how he managed to get in here to do that—happened, by sheer coincidence, to wander in here while you were gone, and decided to be a good samaritan and…and…bwahahahaha! Oh, sorry, I can't keep a straight face. Yeah, I guess there's no point in denying it anymore. I used some loopholes in our contract to create a situation that would allow a semi-independent agent to rescue Cressy so that I could render our little 'agreement' no longer binding."

"Then…Gardevoir becoming a vampire…this fight…you planned all this?!" the Shadow cried incredulously.

"Yep! Well, not all of it," Darkrai admitted. "But I'm good at taking advantage of situations and using them to my benefit. And I think I've pulled a lot of benefit out of this one, Shadow. Since I've got Cresselia back, our contract is no longer valid, and you know what that means, don't you?"

"…No…no!" the Shadow whispered in horrified realization.

"Thaaaaaaat's right!" Darkrai said eagerly. "There's no longer anything stopping me from completely and utterly destroying your operations."

The Shadow clenched his fists. "I defeated you once, Darkrai, and I can beat you again. Tired as I may be from my battle with Nosferatina, I am still more than ready to wipe the floor with you."

"Oh, I'm sure you're still strong enough to back up such a threat, Shadow," Darkrai said. "That's pretty much the only reason I'm not going to fight you right now, other than that I can't leave Cressy's side at the moment, not while she's still in such bad shape, which I will certainly not forget or forgive you for anytime soon."

The Shadow blinked in surprise. "What? Then-"

"No, you see, what I'm going to do is let you stew," Darkrai said cheerfully. "Stew in the knowledge that I'm now free to use my full powers against you. Stew in the knowledge that I will be mustering my entire army of nightmares and creatures of darkness and dropping them on your head, possibly literally. Stew in the knowledge that I will be joining forces with everyone else on Earth that's going to be coming up here shortly calling for your head, including dear old Ash, whom I'm sure is dying for another chance at you, and bringing everything we have to Beartic against you. Stew in the knowledge that, despite everything you've done or planned for…you're going to lose. No, you've already lost, and just haven't realized it yet. I'm going to let you wait, and dread, and best of all, to fear…for the absolute HORROR that will befall you soon enough." He grinned, and in that grin Oblivion's Shadow knew utter terror. "Sweet nightmares."

He vanished, leaving Oblivion's Shadow alone. Shaken, the Shadow stumbled over to a wall and slid down it, eyes staring into nothing. "No," he whispered. "No. No."

"You've lost," a voice said. The Shadow recognized it at once. It was his own voice, after all, or rather, the voice of his other half.

"No," the Shadow denied. "I can…I can still fix it. I still have two Star Badges left, and Mesprit, and my two remaining wishes from Jirachi, and my plans in Kanjohenn and for the Berry Kingdom-"

"What part of 'you've lost' do you NOT understand?!" his other half shouted. "Do you really think those other plans of yours will work, after how spectacularly everything else you've planned has backfired? Do you really think you can still win, when armies from all over the world, the Moon, and possibly even Mars itself march against you, with the literal GODDESS OF VICTORY among their ranks?! Do you really think you can still win when Ash is coming here? And given that Darkrai is surely going to tell him the truth about your identity, it may even give him the impetus he needs to rein in his hatred of you a little and hopefully not lose his sanity just by seeing you."

"No…" the Shadow whispered.

"Yes. It's over. You've LOST. Give UP already!"

"I…I cannot. I have…I have come too far-" the Shadow stammered weakly.

"Yes, so far that Mother won't talk to you anymore. And there's still farther to fall. Do you really want to disappoint her any further?"

"I…d-do not care what she thinks of me-" the Shadow started.

"That's a lie and you know it! You can lie to yourself all you want, but you can't lie to me! I AM you!"

"Yes, a part of me that hid like a coward in his own fantasies for over a thousand years!" the Shadow snarled.

"Better than becoming a monster like YOU! Even at my worst, back in the early days, I never even CONSIDERED anything as horrible as the things you have done!" Mewtwo yelled angrily. "And where has it gotten you, really? What has everything you've done accomplished? You destroyed the world once, ruined our brother's life, have killed and ruined the lives of BILLIONS, and for what? For some twisted belief that your actions will somehow make the world a better place? Or for revenge, which we both know is what this is really about?"

"Their deaths have to be answered for!" the Shadow snarled.

"Their deaths were answered for. You killed the ones who killed them. You killed the ones who tricked the ones who killed them. And no, you have yet to kill the one behind it all…but no matter what you think, there is absolutely no way you can kill that one. Not this way. Not the way you've been going about it! All you're doing is going to let it out, just like Mesprit and absolutely everyone else says! And you know that's what's going to happen, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise!"

"That's not true. I can-" the Shadow started.

"What? Handle it? Just like you've handled everything else so far? Open your eyes! Everything is falling apart around you! It's over, but you're so blinded by vengeance and stubborn pride that you won't admit that you're wrong, won't admit that your actions will doom everyone, and won't back down because you'd rather keep doing things your way rather than listening to anyone else's advice, even if you know that doing so will ony lead to ruin! It's been a thousand years, Shadow! In all that time, have you truly learned NOTHING?!"

The Shadow's shoulders sank as the reprimands from his other half set in. He was right. Of course he was right. He'd always known, but refused to believe it, refused to admit that maybe, just maybe…he might be mistaken. "But what can I do?" he whispered despondently. "I have done so much. I have set so much in motion. Even…even if I wanted to stop…isn't it too late?"

"…No. I refuse to believe that."

"The Nihilators are not the only ones involved in this," Oblivion's Shadow pointed out. "There are the barbarians, the rogue Unown, Bellum, the King of Pokélantis, the servants of Giratina and the Ruler of Evil…they will not stop just because I give the order."

"Perhaps not, but you know what most of them are up to. You know what they're planning. And even if you can't stop them, there are others who can. I already know how to fix this, and so do you."

"…How?" the Shadow asked, the faintest tremor of hope in his voice.

"Most of the world doesn't know your true identity. Even after Darkrai blabs, I doubt the secret will go beyond the upper levels of government and Team Aurabolt. Send a secret message of surrender to the authorities, arrange terms, then kill all the Nihilators in the base, free the prisoners, and dress up someone about your height and build in your armor and make it look like you've killed him. Oh, and find Nosferatina, apologize, and give the Martians back their planet. Afterwards, you can take everyone to Earth, tell the public you're a Nihilator experiment that chose to reject your master's will and turned on him, then reveal all the information you managed to extract from him before he died. Only a handful of Pokémon will know the truth, but if you turn yourself in for punishment and use the information on how to stop what you've set in motion and prepare for the eventual return of the Ruler of Evil, there's a chance you can one day be forgiven and Mother will love you again and you won't be remembered as the greatest villain in history, though it will probably not be for a very long time. You might be able to use your two remaining wishes to help, and possibly even make it so that not everyone will want to rip you to pieces for what you've done. Heck, you might even be able to make it so that you never founded the Nihilators in the first place, though I'm not sure if that's within Jirachi's power or not. She said she can't bring back the dead, after all, and I don't know if making it so they never died at all counts or not. I don't even care if I get a body of my own again, so long as you put an end to this farce before it's too late…and it will be too late if you don't do this, and soon."

"…You make it sound so simple. Can that really work?" the Shadow marveled.

"I don't know. But I think it's worth a shot. It's better than the alternative, isn't it?" Mewtwo said.

Oblivion's Shadow considered this for a long, long time. Finally, he took a deep shuddering breath. "Perhaps-"

no

"Wait. What was-"

The Shadow's eyes flickered. "But perhaps not." He slowly rose to his feet.

"Hold on a second. Did you just hear a voice? Other than me, I mean?" Mewtwo said in concern.

"No," the Shadow said, heading for the exit. "It's been lovely talking to you, and that little idea of yours was quite droll, but if I'm going to accomplish what I've set out to do, what you were never strong enough to do, I'm going to need to find a way to make up for all of these latest setbacks."

"What?! But…but just a second you were thinking of surrender!" Mewtwo stammered in disbelief.

"I changed my mind," the Shadow said flatly.

"You…you changed…wait. Wait. Something…something's not right here…why would you change your mind so quickly, unless…no. Oh no! SHADOW! I DON'T THINK I'M ALONE IN-"

silence

And then Mewtwo was silent. Oblivion's Shadow did not notice, his mind already hard at work trying to formulate a way out of the mess things had devolved into. Distracted, he left the room, guided every step of the way by the tug of the invisible strings of the puppetmaster of his fate, unaware that with every breath he was drawing closer and closer to the damnation he surely deserved.

Good lord. I am very, very sorry that took so long. Again.

But hey, it was worth it, wasn't it? What did you think of all the epic battles this chapter? And these latest shocking revelations?

We are getting closer and closer to the endgame. How many more years it'll be till we get there, I don't know…but we're GETTING there, dammit, one way or another.

I hope you stick with me until then. Thanks for reading.