This was the second of the two guest entries for POS, written in February 2009. (Valentine-inspired or romantic backlash? You decide.) Looking back on it, I'm surprised it managed to get into the thread without being toned down. Personally, I'm not quite as fond of this as I was with The Core of Fairy Tales, but meh. As before, thanks to Ysavvryl for originally letting me put it in the thread. :D
Rated T for thematic elements and a couple of violent, somewhat graphic deaths.
An Age of Light
The plains soaked up the light of the August sun with a reluctant, pained flow of heat. It crushed the breath out of the exhausted little Bellsprout, who panted slowly and shallowly, an acidic thread of drool dripping from the rim of his mouth. Sweat beaded his bell-shaped head, and he pulled himself uselessly along the ground toward the shade of the distant tree, which seemed so far away …
"Wha…?" he croaked, as a shadow fell across him. The next thing he knew, something gently picked him up in its teeth and carried him in a great, speeding rush of wind to the tree. The yellows and blues of sky and land blurred as he experienced a strange giddiness, a sensation almost of flying.
Suddenly the teeth let him go, and he splashed into water: deliciously cool, almost cruel in its delightfulness. Dazed at the sudden change, he plunged his head wildly into the liquid, slurping it up with uncontrolled gusto. Only when he felt that his leaves would surely burst with hydration did he glance up. He was lying in the puddle, moisture was untainted by the sun, courtesy of the tree above him. A gentle warm breeze swayed the grass.
Sitting at the edge of the puddle sat the creature who brought him here. She was beautiful, with a layer of black fuzz covered by a mass of long, silky white fur. The light of the sun ricocheted from the sickle-like formation on her head as it moved, and as it lit up her fur with a heavenly glow, it seemed almost as if she were an angel of light, in spite of the ruby-red eyes which she used to watch him.
"You okay?" she asked finally, in a voice like music.
"Huh?" He jerked himself to sense. "Oh! I'm fine now, thanks so much!"
He glanced at his leaves: it was impossible to tell that they had been wilting minutes before.
"Great!" She got to her feet, and what little tension remained in his body fled when he noticed that her claws were sheathed. "I need to leave now, but I'll see you later! I need to get to the wedding!"
"Wedding?" He sifted through his thoughts. Then it dawned on him: only one Absol was so helpful. And there was that wedding planned for next Thursday in the village of Dawn's End. An Absol would be the bride, if he remembered correctly. "Ah, I know! You're Kelsa, aren't you?"
The Absol beamed. "Yes! It's been nice to help you out, but I have to dash off. I need to hurry if I don't want to be late for my own wedding."
"Okay, hurry on, then!" He waved her off, unwilling to delay her. "My congratulations!"
"Thanks!" She shot him a last grin before breaking into a sprint, her slender legs seeming to fly over the land as distance suddenly widened between her and the pool. She raced toward the horizon, shrinking steadily into a bright dot, then abruptly vanished.
The Bellsprout sighed and leaned back into the water.
Kelsa smiled to herself as the wind whipped her fur about her face. It was so nice to help people. The poor, silly Bellsprout. She knew it was a beautiful day – not a cloud in the sky – but why should he get himself hurt to enjoy it? At least she could feel better, now that her sickle was tingling less.
The smile slipped a little as she thought of the sickle, and she sighed. With all other Absol, it was all about the sickle. It was the reason why Absol could sense danger, and why they were compelled to prevent it: it became irritated to some degree until the danger was passed. There were many factors that added up to this: the differing of wind currents, the subtle rises and falls in temperature, the amount of moisture floating in the air. Why it worked that way she didn't know, but she hated it. There was always some form of danger lurking around, and its omnipresence was the main part of the reason why Absol were so somber.
In an effort to break away from their gloomy view of life, she had begun to ignore the pull of the sickle from a young age. And, after a few years of endurance and teeth gritting, it worked: no longer did it burn like a vengeful fire, but merely itched a little. Of course, the particularly dangerous situations produced a horrible sensation, but wasn't that worth the cheer that saturated her everyday life?
A Cascoon, nestled in the security of a bed of dead grass, twitched in acknowledgment as she passed. She slowed just enough to flash her dazzling smile at him, but kept her concentration on the miles she had yet to cross.
She remembered when she'd had to leave Dawn's End a few days ago, in order to travel home and receive her parents' blessing for the marriage. The parting scene still played and replayed itself behind her eyes, giving her the fuel to continue on.
The moon shimmered over the humble little village. Scattered huts marked the borders of makeshift streets, through which laughing children scampered while the tired voices of mothers wafted from the open doors. It was too hot to sleep; it would be at least an hour before the blistering summer heat would give in to the ever-reaching coolness of night.
They stood at the village's edge, its dirt transitioning smoothly with the tougher earth of the plains. The moon's light bathed the dried grasses in silver, creating the illusion of an eerily beautiful ocean, still and yet moving; but the two lovers had eyes only for each other. Her forepaws rested on his shoulders, giving her the ability to stand as he did, to look him in the eye as only equals could. His own arms encircled her body protectively, and his hands rubbed her back affectionately, feeling the white fur ripple underneath his fingers. Two pairs of deep red eyes bored into each other, speaking of emotions that no earthly words could shape.
It may have been hours that they had stood there, or possibly minutes, for time seems to fly when love permeates the air. In either case, it was with great regret that Kelsa finally tore her eyes from his sleek, gentle face. "I need to leave now."
His own eyes became downcast. "I wish it weren't so."
"Papa doesn't approve," she murmured, pressing her cheek against his. "If only a blessing wasn't needed."
He sighed, and she shivered as she felt his breath tickle her face. "It's simply how it is. I'll only have to wait a week or so for you to get back, and the wait for the wedding itself will be longer than that."
"Eleven days," she said wistfully.
She felt her cheek move a little as he smiled.
"I love you so much, Gabriel," she whispered into his pointed ear, feeling his warmth saturate her.
He chuckled. "That's not an overused line at all, is it?"
She ignored his jibe, instead slipping her arms around his neck, pulling herself closer to him. Their hearts pounded frantically as the space between them slipped into pressured nonexistence, and their shared warmth pulsed with every excited, impatient beat. Slowly, hopefully, she pulled her face back a little to see his, preparing for a final farewell.
But the traces of aura wafting from her stated her intentions clearly. She had hoped to make the first move, but he was too fast for her: his mouth crushed around hers before she had parted her lips, and his hands cupped her face, gently but firmly, to push himself forward. She shuddered lightly in the ecstasy of increased pressure.
And then, abruptly, he withdrew from their embrace, staring at her analytically. "You're worried."
She scowled, dropping back on all fours, and wrapped her arms around herself; even in such a hot season, the sudden absence of his body left her cold. "Am not."
"Are too." His eyes narrowed, examining her aura further. "You worry that … you'll get hurt?"
He snarled, clawing at the dangerously sharp spikes protruding from his wrists. "I hate this! Why do I have to be so well equipped for attacking when it can hurt you so easily?"
"I'm not worried about that, you can't—"
His gaze locked with hers. "Kels, don't tell me what I can or can't do when it comes to making sure you're safe. I've done it before, and I'll do it again." To emphasize the point, he used both hands to point to the spot directly above his heart, where a small, circular patch of extremely short fur was visible. Dark crimson scars sliced deeply across the skin underneath the patch, a testament to some past agony.
Kelsa blanched at the sight. She appreciated that he would go so far for her sake, but the idea of self-inflicted injuries repulsed her. He shouldn't have to hurt himself just for her.
"You were exactly where that spike had been! If I hadn't removed it, you'd be dead now!"
"But you hurt yourself!"
He gripped her shoulders firmly. "Listen to me, Kelsa. I love you, and I don't want you to get hurt. And I would never be able to live with myself if I hurt you. I think a few moments of my pain is better than death on your part."
"'Moments'? Gabriel, the healers were with you for weeks! You almost bled to death—"
"Not while I thought of you. Look, it'll be fine. I'll get these removed while you're away, all right?"
"By the healers this time."
She hung her head, defeated: how could she object to the logic of using skilled experience in place of brute force? "I can't argue, can I?"
"No, you can't."
"I don't want you to do anything you don't have to," she sighed, biting her lip. "And the Warrior Guild will be disappointed, they don't want you getting rid of any natural advantage you might have in combat. You could get demoted!"
"Kels, look at me."
Slowly and uncertainly she craned her neck upward to face his stare again, though now it was softened and gentle.
"I have to do this. The Guild might need me, but I don't need them. You're more important to me than a million promotions. And I don't need spikes to fight. A dagger is perfectly acceptable, isn't it?"
"You're asking a civilian's opinion on this?"
He laughed and kissed her again. "Ah, Kels, I love you."
She grinned. "Now who's got the overused lines?"
Before he could reply, she quickly pecked him on the lips before leaping away into the sea of silver grasses, giggling. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched him stand there, smiling in adoration.
"I'll be back before you know it!" she called, before turning and dashing into the depths of the plains. The wind snatched his reply from her range of hearing, but she knew that it would be sweet nothings, born to dance through the mind in their blissful meaninglessness.
She laughed to herself as the yards flew beneath her paws and the distance to her love grew ever so gradually shorter. She hadn't worried that Gabriel might hurt her, as he had thought; rather, it was the other way around. He was no expert in the ways of aura reading, and in a way that comforted her. She didn't want him to see her own subtle, simmering concern.
Her sickle, the source of much pain in her earlier years, was hardly less dangerous than his spikes; all she had to do was twist her head at the wrong moment, and … she forced herself not to think of the gory scene that would follow. Yet the problems it posed were less easily remedied, for it was as essential to an Absol's survival as the heart and the mind. To amputate it would be nothing short of suicide. At times she wondered if that was what it would take to keep her love alive and well. Was it inevitable that one of them would inadvertently kill the other, with the cruel gifts that Nature had forced upon them before birth?
The question spun through her head as she galloped across the vast, endless plain.
The trail had gone cold.
For a moment the pursuer paused, twitching in an effort to keep the blank expression on her face. Control was everything, especially as far as emotion was concerned. Her eyes sparked with rage for the briefest of moments before returning to their former, impassive gaze, sweeping over the withered grasses. Her clawed fingers curled viciously in a death grip around the Trusted, which sat in her palm, smooth, still, and cold. That was the only true sign of the fury welling within her.
There is no need for that, the Trusted murmured. It sounded almost reproachful.
I do not need your opinion on what I can or cannot do, she snapped back telepathically; she did not trust herself to speak aloud. Doing so would surely betray her rage.
Am I not your guidance, your counselor?
Do not treat me like a child.
If there was ever anyone who was not a child, it was you.
Do not to attempt to appease me, either.
You are so young, and yet so close to achieving the Master status of the Shadows Guild! No, I am not merely trying to appease you; I am telling a truth, untainted by any efforts to uplift your spirits.
The praise soothed her, doused the roaring flames of anger with a simple cool phrase. She sighed in relief and immediately winced at the expression: her thin face had not held so much emotion in a long, long time. That may be so, she conceded, rubbing her face gingerly with her free hand, but that does not bring us any closer to our quarry.
The Guild's training can serve you well, the Trusted advised. It is difficult to find the minds of those shielded by darkness, but surely others have seen her.
That is true.
The Kadabra glanced around at the wasteland around her, eyes narrowed. A brief movement caught her eye, attracting her attention. A tree grew a short distance away, casting an insignificant-looking puddle into enviable shadow. The darkness against the light alleviated her sore eyes, but she fought the urge to sneer in disgust at the flopping plant underneath it. The thing wiggled in delight, most likely in relief that it was safe from the insufferable heat. There was some sort of thought at the forefront of its mind, inadvertently repeating itself every few seconds; a quick scan of the thought told her that this was the right direction in the hunt.
Him? the Trusted asked.
It has seen her, she confirmed, putting deliberate emphasis on the pronoun.
With a subliminal hiss, she faded into thin air, reappearing directly behind the pathetic plant a tenth of a second later. The Bellsprout took no notice of her appearance, but continued to splash around delightedly, if a little tiredly. She felt a deep urge to hurt the thing, to crush its mind with her own superior mental powers, or to force its ridiculous head underwater, where it would thrash in sheer horror, unable to scream …
As if sensing her intentions, the Bellsprout abruptly stopped its splashing, its leaves drooping in the water as it glanced from side to side. It briefly glimpsed her dull yellow body behind it as it continued to look to and fro, before jumping in shock and whirling around to face her, sending droplets of water flying everywhere. Its eyes widened in fear and apprehension. "Y-yes? What do you want?"
Her expression remained completely impassive. "I'm looking for someone."
He gaped, looking even more ludicrous. "I-I haven't seen anyone, I s-swear! It's just b-been me!"
But she knew better: the black face surfaced unintentionally in his mind, and her eyes glinted dangerously at the sight of it. Her. "You are a liar."
"N-no sir, I'm b-being honest, I—"
"I am not a sir!" she snapped, displaying teeth far sharper than a mouth such as hers should allow. The plant reeled back in horror as she gripped the Trusted with an angry fist. "Do all fools such as yourself look solely on the surface? Can you not hear the pitch of my voice?"
"I d-didn't mean anything, I-I j-just saw the mustache and—"
It cut itself off with a pained squeal as she dove into its mind, taking care to wreak as much havoc as she could. The information she needed she took without reserve, extracting them from its memories agonizingly. She ignored its tortured yowl and the undulating waves of pain wafting from the deeper regions of its mind: the first was physical; the second could only strengthen her.
She summoned the forces from within herself, pushing against its weak defenses, withholding any mercy. With an expression of cold iron she watched as its brain begin to collapse on itself from sheer power, while the rest of its body thrashed uselessly in the puddle, scattering water everywhere. Its beady eyes twitched as the leaves that served as its hands clawed at its own head in an effort to save itself. Its shuddering rapidly grew more violent before suddenly ceasing, a sign that its brain had been reduced to a pulp. Satisfied with her work, she released her hold, and the corpse flopped listlessly into the puddle.
He was nothing, the Trusted breathed; it was always fascinated by its holder's shows of power.
She shrugged, nudging the body with a clawed foot. Unbidden, the words of the Heads of the Guild echoed through her mind: We are the darkness in the light. A golden age such as this is sure to blacken into war, if some form of pure evil is not kept alive. Pain must give way to pleasure, pleasure to pain, if balance is to be kept.
How right they were.
A hiss, a brief sensation of nonexistence, and suddenly she hovered at least a hundred feet above the ground, with nothing but her psychic emanations keeping her aloft. The Absol galloped almost directly beneath her, completely unaware of her presence. A quiet anger boiled in her black heart as her attempts to probe the dog's mind were rebuffed by the clouds of darkness which shielded her from mental manipulation.
A steep, enormous hill sat at least a mile to the right, looking dead and dusty in its coat of dry grass. A quick psychic scan of it, however, revealed that it hid something ancient and deadly. Her eyes narrowed in a cruel smile.
"She will be dead if she's lucky."
Something flickered at the edge of Kelsa's vision. She turned and saw a hill, looking ridiculous against the backdrop of extreme flatness. Her eyes narrowed slightly, and she frowned at the sight. She didn't remember passing that on the way to her parents' home. She wondered just how far off course she was. Then again, maybe she could climb up and get a view of where she was supposed to go. Besides, the hill intrigued her. Curiosity aroused, she changed direction slightly, resetting her course for the looming hill.
A sudden shadow swept over her for a moment before clearing abruptly. Surprised, she jerked her head upward, but she was too late; whatever had cast the shadow was gone, perhaps swallowed up in the endless blue sky. She brushed it off with a shrug as she returned her attention to her running. It was probably only a Taillow, soaring toward a cooler place. Nevertheless, she had to make herself ignore the sickle, which was beginning to throb faintly.
Barely two minutes had passed before she found herself at the base of the hill. Its sheer volume forced her to skid to a halt, and she gazed with awe at its seemingly insurmountable peak. For a moment she considered finding her way on her own – but the moment passed quickly, and she began the climb with a leap; mere size would not daunt her.
From the second her claws sank into the hard, dusty earth like knives, she saw at once that the task would not be impossible. The slope was steep, but not overwhelmingly so. The dust beneath her paws was distracting, the grass slippery beneath her paws, but her claws would keep her firmly lodged in the hill, not to be moved until she pulled them out. She increased her pace rapidly, soon moving almost as quickly as she had on flat ground. She laughed to herself as the wind whipped her fur about her face.
Almost too soon the slope began to level out, and before she could begin to feel disappointed that the challenge was already over, she stood at its peak, feeling the sun's burning rays soak her coat of fur. Catching her breath, she squinted out over the distance, feeling quite on top of the world as she surveyed the vast expanse of plains spreading beneath her, several less lordly hills scattered here and there on the horizon. For a moment the world was her kingdom, and she was its queen. She smiled at the silly idea before returning to the search of any landmark, any sign that might point her to the village.
On the horizon – there! A particularly twisted and gnarled tree sat on the very edge of the horizon, a little to her right. She remembered it to be a favored place to play during her childhood. It seemed far smaller now, here on the roof of the world. A wave of nostalgia washed over her, followed by a stronger one of longing. Gabriel.
Her eyes lowered from the distant view for the first time since arriving; but her decision to head for the tree was overruled by a sudden, shocking revelation. Her claws dug into the earth until her knuckles turned white under the black fur, and her eyes widened as they struggled to comprehend the sight just in front of her paws as she broke the silence with an abrupt, astonished gasp.
She was not standing on a peak, as she had assumed: she stood instead on a rim, a narrow border of earth encircling a wide, somewhat deep pit which could not be mistaken for anything but a crater. Its tall walls were jagged and gray, some sort of metal. Strange statues, hewn from the same substance, were scattered across the mottled floor, twisted in unearthly shapes as varied as their sizes, though all faced the dark altar in the crater's exact center. The altar was not much larger than the smallest of the statues, yet it seemed to emanate some sort of ancient power, a testament to times long since dead, buried and forgotten.
Shock died down for a moment, to be quickly replaced with fascination and a sort of pride. She, no brave or daring explorer, had been the one to discover this! Curiosity overcoming her better judgment, she glanced about for a way to get into the crater, to get a better look at the strange artifacts down below. She was startled to discover a flight of stairs right at her feet, hewn roughly from the metallic walls, leading to the pit below. Briefly a shadow flickered again above her, and an ominous thought in her mind murmured that those stairs had certainly not been there a minute ago, but she pushed it away. They had to have been there, she told herself. I must not have looked properly. Besides, it's not as if I'm going to stay for long.
Decision made, she placed a careful paw on the top step, slowly trusting her weight to it, and paused, waiting. When nothing collapsed or creaked, she took another step, glancing around almost furtively, ears pricked. Hearing nothing, her fears vanished, and she confidently strode down the steps, her claws clinking and clacking against the metal almost musically. As she reached the foot of the stairs she paused and glanced over her shoulder, but the stairs were still solidly there. Reassured, she turned back to the sight before her, letting her awe show without reserve.
The altar looked similar to a pedestal, a wide platform sitting atop the dark, jagged column. Strange dark stains were splattered across its top, giving it an almost striped appearance. She strode through the twisted statues toward it, eager for a better look. As she drew near, she noticed an intricate symbol on the striped platform, a sort of spiky star whose five points were uneven in length. Something glimmered blue in its center.
Abruptly the sickle roared a warning in pain, the only language it knew. She gasped and clenched her teeth at its unexpected intensity. A single panicked, coherent thought formed in her agonized mind: I thought I'd stamped this sort of pain out!
The shadow flickered above her a third time as the pain dove down to almost a murmur, just present enough to assert its existence. She glanced up reflexively, worry beginning to surface in her mind. There's something about this place that can, in just a minute, override all my years of self-training. That shadow's not really reassuring either. Still, that funny-looking star is interesting. I'll just take a look at that before I leave.
Shaking her head to clear away the muddled state in which the pain had left her mind, she arrived at the altar. Its top was level with her collarbone, allowing her to examine the symbol with ease. She gasped at its strange, unearthly beauty: the star shimmered with a silver quite unlike the metallic silver surrounding it, for the star's silver seemed to contain the light of ancient moons glimmering off of life-giving desert rivers, clear and potent. Yet the object at its center was infinitely more incredible; it was a shining diamond, its blue depths gleaming softly in the sunlight, soft and cooling. No scratch defiled it, and every side was as perfectly smooth and polygonal as the next. The stains half-concealing the symbol could never hope to conceal its incredible splendor.
"It's incredible!" she breathed, her voice emerging as a mere whisper. Compared to this wonder she seemed so small, so laughably insignificant. How could something like this ever be forgotten?
Timidly, she reached up with a trembling paw and touched the star, marveling at its incredibly smooth and cold texture. It felt nice after a long day of galloping. She could practically forget that blisters had ever formed on her sensitive paw pads, and instead imagine that they had always been as perfect and smooth as what they rested on.
She drew it back and froze. It was perfect and smooth. The surface of each black pad was unbroken, as it had been before leaving Dawn's End. What was this? It was almost as if—
She collapsed as the sickle sent bolts of roaring pain through her, forcing her to curl protectively into an almost kneeling position. Tears wrenched themselves from her eyes as she blinked hard to try to calm herself. A sudden rumbling above made her tremble, and a shadow began to block the light, throwing the pit into a menacing darkness. It was not the same shadow as before, for it was large and had a definite shape. Dread leapt upon her as she realized that the guardian of the altar must be irritated at her blatant entry.
"Thinkest thou that thou canst trespass on my site of worship?" the guardian roared. Pebbles clinked against the metallic walls as the pit rumbled in its fury. "Thou art an insolent wench! Thy impertinence shall be dealt with!"
Squinting against the pain, she forced all her will into her paws, jerking into a sudden run for the stairs. Letting the pads push against the cool metal, bearing her with ease toward safety, she chanced a glance over her shoulder. An incredibly tall Pokemon towered over her, looking godly as the sunlight gleamed around it. It was far too large to glimpse properly, but she could tell that the star on its chest matched the one on the altar. Fear of the being's divine wrath added extra spring to her paws, and though the flickering shadow appeared briefly at the edge of her vision, she ignored it as she turned her attention back towards the stairs.
There were no stairs.
She flew toward the wall, unable to stop herself in time. The collision sent deep throbbing pains coursing through her, its dark bass symphonizing with the sickle's shrieking tenor. She collapsed in agony, crouching, her head bent from the intensity of the cacophony. Squeezing her eyes shut, she choked out a sob as icy terror sank its poisonous claws into her heart.
A dark shadow cut through her closed eyelids. "Where didst thou think thou couldst run?" the being snarled. "For I wouldst reach the ends of the earth and shatter all thou dost hold dear before thou couldst escape thy punishment, for punished you shall be!"
There was a great intake of breath, a momentary pause, and then a roar that seemed to drown out everything else, incredible in its unnatural volume. The sound seemed to surround her, like an ominous fog or mist, and suddenly there was a sensation of extreme movement, though as her body remained in the same position, she knew that it could not be so. Blood rushed through her ears, carrying a wave of fresh pain with each pulse. Almost immediately she felt a horrific weakening, as if the will had fled from her limbs when it had the chance and had left her at the being's mercy. She could almost feel her muscles shrinking, and her head swam as a cloud of muddled weariness descended over her mind, and she was tired, oh, so tired, as she began to drift away …
A faint, clear voice from deep within her whispered, The technique.
In a weak wave of understanding, she realized what she could do. The days of her childhood, ignoring the sickle's pull, had forced her to push her endurance to its limit, until the day came when she mastered the ability, and with it a technique she had not anticipated. Survival was guaranteed with its use, but she was not sure she could use it in this state …
I'm alive, she told herself, a single lucid island in a sea of agony. Just think of Gabriel, and endure the pain.
Weakly she began to shield herself from the assault, withdrawing the will from her limbs and into her soul. With it she created a fortification around her soul, to prevent it from being torn away while also blocking out the pain. The sensation gradually dulled, although it was still present enough to make her grind her teeth.
Now it was up to fate to see if she lived or died.
It seemed to be hours later – or perhaps days – that Kelsa wearily opened her eyes and glanced about her. No celestial monster loomed over her, nor did the roar continue to ravage at her body. Turning her head to glance about, she saw to her astonishment that the metal of the floor around her had been reduced to mere dust. That could have been me! she thought, and instantly felt doubly grateful for the technique.
It was when she struggled to her paws that she first realized that something was wrong. Her limbs felt weak and tired, and they trembled violently as she pushed herself into a standing position. Her back seemed hunched and heavy, as if a great weight had been placed on it. She took a moment to try to focus her vision, but it stubbornly refused to cooperate, leaving everything dull and blurry. Annoyed, she reached up to wipe her eyes clean, but instead halted with her paw halfway to her face, staring at it; her sight seemed to be good enough to tell her that it was shriveled, bunched in wrinkled layers of skin through which coarse white hair peaked. What did it do to me? she thought, horror fast returning.
Her weak eyes wandered about, and then they fastened on something that made her heart leap, although it seemed too tired to be enthusiastic. The stairs had returned! There they sat, not ten paces away, gleaming from the sunlight. Though her eyes streamed from the brightness, she hobbled toward the staircase, her key to escape.
The stairs seemed steeper than she had imagined, and her claws made a weaker clicking sound, but she was too relieved to care as she carefully ascended towards the rim of the crater. Someone in Dawn's End can fix this, she told herself. And then Gabriel and I will be married! The thought cheered her, but it was difficult to ignore the small voice in the back of her head, which murmured that Gabriel might not be so anxious to marry her after seeing her in this state.
A wave of sadness threatened to wash over her, but it halted as she reached the rim, paws creating shallow depressions in the coarse earth. The ground seemed dizzyingly distant, and her head spun at the height. Surely the hill hadn't been that steep when she had climbed up? Yet still it seemed to dip nearly straight down, making her head swim.
Nauseated, she half closed her eyes, willing the problem to go away. When that didn't work, she reopened them and considered her situation. Maybe if I go really slowly, I can make it down there! Ignoring the shadow flickering at the edge of her vision, she cautiously took a small step forward, careful not to slip and tumble.
Abruptly the earth behind her slipped from under her hind paws. Taken by surprise, she began to slide slowly but dangerously downward, gathering a little speed. Frightened by this sudden turn of events, she attempted to halt by digging her claws into the hillside.
That was a mistake.
She had not counted on the fact that her claws were too brittle to gain sufficient traction. Although they did indeed force her forepaws to halt, the rest of her body, still captive to the motion, flew above them, forcing her to somersault. She flailed wildly as she did, trying to regain control, but the situation was out of her hands now. Helpless to do anything but fall, she shut her eyes and tried to block out the inevitable impact as she began the lethal tumble.
The first sickening crunch came, and she screamed.
Gabriel sat motionlessly in the air, feeling mild confidence that his aura would not fail in keeping him aloft. His eyes were closed, but he could feel his aura keeping numerous objects floating, including a small boulder, a dried log, and his Master, who spoke softly so as not to break his concentration.
"Feel the aura flow around you, Gabriel. Do not force it to bend to your will, but guide it, lead it …"
He felt serene as he sensed it all around him, seeing it in colors that most saw only in dreams. His Master's aura had a vast, untapped quality to it, something he had only recently learned to appreciate. He felt small and weak compared to his Master, and wondered a second later if his aura had already given his thoughts away. He forced himself not to be embarrassed.
In another second, he felt something new from his Master's aura: the bitter colors of curiosity and confusion, then alarm. A bit apprehensive as well, Gabriel reached further out with his own aura, feeling his hold on the lifted objects weaken slightly as he did so. He stretched out for three miles, searching for whatever had made his Master worry.
Immediately he saw it: a sudden jagged flash of pain louder than any scream. It dulled for the briefest of instants, only to immediately return in full force. His heart stopped as he recognized the tortured aura that he sensed.
"Kelsa!" he exclaimed in horror, withdrawing all other holds on his aura and opening his eyes as he did so. Everything hit the hard earth with a resounding thud. Stones and sticks rolled for a few feet before coming to a halt. He instantly leapt to his feet, tension building in his lean frame.
"Gabriel!" his Master moaned, having hit the earth himself, and none too gently. The older Lucario grimaced and rubbed his bruised backside. He looked up, and the concern shone in his eyes. "Run, Gabriel! Run and save her, before …"
But he did not stay to hear him finish the sentence. He was already gone, following his lover's aura in an almost blind sprint. He tore through long stalks of grass, leaving a makeshift path behind him. The beat of his heart thumped rhythmically with his hurried dash and his rapid breathing, all in time to the chant in his head.
Kelsa, Kelsa, Kelsa, Kelsa, Kelsa …
The more he examined her aura, the more he saw: terror, dizziness, and a sensation of great movement, although none of these came close to the waves of her excruciating agony. There was something new about her too, something that he couldn't quite place his finger on, though its remote familiarity seemed ominous to him. Each new discovery was a fresh stab to his heart. His eyes stung with the beginning of tears. How had this happened? Everything was so happy one moment, so gloriously joyful and romantic … This new turn of events had to be something out of a nightmare.
Far on his left he spotted a distant gnarled tree, a place he remembered playing at with all the other village children. Her aura seemed to be coming from that direction, so he turned toward it, never slackening his pace. A sense of foreboding crept upon him. What if some monstrous fiend was attacking her? His hand spikes had been removed too early. If she died because of their loss …
As he neared the tree, he saw a looming hill far on the distant horizon. He dimly recalled seeing it while playing lookout with his friends, but it had been a mere piece of the background then. Now it seemed stern and ominous, for he could sense Kelsa's aura coming from it. He rushed toward it, feeling the hard earth beneath his paws and the cruel west-bound sun on his back.
His love and fear gave new speed to his paws as they swallowed up the distance. As he swiftly approached, he noticed more: there was something ancient and powerful about the hill, something no mortal was meant to disturb. Its guardian had already come and gone; it had left traces of potent aura as strong as the sun's blinding light. Drawing still closer, he could now see her white body, tiny from the distance, tumbling uncontrollably down the hill. With each grisly bounce he could faintly hear an explosive cracking. He faltered momentarily as he choked back a sob.
A different aura, floating somewhere above, attracted his attention. The black, sour colors overwhelmed him: hatred, rage, jealousy, and ambition, all woven into an intricate pattern with the unfeeling gray of duty and the darker, more seductive shade of sinister satisfaction. Simultaneously repulsed and fascinated, he withdrew his sense for it slightly, searching for the stranger's intentions. He drew a rather muddled conclusion, for he had yet to master the art of more refined aura reading, but a single phrase reached him quite clearly: Kill the dog.
Briefly his own anger replaced his sadness. What sort of unfeeling weasel would want to harm Kelsa? Her soul was far too beautiful, her aura too radiant with kindness, for anyone to wish ill of her. Even those who were blind to aura could tell from a distance that she was far gentler than her cold, calculating brethren.
He was almost at the foot of the hill now, his eyes glued to Kelsa. Every horrific bounce was, from the speed at which she traveled, greater than before. As he watched her smash against the earth yet again, he realized that she would arc through the air high enough to force her to hit the ground. From the speed she had built up, slamming into the hard earth would surely kill her. Determination sparked in his eyes. He couldn't let her die.
He saw her fly through the air, limbs bent at sickeningly sharp angles. Her head lolled about as her upward journey grew slower, until at last she leveled out before beginning her descent. He gritted his teeth as he pushed himself to the limit of his speed, sending clouds of dry dust flying beneath his feet. Even so he could tell that, at the rate she was falling, he couldn't get there in time.
Well, I guess I'll have to make time.
His muscles tensed as he slowed for the briefest of moments before leaping into the air, his long feet serving as a sort of springboard. He felt the hot, dry air ruffle his short fur, and it stung at his eyes as he watched her get nearer to him, and the giddy sense of weightlessness almost blocked out the fear and terror for a second …
And then he had caught her, his spike-less hands breaking her fall smoothly. For a moment they hung there, floating in a gulf of dazed relief, before he dropped back down again. As they hit the ground, his knees buckled to absorb the impact. He let himself get used to the harsh pull of gravity for a moment, feeling her broken body weigh his arms down. He then straightened up again, and his gaze returned to her face, searching for a sign that she was still conscious, and hoping against hope that she was too far gone to feel the pain.
At once he saw how she had changed, and his eyes widened in horror and shock. She was no longer some charming damsel in distress; her skin was loose and wrinkled, her fur coarse and matted. Her form seemed to be hunched, as if she could not support her own weight. Her paws were shriveled, and her claws were chipped – what was left of them, anyway. He couldn't understand how it had happened, but somehow something had forced her body to the brink of its life. She had become an old, wizened crone.
But even this discovery could not stain the joy he felt as her eyes fluttered weakly. She was alive! Her beautiful aura was still the same, the painful color of terror ebbing away with each erratic, uncertain beat of her heart. He felt an odd protectiveness, cradling her in his arms and knowing that, had he not sensed her when he did, she would have met an unthinkable end.
Her wrinkled eyelids finally unveiled her rheumy eyes, and she looked up into his face in confusion and wonder. For a moment she simply stared at him, before her face broke into a feeble smile. "Gabriel," she wheezed, and he noticed that several of her teeth were missing.
"Hush," he breathed, "you're hurt."
It seemed like the greatest understatement imaginable, but the challenge and terror he had just endured had left him far from eloquent.
A tear formed at the corner of one of her eyes, shining in the midst of a bloody mass of cuts and bruises. "I'm sorry," she whispered, her body slumping dejectedly in his arms.
He tilted his head to the side, confused. "Sorry for what?"
"For being a fool. I made a stupid mistake, and it—" She broke herself off with a coughing fit, a series of dry hacking sounds that racked her body completely. He saw pain continue to weave its insidious colors in her aura again, and she moaned softly.
He forced himself not to cradle her to his chest, knowing that it would only cause more pain, physical and emotional. Instead he closed his eyes, feeling a tear of his own slide down his cheek. "There's nothing to be sorry for," he said soothingly, though his voice quavered. "Whatever happened, it was a mistake."
"But something … someone must have forced me to fall," she murmured, her voice getting quieter. "There was a shadow, I don't know what … I don't … know …" She trailed off.
Gabriel glanced around. The shadow and the blackened aura that he had noticed probably belonged to the same person, he decided.
"How right you are," a cold voice commented dryly.
Moving as fast as Kelsa's broken body would let him, he spun to the right, facing a Pokemon who stood just a few yards away. The newcomer's strange, vulpine body seemed to radiate some sort of quiet, boiling malevolence. Her pointed ears twitched involuntarily, and her slanted eyes held a forced blankness.
"A Kadabra," he said quietly. A psychic tried to kill her. He put uneasy emphasis on the word tried, hoping to keep his cool as he faced the fox-creature's untapped malice. For the first time he noticed a strange aura of pure light radiating from one of her hands, contrasting brilliantly against the darkness of the holder, and he felt confused. Her spoon has a living aura? But it's an inanimate object. Is that normal for Kadabra, or is she something different?
"It is normal," she said, coolly answering his unspoken question. "I have been slighted too many times to take offense at such banal speculation. And do not think there is any hope for that dog. There is none; I know this to be true. It was I who piqued her curiosity. She doesn't have much longer, you know. If she hadn't been aged, she'd have probably survived." Her expression did not change, and yet as she spoke her voice picked up a faint note of smugness.
He felt his own anger threatening to break through his emotional turmoil. "Why did you do this?"
"Because that is what the Shadow's Guild was created to do. This is an age of light, but it will blind us if there is no shadow to filter it." She didn't need to add how much she had enjoyed it; memories of those restrained emotions were woven deep within her aura, plain for even a novice like Gabriel to read.
Disbelief warred briefly in his head with fury, and in the end it suffered a crushing loss. Shadows Guild or no Shadows Guild, she liked pain. She was surely soulless in her cruelty, an abomination. Such a person could not be allowed to exist. His mouth half opened in a snarl.
And then he paused, watching satisfaction rush through her aura once more. She wanted him to fight her? He considered this, thinking quickly and uncertainly. The conclusion came to him at once: of course, his anger could only strengthen her. She would let him make the first move, letting him get just close enough to taste victory before striking him down with her vast psychic power – power fueled by his own rage.
Disgusted, he returned his gaze toward Kelsa, his fury weakening. His face softened as he watched hers gaze up quietly at him. He could feel her hold on her body begin to give, and knew that time was against her, each soft heartbeat carrying her closer to death.
"I look hideous," she whispered, startling him. No more tears formed in her eyes; those expressed more regret than a mere drip of saltwater ever could.
He smiled gently. "It was never just for your body that I loved you, Kelsa. It was for your soul, your heart, your aura. Age alone can never corrupt that." Abruptly he thought of all the time they could have spent together. That could never happen now. A fresh trickle of tears rolled down his cheeks.
Her eyes crinkled into a smile of her own. "Don't be sad. Won't I … always … be with you?"
He was about to answer when her mouth opened slackly, and a single, rattling exhalation clawed its way through her throat. Her weak heart beat once, faintly. Then it was still.
"Kelsa," he whispered. Shifting the body's weight to one hand, he reached up, softly stroking her cheek with the other. His throat grew tight, and his eyes grew unbearably heavy with tears.
As if sensing that its body no longer held any ties to it, Kelsa's aura poured forth from her body, detaching itself from her skin. It curled above him as he looked up, astonished, and watched in awed fascination, marveling at her beauty. If it had been stunning when it had been chained to her, it was nothing short of blinding now. The dazzling colors of its joy were free from the darker shades of pain, and he grinned. She was truly happy now.
The aura drew slightly closer to him, as if he had called it. He wondered why this was. How would it know who he was, now that it was no longer connected to a brain? Maybe, he thought to himself, maybe it runs deeper than thought. Maybe she instinctually remembers me. His heart leapt at the idea.
His hopes were confirmed when it touched his own aura. He stiffened in surprise at the intensity of the feelings he sensed: love, joy, peace, a little confusion. He reached toward it with his free hand, and it curled around the offered limb, constricting itself around it until it seemed almost solid. The feeling was not unlike a comforting hand as it grasped his own.
His tears flowed freely now, but they were no longer tears of anguish. We will always be together.
The aura simply squeezed his hand once in response.
Finally tearing his eyes away from its glorious light, he looked toward the Kadabra. She had barely moved a muscle since he had first noticed her.
"Thank you," he murmured, nodding once to her. He turned away from her then, not caring what her response might be. The tree where he once played as a child was a tall and gnarled shape on the horizon. He began the long trek toward it, the corpse in his arms bouncing gently with each step. He knew there would be nothing but shock from the village when news of this reached them. The villagers' sympathy would almost drive him to infuriation. They would not understand why he was at peace; that luxury would be reserved for his Master. Perhaps his joy would only be shared by the aura which cradled his hand. He was fine with that.
And so he walked through the long, dry grass, death cradled in one arm and love hanging onto the other. He began to whistle, as if he had not a care in the world.
She was so surprised at his response, she actually dropped the Trusted.
I'd be quite happy if you didn't do that again, thank you, it said sharply, but it sounded more distracted than anything else.
She reached down reflexively to pick it up, never taking her eyes off of the retreating figure. "How could he possibly be happy? He was holding an empty shell."
You must discover that yourself, the Trusted murmured.
The Kadabra watched him shrink steadily toward the horizon. His love lay dead in his arms, and the village would think of him as a lunatic upon his return, and yet … well, he might not be the happiest Pokemon in the world, but he probably came pretty close. In their confrontation, he had been the one to walk away. How could that be?
And then, for the first time in several years, she contemplated the possibility that maybe – just maybe – emotions were more than a mere liability. Maybe they needed to resurface, so she could understand why.
Maybe she could embrace them again someday.
Absol Emerald entry: It sharply senses even subtle changes in the sky and the land to predict natural disasters. It is a long-lived Pokemon that has a life-span of 100 years.
Kadabra Diamond entry: If one is nearby, an eerie shadow appears on TV screens. Seeing the shadow is said to bring bad luck.
Lucario Pearl entry: By catching the aura emanating from others, it can read their thoughts and movements.
(What is with me and altars built for legendary dragons? D:)