A powerful thunderbolt, well concentrated and predestined to fly, flung itself from Pikachu to Ash sooner than any normal human would've had the time to react, but as we well know, Reflection had morphed Ash into anything but. Without breaking a sweat, he sidestepped at an almost impossible speed, twirling his knife in one hand and snickering at the feeble attempt to put a scratch on him. Meowth and Jessie's jaws dropped at the impossible becoming possible, but Max and Pikachu didn't flinch. Ash's maniacal, bloodthirsty gaze returned to him, and he licked the knife's blade, slicing his tongue and coating the knife in his blackened blood once more. Pikachu cringed, battling nausea and tears at the sight of its trainer in such a state. Ash took the opportunity to attack, again utilizing his newfound DNA alterations and closing in on Pikachu so quickly that Pikachu didn't even have time to recognize the nature of the close combat attack about to be delivered upon it. With one swift movement, Ash brought his raised leg crashing down onto the tiny Pokemon's skull, causing it to cry out shrilly in immense pain, blood streaming from its ears. It sparked defensively, looking up at Ash with weakness and repressed love, longing for its rightful master to return. Ash merely grimaced and dealt another swift kick across Pikachu's cheek, sending it hurtling into a nearby tree face-first.
Unable to stand, the blood from the concussion and cracking of its skull was too much to bear, and it began to feebly cough blood onto the ground, sobbing and vomiting in pain and utter disgust at what Ash had become. Ash's kick had severely and possibly permanently damaged Pikachu's right electrical pouch underneath its reddened cheek, making it impossible to spark, as the strain produced from trying to generate electricity on only one side was too great a pain to withstand in addition to the nauseating trauma it was enduring at the moment.
Ash trudged over to it triumphantly, kneeling beside it and glaring menacingly. Max sobbed, trying to run after the mortally wounded Pokemon, but Jessie held his shoulders tightly, weeping as well at the sight, her tears sliding down her face onto Max's soft raven hair. Meowth had long since turned away from the scene, but even his shoulders shook with repressed sobs and cries. Ash fingered the puddle of blood on the ground, taking some onto the tip of his finger and licking it, the black blood still gushing from his tongue.
"Do you honestly think you have what it could take to bring your master back to you? I've doubted it from the start. You're pathetic, and you've more than ceased to amuse me."
Pikachu tried to stand once more, but collapsed back into its own pile of blood and vomit. Ash shook his head.
"You miserable thing. It's a cruel world, allow me to put you out of your misery."
With the little Pokemon still breathing and fully conscious, Ash began to make incisions on the small Pokemon's chest. Pikachu began to cry out weakly in pain, saying something under its breath as it struggled to control its breathing in the face of the searing pain being inflicted on it. The others watched helplessly and powerlessly, eyes blinded by tears. Meowth cringed the most, but had long since stopped crying.
"Hey. Ash, Demon, whatever you want me to call you."
Ash responded without stopping his cuts and slices, continuing whilst paying no heed to the pained cries of the Pokemon he was dissecting. "Ah, so it speaks. If you're going to play the hero and try to stop me, I will see to it that you die a miserable and slow death, even worse than this one."
Meowth stood firm, his voice unwavering. "What you're doing isn't right, but I'm positive you know that for a fact. So I want to tell you a little something about that Pokemon you're currently tearing apart."
"Shoot, then." "You should know that Ash and it are different than most. Even if you kill one, the bond between them won't cease. That's what that Pokemon's trying to tell you." Ash smirked, but continued his cuts. "What else is it saying I should know about?"
"It says that no matter what you do to it, it will endure it all for Ash's sake, and as long as he's still fighting, wherever he is, he'll be able to save himself, at least. It also says that if enduring the pain you're giving to it will help Ash in any way, it's well worth enduring." Pikachu's cries had ceased, as it had passed out from the immense pain.
Ash's expression changed to one of less amusement, but he continued his cuts. By now he was able to see the Pokemon's faintly beating heart residing within. Jessie released Max and began to throw up. Max's eyes welled up with another round of furious and sickened tears.
"What the heck are you doing? Are you out of your mind?"
Without answering, Ash sliced the arteries away in one flick of his wrist, wrenching the remaining guts that held the heart in place free of his prize. He set his backpack down, drawing the locked jewelry box from it and setting it next to him. Meowth took several steps back, not knowing what to expect next. Meanwhile, Max took several hurried steps forward.
Ash glared at him. "I told you already, don't be a hero. I will kill you if you come any closer!"
Jessie snapped out of her sickened stupor, calling out to Max frantically. "Are you nuts? Don't let May's sacrifice be in vain!"
Max balled his fists. "That's right…you took her too. You took everyone from me. You always…always take…"
Ash, without taking his eyes off of Max, forced two fingers down his throat, retching onto the blood-soaked grass before him without a simple gag involved. From the vomit, which was also black and disgustingly mixed with deep red blood, a shining silver key protruded. Ash, still looking at Max and tracking his movements, cleaned the key between his fingers and pushed it into the lock of the box. Just as his fingers had begun to twist the key, Max darted towards Ash, fists pulled back to deliver the heaviest blow he could muster to wherever his reach allowed him. Ash, however, was more than prepared and anticipating, turning quickly and grabbing Max by the neck, lifting him.
Jessie shouted, horrified, as Max began to turn blue, clawing futilely at the hand around his neck, Ash still effortlessly clutching Pikachu's heart in his other hand. Max's world began to dim, and he had lost the ability to inhale. Just as he'd been convinced he was ready to breathe his last, the pain of asphyxiation suddenly ceased, and he dropped onto the ground.
Ash had fallen face forward onto the ground, out cold. Standing behind where he'd been moments ago was a grim-faced James, a steel rod brought down into the position Ash's head had been in moments ago. Accompanying him were Gary, his slung arm not seeming to hinder him much, and Harley, who smirked with accomplishment.
"I tell ya, kid, it's amazing the things you can find in the ruins of a burnt place like that."
Unaware of the events in real life and too busy concentrating on his own survival, Ash dodged attack after attack, narrowly missing Reflection's quick and precise jabs at him over and over with the bloody knife.
Reflection frowned in irritation. "You're picking up my pattern, aren't you?"
"Think about it. You're in MY mind. You're fighting how I'm fighting, thinking the same strategy I'm thinking. Naturally I'm going to pick up on your movements."
Reflection jabbed harder, missing all the while still and only managing to shred bits and pieces of Ash's already ravaged and torn clothing.
"That's not possible! How could you possibly even think to gain the upper hand on me after the events thus far?"
After one particularly nasty missed jab, Ash pulled Reflection hard with one arm to bring him forward, driving the knife through his shoulder blade.
"Willpower, like you said!"
However, the black blood wasn't spilt as it usually was when Reflection was wounded. Instead, a flash of light filled Ash's eyes, and an image surrounded him like a cinema where the empty darkness and visions of his subconscious had been. Reflection's eyes went wide, and he clasped his shoulder blade to try and stop the wound from spilling the light, but to no avail as a blood-like liquid spilt in its place, now a sepia shade that reflected that of which was being shown above the two. Ash watched the strange sepia vision unfold before his eyes. An emaciated child with short white hair and rags for cloths was crying out amidst a sea of violet mist before it wrapped itself around the child's neck, efficiently snapping it in two, the light dissolving from his eyes before he was released onto the ground, his neck wrung and clearly showing hand marks where the grip of the mist had been. The mist moved on down over a stone path into a yard where children played, a white house behind it. One child tried to touch the mist, but his hand crumbled and bled where he'd touched it. He screamed in agony, and the mist lifted him by the neck, tossing him to the ground as though he were a rag doll. He was silent when he landed, and the other two children began to run towards the house, shouting and crying and begging for their lives.
Reflection's eyes filled with blackened tears that seemed to consume his whole eye, giving him the impression of having eyes that were pure black, or just nonexistent. He clutched at his hair, the knife having clattered to the ground as he screamed. "Make it stop, stop it, stop…please, stop…"
As astonished as hearing Reflection cry out was, Ash continued watching the gruesome vision. One of the children tripped and was grabbed at the ankle by the mist, lifted high into the air and slammed down to the ground, his head breaking apart on impact, his blood and what remained of his brain splattering out onto the ground behind him. As for the other child, he was frantically pounding on the locked door that was opened too late, as, when a woman holding an infant answered the door, he was already hung and dead from an orange tree growing next to the house, the mist having served him well as a noose.
"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" Reflection continued to cry out as the image went on.
The child fell from the tree's limb and onto the cold ground back-first as the mist released him. Another swirl of mist, like a dagger, shot into the mother's chest, instantaneously piercing her heart. She dropped the infant, which began to cry from the sudden pain of falling. The mist, dripping with blood, muffled the baby's ability to breathe and killed it in the most humane way a baby could be killed, then moved on into the house. The endless slaughter continued on the small family within. Little girls, assorted Pokemon, men, women, everyone was suffering and being slaughtered, the relentless and ruthless mist taking their lives one by one.
The murderous vision continued, and Reflection, blackened eyes ablaze with hatred and rage, picked up his knife and lunged at Ash, not giving him hardly enough time to react and landing a clean jab into Ash's side. Ash stumbled back, clutching his side in pain, but keeping a firm grip on the knife. They returned to the pattern of attacking and blocking between them, but with much more intensity and rage bubbling from Reflection, making Ash's blocking, especially with one hand, much harder. However, the majority of the time, Reflection was attacking too fast to land a hit, giving Ash ample time to react.
Ash managed to slash Reflection's wrists, and again, the light poured from the wound, the sepia blood seeping from it again. Without ceasing their fight, Reflection and Ash continued their struggle whilst watching the cinematic before them.
This one was much less violent. A group of children played together on the misty outskirts of an ominous cave, daring one another to run in and hide. One child, the first to be dared, ran in with a hint of apprehension upon him. His hair was raven, about the same shade as Ash's, and his appearance average and slightly on the scrawny side. He'd run in and had seemingly gotten lost within a matter of moments. He wandered aimlessly, signs of increasing fear showing on his face.
Ash shook his head with realization. "I get it now. You don't have a physical form, right?"
Reflection kept attacking, every bit as raging and angry as before. "What of it?"
"I get it…You're a mass of memories and mist. When I cut you, you literally can't bleed. Instead, fragments and bits of your memories are leaking out, am I right?"
"No…you don't know anything about me!"
Ash, after another missed jab from Reflection, pulled him forward again and plunged the knife into his forearm. As more sepia blood seeped out, a single photo of the raven-haired boy with his family, including his father, mother, baby sibling, two girls and another boy, along with some family Pokemon, showed above. Ash drew the knife out and resumed blocking and dodging.
"See? You're just a mist full of ancient memories. Even though you claim to just want to hurt others the way you were hurt, you're really just trying to compensate for the pain you were astonished to inflict with your own hands after that day, against your will. So you want others to see that feeling, right?"
Reflection's jabs and missed blows slowed until he stopped altogether without lowering his guard. He spoke while avoiding eye contact with Ash.
"I've told you before. You're clever, but you speak as if your idea will keep you safe from harm. You do not understand what's going on right now, do you?"
Reflection tried to return Ash's vision to him, but all was dark, and the vision only reflected what they were doing in the depths of the subconscious. Reflection was confused. "What…what's wrong with your-"
"You tell me. It seems as though I'm passed out, seeing as I can still think and see into here."
Reflection's anger returned to him. "Dammit…even though you have such an astonishing and powerful force inside of you, your body is still weak and human…I should've guessed that the transformation wasn't complete yet."
Ash's eyes went wide. "T-Transformation?"
Reflection smirked at his surprise. "Oh, did I forget to tell you? Haven't you been curious at all by now about those hearts I've been stealing? They have nothing to do with trying to find me anymore. See, without the emotions surrounding one, the transformation cannot take place. That's why I need the hearts of those you are closest to, and the flaws and attributes that come with them."
Ash was still confused. "What do you mean?"
Reflection crossed his arms, the knife still in his hands just in case Ash tried to lunge at him. "There were a good deal of hearts in that little box of yours. Each one represented a different emotion needed to fuel the transformation. Think about this for a moment."
He sat, the knife still in his hands. "Dawn, the first of the victims, was represented as your interpretation of Lust. While you acted as if she were your friend, deep down you were irritated with her, acting and dressing as though she were older and more beautiful than she really was, as though her only attribute was her looks. Her lustful appearance irritated you."
Ash took a few steps backwards. "That's not true…"
"Second was Misty, the representative of Betrayal. You felt as though you could pour all your trust into her, but in reality this was not the case. She'd seldom leave you on your journeys, claiming she was needed elsewhere when in reality nothing was needed at all. You felt she didn't want to be anywhere near you, so you began to hate her inside."
Ash dropped the knife, forgetting about fighting. "No…you're a liar…"
"Third was May, if I'm correct. She was the carrier of Selfishness. She never gave up and always pressed on, but this was not always the case. You felt that the praise she received was all stemming from you, but she was selfish and never credited you for your help, try as you might to aid her. She was ignorant and paid no heed to you as you tried to help her, so you loathed her for those things."
Ash didn't speak, an inner conflict of those feelings thus far making him feel queasy. "Fourth was Paul, the carrier of Arrogance. Self-centered and boastful, Paul never ceased to irritate you on your quests. You wanted him dead more often than not for his irritation he gave to you."
"Fifth was Drew, the carrier of Envy. You hated him with a passion for having more success with his dreams than you had, or could ever dream of having. You envied him and also wanted him dead."
Still no response from Ash.
"Sixth was Brock, the carrier of Theft. He cared for you more than anything in the world, and yet you felt as though these feelings were nothing more than an excuse to keep you out of the life of everyone else after the trouble he caused you. He'd flirt with every girl you would stumble across in an effort to keep you from ever having a chance at love, or a chance to screw it up."
Tears were dripping from Ash's face by now, but still he didn't respond.
"Seventh, and although I have not told you of its death yet, I am sure you know it in your gut. Pikachu, the carrier of Abandonment. You two had a closer bond than anything in your life, but you've always felt as though it wasn't real, as though the second Pikachu turned on you and left you, you would fall apart, your life coming to a standstill and your hopes and dreams ripped to shreds. You wanted Pikachu all to yourself, but always had the sickening feeling Pikachu wanted nothing but to leave you."
Ash merely cried, his voice shaky and depressed. "How…how did you know all this…?"
"We're in your subconscious, after all. And considering that the transformation's effects thus far have seemed to be working, I can tell those things I've spoken were more than true. You've lasted longer with me inside you than with any of my previous victims, who all died from insanity and self-mutilation in an effort to escape before the process was complete. But you…you are a perfect host. I am nothing more than the parasite of the mind, preparing to attain the greatest gift of all with a few more ingredients to the alchemy that is the transformation."
"What would that gift be…"
Reflection began to laugh menacingly. "A new body to envelop, to wreak havoc and destruction with, all for myself!"
"It's…it's filled with hearts. They're all black," Gary spoke with nausea and disgust in his voice. Everyone cringed as he opened the box for all to see.
Jessie frowned. "What would he want with hearts? That sick bastard."
Harley shook his head. "Ash rarely does anything without reasoning. He must've had a reason."
Meowth was relatively nervous. "How long do you think he'll stay out like that?"
"Oh, not much longer," a sickeningly familiar voice came out.
Ash pushed himself back up off of the ground, looking around at the group. "I see the search and rescue party has arrived, no?"
Everyone tensed, but was unaware of what the next move should be. Ash laughed. "Why the faces? I'm still the same old Ash."
Max spit at him. "You're nothing like Ash, you vile demon!"
In a flash, Ash had disappeared and materialized next to Max, clutching his neck once more. "You little shit, what did you address me as?"
"Let him go!" Jessie rushed towards him, but James was screaming for her to return.
"Jessie, stop it! Come back, there's nothing we can do!"
The next few events played out before Jessie in a disturbing slow motion, as if her life was flashing before her eyes and someone had slowed it down for her. She stopped short at hearing James's voice, but Ash had already thrown Max aside to the ground. Meowth had begun running towards Jessie as well in an effort to stop her, but Ash had a new attack under his sleeve. The violet, nearly blackened, mist had formed and swirled around his fingertips, and began to seep from them, inching their way towards Jessie's throat.
Meowth and James stood in front of her defensively and protectively, but the mist was coming on too fast. Jessie screamed, but her screams were swallowed by an unseen darkness. The mist darted into the chests of the two Team Rocket members, wrenching their dripping and bleeding hearts straight out of their chests in one swift movement. Their chests burst wide open, the two collapsed onto the ground beside Jessie, their eyes having rolled back in their heads. Their chests had opened right where their hearts had been to give everyone a glimpse of the pain that they had suffered in their last moments.
As she cried, filled with misery, she noticed that Harley, out of the corner of her eye, was fleeing, running for his dear life. A third tentacle of mist shot from Ash's fingertips and caught up to Harley in an instant, crushing his neck effortlessly before delving into his chest and drawing forth his heart as well. Ash threw the hearts into the opened box, and the mist aura around him grew thicker and stronger, veiling him from everyone's reach or touch. He clutched the box tightly with one arm and drew his knife with the other. He began to mutter to himself.
"The transformation…it's almost complete. Only one more victim is needed now."
Ash began to cry out, sobbing. "No more victims, please, no more! That's enough!"
Reflection smirked at his misery, licking the knife gingerly once more. "And here we've received Stupidity, Persistence, and Cowardice. Quite a good group, wouldn't you say? And now it is time for the final sacrifice, the last victim I need to complete the transformation, along with the only one I've never gotten my hands on."
Ash, his knife clean of blood, thanks to the mist, set the box of hearts down next to him as Max, Jessie and Gary watched him in horror, still in shock from what had just happened. He turned the knife to his own chest, arm drawn back and poised to stab, but dropped it at the last second, lowering himself to his knees.
"No, I shall not use you. I must savor this. With my own mist, through my own hands, without the aid of the host, I will take his heart, the final sacrifice, and make him the carrier of Perseverance!"
Reflection began to glow, his violet and misty aura pulsating. Ash stepped backwards in horror, having dropped his knife long ago, and ran for his life.
"Your soul, your heart, your body, they're mine, Ash Ketchum!"