Well, I've been busier with other personal things now, even though I wish that I could continue updating this story. On another note, I'm actually surprised on how many people would care if I did actually discontinue this series. Maybe I was being modest or I was losing my drive to continue this series, but I'm really glad to see how many people having taken an interest in my writing.

However, as much as I want to say for this story to live on, there really is no telling what the future would hold. We can all dream of the different outcomes the plot could take, but there can only be one path to travel. But before that time comes, I hope to at least continue giving all of you something worthwhile to read. I just hope the content I'm writing now in order to fit the characters would not have to bump the rating up. I don't plan writing an M-rated story and will never plan for it; I just can't see something like that in Pokémon.

So now, please enjoy…

The chilling air settled upon her dark realm. The characteristically scowling Honchkrow, standing out with his purple feather coloration, and his imaginary Murkrow flock quickly fled high into the eerie moon overlooking the world. The moon's sinister glow was casted upon the lone piece of land floating over an infinite, dark lavender abyss. The aristocratic cathedral building, the only structure situated upon the hovering earth mass, started to collapse and sink into the ground, revealing the final standoff between Ash and the vile darkness queen herself.

Though the peculiar structures and the walls were gone, the battlefield still retained that distressing, supernatural vibe that the entire world had reflected upon. Through their spiritual link as a result of this world, both Ash and Pikachu expressed startling disbelief upon the sudden reconstruction.

"Thought you wanted some fresh air before we start," D'ana remarked offhandedly, coldly smiling at her frustrated opponents.

"This whole stunt of changing the field again looks like another trap, but then again what choice do I have?" Ash mumbled, mentally clearing his mind with a quick shake of his head. Pikachu looked back at him despite being a clear reflection of himself and not the true Mouse Pokémon. D'ana and her feral Espeon waited, apparently wanting him to make the first move; after all, she would not have lingered this long without causing pain. "Let's do this. Pikachu, Quick Attack!"

"Pika!" Pikachu grunted, sprinting forth into motion with a speeding trail of light tailing from behind. He swerved from side to side with blinding speed, attempting to disorient Espeon's aim. The Sun Pokémon, however, remained still and continued to glare straight ahead as to cover Pikachu's general range.

Quick Attack and then Iron Tail that yellow rat!

"Fie!" Espeon hissed venomously; thin strands of her once fine fur upon her back stood on end like needles. She disappeared into a blur, much to Ash's utter shock. Pikachu was suddenly thrown into the air as some invisible force, revealed to have been Espeon, gained the upper hand on him. Due to the outmatched terms of speed, momentum, and mass, the Mouse Pokémon was sent a considerable distance into the air as a result of the colliding Quick Attacks.

"Pikachu!" Ash called out, only to bite his tongue as Espeon chased after Pikachu and send him down with an Iron Tail smash. His weakened resolved paralyzed his projected being in fear. He could only watch in anguished helplessness as Pikachu was plowed into a small crater upon impact on the ground. Fortunately for the young Aura Guardian's sake, Pikachu leapt back out of his small hole and back into action. "That was a close one… Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!"

"Pikaaaaa…!" Pikachu growled, golden lightning coursing out from his cheeks to his tail, electricity crackling critically. "Chuuuuu!" With a fervent shout, the Mouse Pokémon unleashed his powerful Thunderbolt, tearing up much of the earth as the lightning charge rumbled through towards Espeon.

Zap Cannon!

Espeon mutely formed an electromagnetic sphere right in front of the gem on her forehead, launching the Electric attack with relative ease. The Zap Cannon sliced through the lightning current of Pikachu's Thunderbolt, effectively dissolving the opposing attack while maintaining a direct collision course towards Pikachu. The simple trick alone flustered both Ash and Pikachu.

"Dodge it quick!"

"Pi?" Pikachu yelped, his swift feet unconsciously pulling him out from his fearfully rooted spot before the Zap Cannon had landed a hit. The electromagnetic field of Espeon's attack slightly grazed Pikachu by the back, even though the attack was evaded for the most part.

"Pikachu, no!" Ash cried, clenching his teeth tightly in anger. As much as I don't want to believe it, D'ana's completely leading me in a circle. His emotions were agitated further as he witnessed the imaginary representation of his Pokémon buddy being thrown about like a rag doll as Espeon had her way with him through swift strikes of Quick Attack. "It's not going to end like this! Pikachu, wake up! Use Volt Tackle!" Pikachu's ears twitched upon response as they would, bringing the Mouse Pokémon back to his sense long enough to escape Espeon's onslaught.

"Pi-ka!" Pikachu shouted, regaining his footing on the ground and dashed forward. "PikaPikaPikaPikaPika…!" His small body was consumed by a powerful, golden-electric aura, leaving the darkened outline of his body as the leading nose of the brilliant Electric attack.

"You're starting to lose it, little man," D'ana smirked. "Espeon, play with him with Psychic!"

"Ef-fiiiiie…!" Espeon growled, narrowing her sharp, glaring eyes solely upon the oncoming Pikachu. Her Psychic power immediately took dominance of the Mouse Pokémon's body, leaving the Volt Tackle-charged Pikachu to run around and around and around in a circle upon the center of the battlefield, much to D'ana's cruel amusement.

"Pikachu!" Ash shouted at the top of his lungs, roaring anxiety swelling deep within his stomach. Though he knew that the Pikachu fighting on his behalf was not his real best friend, the young Aura Guardian had trouble emotionally comprehending the fact that he should not be too overly concerned over Pikachu's personage's well-being. Nonetheless, he was further blinded into panic as Pikachu was continuously tormented by Espeon's controlling Psychic.

"Pikapi!" Pikachu yelled back, but his voice was drowned out by the roars of his own Volt Tackle.

The blazing electricity of Volt Tackle slowly faded away, leaving Pikachu flying in circles under the Sun Pokémon's mental hold. The final round, although rather one-sided at this point, continued on in the same pattern. Every attack Ash called out for was easily countered and overpowered; for instance, Espeon's dark boost made her swifter in terms of Quick Attack, and with her anatomical size towering Pikachu's, it was basically no contest. As for Pikachu's remaining repertoire, Thunderbolt was easily torn apart by a single toss of Zap Cannon and Volt Tackle was useless if Pikachu could not even get close to Espeon. Every failed attempt pulled Ash down into further doubt and despair, which had weakened Pikachu's battling ability as well; his breathing became shaky as the cold slowly ensnared his body. In the meanwhile, Anabel watched gloomily from the corner, ever worried about the deciding battle of her future.

"What's wrong? I thought you wanted to play with me," D'ana taunted, leaning over on a hip and cackled. Pikachu was giving off palpable signs of fatigue, yet she still had Espeon continue to roughhouse with the Mouse Pokémon just to give her more of an arousal.

"This is just abuse now," Ash muttered grimly. His fist tightened upon every painful yelp escaping Pikachu's mouth. Espeon had kept the Mouse Pokémon pinned under her paw and was simply whipping him without pause with Iron Tail. The battle he chose to endanger himself in to save Anabel had been reduced to a twisted form of playtime for the manifestation of her dark, evil side. He felt the inside of his soul tear up, as though he was letting down more than just Anabel; he was failing himself and the honor of Pikachu as the Mouse Pokémon continued to cry out for mercy. "PIKACHU!"

"Pi?" Pikachu grunted; his ears involuntarily twitched up. He glanced around, wondering where someone was calling his name. There was nothing out of the ordinary as far as the Mouse Pokémon knew, at least at their current location at an Oasis Poké Spot in the Orre region. Lucario was still keeping a sharp lookout for anything unusual while Gallade guarded their Trainers' unconscious bodies.

Pi… kachu…!

"Pika?" Pikachu sensed the same presence calling for him again, yet the voice was a bit more audible than the first.

"Pardon?" Gallade inquired, slightly scratching the scar upon his voice box. "It's a wonder on how anyone can understand you, especially since you still have your voice intact."

"Pika Pikachu," Pikachu explained, claiming that someone was calling for him even when there was no one else around besides themselves and Lucario. It was also unlikely that the latter would be requiring Pikachu's assistance, given his unavoidable aura-honing abilities. Gallade gave the Mouse Pokémon a skeptic look, much to his chagrin. Pikachu wound up looking away in a huff. Jeez, you didn't have to act like a jerk and jump to conclusions like that, o' brave, scarred soldier.

"I heard that," Gallade grumbled, lowering his head darkly before Pikachu. "Just because we used to have a sort of camaraderie shared between comrades before I gave my allegiance unto Lady Anabel, that doesn't mean I would not resort to making you see things my way through any means."

Pika… chu! …

"Cha?" Pikachu gasped; someone was calling out for him again. This time the voice was loud and distinctive enough for him to distinguish whose it was. It's Ash! Overhearing the Mouse Pokémon's thoughts while observing his strange behavior, Gallade widened his eyes in shock before looking down upon the young man's body in front of him. "Pikapi!"

Gallade stepped aside as Pikachu made his way to the bodies. The Blade Pokémon was well aware of the possibilities of such phenomenon, realizing that Ash must have been able to contact Pikachu through some special method. However, the time for him to ponder upon such enigmas was not to be as another supernatural phenomenon transpired upon Anabel's body in the form of a small glittering light upon her forehead.

"What's this now?" Gallade queried. Before he could have examined the light himself, Pikachu had beaten him to it and was about to recklessly stick in a finger before thinking twice about it; he was Ash's Pokémon, no doubt. "Wait, Pikachu. I wouldn't—." The Blade Pokémon's warning was a moment too late as the glittering light upon Anabel's forehead intensified and seemingly engulfed Pikachu before his eyes.

"Pi… ka…," Pikachu moaned before collapsing unto the ground next to his best friend's head. The Mouse Pokémon had fallen into a similar stupor as Ash and Anabel had from what the mystified Gallade noted.

"Ru-Rah," Lucario beckoned, approaching Gallade on what had happened behind his back.

"… That," Gallade pointed out dryly; another life was sent in to save the Salon Maiden was the main story of their lives now.

"Anabel… I'm sorry… for everything," Ash mumbled under his breath. The front rim of his hat shadowed his despondent auburn eyes, unable to look at Pikachu being whipped beyond limit by a sadistic Espeon and her equally demented mistress. The guilt had been haunting him for so long now; this had been one of his greatest mistakes ever. "I'm no hero… not when I can't even save myself…"

The pretentious, emotional moments that amassed within him have been gradually overwhelming him. No matter where he turned or looked, the palpable, painful truth continued to smack him upright in the face. What Ash thought, which meant believing that leaving Anabel for her safety in order to take the entire responsibility for Reverse-Cipher, would have been a safer bet originally than having her stay with him and become a target as well for Reverse-Cipher to pick off. Yet no matter how he looked at it, she would have been in danger regardless of the circumstance. These were dark times they were all dealing with now, and the young Aura Guardian was often too narrow-minded and stubborn for his own good. If he were to take responsibility, he would have to realize the true reasons why he, Anabel, and Paul went to the Orre region in the first place.

"… I… I have to stop this, but how…?"

"Give up yet?" D'ana asked mockingly. Ash's attention was brought back to the field where Pikachu was being held up on the fur on the back of his neck by Espeon's mouth. The Mouse Pokémon was bruised and disheveled, barely unconscious as he was as he hung loosely by Espeon's miniature fangs. "It didn't matter what happened earlier as I was in control the entire time. Corphish… Tauros… you could have picked a baby Togepi and I still would have won the battle. Now I repeat, have you enough brain cells to realize the futility of your rescue? Apparently, Pikachu has already."

"No! Pikachu… Pikachu would never give up!" Ash retorted back heatedly, built-up anger and uncertainty causing him to tremble.

"Which is why you shouldn't either, Ash!"

The abrupt intervention alerted both Ash and D'ana to the far corner behind the latter. There she was, the real Anabel, standing tall and radiating immaculate light from her being, which was bright enough to slice the dark air around her into oblivion. No longer was she curled up in her own misery, but now fighting for her own freedom after witnessing Ash continuously putting his life for her, even if it was to remedy his past mistake.

"How? You shouldn't be standing after everything your pathetic little boyfriend's been put through!" D'ana hissed. "And to top it off, these were your own vicious intentions you desired upon him through ME!" At the same moment, a bright radius of light expanded from Anabel like a consuming explosion. The bright veil passed right through Anabel's evil incarnate, to which she had been reduced into her less powerful form that resembled the Salon Maiden herself. D'ana felt herself shrink from the voluptuous older woman into the thin, late-blooming body of her former teenaged self, gazing upon her hands with the rest of her body following after in vehement disgust. "You… how could you?"

"No way…," Ash whispered, awestruck by the sudden reversal. "But why now?"

"We're a team, Ash, and we'll always be one," Anabel replied, smiling softy as she clasped her hands upon her chest. "I'm sure you realize that everyone is needed to take down evil, whether it would be Reverse-Cipher or my dark side. By the way, here's one more addition to our team that you should never forget, besides me." With an encouraging wink, the Salon Maiden directed her hands upon the field where Pikachu and Espeon were. A glittering cloud of light materialized from her hands and flew to the field.

"What's going on?" Ash asked. He observed Anabel's light making its way into Pikachu's limp body, reviving and refreshing the Mouse Pokémon back to full strength almost in an instance. When Pikachu opened his eyes, Ash noted the difference immediately. "P-Pikachu?" Unlike before where his eyes displayed an average to dull life reflected upon his own, new will was brought into the Mouse Pokémon's personage. The restoring power had also forced Espeon to release her clamp upon Pikachu, to which he quickly countered with an Iron Tail to force her back further.

"Pikapi!" Pikachu cried joyfully, running up to the enthralled young Trainer and leaping into his arms like his true best friend would.

"It is you!" Ash exclaimed. He deeply hugged the snuggling Pikachu close to his chest before glancing at Anabel, extremely grateful for the gracious assistance. "It's time that everyone gets to work together. After this, I'm definitely going to bring Paul back with us."

"But for now, you're going to deal with me!" D'ana interrupted, a glare of fury marked behind her eye mask. "There's no way you could have just gotten that much stronger. I've already measured the limited strength of your will alone just by goading you with your Corphish and Tauros. They mean nothing!"

"Key words, D'ana: 'my will alone;' I never really was alone, nor should have I subjected you to this," Ash countered, looking at Anabel one more time. "Right now, the only thing I'm worrying about more than dealing with you now is forgiveness."

"Don't trivialize me!" D'ana screeched; she had lost all ounce of control. "Espeon, attack him with Zap Cannon!"

"Pika!" Pikachu grunted, instinctively jumping out of Ash's arms. The personage of the Mouse Pokémon was now composed of the willpowers of both Ash and Pikachu. Without a single uttered command from the young Aura Guardian, Pikachu engulfed himself within the golden electrical cloak of Volt Tackle and intercepted the Zap Cannon. Much to everyone's surprise, Pikachu remained active and darted in the air like an electrical missile heading straight towards Espeon.

"Espeon, stop that rat with Psychic!"

"Pi-ka!" Pikachu shouted quickly; he was swifter to the draw. The enhanced power of Volt Tackle as a result of his and Ash's combined might, along with the absorbed Zap Cannon, had basically devastated Espeon upon the slightest shock. The impact created a backlash that carried the weakened Sun Pokémon into the air along the shockwaves.

"Attack while Espeon's down, Ash!" Anabel advised.

"You heard her, Pikachu. Use Quick Attack!"

"Pi!" Pikachu shouted, rising out of the smoke of the previous explosion and speedily chased down Espeon with a ramming tackle.

"Now use Iron Tail!"

"Chuuuuu-Pika!" Pikachu yelled with all his might, bringing the finishing blow with his tail upon Espeon. The dark Sun Pokémon mewled in defeat upon strike; the strength of Pikachu's Iron Tail had actually forced her to dissolve and retreat.

The entire room fell into a frigid, hollow silence upon Espeon's defeat. The lavender moon of the dark world sinisterly shone down upon the nightmarish mistress. D'ana grimly lowered her head without a word. Uncertainty still waft around, but Ash's latest victory prevented the proud Trainer from even sensing the lingering danger.

"And that's game, set, and match," Ash commented, smiling upon his ultimate victory. D'ana kept her head bowed, her face unseen from anyone else. "So D'ana, how's about you let me and Anabel walk freely out of here?"

"Big mistake…," a low, ominous hiss whispered from D'ana. Anabel's eyes widened from the horrific realization dawning upon her, but before she could have spoken out to save Ash, her darker incarnate snapped her fingers for another atmospheric change.

"Ash, watch out!" Anabel cried, attempting to reach out to him from their far distance apart. Her feet slowly budged from their spot, regaining her mobility from despair little by little. Ash was taken off guard when four cold, metallic chains slithered out of the ground and separately ensnared his wrists and ankles.

"What the…?" Ash shouted, struggling to pull his wrists but was rendered helpless as he was pulled into the ground. "What is this?"

"Pikapi!" Pikachu called out, but was subsequently captured by a miniature spherical cage resembling Cresselia's. "Chah… Pika-chu…" The Lunar Pokémon merely watched Pikachu's grief and remained still in her cage by the referee box. There was nothing she could have done in her power to help and she had nothing else to say, but to pray and hope for the better outcome to triumph.

Something started to emerge underneath the earth where Ash was pulled into. It turned out to be an opened altar stone coffin with the young Aura Guardian being suspended over the opening through his chain bindings. The coffin was raised vertically, holding Ash up as though he was a disgraceful prisoner facing scheduled execution.

"This isn't fair… D'ana," Ash growled, the entire experiencing having shaken him up a bit. "I won, so let us leave!"

"Lettuce leaf? No, thank you," D'ana cackled, smirking her vicious, predatory smile. "I thought you remember who I was, being the evil mind that trapped you here in your lover's distressed world. You really should have known better than to trust me to uphold my end of the bargain."

"Let him go… now," Anabel warned calmly, yet her crossed lilac eyes otherwise screamed furiously at her dark counterpart.

"Or else what? Little Anabel's going to cry?" D'ana suggested sardonically, mimicking a child in pain sobbing and wiping away fake tears from her cold eyes. "You won't be the only one crying here."

Another portentous snap of her fingers had beckoned a brutal force from the open violet sky. A small speck of jet black was seen approaching them from the center of the moon. The blackness was shown to be growing and expanding as it got closer to them. Anabel was slowly gasping, attempting to control her growing apprehension for D'ana's next torture session. The visibility upon the black was clear enough for it to be deciphered as a flock of Murkrow led by the alternate-colored Honchkrow descending upon them like a curse. Without command, the flock sped their descent with Aerial Ace. All together, they rushed in towards Ash, bound by chains in his large coffin.

"Ash!" Anabel cried out helplessly. The young man struggled breaking out of his chains, but the purple Honchkrow and Murkrow followers efficiently flew in together, maintaining their individual Aerial Aces before combining into one group attack.

"Now dive up!" D'ana commanded.

Instead of colliding straightforward into Ash, the flock of darkness turned ninety degrees upward practically right in front of his nose. However, the scorching speed of their combined Aerial Aces partially slashed Ash, the streaks of hot white friction tearing away at his outfit. His shirt was obliterated before falling off into pieces of rags. Ash felt fortunate, though, that his jeans did not suffer too much disfigurement aside from small various gashes on the pants' legs and one large swipe on the left leg revealing part of his boxers; upon realizing the latter, embarrassment swelled in his reddened face as there happened to be two young women were presently looking at him.

"Uh, what?" Ash mumbled awkwardly. His coffin tilted and brusquely landed onto its back, catching him off guard as he released out a pained shout.

"What you're doing to him isn't even rational anymore," Anabel pointed out. "Please stop this."

"Since you said 'please,' I guess I'll just… laugh in your face and continue indulging in your carnal desires for you," D'ana stated as plain as day, smiling out of place within her dark realm. "Time to continue. Bring in the candle wax!"

"C-Candle wax…?" Ash groaned, still dazed from the Murkrow flock's attack and his open coffin falling back. He looked up to see the purple Honchkrow carrying a steel bucket with his beck. For a moment, the young Aura Guardian could have sworn that he imagined Paul's face within the Honchkrow. "Whoa… If you've been reduced as her servant, I couldn't imagine how this would be like in real life. That'd be a laugh seeing you pushed around by the same person you've put down now and then."

"Krow…!" the Honchkrow growled, an angered nerve apparently struck by the comment. Ash could have also imagined Paul's hardened scowl glaring at him at this moment, but it might have been delirium from his exhaustion affecting his judgment.

It did not take long for him to snap out of his disoriented state once the stinging, burning sensation of hot candle wax insidiously poured out of the bucket took effect on his abdominal area. Ash bit his lip to stifle the first rising urges to scream as the wax seeped down the sides of his torso. Though this took place within Anabel's mind, he felt like he would be driven to madness before he could ever be reunited with his body and be on his way. His agonized grunts escaped his lips a few times, but only when the purple Honchkrow surprised him with bubbling drops at random intervals, as ordered by the nightmarish mistress. It did not take long for his screams to finally burst out full volume as the wax stung and burned his skin upon contact.

No…! I refuse… aah… to be broken… yow… like this… yah-ha…, Ash thought with his face constantly contorted, enduring through the pain while thinking about how to escape. It was hard to concentrate on anything with hot candle wax dripping brutally upon his exposed stomach and chest.

"It would have been easier if he'd just give up and be mine," D'ana remarked, watching the torturous display in a dreamlike trance. "But then he'd still end up chained and on my beckoning. Ah, I love it when things work out in my pleasure."

"Then I suppose this is the time you realize the pain you've cause."

"Yes, I… Wait, what—?"


D'ana stumbled backwards, momentarily bewildered by the loud slap Anabel sent against her cheek. The slap was strong enough to knock off her wicked eye mask. The moment slowed down as soon as Honchkrow noticed D'ana attacked. With a quick flap of his wing, Honchkrow directed several members of his flock in Anabel's direction. With shrill cries, the Murkrow flew in towards the Salon Maiden. Anabel prepared for the worst and braced herself with her arms covering her face. The Murkrow flew at her and subsequently ignored her.

"Huh?" Anabel gaped in disbelief. She was too surprised by the fact that the Murkrow ignored her that she did not turn around to see D'ana being swarmed by the vengeful flock. Her screams were drowned out by the summoning calls of the Darkness Pokémon, sending for more Murkrow to assist them. Anabel turned around little by little to discover the Murkrow merging together, the blackness taking form around the dark mistress as part of her imprisonment.

"W-What the hell? A well?" D'ana screamed as she fell into the bizarre structure the Murkrow formed, her echoing shrieks ending upon hitting the water at the bottom with a loud splash. Anabel still could not believe her eyes.

"Hmph!" Honchkrow grunted, tossing aside the bucket of candle wax while still maintaining a hostile glare upon the chained Aura Guardian. Ash stared back, unsure of what to consider the Honchkrow as since his cronies actually saved Anabel instead of fighting for D'ana.

"Ash! You're okay!" Anabel called, running up to them. Ash was about to reciprocate the greeting, but was cut painfully short upon a direct hug by the Salon Maiden. He bit his lips shut with a hoarse groan; fortunately, Anabel backed off quickly after realizing the discomfort her concern caused him.

"Ah… that's better," Ash mumbled upon Anabel's release, looking back up to the scowling Honchkrow. "Hey, uh, Honchkrow? Can you help me get down from here?"

"Well, I suppose I could," Honchkrow replied in a gruff voice extremely analogous to Paul's, much to Ash's surprise. "You've really got a lot to learn before you can go on playing the reckless hero in the real world." Honchkrow straightened out his wings and promptly used Night Slash to sever the chains binding upon Ash's wrists and ankles. The young Aura Guardian fell into the wax-filled coffin with a thud before he could have prepared a proper landing for himself once out of those chains. Fortunately for him, the wax stored inside had cooled and hardened inside, which meant no extra pain for him.

"Gee, thanks for the nonexistent warning, Paul," Ash grumbled, stepping out of the coffin before stumbling into Anabel's arms. "… Wait a minute; did I just call you 'Paul'?"

"Just because I sound like him, resemble him in terms of personality because of your girlfriend's imagination, and am a Pokémon he owns in the real world doesn't mean that I am Paul," Honchkrow explained brusquely, looking away. "In any case, I guess I should be thankful that you had the nerve to bring the real Anabel back to her senses. Honestly, me serving her dark incarnate was just plain humiliating and pathetic."

"You're welcome," Ash replied, feeling sheepishly uneasy from witnessing the ironic resemblance the shiny Honchkrow pointed out. He chuckled lightly, accompanied by Anabel as she helped Ash stand up straight. From their cages, Pikachu and Cresselia sighed in relief that everyone was safe, and most importantly, Anabel was freed from her despair. "Come on. Let's go free Pikachu and Cresselia."

Before Ash, Anabel, and Honchkrow could have made their way to helping the trapped Pokémon, the ground began to quake. The insidious threat was not over yet as the trembling was at its strongest by the well D'ana had fallen into. An inhuman screech echoed from the well, giving the three of them the possible veiled horrors they have yet to face against Anabel's dark side.

"I recommend not going to that well," Anabel suggested before looking at Honchkrow. "And why haven't any more Murkrow form a lid to that well?"

"I'll deal with those slackers later," Honchkrow grumbled, glancing downward in mild frustration. "… Slackers that you thought up for me, by the way." To Ash, listening to them argue felt like a punch of nostalgia in his gut. In situations such as these where he was the only one wise and sane enough to be a mediator, his judgment told him to warn them of incoming peril.

"Uh, guys?" Ash spoke up, indicating a disturbing presence heard climbing up the cobblestone well.

The freezing tension tightened upon the trio as something was finally seen emerging out of the top opening of the uncovered well. Anabel held back a frightened gasp. Honchkrow gazed at the emerging figure with sheer incredulity. Ash stood close and in front of them as protection for whatever threat D'ana had left them to make their escape a living hell. A head of unkempt lilac hair covering the face arose out of the well, still dripping wet from submergence at the bottom. She crawled out of the well menacingly, hair still plastered entirely in front of her face. Ash felt a sort of sickness within his stomach while Anabel fought off the urge to faint from such a hideous sight. However, the both of them stood close together and held each other in an unshakeable embrace as Honchkrow hovered from above; no matter what happened next, they were finally glad to have each other once again.

"Ash?" Anabel queried.

"What is it, Anabel?" Ash asked, steadily looking at her while the crawling horror inched out of the well and to their direction by hand and foot.

"For goodness sake, will you two stop it with the romantic last minute dialogues?" Honchkrow interrupted austerely. "It's because you two keep feeling it up that you're in this mess." Upset by his rude intrusion, Anabel looked away in a huff and kept silent while Ash felt guilty about all this. D'ana faced Anabel's direction before standing up on her feet. In a furious hiss, she trudged over to the traitorous Salon Maiden. A bloodshot, rapacious eye glared from between the gaping, separated strands of disheveled lilac hair towards Anabel.

"You… bitch!" D'ana screamed murderously, effectively launching herself with the maximum intent of punishing Anabel for her betrayal. However, Ash stepped in front of her path, arms stretched out to take the full assault to protect the Salon Maiden.

"Ash!" Anabel shouted, involuntarily closing her eyes before the horror had struck them. Before any of them knew what happened next, a bright pillar of light emerged between Ash and D'ana, taking the form of the tall, mature guardian memory Ash had encountered in Anabel's mind before ultimately facing D'ana.

"Y-You!" Ash grunted, surprised that the guardian had appeared in front of him of all convenient times.

"I admire your audacity for saving Anabel, but now that she is finally back up on her feet, leave this one to me," the guardian replied with his back to him. He held his hands out to catch the pouncing D'ana. "It's time this miniature adventure came to an end and thrown back into the sands of history."

Another bright flash had come upon them, this time affecting the entire dark world. The intensity of the light momentarily blinded the entire company to the change that was to come about. It had only taken a few seconds, but the transformation of the world that the guardian had instigated was quite significant. The entire world D'ana had shaped was basically annihilated and wiped clean, save it for the background lavender color. The entire company was left hovering in empty space. Pikachu and Cresselia were freed from their cages and immediately joined up with Ash and Anabel. As for the company, there were huge changes as far as they saw aside from Ash's clothes being restored from the Murkrow attack, except for one.

"Is that… D'ana?" Ash inquired.

The woman sleeping serenely upon the guardian's arms bared a sort of resemblance to Anabel, excepted she was aged approximately the same as the guardian as far as anyone could determine. She wore a fair dress of silk and lavender with the top matching a similar pattern to Anabel's blouse. Her dainty arms were finely gloved, but she was strangely barefoot. Her peaceful face was gorgeous, but there was just something about her sleeping facade that was just simply beautiful beyond words. Her lilac hair was well-groomed and kept in a bun behind her head. Ash also noticed a simple locket hanging around her neck placed upon her bloomed bosom.

"Okay, I've existed in Anabel's mind for a good amount of time, but I'm practically as clueless as Ash about this whole thing," Honchkrow remarked, much to Ash's chagrin.

"Oh, now I remember who you are," Anabel motioned to the guardian, but not before clamping her mouth shut with a hand. "And because I remember your promise, I can't divulge your true identity to anyone."

"What?" Ash and Honchkrow growled.

"Easy now, my friends," the guardian gestured, settling the both of them down. "While it's true that my identity cannot be shared as it is a secret Anabel promised me in the real world, I can tell you this tale of mine."

"Anabel, when did you meet this guy?" Ash asked.

"Well, it's kind of, um, when you were competing in the Sinnoh League Conference," Anabel surmised from her memory to the best of her ability, twirling her index fingers together. "At least, that's as much as I can tell you."

"What do you mean?"

"Please, don't give her any unnecessary hostility, Ash," the guardian recommended coolly, glancing upon the sleeping beauty in his arms. "Otherwise you'll wake her."

"Okay, from the top, what is going on?" Ash queried impatiently.

"I'm with him on this one," Honchkrow concurred, perching himself on Ash's shoulder opposite to where Pikachu was. Before Ash could have forced him off his shoulder, Honchkrow sent him a sharp glare along with an open wing. "One move and your head and Pikachu's will be soiled upon."

"You wouldn't…"

"If I may," the guardian intervened, "I'd be willing to share some of my origins, though I warn you, you may not be able to fully comprehend this tale of mine."

"We'll do our best to keep up," Honchkrow replied.

"Very well," the guardian cleared his throat. "Because of my appearance, you may have the impression that I'm an aura guardian. That much is true. However, before I continue, I would like to apologize in advance for certain things I've told you in the past, Ash."

"Uh, sure, go ahead," Ash shrugged.

"I am an aura guardian that Anabel met at some point of her life, but you must now also realize that I am an aura guardian that had existed back when Pokélantis was a thriving empire," the guardian began. Unsettling shock had set in upon Ash and Honchkrow. Anabel, who already knew the story by heart, merely smiled back.

"But… that's way back, even before Sir Aaron!" Ash commented incredulously. "You could be like my and his ancestor or something."

"As I was saying, I served as nothing more than a common soldier in service to the king," the guardian continued, though looked rather peeved from the interruption, but there was an underlying reason for his subtle anger. "The king, back then, was essentially greedy and power-hungry. He used his charismatic charms to urge his people to conquer more land outside of what would be known as the Kanto region. His kingdom would eventually be connected and rooted to the lands of Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh. However, his thirst for power did not stop there." The guardian sighed, shaking his head to calm himself down. "The king wanted more power. He wanted…"

"… Ho-Oh," Ash filled in, memories of being possessed by the king resurfacing. He remembered being called reckless and a stupid child by Pyramid King Brandon upon hearing the supposed legend of Ho-Oh trapped in a stone orb within the discovered tomb. However, as it turned out, the orb contained the spirit of the wicked king who sealed himself inside due to the failure of capturing Ho-Oh. Anabel glanced at him with concern.

"I can sense that you have the basic idea of the king's conquest, Ash," the guardian noted, stroking the tender pale cheek of the sleeping maiden. "Perhaps I should go on explaining why the woman you faced earlier is like this now, correct?"

"Yeah, go ahead," Ash nodded solemnly.

"Right. Anyway, while I continued to serve the king with the utmost distaste, at some point of my services, I met a beautiful young woman during one of my missions in Pokémopolis, a civilization that greatly opposed the King of Pokélantis. Though she was not the princess of the land, I could have sworn she was. I simply found her one day in a lush forest talking to these amazing creatures you now refer to as 'Pokémon.'" He glanced down upon the peaceful young woman and sighed yearningly. "When I asked where she was from, she told me that she and her family migrated from the early lands of Hoenn after Kyogre and Groudon retreated into hibernation. It was also that time that the king attempted to develop powerful artifacts to control those creatures just to further his own strength."

"What happened?" Ash asked.

"I don't remember the ultimate fate of those creatures, but all I can truly recall is how often I snuck out of the kingdom just to see her again. There was just something about her that made me completely spellbound to her every week I escaped to see her. In fact, I was hoping to have a chance to start a relationship with her once we found a way to escape the king. However, my affairs were eventually discovered by the king and his forces… and from there, we were captured and taken prisoner."

"That's really terrible…"


"That's not the worst thing to have happened to me. Furious at my secret agenda and convinced that I was plotting to overthrow him, the king demanded that I… compensated for my misdeeds," the guardian gulped, guilt and pity swelling within his throat and momentarily preventing him from recalling his painful memories. "The king, he wanted my lover as his bride…" As expected, a cold silence had fallen upon the group. Even Ash, who would have been driven to a rage, was respectful enough from speaking out of term. His seething expression, however, was difficult to conceal. "My beloved one blatantly refused to marry the king, no matter what threat or torture he executed. She refused to let me go when she should have as we were both powerless against his rule. Eventually, the king was fed up with her resistance and ordered his men to take her to the darkest chambers underground for dark magic experimentation for the rest of her life. The last thing I've ever heard from her was a scream saying, 'I thought you loved me?' before she was taken down to the magic chambers and hexed upon for the remainder of her days.

"That scream had haunted me ever since. I've been blaming myself for being so weak, so powerless to have protected her. It was from that point on that I started an open rebellion against the King of Pokélantis to finally show him the error of his ways. I've recruited as many people and Pokémon as I could, but the kingdom was ultimately destroyed by Ho-Oh, the same force that had driven the king into madness. However, the king did not give up there and would find a way to rebuild Pokélantis one day, so he used a spell experimented upon my lover that would imprison his spirit for centuries to come until he found a vessel worthy to recreate his fallen empire. As such, I forced my own spirit, out of sheer guilt for failing to rescue my lover, to wander the earth in order to prevent the rise of the evil Pokélantis King."

"What happened to your lover?" Honchkrow asked.

"She had died cursing the world for separating us, and through the dark magic the king's sorcerers practiced upon her, she became a vengeful spirit that would try to steal men from other women to fill the infinite black hole left in her heart. I could tell you the tale on how she ended up sealed within Anabel, but that will be told another day."

"But then, what does that make you?" Cresselia inquired.

"This woman who gave you such tribulation is indeed the spirit of my lover, but I'm nothing more than a memory Anabel created to ease her loneliness," the guardian explained. "Because of her exposure to black magic, she has taken it upon herself to harvest off upon Anabel's negative emotions to ensure that she would never have to suffer like she did. I must tell you, though, that heartbreak and other painful, passionate moments are the only things capable of overwhelming her and thus created the dark entity you faced."

"This really explains it all," Ash mused thoughtfully. "But what happened to the real you again?"

"My spirit had finally crossed over to the other side now that my lover has been saved from her curse, which had kept her lost and vengeful, and is now waiting for her return," the guardian replied. "The only way she can finally pass over is if Anabel's time had come as well. Once the body expires, the spirit or spirits must depart and move on."

"Well, we're all grateful for the explanation and all, Mr. Guardian, but shall I do the honors of restoring the right from wrong?" Cresselia suggested.

"You may."

"Ash, Anabel, Pikachu, you better hang onto each other tightly," Cresselia advised, focusing her psychic power upon the three of them to send them back to their bodies.

"Don't forget your next objective: finding 'me,'" Honchkrow added, smirking with a raised brow.

" A… A…sh… A… Ash… Ash…?"

"… H-Hm?" Ash groaned, stirring himself awake. His eyes slowly opened and blinked, awakening to the sight of Anabel, Pikachu, Lucario, Gallade, and Espeon watching closely over him. "I'm… I'm back?"

"We all made it back in one piece, Ash," Anabel pointed out, holding onto the eye mask in her hand. She was still in the lascivious apparel her alleged dark side dressed her in. "I'm really glad that you came back for us, for me."

"We are truly grateful for you rescuing Lady Anabel and bringing us back to sanity," Gallade added, bowing politely with an accompanying nod from Espeon.

"I'm glad, and thanks to you guys for protecting our bodies while we were trapped in Anabel's head," Ash mentioned, recalling Lucario into his Poké Ball after his acceptance of the praise. Gallade gave a respectful nod back before being recalled back along with Espeon. "So, we're finally back together, huh?"

"More or less," Anabel surmised. Ash somehow noted a cool tone within her voice.

"Is there something wrong now, Anabel?" Ash asked.

"Aside from the fact that we still need to find Paul and stop Reverse-Cipher from doing as they please, everything's just… peachy," Anabel sighed.


"Look, Ash, after everything that has happened since our breakup and our reunion in my mind, I've been thinking over some things while you were still recuperating from the whole ordeal," Anabel explained. Ash felt his throat swell up apprehensively. "Right now, it's best if we don't pursue a relationship. That way, I wouldn't trouble you when my heart breaks and the guardian's lover goes berserk again."


"I still love you, that much is certain, but my heart cannot take any more right now," Anabel added, stopping Ash with a hand before he could have advanced towards her. "Maybe I was blinded by love, but the fact remains that it caused us trouble in the past. I never knew how much it could have."

"So what are you saying?" Ash asked calmly.

"I'm saying that we should just remain friends, teammates in this case, and be able to live freely without being bound to another," Anabel suggested softly, placing a hand over your heart. "And if it pleases you, you're welcome to pursue a relationship with another girl."

"What? What about you?"

"I'll also be available to do the same, but right now, I've still got a lot of personal issues to work on…"

"Like what?"

"Dealing with Paul once he rejoins the team. Don't worry. I have no interest in him if that's what worries you."

"So wait, you're not going to pursue a relation, but I can? That isn't right!" Ash proclaimed. "I mean, why are you torturing yourself like this?"

"The simple truth is that I can't deal with this crap any longer!" Anabel scolded, a rare side of her anger surfacing. Ash was still dumbfounded by the minor swearing she did. "If there's anything I've learned while at Orre, then it's time I put them to the test. I'll be by your side since I also have the power to help you stop Reverse-Cipher. But once this incident blows over, then we'll just have to see where our futures lie."

"Anabel, are you sure you're alright… about this?" Ash queried, still feeling unsure about all of this. He glanced into her lilac eyes, and despite the hardening sadness replacing the once vivid shimmering of innocence, understood her sincere resolve behind her decision.

"I'm fine," Anabel replied. "Now let's find a place to settle in before night falls."

"Pikapi Pi Pika Pika-chu," Pikachu finished. Recounting a small section of the tale was not an easy feat, but he managed to withhold to the best of his knowledge. It had only taken him up to sunset to recount that much.

"Did you get that, Lila?" Leon asked. "Those were some powerful messages Pikachu provided for us. Even you couldn't have… Lila?" It took him long enough to realize that his sister was in meditative thought.

"I can't believe it, I just can't," Lila murmured, slowly glancing up to meet her brother's face. "Yeah, I heard you, Leon, but I've been thinking about something now that I've got to ask Mom directly."

"What's up now?"

"If what Pikachu said was true, that Mom and our Dad had remained separated after reuniting, then does that mean that he still loves her?" Lila proposed. "I mean, how are we even here in the first place?"

"Wow, even I have thought that far ahead," Leon commented, pondering. "I'm surprised that you haven't been concerned that our Mom was controlled by a malicious she-spirit. After all, that might have resulted in your defects." The younger twin brother was soon silenced with a quick backhanded smack of Lila's fist.

"Idiot! Now's not the time for that!" Lila retorted. "Don't you even care about Mom's happiness?"

"Don't call me an idiot, super-idiot!"

"How about I—!"

"Lila! Leon! It's almost dinner time!" Grandma Delia called out to them from the door. "You'd better wash up!" She noticed them still with Pikachu, Espeon, and their eggs. She went over to them, who greeted her back as though nothing happened, which to Delia was a result of interrupting another sibling quarrel. "By the way, kids, your mother has recovered from her little 'episode' and will back up and at 'em tomorrow. She's already had her dinner and is now resting."

"I'm glad Mom's okay, even though she couldn't tell us the tale today," Leon said.

"But still, we shouldn't push her until she's ready to talk to us again," Lila recommended.

I'm glad to have finally gotten this part out of the way. The "Finding Paul Arc" will take over from here. I also wonder if you all have caught the reference to The Ring. I heard that The Grudge is a lot scarier as I haven't gotten a chance to see it yet. Anyway, I guess I had horror movies in my head when making this. As for Ash and Anabel's current relationship, well, let's just wait for what will happen next.

As for the brief tale from the guardian, it is a brief spoiler for my planned prequel for From Servant to Stardom. I don't know when, or if, I could get to it, but that little legend would be a main part of it if I ever get to moving on to it. You'll know more about them from there as it takes place way earlier than right now.

I hope you will find the time to review this chapter. What are your thoughts, questions, and concerns about it?