A/N: I really should stop disappearing for months on end. It's not like I'm the busiest person in the world, and yet I see authors who write 100,000 word stories in a year. I need to learn those skills. xD Seriously, though, I'm really sorry for how long this is taking. In fairness, I had a tough time with this chapter, but I'll talk about that in the post-chapter author's note since I'll be mentioning some stuff that happens in the chapter.

By the way, I reply to all my reviews by private message (except for Anonymous Reader, since they're, well, anonymous), but I would still like to thank Flying Dragonite, Rogue Krayt Dragon, The-First-Polymithical, and Anonymous Reader for their highly encouraging reviews. I know it took ages but it would probably take even longer without you guys. Seriously, you should be given a medal for sticking with this story for so long. And this story is approaching 6k views... I'm amazed. So thanks again. :D

Unfortunately, this chapter is anything but happy. In fact, this chapter will feature somewhat graphic violence, so beware. More on that later.

Chapter 13

"What do you think that room was?" Dexter asked, turning his head back to the Lucario on his back.

Aurealis didn't respond.

Dexter returned to facing forwards, but he kept talking. "I mean, a hidden cave underneath the temple? That's got to be something special..."

The Lucario didn't seem to hear, but by now Dexter was talking to himself. "I wonder what Grovyle was doing there," he said quietly, turning to the gecko in question, who lay unconscious in his arms.

The flight back progressed much like this. Aurealis, lost in his thoughts, which were all similar to Dexter's musings, stared down at the passing blur of the verdant trees while Dexter conversed singlehandedly. Every dozen seconds or so, the Flygon would glance at Grovyle concernedly, but the grass type was never awake. Near the beginning of the flight he had moaned and stirred slightly, but that was it.

That in itself was worrying – Reviver Seeds were known for awakening Pokémon fairly quickly, and if Grovyle was still unconscious, his condition had to be serious.

But after a while, Dexter had a concern of his own to worry about - the combined weight of his passengers was finally beginning to take its toll on him, and his wings began to ache.

Thankfully, the forest below them soon receded and gave way to Magnolia Village. Dexter couldn't help but sigh in relief and relaxed; able to withstand the last minute or two of flight now that the uncertainty factor was gone.

Finally, Dexter swooped in for a dive and landed on the ground beside the guild entrance. The impact was rougher than usual, and Aurealis almost fell off the Flygon's back.

"Sorry," Dexter panted as the Lucario jumped off. Immediately, the dragon type stretched his wings, then let them droop. "Got a little tired..."

"No problem," replied Aurealis, walking around to Dexter's front and checking on Grovyle, who was still out cold. The Lucario frowned. "I'm just glad you agreed to come with me... Without you, who knows whether I would have even found him..."

Dexter smiled. "Don't mention it. Always help a friend in need. Speaking of which..." He glanced at the Grovyle in his arms. "We should get him to the infirmary. He doesn't look too good."

Aurealis nodded gravely, but then he did a double take. "Hold on... Where's Sentry Sentret?"

Bewildered, Dexter hesitated as well and looked around, but true to Aurealis' word, there was no sign of the Sentret. The guild entrance suddenly seemed bare. "That's weird," the Flygon remarked, a hint of worry in his voice. "Sentry Sentret never abandons his post."

The two remained there for a while, pondering over this latest development, when Aurealis shook his head decisively. "We can ask Mismagius later, once Grovyle is tended to."

Dexter nodded his assent, and the two entered the guild, immediately plunged into its yellow artificial lighting. Once they climbed down the stairs and emerged in the main hall, they both froze in alarm and gaped.

Second to the morning announcements, late afternoon was the time the hall was busiest. But when they entered it, there was not a soul in sight, which made the hall look desolate and abandoned. Worse still was the silence, so absolute that all they could hear was the muffled whisper of the torch flames and their own breathing.

"Hello?" Dexter called, but the only answer he received was his echoes. He then stepped forward cautiously, as though he did not recognize the place without the usual population and rowdy atmosphere. "Where is everyone?"

Seeking to find the answer to the question, Aurealis concentrated on his aura capabilities. He sensed no one on this floor, or in the dining hall, so he tried expanding the range. For a moment, he perceived a rainbow of aura colors, but then a blinding pain in his head overcame him and he stopped with a groan.

"Are you all right?" Dexter asked, stepping back to the Lucario and nudging him.

As suddenly as it had come, the pain faded. "Yeah, just a headache," he muttered, rubbing his temples tentatively. "Let's go to the infirmary... I doubt anyone's there, but we could still treat Grovyle. I'm sure they'd understand."

"All right," Dexter agreed, and, still holding the limp gecko in his paws, followed Aurealis to the infirmary.

Seeing as there was no door, they walked right in, but it wouldn't have mattered either way since nobody was there. Out of regulation, Aurealis flicked the small bell. Even though neither of them held any hope of it working, they waited in suspense as its chime reverberated several times before dying. Nobody came.

Choosing to move on, Dexter turned around and gently laid Grovyle down on one of the straw beds, coincidentally the same one he'd rested on after the initiation test incident. Aurealis, meanwhile, inspected the shelves for the jar of Reviver Seeds. He found it and picked out a seed.

He then moved to Grovyle and, while Dexter pried open the grass type's mouth, plopped the seed inside. Aurealis and Dexter stood over him patiently, waiting for the seed to do its work.

"If you don't mind," Dexter put in, fidgeting anxiously under the thick silence, "I'm going to go look around, in case anybody left something. You know, like a note. This is starting to creep me out."

"Good idea," Aurealis remarked, glancing after him as he left. The Lucario then turned back to his partner, whose condition had not yet changed - Reviver Seeds generally took about a minute to kick in. While he waited, Aurealis looked around for Oran Berries, in case they were needed.

"Aurealis!" cried Dexter abruptly from the main hall, only to be followed by the booming slam of a shutting door.

Immediately alert, the Lucario rushed out into the hall, heart racing. It was completely empty, but there was only room with doors in the whole guild, so he didn't need to search. Running straight towards it, he slammed the door open and jumped inside, landing readily in a wide stance, his arms up.

Just like the hallway, though, Mismagius' chamber was empty. Adrenalin replaced by speechless confusion, the Lucario made a cursory inspection of the room. The tables, the chests, the crimson carpet; all the usual items seemed to be in order - including the fact that there was no Dexter here. Furrowing his brow in confusion, Aurealis was about to walk forward when the door behind him slammed shut. Startled, he turned back to look but stopped when he noticed the door at the back of the room opening simultaneously.

Berating himself internally for having forgotten about it, Aurealis faced it apprehensively and probed it for traces of aura, but the moment he did that, his headache returned with a vengeance, and he was forced grip his forehead in pain.

Taking advantage of the situation, several Mightyena ran out and Aurealis' blood ran cold. Right then, he needed to move, but he was petrified in shock - he couldn't sense the canines' auras. They were right in front of him, yet he couldn't sense them. He felt partially blind.

The Mightyena did not waste time observing his handicap. In mere seconds, they'd surrounded him and lunged.

Meanwhile, in the guild's infirmary, the Reviver seed began to have an effect at last. Grovyle's still face was reanimated as his eyelids twitched and his brow creased, and then, finally, his eyes blinked open.

For a few seconds his mind was blank, and he didn't recognize where he was. The ceiling was subterranean and lit with a lusterless yellow. The sight reminded him of the cave beneath Loran Temple, and his heart sank with the weight of the memories.

Bracing himself for the sight of Arden's corpse, the gecko sat up slowly, wincing at the soreness of his body. All things considered, though, he felt surprisingly little pain. Curious, he took a look around.

That was when his brain really woke up.

'The guild?!' he gasped to himself upon noticing, with wide eyes, his straw bed and the bell he was supposed to ring if he wanted anything and the assortment of colorful jars on the shelf. 'But that's...'

Then, for the first time, he realized that he should be dead, and not only was he alive, he felt relatively fine. Sure, his standard of wellbeing was warped by the many unfortunate incidents in the short span of his known life, but the last thing he remembered were the baleful, sadistic glares of the Mightyena as they closed in on him. Surely they didn't leave him feeling anywhere near okay.

Fearful of what he would find, the Grovyle grit his teeth and turned downwards to examine his injuries. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of the blood, but he realized breathlessly that it was dry, and the wounds themselves were mostly minor. His side was blotched with a black bruise, but what he remembered as stabbing pain was now a mere prodding.

'I'm alive,' he said to himself unintelligently, gaping at his claws and carefully moving them as if doubting their existence. However, that lone thought spawned a bubbly feeling of hope inside him. 'If they left me alive,' he realized, his mouth spreading into a smile, 'Maybe, somehow, Arden and Librarian Sceptile are alive, too!'

Motivated by this epiphany, which asserted itself as truth inside him, Grovyle decided to stand up and stretch his limbs. Ignoring the several consequent cracks, the grass type turned his thoughts to how he was rescued. Before he could reach any conclusion, though, his eyes fell upon a jar of Oran Berries, and his stomach gave a loud grumble.

Possessed by his hunger, he padded over to the jar and grabbed a handful of the berries. Disregarding the limited supplies of the infirmary, the Grovyle practically gorged himself, until the sound of his wolfish eating reached his ears and he noticed how quiet the guild was.

His hunger sated anyway, he returned the now half-empty jar to its place on the shelf and made his way to the doorway. To his surprise, there wasn't so much as a shadow in the main hall, and the complete silence finally got to him.

'Hey, where is everybody?' he wondered to himself, walking over to the stairs. 'Is it nighttime?'

However, one glance up the stairs rejected this theory. The sun was still in the air, casting a fading orange light down into the entrance. It was late afternoon, not long before dinner, and contrary to the current state of things, this was usually the main hall's busiest hour, second to the morning announcements.

Grovyle scanned the emptiness of the hall with a growing anxiety. The oppressive silence seemed to thicken the air and his breathing quickened, as if it had become more difficult.

"Hello?" he called, hunching slightly. "Anyone?"

No answer. Casting around somewhat wary glances, the grass type stepped through the hall and towards the rooms. At this point it was more about finding the Pokémon's whereabouts than the Pokémon themselves, so he peered into each room separately, searching for some item or sign that would clue him in. They were all devoid of such things, however, and suspicions began to creep to the center of his thoughts.

He quashed them, but then a small cluster of red stains in one of the rooms caught his attention. He didn't need to go any closer to know what they were, and his paranoid suspicions suddenly became very realistic. He stared at the blood, finding himself petrified.

'Could it be that the criminal...'

He wouldn't allow himself to think that way, but the fear was there, and he rushed out of the corridor to the best of his ability and made his way back to the main hall. His previous reservations about not trusting anyone out the window, he ran towards the only remaining room that could provide him answers - Mismagius' chamber.

Grovyle was about to knock on the door when, just his luck, it shot open and hit him in the face with such force that it knocked him onto his back. Yelping, he rubbed his nose and began swearing obscenely, but all his words and anger left him when he found himself staring up at a pair of Mightyena.

Finding himself unable to think, move, or even look away from their leering crimson eyes, Grovyle began to tremble.

"Get up," the left one snarled.

Grovyle barely heard them, overcome with images - no, memories - of tearing flesh. "Wh-What more do you want?" he managed to stutter, trying to shrink back further even though he was already on the ground. "I've done everything you've asked...!"

Ignoring him, the Mightyena glanced at each other and flanked him. Grovyle couldn't suppress a whimper of fear as they grabbed both his arms with their fangs and forced him to his feet.

"Grow a spine and walk," growled the other, and Grovyle almost fell down again when they shoved him forward, into Mismagius' chamber.

Too frightened to even look back at them, yet simultaneously uncomfortable having his back to them, the gecko did as he was told. His mind numb, he barely felt himself keep going and stop upon reaching Mismagius' red carpet, but when he did, they shoved him forward again, towards the door at the back of the room.

Suddenly it felt like all his experiences in the last few days had only existed to direct him beyond this door, and there was nothing more sinister. His memory flashed back to the bloodstains he'd seen on the floor near it upon returning from the Flat Fields. He remembered the nervous sensation he'd had, and was now reliving it tenfold.

Rather facing his captors than whatever evil waited in front of him, Grovyle dared to glance back helplessly at the Mightyena, but their crimson eyes were merciless and only served to scare him further. Hurriedly, he turned back to the door and stepped past it, the Mightyena following closely.

Testing the ground with the claws on his feet as if he were on thin ice, Grovyle moved slowly forward. He found himself descending a spiral staircase, lit only by the sickening yellow torchlight, as slowly as the canines behind him would allow. As he did, he couldn't help but feel like he was walking straight into the belly of the beast.

The only positive outcome of the long way down was that the monotony of it allowed him to regain some composure. His heart still hammered uncontrollably, but as he grit his teeth and forced himself to take deep breaths, he managed to bring his mind from its haze.

Even then, the situation was hopeless. He didn't have so much as a semblance of a fighting chance against the Mightyena, so all he could do was wonder where they were going. Wherever it was, it hit him that, for better or for worse, he was probably about to find out who the criminal was.

But then something else caught him off guard - the smell, faintly familiar but unplaceable. His nostrils flared at the acrid odor, which could only be described as sweet and meaty. It was a background sense at first, but soon it was ubiquitous and Grovyle found himself holding his breath, nauseated.

Risking another glance backwards, he noticed the Mightyena were also scrunching their sensitive noses. Grovyle took that as common ground enough to try takling.

"What's that smell?" the grass type asked, his trembling voice somewhat nasal as he refrained from breathing through his nose.

"Keep walking," one of them snapped.

He did, but soon the claustrophobic spiral stairs finally reached their end and widened into a long hall. Immediately upon entering it, Grovyle froze, his senses assaulted.

Besides the stench from before, which had now intensified, the air was laden with hushed whimpers and snivels. In the dim, flickering light of the hall, he could see, as far as his adjusting sight would allow, robust steel bars caging off six or seven cells on the left side of the room. Outside each cell sat two pairs of crimson eyes; two Mightyena.

'This is a prison,' Grovyle realized, and with a sinking feeling, he looked into the cell to his left and recognized Sentry Sentret, two Bellossom, Abby, Zero, Dexter, and...

"Aurealis!" the grass type choked, moving to run to the Lucario, who was on the ground, unmoving. He was bleeding from several scratches, none of which, fortunately, were particularly serious. In fact, unconscious, he looked almost peaceful compared to the others, whose faces were dark and eyes were wide with fear. They barely seemed to notice Grovyle as he neared.

Before Grovyle could get anywhere, though, the Mightyena restrained his arms, and he winced as their teeth dug into his skin. In spite of this, the grass type felt some anger stir within him at the sight of his friends' condition.

"Okay, okay, I'm here," he snapped impatiently at the Mightyena. "What do you want?"

The only answer they gave was to bite down on his arms to shut him up and force him onwards. Wincing, the gecko did as he was told, glancing back at his partner one last time. His attention returned forward, however, when the sickening smell from before returned with a vengeance and he found himself approaching the next cell.

Immediately, the Grovyle froze, for what he saw inside the cell would plague his dreams. There, heaped together, were the corpses of Pokémon, so charred and disfigured that he could barely recognize them. The fires that had caused their deaths were indiscriminate to skin color, size, shape, personality - all the same, their flesh was scorched and at places gone completely to expose the tissue beneath, all the same they were covered in each other's blood. Piled up as they were, in death their identity was gone; they were just a pile.

It was an indeterminate amount of time later that Grovyle was able to breathe, albeit in shudders. He hadn't noticed that the Mightyena had forced him onwards, and if he had, he would have seen that the contents of every cell past the first were the same. He didn't even notice that someone was talking to him until he was zapped with electricity.

Yelping, the grass type was brought to his senses enough to realize that he'd been crying and that he was still trembling. But he froze yet again when he noticed that it was Manectric, Mismagius, and Magmortar who stood in front of him, their faces ominous in the dark light.

"Y-You?" the Grovyle breathed, glancing at all three of them with wide eyes. "But, I don't..."

"That's right, there's three of us," Magmortar answered the unasked question gruffly. "You've been misinformed..."

The three criminals closed in on him, and he gulped nervously. He knew it would be best to keep them talking, but somehow he couldn't seem to think. "But... why? W-Why would you do this?"

Magmortar was about to answer, but Mismagius beat him to it. "I think we're getting off task here," she cooed, her normally mesmerizing voice sending chills down Grovyle's spine. "Where is Magnolia Relic?"

This caught the Grovyle off guard, and converted his emotions into anger. "What do you mean, 'where's Magnolia Relic?'" he cried. "You took it! You have what you want, so why did you have to kill them?! Why?!"

"Oh, you mean this?" Mismagius remarked, her voice dangerously calm as she brandished the stone from the temple cave. "This rock is nothing but a fancy rock!" she shrieked suddenly, flinging the stone at him.

Grovyle had little time brace for the impact, but he could never expect what happened. There was almost no physical pain when the stone struck his chest, instead the rock abruptly shone bright green and the grass type felt weak and dizzy. Alarmed, he staggered backwards, almost falling over.

The ornery faces of the three criminals broke into a similar expression of surprise. Uncertain, Mismagius floated over to the stone and picked it up, her eyes calculating. "Of course!" she gasped suddenly.

Grovyle, steadying himself, did not like where this was going. He didn't know much, but he had a sinking feeling he knew what she was going to say.

"We should have realized it the first time you miraculously survived," Mismagius said, turned upwards in thought. It was only Grovyle's fortune that she chose to keep talking. "We killed you that day, we made sure of it. But the snake must have gotten sentimental and given up Magnolia Relic just to save you."

Manectric and Magmortar also nodded their heads in realization, but Grovyle was still confused. However, he didn't get a chance to think about it as Mismagius turned back to him menacingly.

"I wonder what happens if we transfer the power of Magnolia Relic back into the stone," she mused, prolonging every word while slowly advancing towards the grass type. His breaths becoming short, Grovyle backed away. "You know what I think, Loran? I think you'll go back to being dead, like you're supposed to be."

Without warning, she short forward and forced the stone against his shoulder. Flinching, Grovyle tried to move away but all his muscles seized up, and he fell to his knees. He couldn't even think as a haze descended over his mind and blackness ate away at his vision.

Mismagius grinned delightedly as the Grovyle's skin paled and he grew thinner and more frail as though an invisible hand were crushing him. However, she turned her attention to her two partners for a moment. "Manny, Mag," she said casually, disregarding their grimaces at the nicknames, "now that we have what we want, you can take care of the others."

Had Grovyle been able to, he would have begged for them to stop or tried to warn his friends, but all he could do was moan weakly before collapsing completely. Their eyes meeting, Manectric and Magmortar only nodded and made their way back to the staircase. As they did, Magmortar readied his arm canon and Manectric's hide sparked with electricity in anticipation. The last batch of prisoners would burn like the others.

However, in spite of how smoothly their plans had gone the past few days, they had committed a serious mistake in keeping the remainder of the prisoners alive. Sometime during the short conversation with Loran, Aurealis had awoken, and in a limited amount of time the surviving prisoners had been able to take stock of the situation. They didn't understand exactly what was going on, but they knew enough.

And, the moment the two criminals rounded the corner, Zero gave a shout and the two were blinded by an explosion which blew the cell door clear of its hinges. Manectric, who had been slightly ahead of Magmortar, was slammed with it and was brought to the ground.

Instantly, the entire room burst into activity. Zero, Aurealis, Abby, and Sentry Sentret ran out the cage while the two Bellossom stayed behind to guard Dexter, who was momentarily incapacitated as a result of his Hyper Beam. At the same time, the group were surrounded by about two dozen Mightyena.

"I'll get Grovyle," Aurealis shouted, already running towards his green partner. Behind him, his cellmates started attacking the Mightyena, which rapidly closed in on them. But the Lucario didn't care about that at the moment.

He ran in a straight line, occasionally weaving past or dodging Mightyena who tried to stop him. One canine tried to tackle him, but he sidestepped and kept going. Another tried to claw him, but he Force Palmed it out of the way. He still couldn't sense them and the fact that he couldn't was probably the source of his headache, but he couldn't let that get to him.

Mismagius was now in view, but she had expected his arrival and blasted him with a Shadow Ball at close range. The Lucario staggered back a bit, grunting in pain, but dodged a second attack and struck out with a Metal Claw, the only move he knew that would have any effect.

Given no alternative, Mismagius released both Grovyle and the stone. Before she could retrieve it, Aurealis stood before it defensively. She glared at him intensely before vanishing into the shadows.

Finally freed from the draining power of the relic, Grovyle coughed and sputtered as though he'd been drowning. Aurealis helped him to his feet and the grass type shook his head to clear away the cobwebs.

"Are you all right?" the Lucario asked, his voice both impatient and gentle.

Grovyle looked up at him with dull eyes. Truthfully, he was not all right - he felt tired and weak, and his mind felt feverishly sluggish. "I... I don't think–"

"Aurealis, a little help!" came Zero's call. Both AuraBladers wheeled around and saw that the small group was having trouble with the massive amount of Mightyena. Zero, covered in scratches, was trying to fend off three Mightyena at once, and Abby was facing a similar predicament. Sentry Sentret was nowhere to be seen.

Aurealis turned briefly to Grovyle. "Stay here, okay? Don't try to fight."

Grovyle was about to protest, and Aurealis was about to ignore him and leave, but a fireball rocketed towards them. The Lucario managed to shove Grovyle out of the way but took the hit to his side.

From then on it wasn't a fight, it was a beat down. As the fighting type recoiled from the blow, his fur singed, Magmortar rushed from the crowd and hit him in the face ruthlessly with a Fire Punch. Grunting in pain, Aurealis could only reel back while the fire type followed up with another Fire Punch to the gut. For a moment, the Lucario seemed to tense up as his breath left him, but then he went limp. Magmortar retracted his arm, allowing the fighting type to fall to the ground, doubled over.

Horrified, Grovyle watched with wide eyes. No one beat Aurealis that fast! Aurealis was a powerhouse, indestructible! What was happening?

The sight of Magmortar leveling his arm canon at Aurealis brought the grass type to his senses. Acting purely on instinct, Grovyle hobbled forwards and tackled the fire type. The much bulkier Pokémon stayed standing, but his arm canon had moved enough so that the fireball that shot out of it scorched the ground a clear meter away from Aurealis.

In response, Magmortar only growled and backhanded the Grovyle, sending him staggering back. When the gecko recovered from his daze, he found himself staring down the barrel of Magmortar's arm canon.

That was when a violent tremor suddenly shook the entire cave and a roar filled the chamber. Almost swept off their feet, neither Magmortar nor Grovyle could resist turning to face the noise.

Dexter had gotten back into the fight and, thanks to his size and strength, had been able to wipe out at least a third of the Mightyena. But now the remainder of them dog piled him, scratching and biting wherever they could. In horrible pain and frustration, the dragon had unleashed the full extent of his Earthquake move.

The one tremor soon gave way into the constant convulsion of the earth. The floor rumbled as it cracked and chunks of the ceiling began to fall precariously, kicking up clouds of dust, obscuring vision.

Weak to this kind of environment, Magmortar coughed and doubled over. Grovyle took the opportunity to move to his partner, but he wasn't much better off. In fact, the ground shook so violently that nobody was able to stand upright. The focus was pulled completely from the fight and onto dodging the deafening crashes of the collapsing ceiling.

Yelps and howls filled the air as several Mightyena were taken down, but Dexter's attack was uncoordinated and Grovyle found himself forced to dive right to avoid being crushed by falling rock. He was sore and his eyes stung from the dust, but he picked himself up enough to see that he had landed near a Magnolia Relic as well as the corpse of a Mightyena who had probably been sent to retrieve it but was unfortunate enough to get impaled by a particularly angular stone.

In that moment he was possessed by an idea. He didn't know if it would work but the situation was desperate; he had to try.

Not a minute later, a high-pitched "ENOUGH!" carried over the ear splitting noise and suddenly the earthquake ceased. The room was plunged into silence and the swirls of dust in the air parted to reveal Mismagius, surrounded by a purple glow, her face almost unrecognizably distorted by a combination of rage and concentration.

Most surprising of all, Grovyle, who had just moved away from the corpse of the Mightyena and the Relic, found himself unable to move. Gasping slightly, he looked over himself and discovered he was surrounded in the same purple glow. A quick glance around told him that his allies were in a similar predicament. That is, the allies he could see - Sentry Sentret and one Bellossom were unaccounted for.

"It's a Psychic attack," a voice beside him wheezed, and Grovyle turned to see Aurealis not too four southeast of him. The Lucario was still curled over and holding his stomach, and his brows were furrowed from trying to suppress the pain. "But, to hold us all like this... It takes an incredible about of energy, I... I've never seen–"

Mismagius did not wait for him to finish. "Now that we've all calmed down," she said, her voice like a song once again, but there was an audible strain to it. She turned to Magmortar, who was getting up somewhat shakily. "Mag, would be so kind as to take care of Dexter here?"

Her voice was obnoxiously sweet, but everyone knew what she meant. Grovyle watched anxiously, helplessly, as Magmortar strode over to the dragon, who was an easy target now that the five remaining Mightyena backed away from him. As Magmortar neared him, Dexter's eyes widened and he trembled visibly, but he couldn't move. He was kneeling slightly, the many scratches and bite marks taking their toll on him.

"Leave him alone!" Zero snarled, though a cold fear gripped him on the inside. He tried desperate to move but he might as well have remained still.

Seeing the coming events, Grovyle, Aurealis, Bellossom, and Abby all tried to struggle, but it was in vain.

At last, Magmortar reached the Flygon and, wasting no time, grabbed one of his antennae, ending the purple glow around him, and smashed the dragon's face into the ground. His cry of pain was muffled by the earth. Cruelly, Magmortar pulled Dexter's now bloodied face back up just to repeat the process.

Releasing Dexter's antenna, Magmortar let the Flygon collapse. He groaned in pain, only half conscious now, while Magmortar charged his arm canon. At this point Zero was yelling hysterically; everyone else was breathless; time seemed to stop, but Magmortar didn't.

Even though dragon types are more resilient towards fire than other types, eventually, even thick scales and an ability to survive in hot temperatures can be burned through. Dexter's body was engulfed in nearly white-hot flames. His grunt of pain soon escalated into an unadulterated roar of agony, drowning out any other sounds. He writhed and rolled, trying to escape, but Magmortar was relentless and merely adjusted his aim.

As sickening as it was, it was infinitely more haunting when Dexter's struggles gradually grew weaker until he was motionless, his wings and head limp. Magmortar stopped his attack to reveal the dragon's corpse. Scorched brown, bleeding red in places where tissue was exposed; the tattered remains of his wings draped beside him. One and the same with the rest of the burned corpses.

"Good, now Magmortar, would you be so kind as to fetch Loran and the Relic for me?" Mismagius said immediately, offhandedly, her voice somehow carrying over Zero's wails, Abby and the Bellossom's sobs.

The said Grovyle was crying as well, silently, feeling overwhelmed by horror, fear, grief, and guilt. He noticed them mention his name but was only snapped to attention when Magmortar grabbed him by the leaf on his head, Magnolia relic in the same hand, and began dragging him over to Mismagius.

Grovyle winced in pain but, even though he was no longer frozen by the Psychic move, he could do little to struggle. As he was dragged, this time it was Aurealis who found himself trembling anxiously and pleading for the gecko's life to be spared.

Like before, these pleas were ignored completely, and Grovyle was finally deposited in front of Mismagius. The grass type looked up at her - but this time, his face was blank with resignation.

"Finally, Magnolia Relic will be ours," Mismagius hissed, and she could have said 'mine' for all the desire and evil her voice portrayed.

Grovyle barely heard her, though; his senses were feeling dull at this point. Somewhere deep inside of him, he just wanted this to be over with.

That wouldn't take long, because Mismagius accepted the Relic from Magmortar and once again forced it against Grovyle's shoulder.

This time it was a very peaceful process. Dark clouds drifted over his vision, the cries of Aurealis and the sobs of others faded away, and finally the grass type collapsed, lifeless.

I know, I know. Am I ever going to end a chapter with something other than a cliffhanger? Well, actually, if all goes according to plan, yes, this is the last cliffhanger. In fact, this might even be the second to last chapter!

Which brings me to some problems I had. One, it was extremely difficult to write this part because I felt I'd built up so much expectation to it. I don't know whether you found this story suspenseful, maybe you were bored the whole time, but for me, this is the moment I had imagined from the very beginning of the story. I knew I had to give it my best. But when I started writing it, I realized that I wasn't sure how to go about it. These are professional criminals, so I wanted to avoid the whole villain exposition thing where they explain who they are and why they're doing what they're doing. Basically, I wanted to avoid having the villain explain the mystery, but in doing so, I might have confused everybody. I hope that's not the case, but I really wanted to convey that the criminals aren't lounging around. They're aiming to succeed as quickly as possible, which means no unnecessary chatting with the protagonists.

I faced a similar problem with the fight scene, if you can even call it that. Originally, I wanted to have this grand, epic battle, but then I realized that 1) battles are actually really short; it's just movies make them seem drawn out, and 2) there's a huge skill gap between the heroes and the villains. It would be unrealistic to have a long fight here, because that would imply that the two sides are evenly matched. They're not. No amount of wishful thinking made me even consider Aurealis beating Magmortar, because Magmortar is an experienced professional whereas Aurealis just joined the guild. Sure, Aurealis seems pretty strong, but the villains are a league of their own. Well, except for the Mightyena; they're kind of pushovers.

In reality, I think Dexter is... or was... the strongest protagonist. He's a pretty dang powerful dude, which is why they killed him off specifically. Speaking of which... yeah, lots of death in this chapter. I would have labeled this a tragedy but there's not really a tragic hero. BUT! All hope is not lost, because Grovyle had a plan. Kind of.

Which reminds me, a little explanation is in order about how Magnolia Relic works. The one who wields it is the one for whom the Relic works. That's why Mismagius can use it to drain the Relic's energy out of Grovyle. But, if Grovyle were to touch it on his own will, he could do that. Might not seem logical, but that's how a lot of items in the PMD games seem to work.

So! Before I continue to wallow in self-criticism, I shall go. Hopefully the next chapter will arrive sooner. :D