Hoo boy, first fic posted here. Let's do this thing! *cracks knuckles*

This was my very first one-shot, written in all the way back in November 2008 as a guest entry for Ysavvryl's Pokedex One-Shots on SPPf. It's been mostly unchanged since then, aside from the reinstallment of some of the bloodier elements that I originally cut out to keep it at the designated PG/K+ rating.

The title is the newest bit about this fic, inspired by the apparent "Disneyfication" (curse you, TV Tropes!) which most fairy tales, if not all, have undergone at some point since their conception. Since I'd "gone backwards" to explore the origins of the Pokemon's dex entry, the dex entry itself could probably qualify as the Disneyfied "fairy tale", of which this story is the grimmer "core". I prefer this title to the one I was originally going to go with, "Devotion", which also fits well with the story, though not quite as nicely. But of course, you'd rather just skip reading the introductory background bits and get onto the story already. That said, feel free to sit back, relax, and read this when it's dark. You'll be more creeped out that way. :D

Rated T for thematic elements, violence, some gore, and slight innuendo.

The Core of Fairy Tales

There was a story, handed down from generation to generation, of some dark spirit which brooded in the valley, one whose vengeance could tear asunder the very mountains which separated it from the rest of the world. And there were rumors of an evil influence from the nearby country which the valley bordered, a remnant of the last great war which, given time, might bring about the end of the world. The inhabitants of the valley's humble village scoffed at such an idea, claiming that their ancestors had lived there for centuries, and nothing supernaturally horrible had happened to them. Of course, at this time of year, when the icy wind howled against frosted windowpanes and the dark, unused corners of the older homes creaked ominously, it was difficult to chuckle at the antics of the nervous believers of such a legend.

But today, in one of the cottages in the valley, any traces of fear had to make way for celebration. Six small children shrieked happily as they chased each other in and out of rooms, darting back and forth. A sudden blast of freezing wind announced the arrival of their father, and yelling "Daddy!" happily, they flocked towards the opening door, where a dark-haired man was shaking off the snow settling on his heavy coat. He looked tired, but grinned at them all the same as he shut the door.

"Now, where's the birthday girl?" he asked, scanning the room.

"Here, Daddy!" yelped a black-haired girl, rushing toward him from the back of the crowd. Her face was lit up with happiness; however, it looked pale and drawn, as if she hadn't slept in days.

"Emmi!" Laughing, he scooped her up in his arms and spun his giggling daughter around, feeling the warm air from the fireplace already seeping into his skin. Her white dress whirled in the wide, sweeping motion. Setting her down gently, he reached into a large pocket on his coat, withdrawing a sloppily wrapped parcel. "I have a present for you."

Emmi's eyes shone as they took in the sight of the parcel. Still giggling, she took it from his grasp, tearing off the brownish paper excitedly. Her several siblings looked over her shoulder curiously, wondering what on earth her gift could be.

The last of the paper fell away, and Emmi yelped in delight as she found herself holding a smiling doll, nearly half as big as she was. The doll, dressed in a simple cotton dress and topped with a mane of blond yarn for hair, had to be the perfect new playmate she'd been hoping for all year. Squealing happily, she hugged the doll tightly. "I love it, Daddy, thanks! So much! I'm gonna call her Sally!"

Her father laughed. "You're welcome. Is your mother still cooking?"

"Yeah, she's been in there for ages," one of the little boys pouted, sticking out his lower lip. "I don't think she's ever gonna be done. I wanna eat cake, Daddy!"

"I'm sure she'll be done soon." The man ruffled his messy hair. "Why don't you all play some more for a while?"

"Okay," the boy sighed. A second later, the children were rushing through the house again, sliding under furniture and laughing. Emmi played with them, Sally clamped firmly under her arm.

The humble little party ended late that night, and the children indignantly set off to bed. Emmi entered her own room, chattering happily to Sally.

"I'm seven years old now, Sally! Isn't that wonderful?"

"Very wonderful," Sally agreed.

Emmi heard her speak, but was unfazed. She was at that age when belief in the unseen unlocks doors separating the real from the imagined. "We're gonna have so much fun, Sally! We're gonna play tea party and Three Scary Psyduck! It'll be so fun!"

Sally just smiled. As a doll, she already knew the numerous games children enjoyed playing.

Emmi's room was a simple one, containing a bed, a small box stuffed with clothes, and three other toys scattered across the floor. They stared at Sally curiously from their various inert positions, and she looked away from them, embarrassed.

"These are your new friends, Sally!" Emmi said excitedly, setting her down next to them before rushing out to wash before bed.

Left alone with the curious toys, Sally glanced about the darkened room, unwilling to meet their intent gazes. With no human present, they could move freely, and they did so, stretching and sitting up from their uncomfortable positions.

"New one, eh?" asked a stuffed, tattered Teddiursa, scratching his ear. "Been a while."

"Don't mind him," said another doll, this one a good deal older than Sally. Most of her hair was gone, exposing the grubby cloth scalp underneath. A jagged line zigzagged from the top of her head, down her face, and disappeared into the folds of her tattered dress, testifying of some accident bad enough to warrant the dreaded sewing needle. "He's a tad crusty. I'm Sanda, by the way. The Teddiursa is Di, and the gal in the corner is Betty."

Curiosity overcoming her shyness, Sally looked over in the corner to the third toy, which was yet another doll, slumped in a position usually associated with the dead, and rightfully so. Unlike Sanda, she had obviously been in poor repair before she lost her will to live. All of her stuffing was missing, having spilled through the large, gaping holes in her body, and some sort of dark crimson jam had been spilled on her long ago, giving her the appearance of being soaked in blood. Sally shuddered for a moment, before belatedly realizing that she might have offended someone with such outward horror.

Sanda chuckled. "Everyone gets the willies when they see Betty, sweetheart. It's perfectly normal."

Di gave Sally a meaningful look before glancing sideways at Sanda, rolling his eyes. It seemed that Sanda was blissfully unaware that there was no consciousness in Betty's wide, blank eyes; no cheerful meaning graced her dead, lopsided smile.

"Heard the parents talkin'," Di said, abruptly changing topics. Sally wondered if this was what the toys had been discussing before her sudden arrival. "They're worryin' 'bout the country next door. Rumors 'bout war with them 'n' so on."

"War?" Sally asked, her terrified answer coming out as a soft squeal. She'd heard fairy tales about war, but one could always count on the hero's Pikachu destroying the enemy's rampaging Gyarados. In a desolate valley like this, it was harder to believe in such a happy ending.

"Maybe. We just gotta hope that they're not that desperate for all this land."

"I've wondered about that," Sanda said thoughtfully. "Pity we're so close to the border. The family'd get swept apart by just a few of their soldiers."

"Dunno if we need to worry, though," Di mumbled. "We got a bunch o' Ponyta of our own. Ridin' into battle can't be that much harder 'n tillin' fields. 'Specially in this weather."

"Shadows beckon," hissed a voice.

Startled, Di and Sanda stared in horror at the darkness under the bed. Apprehension rising, Sally followed their gazes.

A Pokemon was materializing under the bed, a jet-black orb coated in an arcane, purplish gas. Dark eyes flashed in malevolence, and small fangs jutted from his mouth.

"He's back again," Sanda whispered fearfully. "We thought he'd gone for good … and Emmi was just starting to recover from the nightmares, too…"

Sally shivered. Gastly were uncommon monsters whom delighted in dwelling in the dark shadows between bed and floor, cloaking them in their gaseous bodies and weakening them with their notorious toxins, before devouring the sweet dreams of their young victims, replacing them with the howling torment of their own imaginations. Parents could look on in concern, pat their children on the head and say that everything was all right; but how could they know of the ghoul floating just a few inches underneath their child, cackling in delight as the young one slowly wasted away over the years?

A sudden protectiveness of Emmi gripped her. She had known her human for barely a few hours, and yet she had seen the purity of her heart, the sweetness of her mind. Could she let the child suffer from such a fate? Could she bear to watch the light in Emmi's eyes flicker and die? No, she could not. There was not much within a doll's power to counter a fiend such as this, but she could at least try.

"Leave," she whispered, locking gazes with the ghost.

"Dreams are mine tonight," the Gastly hissed, floating out into the small, dark room. "They will float on my tongue, and I will slowly lick innocence away from her. I will be fed, she will be dead, you will linger in despair."

Horror gripped Sally's heart like an icy claw. The Gastly was advancing toward her, his gas shrouding him like a robe of darkness. "Leave," she repeated, this time her voice barely stronger than a squeak.

"She will find horror," he continued, a horrific smile stretching his face. "I will find power. I will become drunk on her screams."

He was almost upon her now, and, being paralyzed with fear, she could not will herself to widen the gap again. Sanda and Di, frightened beyond normal capacity, had slumped inert to the ground, finding themselves unable to stand against his dark power. Fear radiated from the ghost like the icy wind outside, but this was no mere external discomfort; this was a sensation that pierced the skin, froze the heart and turned blood to ice.

A wisp of the ever-shifting gas swept over her face for a moment, and the scent of decaying meat it carried made her shiver even harder.

Hardly thinking about it, her mind clouded in fear as it was, she felt herself getting to her stubby feet, standing erect before the ghoul. "Leave," she growled yet again, and she was vaguely surprised that her ability to speak had not abandoned her.

The Gastly merely cackled again. His shroud was shifting, reforming itself into a pair of clawed hands, which reached for her with agonizing slowness. Realizing it was hopeless, she closed her eyes in despair, willing for quick release.

Make it fast, she pleaded inwardly.


A sudden rush of defiance entered her heart, thawing it so fast that she was forced to gasp. She could not let him win. It was unthinkable.

Her eyes were still squeezed shut, so she could only feel her mouth opening, sucking in what must have been a final breath; could only hear the sound of her voice roaring "BEGONE!" as a strange energy began to tingle around her clenched fist, which swung around in a wide arc, slicing through the freezing darkness that was Gastly's body. An anguished howl ripped the air apart, and she forced herself to open her eyes in time to see him collapse through the wooden wall, fading out in the night.

The oppressive sense of doom it had brought immediately dispelled.

Breathing heavily, she sank to her knees in exhaustion. It took her a moment to put herself together and clear her mind of Gastly's influence. When she was herself again, she could barely move for shock. Had she actually done that? Dispelled a Gastly from a dwelling where, once it decided to stay, it would stay? But toys could not do that. They could comfort, but not banish.

A soft sound behind her caught her attention. Turning around, she saw Sanda and Di half sitting, half lying down. Both were staring at her in shock.

"What happened?" Sally asked them, examining her hand. "I don't think that—"

"Stay away from me!" Sanda shrieked, eyes as wide as saucers. She backed up until she had her shoulders to the wall.

Sally's eyes glinted in shock and hurt. "What?"

Darkness, Di muttered, scooting a little ways away. "For a sec you looked … diff'rent. Like you were some sorta fiend or somethin'."

The young doll opened her mouth to tell them that she didn't understand, that she had, after all, cast out the Gastly; and surely that ought to provide enough excitement to boggle their minds and skew whatever they believed they were seeing.

"Hiya, Sally!" Emmi said cheerfully, bursting through the door.

Then the world erupted into flames.

The enemy soldiers were swift, their Rapidash steeds agile. They swept through the homes in the valley with deadly force, annihilating the sturdy wooden homes as if they were made of toothpicks. A burning smell stung the noses of everyone within a quarter mile of the nearest fire, as the Rapidash spat thin, writhing streams of flame out at random flammable objects. The screams of residents shattered the bitingly cold night air, rudely replacing the calm silence of just a few minutes earlier.

A few foot soldiers kicked down the door of Emmi's house, drawing swords as flickering tongues fire began to lick the doorframe. A savage war cry drew their attention, and in turning they caught sight of Emmi's father, still dressed in his dark-colored nightclothes and waving a makeshift wooden club.

A swish of a blade, and he collapsed to the floor, mouth still gaping in a silent, bloody roar.

Someone screeched further inside the house. Emmi's mother, blond hair tangled in disarray, was rushing from room to room, grabbing as many children as she could carry. The soldiers glanced at each other, nodded, and wordlessly advanced toward her. Noticing them coming, she blanched and spun around in an attempt to flee, but they laid hands on her easily, grabbing her roughly before she could make her escape. Whimpering, the children cowered, and were taken more quickly. As a few of them proceeded to rope them up with thick, black twine, the rest proceeded to kick down the other doors, searching for more.

The flames danced higher, their bright, malevolent orange drowning out the pale yellow of candles flickering on the mantle over the empty fireplace.

A soldier burst through Emmi's door, grabbing her thin arm before the situation could sink in. Wide-eyed in fear and immediately forgetting her toys in the face of danger, the girl screamed shrilly and desperately tried to pull herself free. Scowling, the soldier slapped her across the face with shocking force, leaving her too shocked to protest.

"Emmi!" Sally cried, watching the soldier drag her beloved human away. If only she could do whatever she had done to the Gastly, and save the girl from whatever awful fate lay in store for her! But no toy could act on its own in the presence of humans. No matter what she could do otherwise, she was as helpless as a rag now.

Emmi's mouth weakly formed the words "Help me," to no one in particular, tears glinting in the corners of her eyes, before they disappeared through the doorway. The door slammed violently, knocking a few dark ashes from the burning ceiling.

"They can't take her!" Sanda cried indignantly, shoving herself to her feet as soon as she was able to. Harsh voices reached the toys' ears, followed by heavy footsteps which grew fainter before vanishing altogether.

Sally looked around frantically. The flames were spreading with deadly speed, sweeping down the walls like a wave of water. Shaking in fear, she rushed to the door and beat against it with all her might. But the weak stuffing of a doll is useless against the hard, solid wood of a door, even one weakened by the heat of fire. Desperate, she spun around and ran toward the bedpost, climbing anxiously before reaching the window. Bracing herself, she leapt at the window, only to collide with the cold, hard glass. Gasping in sudden pain, she hit the floor, winded.

The flames leapt higher, licking the floor as they towered over the toys. Frightened, Sanda and Di rushed to the bedpost, climbing frantically onto the bed just before the fire reached the spots where they had stood a second before.

Still dazed, Sally rubbed her head, screwing her eyes shut against the pain. A sudden shriek, and they flung open again; she was dismayed to see Sanda rushing back and forth across the bed, her dress on fire, clothing her in bright and dazzling colors. A stray tongue of flame extended towards the blanket beneath, and before long the entire bed and Di were also aflame.

In the corner, Betty's dead smile shriveled into a twisted grimace as the inferno consumed her rapidly burning corpse.

Sally watched in utter horror as the bright flames roared, almost spanning from floor to ceiling. Her head still spinning, she could barely summon the energy to open her mouth before the thunderous blaze sank its teeth into her body.

Her scream ripped through the night, and she writhed and howled as piercing flames ripped gashes in her fair cloth skin. Small pits of angrier fire burst through the gashes, feeding on her stuffing within. A rogue flame ripped across her lips, bursting open her frail throat. Fire poured from her mouth, and her head jerked back and forth in a soundless shriek of unimaginable agony as her tongue withered from the immense heat.

And then, in a final burst of unspeakable pain, she died.

Something was wrong. She could accept that she was dead, although the loss of Emmi would tear her apart for the rest of eternity; but death was something one experienced with a strange feeling of isolation, the knowledge that no matter how much one was loved, no matter how many friends one acquired in one's lifetime, one would inevitably die alone. Nothing could be brought along besides memory.

But she was not alone.

Child, whispered a voice in her mind.

Her mind still in a daze, Sally whimpered in confusion. The fact that she could still make a noise was somewhat surprising, but she could surely put that matter aside for now. A faint tingling manifested itself a slight distance away, and reflexively her fingers twitched. She still had fingers? Strange.

You must get up.

Her body – she could feel it, but how? – struggled to its feet, seemingly of its own accord. Memories of the pain suddenly rushed back, and she cringed.

They are going. We must hurry.

Sally tried to respond, but found to her surprise that her mouth was somehow sealed shut. What was going on? Unsure of these developments, she hesitantly opened her eyes.

The darkness seemed to shine like the sun on a bright summer day. It illuminated the hidden corners of the valley, lit the sky with incredible brilliance…

Shaking her head to recover from this wonder, she noticed with a start that surrounding her were heaps of gray, fluttering ashes, scattered by a slight winter breeze. Besides that, all was still. No fire burned. No shouts punctured the cautious quiet. No Pokemon of the night slunk along the bright snow. It was as if all the world simply lay in wait, unsure of whether to pounce or flee.

She happened to glance down at herself, and would have gasped in shock if it were possible. Her body was charred black, a horrific testimony of the heat of flames. Her dress was gone, but that made sense – it explained the small pile of ashes at her feet. Feeling her head gingerly, she stiffened as her long black hand felt something long, crooked, and pointed, like a wizard's hat, where her hair should have been.

Have you no sense? We must hurry.

Worry started to resettle in her gut. What is this? she wondered, touching her sealed mouth. A cold zipper kept her lips tight together, somewhat similar to the zipper which had been on her dress, although this one was obviously bigger.

Something you are lucky enough to not understand.

She froze. She wasn't sure how, but somehow, something had heard her thoughts. Shivering slightly, she took a few shaky steps forward and abruptly slipped on something smooth, dark and round. The object rolled a few feet away colliding with its twin with a loud clack. Wincing from the unexpected impact, Sally unsteadily got to her feet. Her eyes narrowed in curiosity for a moment before widening in horror: those marbles had been Di's eyes. A feeling of bile rising in her throat, she backed away as fast as she dared to.

No! Not that way!

She came to an abrupt halt. Who are you? she asked quietly, wondering if whatever fate lay in store for her would hurt more if she were unable to scream.

Surely as a doll you knew of such tales? There is a story, one of great horror and fear that would make your very skin shrivel in terror. It is said by many that on the last day I shall rise in the form of the great Armageddon and tear souls from their bodies with such agonizing slowness that both portions will scream in the great pain for hours on end …

Shudders began to wrack Sally's frame. The presence.

Of course, they also say I hide under beds and in closets and devour naughty children, and we all know that's a load of drivel, the presence went on. I do wish the Armageddon thing were true, though. It's a lot better than what I really have to do.

Slowly the shudders grew far less violent. The presence's claim might not be true, but it was at least perversely comforting. Unsure of what to do next, she kept silent.

You don't believe me? Sad, sad, sad. If a doll can't believe, who can?

She shut her eyes in concentration. What do you want?

The same thing you want.

And that is?

The extermination of evil.

That was not the answer she expected. But you are evil!

Am I? The mere fact that I prefer darkness does not make me evil. The Hoothoot searches for prey in the dark to keep himself alive, is he then evil? The Absol travels by night to avoid persecution, is his soul then corrupt?

Sally half-opened her eyes, taking in the blinding brightness that was the night sky. I still don't understand.

I could argue about it all night, but due to circumstances I cannot elaborate. Suffice it to say that we share a common goal, just as we share this body.

She shivered again. The idea of another intelligence inhabiting herself was extremely unnerving.

The soldiers have taken the children to their land. They are preparing for a full-scale war against this country, and wish to appease their pagan god, their Unseen King, for the sake of power.

Her mind worked furiously as it put two and two together. You mean … they plan to sacrifice them?

And worse.

The thought was horrifying. And yet…

You doubt yourself?

Of course. After all, what could she, a mere doll, do against the forces of an evil army and some Unseen King?

You are no longer a "mere doll". I have possessed you, and I will help you overcome them, as we overcame the Gastly.

You mean … you saved us from him?

Naturally. I suppose that the "begone" bit was a tad unnecessary, but it added to the "epic hero" feel, don't you think?

I suppose…

Let's not dawdle any longer. We must crush them before they gain the arcane power which they seek.

What? We can't kill them! Fighting is wrong!

War itself is not evil. It is the way of deciding who is superior. Even sudden, unfair ambushes on defenseless villages, such as this, are not wicked things; for out of such struggles do heroes arise. But this … the taking of children! A wave of intense anger rippled through her mind, and she winced at the violence in the emotion. Nothing can excuse it. They must suffer for the crime.

She felt horrified at the idea of killing something, no matter how wicked it was. Life was so precious, and the taking of it was so much more than just a crime: it was cruel evidence that some could not appreciate that all hearts beat alike, that they all ran side by side in the race against time and misfortune. But a part of whatever she had become stirred. What were the soldiers doing, then? Their vile nature could not excuse their own injustices. And Emmi? If she left Emmi to their mercy, she was no better than the soldiers. Her eyes narrowed as she came to the only available conclusion.

I will do what I must.

Without warning, she lifted off the ground, floating serenely in the bitterly cold air. She glanced down at the space between her feet and the earth below, and felt somewhat giddy.

This is how it must be, said the presence. But our crusade will warrant a sacrifice.

I will do what I must, Sally repeated, although slightly apprehensive.

Very well.

With a sudden jerk they soared outward, wind biting at their charred-black skin as the edge of the valley slowly but surely rushed toward them.

The enemy encampment was relatively easy to find in the light of the night sky. There were no tents or similar structures on the flat, desolate wasteland; the many soldiers simply stood, their Rapidash snorting in excitement. Their ranks encircled the hapless captives: mainly children, but a few mothers were also present, clutching their children's' shoulders in a useless attempt at comfort. Directly behind the hostages sprawled an evil-looking altar, upon which sat a pile of burning, dead wood.

Floating high above the oppressive scene, Sally watched in dismay, searching for Emmi among the captives. There she was! The girl slept in her mother's shaking arms, evidently exhausted. Her siblings whimpered in fear and confusion, huddling around their wide-eyed parent.

So the girl was safe, at least for now … but her heart sank as the soldiers made way to form a path for their captain, an unshaven man whose countenance loomed darker than the jet-black folds of his cloak. A heavily scarred Gliscor followed him, sneering down at the shorter humans. The man halted directly in front of his prisoners, and his soldiers quickly reformed ranks, preventing any escape.

The man spoke in a deep, throaty language that the terrified villagers would naturally not understand; but as a doll Sally could, although she immediately wished she was unable to, from the moment he opened his mouth.

"You are useless," he said, in a voice that somehow made the surrounding chill seem more than physical. "Useless as slaves, useless as townspeople, useless as feed for our noble steeds. There does exist a single use for you, which you could never appreciate…"

The Gliscor, with snakelike speed, seized a random child with its claws, a feral grin stretching its haunting face as the young human's alarmed squeals rang through the air. Sally's stomach turned over as she watched it drag him to the altar. Was it her imagination, or her strange new sight, that made it seem as if the flames burned a dark, unholy azure?

It is beginning, the presence snarled. Sally could feel it longing to throw caution to the winds, to tear into those soldiers for their atrocious misdeeds.

"It is you who shall feed our Unseen King," the dark captain continued. "You who shall appease him in return for strength, the strength to crush your own foolish king and add to our empire that land which is rightfully ours. You should be honored that we give you the opportunity to participate in this momentous event."

The Gliscor, with agonizing slowness, lifted the child into the air by his arms, giving him a good look at those ravenous flames. Yet it paused, not yet throwing the child to his doom. The soldiers did not seem to find anything amiss, but instead bowed toward the altar, keeping their eyes on the ground.

Why isn't it killing him already? Sally asked nervously, peering at the scene. Could it be that it doesn't want to? A feeling of hope started blossoming in her chest.

The presence growled suddenly. It is killing him, do not be deceived! Watch!

Taking a closer look, she realized that the Gliscor's huge, jagged claws were slowly but surely crushing the child's frail arms; two sickening cracks later, his small arms were broken. Ignoring his shrill screaming, the brute continued to squeeze painfully, hard enough that the sharp edges of its claws easily sliced into his skin and the slick fragments of bone peeked through the gashes. Blood splattered on the altar, looking black and tar-like against the light of the flames. Some ancient whisperings broke loose among the mad crackling of the fire, and Sally, in increasing apprehension, knew that it was not her imagination.

It is time, the presence declared suddenly.

Unwilling to be distracted, Sally peered closer at the goings-on, watching the child go slack in the Gliscor's grasp as he fainted from pain and shock. Time? For what?

For our own sacrifice.


We can only stop them if we pay a certain price. True, they can be obliterated, but I must give up this body, and so must you.

Sally tensed. She was still so new to the world, so many paths left unexplored … and yet, watching Emmi lie unconscious in her mother's arms, she knew that the children must come first. That, after all, was the purpose of dolls.

There is one thing, and one thing alone, that we can do against their Unseen King. I will tell you what that is when the time comes.

Instinctively she grew apprehensive, in spite of her resolution to protect the children. I can't move when they're around, she said, stalling.

A doll cannot, but you are no longer a doll. You must do this! They need us!

With a sudden jerk, she pushed herself toward the grisly scene, eyes streaming in the biting wind. As she rushed toward them, the soldiers screamed in surprise and scattered, ignoring their duty and the prisoners. Swearing loudly, the captain roared at his Gliscor to hurry up, before turning back to Sally and watching her approach with a cold, almost curious gaze. The children whimpered in fear as her shape grew larger against the darker night sky; a few attempted to flee, but the nearest soldiers, some semblance of their orders still gleaming darkly in their eyes, lashed out with thirsty swords, striking them down into lifeless piles of cooling flesh.

She veered slightly to the left, knocking the Gliscor to its knees and freeing the boy from its grasp. His limp body collapsed onto the ground, splattering the snow with dark crimson. Surprise overcome by rage, the Gliscor opened its mouth in a feral snarl, baring its bloodstained claws menacingly as it watched her swoop around in a wide arc before facing it again. Behind it the shimmering flames continued to flicker, and in them a translucent, almost invisible shape appeared – something hunched, with long, claw-like appendages protruding from its back.

Noticing the shape in the flames, the captain leapt in surprise before bowing before it, singing gutturally in some ancient, vile tongue that even Sally could not understand. The Unseen King seemed to nod, extending the appendages just beyond the boundaries of the fire. It then lifted its head toward the dark sky and opened its beak, emitting a shrill, keening shriek that seemed to split the sky in a million tiny pieces, anguish for the power it had once controlled. A dark, easily visible shadow began to cloud around it, making the flames brighter rather than snuffing them out. Wide-eyed in utter terror, the prisoners could not even move for fear.

There is only one way to destroy it, the presence murmured, as the soldiers, upon noticing the Unseen King, double back at the prospect of the demon destroying Sally.

What must I do?

Unzip your mouth.

She put a stubby hand to the zipper. Somehow, suddenly, unsealing her lips seemed to be the one thing that she could not do.

The furious Gliscor now leapt into the air, reaching out at her as it rushed towards it; she had only just managed to dive to the right when its claw sliced above her head. Swerving around, it flapped uncertainly in the air, attempting to regain its balance.

What will happen when I do it? she asked, tracing the jagged zipped line as she kept her eyes fixed on the returning bat-scorpion.

All of us will perish, the presence replied, almost unconcernedly. You, me, the soldiers, the prisoners … the Unseen King will probably rise again in a few hundred years—

She dodged the Gliscor's incoming claw again.

But one will survive: the one you devoted your existence to just a few minutes after you met her. There was a reason I chose you above those other two, after all; they did care for her, but only because they felt like they had no choice in the matter.

Sally's heart swelled in pride at these words.

It is fitting that the lone survivor will warn her own country of the danger. The King may be banished, but the soldiers in their vile cities are many.

Perversely cheered by the presence's words, she looked the Gliscor in the glaring yellow eyes, waited until destruction by its claws appeared imminent, and yanked the zipper open.

Pain exploded along every inch of her body, seeming almost to squeeze her into a pulp as her vision rapidly began to darken. Straining herself to see, she noticed the Gliscor yowling in agony as some strange crimson shock wave paralyzed him in midair; even stranger, the energy seemed to be undulating from her own gaping mouth, although the pain made it difficult for this to register. As more and more poured out, its flow intensified with the pain, and it seemed that any moment the wave would suddenly cease and die; but it rushed valiantly on, swirling around the screeching Gliscor. Struggling violently in its confines, the brute gave her one last murderous glare before a great light exploded from within it, leaving only a shriveled, bloody moss-like thing. The moss immediately fluttered to the earth, where it settled gently and remained still; the hard white snow beneath it slowly began to take on a ghastly pinkish tinge.

Horrified, the soldiers paused in their relentless marching, staring at the remains of the beast. The energy, hungry for victims, was ready for them: it encircled the hapless men, freezing them in place, while another wave pounced upon the prisoners, silencing their screams. Emmi snoozed on, her face oddly peaceful in the destruction around her.

Snow billowed like waves as the red energy rippled through the entire area, swallowing nearly everything in its path. A Murkrow flying overhead had not even the time to blink before it was consumed. Cursing again, the captain attempted to flee, but he had barely taken two steps before the energy washed around him, halting him as it worked its dark magic.

The Unseen King, looking rather unimpressed, turned to the incoming energy and shrieked horribly, slowing but not stopping their progress. As they crawled toward it relentlessly, it turned directly towards Sally, who could dimly acknowledge that its black-and-gold body was appearing more solid. Two bright, ancient yellow eyes spoke volumes of its unrestrained malevolence.

Then, though her vision was now nearly black, she knew who was speaking when a chilling, dark voice pierced her mind and froze her heart.

"Foolish girl," it hissed, "dost thou not know that I shall torment thee after thy death? It is I who doth oversee the paths of souls departed. Thy suffering shall be so great that it shall be whispered of in legends!"

Her vision blinked out. Will it hurt me when I die? she managed to ask the presence through the pain, attempting in vain to stop her violent shuddering.

You, and myself as well, the presence replied almost airily, although a faintly veiled tension indicated that it too could feel her anguish. I will die with you. Naturally it knows that I'm here, and who I am, and what I'm doing … but it seems that fate has thrown us together for a longer journey than life can span.

An enraged, piercing, venomous shriek dimly reached her clouding brain: the energy must have at last found the Unseen King. Her eyelids drooped halfway over her now useless eyes; she had never felt so tired. Thank you.

See you on the other side.

Together they sighed, a last relieved breath before they relaxed, letting the pain float away as if on a cloud, and there was nothing …

… nothing …

… nothing.

The shadows fled as morning brought a new day, a new chance to watch the sun smile upon the world and bathe its snows in bright reddish light. A break in the endless stretch white clouds allowed a strip of the purest blue to show. There had been no recent snowfall to conceal the events of the previous night; the snow was still stained red where blood had sprayed. There were footprints, boot prints, and claw prints throughout the snow, but none headed toward the ring of tall mountains to the west, which looked lonely after the purging of its valley's citizens. Shriveled, rusty-coated lichens were scattered on top of the snow, frost clinging to them like jewels. The evil stone altar sat malevolently in the center of the scene, though in the clean light of day its dark appearance seemed diminished. Upon it sat a pile of charred, dead wood, covered in scratches which looked ominously like the teeth marks of some frenzied demon. The entire scene seemed like the site of a recent battlefield, a sort of ironic reverence blanketing all that the eye could see.

Nothing stirred.

On the western side of the altar, in full view of the mountains, lay a young girl, fully conscious but as still and pale as a corpse. Her dress was tattered and torn, charred black by the dust of ashes and spotted crimson by the flow of blood. Tiny layers of thin, delicate ice laced across her eyelashes like spider webs, the remnants of tears frozen in the utter cold. Fingers, stiff from the chill, held something close to her chest. The thing looked like some sort of nightmarish ghoul: red eyes glaring sightlessly from a blackened face, a golden tail like a throwing star, looking oddly out of place. But in spite of the ghostly dark body, and the jagged lines of zipper which lined the mouth like uneven yellowed teeth, she resolutely kept her hold on it. The eyes of a child could see those things which existed unseen, and she knew that the ghastly thing in her arms was Sally, whether or not the doll looked like a doll should.

Emmi closed her eyes for a moment. She would depart soon, navigating her way through the icy valley which was once her home on a quest to inform her country of the attack. She felt far older than her age, as if her soul was that of a bitter crone, locked in a child's body and mindset. A faint sigh escaped her dark purple lips, and the breath hung in the freezing air for a moment, a tiny white haze shimmering to life before it was extinguished in dissipation. Everything seemed fragile, as if a mere whisper might rekindle the dark fires of real life. They would ignite on their own soon enough, but for now she would simply accept the chill while it lasted.

For now, she would mourn.

Sapphire entry: A cursed energy permeated the stuffing of a discarded and forgotten plush doll, giving it new life as Banette. This Pokemon's energy would escape if it were ever to open its mouth.

(Thanks again to Ysavvryl for letting me post this story, back at the beginning. Free cookies for the first person who knows what the presence was.)